124. 15 June 1997 [ES] (Spanish civil war; hidalgos: Real Shakespeare II; last essay on Elgar)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

good to hear from you, as ever. I too could easily get nostalgic; but, as they say, even nostalgia isn't what it was. Of course it's lovely to meet one's old school friends, and to sip Falernian wine in the shadow of the South Downs. But there's always something missing, e.g. me. Where's the lost young man?

   Still, it's good to know that you and I were on the same side in the Spanish civil war. My classmates and I were only about ten years old when it started; but – like the somewhat earlier outrages in Abyssinia – it seemed to us to portend, indeed to be, the end of European civilisation as we knew it. These inchoate feelings were strongly confirmed as fact by the great journal Picture Post. It took only about five years before the youth of the Thames estuary were putting up posters and singing, in chorus, about Madrid que bien resistes (mamita mia) los bombarderos, not to mention los cuatro generales, who, with any luck (mamita mia) seran ahorcados. They would have been, too, if there was any justice in the world; but that deity had sensibly quitted the earth before the iron age. No wonder that I and my companions, in our later but equally immature years, were found (in our cups) sprawling and scrawling on the pavement OPEN THE SECOND FONT NOW. Who are these weird Ananbaptists? cried our terrified fellow-citizens, for whom the times were already quite hard enough.

   Speaking of hildalgos, do you know the lovely (so I think) Schumann song Der Hidalgo? Poem by Geibel; die Schönen von Sevilla/mit Fächer and Mantilla/schauen dem Strom entlang/sie lauschen mit Gefallen/wenn meine Lieder schallen/zum Mandolinenklang/und dunkle Rosen fallen/mir vom Balkon zum Dank, usw. Which reminds me that the encouragingly large entry for our latest song competition has been duly sifted down to 41 successful candidates, representing 19 nationalities, who will be singing at the Wigmore Hall here from 8-13 September (brochure enclosed). Just the thing for you and Diana, I'd have thought. […]

   OK, on with our books, crying Excelsior. I'm getting on with my sequel, taking the story on from 1594; I've Just finished a piece on the 1597 arms application, which has failed to impress the College of Arms here (still standing on the same spot) despite my protestations that the value of their documents could be massively increased, with a little cooperation. They say, with some hauteur, that they're not short of funds, being a branch of the royal household. There's perhaps more profit in the 1597 law­suit documents, which the PRO have promised to supply in photocopy. Perhaps there's the makings of another quatercentenary piece for the TLS. Or I could perhaps try something on the 1597 publications of Richard III and Romeo, pointing out that they're not botched corruptions at all but on the contrary sublime masterpieces. Just our luck to live at a time when the accredited experts can't tell the difference.

   I've just written a piece on Elgar for Music and Letters (such an apt title for my topic); and I'm laying a last hand on an up-date of my Cryptography article for the even newer New Grove. I'd also be looking for a window of opportunity to complete my Brahms song book, if I weren't already up to my eyes in Shakespeare spellings, which aren't as promising a research topic (not for me, anyhow) as I'd hoped. A dear friend and good Shakespearean, Charles Hobday, who is even older than I am, will soon be publishing a book about English poets in Florence, from Chaucer onward. And another good friend has sought enlightenment about Bacon, in a letter which I'm venturing to pass on to you, herewith, as the doyenne. And how, I wonder, is that nice clever girl I met at your party getting on with her book on Colette?

  Best, as ever,

  Yours Eric