Obituary: John Carswell

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The Independent Online
Sitting in a cafe in Athens sipping an ouzo, I discovered in your paper to my horror that I had just died, writes Professor John Carswell [further to the obituary by Ruth Gorb, 18 November]. But, to my relief, it was not me.

Although I never met the other John Carswell, over the years our paths have crossed with some confusion. His mother was Catherine Carswell, a friend of D.H. Lawrence; my mother bore the same name, and was not. He was a writer and so am I; indeed, at one stage we both had the same publisher, Oxford University Press, which was under the illusion in its catalogue that we were one and the same. When I was sent his royalties by mistake, I was cheered up to find they were as meagre as mine.

A little later, I received a letter from Sir George Weidenfeld, correctly addressed to me in Beirut, inviting me to write a book about the rise of the British economy in the 18th century. I replied that, while this was not in the forefront of my mind, I would be happy to write about the fall of the Armenians in the 17th century. I did not receive a reply.

Over the years, I had bills both from his wine merchant and his bootmaker. I also received an invitation to become a member of the Travellers Club, which I accepted with alacrity. I may well be an impostor.

When he was Secretary of the British Academy, he sent me a letter addressed to "Dear John Carswell" telling me the academy had just awarded me a grant of pounds 5,000, and signed "John Carswell". At this point he must surely have become aware of the complications of having an alter ego. In 1967, as I wrote fervent letters to the Times from Beirut about the plight of the Palestinians, it was unfortunately he who became the target of vociferous attacks from British Zionists, who had looked up the name in the London telephone book.

We never met, and friends who knew both of us said that this was perhaps just as well. But, now he is no longer with us, I rather miss him.