LRB Cover

Send letters to:

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and work and home telephone numbers.


Shakespeare nods

SIR: May I, from afar, offer three points relevant to the discussion of Eric Sams’s Edmund Ironside? John Kerrigan (LRB, 6 February) says: ‘Everything hangs on an early date.’ I think he is right, and these points may help him. Shakespeare’s poem XVIII from the Passionate Pilgrim (1599) also exists, as known by editors, in MS Folger V.a.89 (old mark: 1.112). It is not exactly the same text as in the printed book, but obviously an early draft. The handwriting as shown in a microfilm in my possession is clearly that of the Ironside MS as shown in facsimile in the books of Boswell (1928) and Everitt (1954). So here is a canonical Shakespeare text in a version probably years before 1599 – and in the handwriting of Ironside. (Besides, the Folger MS contains other poems in this hand, first copies of other authors of the 1580s marked by their names, and then obviously poems of the young scribe himself which I recommend warmly to Gary Taylor for his new edition of the Shakespeare poems. Two other early hands of the MS, including an owner’s inscription, are some decennia later; a third dates from the 19th century.)

The MS drama which stands fifth in the British Library collection Egerton 1994 has two titles: Edmond Ironside and War hath made all friends. The first of these titles, in another hand which has cancelled the second, is awkward and obviously a later addition, for the dominating figure of the play is not Edmond but Canutus. Now a play called hardicute/knewtus/Hardicanewtes (Hardy Canute/Canutus/Hardy Canutus) figures, as known, in Henslowe’s diary, performed twice in October/November 1597 as a revival of an older drama. It is unnecessary and excessive to posit another lost play on Canutus here: of course in this entry we have our drama. From October 1597 back to February 1592 (the beginning of Henslowe’s records) there is no first night of this Canutus in the diary. Therefore it seems reasonable to me to put the first appearance of the play, like many others in Henslowe, before February 1592, and so before Titus Andronicus (January 1594). This, I think, deals conclusively with the objection to Sams’s date raised by Kerrigan.

Obviously War hath made all friends is the title given to the play by the author. Which war of his own time is he alluding to? A post-Armada play is likely to present an outward foe as an image of the Spaniards, and this may have contributed to the interest of the subject: but the reconciliation at the end of the play is inappropriate to this scheme of interpretation. Therefore I see here the allegory of another war, and it is one between literary figures – a not uncommon phenomenon in Elizabethan literature. Sams, in the footsteps of Everitt, has offered good reasons for placing the play between 1588 and 1590. But his best argument, the Privy Council letter of November 1589 (pages 21-25 of his book), makes it highly probable that the play can be dated more exactly: autumn 1589. The literary scene in this year could be depicted as follows: Marlowe had had his first successes; Shakespeare must likewise have had some triumphs, for he has been envied soon after; Peele was the pioneering, soaring ‘father king’ of the dramatists, but now a little fading; Greene was already nourishing the grudge against the players which was to persist till his death in 1592; and Nashe had made his first appearance in the pricking (‘stitching’) preface to Greene’s Menaphon. The author of War hath made all friends deals in a very special way with the names of his sources: he latinises Cnute to Canutus and Edric or Edrike to Edricus; he changes Edmund to Edmond and Ethelred or Egelred (father of Edmund) to Egleredus; and he creates some minor figures. Now it is known that Peele was red-haired, and the father-figure mentioned, Egleredus, sounds like eagle red is. The grudge-bearing Edricus sounds like a dree kiss, and he engages, like Greene in 1589 in the case of Nashe, a young servant named Stitch. Last but not least, the two young rival kings of 1589, allegorising Marlowe and Shakespeare, of course, have the names Canutus, sounding like ken new ’tis (i.e. this figure represents, despite a certain brutality, a new mental horizon for our anonymous dramatist), and Edmond Ironside, sounding like add mon I inside (i.e. this figure is a portrait of the dramatist himself); and the two opponents finally fraternise. In short, there are clear connections between the changed or introduced names of the play and the literary situation of 1589.

