18. 26 June 1998 (Projects with Yale; reprints; Halliday; Greene; rival poet)

Dear John,


   Thanks for yours. Congratulations, first of all, on your premature retirement. May it be the first of many, all splendidly successful. I've lost count of the number of times I've retired – almost as many as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, I dare say. One reemerges refreshed; and it keeps one active.

   Enid's a bit better, thanks; she had a quite an agreeable time with her sister in Lethbridge, Alberta. Our elder son Richard should be over here on holiday soon. Jeremy's holding the nation spellbound with a series of Radio 3 programmes called Sams on Opera. He's kindly promised to include a favourite work of mine - the married-love duet in Hugo Wolf's Der Corregidor. The commentators say it proves that Wolf must have been a confirmed bachelor - nobody else could have imagined that conjugality could possibly be so blissful. Well, we know better, I'm sure. How's your own charming and clever family?

   I'm still awaiting, with increasing trepidation, the American referee's comments on my Brahms song book. No doubt he'll blow the whistle, or even show a card. The English counterpart spoke in favour, but no doubt that's because he shares the British tradition of soft musicology, which aims to describe the adventures of the soul among, masterpieces. The Americans rather tend towards numbering the bars, and that sort of thing.

   Meanwhile I'm getting ahead, or rather behind, with another Shakespeare volume for Yale. Your new publishing proposals and prospects are, if I may say so, exactly what's needed in the world at large. Count on me for all possible support. I'm not really quite sure that this includes the Halliday foreword you're good enough to suggest. Forewords can be the kiss of death; their very presence seems to hint that all is not well, and that further consideration is needed. A straight reprint is praise indeed, though. I like to think that I played a part in getting Cambridge to reprint Spurgeon on Shakespeare's Imagery, which I think has sold quite well. Speaking of Cambridge, my affection for my alma mater is getting quite Oedipal; they've just published two editions (PericlesRichard III) which both say, that the 'memorial reconstruction' theories that have long bedevilled both those Quartos are, really, sheer clotted nonsense.

   A propos of 'Bad' Quartos, I see that Peter Blayney, a rather powerful American scholar, has spoken out against Pollard, which is also quite encouraging. And I had an agreeable lunch today with Yashdip and Norma Bains, great allies in the anti memorial reconstruction struggle. Yashdip has to get his really rather sterling work published in Shimla, which strikes me as even further out than the Copenhagen imprint to which the unfortunate E.B. Everitt was banished by the then current orthodoxy. Here's a spare and entirely disposable copy of Yashdip's latest.

   Back to Halliday. I think that his true masterpiece was the Shakespeare Companion 1964. My very dear late friend Mervyn Horder, great musician and song-writer extraordinaire (something to do with his Welsh antecedents, no doubt) used to boast that one of his many great triumphs as a Duckworth worthy was the editing and production of that supreme work. I find it absolutely essential, and I'm lost in admiration for the sheer hard graft, as well as the marvellous and mighty scholarship, that went into its making. If it weren't for what seems to me the mistaken respect it pays to 'Bad Quarto' and 'memorial reconstruction' theory I'd rate it the ideal work of reference. But, OK, the Life is good too, as you say, and it does contain some unusual material on the London lodgings. I think that Edgar Fripp, though is nonpareil on the Stratford background. Anything factual, human and sensible, though, won't be easy to cultivate, and may even fail to flourish, in the present climate, which is still rather inauspicious.

   I fear the same applies to the Harvester Shakespeare series, which (as I may have mentioned) I persuaded John Spiers to bring out when he was the Harvester boss. I also knew him because I was able to decipher the shorthand system used by Cromwell's secretary in the civil war; its transcription is now complete and due to be published in full before long. John Spiers kindly published my key and specimen transcriptions, plus the diaries themselves, in microfiche, along with other such historical material. Every academic institution felt they had to have a copy, and the firm flourished mightily. John Spiers told me (when he gave me a very good lunch at the Directors' Club) that he'd been able to sell his holdings for a cool severs million. Do you publish anything in microfiche?

   Perhaps there are other relevant modern media. Somehow or other, though, someone should surely bring out reasonably-priced facsimile reprints of the Tudor texts needed by all students of Shakespeare - such as Greene's Groatsworth 1592, for example, or (some say) Nashe's preface to Greene's Menaphon 1589. Incredibly, such essential writings are in effect unobtainable. And the same applies, of course, to early plays, such as the so-called apocrypha (including the entire text of Sir Thomas More - did my friend Jon Mills ever contact you on that subject, incidentally? I rashly promised him some financial support, since when I've heard no more, in any sense. Perhaps the shock finished him off).

   Anyhow, I've been trying to persuade various publishers for many years that reprints for example are among the main desiderata - with the further advantage that no author would ever need to be paid anything.

   'The Annotator' is certainly another great idea. Even Honigmann, no friend of the handwriting theory, said it was deserving of more attention. I wonder who now owns the rights? A reprint would certainly please the Lancaster University people, of whose rather grandiose proposals (as if Shakespeare's Folio forehead were the actual Millennium Dome) I've heard no more since Prof. Wilson kindly sent me various relevant newspaper cuttings. I trust I remembered to send those on to you?

   Sorry to rattle on so (literally, on this ancient Amstrad). Now I must get back to some serious studies of the Rival Poet. I've always been deeply dissatisfied with 'Marlowe' and 'Chapman' who are themselves rivals of each other – to the point of cancelling each other out. But if it wasn't Charlowe or Mapman, or even Chaplowe and Marman, who was it?

   Among the Tudor texts you might like to consider republishing is Parthenophil and Parthenophe, by Barnaby Barnes, in its 1593 edition. For that enterprise, I'd be very ready to submit a foreword for your consideration.

   Best, as ever,