Neil Langdon Inglis, author, editor, and translator, gives 3 question interview to Interlitq

Neil Langdon Inglis, Interlitq‘s U.S. General Editor


Neil Langdon Inglis is Interlitq‘s U.S. General Editor.

Interlitq: What kindled your interest in the lives of William Tyndale and Michael Servetus (whom you profiled in the pages of Interlitq[i])?

NLI: Let me begin by saying that in my view, the individual’s contribution is always greater than the group’s. It is this individualistic spirit that led me to be one of the earliest and most dedicated champions of Interlitq.

Some 23 years ago, my reverence for individual achievement led me to the story of William Tyndale (c.1494-1536),[ii] the first published English translator of the Bible, then being commemorated at the “Let There Be Light” Exhibit at the British Library in London. At around the same time, I came across the Spaniard Michael Servetus (variously named, c.1509/11-1553),[iii] an author and theologian who discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood. Tyndale and Servetus were persecuted for heresy and burnt at the stake.

I am not alone in my efforts to rescue these men from the shadows.  After joining the William Tyndale Society[iv] in 1994, I spoke at the 1996 and 1998 William Tyndale Conferences at Hertford College, Oxford (where the TV version of “Brideshead Revisited” was filmed); and in 2000 or shortly thereafter I became chief book reviewer for the Tyndale Society Journal,[v] a twice-yearly publication comprising academic papers and Tyndale news and comment from around the globe.  I took over the editorship a decade or so ago, and we never looked back.  Here I will go against my chronic individualism and lavish praise upon my team, for I could not edit the magazine without the support and sagacious insights of Mary Clow, Tyndale Society President, and Dave Steele, our DTP/IT expert, who has a knack for finding superb graphics on the web. Last but not least, we encourage our contributors to fill in the gaps in the historical record for Tyndale, Servetus, and other unsung giants of the Reformation era; you cannot do these people full justice unless you have all the pieces of the historical puzzle. The incomplete picture and the accepted wisdom have done great disservice to civilization and mankind.

Honoring WT and MS is a challenge because they were modernizers with roots in late antiquity; their conceptual and spiritual framework was not ours. They defy easy categorization and were perhaps curmudgeons in their daily lives. Credit is so often taken by others: every schoolchild knows about the better-known Miles Coverdale[vi] the translator (1488-1569), and anatomist William Harvey[vii] (1578-1657). But I persevere in telling the stories of their uncredited forerunners, in the teeth of all obstacles, because I care about celebrating the achievements of others. Which brings us to Question 2!

Interlitq: Why are you so interested in the lives and work of your parents? Your father was Brian Inglis[viii] (1916-1993) an Irish journalist, author, and broadcaster, whose life and work you have already profiled in Interlitq. Your mother was Ruth Langdon Inglis[ix] (1927-2005), an American expatriate in London, whose books focus on child development.

NLI: Ruth was a pioneering advocate for work/life balance long before the concept was invented (let alone socially acceptable). Neither work, nor motherhood alone, would have sufficed; she insisted on both. We know she resumed journalism within months of my arrival, with two major long-form assignments for U.S. publications (including “Britain’s Cautious Generation”, The New Leader (April 1963)). The latter title might have applied to Ruth: Ruth pushed boundaries but in moderation, always working within the system, and attempting to improve it from within. In particular, Ruth believed that guides to parenting, of which she wrote several (often with her longstanding publisher Peter Owen), made parenthood a happier and more productive experience for parent and child alike.

With each new Google search bringing new discoveries concerning my parents, each day is an adventure in family history. I had already inherited a passion for biography from my maternal grandmother, Laura Langdon (d. 1989). Although my father insisted he preferred evidence over personalities, his own biography of Irish revolutionary Roger Casement (originally published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1973, and soon to be reissued by Endeavour Press[x]) stands as his finest achievement. And “Casement” is anything but hagiography. I have also been helping to prepare electronic editions of Brian’s parapsychology texts for White Crow Books (including “Natural and Supernatural”[xi]).

Both Brian and Ruth adopted a distinctive and recognizable persona in their journalism; as a child biographer, one must pierce this veil. Their mask slipped infrequently. I have very few pictures of my parents in the same room together, and even in candid shots they wear the fixed expressions expected in portrait photography. Both needed alcohol to relax. My parents were from the generation that took pen in hand to write—and I cherished their letters—but the mask was present there as well. I was astonished to observe the expression of gleeful happiness on my father’s face in snapshots taking during his bucket-list trip around the world in 1991, particularly in Japan. I did not know that look.

My mother brooked no criticism of her father (US diplomat and Japanese language specialist, William Russell Langdon, d. 1963); so imagine my surprise when I came across Ruth’s pitying critique of one of her father’s foreign policy articles. These contradictions are the lifeblood of the biographer. Shortly after my mother’s death I found a photograph of Ruth in a rural setting, with a natural look of unaccustomed serenity on her face; I knew right away that this had to be a picture of my mother in her beloved Suffolk. And the sting of my grief was lessened.

