61. 5 April 1995 [NM] (Real Shakespeare; Salvador De Madariaga; Northumberland MS; Thomas More; against Academy)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Eric,

   at last I can get round to writing some of the thoughts I've been having ever since I first read your fantastic book, which I've now done three times, and will many more, because every para. is pure substantifique moelle, and totally convincing (as was Edmund Ironside). I usually underline specially interesting passages when reading, but here the problem is what not to underline! What you say is not only convincing, but looks perfectly obvious, one sh'd have known it all along (and to some extent I did, I've always suspected that early Hamlets, Leirs etc were just what they are).

   It is a far more important book than any reviewer seems yet to have realized, 'epoch-making' though cliché is literally true, because it's an opening out of innumerable avenues for further search - this in a bored world where English students don't know where to look for a thesis. New editions, new interpretations of plays, new dating to be followed up, new discoveries to be made about how Shakespeare developed, you've left the field simply teeming with subjects, and when I think of some books on Shakespeare that spend 300 pp developing a single idea, often a 'theoretical', quite unconvincing one... (That American I wrote you about from Kenya, about families in Sh., comes to mind).

   But it's important also for all time. Because in proving that Sh. virtually created Elizabethan drama - a new notion, big with immediate consequences, you are also showing what one man can do. A whole cultural age launched by a single mind? This is food for many many thoughts which haven't even begun to take shape. The relation between genius and environment. Where it works the miracle, where it doesn't.     

   Your reminder that this same genius can spring from a dunghill (there were a lot of dunghills in John Sh's life) is very timely. It is not an equalitarian idea: there's still only one rose. Where genius originally springs from is a mystery. But I've never seen such big roses as have grown here for twenty years where the peasants had their cesspool. Clearly it's not academe that produces such flowers. My father (who wrote a beautiful poem on this subject 'rosa de cieno y ceniza' - cieno is cess) was looked at askance in Oxford. He knew little Latin and less Greek (would borrow my schoolgirl's Latin dictionary) but this Politechnicien and battler for disarmament in the League of Nations (how right he was when I see what's going on now!) came to Spanish studies with a fresh mind, and saw in Shelley and Calderon and in Hamlet (while translating it into Spanish) things the members of academe had never seen. Of course he was not caught up in that increasingly overwhelming Oxbridge power-game. Nowadays only a retired outsider like yourself dares challenge them.

   What is frightening though is how easy it is for the professors to follow each other, as Churchill put it, 'like sheep through the gates of error'. It is because their minds are not fresh, and because they centre on one tiny piece of the tapestry. And because once a wrong turning is taken, there is no looking back. On a pris le pli, it can't be ironed out, so it has to be defended to the death. As you put it, it's not the actors who were desperate to reconstruct a play, it's today's critics who are desperate. How long will it take them to throw away their blinkers? It's so easy for a reviewer to bluster denial - as did the Sunday Telegraph on the 'execrable' Edmund Ironsidewhich 'other scholars have convincingly argued...' But then what can we expect of the Sunday Telegraph? A month ago it described Bacon as the 'greatest of benefactors who was a scoundrel', in whom, luckily, Macaulay saw the creeping snake. And who, if you please, when he died after attempting to freeze a chicken, had stolen the chicken!

   Your battles remind me inevitably of mine, because of course our enemies are the same. They build up the same imaginary 'great unsolved problems' out of the same thin air (you show clearly how it happened with memorial reconstruction, it's unbelievable) and cry, like Don Quijote, 'ha de ser y es' – 'it must be and is'. And then they find it 'odd' when Shakespeare doesn't conform to their image (in reading a legal book, for example), just like the 20th century Spanish scholar exclaiming with amazement when he found that Ambassador Gondomar had called the Chancellor 'a good man'. ('He is speaking of the famous Francis Bacon, in whom there was a complete divorce between his brilliant intelligence and his behaviour!' etc etc.) And they are all similarly blinded by their elaborate theories to what the contemporaries actually saw. It was Hobbes who told Aubrey that Bacon bought a chicken from a poor woman, and she eviscerated it for him. Where do our minds find these stolen chickens? When one thinks of the money and paper and time spent on so many fake problems. No wonder they can't face plain reality, Shakespeare as he was, a butcher's son writing about Titus Andronicus in bloody terms. That's how life is, but the poetry that grew out of that dunghill! So when a sane critic using one simple tool: economy of reasons, wants to lead them back to sanity, they can't bear it.

