To Alan Hollinghurst
previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams
30 November 1992
Thanks for the Nemo, which continues to prove how little I've really read and remembered. Once again I cry Nemo me impune lacessit.
I've found a minor mistake in the Schoenbaum proof No.1874 I returned some time ago (duly amended as requested to emphasise that most of the material mentioned relates to the earlier life). Towards the end of the first column I quote the words "that accretion of legend and lore..". But my attempt to cite this phrase, one-third of the way down the second column, reads "the accretion of lore and legend" instead of recte
the "accretion of legend and lore"?
I'm sorry about that. I dare say I (and I hope the TLS) could live with the present version, but if there's any chance of correcting it I'd be grateful.
As and when that piece gets published, it will do for the life what the March piece did for the works. But there's one more topic I intend to tackle in article form in advance of the Yale book, and that (as I may have mentioned) is handwriting. It seems that palaeography is a thing of the past; editors and biographers can't read the secretary hand in general, let alone Shakespeare's (in the More scene). This strikes me as very strange, like a Schubert expert who can't read German handwriting, let alone the script in manu propria.
Everyone says, from this position of invincible nescience, that Shakespeare's will was penned by his friend Francis Collins or his clerk. But I've just heard from Stratford, after some prodding, that Robert Beaman, the Senior Archivist there, has 'been unable to find an unquestioned example of Collins's handwriting apart from his signature'. There is, that is to say, no evidence and no justification whatever for saying, though everyone does say, that Collins drafted the will; and still less (by Ockham as well as a fortiori) for invoking his imaginary clerk. Besides, as anyone can see, it's not a draft but an actual testament, dashed off at some speed, but duly probated and complied with.
Everyone also knows perfectly well that 'By me' on a Tudor or Stuart will actually means 'in my own hand', like the equivalent per me. But we all know that Shakespeare couldn't possibly have written his own will (almost as ungentlemanly as slaughtering livestock, poaching deer, etc even though parchment is made of calveskins, as Hamlet learns after his long speech about law and inheritance and what might be described as similar skullduggery). The will itself has been very hard done by; thus its then custodian Jane Cox asked in a Times letter whether Shakespeare could write his own name, and went on to reject the will signatures in a PRO document still on sale, in which for good measure the transcription of the will contains some 70-80 egregious errors.
The required counterblast could be quite short and solely factual; and it would neither assume specialist knowledge nor require illustration. But I think it's essential to warn the literary public that in this field also, as well as dating, attribution and biography, a nasty big upas-tree of prejudice and folly has devastated the terrain.
Might the TLS be interested, in say six months' time?
Best wishes and regards, as ever,