12 March 1973 (To Eliot Slater)
Dear Dr. Slater,
Thank you for your letter of 8th March. I was interested in what you say about Karl Popper (though in matters of the historicity of science I find I gravitate more to the Kuhnian than the Popperian position). I would agree that your hypothesis about Schumann's syphilis is not only fully in conformity with the known facts, old and new, but also stands up well to the standard tests of verifi‑ and falsifiability. It compares in that respect with the interesting views advanced by Peter Medawar (I wonder whether you share my admittedly lay admiration for his intellectual achievements in philosophy as well as biology?) in his The Art of the Soluble on Darwin's disease.
Two more extracts from Schumann's diaries which I failed to focus upon sufficiently the first time through ‑ "Fright and twinges of conscience ‑ fortunately it was a mistake " (Schreck u. moralischer Katzenjammer ‑ zum Glück war's Täuschung) 23 Nov. 1828.
"Play’d very weell ‑ soft pearl‑like touch and improvisation. Whenever we have these moments of happiness something awful's bound to happen; this time it's Renz who's got clap; confessions ‑ then out for a walk to Rudolfs Garten” (Sehr schön gespielt ‑ wicher Perlenanschlag u. Perlenfantasie. Wenn man so mitten in Freude steht, kommt einem etwas Fatales darzwischen, diesmal dieser R(en)z mit Trip.” (i.e. Tripper) Geständnisse; dann in Rudolphs Garten) 13 May 1831”
As to chess; I didn't know you were interested. We're great devotees hereabouts; I used to play for my Department (Employment) and the Civil Service on occasion; my 17‑year old elder son plays for his school (Whitgift) and Surrey juniors ‑ and beats me, a circumstance which I view with rather mixed feelings! Schumann gives in his notebook six chess problems of his own composition, one in collaboration with a friend and two extracted from 'Filding' which seems to have been a contemporay chess manual. Unfortunately the German editors seen to be wholly unfamiliar with the nature of chess problems, and Schumann's algebraic notation, being no doubt hard to read, is bedevilled with transcription errors. In the result one
cannot be entirely sure that one is posing his problems correctly. But there is enough to show that a quite lively and original mind, is at work; though I must say his efforts at this kind of composition impress me much less, mutatis mutandis, than the contemporary Abegg variations and Papillons. When I have a leisure moment I shall try fo establish in further correspondence with the people at the Schumann‑Haus in Leipzig just what Schumann intended; perhaps they’ll send me photocopies, as they have been good enough to do on earlier occasions. Then I'll let you know, if I may, the true position in each of the examples given. But I doubt if you'll find the result of any striking interest, especially if you're a keen problemist yourself; I think that this is just Schumann at the experimental stage of trying a number of fields ‑ chess, piano‑playing, composing, verse, prose, even mathematics, as another notebook page of permutations shows ‑ to see where his true gifts lay. It's sad to think of that brilliant creative mind being slowly destroyed over the yearsas a result of one further experiment too many.