[Sir Arthur Bryant defends himself against an attack by fellow Pepys scholar Edwin Chappell.] Eight Autograph Letters Signed and one Typed Letter Signed (all 'Arthur Bryant') to Chappell, on questions of Pepys scholarship.

Sir Arthur Bryant [Sir Arthur Wynne Morgan Bryant] (1899-1985), historian and biographer of Samuel Pepys [Edwin Chappell (1883-1938), Pepys scholar and maritime historian; Samuel Pepys]
Publication details: 
From: The White House, East Claydon, Bucks (3); 97 Swan Court, Manor Street, London (3); Portmeirion and Madeira. Between 6 January 1932 and 22 November 1933.
SKU: 21817

Nine letters (eight ALsS and one TLS) totalling 16pp, 12mo, in close and neat autograph; and 2pp, 4to, typed. One from 1932 and the other eight from 1933. All signed 'Arthur Bryant'. In good condition, on lightly-aged paper, with slight rust-staining from paperclips to a couple of the letters. An interesting correspondence, in which Bryant gives an assessment of Pepys, and describes his approach to writing his biography. In one long letter (5 May 1933) Bryant describes his wider approach to the writing of history. Bryant is a problematic historian, and the tensions inherent in his work and character are exemplified in the present batch of correspondence. His work was explicitly praised by eight British Prime Ministers – including Winston Churchill – between Stanley Baldwin and Margaret Thatcher, but his standing among his peers has not been high. The recent attempt by Julia Stapleton to counter Churchill's biographer Andrew Roberts's damning characterisation of him as 'a supreme toady, fraudulent scholar and humbug', as well as 'a Nazi sympathiser and fascist fellow-traveller, who only narrowly escaped internment as a potential traitor in 1940', is not convincing. The present batch of nine letters dates from the period between Bryant's study of Charles II (1932) and the appearance of the first of the three volumes of his Pepys biography, 'The Man in the Making', published by Cambridge University Press in 1933. Shortly before the present correspondence, having been greatly impressed by Bryant's book on Charles II, the historian G. M. Trevelyan had passed over to him the extensive notes and papers of the Pepys scholar J. R. Tanner (1860-1931), to assist him in writing his Pepys biography. It has been the contention of several authorities that Bryant was inadequate in his acknowledgment of the heavy extent to which he relied on Tanner, and it is certainly true that after three volumes he left his work uncompleted at the same point of Pepys's life at which Tanner's papers end. Chappell was one of the leading authorities on Pepys, and published several works on him, including editions of his shorthand letters (1933) and Tangier papers (1935), and 'Bibliographia Pepysiana' (1933). The present correspondence exhibits many of Bryant's obvious failings, but Chappell's claim, at its close, that Bryant had failed to engage in 'fair dealing', and was guilty of 'the most outrageous piece of poaching that has ever come my way', would seem an overreaction to the behaviour of which he accuses him, and seems to display the asperity of a wider resentment, perhaps connected with misgivings about the nature of Bryant's scholarly approach. The first letter, 6 January 1932, is written as Bryant is working on his first Pepys volume, and does not give the impression of previous acquaintance, being addressed to 'Dr. Chappell' (unlike the other eight letters, which are written to 'Chappell'). He thanks him for sending his bibliography, 'and the delightful paper which introduces it', and states that he has 'added it to the bibliography which Dr Tanner had prepared and which I have taken over with his Pepys papers'. Tanner's papers, he has discovered, are 'far fuller than I at first thought and include a large number of what seem to be accurate – though I have not yet checked any of them – transcripts of Pepys' letters in the Bodleian. They are very elaborately arranged'. He feels they may be of help to Chappell in his work, and invites him to visit him to consult them. He thanks him for corrections to his book on Charles II (1931), explaining that his 'task' in writing the book 'was one of extreme compression'. He describes 'a small MS book of a few pages of an early 17 century shorthand', among 'the Shakerley MSS in my possession'. In the next letter, written a year later on 5 January 1933, Bryant corrects 'a slight slip' in the proofs of Chappell's edition of Pepys's shorthand letters, which had recently appeared, stating: 'May I say what a great service I feel you have done by these transcriptions: they do add a very great deal both to the Further Correspondence and the Diary, and help enormously to show what a master Pepys was at official correspondence. I think you were very right when you say that his strength lay in fighting defence: the way he marshals and crowds his facts in unassailable array is truly impressive. As an administrator in a small way myself, I can appreciate his skill in this most difficult art all the better. The only fault is that, for all his suavity and tact, he leaves his opponents without the smallest ground of right – and human nature is apt to react unkindly to those who are altogether right!' He hopes 'to be allowed some day to look at your Pepys collection and to talk to you, or rather listen to you, about Pepys'. On 2 May 1933 he asks Chappell to read 'the typescript of my Pepys', adding, 'What a strange study Pepys is: I dont know whether I've got anyway near him or not. I think the real secret was vitality – a really wonderful vitality that explains alike his great virtues and his equally great lapses'. He asks if Chappell has 'read the missing passages', which he thinks 'help to explain a lot'. He will let him have them if he has not got them, 'for I cannot believe that Turner will be able to print them all'. He would 'also like the N[ational]. M[aritime]. M[useum]. to have my envelopes; if they would think them worthy of acceptance'. He begins a long