9. 31 October 1987 [ES] (More on Mrs Gallup and ciphers; Edward III and Oxford Magazine controversy)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

Thank you for your letter of 13 October. I've been coping with various domestic vicissitudes imposed by old age and other misfortunes, including the recent freak storm here. My mother lives alone, and is vulnerable. The nearest I've got to any congenial topic such as Shakespeare for some time now consists in noting that her aerial disappeared in the tempest. But times are a little calmer now, even with an occasional ray of autumn sunshine. I'm booked to do some teaching of lieder classes at the Academy and Guildhall, which I always find agreeable.

   I was more than grateful to be compared with your father, in any respect: but candour compels the comment that I'm not in his class. Except as a pupil, of course.

   As to Mrs. Gallup; I note the Friedmans' professed regard for her honesty. But they also say (p. 215) that she was not a conscious fraud, with the perfectly plain and indeed hardly deniable implication that she was deluding herself and others. She must have known perfectly well that nobody else could really duplicate any of her findings; and the corollaries of that damaging fact must have been clear to her. For forty years she was maintained in comfort, not to say luxury. In the whole of that time she never made any published decipherment. The Friedmans add 'her results show only what it was she was determined to find’ (278), and not even that was viable. Their conclusion seems to be that 'her whole case was based on subjective intuitions, on self-persuasion' (287).

   Let philosophers debate the intentionality of self-deception. I think that Mrs. Gallup, for much of her life (say from her forty-eighth to her eighty-seventh and last year) was a deliberate fraud. And since it was essentially that fraudulence, or indistinguishable near-equivalent, on her part, plus the sheer idiocy of Donnelly and Mrs. Fiske and the rest, that created the Bacon-Shakespeare myth with which Bacon has been most unfairly saddled, so to speak, I don't think that it's a facet of his image at all, any more than the Marlowe-Shakespeare nonsense has anything to do with Marlowe, or the de Vere-Shakespeare nonsense with de Vere.

   I'm not wholly unsympathetic to Mrs. G., for I've dabbled in ciphers myself, and identified some in Schumann and Brahms, and offered a solution to Elgar's cipher message (non-musical); and I well know the pitfalls and penalties. But I've always offered either evidence or reservations, and I'm sure that Mrs. G. would have done the same more readily if she hadn't depended on her ingenuity for her standard of living.

   I read Prof. Margoliouth's Greek cipher piece with interest; but I fear I haven't enough Greek to criticise it with any real cogency. I see that David Kahn isn't impressed; but he isn't himself a practising cryptanalyst. He 'doesn't have the knack', as he told me. I had it once, for 3 ½ happy years in wartime intelligence (which I've just been reminiscing about for the record – the work was so secret that nobody could document it, apparently, and the military historians are just getting round to compiling various dossiers about the more humdrum efforts of the Bletchley Park outstations concerned with lower-grade tactical cipher, as distinct from the higher mysteries of Enigma). But I've found only a few examples since leaving the service, and I've had to turn to historical shorthand to satisfy my craving for cryptanalysis: and that's fading a bit these days. I'll be stepping back from the Shakespeare apocrypha too in a year or so's time (when I've finished with Edward III and a few general points of principle, about which I'm engaged in a current controversy in the Oxford Magazine).  Then back to a book on Brahms (and perhaps Schubert) songs. Music will be first and last love. The setting sun, and music at the close; how moving those throwaway lines often are, in their casual ease. 'Wild music burthens every bough', as the sonnet says.

   I shall hope to hear that you've emerged from the thickets of discussions with publishers into a lightened clearing. Don't forget to let me know if there's any practical help I can give at any stage. Meanwhile Christopher is harassed, as you say, and in some distress. At a recent meeting of the Walther Gruner lieder competition committee, - did I tell you? - I suggested that he should be approached about television coverage, and was agreeably authorised to initiate discussions. But he had to cancel the lunch we'd arranged, and I haven't heard since. I must get in touch with him again. Also he’ll be unhappy about the death of Jacqueline du Pré, whom he faithfully visited. It's because of his visual and televisual gifts that posterity will have her physical radiance recorded. I still recall the queenly sweep of her bowing-arm from one special performance of the Brahms E minor some twenty years ago; and the joy of her playing in the Schubert quintet made the music smile as sweetly and unselfconsciously as she did.

Farewell for now, yours as ever