4. 27 July 1987 [ES] (Ironside; OED; Sonnets; Hamilton; Hamlet )

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,


Thank you for your treasurable letter. I'll try to live up to it. It was helpful and stimulating, as well as gratifying. You have seen further and quicker into certain aspects than anyone, including me. It took me about a year to propose, greatly daring, what you point out by return of post, namely that Shakespeare initiated what he is supposed to have imitated. Such responses are what we write for. “And such readers we wish him” as the First Folio editors so sweetly said; and so say all of us, major and minor.


Numbered points:


1. On the MS question I had in mind that E. B. Everitt in The Young Shakespeare 1954 had based his Ironsidecase very largely on handwriting comparisons, including detailed graphological analysis. I found the evidence rather impressive, bearing in mind that the differences between the set fair-copy Ironside  hand of c.1588 and the cursive drafting secretary of the More Hand D c.1600 are (Everitt says) much what one might expect. I also found what looked to me like an intermediate stage, and arranged to have a piece published about that in theSunday  Times. Some samples are conveniently exhibited in a recent book on Shakespeare's Sonnets and the Problems of Autobiography by my pen-friend Hugh Calvert; I'm enclosing photocopies. Charles Hamilton testifies that all three are in the same hand. However, I soon discovered that no one, least of all the palaeographers, was going to take the least flicker of interest in these questions, let alone investigate them objectively. It was exactly Everitt's own experience, as he disconsolately records; nobody approaches these questions “without deep-rooted and ineradicable preconceptions of what they ought to find.” I expended a lot of time and eyesight on these matters when I began these studies, but eventually concluded that they were certain to prove in practice unrewarding. There was a certain amount of interest; my Southampton letter earned a show-case display in the British Museum for some-weeks. But essentially no one is going to allow settled beliefs to be influenced by so dubious a discipline as graphology, even when (or perhaps that should be least of all when) an acknowledged expert such as Charles Hamilton pronounces in favour. So I looked that difficulty boldly in the fact and passed on, when I came to write about Ironside. I made, and kept, copious notes, however, on many aspects of the question, and learned a lot, and made some good friends, including a forensic handwriting expert; and I may return to that topic one of these days. I’ve never been able to make much of the Northumberland MS, though. I once saw some quite interesting speculation of that topic by, I think, the Countess de Chambrun, who had a quick and lively mind; no doubt you know all such references.


2.  Yes, the peace was made much as in Ironside, according to Holinshed. The speech is there attributed to “one of the captains”; but a marginal note says “Matth. West saith this was Edrike”. The ending that sows the seed of its future opposite (there’s a lot of dialectical and historical materialism in Tudor drama) is the dramatist’s own invention, and a rather effective one - enhanced in the London performances by an Edricus who remained on stage solus savagely striking at his drum.


3.  No, I don't think that Shakespeare was a Catholic, but I’m sure that was a strong early influence; and the evidence of his father’s adherence to the old faith seems compelling.


4. - 7. No, I don’t always, or exhaustively, make negative checks, though of course I can’t help having Ironside as a background in reading round the subject, and I reckon I’ve read most datable drama of the period, and made a few notes. Alas that lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne. I’ve also relied, perhaps overmuch, on Everitt’s assurance that he, a professional scholar and teacher, had read everything, and found nothing like Ironside in total fingerprint pattern, though of course certain characteristics are duplicated and none is demonstrably unique. Specifically; I don't find the idea of nuptial solemnity anywhere else but Shakespeare and Ironside. “Plant” metaphors are common ground, however, (perhaps that's another example!), as you say; and I'm sure you're right about the prevalence of antithesis, the verbal equivalent of the confrontational mode of drama. But inIronside it's obsessive; one has the impression of a mind marinaded in opposites. So also in Edward III, where attention is specifically drawn to the device. That's rather early Shakespearean too, I think; the confident young conjuror offers to show you how the trick is done.


8. I've spent quite a lot of time with the OED, and debated most earnestly, with myself and others, the crucial point you raise. I've corresponded with Jurgen Schäfer, who attacked the OED's credit, and with Robert Burchfield, its chief lexicographer. If I’m right about Ironside, I believe that goes far to vindicate the OED’s claim that its first citations are, in effect, coinages new-minted in literary usage at the given date in the give: source. The pattern of over 200 such examples, on each of which I have detailed data for which there was no room in the final version, is exactly what one would expect if Ironside is by Shakespeare and his coinages are as stated in the OED (except treat in fact he used them first  in a manuscript source not collated by the OED editors). Of course much depends on the actual examples and their prima facie degree of idiosyncrasy. Perhaps clearly-invented compound words are the best instance. But each example contributes its cumulative quota.


