3 January 1987
thanks for your letter. Happy new year. I don't a bit mind what you say. I'm just a paper tiger; fierce oily in controversy, but there implacable. What you call 'noblesse oblige' for example I call pretentious academic balls. Pascal may well be a true mathematician, but he was also (?therefore) a superstitious crackpot. I don't believe in revealed truths brought down from some empyrean stratosphere and displayed to the wondering multitudes. The criteria of commonsense pragmatism insist, it seems to me, that you have to subordinate your theories to the assurance of Hemings and Condell, and that their considered opinion massively outweighs yours! But of course I'm interested in the latter, and in particular to know what evidence in your view indicates 1 Henry V 'collaboration' (meaning what, exactly? two or more people as an inference from two or more inferred styles) and what objective criteria validate that evidence. Don't you agree that 1 Henry V1 was printed (and indeed revised in the Second Folio) from Shakespeare's own manuscript? Let's have a bit of respect for that. At least any methodology has to begin at that point, surely, and take it into account?
I think it's clear from what you say that the methods of mathematics are quite inappropriate as the main means of attribution studies; they begin by ignoring the evidence and proceed from there. No wonder the mathematicians disagree; they all begin with private assumptions which they think of as indisputable fact, quite often because Stanley Wells has told them so. Well, no doubt we both suffer from what the French rather unkindly call 'déformation professionelle'. My approach for what it's worth is supposed to be the one that got theMore lines into the Oxford Works; that's real achievement, from R.W. Chambers. As he says, it's the mode of reasoning employed by all ordinary rational people every day of their ordinary lives. As he also (almost ) says, that's why academics hate it so much. I was trained in it for some fifty years, first as a crossword puzzle addict then a chessplayer ther a cryptanalyst and a musicologist and a lifelong civil servant. As you'll readily see, there's no hope for me. But I do seem to recall that, in Whitehall and the law courts, for example, people who insisted that proof was obtainable solely by repeated and unsuccessful attempts to falsify the hypothesis would not be widely regarded as doing much to further the aims of administration or the cause of justice. They would, in my job anyhow, have been earnestly recommended to take extended annual leave.
But if, as you say, that's a vital part of your methodology, then why don't you do it? Have you really and truly made 890 trillion attempts to falsify your your own considered opinion about 1 Henry VI for example?
One reason why I don't ever pretend to go in for that sort of caper is that I know perfectly well that I'm not the best person to entrust with the task of falsifying my own hypothesis. As in a court of law, and for exactly the same sensible reason, that's best left to the other side. You and I for example ought to make a good team; we should I'm sure be more effective at falsifying each other's hypotheses than our owns! I'd be disposed to make a start by falsifying your hypothesis that falsifying a hypothesis is a validation. Even Popper says it isn't. Long live inductive inference, even though it's fallible, like most things in this life. If you're after certainties you're doomed to disappointment and defeat, often at the hands of your intellectual inferiors. Just come down to earth with the rest of us and you'll be much more effective and acknowledged.
However, I agree with you that ore ought to state the counter-arguments, if not in totally Thomist terms (have you ever wondered accidentally why you so much admire the thought-processes of theologians?). I'd happily have stated the arguments for early Ironside dating, or for the existence of plagiarism c.1590, if I knew what they were. What are they? They seem to me mere academic inventions, manufactured mostly in the Oxford Works. They never seem to consult the Oxford Dictionary, to see what plagiarism actually means and entails.
If you personally (and I was pleased to learn of this) agree with my (and everyone else's) Ironside dating, how do you explain the alleged plagiarisms? By making Shakespeare the plagiarist? I could very easily get ever more tedious and tendentious on that topic, as (they tell me) on most others. But I'll content myself with seeking your professional view on the enclosed piece about 'Shall I Die?'.
And since we seem to be at least somewhat aligned in our perspectives on the Oxford editors, I thought you might be diverted by the enclosed draft of an article I'm writing for Encounter (on appro, of course) in follow-up of a piece about the authorship of Troublesome Reign kindly accepted by Notes and Queries. Any comments?
What are you currently working on? I'd always be interested to hear and (if you could stand it) comment. Wilf Smith is being very helpful to my friend and admired mentor Hugh Calvert about his word-tests etc. And what do you think about Greene/Chettle? That comes up in a huge mad book by one Ogburn that I've been sent from the States. It's rather comforting perhaps to think that there are lunatics ever worse than us who are still allowed out.
Thanks finally for the corrigenda; I fear there are others. I'm glad to see your special interest in H8. If your computer thinks that John Fletcher wrote 'Orpheus with his lute' I shall come and throw a spanner in its Works too.