8. 13 October 1987 [NM] (Mrs. Gallup and Bacon's cipher; cryptanalysis problems)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs. Mathew’s letters)

Dear Eric,

Your letter is full of interesting points as usual, plus today's most stimulating note ('damn braces, bless relaxes', remember? tho' of course blessings in their right place are good too). I'm answering now because I'm soon off to Spain and wont be back till 10 November, and then off again on the 22d to Cairo for ten days. I can't tell you what it means to me to be in contact with a mind like yours, so quick and sure – and knowing enough in my own field to put me in my place! In some ways very like my father's.

   Yes I definitely plan to consult your friend in Australia when the time comes. Thank you for the suggestion. Loved your remarks on the young mushrooms in whose predestined stances the mortarboards are visible, and alas on the reservoir of untapped untalent. I look forward immensely to seeing your Hamlet. Not to speak ofEdward III.

  Your remarks about suggested help for my book very good and wise, and thank you for your offer of such help as the need may arise. Yes I know the books of Alice Thomas Ellis, great fun if a little dry.

   And so glad you are bringing Christopher into your lieder. [...]. Music for me (aside from listening) goes no further than playing over – in memoriam and with love – a few Chopin preludes on my mother's Bechstein grand – which awaits you here when you can visit. She was a fine pianist, of concert standard but too shy to play outside her family. The most beautiful touch, which one grand-daughter has inherited (but wont practise, while the other, who hasn't, works away...) The piano is slightly too resonant in the high notes, I don't know why. It badly needs someone to play a lot on it.

   Bacon was of course much more Aristotelian than he would let on. If in your readings in Aristotle you come across the following, I'd be most grateful if you would tell me where it's from: 'Apply yourselves to the study of things themselves. Be not forever the property of one man.' A sentence that Bacon often had in mind.

   Now your very interesting note on my cryptographic pages – blunt or sharp, thank you so much for it. Cutting this out – yes if I'm pressed for space. But you see the image formed of Bacon by the Baconians, with all its follies, is a part of that whole strange story of what can happen to the reputation of a man, it is light relief in places, but it is a facet of the image and part of my story.

And yes of course your remarks are always helpful, whether I agree or not. I take your point that I haven't given Friedman his due. But if he was one of the greatest cryptologists ever, was he so unreliable a judge of human nature? Both he and his wife closely watched Mrs. Gallup at work, and they were convinced of her complete honesty (see page 189 of their book). She died in poverty, almost blind from the strain of distinguishing minute differences of print, having deciphered with complete conviction a tale of some 150,000 words –  including passages personally distasteful to her (see passage cited Friedman p.197). I do think it's a strange case, involving subconscious memories of Homer, in Pope's version and others. If, as you say, there is later evidence to show she was a deliberate fraud, the case is even more strange. I sh'd be very glad for a pointer to that evidence, if you can remember it.

   Cartier actually himself deciphered a few pages following her indications, to his own satisfaction, tho' not that of the Friedmans – see pp 252 ff, and their final expression of regret, page 262, for having exposed 'unprofessional sloppy work in a professional cryptologist of such eminence'. (It was when I read Cartier's book, long ago, that I first became interested).

   I have indeed confused Dr Orville Ward Owen, with Sir Wilfrid [sic] Owen, another Baconian. Thank you very much for pointing this out to me.

   No I don't know of anyone using Bacon's cipher. It would be rather fun to. Must set my grandchildren onto it.