104. 17 October 1996 [NM] (Southampton as the Friend; Sonnets; eternity=procreation)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Eric,

   The Times article about you is not only vicious but stupid. The venom and rage your critic sees in you is all his own. Having it seems no sense of humour himself, he can't see the playful wit of your thrusts. I hope Nicholl will redress the balance. As for the review of my book in the TLS which you'll have seen by now - alas for one by Eric Sams - I can only say it's what one would expect of Bossy. I enclose copy of a few lines I wrote to Brian Vickers on the subject.

   Your letter of 22 ix is full of the most satisfactory answers, particularly on King John and the Shakespeare disintegrators, who were my bugbears long before I met you. A propos I include an essay written in the early seventies, which may amuse you even while you disagree. Having now had the benefit of a closer acquaintance with the Real Shakespeare, I agree with you that it was probably Chettle, and very likely Southampton, and quite possibly Mrs Lanier. But 'c'est mon opinion et je la partage' on the general habit of taking for granted possibilities and even strong probabilities without letting the reader know that that is what they are. E.g. though Rowse's case for Southampton is strong, particularly with the echo of dedication in sonnet 26, it is not waterproof, as is yours for Edmund Ironside and Edward III (pace Holden et al). I think we should not be told that 'Chettle replied to Shakespeare...' as if he had actually named him. Here Nicholl's method seems best, he gives densely packed con with pro and the result is you get a complete and very precise picture. Like quietly shutting a door when you push with one hand and pull with the other.

   I am trying to get nearer to Shakespeare. I wish you would convince me fully of Southampton's claim to be the Friend. I sought proof in the marjoram buds (sonnet 99), and found some marjoram. Did you know the buds are a light violet, small, with darkish leaves, and the general effect is rather like brown curls (Hatcliffe) and not at allflavus (your p.107). Or is marjoram different in England? This was found for me by an expert English botanist. Probably Shakespeare was thinking only of the smell of his friend's hair, and alas that we'll never know.

   Provided a bit of historical evidence turned up, there is much in Hotson's favour. I'm not convinced by Calvert et al against early dating of the sonnets (the mortal moon). Hotson's  case for the power and might of the pyramids is far stronger than yours, which also leaves out the obvious ref. to an assassination. And I'm still stuck on the begetter. If he was merely the procurer, why this emotional insistence on 'the only begettter'? It would make sense if (like Hotson's candidate) he was both procurer and begetter, and furthermore wished to exclude the intrusive Dark Lady. Nor am I convinced by your (Rowse's?) version of the promise of eternity = the procreation of children (clearly for Shakespeare no more than an excuse to write lovingly to his friend). He could not and does not make this promise in any sonnet. There are warnings (a bit premature for a youth of 17) against not procreating (sonnet 7); entreaties to procreate or hopes that he will (10, 11), the suggestion (coming nearest to a promise, sonnet 17) that were a child of yours alive you should live twice, in it and in my rhyme. But the promise he could make was eternity in his poet-lover's poems, and this he did repeatedly promise, particularly in sonnet 81, also 17, 18, 55 and other.

   Another small point: it seems to me unlikely that Sh. could have begun his relationship with Southampton in 1590, since the latter spent most of 1591 in France. He went there in April, and, I think, came home with Essex early in 1592. However 1592 is a bit late for Spenser's heroical strain? Or was Venus and Adonis written some time before 1593?

   What do you think of Everitt's letter to Ned Allen (The Young Shakespeare, 44 ff).?

   Alas no more swaying in the hammock, it's pouring with rain. My poems, Leopardi no, but Rilke yes, I've always lived and breathed in his being. Were the charming songs in your 70th birthday celebration your own? Any others?

   Good work dear Eric and please come back to the Real Shakespeare soon. You are much needed.