- Mr. J. M. Robertson and Shakespeare. To the Editor of The Nation and the Athenaeum
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874 ] Mr. J. M. Robertson and Shakespeare To the Editor of The Nation and the Athenaeum The Nation and the Athenaeum, 40 (18 Dec 1926) 4181 Sir, – I was not aware of “Kappa’s” contribution to Mr. J. M. Robertson’s birthday party until I read Mr. Middleton Murry’s letter in The Nation of December 4th.2 If it is not too late to intervene, I should be glad to express my cordial agreement with Mr. Murry’s protest. “Kappa’s” original comment appears to have been in indifferent taste in the choice of an occasion: but he now carriesthecontroversybeyond thelimitsofhissneeratMr.Robertson.3 The “Kappa” programme, in fact, seems to comprehend a sweeping out of the temple of Shakespeare of such insignificant insects as Professor Pollard, and Professor Dover Wilson, and anyone who has attempted to clear up any of the problems of that bewildering epoch.4 No more than “Kappa” do I profess “to have an expert’s acquaintance,” but at least I have studied these problems. I write as a literary critic who has, like Mr. Murry, paid some attention to this period of English literature ; and I am convinced that no literary critic who is concerned with this period to-day can afford to neglect the work of such scholars as those I have mentioned. “Kappa” is, on the other hand, a true Conservative: he likes things to be left as they are. That is to say, since we cannot prove to his satisfaction who is responsible for Titus Andronicus, we should continue to dishonour the name of Shakespeare with the ascription.5 “Kappa” may have reason to be satisfied with his own “aesthetic instinct.” I refuse to surrender myself to the mercy of the “aesthetic instinct” of Coleridge who can talk glibly about Richard II and Richard III without mentioning the name of Marlowe.6 Yours, etc., Russell Square, London, W. C. 1. T. S. Eliot Notes 1. Dated 6 Dec 1926. 2. On 15 Nov 1926, TSE wrote to Robertson, who turned seventy the previous day, “to congratulate you on your birthday party” (L3 311). In “Life and Politics,” his weekly column for [ 875 Mr. J. M. Robertson and Shakespeare the Nation & Athenaeum of 20 Nov, “Kappa” criticized Robertson for “his remorseless ‘disintegration’ of Shakespeare” and for attempting to “free him of the accretions of inferior stuff that have crept into the Canon” (261). 3. When John Middleton Murry wrote to protest Kappa’s “obscurantism” and to defend the quality of Robertson’s scholarship in the issue of 4 Dec, Kappa replied on the same page that while he did not profess “to have an expert’s acquaintance with the results of Mr. Robertson’s ‘disintegration’ of the text of Shakespeare,” he insisted that “the attempt to break up the mass of plays called Shakespeare’s works and to allot authors to scenes and passages of the composite pieces – is a hopeless . . . confusing, and profoundly disturbing business” (333). 4. The bibliographer Alfred W. Pollard (1859-1944), keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum and professor of English Bibliography at the University of London, was author of Shakespeare’s Folios and Quartos (1909) and The Foundations of Shakespeare’s Text (1923). J. Dover Wilson (1881-1969), then professor of Education at King’s College, London, was working on his career-long project, The New Shakespeare (1921-69), a series of editions of the complete plays. 5. TSE wrote to Robertson on 25 Nov 1926: “I have just read Titus Andronicus again and it seems to me almost the worst play of the whole epoch.” “You are quite right about Titus,” Robertson responded, “not one scene of it, not a single entire speech, is by Shakespeare” (L3 323). 6. In his reply to Murry, Kappa asserted that “it is the greatest of literary tragedies that Shakespeare did not sort out and edit his plays for posterity. In the circumstances one is left to one’s aesthetic instinct, if that is the right phrase; the instinct which the greatest of Shakespeare critics, Coleridge, possessed pre-eminently” (333). Coleridge discusses Richard II and Richard III in lecture XII of his 1811-12 “Lectures on Shakspere and Milton,” wherein he proclaims “the superiority of Shakspere to other dramatists” but does not mention his debt to Marlowe’s Edward II. Lectures and Notes upon Shakespeare and Other English Poets, ed. T. Ashe (London: George Bell and Sons, 1883), 148. ...