Letters to Nicholas Hagger from Ted Hughes about Overlord, 8.7.1994, 20.3.1995, 28.1.1996, 3.12.1996, 4.3.1998, Letters from Ted Hughes, pp.946-7

Letters from Ted Hughes, then Poet Laureate, to Nicholas Hagger about Overlord

8th July 94

“Dear Nicholas,

…I look forward to seeing your epic – but are you sure about publishing books 1 and 2 before 5, 6 and 7 are written? Or is it all written? My experience is: publishing a book annihilates the factory that produced it. Rather like – first prototypes of a new weapon, in a war, bring the enemy to demolish the source. Robert Frost never published a book until he’d completed the next. He called it ‘keeping an egg in the nest’. I know I’ve two or three times regretted publishing the first specimens in a new line of production. Obviously, those serial novelists didn’t feel that way. On the other hand, the response finally stopped Hardy – in his series of novels. Not quite the same thing….All the best, Ted H.”

 

March 20, 95

“Dear Nicholas –

Thank you for the copy of the big work. I started reading it with fascination – I rose to it, the omnivorous masterful way you grasp the materials. But same day was swept out of the country on hectic business and got back only last night. Look forward now to reading the rest. I’ll try to get something by tomorrow. But will it help? Do comments help? Doesn’t the whisper go further than the shout?

Yours – Ted”

 

28 January 96

“Dear Nicholas –

You certainly are industrious. I’m admiring the way you bite off and chew up these great chunks of history in your epic. It’s good for verse – to become the workhorse for sheer mass of material. Pressure of the actual – the resources to deal with it drawn from elsewhere. I want to see the whole thing finished, though, before I make any comment….

Keep up the good work – Yours ever, Ted”

 

3rd Dec 96

“Dear Nicholas –

Thank you for the epic. What a prodigious amount of work!

You hit a pace, a tilt, that really carries your reader along – through what could be impassable masses of detail. Weirdly readable – considering the blizzard of data. Everything comes as a subordinate clause to your dramatic momentum – a hand waving out of the express train window.

I have only dipped in here and there so far. You’re obviously serious about the Rothschilds and the Illuminati – can any human endeavour be so successfully organised?

I liked your riff on de Vere.

But I have to get the whole sweep.

Well – what now?

Yours ever, Ted H.”

 

4 March 98

“Dear Nicholas –

I didn’t get to see the programme but your coin trove sounds pretty interesting.

One of the mysteries about you is – when do you get it all done? How many of you are there? Do you never blot a line?

You know on that Sir Thomas More manuscript in the British Museum – which contains a wonderful passage, top quality circa All’s Well That Ends Well vintage – Shakespeare makes several quite radical corrections. (But the whole thing written at top speed obviously. Only about 5 punctuation marks in thirty or more lines.) So it is permitted.

Yes, debased coinage.* In a sense, that has happened to poetry – we’re all guilty. Main thing is – keep the metal pure, at least, if you can.

Keep well, Ted”

* Extract from Nicholas Hagger’s earlier letter: “It’s all wrong. The purity of the word on the page has a tiny audience, and the debasing of it conveys it to millions. It’s like the debasing of Roman coinage between Augustus and the Fall of Rome: the coins of Augustus had a relatively limited audience whereas the later ones included all the barbarians. Or so I like to think.”

 

Nicholas Hagger