108. 6 January 1997 [NM] (Together in TLS; insane scholars and methodology)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Eric,

   Two charming cards from you, and now I hopefully await your reply to mine of 16 November, which, as I know from experience may turn up any time between now and next Xmas. However, even if you feel sure you replied to it and I am sure you are right, you still might never have received it. So herewith a copy that was lurking in a floppy disk

   I'm particularly keen to know what happens on the potential front of 'rise Sir Eric Sams!' –  even if, as hinted to me by your Welsh admirer, you may perhaps consider this as rather more like a fall? I can think of nothing that sounds as well, except perhaps, 'rise Sir Christopher Nupen!' Anyway I now also enclose a copy of what I wrote in response to Idris Jones's request, in case it can be of any use.

   It was good fun coming out together in the TLS  – always in favour of common sense, which so many people refuse to see, and I was glad to read your last reply on 'Hamlet'. Bossy I find not only perverse – his undertow being so much stronger than his wave – but foolish, as seen particularly in his last letter of apology (suitably undertowed). He was finally right however in pointing out the absurdity of the notion that 'the man who is able to subject and subdue nature is likely to do so by subjecting and subduing other men'. But why did he start the whole nonsensical red herring, by frivolously quoting writers who, as he put it, are 'a little over-learned' for him.

   As for Pérez Ramos (to whom I wrote) like so many experts he concentrates – and embroiders – on one aspect of Bacon's Great Instauration, as so often by leaving out the other half of it – the strict limits Bacon set to enlarging the bounds of the human mind, and his solemn disavowal of all power and knowledge 'not dedicated to goodness and love' – failing which knowledge turns 'malign and serpentine', and leads to 'unlawful inventions and depraved applications'. These people forget that Bacon roundly condemned world dominion as 'the evil dream of a prosperous brigand', and they don't see the humility of his attitude towards what was his 'only earthly wish': the 'chaste and holy wedlock between the mind of man and the universe', from which 'a race of inventions' would spring which could overcome 'the immeasurable helplessness and poverty of the human race'.

   Why add one's own complicated mental windings to Bacon – or to Shakespeare – rather than content ourselves with what is there? It's just like these awful Jane Austen films, on which the directors embroider ad lib, ruining the story, when just keeping her words could be perfection. (As was done twenty years ago, faultlessly, withBarchester Towers.)

   I'm delighted to hear that Shakespeare's sonnets were set from authorial copy (though still wonder why they sh'd have ended up with Southampton's mother, and with Hervey of whom he disapproved). Has something recent turned up on the subject? What fun for you to follow up the spelling!

   Please, a copy of Charles Nicholl's review. I've just had a beautiful card from him, a brightly lit cafe by Van Gogh, whose letters I've been reading. Food for much thought.

   Mea culpa re Shakespeare's death-mask. I realize I've more than once asked the same question twice over. Indeed I've more than once ordered the same book twice! I must now go through your file – the thickest in my cabinet – for tit-bits.

   I hope you've no burst pipes. We were snowed in here for nearly a week.

   Best wishes for a lot of juicy articles alongside the more important works in 1997.