The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0155 Thursday, 19 February 1998.
From: A. Kent Hieatt <
Date: Wednesday, 18 Feb 1998 11:12:11 -0500 (EST)
I wonder whether any members of the conference read all the way through
Donald Foster's six-part Shaxicon treatise? As one of those attacked,
I've only now got around to Parts 5-6, which were separated from 1-4 by
Apart from personal matters, the Hieatts' discussion with Don boils down
for me to something that can be understood only if you peruse the two
Hieatt letters and Don's answer in _PMLA_ 112 (May 1997, that is),
429-434, and the two very important editorial notes there, on pp. 432
and 434. You'll see then why I say: Don has already admitted one
highly destructive error in the article that these two letters discuss;
why can't he admit another one that's plain as a pikestaff?
The first error concerns the only formula in Don's article (_PMLA_ 111
[that'll be Oct. 1996], 1001, infra. In the letter that I sent to
_PMLA_, I pointed out that the formula as it appeared made no sense, had
no connection with results published in the article, because it divided
instead of multiplying and compared 'tokens' with 'types' (clearer in
my letter). I then supplied a substitute formula, embodying what I
suspected to be Don's meaning, which seemed to me to be praiseworthily
penetrating. The associate editor handling this matter then removed
much of this part of my letter and supplied, not only the statement on
p. 432 but, on p. 434, a new formula (more elegant than mine) and a new
key comparing, properly, tokens with tokens. (Except that in another
blooper the first item in the key is meaningless.) He then hazed over
the difficulty (p. 432) by saying that in 'the final stages of
preparation . . . an error was introduced.' Of course Don was too busy
to read proof on the article, but you are more credulous than I am if
you can believe that not only the inversion of the formula but the
substitution, twice, of 'type' for 'token' was introduced by anyone but
the author himself. I think that if I had been in the editor's place, I
would have tried to haze over the matter as he did. In his answer Don
thanks me for identifying the error, but in Shaxicon Part 5 he is silent
on this matter.
So that mainly (though there is more) the first error is a matter of
confusing multiplication and division. The second error is a matter of
confusing one side of the computer screen with the other. This second
error elicits much explanation from Don, in terms that not more than one
or two of his readers are likely to understand. Charles Hieatt (pp.
429-430) explained how by starting with the wrong side of the screen in
the old WordCruncher program that supported Shaxicon, he could get the
results that Don has been publishing for years (without supplying the
basis for checking). But this list of words ('tokens'), when checked
against our advance copy of Shaxicon's general word list, turns out to
be the words in the wrong work. On the other hand, by starting with the
correct screen he got results often very different from Don's, and with
words that correspond to the right work. I leave it up to Charles
Hieatt whether to elaborate.
In a sense, this second error is of little importance because, whether
you follow Don's list or Charles' list, you come up generally with such
a small number of words (always expressed by Don as a percentage of
something, never as so-and-so many words) that the significance is
almost always trivial.
On the other hand, Don's criticisms of the seven year old
Hieatt-Hieatt-Prescott article are often well-founded and deserve
careful reading. My point here is that I'm about to bring out something
on Shakespeare's sonnets anticipating and correcting many of Don's
points. Perhaps he has not learned until recently of this 'something'
because I've taken extraordinary precautions that he should not. It's
dangerous to let Don find out about something in advance. A noted
Shakespearean charged with arranging papers for a conference underwent
untold pain and trouble when Don learned the facts and went over his
head to change the program. Because Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza
could not prevent Don's knowledge of what they were up to, they
underwent extraordinary tribulation, although they have, at least
temporarily, recouped their fortunes in _Sh. Quarterly_ and _Computers
in the Humanities_. And, as follows, I had my head bowed down by Don's
learning in advance of my _PMLA_ letter.
After I'd written and sent it to _PMLA_, the associate editor mentioned
above wrote to ask me whether I would allow him to show it to a
columnist. Thinking this in accord with _PMLA_'s present policy of
entering the public stream, I agreed. I had never heard of the
columnist; the newspaper where he published (_The New York Observer_)
was unknown to me, having been created after my Manhattan days were
over. It is here that Don's information becomes wildly improbable in
the Shaxicon piece that has just appeared here. I must not take the
space to meet all of it.
But in fact Don did phone the then chief editor of _PMLA_. I cannot see
what else caused the extraordinary savagery of the copy-editing of my
letter, far beyond the usual take-no-prisoners copy-editing of _PMLA_
culture that I had experienced twice before when I was published there,
and that my brother experienced with his letter. I began, for instance,
by saying that as a winner of the William Riley Parker prize in one
year, I thought it might be appropriate for me to discuss an article
which _PMLA_ had identified on its first page as coming from a winner of
the same prize in another year. This was simply crossed out in green
ink with no other notation than that everything in green ink was
inserted by the chief ed. personally. No more green ink after that,
but the savagery went on unabated to the end, to the extent of warping
or completely contradicting my meaning.
I'm sure that Don feels there's nothing unethical about his procedure.
It is only that his opponents fly in the face of the great cause which
Don was brought to this earth to further. The only point in his
consideration of our former relationship that empurpled me was that it
was HE who broke off the correspondence between us, in view of my
growing testiness and refusal to see the point. In fact he did break it
off, but the truth is as follows: his last letter back then made a show
of his ability to use Latin terms. He made an absurdly elementary
mistake in each one of them. I suddenly realized that he had barely
rudimentary Latin or none, and sent him a very testy letter indeed, the
end of a correspondence that seemed to me to be hopeless. Of course
many Shakespeareans who cannot read More's _Utopia_ in the language in
which it was written have accomplished great things in the study of
Early Modern lit., but many a treatise and many a document are closed to
I incline to believe that Don will never know what the trouble was
unless he reads this. One exhausted the formulae of politeness in
trying to leave him (then) with a good conceit of himself. He appears
not to have had an ear for irony, at least my kind, although he
apparently kept a meticulous record of his correspondence with the two
Hieatts, even while receiving 500 email communications daily and storing
bushels of unopened mail.
Someone has remarked that Don is under no compulsion to travel toward
release of Shaxicon except at his own speed. True, and he's incredibly
busy. But why was Don's funeral elegy article published before Shaxicon
became publicly available? The main evidence for Don's conclusions was
left out, just as the conclusions about what roles Shakespeare played
have been published for years, without the source of the percentages
involved being available. Maybe _PMLA_ seduced him into the funeral
elegy piece, hoping to share in his notoriety.
On a lighter note concerning that notoriety: many readers will not have
seen Stephen Booth's piece in the 1997 _Shakespeare Studies_, which the
editor says was published long since. Booth says there that he has no
idea what all that math of Don's amounts to in proving that Shakespeare
wrote that elegy, but he believes it anyway, for another reason. It's
not only that Don pointed the finger at the author of _Primary Colors_.
There's more. When Don was hawking the typescript of his first book,
years ago, he sent it to a British publisher, whose readers rejected
it. Don readily identified the readers and sent the info back to the
publisher, as an illustration of the efficacy of his methods. But they
continued to reject the book. Then he sent it to another British
publisher, and the same thing happened: it was rejected, Don identified
the readers, but the publisher stood pat. Finally he sent it to the U.
of Delaware Press. It was rejected, and Don again identified the
readers. This moved the Press, which proceeded to publish the book.
It's a marvelous anecdote, although Booth must know that a chief
amusement among people whose writings are ordinarily refereed is to
guess the name of the reader from the restricted band who are capable of
judging in a particular field. But who were those two churlish British
publishers? Do they corroborate the story?