115. 2 February 1997 [ES] (Spellings; Romeo and Juliet; Brahms book; puns; various)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   Thanks for yours. Sorry I sent the review twice – taking review too literally, no doubt. Or perhaps it's a way of saying hasta la rivista. Anyhow, old men forget (though scenes from my boyhood shine out with ever more vivid clarity). Nearer home, I seem to spend much of my time just looking for things.

   So I'm not the most alert and far-sighted of advisers. That much at least is clear. Also, I still have this blind spot about the Northumberland MS. But I'm sure, on the other hand, that the material still up your sleeve should be duly unfolded and displayed. Your Shakespeare and J, the Bacons; Nicholl's Shakespeare and Marlowe; how rich and great the times are now. And I love your LLL link – which is in my reading anyhow still largely missing from all the voluminous commentaries. Most Brits can't bring themselves to read French history, perhaps because to the inward insular eye no other realm seems quite real.

   My own concern with that beautiful play is (I have to tell you) the spellings of its first edition, which as I see them are obviously authorial but equally obviously non-Latinist and hence (and also independently) non-schooled, exactly as some of us have been saying for some time now. Perhaps the inferences are too self-evident to need drawing. But their relevance seems inescapable. From 'annothanize' on, the entire vocabulary and its orthography seems to shout and shriek and yell and bellow that Shakespeare must have been educated, if at all, by someone whose methods were curiously akin to modern English teacher-training, which seem designed to spread illiteracy all over the world, like a thick glutinous paste. Even the media, my dear. But what kind of person is it, we ask ourselves, who spells phonetically? And this peculiarity persists as late as Othello, the first quarto of which was certainly set up from authorial copy, and contains many a curiosity like 'Qu' for 'cue' and 'Isop' for 'hyssop .I'm just preparing a list of anything but identical duplets and triplets for the delectation of Ernst Honigmann, who has suddenly become quite amenable, helpful and friendly, though still manifestly worried about where his own chosen path leads.

   I've been looking again at my Edward III, perhaps on J. Bate's recommendation; and I see that both it andIronside weigh in at three different words every two lines. I'd like to think that this is the typical strike rate of the Elizabethan Shakespeare. And when I, or rather my trusty calculator, perform the same sum for the 'Bad' Quarto of Romeo, 1597, the same ratio appears. I suppress a triumphant but no doubt premature cry of 'Thou art a scholar ...ho! ratio!'. But when I'm next in town I'll process all the plays and other so-called apocrypha from this same viewpoint. Meanwhile I reckon I can manage without including any such information in my latest projected piece, enclosed. There's plenty more where that came from, as Gore Vidal observed about the human race. Many thanks, à propos, for your kind comments about the Sonnets draft I sent you. At least I have some work to get on with, now that other avenues have been blocked, not to say blacked. Faber aren't keen on my big Brahms song book; their American partners, Indiana U.P., have just brought out a work on that very topic. And O.U.P. are trying to make me sign away my copyrights in perpetuity before (they say) I can publish anything, even reviews already covenanted for, in any of their books or journals, which include my second best outlet Notes and Queries. Well, never mind; I can be muttering spells among the spellings, now that the Schubert 200 celebrations are temporarily in abeyance, after my dear friend Graham's stunningly successful Schubertiad on last Friday's anniversary.


   Best as ever,

   Yours Eric