letter of 5 May 1933 by thanking Chappell for agreeing to a request which will 'be the greatest help to me and will probably save me from many foolish slips and blunders'. He agrees with him that 'Pepys is so vast a subject that one can never feel certain that one has covered all the ground'. He flatters Chappell by stating that it is 'perhaps even pleasanter to know that there is someone in the world who feels as passionate an interest in one's subject as one does oneself. When nine years ago I first started to transcribe the 14th century letters of my wife's family, I found myself unconsciously acquiring interests which no human being in the world could share with me – because obviously no-one else could feel the same intense interest in the personalities and surroundings of long-deat, obscure Cheshire squires and yeomen that I, who spent regularly for several years three or four evening hours in their company did. And though thousand [sic] of people are interested in Pepys, I've begun to feel a little of the same loneliness with him; one does feel that Deb or Jane Birch are more real than most of the people whom one meets – and yet one knows so little about them really and wants to know more.' He states that he is sending Chappell 'what is typed now', and proceeds to describe his approach: 'I have tried (perhaps in vain) to unfold Pepys early life – as he himself felt it unfold - for the ordinary reader of today, who is both informed and very diverse in taste and outlook: one can no longer write for that small homogenous, cultured, well-educated (though not very scholarly) public which people like G. O. Trevelyan and Morley wrote for a generation or two ago. But I always believe a writer's job is to write for the public of his own day (and the future if he can!) rather than the past – and as the only common denominator of our modern reading public is an interest in life, I have tried to reveal a man's life unfolding piece by piece, until in my second part (to be begun this autumn) he has attained his proper stature and is man completed. One certainly has material at one's disposal such as one has in the case of no other man who ever lived.' After describing his approach further, with reference to 'Wheatley and Turner', he discusses Pepys's life with regard to his theory that 'as one grows older one seems to live in cycles'. There is a reference to how 'Pepys changes his mode of life and starts to work like a nigger', and other aspects of his life. The letter ends with a lengthy discussion of 'missing passages' and 'objectionable' material, with a long postscript on a paper which 'Matthews' has sent him. On 26 July 1933 he asks Chappell for help choosing 'the frontispiece of my first volume' and other illustrations, and thanks him for 'those delightful hours at Greenwich in your company's and Samuel's'. Two days later he thanks him for his 'article on Elizabeth', which he finds 'delightful': 'I do hope you will write a book on Pepys one day – something in the nature of an appreciation of him as a friend and of his diary is an unfailing source of refreshment &, in doing it, discussing & clearing up a hundred disputed points. No-one but you could do it - & it would be something quite unique – and an introduction for all & sundry to the friendliest book in the world.' He invites him to visit, describing 'one or two portraits of faint Pepysian interest on our walls'. In a letter of 8 September 1933 he discusses matters relating to a 'draft pedigree' which he is enclosing (not present). Five days later he states that he is once more very much in Chappell's debt regarding points he has raised, and that he has 'written to Barnes on the lines of our telephone talk of this morning and sent him a list of corrections'. Regarding one of Chappell's points he states: 'one ought to adapt the modern spelling if the book is meant for the ordinary reader: otherwise one arouses in his mind that awful sense of “quaintness”, which is the bane of all “popular” history. But on the other hand what you say is indubitably true and carries great weight. However the question is no longer an open one!' The last letter, 12 November 1933, is the only one typed, and this clearly reflects a worsening of relations. It concerns a lecture which Bryant gave at Bumpus's bookshop in London at the opening of a Pepys exhibition. He quotes, over eleven lines, from an accusatory letter he has received from Chappell on the matter. Chappell writes: 'It seems ironical to thank you for your kind reference to me in your preface, especially when I go on to say that I value fair dealings far above fair words. I regard this opening as the most outrageous piece of poaching that has ever come my way and I cannot consider you blameless. […]' Bryant counters: 'You complain that I (who, without verifying your statement, you say had contributed nothing to the Exhibition, whereas I have lent several hundreds of pounds worth of material) was asked to lecture on Pepys in preference to you, who were lending sixty items. Your complaint in that case is against the promoters of the Exhibition, […] It may well be that you have better claims to speak on Pepys than I, […] I presume, however, that I was asked to speak not in virtue of any superior Pepysian knowledge, (still less on account of any service to the Exhibition), for the same reason that Mr. French and Mrs. Drinkwater were asked to provide music, merely because I was a “popular” lecturer, who had raised a good deal of money for various charities by giving public lectures on Pepys, and who had just published a book on Pepys.' He concludes in conciliatory fashion: 'Personally, I care a great deal more for our personal relationships than about any Exhibition; the number of true lovers of Pepys is too small for us to quarrel, and you are the best of us all. But neither I, nor anyone else, however much they honoured your work, could receive such a letter as yours without putting on record their resentment. It is a resentment which can very easily be appeased.'