Saving his master's word

Editorial

The Independent

06 June 2005

When the late Pope's executor decided not to burn his master's papers - as he had requested - he raised a perennial moral dilemma.

The question is whether we are bound to honour these kinds of instructions.

Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz clearly believes that the answer is no, even though the request came from a man he served and esteemed for almost 40 years.

"Nothing is fit for burning," he has pronounced. "Everything should be preserved, every single sentence."

Historians will certainly applaud the decision of the Archbishop of Krakow, even if it appears a surprising one, coming from one of Karol Wojtyla's most trusted confidantes.

How bitterly royal biographers resented the misguided sense of propriety that led Princess Beatrice to destroy the juicier sections of her mother, Queen Victoria's, journal after her death, which would have shed fascinating light on her private life.

It is highly fortunate that Max Brod, a friend and executor of the writer Franz Kafka, had the good judgement to ignore the explicit request for him to burn all Kafka's then unpublished novels. Succeeding generations would never have read The Castle, The Trial or many other of the master's works.

Asking other people to burn your papers after your death is, in fact, a bit of a tease. If you want your papers destroyed, do it yourself before you go.