14. 6 March 1988 [NM] (More on Bacon detraction; three kinds of people)
Thank you for your letter and for taking so much trouble over my pages. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. It was of course a blow to me that someone whose opinion I value so highly believes that I should scrap those 1300 pages of typescript and write a different book. But, I've never failed to find, an abundance of good results comes from such blows. Very few people are honest enough to administer them, for which honesty thank you again.
I understand perfectly that you're not 'my man'. The book is of course not for you, who don't need it, since you get at Bacon direct. It is not about Bacon, primarily, It is about the extraordinary power of that extraordinary phenomenon, detraction, which I feel is worth study. In other words, what literary man can do to literary man, or small to great. Except in those concluding chapters, however, Bacon does come through continually, like the sun out of the clouds. But a rehabilitation is necessary. Do you realize you are the only person in the UK or America I've met who is 'devoted to Bacon'? There must be a few more like you, but most of those I've come across look upon him as a monster.
My father used to say, there are three kinds of people, those who see, those who see when they're told, and those who don't see. He belonged to the first category, and so I think do you. I do at times. The people for whom I write definitely belong to the second category. I'm hoping I might even attract some of the third.
Now as to the way of rehabilitation, I don't think the pure positive would be positive in its results. Those who don't see until they are confronted - repeatedly - with the reality will not bother to read any presentation of an attractive Bacon, and in fact they don't. They need to be startled by the contrast between what they are doing, and a reality which can only be made evident to them by an accumulation (hence length of the book) that becomes overwhelming. It often happens that out of a negative looked in the face something more strongly positive may spring, than if no negative is by-passed or ignored. (it was one of Bacon's strongly held beliefs.) I've tried to do this. Every new chapter or section, as its title indicates, begins with the lie, put briefly: 'here is what you have said, now look at Bacon as he really is'.
I'm not sure you have been quite fair in putting the book back on the library bookshelf, before glancing at some other part of it. Naturally there is hardly any of Bacon in what you read, because that section was about his detractors. But in all the rest of the book he is there, and it is exactly as you say: in each an actual lie about Bacon is factually nailed. It took a hundred and fifty pages to deal with one that is still the basic message to students in England today: that Bacon in politics was hardly more than a servile self-seeker, and there is almost nothing but Bacon in these chapters. There are some 120 on the poet in Bacon, the principal cause of his meanness being, allegedly, that 'it is disastrous not to be a poet'. These are the chapters I myself prefer (specially those on the influence of Bacon on the poets - George Herbert, Milton, Pope, Shelley, and others, down to Borjes today). Indeed there is so much that I fear editors will think I am indulging. And yet each word has its place in showing up the lie.
Since you might like this part too - and since you are so good as to spare time for me, I have taken the liberty to send you two small chapters – the smallest of this section (some 14 pp, in all) as I don't want to abuse. There is no kind of hurry to read them, look at them when you feel like it. They will show you more or less the approach for the whole book.
There is of course a personal side which your letter made me look at. What makes us take up a cause? Obviously something in our own make-up. And why do I select the negative as a jumping-off ground? Objectively I think no other way would produce the result I hope for. Subjectively it's interesting to try and find out why one does things, but I wont go into that now. One thing I'm sure of dear Eric is that for my next book you will be 'my man'. It will - if life time cash and patience allow me to write it - be pure positive.
Now in your last remark - that 'a you-and-Bacon book' is what Haycraft wanted, you dare say, and would gladly publish - are you attributing your own view to him, or did you finally speak to him about my book? If so, I'd be grateful for a brief note on what he said. If you didn't get through, don't bother any more, as, somewhat concerned by this remark of yours, I phoned him to find out the situation. He tells me that the lady who was supposed to be reading it (since September) had to go to America, so now someone 'very capable' has got it. No promise that it will be read by June, when I am hoping again to go to London. It all seems very slap-dash to me, but length is the excuse.' (Yet Prof. Zolla here read it from cover to cover in four days.)
One last word: of course I take up your offer of detailed comments on the concluding chapters, if not too much against your grain. Anything you can say will be helpful, and particularly if you think there's too much on Macaulay (ch. 67), and if so what you w'd cut.
Will you be in London towards end June?
Eric thanks again, good work, success and fun