26. 17 November 1988 [NM] (Power-struggle model of editorship; Peter Levi on Shakespeare)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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




17 November 1988


My dear Eric,

   I was sorry to hear about your eyestrain, but how typical of you that it should manifest in the form of firework displays! I do hope you are indeed resting your eyes, and your self, and that you know all about how to do it. More of this anon, but I must tell you first how delighted I was to receive both photocopy pages, Notes and Queries, and Encounter proofs. I doubt if there could be anything signed Eric Sams that wouldn't interest me. Please do go on sending all the photocopies you can. On Shakespeare of course, but also on music and cypher.

   Your remarks on the power-struggle model of editorship are illuminating. In a way that struggle goes on in all the fields of scholarship. Sometimes I think the erudite, supposed to have achieved a crowning objectivity, are more passionately subjective and any normal common or garden man. Honourable exceptions being few and far between. But the subjectivity of your friends at Oxford, and their steering by 'personal feeling' beat the lot of them. Hamilton with his outrageous pronouncements is more forgiveable. (By the way he hasn't answered my letter, of which I believe I sent you a copy? I hope he will in time). Again this jumping from 'seems' to 'is', so frequent among the biographers is amazing in editors. It's pure Don Quixote: 'Ha de ser, y es, Sancho amigo' (It must be... and is)

   Your lines on the actors who have forgotten the title, location and characters reminds me of a problem I was once given in class: 'A father has forgotten the ages of his two children. He remembers only the sum of their square roots...'

   One more incredible trait in your friends, is their failure even to refer to all the counter-arguments against their thesis. This is my problem with the Baconian black legend. The 'pressure of preconviction', it seems, has no limits.

   Of course I love your (understandably) aggressive approach, and such conclusive lines as 'The various MRA speculations are thus not only unnecessary, untestable, incompatible and unevidenced, but also...' Anyway I can see that I shan't need to consult the Oxford Shakespeare – or is there anything of value hidden in some corner that one should see?

   I note the birth of yet another Shakespeare and his Times (Peter Levi) full of conjecture taken as fact, and opinions based on personal feelings; among these, that Shakespeare took no part in the writing of Edmund IronsideSir Thomas More and The Two Noble Kinsmen, on the ground that 'his genuine writings are recognisable by their merit'.

   I can't remember if I've told you that Prof. Graham Rees wrote an excellent critical letter to Duckworth on my MS, from which it emerges that I must reduce the book in size, streamlining some looser parts, if I want to come across. I am completely convinced, and am now setting to work, but slowly, as I've been a bit low in health, and haven't the energy to do much just yet. So, for the time being, no more Shakespeare for me either.


   I do hope you are managing to do all you can to make your mother happy, without worrying.

   I shall understand if you don't write for quite a time. But the briefest scribble will always be welcome,

   With lots of good wishes


PS As for you being a wet blanket at Diana's party, I very much doubt it. But will never know. The man beside me was so large I couldn't even see you, much less hear.