   That's why your approach is so refreshing. You look at what's there, and every statement you make is a convergence of direct observations. Your energy isn't wasted on futile cobwebs, it's all thrown into the passionate fight against received authority which always grows back again (yesterday the scholastics, today the literary theorists and the reconstructionists); into denouncing 'not ordinary but outrageous nonsense', with weapons that are a delight, including the fabrication of words Shakespeare would be proud of, like 'counterfactual' and 'wisp of the will', and a whole arsenal of sub-paragraphs from a to z! As for the argument that is circular in all directions. About the other weapon – refs. in brackets, I've thought a lot. Sometimes I'm convinced it's the only way. At others I still wish we could breathe through whole sentences (in the end one does get sort of puffed). For future reference, wouldn't it be better to have tiny, light note-numbers, and your refs. at the foot of the page? The staccato can't stop me. But to anyone less deep in Shakespeare or hostile to your thoughts it might prove a stumbling block.

   I enjoy remarks on the lines of 'what looks like an allusion may well be one', 'what seems to be topical mar be exactly that'. They remind me of your friend Velikovsky, on Biblical tirades now seen as symbols: 'by brimstone and pitch were meant brimstone and pitch, by scorching blast of fire was meant scorching blast of fire' etc.

   A few comments, page by page. Interesting about the bones, p.15. As for Sh. being shielded from contact with some of the grosser English terms, it's too funny for words. It is fascinating again that the University wits sh'd have as you say (64) won the entire literary campaign. Which proves it is worth fighting error. Ours is a good battle, Eric. Once error settles, it spreads wildly, and has a lasting and fatal influence.

   LLL, do let us have part 2 soon, I want to see all you have to say about this play. You know that Moth (p.77) was also 'mozo' or boy, as Armado (who certainly was Antonio Perez at least in one version) would have called him? P. 137, Sh. and Marlowe: hostility w'd also be natural on Sh's part, if Marlowe was, as recently and convincingly propounded, a Protestant Government spy.

   Questions: Didn't Alexander also have an early authorship theory? Have you seen the Baconian Edwin Reed, who definitely did? Why did Shakespeare revise his plays into double their size –  a size with which they couldn't have been played in the normal two-hour span? Was it just for the Folio and eternity? Are you sure, e.g. p. 144-5, that no one compares with Sh. in all these typical traits? I mean have you been thro' all the other playwrights? Don't they use antithesis, alliteration, legal terms etc? It's hard work proving a negative.

   Last but not least, Hamilton. I am personally interested in him, because of the Northumberland MS. He maintains that there's a page and a half in Sh's hand (folio 41), and that some marginal notations are corrections of Bacon's texts. While it's folly to imagine Sh could have wished to produce Baconian essays, there's nothing improbable in his acting secretary on this occasion, particularly as the text in question is Bacon's Controversies of the Church, which he wrote at the time of the Marleprelate pamphlets to try and conciliate the contendents. But though Hamilton is crazy in other respects, at least on matters graphological he seems, and obviously is very on beam. Yet in the letter he wrote me (27 xi '88, I sent you a copy) outlining his plans for a book I don't think he has published (?), he asserted that he now believes the pages in Sir Thomas More are by Marlowe ‑ which made me wonder. How can Marlowe have had a hand so similar to Sh's? What do you make of him?

   Now the greatest questions of all: when do we get part 2, and when will Edward III come out? [...] And what news of your Baconian pursuer? Did Hamlet fell him? I'll bet he didn't.

   Re my title. I don't really like it either, but at least it's eye-catching. 'Reappraisal' is a bit too bland. I'd have liked to echo: The Real Bacon, but it would sound Baconian.

   Dear Eric, enough for today. There'll be more. Good health. good work, and stay youthful!