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George D. Gray,
Edinburgh
July 8 1992

Dear Mr Gray,

What a great pleasure to be the recipient of your fan letter- I hope you stop writing them now, so that I can claim to be the only one you ever wrote to… Yes, it’s odd, considering how much pleasure Mencken can give, how few people seem to find him. Another example is a French humorist called Alphonse Allais, who I consider to be a great man and who remains unknown. I once translated a whole book full of his stuff. He is still unknown…

What you say about Mencken reminds me of what Richard Cobb wrote about another undervalued Frenchman, Raymond Queneau. I started reading Queneau’s novels because they were funny, but Cobb said that if you talk to any Queneau-lover, you find you are often talking about a different writer. People value writers for what they themselves are looking for, and which tends to govern what they find. So, he said, I have heard Queneau described as 1) a master of linguistics 2) a funny man 3) a surrealist 4) a great stylist. Cobb himself said he valued Queneau above all as a chronicler of French suburban life and all the little details that involved, which is not surprising as Cobb himself was hooked on French bourgeois life. You can see how Mencken, too, would attract different people, for different reasons. I have had one letter from a man who sees Mencken only as a linguist and a lexicographer, another from a man who values Mencken most of all as a music critic…

I shall be in Edinburgh in a month’s time, oddly, performing in the Festival. I have been several times before, playing the double bass in a cabaret group called Instant Sunshine, but this time I am taking a great jump into the unknown and doing a tiny one-man show at the Pleasance Theatre which purports to guide people through the jungle of the Fringe. It’s on at 11.30 at night, when everyone including me should be home in bed… But if a space appears in my schedule, or the show folds with no audience, I may well come knocking at your door and paying my compliments. I wouldn’t normally dream of saying such a thing, but anything seems possible at Festival time…

yours sincerely
Miles Kington
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