50. 13 June 1993 [ES] (Vickers on Bacon book; "isms"; Real Shakespeare)
Thanks for your letter; it was good to hear from you direct, as well as via Christopher (who sounds in good and cheerful form). I was sorry to hear about your bronchial troubles. I was an asthmatic subject, and so were both our sons. [...]
Yes. I'm sure that Brian Vickers is thorough. I see him as a sort of George Steiner, reciting the same refrain of
Est-il possible, le fût-il,/ ce fier exil, ce triste exil?
I've just been reading, or rather reading in, his big book of all contemporary Shakespeare quarrels (except mine, in which I fear he's rather on the wrong side, e.g. in 'memorial reconstruction', though he can clearly see through the illogicalities of the Oxford position on e.g. Pericles). His book, which I looked through in its first draft for Yale, has been reasonably well received; but I don't really quite understand why commentators shouldn't have their Marxist, feminist, Freudian etc. Shakespeares. Why not? and indeed what else? So the argument begins to look like a campaign against -isms, which is itself just another -ism (i.e. antiismism). But at least he has managed to reduce his own massive material into a viable volume; he has, that is to say, successfully surmounted the difficulties which continue to beset both of us. Therefore, I feel, his words have weight; and his own recent experience (which cannot have been altogether enjoyable, however salutary) has relevance.
My own difficulty about Bacon has always been that he seems to me to have been rightly acknowledged as the founding father of English (and hence American) empiricism, the school to which I was sent and indeed belonged by elective affinity from childhood on. I've now come, alas all too belatedly, to Bentham and Mill, who seem to me my soul-mates as well as each other's. They don't belittle Bacon, and I'm blissfully ignorant about those who do. No doubt all such rotters should be routed and refuted; but we who don't know about them can't somehow seem to summon up much interest in hearing about them in detail solely in order to discover in comparable detail how very wrong-headed they were and are.
I quite agree though that these topics and tasks, however taxing, have to be tackled (for reasons incidentally that Mill gives very compellingly, in On Liberty). I suffer, therefore, from exactly the same predicament in Shakespeare studies; and my allowance is only a niggardly 100,000 words. My present approach is to write just the first part of a 'two-volume tome. There's a certain irony in finishing at 1594, the date of publication of the first play, as if Shakespeare gets rather boring in print or performance. But it may help in showing what demand, if any, exists for a sequel, 1594-1616. Anyhow, that's the compromise I'm currently working towards; the picture may become less cloudy by the time I reach my ominously-named dead-line in September.
As I recall it, your own Bacon can't conveniently be thus sliced. Yet it is, I believe, two books, as you seem to say; exegesis, and apologia. So it seems to me that if it really has to be cut (but what does Robert say?) then both parts are to be pared in parallel parity. And authors aren't the best guides for that purpose, least of all for their own work and not much better for anyone else's. I'm rather involved and unobjective about you and your endeavours, and you're very kind about mine. What we each need is an affable and understanding editor to work for us pour nos beaux yeux; but they're an endangered if not extinct species and their services are in practice exceedingly expensive (which is one reason why so many books are so shoddily serviced, even by university presses).
That said, of course I'd be happy to read any or all of your work and to help in any way I could. Naturally Bacon and Shakespeare should collaborate; and I think we might have been introduced thus at our dinner-parties. Oh, by the way,.. do you know... have you met...? It might make an amusing script.
Thanks for taking up the cudgels on my behalf. I'm venturing to enclose a piece which offers to draw inferences from the name 'Hamlet'. The trouble is that other editors don't want the TLS leavings. I've asked the TLS people whether they do, but I doubt it. Meanwhile I have plenty of other work on hand. My Schumann and Wolf song-books are now both out in Faber paperback third-edition reissues (you're very welcome to copies of either or both); I'm busy with the Gruner lieder competition, and teaching at the Guildhall and the Academy; Christopher rings up from time to time; I've been asked for a contribution to a Warlock symposium; and so forth. Then there's Shakespeare reviewing (two 'Bad Quarto' editions, and the Cambridge 1-3 Henry VI and rebutting my tiresome friend Wilf Smith is attacking Ironside from behind well-protected statistical entrenchments). I also enclose my latest contribution to the public prints, in the hope that it has some interest for you. Then there's the book, of course.
[...] Enid's best friend for years and years, also a piano teacher, died recently on holiday in Italy. It was a good way to go, they say; the setting sun, and music at the close; and a view over Lake Garda. E il naufragio è dolce in questo mare.
Well, back to our books and our lives. Take great care, deep breaths and so on; arrange not to be exerted, and to have only the nicest things happen to you. I've been much alleviated lately by lunches with our great accompanist Graham Johnson and his friend the great verse-speaker Jill Balcon, widow of the lamented laureate Cecil Day-Lewis. It's like talking to Voice and Verse personified; and the hours fly by. As I observed in my cups, living thus allegorically makes the time go allegorically; but I was eventually forgiven, and even had my glass replenished. Jill reminds me of you, rather, though she hasn't yet touched on such topics as Baudelairisation. I qualify as a Day-Lewis admirer, and have just been given the master's own signed copy of the Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge; which I take very kindly.
And so farewell for now,
warmest wishes and regards as ever,