3. 18 July 1987 [NM] (Northumberland MS; Edmund Ironside; Shakespeare's Handwriting; various questions)
I have read your book from cover to cover, and some bits twice, with tremendous enjoyment. I don't know when I have had the pleasure of meeting with such a truly scholarly mind, as I see scholarship. There are so many ways of writing bad books, or merely unsatisfactory ones, in both history and literature, and in the course of my Bacon studies I've read so many variously bad ones. Yours satisfies me on every count. You have of course proved your point not only up to the hilt but coming right out on the other side. No wonder the book is selling. What still never ceases to amaze me is the unscholarliness of so called scholars, these petty defences that they feel they have to put up against the truth - which is surely such a joy to find, even when one is wrong. Eg Schoenbaum (who excluded the Northumberland MS from his book of documents mentioning Shakespeare - possibly the most interesting document - can you conceive why?) and Gary Taylor with his inconclusive, and anyway not very interesting thesis about this poem. I was also delighted to see the refutation of some of that scribe/ composer/ forgetful actor business, all those top heavy theories they can spin indefinitely like the schoolmen Bacon derided, spinning their cobwebs out of the substance of their own brains.
Shakespeare studies are greatly enriched by your book. It is so clear that he himself launched a good deal of what he was supposed to have imitated. And it is very exciting to find the source of discoveries about him has not tarried. Already Hotson gave that feeling. And Hamilton too (of whom more below). But to see Stitch who will lead to Bottom, and images such as the tree hacked at the root that reappears in Henry VIII, or 'woman's silence', that will become her 'gracious silence' in Coriolanus, or the defection that will give us Enobarbus, the quarrel that will lead to the Brutus and Cassius scenes, and all the puns and Shakespearian expressions ('court appendixes')...
I like your style so much, so concise and pungent, and at times brilliantly elliptical, reflecting your subject - as is so natural and right - (eg the academic axes ground against Ironside or teaching the incontrovertible to the unconvertible - in vain - or inserting a whole drama into 'the crack made by a comma'). And I like the way you attack your subject from every possible side, and parry every argument that might be made against you before it is made, with complete efficiency. Also when you make a conjecture, even if it cannot be proved, it is very convincing. Eg the probable censureship of Edmund Ironside.
1. But I am intrigued by your barely touching on an argument that would have rendered all the rest, however interesting, unnecessary. Is the text of this play really a Shakespeare holograph? If so why do you say so temptingly little about it? Or have you written about it elsewhere? You mention no plans to do so. Please some more on this.
2. Reading Edmund Ironside itself was quite an experience (I wanted to see it, but it was not on in London) and of course it does have the density, the scale, the psychological depths ('I must remember what he did for me, therefore I hate him' - Billy Budd, and Amadeus). And how contemporary the double agent theme is today. Also that ending which has in it the seed of its future opposite. Was it in Holinshed? It would be interesting to see the Holinshed pages. Was such a peace actually made, and at the villain's suggestion?
Some queries. NB my questions are not academic or mere curiosity, they are really important for me, and indeed much of your book is going to help me with my next one. So though there is no hurry I'd love answers to each one if and when you can.
3. I take it you don't look on Shakespeare as a Catholic, as a number of people insist he was. Pure conjecture, I think.
4. I like your exhaustive method, by negative as well as positive argument. But do you always do it? It's a big job to check that this or that is in no other contemporary dramatist.
5. Eg is no other interested, as Shakespeare was, in marriage rites?
6. Did no others use the notion of 'planting'? Planting was of course colonizing. they 'planted' men in Ireland, but perhaps (7.) Shakespeare used the expression first. Were no other dramatists in love with antithesis? Bacon certainly was, I have quite a few pages on this in my book.
8. I've often wondered if when OED attributes the invention of a word to Shakespeare, or another, it isn't simply that he put into a play what was already common parlance?
9. Have you written about Edward III, which I take it is also by Shakespeare? If so, please, details, so I can get the book.
10. What do you think of a book I found fascinating, and also had rare thing, good scholarship: Shakespeare's Typological Satire, by Alice Lyle Scoufos?
Now about your letter which awaited me on my return from my travels. I really would like some more comments on your friend Hamilton. I think you are too lenient on him. He is not merely 'going too far' when he asserts as truth the most outrageous untruths, indeed the exact opposite of the truth. Hotson went too far, he assumed on page 1 that Shakespeare and another man were 'intimate friends', and on page 30 built a whole theory on the 'fact' that they were, as he often did. And so does almost every Shakespeare biographer. One can say halt to them.
But what Hamilton does makes one uncertain of everything he says. You support him on the holograph will, and I think he does make his point, but, though you are 'rather sure' he's right on 'other more original claims', below you feel he is subjective 'even in his own specialist field'. This is of particular interest to me because it is a revolutionary statement to assert that Shakespeare corrected some of Bacon's texts. It would be of the greatest possible interest to me in my book. But this would have to be proved in the way you do it, taking it from every angle, not just lightly identifying the hand-writing, without sufficient detail, and passing on as if we could now all take that for granted. The Northumberland MS looks to me very like a collection the Bacon brothers (working as an intelligence service for Essex), or Bacon (as Queen's Counsel) might have had in hand: plays that had got their authors into trouble (one by Nash, and Richard II) and other politically dangerous texts (Leicester’s Commonwealth). If Shakespeare’s handwriting got into this it should be shown letter by letter, with great care. I wish Hamilton would do this.
11-14 Now I must end this long letter with more requests, if you can be patient. But it's your fault for starting it all! Could you possibly send me a photocopy of the TLS review of Hamilton's book, and of your protest? And if possible of the review of Edward III in The Times?
I’m tremendously interested in your Hamlet studies, and I feel sure you will indeed blow the Establishment at the moon. You've already done so with Edmund Ironside. Do let me know how you progress.
Though I hope you will get to the lieder eventually. It was in those lovely bars you played for us that I first met you.
15. Lastly, speaking of Hotson, I did think his early date for some at least of the sonnets was convincing, they would have been written around the same time as Edmund Ironside. What do you think?
Christopher Nupen has followed up his interest in my Bacon and very kindly spoken to Haycroft, who is still daunted by the size of the book. We'll see.
The name is Hayat, pronounced on the last A. It means life, and every time any one says it they give me more life.
All power to your elbow in the blowing up of the establishment. I look forward to hearing from you - but I hope you'll have some holidays first.
And to conclude, once again, I cannot tell you what fun reading your book has been. I'll be studying it quite thoroughly later, particularly all the passages, phrases, image clusters typical of Shakespeare.
With every good wish
“I, dwelling purely and constantly among the facts of nature, withdraw my intellect from them no farther than may suffice to let the images and rays of natural objects meet in a point, as they do in the sense of vision; whence it follows that the strength and excellency of the wit has but little to do in the matter.” Preface to theGreat Instauration, Bacon IV, 19.