My introductions to the new editions seek to make sense of Brian’s shift from respectable, family-friendly television presenter in the 1960s (All Our Yesterdays, his weekly WWII documentary with Granada, was often at #2 in the ratings) to a polemicist challenging the scientific establishment in the 1970s and 1980s. He insisted that he was the cool and rational party, not a “believer” in psi (“I have studied the evidence” was his pet phrase); yet angry he most certainly was, and naively incredulous at the establishment’s reaction to his newly discovered interests. What prompted him to embrace the fringe world? Brian felt that psychics and psychical researchers had been cruelly shamed into silence by rationalist bullies. Whether the men and women Brian championed had true achievements to their name is a matter for another time. Ultimately, he was too good a historian to push his own evidence over a cliff—and his profiles of Daniel Dunglas Home[xii] (1833-1886) and Eusapia Palladino[xiii] (1854-1918) end on sour notes, of which he was perhaps not fully aware.

There was a rivalry between the two (Ruth aka “Boo” was not content to be Brian’s wife and hostess). She became a celebrity in her own right, especially during her heyday as star reporter for Nova magazine in the late 1960s.  As journalists, both posed as authorities; but truth be told, they may have lacked the technical background required to grasp the fullest subtleties of their chosen subjects. In a mock common entrance exam which Brian took with other journalists for a Sunday color supplement, the examiners chastised Brian for possessing great verbal facility combined with numerical incompetence of astonishing dimensions.[xiv] “Bingles” and “Boo” could bluff when called for. Where Ruth surpassed Brian, I think, was in her post-divorce period on the features and women’s pages of the Daily Express; when instructed to whip up a column on cleaning up oil slicks in a couple of hours one Sunday afternoon, she managed to find a post-prandial oil engineer willing to talk for the record on the phone, and the requested article was delivered on time, “for the edition.”

Brian, too, did interviews (his colloquy with Anthony Eden, Lord Avon, has not survived, although we know that Clarissa Eden prepared lamb cutlets, followed by raspberries picked fresh from the garden).  Ruth as a reporter could adopt a disarming grandmotherly approach (another mask, if you will), that drew quotable comments from unlikely sources. Certain interview subjects (TV actors Bernard Cribbins and Gordon Jackson) resisted her charm and had little to say, whilst others (Roald Dahl) were opinionated but rude. Diana Dors bailed my mother out on one occasion when Ruth had to hurry to find a female celebrity willing to talk on the record about her personal experience with menstruation (other celebrities had slammed down the receiver).  Mario Montessori (son of educator Maria) enthralled a posse of youngsters Ruth had brought out to the country for the occasion, including one young Master Neil Inglis, captured for posterity by an Observer cameraman. Always an expert relationship-builder, Ruth knew that once a source’s name was in her contact book (the envy of Fleet Street), she could call that person again, in the knowledge that the source would be well-disposed toward her.

As successful authors, Brian and Ruth were often called upon to critique newcomers’ work, a task they sometimes enjoyed but often hated, especially when tact was of the essence.  As editor of The Spectator in the early 1960s, Brian groomed the young Bernard Levin; later, Brian gave strong and well-deserved encouragement to lady novelist Lionel Shriver, during their brief friendship in the last six months of his life.  Ruth and Brian disagreed over their mutual friend Irish novelist Jennifer Johnston (Ruth was proved right in the end). When U.S. poetess Ann Sexton made her fateful visit to the city she would notoriously dub “Swinging London”, Ruth made promotional calls all over town to publicize her friend’s arrival. The telephone was my mother’s Internet.

Interlitq: As a well-regarded translator, you have made a point of speaking to undergraduate and post-graduate students on careers in languages. What themes do you emphasize in your presentations?

NLI: You will discern some common themes in my answers to all three of your questions; a commitment to the highest standards, respect for the written word, devotion to reading and research.  In my speeches to the younger generation I emphasize that teamwork is important, but ultimately final responsibility is the individual’s alone; avoid working for middlemen. Direct clients provide precious feedback, indispensable for the development of one’s own expertise, and higher incomes allow for discretionary time. With room to breathe, you can plot your next move, your future strategy. Strive at all times for excellence in penmanship and subject-matter proficiency. Be authoritative, and prepare translations that are credible in the eyes of specialists.  Above all, steer clear of the trolls and naysayers who are common in the translator blogosphere. They preach a shabby gentility, more shabby than genteel.  Seek out success stories rather than failures. Let quality be your watchword, and everything else will follow.














5 comments so far

  1. […] Read Neil Langdon Inglis’s 3 question interview for Interlitq. […]

  2. […] Read Neil Langdon Inglis’s 3 question interview for Interlitq. […]

  3. […] Read Neil Langdon Inglis’s 3 question interview to Interlitq. […]

  4. […] Read Neil Langdon Inglis’s 3 question interview to Interlitq. […]

  5. […] Read Neil Langdon Inglis’s 3 question interview to Interlitq. […]

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