80. 5 February 1996 [NM] (Sonnets; Mr. W.H; 2 Shakespeares)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Eric,

Your flying leap is all of a piece with your piercing thrusts, but perhaps better stick to mental ones? The insidious disease which has no symptoms must be that Quevedo discovered, when looking at his house and all the objects in it: 'On nothing could I rest my eyes that was not a remembrance of death'. Calderon also reminds us, 'You are your own illness' and 'The illness of yourself's self will kill you in the end'. But we live near the Muses in Adonis' gardens, in league with Time!

   My sister (to whom I communicated our correspondence about my grandfather) now tells me that she didn't remember about the boy of 14. What she did remember was that our grandfather was never beaten by anybody except by Capablanca! So you are confirmed. (He was fighting in the Spanish army, against independence.) My father on the other hand never took to chess, he said it was 'too much like work'. So now it's your son Richard who carries the Olympic flame.


   Yet surely what keeps us from 'the illness of ourselves' is that at the slightest whiff of evidence opposite to our idea, we sniff and pursue. Partly perhaps in hopes of cleaning it up. But mostly because we do really want to know the actual truth. Which often means giving up a pet theory, as time and again I've had to do. Another will form, we've not given up the ghost! It's for this reason I want to do some thinking aloud with you now. I need in Baconian fashion to test my thoughts and there's only you that I can test them against. Or for. I'm not suggesting you turn your mind away from music to the Swan of Avon. Only that you allow it to dwell contemplatively on what follows - perhaps in the bath - my best place for thoughts, which then get lost because I can't note them at once (Christopher has a bath-room slate). If anything gets thrown up in this way, do note it for me.

   Before I get any further with my present light-hearted book on possible links between B and S., I have to make up my mind who was the Friend, since it has important effects on dating. You are very convincing, specially viaWillobie his Avisa in confirming the historically given link with Southampton. Which w'd be best for my thesis. And the Harvey procurer would be a convincing solution, indeed a wiping out, of the mystery of the Sonnets. The eternity by procreation just scrapes through. But I can't manage to identify begetting with procuring, and why the insistent, almost emotional 'only'? Can one, or could one ever, say 'beget me a manuscript to publish?' Shakespeare however did insistently tell his friend that all his poems were 'born of thee' – sonnet 78, and see 38 which is all begettal by the friend in the poet.

   Now if Mr WH can be read straight (except for the inversion of wisheth, which might have cryptic reasons) by far the best candidate for begettal is Hotson's 1588 Prince of Purpoole, who by 1609 was down in his luck, with forty winters besieging his brow, and, perhaps wanting to recall the good old days, could (with S's permission?) have inspired considerable gratitude in Thorpe by giving him the manuscript. Mr WH has no historical legitimacy, and I do agree with you on the vital importance of historical evidence. There are the usual far-fetched conjectures which Hotson is childishly happy about, but there's also a lot of well-supported convergence on a Shakespeare congruent with your early playwright, who wrote sonnets when all the others did, ie in their twenties, and before most of them; and whose tanned antiquity corresponds to the snow upon their hoary twenty-year old heads.

   Here are two Shakespeares, Southampton's, a substantial one, writing sonnets at 30-40, Hatcliffe's at 24. It's like looking at those images which are completely transformed if you switch your glance one way, and change back totally again. The Southampton one has collected what you call 'mana and power'. But do for a moment make the effort to switch away from the image you are convinced of. The early sonneteer (if history allows) is really your own man. I find most of the political and news allusions in Hotson more convincing than the later ones, eg his dreaded moon-shaped Armada rather than the mortal Queen's eclipse. He musters an awful lot of parallel evidence for the augured end of the world in 1588 - luckily proved wrong. And his pyramids are definitely more convincing than yours.

   Of course this is almost all based on flimsy hints (though there were many such hints at names in Elizabethan literature). Even aside from the heavier historical weight of Southampton, and the Avisa and Parnassus support, Hatcliffe is rather lightweight for a patron, tho' not for a beloved. And there would be things to explain if Hotson is right (in ptclr his alleged motive for the marrying sonnets is not plausible) But I think he needs explaining if youare right. Many of the suggested links could have other explanations. We mustn't forget that the history of all private lives is more ragged than we make it out a posteriori. As suggested by Kerrigan, the sonnets may have been devoted to various people, over time. An earlier devotion to one friend w'd make Studioso if anything more devoted to an interesting patron like Southampton, at an age when such adorations as he may have felt in his twenties are less likely?

   I admit the strength of Willoby his Avisa. And if there really was a triangle there, it may be conclusive, but that does not appear to me from what you write, and I haven't got the text handy. For me nevertheless Thorpe's lines are crucial, and (even without looking in any dictionary) I simply can't swallow the procuring.

   I do hope this is going to inspire you with some bathtub or other flashes of that speedy Shakespearian repartee.

   Two other points: how much was S. connected with his part-time patron Lord Strange, a rather fascinating character? Did they meet up in the North? And how was Southampton Essex's brother-in-law (your p.112). Was Elizabeth Vernon related to Essex?

   Something too much of all this. Tho' for me never too much of Shakespeare.

   Keep level with the Muses, and thus with Time!