William Empson October 31 1970

Box 35 Wabasso Florida
October 31 1970

Mr. Empson!

I dislike having been this long in coming to speak to you on and about your letter to me of late August. While I consider your attitude implicit and express in it a blot on an already murky background of behavior, and so could justify to myself treating what you wrote as so much of a piece with the rest as to be best dealt with in the contexts of literary history (in so far as it is tendered as a gloss on it), never-minding the personal thrusts (as I mean to do with the general circumstance, and some other things that have got, or, rather, been taken, out of hand, my strength holding through many immediate pressing labors), I am not a literary brute, as the practice of literature tends to make of a good many who give themselves to it. You have attempted to deal with what Chatto and Windus presented you with within the forms of personal acceptance of the comments critical of your literary behavior in the matter of A Survey of Modernist Poetry, and your uses of it, addressed by me to them min the course of my investigations, and I fully accepted a personal responsibility of replying to the case personally made out for yourself to me - as my interim note indicated.

From the very beginning of this matter you behaved with utter qualmlessness, both literary and personal. But you have put something down on paper for my personal reading, and this is in its inception human attention. I have meant to respect it, though you juggle your human sensibilities into distractive patterns that go off the human page. I am not distractable, but I think you have got somewhere along your line of handling your human sensibilities, and early, rather, to a point at which you could not help yourself, in dodging off from the patterns of their offering to you - and sought the refuge of literary-patterns-making, juggling the sensibilities into literary semblances of human sense. I have a 'sort of' feeling towards you as one endeavoring to make a 'sort of' human sense of the curious argument-features of your letter - which are all out in the air, off the page of actuality, but worked into a pattern you would like to be taken for pattern of actuality. I have meant to, and I mean to, and I shall, answer your letter as one intended to be a human incident for me, something for-real, not just an 'arrangement'. And I ask you from this position of feelings, to forgive me this long delay. (I mention above pressing 'labors', and a matter of strength. I do not speak loosely. I have severe limitations of strength, and I have extraordinarily much to do and manage, by my own means.)

What I have to say to you will in part follow in continuation. I thought I should get it all down to-day, but I can't. Be sure: I shall be going on in a couple of days (I can't to-morrow). You have here a description of the word of my address, in replying. I find an element of effrontery in your argument. In it I find also that dodging I have spoken of, which softens the effect of the former. You should know that Chatto and Windus’ Daniell’s transmitting or showing to you my correspondence with them (her) on this subject was done without reference of the idea of doing so to myself. I felt them as your publishers (in the first, and the later, place) the better quarter of responsibility, for inquiry, and also for the putting on record of my sense of outrage at your later renewal of your earlier cool dismissing of the fact of my being the first author of the collaborative work, from which, by your own assertion, you drew the method from which you have spun out so much. I had no thought, before I discovered your behaviour in this regard in the case of the second edition, of communicating with you preliminarily to my planned writing on some matters of literary history involving myself, nor any thought of doing so after I made that discovery. There could be no question here of fact, only question of sensibilities, and yours had showed themselves quite crossed-up in this regard from beginning to end to an extent that put communicating with you about the matter out of consideration for me.

I am going to get at least as far, in this first part of my reply, in specific response to what you have written, as commenting on your statement of your first paragraph that you ‘have looked up some of the books concerned.’ This is a striking – i.e., it strikes right into the center of the identification – example of that dodging, that juggling outside the margins of, the relevant. The ‘books of concern’ are Seven Types of Ambiguity, first edition, with respect your reference in it to A Survey of Modernist Poetry, and the American representation of the former, considered also with respect to matters of acknowledgements, and the second edition of this book of yours, likewise considered, and, surely, to itself. This makes four ‘books of concern’. But you use the phrase not within the relevancies of the case but to bring into the picture a private extenuation of your public behaviour – as if you could make that legitimate by arguing that you had something other than, over and above, the public indications. Robert Graves’ On English Poetry, 1922, comes into view as a ‘book of concern’! (From “When Lady Macbeth, sleep-walking….” Through “grief for her early death.”)  And a little ‘book of concern’ comes, further, into view, Robert Graves’ Impenetrability, or the Proper Habit of English! (“For instance, in Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes……held to be uncovered…. (quotation from a novel)…… to acknowledge salty hospitality is on one sense….” through “using glory in yet another sense than the many we have defined.”) And here, in these two ‘books of concern’, was your real source of inspiration, as you now have it – not the method you found in A Survey, etc. And so, ‘to make some whole-hearted acknowledgement of the inspiration that had given me’ (although it had not been sufficient to get you started in the field of critical operations into which you launched yourself after encountering certain passages in A Survey, etc.), you whole-heartedly make Mr. Graves the author, on your own authority of the portion of A Survey, etc. in question, as valuable enough in itself as inspirational matter for you to dispense with reference to the first thrills of inspiration experienced in 1922 and 1926 – this whole-heartedness requiring, in its wholeness, the suppression of reference to the first-named collaborator in the book; and years later the whole-hearted gratitude is in effect to the extent of your feeling a parenthetical reference to your indebtedness to Mr Graves 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 in 1930, to choose for your acknowledgements of indebtedness to Mr Graves not his 1922 utterance or that of 1926 but ‘his’ long treatment if 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’ positions, 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, and 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 judgement 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,

Mrs. Schuyler B. Jackson.