19 February 1991
Thanks for your thoughtful letter. You ask me to show you where you're wrong, and I gladly comply: I detect two basic errors, one of omission and one of commission, We have left unthought those things which we ought to have thought, and conversely.
To take the more drastic point first, in accordance with the rules of chairmanship; your feelings about money aren’t in the least Marxist, but just about as unMarxist as they could possibly be. Your average comrade would call them petit-bourgeois. Clarity begins at home, so we might begin by asking ourselves and each other whether we're in this business for money; and if not, by what right and on what evidence we impute that conscious motive to others. The only time I ever made Gary really cross, in correspondence or conversation, was when I told him that I sympathised with the administrative and commercial constraints that made it difficult for Oxford to do anything but go on publishing their Shrew volume even though they knew perfectly well it was wrong and misleading. Oh, dear me, such a flushed and fiery flash of resentment at so crass and baseless a slur on the unimpugnable probity of the editorial team. And this wasn't some Freudian double-take or duplicity, on my reading at least (not that that would have impressed me either - I was glad to see in the Times today that the old Father of Lies is at last getting his comeuppance, even from American psychiatrists); it was perfectly genuine and really rather likeable indignation. In vain did I explain that I wasn't talking about him, Heaven forbid, but about the Oxford market men (typically lay preachers, like Robin Denniston, thus confirming my boyhood view that it's always the Church school teams that hack at your legs with their hockey-sticks). Umbrage was decidedly taken; and that was a pity.
At the conscious level at least (and this if anywhere is where we have to be judged) Gary is in the business for Shakespeare's sake, just as we’re rather sure that we are. Even in the market, the attribution of 'sales' to Bains as a conscious criterion is just paranoid. It may be the publishers who get rich; hardly the commentators. In the same way, it was Macmillan not the missionaries who made millions out of selling the Word of God to benighted black Africans (whose Oxbridge-educated chieftains rightly complained that they far preferred the good old days when they had the land and the British had the Bibles). Refrain, therefore, O Tom, from these unworthy thoughts, which will consume you unless checked. As I’m well placed to know, resentment against Melchiori et Al. (e.g. Capone) is not a good guide to clear and incisive thinking. The love of money may be the root of all evil, but the hate of it isn't all that ethical either. Follow rather them that do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, ready to communicate (I Timothy, 6.28). Here endeth the first lesson.
Now for the omission. It seems to me (and of course conversely show me where I'm wrong) that you don't want to begin with the evidence. That comes in at about half-way, when it's often too late.
If you began with the evidence, you wouldn't speak dismissively of 'promotion of the revisionist theory'. That's almost a Taylorian debating trick. He suffers from the same syndrome. If he believed that the sun went round the earth (e.g. so as to see as much of him as possible on its daily round) he would certainly speak with contempt of these dishonest lackeys who slavishly serve the promotion of the heliocentric theory (probably for money). For memorial reconstruction, there is NO EVIDENCE. For revision, there is MASSIVE EVIDENCE. The outrageous pretence that these two alternatives are equiprobable, i.e. 9.9 = 0.01 is at the unsavoury root of all this mischief.
By 'evidence', which I should no doubt seek to define at this juncture, I understand the testimony of historical witnesses and documents; not, and never, modern literary or editorial theory or opinion. Now, if text after text, title-page after title-page, witness after witness, testifies either directly or by immediate inference to Shakespeare's habitual revisions (and I could easily fill another three or four pages with such citations) we really do have to accept that fact instead of speaking of 'the revisionist theory', which can then be feigned to be on a par with the reconstructionist theory, for which no such evidence exists anywhere, or has ever existed. I agree of course that audi alteram partem is a sound legal maxim; but if one party has no relevant facts at all to offer, that's not a good reason for refusing to listen to the party that has.
It seems to me (and don't forget you did ask me) that you're actually creating all the ambiguity and confusion that you affect to find in Bains. Of course 'can' isn't ambiguous; and even if it were, of course Bains wouldn't be using that ambiguity as a devilishly cunning ploy to threw dust in the eyes of all but his most keen-sighted scrutineers. Ask yourself where all those notions come from! If you will kindly remove the beam from your own eye you'll see that what Bains is actually doing (and, very well, perhaps he could have done it better) is to be scrupolously balanced and fair, as befits the scholarly approach. He’s saying, first of all, well it can't be memorial reconstruction, because that entails too many baseless hypotheses, like flying saucers.
Then he says; but there's evidence of revision; and he sets out a selection of it (p.167). One might complain that he should have given all of it, and at an earlier stage; but nobody's perfect, and it would take a book.
Then he says: if you have to choose between the presence and the absence of evidence and in doing so you have to opt for the former. I agree; don't you? He might also have flourished Ockham's Razor, which helps us to choose between one actual entity and scores of hypothetical entities that vary from case to case, as required. But having expressed our preference and made our choice, we then (not earlier) are free to consider what might have happened.
Where you go wrong, it seems to me (and I say again, here am I, for thou didst call me) is to insist on a complete explanation either before or together with the answer of else the answer can't (you feel) be accepted. I think that's an irrational reaction, i.e. an unreasonable demand to make. It's an infallible recipe for intellectual impotence and atrophy. Thinking surely proceeds in stages, a step at a time? You have to make a start even if you can't see exactly where you're getting; otherwise nothing ever gets done. May I recommend the American pragmatists on this question? (Pierce, James, Dewey) . There's a reason for everything, and therefore a reason for which the hypothesis of 'memorial reconstruction' is reflected, almost instinctively, by American Shakespeareans, who aren't all dullards in search of dollars.
Back to Bains. The sentences you complain about, as I'm sure you'll see if you read them again (returned for that purpose - I have plenty of copies!) are actually attempts to say, well, we may not instantly know exactlywhy Shakespeare made all these revisions, but here are a few suggestions for whatever they may be worth. They 'merge into fact', as you put it, because they are based on the massive and incontrovertible evidence (= fact) of revision. But the reason why they took place transcends into aesthetics – a tricky study (splendidly analysed incidentally, I reckon, in F. Sparshott's Structure of Aesthetics, but that's another question). Many tracks lead into that cave, but none come out; I prefer not to enter. But if pressed I'd say that the real reason was perfectionism, as in the (equally demonstrable and even better documented) bases of Schubert and Brahms, where theories of 'memorial reconstruction' by disaffected instrumentalists or singers have not (yet) come into vogue. It's also true of course that playwrights are often revisers because performance often suggests previously unforeseen possibilities of improvement;
the same applies to composers. Personally I don't find this area all that interesting or rewarding, but I suppose it has to be considered. So Bains considers it. Why that should be thought to affect the validity of his arguments in any way me. I imagine that he's quite young yet. Don't we both really agree right lines? Let's be kind to him. 'O youth who wilt attain,/ On, for thine hour is short./ It may be thou wilt gain/ The many-cannoned fort'. Believe me, Bains is no Melchiori alias Machiavelli. Besides, Bains has kindly cited my TLS review of HamletQ1 on his own work on that play, and has actually asked to have a copy of my Hamlet Studies piece! And has also rescued the first quarto of Merry Wives of mad reconstructionists! I'm not disposed to exchange your blinkers for my rose-tinted spectacles.
Don't forget to test all the early quartos for Shakespearea properties. I've just completed my penultimate recension of my Henry V, Part Two, + FV, having taken careful account of all your comments, for which I'm truly grateful. Your reward shall be that I won't send you the latest version. Part One has gone to Notes and Queries, where L.G. Black has wearily agreed to look through it.
Best as ever,