Dieter Schamp
Münster, West Germany

SIR: In his Diary in February John Kerrigan rightly drew attention to an aspect of Bodleian MS Rawlinson poet. 160 that was strangely neglected in recent discussions of the lyric beginning ‘Shall I die?’ This was the attribution there to Shakespeare of the six-line epitaph on Elias James. As it happens, however, he was mistaken in calling the latter a poem ‘surviving only from manuscript’: a further text deserves notice. The 1633 edition of John Stow’s Survey of London, prepared for the press by Anthony Munday and others, concludes with a lengthy supplement containing monumental inscriptions that had escaped inclusion in the main body of the work. Here the meagre crop of epitaphs gathered from the Church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe earlier in the volume is augmented, on page 825, by a transcript of the James epitaph as it stood In the South Ile, at the lower end of the Church. It runs as follows:

When God was pleas’d
(the world unwilling yet)
Helias James, to Nature
paid his debt,
And here reposes:
As he liv’d, he died,
The saying strongly
in him verified,
Such life, such death:
then a knowne truth to tell,
He liv’d a godly life,
and died as well.

The accuracy of this text, which seems to belong in its transcription to the very year of publication and thus is roughly coeval with the compilation of the manuscript, cannot be verified. Whether or not the ‘few Monuments’ that, as Stow tells us, the church could boast survived the Great Fire, none seems to have had a place in Wren’s plans for the rebuilding of 1685-93, and not a single one survives today. Certainly the half-lines, reproduced above, in which the epitaph is arranged in the Survey, together with the italics used for the subject’s name, are traceable to the double-column format and style of emphasis adopted by the printer throughout the work. Nevertheless there remain differences of punctuation and other interesting variants from the Rawlinson manuscript, of which five may be mentioned here: 1.1 ‘God’ for ‘god’ in the MS; 1.2 ‘Helias’ for ‘Elias’; 1.3 ‘reposes’ for ‘reposeth’; 1.4 ‘strong in him’ for ‘in him strongly’; and 1.5 ‘a knowne’ for ‘the known’. None of these readings is obviously false, or even suspect; and since the Stow text was transcribed from the actual monument they may with some plausibility be claimed as representing the author’s final intentions.

Leslie Hotson’s proposed identification of the subject of these verses, advanced in Shakespeare’s Sonnets Dated (1949), seems not to have gained general acceptance. Briefly, Hotson pointed to the existence of an Elias James, a brewer of Dutch descent, who plied his trade not far from St Andrews, at the foot of Puddle Dock Hill. Between 1600 and 1610 he was owner-occupier of the ‘great Brew-house’ (Stow) by the Thames, at the eastern boundary of the dissolved Blackfriars Monastery and hence close to the theatre of which Shakespeare’s company assumed the lease in August 1608. In addition, Elias’s younger brother, and successor in the business, Jacob James, who died in 1613, left a widow Jane who thereafter married a John Jackson – apparently the same man who in 1613 had joined with Shakespeare in purchasing the Monastery gatehouse that stood at the north end of Puddle Dock Hill. Despite the strong circumstantial evidence for this identification Hotson felt obliged to observe that ‘there is no proof as yet that the Elias James of the epitaph and … the brewer … are one and the same …’ In fact the registers of St Andrew’s confirm at once the identity of the person commemorated and the godly manner of his death. For they record the burial on 24 September 1610 of ‘Elias James Brewer who gave 10 pounds to the poore of this parishe’.

In so far as these new details clinch Hotson’s theory they do seem to increase the possibility that the attribution recorded in the Rawlinson manuscript is an accurate one. Of course, merely because circumstances make Shakespeare a plausible candidate does not necessarily mean that he wrote the verses. There is, perhaps, little hope at this interval of time of putting more flesh on the bare bones. We might be on firmer ground, for instance, if we knew whether this wealthy bachelor brewer, then in his early thirties, was a regular playgoer. On the other hand, given a seemingly mutual point of contact in John Jackson, there is no need to postulate a close personal relationship. These rather undistinguished verses, thrown off it may be in a matter of moments, might have fulfilled a commission by some such interested party.

Hilton Kelliher
London W9

Literary Theory

SIR: I’m reluctant from my present coign of vantage to add my mite to a debate that is showing every sign of rumbling inconclusively on in the pages of your journal for some weeks to come, but Thomas Burns and Ana Lucia Gazollas’s communication (Letters, 17 April) lets the cat howling out of the bag. The difficulty – I don’t say it’s the only one, merely one that is fudged here, and in a way that marries smugness to complacency – is surely to do with priority, even and perhaps especially in ‘these exotic climes’. If only in strict logic, there must be something desperately amiss when highly intelligent students at, for example, the distinguished Asian university where I’ve currently a visiting appointment can, so to speak, get up on their hind legs to prate on about Derrida, Lacan et al, whilst revealing an embarrassingly profound ignorance on the imaginative material formally under discussion. Experience suggests that such uninquisitiveness, allied to practical illiteracy and making excuses for itself, is to be found in the vicinity of the metropolis no less than in Brazil or the Republic of China.

