103. 22 September 1996 [ES] (DNA; poems and songs; King John; Sonnets)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   The double helix is the shape of DNA, which is nature's (typically weird) way of ensuring reasonably accurate replication by means of encoded chemical instructions. Of course it pleases me, as a cryptanalytical believer in genes, Mendelian inheritance and Darwinian evolution, by giving a local habitation and a name to the relevant mechanism. Desk-top fusion is a disrespectful term applied to the claim that all the processes and energy-release equations that go to the making of the hydrogen bomb could be conveniently reproduced in the laboratory. But no one has ever been able to reproduce the experimental results claimed by the soi-disant discoverers and would-be patentees.

   Yes, I think we do have devices that play e.g. Für Elise slightly off-key while one's waiting to order a taxi.

   Thank you for the poems, which I loved. So sensuous. I sometimes wish I were closer to things, like Rilke and Leopardi (to both of whom I see affinities in your verse – of substance in every sense, rather than style). I recall a civil service classification system which gave marks for People, Things and Ideas, in which I scored about nil on Things.

   I see that you too published in Encounter, as I once did. What's Elsinore?

   When I wrote, it was mainly songs; about 100 all told, plus an opera (a texte integrale setting of Yeats's marvellous The Green Helmet). Most have been lost or destroyed; but three of the survivors received their first performance at my birthday concert this year, about half a century after their composition. I thought a day would never come when I didn't write a song or play a good game of chess. But such days did come, in copious succession. No wonder I became a commentator and critic.

   Here's the Times piece. My chum Gabriel Ronay, a sometime Times contributor, has promised to disclose details of the Nye-Holden anti-Sams cabal in due course, when he's back from holiday. I thought the review might have paid attention to the arguments for Shakespearean attribution; but that's not his gift, and I can't really complain about his or anyone's hostility.

   Perhaps Shakespeare had a Latin mentor, such as Southampton? I dare say 1596 is about right for King John. I can't help hearing minor tones of grief for the death of little Hamlet in Constance's speech about how 'Grief fills the room up of my absent child'. Indeed, I quote that line in my forthcoming TLS piece about the coat of arms application, also in 1596.

   I don't at all mind the Lancashire connection, but I can't really see much evidence for a Strange connection. I think Honigmann means 'anti-Papal', i.e. against the Pope himself, as distinct from 'anti-Papist', against Catholicism in general. And it's surely right to say, as Honigmann seems to, that the anti-Roman violence of TR is toned down in KJ? I didn't mean to say that KJ is the earliest history play; I'm sure that FV is earlier, and I rather agree with Seymour Pitcher (so much more scholarly and thoughtful than his chief critic, the late Schoenbaum, who is I notice being smothered in glutinous posthumous adulation) that the young Shakespeare wrote it.

   No, I hadn't heard of Janet Clare's book, or its scepticism about the censorship of Ironside, which I carefully credited to Prof. Everitt. If she had any counter-arguments I'd have been duty bound to mention them in Edward III, if I'd known about them. I'll look them up in case there's ever any question of re-issue. Nor have I seen (but then, how could I?) Invisible Power. The only writings about Elizabethan espionage that impress me are Charles Nicholl's. I'm due to have lunch with him some time, but he may be going to write about Edward  III somewhere, and I'd better wait and see. Meanwhile, yes, I agree about the Vickers review of Oxford; and I can't fathom why his detestation of Wells and all his Works, which I share, doesn't also apply to 'memorial reconstruction' and suchlike silliness, such as 'collaboration'. I've never seen much evidence for that in Henry VIII, and still less in 1 Henry VI and the many other plays that the Oxford exploders seem so set on disintegrating. Kinsmen at least mentions Fletcher on its title-page.

   You sound very agreeably indolent, swaying among fragrances in that hammock. It's quite unlike our own Protestant work-ethic, which is no doubt why I like the sound of it so much. Our autumn is indeed sunny, if only sporadically so; and I find myself singing, à la Lenya, about how, when the autumn weather/ turns the trees to flame! one doesn't have time/ for the waiting game. But then, I never had. It has to be now, even now now has become then, so to speak.

   Best, as ever,

   Yours Eric