84. 29 February 1996 [ES] (Negative evidence; Cervantes)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   Here's a brief leap letter, more like a hop, on the birthday shared by Rossini and Frederick (Pirates of Penzance) among others. It must feel quite eerie to fall outside the calendar, as if in cyberspace.

   Thanks for your letter and enclosure. I loved that bit about 'he was my father', which makes you well placed to know. How nice not only to have but to be a truly compelling witness. There's far too much so-called 'negative evidence', which is systematically overvalued; it seems to me to be mainly offered by people who did not see the defendant steal the watch.

   I fear that my sole contact with Cervantes is that Hugo Wolf made a setting of 'Cabecita, cabecita' from La Gitanilla, in Heyse's translation. There's a whole succession of stunning masterpieces that I probably shan't now read. Thus I have only what might be called a nodding acquaintance with Homer. Comparative literature has been regretfully, and comparative religion cheerfully, left a bit late. But I have some dear friends, mainly ex-colleagues, who took up translation in their old age, perhaps on the ground that this discipline demands experience rather than inspiration. They seem to be chuckling away happily in the porch rocking-chair in summer and the chimney-corner in winter. Having raised that question I'll be re-reading Bacon, Of Youth and Age, and other such masterpieces. They're so good that some people might think that he'd consulted Shakespeare. But I fear I'm still not advancing in the Advancement, despite good intentions. I need your book. Meanwhile you might be interested in the latest Waterfield's catalogue, enclosed, even though there seems to be a dearth of our favourite topics. Have you decided what your next subject will be? I'm immersed in mine, and can't readily surface; I lack buoyancy. So this is just a quick snort through the schnorkel until I can next get my head above water.

   Best, as ever,