xiv Understand the Weapon, Understand the Wound spirit of ‘all advanced and progressive mankind’.2 Still others saw him as ‘120% Communist’, the most dedicated, brilliant and unswerving of Party members, whose death seriously retarded the development of Communism in Britain. But heroes are larger than life by definition, and less minutely and confusingly drawn than real persons. The legends have purposes of their own; like memory, they tend to distil a multifarious reality into a partial and distorting though coherent whole. We shall never know what John Cornford might have lived to be; but this book brings together his poems, essays and a generous selection of his letters – along with a chronology of his life and some letters from his mother that help to provide a clearer picture of his development – so that the reader may try to construct his own version of what he was, free from the influence of polemical interpretation. These papers provide a sketchy, ragged and probably misleading picture of their author, for a writer always presents himself with some degree of artifice. But they are virtually all we have to tell us how John Cornford saw himself in a variety of private and public postures. A considerable portion of Cornford’s few writings was previously collected in a memorial volume edited by Pat Sloan, which appeared in 1938. But the book has long been out of print; and in many ways it in itself helped to foster the ‘liberal’ myth about its subject. Out of consideration for others, certain events in Cornford’s life went unmentioned, and there were some additional inaccuracies in that winning but somewhat eulogizing composite portrait. Peter Stansky and William Abrahams have contributed a more factually complete record in Journey to the Frontier, but they assert in their prologue that ‘young men like John Cornford and Julian Bell, both of them poets and sons of the intellectual aristocracy of England [...] were more or less what the legend [‘which has tended to overpopulate the Spanish conflict with poets, especially young English poets’] claimed.’ ‘Heroism, in all its impressiveness
2 See the dedication to John Cornford: A Memoir, edited by Pat Sloan
(London: Cape, 1938).