23. 20 September 2000 (Yale books; handwriting studies; Egerton 1994; Honigmann; Rosenbaum)

My dear John,


   It was good to hear from you, first by telephone and now by letter. I'm sorry if, on both occasions, I shan't have all that much time to discuss these matters in the detail they really demand. Yale have now brought-out my (much delayed) Brahms book, and I'll learn more about my future publishing prospects when I have my celebratory lunch with them this coming Friday. I then hope to persuade them to consider a sequel to The Real Shakespeareand also to bring out Edward III in paperback. We'll see.

   Whatever happens, I'll probably be abandoning handwriting studies; their only rewards, so far as I can see, which is far less far than before, are eyestrain and obloquy. One trouble is that everyone uses what has been called Elizabethan typewriter; distinctiveness remains a rarity. I've taken up spelling studies instead. At the moment, they seem rather more promising, but I gloomily predict that this won't last.

   I reckon that the y for modern i syndrome you mention is characteristic of Shakespeare; so is z for modern c. Both appear in the More scene (prentizes, yt etc), which seems to me authentic holograph, pace the late Charles Hamilton. I think he was, on good form and good days, a true expert; but I fear he just got old. I know the feeling.

   I'm still baffled by the Strange tie-up; what I need is hard evidence, and I just don't see enough of that essential commodity, despite the performances of 1 Henry VI and Titus Andronicus. In any event, though, I've already covered such ground as I can as far as 1594, and I must now concentrate on later years, as set forth in contemporary documents.

   Ironside: I try to deal  with its provenance in my edition. But why isn' t that MS still housed in Egerton 1994; With Woodstock etc? That latter fine play incidentally is being edited, as Shakespeare's, in a Mellen Press publication by Prof. Michael Egan of the University of Masschusetts, who kindly wrote to me about it the other day. He writes a good letter, and I'm sure that his edition will be most valuable in explaining to his academic confreres what the young Shakespeare was actually doing in the so-called 'lost years' i.e. writing plays. And perhaps collecting material for them, as the Hesketh-Haughton annotator? The volume he annotated, incidentally, is also I believe in the British Library.

   I'm glad to see that the Lancashire connection is gaining ground; and I'm perfectly sure that there's a real need for a book on the lines you propose. The Lancaster University people ought to be interested; and so ought Emeritus Prof. Honigmann, who can at least read the secretary hand, who has useful contacts with Manchester University Press (which incidentally published my late dear friend John Reed's book on Schubert songs - but I see you've already written to them) and who has himself made an important contribution to those studies. I think of him as a potentially great man who unfortunately fell among memorial reconstructionists at a tender and impressionable age. Their pernicious doctrines have clouded his judgement ever since. But latterly he's done some quite good work on Q1Othello 1622, which he says (on spelling evidence) was set up from holograph copy. However, he wasn't very impressed (though I believe very worried) when I wrote to him pointing out that so, in that case, and on the same evidence, were other plays not commonly attributed to Shakespeare, such as Edward III. Before that démarche we had almost patched up our quarrel; now he claims, quite untruthfully I'm sure, that he can no longer afford the postage occasioned by our correspondence. He must be nearly as old as I am, and both our wives suffered from strokes. But his died, poor soul; and mine's reasonably content in her residential care home under the aegis of the well-named Musicians' Benevolent Fund. If you're working on Lancashire documents, incidentally, I'd be very interested to hear more about Houghton's will, which I suppose might actually be in Shakespeare's hand?

   Anyhow, Honigmann must have noticed by now that 'memorial reconstruction' is at long last being rejected by professionals, in many a book and article (most recently in the currentSQ, where Honigmann's hero Peter Alexander and his mad drivel about Contention and True Tragedy are again refuted). And I'm sure it's quite hard at any age to lose every last cent of all the emotional capital one has so heavily invested in apparently sound stock. I'll include (hopefully without too much Schadenfreude) a report on these market crashes, which I've been cheerfully predicting, in print, ever since 1983, in any sequel I'm allowed to write.

   We're awaiting thoughts on Hamlet from Ron Rosenbaum, author of the best-sellingExplaining Hitler, whose publishers persuaded him to take up Shakespeare studies (which, they believe, sell well - first I've heard of it). He also kindly came to visit me, did I say, last year, like Anthony Holden. The latter's book is now out, of course, and no doubt you've seen it. As I recall, it doesn't exactly inveigh against 'memorial reconstruction', but that's no doubt because Anthony's a pal of Frank Kermode, who is so old that he swallows all that stuff and bangs with his spoon for more, like a great baby not yet out of his swaddling clouts. Well, they say an old man is twice a child. Kermode's latest fad, again of course without the least trace of evidence, is 'collaboration', heaven help us.

   Anyhow, here's the latest address I have for Holden. He's recently attracted some rather unkind press comment, not to say notoriety, by doing a John Osborne and shaking the dust of these shores from off his shoes. He's a nice person, though, and a clever one (plays poker instead of chess, but nobody's perfect) who pleased me mightily, e.g. by saying that his next book will be a biography of that neglected master Leigh Hunt, who gave us one of the very best short poems in the language. But who's going to write about Thomas Love Peacock? (whose War Song of Dinas Vawr you no doubt know and, I trust, admire).

   Now I must go and visit my wife. In return for your news of your own charming family I can tell you that our elder son Richard, who has now returned to Tokyo, did quite well in the shogi (Japanese chess) section of the recent Mindsports tournament, while the musicalSpend Spend Spend, which Jeremy directed, has now closed its quite long and successful London run. It was seen and enjoyed by the playwright Michael Frayn, who asked Jeremy to direct the revival of his own Noises Off, which opens next month. Fingers crossed.

   Farewell for now,

   with best wishes, as ever,

   yours Eric