Our latest discovery in the archive is the famous piece of hate mail received by Anthony Burgess when he revisited Manchester in 1989, and quoted by him shortly afterwards in a BBC Radio 4 Bookshelf documentary: ‘Speaking of death, I believe you once remarked that you were not sure if you should be buried in Moston [Cemetery] or in the Abbey. Don’t worry, the lads have prepared three graves: one for the body, one for the books, and one for the ego. Bad cess to you, Old Boy.’ Blood or coffee stains are visible on the first page of the handwritten letter.
According to Burgess’s copy of Eric Partridge’s monumental Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Colloquialisms and Catch-Phrases, Solecisms and Catachreses, Nicknames, Vulgarisms and Such Americanisms As Have Been Naturalized (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 5th edition, 2 volumes, supplement much enlarged, 1961), ‘Bad cess to …’ is Anglo-Irish slang, first recorded in the late 1850s. It means ‘Evil befall you!’ Partridge comments: ‘Prob. ex cess = assessment, levy, rate(s); but perhaps abbr. success.’
It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that the man who wrote the letter had an Irish surname (which cannot be revealed for now, because his widow still appears to be living at the same address).