19. 1 July 1998 (Proud Valley; Halliday; reprints)

Dear John,


   Many thanks for your nice letter, and book. It's grand to have a history of Wales, which I see mentions my own special interest, the Eisteddfod - where everyone still seems to sing Schubert with an amazing and wonderful dewy freshness, like birds on branches. Have you ever seen a 1930s film called Proud Valley, with one of my very favourite singers, Paul Robeson? He happens to be tramping the Welsh countryside in search of work, and reaches a village at the very moment when the entire male voice­ population is rehearsing Elijah. But their eponymous soloist-hero has been taken ill, so they have to break off just before the recitative 'Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel'. At that very moment, however, in the stillness, there comes floating through the window the sound of a stranger singing those same words, most beautifully, with a great bass voice on him like an organ. I'll spare you the rest of the plot.

   There's room for a musical history of Wales, in which that magical if sentimental moment deserves a mention. I've played a small part in that history myself, playing for lieder-singers, usually under the aegis of John Huw Thomas, whom I rate among the best choirmasters and conductors of our time.

   I hadn't meant to sound in the least discouraging about republishing the Halliday Life, which I recall as entirely excellent, though it's admittedly some time since I last looked at it, whereas the Companion is my matins and evensong. My reservation related solely to my own reputation, in the great wide world of Shakespeare studies. I fear that my name would be more likely to provide the kiss of death than a profitable (in any sense) introduction. It's likely to make the reader throw (a) up and (b) the book away.

   I agree of course that reprint projects have to be commercially viable. But I can't help feeling that there ought to be a more than modest market for (say) Greene's Groatsworth1592, which I see was among the series (as No. 5, 1966) once published in the original text plus facsimile title-page by Edinburgh University Press, reproduced from the series Bodley Head Quartos brought out by John Lane between 1922 and 1926. So there's some evidence that it was once thought worthwhile. But no doubt scholarship has deteriorated since those dates.

   I may be part of that decline, despite my attempts (which as I say haven't always been found very endearing) to rectify and reverse it. Avalanche, veux-tu m'emporter dans ta chute? as the poet anxiously enquired.

   Which brings me, by a deft modulation, to the Rival Poet. I enclose some thoughts on that topic, in case you felt like providing some further comments. What's the documentary evidence for three men and three women? Personally, I've always found that minimal assumptions are already quite complicated enough.

   Best to you and all, as ever,