49. 8 June 1993 [NM] (Nye controversy; Vickers on Bacon book; a different Bacon)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs. Mathew’s letters)

Dear Eric,

I should have written to you in April by return of post, as I meant to. And now two months have gone by, the last of them pinned down with usual bronchial troubles, which leave very little room for anything but daily survival. Writing to you now is the first sign of emergence.

   I followed your Nye controversy with much interest, and finally wrote to the TLS, altho' of course too late. Enclose letter for your amusement [see illustration, ED].

   Thank-you for note of Coquellette on legal Bacon, I've ordered but not seen his book yet. Delighted to think of you wandering in your own personal Organum (did you know that if Bacon's was the second Organon, the third was that of a famous English follower of Gurdiaeff, whose name escapes me?) and specially among all the those beautifully imaginative and poetic instantia. As for our sadly static Academia, thank God for an Eric Sams. Not to speak of Camilla Paglia, who really stirs them up – unfortunately wielding rather more than the sword of pace, so a bit counterproductive. Yet she does talk an awful lot of sense.

   I'll leave Chettle till later. I agree that he 'points in the direction of Shakespeare', altho' not, I insist, conclusively. But does that authorize every one to quote his reference exactly as if he had mentioned Shakespeare by name?

   You'll see from attached photocopy that I've heard from Brian Vickers. A really thorough study, with not only a ten-page report to Yale, but marginal comments in almost every page of the text, including notes. You can't ask for more, and I'm very grateful to him. I was of course encouraged by his approval of the first half of my book – the vindication of Bacon's public career – and most of his overall criticism of the second – Bacon friend and Bacon poet – is so clear that I can adopt it point by point. Principally he finds me too involved in the praise, and too 'sentimental' (ie my Spanish side exceeding the bounds of English understatement). He's right and I can change that.

   Nevertheless I am confused by what looks like a double message. On the one hand he thinks the book is still fartoo long, at 223,000 words, which is in fact only some 20,000 words more than what Baldock had originally agreed on. I can cut it to 180,000 – or about 265 pp in print, which I think the book can sustain. Yale, I see, publish many of this kind in from 350 to 550 pp. - not to speak of the numerous 1000 pp volumes we have to plough thro' today. Vickers wants me to reduce it to about 162,000, or 215 pp., and I can't do this without removing the heart of the book. But the funny thing is that, going by his marginal remarks, he has himself considerably enjoyed a good deal of what, in the end, he wants cut. Even in the notes, which he rightly says I must reduce, wherever I find one I could pare down, he has noted, 'very good', 'put some of this in the text' etc. If I were to follow his detailed comments, including suggestions for enlarging here and there, I could not possibly reduce the book as he proposes.

   The main problem is that he looks on Bacon's actions as statesman and lawyer as my 'main issue', which I nowhere state. Bacon has been as much maligned in the matter of love, hatred and compassion, and I want to show the ordinary reader a different Bacon to the one it is used to. I also want to show that he was not the dry-as-dust anti-ecologist, grovelling materialist, incapable of imagination and intuition which he has been made out to be (in England only, under the influence of his detractors). For Vickers, however, who is really enchanted with my first half –  perhaps because he knows less about it? – all this is 'stale'. Particularly – naturally enough – when I quote him. But what, to my surprise, he doesn't see, is that the man I'm addressing has not read and will not read Vickers' or other experts' articles in to the learned journals, and will never hear of the poetic Bacon. It is because, allegedly, Bacon could not be a poet that he is described (eg by Strachey, still widely read) as an evil man.

   Now Baldock writes that if Vickers' recommendations are 'strenuously followed'... But I cannot cut all Vickers half wishes me to cut. So where to follow him, where not? The chapter you saw and liked, on Bacon the 'happy man', for example, is one of those 'sentimental' ones that embarrass him – it's a word he often uses. And he would have me leave out as of little interest (despite his own obvious interest in them) some of those other people have most enjoyed reading – e.g., one showing in quite intriguing detail that Pope may not have meant his famous couplet to be disparaging.

    Eric, I know you are up to your eyes - indeed I hope you are - with your own book, so don't hesitate to say an honest no to what follows. But if you had time to read a couple of my chapters (some 20 pp) on the poetic Bacon - on his concept of poetry and his reception by the poets of his and later times, you might help me a lot to sort this out.

   I wish, when Yale give the final product to a second reader, they would look for someone beyond the pale of Academe - grazing, as you put it, outside the citadel!

   Enough - if not too much. I hope you will you be planning some interesting holiday travel?

Whatever I write or don't, the thought of you wielding your shining lance extra muros is always a stimulation to me. All power to it.

Mrs. Mathews's letter to TLS