To Gary Taylor
previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams
13 February 1986
Thank you for your letter of 4 February, received this morning. I suspect that the reason why your review was delayed, and why you heard about the first version of my article, was that we were both being manipulated. TheSunday Times commissioned 3,500 words from me because (they said) your review was so viciously hostile that I should be given a go at counter-attacking blindfold, like a game of Kriegspiel. Our two views would then get simultaneous exposure. That didn't appear; nor did my vigorous protest about the earlier Oxford onslaught as recorded by Lebrecht.
You can rely on me for an equally vigorous rebuttal of your review, and the Oxford attitudes generally. As you suggest, we all have to speak up for ourselves. I don't know what if anything the Sunday Times will publish, but my letter certainly quotes you. I'm sorry to be menaced, in retaliation, with a refusal to correspond with me. But it's already rather hard to tell what difference that will make in practice. You've been incommunicado for a very long time. I can understand your silence on Henry V but you actively sought and have received, my views on Henry VI.
And, really, you must stop taking that top-lofty tone about morality, legality and so forth. Why would anyone write to you except as an Oxford editor: and in what other capacity are you replying? You can't honestly believe that you belong to some salaried secret society. Everyone else in professional or public life has to mean what they say and be accountable for it, as I did for 30 years and still do. If you don't agree, let's go to arbitration. Why don't you ask Robin Denniston whether it's OK for you to be writing private letters on the firm's paper?
Another practice you might now consider abandoning is making things up and calling them fact, scholarship, and so forth. For example your review spends its first 35 lines blackguarding me because of my alleged choice of title. But I had nothing at all to do with it; it was my publisher's; the first I saw of it was on every proof page, fait accompli. Again, you say, rather unlovable, that I characteristically slide over the embarrassing fact that Ironsidewas acted in the 1630s, whereas the true fact (embarrassing to you, I trust) is that I say exactly that, point-blank, on p. 40, where you have missed it. Similarly you miss and indeed misquote and travesty my arguments and call the results my fallacies. In your place I'd go easy on accusations of illogicality, deviousness, and so on. I think your approach is much more vulnerable than mine, which is conscious advocacy. Yours is unconscious advocacy; that's why everyone but you can recognise it. You will, too, in a year or so's time.
As I've already said in an earlier letter, all this is about Shakespeare, not personalities. I genuinely (if you'll allow that adverb) regret your self-destructive tendencies. They are at their most dangerous for you in attribution studies, including Bad Quarto theory, where you are helplessly out of your depth. The right approach, I'm sure, is by way of history and formal logic. These, as you ought to know by now, just aren't your gifts. In those fields, believe me (as an old examiner) you'll always be out-argued, or just give yourself away. For example, I see (TLS 31/i) that on your own showing the chance that your Rawlinson MS attribution is wrong may well be as high as four in fifty-four (an equally fair way of putting your own point). But this is just a wager that a random card from the pack will not be an ace. Of course it may not be; but then again it may; and who else would risk a fiver on it, let alone the credit and cash of the Oxford edition?
Why won’t you, in such matters, just seek guidance? There's no shortage of Oxford historians and logicians. Then you could concentrate your own intellectual abilities, for which (as I've also already said) I have a high regard, on those fields in which you really excel and shine.
What could be more sensible? or, I fear, less likely.
But best wishes anyhow,