100. 26 August 1996 [ES] (Double Helix; Bad Quartos; University people)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   Thanks for yours. We all need our Gerald Wards, but few deserve them as much as you do. They're rare birds in my territory, and all the more welcome for that. I expect you'll find many more such enthusiasts as your splendid book proceeds down the years. Mundanely (but not negligibly) it ought to sell steadily and well.

   So does The Double Helix, which I dote upon and re-read regularly. That caught on for the opposite reason – it's more a debunking than a bunking book, more a de- than a rehabilitation. But all the same, it's sound on the scientific scene, I'm sure; and we have to throw out the dirty water before taking in the clean, even though the latter is a trickle and the former a Niagara. As Watson reassuringly says about his least favourite people, many of them are not only narrow-minded and dull but plain stupid. How apt that the bête noire should be so bête; in Bacon as in Shakespeare studies.

   [...] I'm even in grave trouble with a dear friend for hinting that the proposed title of her latest book, 'Religious Belief and Mental Illness' might be taken as a tautology.

   Yes, I had acquired the Bad Quarto book, which is a very peculiar yet typical academic offering. Its author sees straight through the bad logic of Greg, and says in terms (a rare sign of sanity in the profession) that Contentionand True Tragedy are obviously not 'memorial reconstructions'. However, she shows absolutely no interest in the question of what they actually are; and she also mysteriously thinks that some Quartos truly are 'reconstructions' as demonstrated by certain infallible signs which however she oddly omits to mention, let alone define. I feel we're still in the realm of revelation and the unrepeatable experiment, like desk-top fusion, on which I have unrepeatable comments. However, I was somewhat heartened by some recent backlash from Lewis Wolpert and Richard Dawkins, who have independently inferred that supernatural beliefs, however ridiculous, are somehow endemic in humanity. As Aldous Huxley says somewhere, even the most hardened sceptic can sometimes feel uneasy alone in the forest at night. And of course there are obvious Darwinian advantages in tendencies towards solidarity. The mischief comes when acquiescence is accepted for its own sake. I have a dear friend who thinks there must be something in (in every sense) flying saucers because so many people believe in them. This is merely evidence that the belief exists, not that the fact exists; but there's a broad beaten track of powerful conditioning that leads from one to the other.

   And yes, I'm sure that Nashe, Greene, Marlowe, and indeed all the University people were very accomplished Latinists, on the evidence (of their writings) that they weren't stupid and (from the records) had been studying that subject and not very much else for years and years. Shakespeare picked up some Latin, of course, and so did I, after six years' study. But little enough remained, though I was an enthusiast; most of us need living languages. I do recall some Socrates, however; he reportedly said, in a dialogue that was among the very few works to take me past my bus-stop in some thirty years of commuting, that if you really wanted to know about a subject you'd ask the people who make their living at it. So I believe what Housman and Thompson say, in total accord with the massive contemporary testimony, and not what Stanley Wells says, in accord with nothing except academic opinion.

   Edward III is doing OK so far, thanks, on BBC radio and TV prime time (much to Yale's delight); but there haven't been any reviews as yet. And even when there are, I doubt whether anyone will take or treat the topic at all seriously.

   Farewell for now; best, as ever,

   Yours Eric