20. 7 July 1998 (Rival poet essay; Barnes; Tudor times and characters; Shakespeare's handwriting)

Dear John,


   Many thanks for your kind and prompt response. The essay hasn't yet found a publisher. Both the TLS and the LRB were quite polite about it, but both turned it down. I suppose it had better go in the Yale sequel, where it will be supported (if that's the right word) by the resemblance of Barnes to e. g. Parolles.

   Meanwhile I quite agree that the proud full sail does seem to be proceeding in the wrong direction, at a fair rate of knots. But then it dwindles to a mere dot on the horizon. Meanwhile my answer to your question 'would Shakespeare compromise his aesthetic Judgment on the altar of flattery' is first of all the resounding reply 'yes, of course!', with the codicil 'what lover wouldn't?', briskly followed by the counter-question 'don't aesthetic judgements often tend to fluctuate, and indeed change radically, over the centuries?' Everyone in 1593 was bowled over by Barnaby Barnes, who was well described as 'a fiery boy outmatching the moonlight'. And after all, S. had already deeply compromised his moral judgement, hadn't he? - and some stern critics would contend that morality remains constantly more important than aesthetics, over the centuries. I'm sorry if that seems old-fashioned, though; I do feel some sympathy with your standpoint; and I can't deny that 'great verse' has been the main spanner in the Barnes works. Perhaps there's room for compromise here. For example I could change 'British empiricism' back to 'English empiricism'.

   While I'm about it, I'll venture to mention my own difficulties with Herbert as the recipient in 1590 (your dating) - he was then just ten years old. But never mind.

   Did I tell you that I'm presently preoccupied with compiling a list of Shakespearean passages in the plays which illustrate his obsessions (not too strong a word, I reckon) about his own immediate Tudor times and his consequent ironic detachment from his own ostensible scenes and characters - like for example the incautious commendation of Essex inHenry V or the war of the theatres in Hamlet? All contributions gratefully received. The argument proceeds: if he does this in (indeed, throughout) the plays, then why not also in the Sonnets, which ought on that analysis to contain their own detectable references to Tudor times and personalities. And personal quirks too. I see from Melchiori' s C.U.P. Edward III that the 1596 printers must have used at least a leaf in Shakespeare's handwriting, because that edition reproduced his own exclusive writing habit of beginning even a verb with a mid-line capital C instead of a small c, as in 'Cannot'. But this trick is also found in the Sonnets (I'll spare you the details), so their copy was also in his own hand - and written at about the same time? So they're also in his own original ordering and sequence....

   But I rattle on - literally, on this ancient Amstrad. I'll desist.

   Thanks again; best regards to all,