6. 29 September 1987 [ES] (Graphology and paleography; Hamilton; forensic studies)
thank you for your letter of 21 September. In my experience, we shan't get much of a helping hand from academic graphology or palaeography. I don't think, firstly, that it much exists any more, as a scholarly discipline. Maunde Thompson was the last of that learned line. The few professed experts left are even older than I am, and use their prestige solely to sustain the consensus; Shapiro of the Birmingham Shakespeare Institute is an awe-inspiring example of oak-size dead wood. He has only to hear a rumour that Shakespeare's will has (yet again) been identified as holograph to write in from a great height explaining that as every reputable scholar, i.e. himself, well knows, the signature is not compatible with the rest. It's useless to point out that a systematic study of the actual letter-forms shows that it is indeed entirely compatible, or to say that what 'by me' on wills of this period actually means is 'in my own hand throughout'. But the gulf is unbridgable; those who have seen the moons of Jupiter are entirely unimpressed by those who refuse to look through the telescope, and conversely.
Such misgivings as I have about Charles Hamilton, whose identifications I would for the most part gladly accept, are solely attributable to the fact that his methods are really exactly the same as those of the academics he so despises, namely the appeal to the expert eye, which is just another way of saying 'I , the expert', and equally fallible I fear, in all contexts.
Well, there might be some hope of better sense from the young ones coming up, which sounds like mushrooms – all too apt, alas, because they seem to assume predestined stances from the moment they first appear above ground. As soon as they show their heads we can recognise the resemblance to mortarboards. Further, there are perceptible signs of deterioration in scholarly standards. As Kingsley Amis grumpily observed, more means worse; and now we're being flooded from the reservoir of tapped untalent. All the same, it ought to be possible to find some young and malleable mind eager to apply itself to these matters. But I haven't seen any such sign so far.
The best we can do, I've always thought, is to locate an interested expert in the forensic field and direct his or her attention to the delights, and possible discoveries, of palaeographic studies, especially in Tudor and early Stuart times. I found one in David Ellen of Scotland Yard, who was a lively and helpful ally until he was inconsiderately transferred to Australia to set up a scientific police unit there, since when he's been rather uncommunicative: perforce, no doubt. His career must come first. But I haven't anything for him at the moment, because my own plans are in abeyance; and he may well by now have attained a stage of more reasonable leisure and indeed be grateful for diversion. It wouldn't do any harm, I'm sure, if you felt you wanted to write to him on some specific problem of handwriting comparison, which is high among his professional skills, well-tested and accredited in practice, for example in courts of law. The last address I have for him is [...]
I've now finished a huge piece on Hamlet too hefty to send. You shall have an offprint, and welcome, when (if ever) it gets published. On which topic, yes, I have met Colin Haycraft a time or two; and as you know I'm eager to be of all possible service to you and your great cause. He has a reputation, though, for not taking very kindly, or being none too responsive, to outside intervention. I think the best course would be to wait and see what his reader has to say. If then there's any way I can be of any assistance in any capacity, e.g. as an on-the-spot intermediary with some knowledge of one or two of the questions involved, I'd be happy and privileged to help. I reckon too that I know one or two other publishers who might well be interested, if it came to that, as I trust it won't. With reasonable luck there'll be no difficulty, anyhow. Colin H. reckons to be an independent person in every sense, and he's really a rather good judge, I believe, of truly worthwhile enterprises, and has certainly shown a willingness to support them. He is a cultured man, and commercial considerations are not his first care. In any event, the approval of your Anglo-Italian critic is surely more than just encouraging; it's evidential: and worth mentioning to Himself, as his wife Alice Thomas Ellis mock‑deferentially styles him. She is of course much the better writer of the two, as she has spent many years in not mentioning. Perhaps you know her pieces in The Spectator?
I’m sure Christopher's intervention won't have been counter-productive, because he has something positive to offer. En revanche, I found myself warmly recommending him yesterday; as usual. We had a meeting of the committee of our lieder competition, which has been promised further generous subventions sufficient to ensure its biennial continuance for some years ahead. One corollary, I thought, was to make it just as prestigious as possible by opening entry to a wider field, with an extended age-limit; increasing the prize money; inviting Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to serve on the jury and contribute a culminating concert; and securing some television coverage. All these motions ware duly carried; and I was empowered to approach my suggested nominee on the last point. I've just written to Christopher accordingly.
Meanwhile I'm battling on, with Edward III through Sluys, Crecy and Poitiers. I have a certain affinity with that monarch – I spent much of my youth climbing up the ruins of one of his castles, near my home town. My bedside reading is an introduction to Aristotle. How very Baconian he is!
Best wishes and regards, as ever,