29. 20 January 1989 [ES] (Samson Agonistes; Hamilton; trinity of 19th poets [Mörike, Baudelaire, Leopardi])

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs. Mathew’s letters)

Dear Hayat,

   many thanks for your kind letter. How are my eyes? Dim; but at least not flashing. Quite Miltonian (round he throws his baleful eyes/ that witnessed huge affliction and dismay). Also my edition of Samson Agonistesabbreviates that hero's name whenever it occurs, so that I read


     SAMS: Avenge me on my enemies, O Lord, for mine eyes


and again


     SAMS: Total eclipse! etc.


Well, not quite eclipse, as yet; but dim, as stated. It's a general condition of the entire old metabolism: not all but almost no systems 90. I recently found a delightful Ital poem which sums it all up in the melancholy cadence


     la voce del cantor

     non è più quella. [G. Berchet, Il Trovatore, ED]


Yes, there's a new book out on Edward III (sample pages enclosed): and other glints and gleams of sunshine, however fitful, on horizons however far. With corresponding opacities and obscurities as usual. I'm afraid you're right about Charles Hamilton. Even his good book is a little dotty, as you also rightly said, about Shakespeare's poisoning, as much of a canard, or dead duck, as Mozart's by Salieri. Well, perhaps we all pay for our occasional aperçus by sharp attacks of compensatory astigmatism. More by Marlowe? My eye, is the apt comment, I think.

   But things are a bit brighter now, thank you. My mother is alas far gone in senile dementia. So sad; she was very clever in her prime, and beautiful as a young girl. But at least she's quite happy now, and more relaxed than I've seen her for years now that the spring has broken; and I know that she's being properly looked after-

   And I've been given (did I tell you?) a Schumann autograph letter by a well-wisher. I draw much sustenance from contemplating that document: it has mana. I've finished my TV film on music-cipher, and shall soon start on my Shakespeare script. Any ideas? Perhaps I can provide a companion-piece to your Bacon programme - the one you ought to be doing for Christopher. He's been having a great retrospective series of his films, incidentally, every Saturday, on our fourth Channel - The last I saw was about Wittgenstein and Schoenberg - Chris's notion of light relief and entertainment. He's a very serious person au fond. For the rest I'm doing plenty of reviewing (three books on Shakespeare for Encounter and seven [!] of his plays at the Old Vic for TLS). I trust that you are flowering, in which interest I return, with interest, some of the warmth and sunshine you so kindly wished (and thereby gave) me. Thank you too for your charming and cheering suggestion about Erik, complete with generous invitation. He and I got rather well in our Schubert duos, when he came here last year. And I'd gladly desert my (much-taught-on) Blüthner for your Bechstein, which you say is underplayed and might be grateful for well-meaning attention. (Though I don't know how you can hear its silent and reproachful glances).

   And I really could enjoy Italy, I'm sure. I know exactly why my heroes Brahms and Wolf craved its company, life-long - no less than Goethe. It's a matter of more light. My son Jeremy is much in love with Florence, where he made a school excursion in his youth and came back quite unsettled by its wonders. He returns whenever he can; and as it happens he's giving concerts (as a virtuoso accordionist!) there and in Rome at this moment. I'm much more of a stay-at-home. And as to Erik, he has just been called up for military service. I feel quite solicitous yet proud for him. He's so small - like Wolf in that respect, who however in a more clement age was excused military service on that account. But I'll remember your kind and more than kind idea, with great gratitude. Meanwhile I'm vowed to various Lieder-competition adjudications and then a visit to Germany (first time - I rather took against that region and its inhabitants) to discourse about Mörike, who with Baudelaire and Leopardi make my main 19th trinity.

   And how is your book? [...] I hope all is proceeding apace and to your entire satisfaction.

   With warmest wishes and regards,

   yours as ever Eric