106. 21 October 1996 [ES] (Gabriel Ronay and TLS; Leopardi; Rowse; manuscripts, compositors, copyists; Honigmann; eternity)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   how thoughtful of you to beguile and alleviate my wait for the London train.

   I had a long leisurely Lucullan lunch the other day with nice Gabriel Ronay, once of The Times, who tells me that Robert Nye hired Holden as a hit man for the hatchet job. But never mind; your sympathy is a soothing salve. I disliked the wellnamed Bossy too. But there's a TLS tradition of revising oneself, with a panoply of massed bands, parades and trumpets, instead of the book. Se faire valoir was ever a good maxim.

   I think Leopardi is a grand poet, though he does rather overspecialise in one-off occasional single lines. Still, some have said the same of Shakespeare. Which brings me, by a delicate and deft modulation, to your topic for today.

   Well, I've never been very impressed by Mrs. Lanier, whose mother was English - it's hard for me to believe that such characteristics, e.g. fair hair and blue eyes, are recessive, or indeed anything but dominant. 'Und eine Geige dann, (Gott weiss woher)/erwacht, und sagt, ganz langsam: Eine Blonde' [Rilke, MondnachtED]. As I may have said, even the Rowse Dark Lady's darkness is just a pigment of his imagination. And I don't think that women in general were much discussed or indeed approved of at All Souls. Rowse was after all an academic himself, and just as liable to déformation professionelle (les mots justes) as all the rest. But I must say he had their number from the first, and his description of Wells and Schoenbaum as second-rate erred only on the side of generosity. Well, Schoenbaum is no more: nor is Muir. And I feel rather autumnal myself: decidedly deciduous.

   What Rowse had right, though, was the historical method of minimal assumption, Ockham's razor, etc. If one answer suffices, then it's right. It's the scientific method too; hypotheses non fingo, said Newton. Rowse had been anticipated, of course, by Drake in the 18th century and Caroline Stopes and the Comtesse de Chambrun rather more recently. But I have no doubt that the basic premise is absolutely sound. The Sonnets address a loved noble patron; Shakespeare famously had a loved noble patron. It's not just a question of what more do we need; it's a statement of we don't need any more, least of all unevidenced theories (the bane and bale of my life). Which reminds me (as I fear everything does) that I reckon I've finally cracked the chronology by way ofspelling. People know which texts were set up directly from authorial holograph. And really all one has to do (though even this simple step seems all but impossible to take) is to refrain from inventing a 'normalising' compositor, who incredibly altered the manuscript set before him, and still less a 'normalising' copyist, who also incredibly altered the manuscript, and are left with Shakespearean spellings, which we are of course phonetic (as if he'd been taken from school early) and unLatinate. Unfortunately these inferences are unacceptable: so such studies have lay fallen into desuetude since the day of Dover Wilson.

   But now we've had a miraculous rebirth; nice (indeed, Emeritus) Ernst Honigmann has noticed that Q1 Othellowas set up from authorial copy, which enables him to compile a list of c. 100 Shakespearian spellings. When I read these letters I rejoiced in my exile, as Cicero said. So I wrote to Ernst, pointing out that his spellings (which he's been going on about for the last 30 years) actually show that Shakespeare was not only ilLatinate (if not illiterate) but also the author of Edward III and all the so called 'Bad' Quartos, and Troublesome Reign too - just as I've been saying for the last fifteen years or so. Sadly, Ernst is a good man who fell among memorial reconstructionists and developed rabies himself, like Brian Vickers. So he has to decide which half of his life's work to abandon, and I can see it won't be an easy decision. For starters, he has expressed 'serious misgivings' about his spellings, which go all the way up a road signposted 'No Admittance'. I've implored him to stand firm, and further enhance his already impressive reputation as a discoverer, e.g. of Shakespeare's Catholicism and early start. There for the moment the matter rests: but I expect that Ernst will prefer to confess error, without any evidence, rather than face ostracism. We'll see.

   Sorry to be so prolix, he observed, helping himself to yet another sheet of paper.

   Marjoram is dark auburn, isn't it? I imagine Southampton as ginger, carrot top, freckled, blushed easily. I don't see why 'only' shouldn't mean 'only', i.e. sole. Why is that emotional? Like O sole mio? I think that eternity as posterity is mine, not Rowse's. Publishers read the first few pages, if any, in my experience; they're busy people. And the first 17 sonnets (one for every year of his age - that's me too, I think). It doesn't say 'eternity'; it says 'that eternity promised'. OK 17; or 1-17.

   Why read further? So fatiguing. Thou art thy mother's glass; you had a father, let your son say so; and his son, and that son's mother, and so forth, a laying on of hands, so to speak, a precession of the equinoxes, of Hamlet, that father lost, lost him, und viele Geschlechter reihen sich dauernd an unsres Daseins unendlich Kette. Or words to that effect. I think that Venus and Adonis is about Southampton, just as the Sonnets are. But who knows? Anyhow, I loved your essay, and agreed with it.

   I once set several of the sonnets, in my wild youth. So yes, own songs in the birthday concert. About 100 others, and an opera (Yeats: The Green Helmet). Mostly lost or destroyed. No eternity there!

   Love, as ever,

   Yours Eric


21 October 1996


Dear Hayat,

   P.S. I forgot to say, since I think we've been over this ground before, that I remain totally unimpressed by Hotson's 1588, which (so far from being a concatenation) depends solely on interpreting the 'moon' as the Armada, which seems to me Lunatic, even before we are asked –  again just in order to help the theory, and for no other reason on earth – to interpret 'mortall' as 'deadly' and 'eclipse' as the total and immediate elimination of this alleged deadliness, which therefore wasn't deadly at all. And what peace, in 1588, 'proclaimes Oliues of endlesse age'? I'm not surprised that our leading Tudor historian dismissed all this as gratuitous nonsense. It's a great pity though that Rowse ever succumbed to Emilia Lanier, for whose dark ladyship there is, I entirely agree, no evidence at all.

   But I've never understood the difficulty with Chettle. He's certainly writing about a playwright to whom Greene was speaking. But wasn't Shakespeare a playwright? and isn't calling him a Shake-scene speaking to him, and rather sharply too?

   OK, we have a general difficulty about what is to count as evidence. Tastes differ; but personally I'm sure it's right to include what you (and Schoenbaum) call gossip and I call contemporary testimony. Whether we believe all such testimony is another matter; but why exclude any of it a priori, before the trial begins?

   This isn't at all to deny, of course, that these are deep waters, in which I find it increasingly difficult to keep this old head above the surface. I'm having a terrible problem about evidence at the moment, for example, on the topic I mentioned in my letter. Thus: what exactly is the evidential status of the undeniable fact that scores of words are spelt in two or more ways in each of the two Quartos of Hamlet? This looks to me like powerful prescriptive evidence that each of those two printings was set up from copy in the hand of the same variable speller - and also, by the same token, evidence that one such text cannot conceivably be a memorial reconstruction of the other, because no two persons would or could vary their spellings of the same myriad words, in entirely different and widely separated contexts. So. since one of those spellers was certainly Shakespeare, the other was too. Perhaps I'll send a printout of the mile-long wordlist to Brian Vickers, and ask what he thinks. And one to you too!

   Best, as ever,

   Yours Eric