In response to:
Old Pup from the August 3, 1967 issue
To the Editors:
I believe it was Disraeli who said: “Never explain, never apologise.” So far as book reviews go, this seems to me admirable advice to authors. Nevertheless after reading Mr. Matthew Hodgart’s review of my edition of The Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas, in your issue of August 3, I feel that I must ignore this maxim and do both.
In the matter of explanation, I can tell your readers why Dylan’s letters to his wife were not included, though excerpts from them had already appeared in my Life of Dylan Thomas. There are about a dozen letters in existence from him to her, and these are among the finest he wrote. I naturally included them in Selected Letters, but at the very last moment, indeed when the book was in proof, Mrs. Thomas demanded a large extra sum from the publisher. Those letters belong, like all his others, to the Dylan Thomas Trust, but Mrs. Thomas’s lawyers threatened to take out an injunction which would have delayed publication and cost the publishers a great deal of money. They therefore decided to omit his letters to her. I was greatly disappointed by this decision, but there was nothing I could do about it. I may say that at no point has there been any quarrel between Mrs. Thomas and myself.
In the matter of apology, I agree with Mr. Hodgart that my editing of these letters leaves a great deal to be desired. It was an extremely difficult job, and one which was new to me. I was presumably asked to do it since, while writing Dylan’s Life, I had collected all the letters I could find and might be expected to know more about him than most other people. Unfortunately, after having prepared the first draft of selected Letters I developed cataracts of both eyes, and temporary blindness made it impossible for me either finally to revise this or to read the proofs. Of course some mistakes would have crept in—I fear that that is almost inevitable with this sort of work—but I hope far fewer than in the edition which your reviewer rightly excoriated. I am grateful to him, and to the other critics in other periodicals, who have pointed out these mistakes to me. And I may say that now I have recovered the use of my eyes I am preparing a new edition for publication which will, I trust, be a more fitting tribute to Dylan Thomas, letter-writer.
Bantry, Co. Cork
Matthew Hodgart replies:
In my review of the Letters of Dylan Thomas I intended to write that, while Dr. George Steiner and several other distinguished critics disagree with each other’s critical views, they are united in disliking and despising Dylan Thomas’s poetry. What in fact I wrote carelessly was that these critics “dislike and despise” each other: I am grateful to Dr. Steiner for pointing out that this could be read as a reference to personal dislike, which was not my intended meaning and is manifestly untrue. I therefore wish to withdraw this unfortunate remark, with apologies to Dr. Steiner and the others concerned.
November 9, 1967