But whatever you choose to call it, or however you ‘construct’ it, a spade remains a bloody shovel. Any theory of, say, The Novel must, to make sense and to persuade, be generated out of a knowledge of and affection for novels. Lots of novels are read and – dare one say it – enjoyed qua story before being recruited to the thrilling business of ‘exposing the ideologies behind theoretical positions’, for which warrior-dons like Burns and Gazolla, together with their more or less unfortunate students, are gearing up. Or are we so far gone in a rage to demolish, and in contempt of common sense, to accept this state of affairs as being on balance a Good Thing? Clearly I’m not alone in suspecting the answer to be yes, inasmuch as merely to have (tactless mistake) used a term like ‘common sense’ is instantly and invariably to call down wrath and pity from the quarters inhabited by your South American correspondents for alleged and culpably Leavisian benightedness in the matter of reading and talking about books.

D.M.E. Roskies
National Taiwan University, Taipei

Attaining truth

SIR: I enjoyed Brian Pippard’s excellent review (LRB, 20 February). He seems to accept that our scientific theories and well-held tenets are ‘only models’, but in the same breath talks about ‘attaining truth’, and says that it is difficult to accept some quantum consequences as ‘ultimate reality’ because they are ‘so strange’. This suggests that there is an attainable ultimate reality that is true, while admitting that the ultimate criterion of acceptance is aesthetic. Maxwell and the French logicians were pursuing an aesthetic of mathematical elegance that applied Occam’s razor with a vengeance. Its success and appeal are not surprising since this criterion of simplicity has served us very well since Occam’s day and has powered the triumph of Renaissance science over Medieval occultism. But we have reached the end of that road: after seemingly complicating the four elements by creating the hundred or so chemical elements, we then reduced things back to four with the electron, proton, photon and neutron. Then the cycle repeated itself and after the plethora of elementary particles we now suppose a handful of quarks … This seems dangerously like a cul-de-sac, chasing through infinite regress a will-o’-the-wisp. All that is demonstrated is the mathematicians’ imaginative power to construct logical relationships following the ‘severely deductive mode’ of the revolutionary French. Yet the very names of their creations, ‘quarks’ and ‘gluons’ betray the invention, the sheer imagination, that is characteristic of all art. All scientific theories are creations in this sense. Newton didn’t discover gravity, he invented it, and Einstein has distilled it into ‘a rare essence in a cut-glass phial’. Einstein’s picture is more elegant, with the precision of a Canaletto; Newton appeals as does the comfortable impressionistic realism of Constable; the fertility of contemporary abstract theories parallels the abstract art of the 20th century, with a Miro in Heisenberg and a Dali in Schrodinger. It goes without saying that none of these are ‘true’ or ‘truer’, or, strange to say, inconsistent with one another. They are just differing viewpoints, and the sooner physicists explicitly see this, the clearer the nature of what they do will become to them and us.

John Marks
Halton General Hospital, Runcorn

Singer’s Sexism

SIR: Michael Wilding’s review of Isaac Singer’s The Image, and Other Stories starts interestingly enough, but the latter half, in which he discusses Singer’s attitude towards sex, seems to me one of the feeblest examples of precious as-if-but-far-from-really liberal analysis yet to be offered by an academic – in this case, an academic who, as I see from your biographical columns, doubles as a writer. Of Singer’s blinkered ‘sexism’ one could agree just as easily that he shows a remorseless honesty in the way he describes wilful male promiscuity in, say, Shosha. Contrary to what Wilding says, Singer confronts Marxism and a hundred others isms and ologies very fully in his epic novels. In addition, for every harsh picture of a liberated female there is an equally positive portrait of a radically-minded, independent woman. As for Wilding’s claim that lack of political or work-place ‘foregrounding’ leads to politically conservative preoccupations with sex and occultism, that strikes me as about as subtle as New Society on a bad day. Where is work more ‘foregrounded’ than in The Manor, in the description of Calum Jacoby’s estate management? Or in the passages on herding in The Slave?

John Murray
Panurge, Cleator Moor, Cumbria

Alexander Adam

SIR: I should like to ask for information as to the whereabouts of ‘Manuscript Memoranda’ by Dr Alexander Adam, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh between 1768-1809 and the teacher of many of the illustrious men of the Scottish Enlightenment, including Sir Walter Scott, Lords Cockburn, Brougham and Jeffrey, Dugald Stewart and Francis Horner. I am researching through the Open University into the influence of Adams on culture in Edinburgh during the late 18th century.

A. John Murray
11 Brae Park, Barnton, Edinburgh