To Wilf Smith (M. W. A. Smith)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams



7 February 1992


Dear Wilf,


I return, as promised, to MacD. Jackson's latest 'Wilkins' bulletin. A critical note is enclosed; I've sent a copy to him too, while I'm about it.

     His piece proceeds along his usual lines of answer first, selected arguments afterwards, relevant evidence nowhere. Everyone else knows that he habitually reasons thus. Here's an entirely typical example from thirty years ago, reaffirmed twenty years later (see N&Q 1963, 331 and TLS 1982).


1. Shakespeare often uses an identifiable and complex image-cluster, of which the key-word is 'blot', with a dozen different associated ideas.

2. As Kenneth Muir has shown, the same image-cluster ('blot' plus nine of the associated ideas) occurs in Edward III; so that must also be a Shakespeare, as Jackson agrees.

3. But as Jackson has shown, the same image-cluster ('blot' plus eleven of the ideas) also occurs in Edmund Ironside.


4. the whole concept of identification by image-cluster must be entirely misconceived.


This is mind-set in concrete. Nothing can ever crack so hard and fossilised a nut.

     Exactly the same approach characterises Jackson's other work, for example on the relation between Edward III 1596, True Tragedy 1595 and Contention 1594 (N&Q 1965, 329), or between Q and F Henry V (CambridgeCompanion 1986, 163f). And of course every word about 'Wilkins'.

     You ask what I think about MacD. J's comments on my Hamlet Studies piece, I think they predictably take exactly the same attitude. I unsettle him, because he has a terrible fear that I may be right, and indeed he sometimes says so. But no ammunition of mine or anyone's can pierce his armour plating. He even complains that I'm having the nerve to fire at him and other great scholars such as Wilson and Duthie and Muir and Alexander and Smart (Why are they all Scotsmen, incidentally? How's that for racism?).

     On Hamlet he argues thus, again for all the world to see. 'Sams makes some good points, and give some reasons, which I can't refute, for thinking that Shakespeare not Kyd wrote the Ur-Hamlet. But I've always believed, for reasons I can't remember, that its author was actually Kyd. So no doubt there are equally good reasons, which may well turn up one day, for continuing in that unshaken and unshakable belief. Meanwhile we can entirely ignore all the evidence, and also the possibility of a new Shakespeare play, with hundreds of unknown lines. Nobody really cares about such things. Trust us respected scholars'.

     Jackson is taking exactly the same approach, which has long become habitual, to Pericles. I'd have thought you'd be ashamed of support from such a quarter! At least you'd be wise, I'm sure, to refrain from vaunting it. I'm desperately anxious to avoid such awful academic attitudes. So if you could ever bring yourself to tell me about the unspecified evidence which you say I fail to address I'd eagerly investigate it, with as much objectivity as I can manage; which will I trust exceed MacD. J's notorious zero, or indeed minus. For the time being I'll just reaffirm my view that in matters of authorship such questions as literary and historical evidence, including verbal analyses of style, must must must absolutely must take precedence over numbers; because authorship is a matter of words not numbers, and primary evidence should never be ignored.

     Music, now; that might be a different matter, since music actually is (as poetry is sometimes called) numbers, or at least numerically expressible if not evaluable. What's more, an analysis of (say) Schoenberg might be of some interest. I'm sure the American Musicological Society would love it. Let's count the occurrences of (say) C sharp, E flat, G double sharp, B double flat and so forth, and compare the results with others composers. The second notes in each phrase would also come in useful, I bet.

     I've actually given some thought to, and done some work on, Lehar's typical melodic contours and phrase-lengths. So has my good friend Andrew Lamb. I'm glad you like Die lustige Witwe, and I share your regard for June Bronhill. Mind you, I shan't abandon my Schwarzkopf-worship, which even goes to the lengths of praying (figuratively speaking) for her preservation, even though I stand to inherit some substantial items from her late husband should she predecease me. We may even be serving on the same jury later this year. And I know of no more marvellous operetta etc recording than hers beginning with Im chambre séparée, and including (such a marvellous idea, even apart from the Strauss melody) the Nuns' Chorus from Casanova. It may be that Karajan is the ideal maestro for all art but the very highest, as generally and no doubt rightly judged. I doubt whether he'd be entirely at home with the B minor Mass; but then, nor am I. And the Karajan Ariadne auf Naxos is nonpareil. So is his account of Hänsel und Gretel, which is more than I can say for Mark Elder's heavy-handed account of its successor, the beautiful Königskinder, in the destestable Poutney production at ENO which I've just been reviewing. Indeed, I shall listen to the whole work again, on library CD, and I'm obliged to you for being steered in that direction. It'll be a change from the Cole Porter I've been hearing lately (most recently Anything Goes, with those four- or five-note melodies now exploited by Sondheim).

     And of course I agree (despite any appearances ever given to the contrary) with what you say about generality versus precision. All my own general theories, such as they are (e.g. 'memorial reconstruction is balls') are built up from particulars, as closely studied and analysed as ever I can manage. But our opponents will argue that the selection of particulars itself entails the pre-existence of some general theory.

     This morning comes a letter from Scolar Press asking for details of my edition of Edward III, which I've already supplied to Duckworth at their request. There never were such times. Perhaps everyone has been reading your article? However that may be - couldn't you use Edward III (the part you mysteriously designate as 'A', if you insist) to make those long-delayed comparisons between Pericles I-II and early Shakespeare?


Best wishes,

yours as ever

Eric Sams




P.S. I've been re-reading your Edward III piece, and I see more clearly than before that it has high intellectual quality. But I've never denied or disputed that. Just stop making assumptions, especially any already made by Jackson et al., and use your good brain without prejudgement. When you do so, you'll soon see, I believe, what your results actually show: Contention c. 1590 is from the same hand as 2H6 >1616, and is hence also usable, as early Shakespeare, for comparison with Pericles I-II. Ditto True Tragedy.


P.P.S. Isn't there something very odd about a method proving that Shakespeare (E3) is more like Shakespeare than Shakespeare (R2)?