1. 30 June 1987 [NM] (Bacon and Shakespeare; holographs and handwriting problems; Hamilton; Spedding)
Meeting you and Christopher Nupen at our delightful party was the highlight of my trip to London, and I must again thank you for the treasure-trove: your pages in Encounter, which I whole heartedly endorse, they say what I guessed but did not exactly know; your book, which I will soon read, and Hamilton's search of Shakespeare, about which I am now writing, as it is so very much up my street for my own second book.
It was really exciting to find that Shakespeare and Bacon's writing may be on the same page, and Shakespeare may have annotated a text of Bacon's. If this is so it is conclusive proof of the thesis of my next book. But...
The first point is that Hamilton outside his own speciality, handwriting, is about as unreliable as they go. Example: On p. 168, he describes Spedding, the editor of Bacon's works, in the 1860s, as “a noted Bacon scholar and a rabid Baconian”, adding that some allusions in the Northumberland MS (which he had himself unearthed) led him 'to conclude he had discovered fresh evidence that Bacon wrote the plays and poems of Shakespeare'. Now this will never cease to amaze me, how can people blithely state as truth the figment of their own brain, and where on earth did he get this? Spedding was never rabid, he was the most prudent and careful scholar. He waited 40 years to produce his book defending Bacon, in order to make sure he had gathered enough evidence. And far from being a Baconian, he clearly stated that Baconians were barking up the wrong tree, since his intimate knowledge of both writers convinced him they could not be the same man. Nowhere in his remarks on the Northumberland Ms (Letters and Life, vol i, pp.119 ff.) is there any suggestion that Spedding looked on it as evidence that Bacon wrote the plays.
So you see Eric, much as I would like to believe him right, my confidence in Hamilton cannot survive such irresponsible statements. Still less when I find him adding his bit, with equal irresponsibility, to Bacon's black legend (p.192): “Certainly Bacon would not have crayfished at putting his own name on the work of a ghost writer like Shakespeare. Recall that Bacon was an opportunist long on brains but short on scruples. He personally obtained the treason conviction of his friend and benefactor Lord Essex...” Please read on, all Hamilton says, also about his conviction for bribery, is rubbish. It is inconceivable for a man with any claim to scholarship, to make such statements, after Spedding conclusively proved that the small part Bacon played in Essex's trial (conducted by Coke and others, not by Bacon as Hamilton states on p.28) had no effect whatever on Essex's destiny.
After this I cannot help doubting all Hamilton's suggestions, and what I would like to ask you, if you have a moment to write to me about this, is whether you feel confident that at least in his own field he is to be relied on? Have there been good reviews? (I didn't spot him in TLS). Has any one approved? Do you have cuttings? Photocopies would be greatly appreciated! Have you studied his handwriting conclusions in detail?
I notice he leaves confirmation of the authenticity of Bacon's alleged marginal comment (pp 180-3) to experts, but he is very confident about Shakespeare's own writing, and I must say convincing, on the will and the Thomas More pages. But he jumps, I feel, too quickly to conclusions about the corrections on the Northumberland MS, a word inserted here or there. I understand what he means by the “feel” of a writing. But have you seen how close the “feel” of Bacon's formal page (p.187) is to the Thomas More and other Shakespeare pages? Of course there are differences of detail that show two different hands. But I would like confirmation by someone not so ready to jump to conclusions as Hamilton seems, regarding the corrections of Bacon's text by Shakespeare. They might be by Bacon himself? Although I note that Spedding (p. 121) says the text has 'certainly not been corrected by Bacon'.
I myself have the facsimile edition of the Northumberland MS, and I looked up in particular folio 34. I am not convinced, though I would of course like to be.
Also he states as a fact (p. 164-5) without clear demonstration, that the curious sign on the Northumberland MS, (which Baconians have taken to be a typical Bacon sign, where he wished to draw attention to a paragraph), represents the initials of Shakespeare. This is something I planned to follow out in my next book. Anything you may have thought about it would be very helpful.
So that's enough for one session. I look forward very much to hearing from you about all this when you can spare a moment, and meantime I will soon be reading your own book.
With every good wish
PS I have ordered a copy of Hamilton. May I keep yours until it comes? I would like to transcribe your marks and remarks. But I realize that you wont be able to refer to it to answer me till then...