9. I've just finished a text and notes of Edward III, which I'll be seeing in performance at Cambridge this Friday. I'm due to have lunch with my publisher quite soon; I’ll see if I can stimulate his appetite for this project. I’ve been much helped and encouraged by Prof. Karl Wentersdorf of Cincinnati, whose Ph. D. thesis of 1960 proved (not too strong a word) the Shakespearean wrote to him to say I couldn’t understand why none of his colleagues had taken the faintest. He instantly telephoned me to say that he couldn't understand it either! But we know well enough that nothing matters except the consensus, even though that may mean no more- than what happens when a caucus swallows a lot of nonsense. Only the eerie power of orthodoxy could account for the utterly fantastic assumptions that I’m now finding in my comparison of Hamlet editions, no two of which agree about anything.

  I’ll try, certainly, to get hold of the Scoufos book. I enjoy good scholarship on Shakespeare, of any persuasion.


11.-14.   Now for Charles Hamilton. Well, no doubt I’m indulgent with him though that's not at all how he sees my comments on various aspects of his work, which make him fly into a fearful rage. He brought home to me the force of that Wilde mot about how whenever other people agree with us we always feel we must be wrong; but I thought I might manage to make an exception in the case of Bud (sic). O Bud, thou art sic; loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud; and so on. In particular, I was depressed by the Shakespeare poisoning story, which reminded me of Amadeus, which I somehow know to be odious trash even without actually seeing it, so there's no use in my masquerading as a wholly dispassionate person in all points. So I suppose that Bud (as he likes to be called) must be allowed his wilfulness and even his follies. He’s not really a letter-by-letter investigator, as you or I might be; he just relies essentially on feel and instinct, just like the academic duffers he despises really, except that his conclusions are at least uninhibited. I'm also enclosing copies of the review I mentioned, and my (unanswered) protest, and a few notices of Edward III, as you asked.


15. I reckon there’s at least one vary early sonnet, namely 145; and I think the last two might be c.1588 or so. I’d say that; with even more confidence about some of the Passionate Pilgrim pieces.




I've recently been recommending the Sonnets to our friend Christopher, who is responding with characteristic enthusiasm. We have long telephone chats about 84, which (I try to persuade him) is as arcane prefiguration of him, as proved by “penury ... pen” in line 5! He’s not wholly convinced of this as yet, but I'm working on it. He is however clearly impressed by you and your book, which would certainly make a good TV topic. Did I tell you that I and my son Jeremy have been asked to script a TV programme about musical cryptography, using material from my Grove article? One two projects have a common theme; which we didn’t have time to discuss, namely “the vertues of cyphars whereby they are to be preferred”. I reckon that the criterion “that they be not laborious” actually rules out the amazing bilateral cipher, which drove poor Ignatius Donnelly mad, and doesn’t have a very soothing effect on me either.

   Well, my dear Hayat, I haven’t much else to report. Hamlet, in which you are kind enough to take an interest, is threatening to take over my life, at book length. I marvel at your father’s skill in condensation as well as perception; he must have had a great deal more that he could have said. But only the greatest can refrain from setting down everything they know. All my omissions - and they are immense - are credited to my publisher, who single-handedly, with prodigious efforts, and in the teeth of some stubborn resistance, reduced Ironside to manageable proportions. As he quite good-naturedly pointed out, the contract mentioned only one book, not a library, and still less the library imagined by Borges. I’m sure that Colin Haycraft will be reasonable, too. Do let me know if there’s any way in which I can be of service to the cause.

   No holidays. I somehow don’t enjoy them. The British seaside family holiday, with wife and children, was always a groaning martyrdom to me. Sand in the sandwiches; beaches and deckchairs so inconvenient for serious reading. But I shall hear and make some music. The lieder competition I’ve been helping to adjudicate, with nice Peter Schreier and others, was won by a young English baritone, with our naturally nationally stiff-broomstick high-wing-collar style of interpretation, and a thrillingly beautiful voice. This year we had no Italian contingent, though they’ve made a powerful impression in the past with a new genre, as it were liedo, which somehow metamorphosed Schubert into Puccini.

   I hope you like the Italienisches Liederbuch, and the Italienische Serenade of Hugo Wolf. And the rispetto too.

   Farewell for now; with best wishes and renewed thanks

   Yours Eric