15. 20 November 1970 [ES]
Bless you, my son; and if ever you'd like a heart-to-heart talk followed by plenary absolution, just say the word, and I'll give the sign.
Less seriously, I'm glad to know we stand if not heart to heart then at least shoulder to shoulder. Well, head to shoulder. Of course Schumann didn't go mad before the final breakdown. Only madmen think that. Of course some of his latter and last music is marvellous; and so say April Cantelo, David Lloyd-Jones, Peter Pears, Ronald Crichton, Robert Layton, William Mann, and others including, yourself. Why not do a programme on the subject with testimony and examples? I think you' d have a good case, and could certainly present it effectively, if you just said that what we need is a new critical yardstick to judge these works by. No doubt you can also provide one. It's very easy, I confess, to judge in a slipshod sort of way, according to whether these works remind one of earlier Schumann (good) or not (bad). They ought to be loved (or loathed) in their own right. Fine.
But it's my turn to be blest if I can see how you help Schumann's cause by saying – of course he wasn't mad before 1854 – he was just brain-sick after 1844. Mad people have created art; brain-sick people never. And if you're going to take the line that he definitely had syphilis you're going to give ordinary music-lovers, aren't you, the indelible impression that the music like the mind deteriorated to death? The proof of cerebral decline seems to me to be infinitely more damning, not less, than the proof of mental decline.
But perhaps it's not quite proven. There's some more evidence not considered by Slater, namely Schumann's finger, which may well point one way or the other. We ought to have it out some time, quite seriously. It really was a very mysterious hushed up affair – have you been able to establish from the sources for example exactly what happened, to what finger, from what cause, with what result, at what time, for what period; with what medical advice, with what contemporary therapeutic notions in view, and so on and so forth? No two sources tell the same story (except those who shamelessly crib from each other); and there are sore very extraordinary clues and hints that would be fascinating to follow up if one had the time. For example why in the world should Schumann go to a doctor in Dresden? And Wieck went with him! How about consulting a physician on that subject? Another interesting programme.