62. 16 April 1995 [ES] (handwriting; Housman; Marlowe; Shakespeare as revisor)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

My dear Hayat,

   Thank you for your letter of 5 April, which as ever strikes a whole responsive rainbow of chords, arcs, etc., from which the following is a selected representative cross-section. The complete reply would take more time than there is. Next year is already imminent, and it sees the centenary of A Shropshire Lad and the seventieth anniversary of this Essex lad. I'm working on a poem which begins 'Now of my threescore years and ten/ Seventy will not come again'. Perhaps it epigrammatically ends there too, without much left to say or time to say it in.

   But first, more cheerfully, what of your own book? I love to think of Real Shakespeare and Real Bacon jointly heading the premier league, like Real Madrid once. Or marching together into futurity, breast forward à la Browning (but how else, come to think of it, could one march?). Let Excelsior ever be our watchword.

   Speaking of which, and of Housman together, do you know his parody that begins


'The shades of night were falling fast,

the rain was falling faster,

when through an Alpine village passed

an Alpine village pastor'


   Great and memorable work from the sage whose photographs, young and old, adorn my work-room's mantelshelf.

   But I digress (increasingly). The fact is that I don't quite know how to reply to my best (not to say only real) reader. I'm sure you'll have anticipated the answers also. But  I'll try.

   Alexander: I don't know that he had an early authorship theory. That would be one of the few things that would make me doubt my own. Hotson had one, though; and well I remember the indignation it generated in me, conditioned as I was by the general acceptance which had already hardened into authority. I rather doubted (rightly, I reckon) that 1580 Armada was the mortal moon who had endured her eclipse. But I was too young at the time to see that 1588 isn't really all that different from 1592, ceteris paribus. That's the question. isn't it? To be; to exist or not. Which reminds me that my grandson about whom you kindly enquire, and is about to be conveyed hither by proud parents later this very day, has been given an agreed forename after much debate, kiddingly taken by a Bookman critic to be a tribute to my own preoccupations; for Toby or not Toby, that was the question. And it's not only Toby but is, ha de ser y es. What's more, Toby Oliver. But is it to be Friedman-Sams or Sams-Friedman? Anyhow, back to time, which (it takes time to see) ensues in strict linear sequence, year by year, sometimes making big differences of kind (e.g. by sudden development or what I see as its opposite, namely death) or lesser modifications of degree (taller, stouter, etc). Once notice the progressive effluxion of time and the world-view tilts like its own axis. I have a friend who also claims to be redating. His theme is the Bible not Shakespeare, but they have much in common (large, demanding, misunderstood. etc). I reckon Bacon belongs to that company. and I'm waiting as patiently for that Lord as Mendelssohn ever did for his.

   Oh yes; questions; sorry. I think you're right; Shakespeare revised for eternity, which then required the written rather than the acted form. And again you're right; no, I haven't been through all the other playwrights. God forbid; and time forbids. But those I have looked at (Kyd, Greene, etc, and especially Marlowe, whose rooms at Corpus I reckon I inhabited – at least they had wall-decorations not attributable to my wild parties, and apparently genuine Tudor) seem different to me, in ways I don't really have time (or competence) to define. It’s all too difficult.

As you say, it's hard work proving a negative; and even then all you have is a proved negative. Similarly it's hard work training a flamingo: and all you have is a trained flamingo.

   I fear that Charles Hamilton, if he survives, has succumbed to the demon drink. Marlowe's More was mad. I don't know that Shakespeare's hand in Bacon's Essays is much better, though admittedly just as original. I rather feel that they wouldn't have got on terribly well at the time of the Essex-Southampton treason trials, for example, which I'm about to try to tackle. What's your view of those Richard II performances, and the date of the deposition scene? And yes, Marlowe a Protestant Government spy; of course; that's certainly one, suitably acknowledged, for any further edition or (more likely) apologia.

   Edward III is still being refereed by official whistle-blowers; but I'm not unhopeful that it will pass muster, after suitable amendments, mainly softening of the asperities, from which I anyhow seem to be suffering.

   Finally two true tales which I found diverting. Dear friend Graham Johnson assures me that Jessye Norman recently regaled a mass audience in Israel with 'Were you there when they crucified my Lord?'. No doubt an encore announced that her home was over Jordan.

   And I read that when Harold Pinter was once introduced by a fan to her small son as 'a very good writer' the infant, after some thought, enquired 'can he do a W?'.

   Best as ever; renewed thanks, reciprocations, obeisances


   yours as ever, Eric