4. 14 January 1968 (Meine Rose; Hermann und Dorothea- MT essay; ciphers)
Dear Mr. Brown,
I think I see the force of your prefatory remark “this is not a proper letter”. But it was very welcome; it cheered me up a great deal; and indeed put me into a frame of mind so sunny that it almost made up fur the weather, and so liberal tat it almost made up for the Government.
The fascinating metaphor of drooping and reviving puts a new slant (if you will forgive so overprecise an expression) on many hitherto obscure topics; it permits, for example, an interesting reinterpretation of the exact relationship between Isabella and her pot of basil. “Basil”; well, we might have known; and what of “oh cruelty, said she/ to take my basil-pot away from me”. The drooping-on-the-stem trope of “wilt thou?” is the very nub of a Schumann song (Meine Rose Op. 90 No.2, no doubt well known to you) of which, I now see, my interpretation has completely missed the sensational point. “Dich freudig auferstehn”; natürlich. It all goes to show that the young man who was content with a vegetable love might not necessarily have been as pure as the uninitiated supposed. Which (I now perceive) is what Gilbert was saying all along.
I quite follow the nature of your difficulties with the Hermann und Dorothea piece. It’s been with the MTnearly a year, held over because of editorial changes, general consideration for the feelings of the readership etc; and when I eventually saw it in proof I couldn’t understand it myself. However, I’ve been taking a refresher course in cipher, Clara-themes etc. (embolded by a kindly passing reference in The Times the other day to the effect that the case seems now proved), and have persuaded Faber & Faber to accept a proposal for a book on the subject; and gradually it’s all coming back to me. I sometimes wish it would stay away.
Meanwhile I keep my hand in with reviewing. The latest victim, inter alia (“Schumann as Critic”, Leon Plaitinga, Yale) “I do not think Maurice Brown’s peremptory dismissal of Schumann’s supposition (unhesitatingly supported by Alfred Einstein) that Schubert meant Op. 142 as a sonata is justified.” As you see, the prose style, at least, is open to criticism!