102. 15 September 1996 [NM] (Shakespeare spellings; King John anti-Pope)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Eric, at last a moment to write to you, with yours of 26 viii and 2 ix beside me. I'll follow them first.

   My Gerald Ward has written again, he turns out to be a young man of fifty. Interested as I am in finding more about Bacon's library. I hope. he'll be able to help me.

   The Double Helix. This rings a bell. What is it? Tell me more.

   The Bad Quarto book. I'm amazed at the lack of interest in what those early Henry VIs are. On the whole I am amazed at academic critics. They seem to write for the sake of saying any old thing. Not to uncover the mysterious ever present past. But please what is 'desk-top fusion'? The human mind does seem capable of developing rootless imaginary plants ad infinitum. Witness the Baconians, about whom I'm planning a chapter to end all Baconians in my book. Not that it will.

   Edward III – which I'm now going to reread. Great that it's so successful. Do send me the review in the Timeswhich my sister saw but didn't catch. She says it praised you but not your thesis. Imbeciles. Ca saute au nez. At least to the nose of this woman in the street, unhampered by Academe.

   Muzak. There's only one worse torture, do you have it in UK? Here you can't phone your bank or your garage without being switched to a 'musical' theme which runs for 5 bars and then repeats. If they'd only give you a complete song or sonata. It's something like a dentist's drill into the mind. Ideal for going over what you want to ask about your last bank statement.


   As requested, I enclose a couple of old poems. Haven't written any lately, but I might, if there's time after this last book, when I hope to rest and meditatively chew such cud as is left. What about reciprocating?

   Brilliant, your discovery of more Shakespeare spellings in Honigmann, and specially the bad Latin. Yet he could read it enough to enjoy Latin treatises and chronicles, i.e. better than you or me?

   Now some queries, if you can bear them. I've been reading Honigmann on King John (Arden). He is inevitably muddled because of his conviction that it came before the Tr. Reign, ie before 1591. Then he stresses the play's kinship with Richard II and Romeo and Juliet. Which would place them in 1590 (??) When do you think King Johnwas produced?

  He suggests that the Falconbridge theme, in this and other plays, which is Shakespeare's own (it's in John, notTr R) might come from a northern link – Lord Strange (which I know you're sceptical of). Tho' I note that the Queens Men visited Lord Strange's area in the early '90s. Did Sh. go too? Possible reassuming of old link?          

   Most puzzling to me, he speaks as if King John were the more fanatically anti-Pope work of the two. On this also he is confusing. See pp xv re the anti-Papal abuse which is 'missing in TR', and lxxiii, where in a footnote he queries the toning down of the anti-Roman violence of TR, usually found in KJ. Can you comment (if your Arden John is not in the garage)?

   NB You say somewhere that King John is the first Elizabethan History play. What of the Famous Victories? Wasn't that 1587?

   Have you read 'Art made tongue-tied by Authority' by Janet Clare (Manchester UP, 1990)? She is sceptical (p. 47-8) of your views on the censorship of Edmund Ironside. What do you think of her views in general?

   I'm now reading Invisible Power by Alan Haynes on the Elizabethan Secret Services which I'm sure you must have seen. I find him an annoying writer. His style is convoluted, dense, elliptical, his statements obviously well-founded but vague and almost entirely without references. The antipodes of my favourite writers, Charles Nicholl and Eric Sams. 

   I've also just read Brian Vickers' review of the Oxford Textual Companion, which he sent me ages ago. (In theReview of Engl. Studies, 40, 1989). Rightly scathing. 'Beaucoup de bruit, peu de fruit': (My notion of a good deal of academic criticism.) In particular, extensive unsupported outdated decomposition of Shakespeare's plays into multiple authorship. A propos, do you subscribe to various hands in Henry VIII? And what about the Noble Kinsmen?

   Well that's enough if not something too much of this. If you manage to answer a few of these questions, I shall be most grateful.

   I hope you are having the same bright sunny autumn as I am here. I lie in the veranda, gently swaying in the embrace of my Yucatan hammock, with the most divine perfume of a laurum fragrans in flower beneath me.