78. 9 January 1996 [NM] (Venus and Adonis; St. Albans boar; chess)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Eric,

   Your letter of 30 December, a feast. Unlike so much that reaches us in life, everything you write is of total interest, and there are always passages at which I have to laugh aloud. They say laughter is one of the best cures not only of depression but of illness and infection, it's been measured by sedimentation rates of the blood before and after! [...] Normally we breathe in, and let the body take care of breathing out. Inverse the process. Breathe consciously out as far as you can, saying or thinking 'ah...' like a sigh. The body takes care of the inbreath, and gradually worries and anxieties disappear. I've tried this and found it really works. Since it makes us take deeper inbreaths, it's also good for the heart.

    If I'd known Francis Carr was also your Baconian correspondent, I would not have answered him. [...]

   The reason why I had written to him was to hear further on a pro-Baconian argument he had mentioned, the mural found at the White Hart Inn in St Albans, of 'a plump young man dying after he has been gored by a wild boar', which is claimed as an obvious illustration of Venus and Adonis. This doesn't seem so obvious to me, even if Bacon had something to do with it. There were a lot of mythological paintings at Verulam. But now he writes (no refs) that 'experts from the Warburg Institute' have found that the subject is definitely that death scene fromVenus and Adonis. It is dated a few years after 1593. Have you heard of this? (There was a long article in theSunday Telegraph, 31 iii '91.) Has anyone written something sensible about it?

   Where I had to laugh aloud was not about [...] Francis Carr [...] but over your 'Loony' and Freudulent quotations. There are indeed various degrees of folly and freudulence around. But you beat everyone except my father (and Shakespeare) in the matter of punning. His motto, heading Sir Bob, a book of nonsense which if you don't know it I must find for you: 'Puns should be punished unless they be pungent'. The book was dedicated to me and to my sister, as follows: 'To Sevein and Atilol, the muses of this silly story', drawing their attention to 'the weighty pronouncement of one of the characters thereof, to the effect that parents are always less silly than they sound'. And now I notice that the pungent puns aren't in this book, which has for its epigraph a line from Dr Johnson: 'Nonsense, Sir, should be nonsensical, yet sensible withal'. My father waited (in vain) for someone to challenge him on it, since he had made it up himself.

   How delightful your quote from Titus on genetics, about the snow-white cow and bull. Yes I have been luckier than you with my dust-cover. They should allow the author more say. And now that bright girl Candida has come up with another illustration for the back page (I didn't know it needed one), which is wrong, because too distracting, being unrelated to my subject. It is the frontispiece of the History of the Royal Society. But I hope they'll agree to take Bacon out of it, it's a very nice, and not very familiar, image of him. Meanwhile I've also heard from the British Academy lecturer, one Alan Stewart, from Birkbeck College, who tells me he is working on a biography of Bacon (due to come out in October 1997) in collaboration with Lisa Jardine (a feminist, and I am told not a very reliable Bacon scholar). So we'll no doubt hear more of the bribery and buggery. It seems to be what people are most interested in today!

   Now about my Spanish grandfather, you may have hit the nail on the head. He was in the Spanish wars in Cuba for two years, I think that was 1897-8? But alas I doubt if we can find any traces of their game.

   And now hurray for Edward III, and please soon more Hamlet and more real Shakespeare, if only to make Mr Carr twist and turn under his piles of paper! And have a great year! Deo volente, I'll be in London, in May it now seems.