William Empson December 13 1970

Box 35 Wabasso
December 13 1970

Mr. Empson!  

Besides other obstacles to my continuing my comments on your letter of late August without gross delay, I have had to yield to that of the effects of a sharp attack of ‘flu, the second of the year, quite weakening. I don’t know how far I can go, in this instalment (I doubt that I can get my all said to you at this writing – better, I think of it as another reply-piece); there will, anyhow, be something. There are a number of reasons why it would be impossible for me (physical ability being assumed) not to say my word on what you have presented to me as explanation and justification of your behaviour with regard to the portion of the A Survey of Modernist Poetry from which you took, acknowledgedly (in a perverse form of acknowledgement, first and last), your long-term critical cue.

The second portion of your early-Graves alibi reveals a combination of flimsy build-up of a false front of just innocence of misdoing (hardly concealing self-satisfaction in an assurance of catching me in the mischief of a cas imprevu of argument) and an actual weakness of apprehension of the principles and spirit of the Survey sonnet analysis. I must hasten to say that I do not think that this weakness is such as to prove as merely confused in your allegation as to what you had not found anywhere before, ‘all right’, as an old-fashioned Americanism goes, which has something of the force of ‘by Jove’. By Jove, you found it, and made your kind of most of it. My point is that no one who had been sensitive to the essence of it could have, when attempting to explain away as factually warranted a mistreatment of fact such as you have inflicted on the history of the derivation of the method in question, converted by you into something of your own, could have thought that there was any worth of hide-and-seek stratagem of mock-defence in sober-faced pointing to what you point to in your second citing – for turning the table and putting me on the defensive. – I have also to say before proceeding with comment on your second adduced proof of basic indebtedness to Mr. Graves rather than to the work in which I am the first-named (and everywhere very active) collaborator, and so to no less than both authors of that book, that the second piece of purported evidence is at least as rickety a little procedure of virtue-claiming for a position altogether wanting in redeeming features as the first piece of (purported) evidence.

I have just a little to say on the date of the second example, 1926.  Beginning with 1926, when working association between Mr. Graves and myself started, Mr. Graves underwent rather fast changes of critical mind, leaving this and that idea-trail for my thought-courses, liking them for his own. I claim, however, no part as a source of the sprightly literary small-talk familiarity with psyco-poetic depths. There presented to be called for, in your introduction to your revised version of your book – no point of encounter with the inspiring material mentioned, you presumably content to let anyone who cares to know go by the indication provided in the first issue as to Mr. Graves’ Survey, or, if the investigator chances upon a copy of the English edition containing the errata slip, the Survey by myself and him as, by the evidence of the initial omission of my name – in a manner hard to accept as ‘error’, to it as by your private knowledge of its having for author at least in the portion of interest to you this good Samaritan, who provided you in 1926 with ‘the full process’ (having given forth appetite titillating morsels of it in 1922). And with this and your following account of how you came, in this work published 1930, to not his 1922 utterance or that of ‘1926’ but ‘his’ long treatment of the ‘lust in action’ sonnet of 1927 ‘as just the right thing to mention’, you think you have got criticism of you for your behaviour in the entire matter nailed down beyond its being able to raise its head again. But you have only, Mr. Empson, a double-juggle made where there was one. Nothing is nailed down, except yourself to this juggle-juggle facility, which holds you to one position, and this a position that, while taking its bearings from others’ position, presents itself as an all-round orientation-point, a landmark position.

I am going to tell you what I think about your by-your-account sources of inspiration, in themselves, as such. I have referred to them here with specific identification marks because I am going to send a copy of what I write to you to someone in whom I have confidence as a critic, not with any public purpose (and he is to be trusted to respect the sense in which I shall send it to him), but that my own judgements can be judged where I place confidence; the person is quite learnedly acquainted with Mr. Graves’ work; and my own, and yours, and just-mindedly so. I explain this to give this correspondence a little extra in its dimension of human breadth – which, I think, it needs.

I am, with assurance that I shall do my best to complete my answer very soon,

Laura (Riding) Jackson