81. 10 February 1996 [ES] (Mr W.H.; Strange; reprints of Tudor documents)

Dear Hayat,

Thanks for yours of 5 February. 'Never beaten by anybody except Capablanca' is indeed a proud boast. And your father was equally authoritative; chess is indeed like work (a fact cunningly concealed by its associations with play). But perhaps that's why some of us like it so much? For Shakespeare too, plays were work; one's in good company. In other aspects though the present vista is less congenial. Enid has to go into hospital soon for further examination. Still, we're quite used to that by now, and can mainly manage to surmount such setbacks, even though resilience does tend to diminish with age. I fear that my own elastic will perish before I do (though I'm admittedly somewhat rejuvenated by my birthday concert, as in the enclosed leaflet, and occasional letters from bright people about how they've worked out for themselves that 'memorial reconstruction' is nonsense on stilts).

   As to Hotson, I'm impressed by his assiduity and deserved discoveries, and said so in my latest and perhaps last piece, a swan song about the Swan Theatre. But researchers aren't reasoners, any more than fox-terriers or dachshunds are much given to reflection on the nature of their quarry; they just disappear, quivering, down the holes. I think Hotson's facts and documents are sovereign and nonpareil; but I'm sorry to say that I rate his theories at the same level as Francis Carr's.

   Still, pour tes beaux yeux I duly procured Mr.W.H.  from the London Library yesterday, and have diligently studied the same. But I have to report that I can't find any reason, let alone evidence, for supposing that Shakespeare had ever heard of, let alone seen, still less adored and immortalised, master William Hatcliffe of Hatcliffe, Lincolnshire, who in 1588 was dominus de Purpoole aka Portpool at Gray's Inn. And don't we really need some such reason or evidence before there's any case to try?

   Well, perhaps I've missed or misconstrued something (as for example in applying 'brother-in-law' to the husband of a cousin, which was the relation of Elizabeth Vernon to Robert Devereux; I can't imagine how I arrived at that conclusion, save by a faux pas). Meanwhile however my mind, such as it is, lacks even the first foothold for surmounting this magic mountain of 328 pages, topped (as I see it) by an ivory tower reaching up into cloud cuckoo land. Could you kindly lend me a hand?

   I somehow don't find much of substance about Strange either; and anyhow that topic has been well explored (by Ernst Honigmann – a good man who was unfortunate enough to get out of Germany into Glasgow, only to fall among memorial reconstructionists. I fear that Smart and Alexander had much in common with Burke and Hare.

   What I reckon we now need is some reprints of key Tudor documents such as Greene's Menaphon 1589 andGroatsworth 1592. I've rather clogged the Yale pipeline, so I've proposed such a series (including Willobie) to Faber. I'd be ready to offer a few annotations (as it says in The Wind in the Willows, there will be other speeches and songs by Toad during the course of the evening; no doubt I've been overly encouraged, not to say maddened, by the prospect of my birthday concert). But I rather fear that the time is out of joint, and I must try to stop thinking of myself as born to set it right. And resist the temptation to sneak off into Brahms.

   There are one or two encouraging signs, though. Above all, there's your book, eagerly awaited. And I saw nice Claire Tomalin the other day, and was pleased to hear that she's writing on Jane Austen. All is not lost.

   Best, as ever,

   Yours Eric