12. 16 November 1970 [AW]
You say: 'One thing rather puzzles me. If the element of irrationality is removed from the picture, and then the element of brain syphilis is substituted, how does that help the "falling-off"?'
I think it removes a false equation: 'Schumann was mad, therefore his late music is suspect.' You say it merely substitutes another: 'Schumann had syphilis, therefore his late music is suspect.' I happen to think that this is equally false. It is not the true alternative to the first. There are two reasons.
First, nobody says: 'Delius had syphilis, therefore... ' or: 'Chopin had tuberculosis, therefore ...', or: 'Beethoven was deaf, therefore ... '. And the reason they don't is obvious. A physical handicap, far from impairing the creative impulse, will frequently stimulate it. You can add many other names to my short list of such geniuses.
More important, both equations are wrong because both are irrelevant. The answer to the 'falling-off' theory in Schumann's music lies solely in the music. Nothing in my article denies this proposition; the final paragraph actually stresses it. Let us listen to Schumann's late works without bias. That's all I'm saying. It seemed to me that we might do worse than to start by
discarding the assumption that it was written by a madman. When a genius goes mad we can't forget it. When he gets gout we can't remember it.
Can I take up one more point in your letter? 'The actual question at issue seems one for a physiologist rather than a psychiatrist, i.e. for Meyer rather than Slater.' Surely, the whole point of their diagnosis was that it was a joint effort. Meyer the physiologist was involved. Would his contribution be half so significant if Slater was not also there to say what Schumann didn't suffer? As I understand the diagnosis, Slater makes Meyer possible.
As you know, the article was written in 48 hours. As you don't know, it was severely sub-edited, and I didn't see any proofs. Consequently, it doesn't say all I wanted it to say.
Things will be put right in my own contribution to our Schumann Symposium. I hope you will look through my typescript for me in a month or two, since I do not regard myself as a Schumann expert, and even if I did I should seek your invaluable advice.
Regarding your son Jeremy, I should be happy to help in any way possible. The best violin teachers of my acquaintance live in North London. If the boy is talented, and wants to succeed,
he should clearly be helped.
All good wishes,