19. 17 April 1988 [NM] (Rehabilitation; Spedding; Crowther and "Marxist" Bacon; Lewis on Bacon's essays)
Dear Eric, I realize a month has passed since you wrote me your two letters, stimulating as ever. Would have answered at once but I've had a long and happy visit of family – 13 of us over Easter, and the whole month very full, with many pleasures quite alien to writing, though communication with grand-children aged from 10 to 20 is great fun.
Your disagreement with me over the suitability of detraction arouses many thoughts, and I don't know who's right. I don't want to get heavy on the subject, but will answer a few points in your letters, in hopes you'll explore further.
Do I know an equally massive effort of rehabilitation? Yes, even more massive, Spedding's. Useless you will say, since here I am at it again. I just don't know if it will be any use, but I feel it must be written. I don't know any other book on the power of detraction. Is that a reason for not writing on it? It is an overwhelming power, and surely it should be looked at?
I don't feel as you do that I shouldn't care if Shakespeare were a crook. I think he might fail in all sorts of human ways – like Enobarbus, for example. I don't think either he or Bacon could give us what they have out of the depth and breadth of their being, and be torturers, or 'the meanest of mankind'.
Danger of reemphasising the old falsehoods, to the detriment of the new truths. I've thought of that, of course, but not only are the old falsehoods continually being reaffirmed, and new ones of the same ilk invented (witness the Barbican Shakespeare programme taking for granted that Bacon was a torturer). But even those that are not reiterated, are part of set of 'facts' taken for granted by the general public, and many critics. (Not all, a recent edition of the Essays by Michael Kiernan is right outside the legend - but a majority). I think the only way is to face them out. Bacon's way.
Why do I have to controvert each separate detractor? Only inasmuch as I can illustrate the psychological phenomenon of detraction, different in the different centuries and people, but equally poisonous. We see the ills of other centuries better than we do those of our own. But in this case our own are deeply rooted in the earlier ones. And it is the nature of detraction - in the detractors, which means in a large majority of humankind – that I am dealing with.
Now as to whether the public, and (not quite the same thing) publishers like or don't like a book on detraction, remember that the public is scandal-minded and this is scandal. What you, being a mind above scandal detest, and I understand it. But I am rather hoping since I want this question faced – that their liking of scandal will so to speak lure them into it. So long as publishers see the point.
Lastly, why me? Why should I be the nun-errant and rehabilitatrix, wonderful word? I'm not much of a do-gooder. Always believe that do-gooders are out for their own needs, not those of the done-good-to. Only if one feels 'this is my task', a vocation so to speak, should one do it and even then I don't deny I am seeking my own psychological fulfillments, just as the Trojan women wept not for Hector but for their own sorrows. But somehow I have been called to do this, and even if the book were not to be published in my life-time, I know it had to be written.
You mention Crowther. I wonder if you liked his Marxist Bacon? He is for Bacon as a thinker, from his own viewpoint, but, if he does not mention detraction it is because he is a detractor himself. He takes all the lies about Bacon's life for granted, and presents the same two-headed monster, both angel and creeping snake, which Macaulay gave birth to. One of my chapters is headed with these lines from his book: 'Criminal or mental invalid'. He thought electroshock might have put Bacon right.
How was the Winterreise? I'd love to have heard it. I miss those joys, largely because of health problems, but for past two weeks have recovered from a bronchitis that lasted since my trip to Spain in October, so I am greatly enjoying life.
Will you be in England when I plan to go there, end June and early July?
PS Your letter of 5 April just received. Your comments as usual of immense interest to me. How right Bacon was about the effects of tossing one's thoughts back and forth in discourse with a friend. Wish I could have started this tossing sooner.
You have made it clear to me that, as in most interesting situations in life, I am on the horns of a dilemma, and are, I think, pointing to a more precise balance – like the shutting of a door by holding it back. I can't, as you would wish, avoid detraction in a book about detraction. Nor can I, in a history of what detractors can do to a man's reputation, leave out any important denigration, 'for any enemy I have to add', as Bacon put it in his Apology of his actions towards Essex. In a chapter on Bacon's sources of happiness, written to refute detractors, Weldon and Strachey are entirely relevant. (Strachey is still in paperback in all languages including Japanese, and his image of Bacon prevails. The unnamed idiot who called Bacon's essays cactuses, by the way, is C. S. Lewis.)
But you have made me see that somehow I must try for a lighter touch, so as not to muddy Bacon further in scraping the mud off him. To begin with I have removed a few such para's to notes, including the one you object to on Bacon's failure to mention a source. (The interesting point here being that even where we can only guess Bacon might have known this authority, he and he alone is made out 'mean' for not mentioning it. Who ever bothered to in those days?). Yet somehow the detractors must be shown up in all their inconsistency and prejudice.
You are right of course about the excessive quotes – a beginner's defect. Yet I do warn the reader in Ch. 1 that I want to make Bacon as far as possible speak for himself. I've tried to make the discourse flow through the quotes. Perhaps the printers will help by making them light.
I hope to write more about Bacon/Shakespeare imagery in my next book. Elizabeth Sewell has a fascinating study of this.
Since you are so rash as to offer comment on further chapters, I am sending you a few more from this section of Bacon/poet. You will if course object to the presence of detractors, however brief, but may also find other points which I could improve.
I am delighted about your son's success, and your own re Edward III. But do let me know your July dates. I hope I wont miss you in England.
With continuing thankfulness for all your interest and help