58. 18 February 1994 [ES] (book on Brahms; Papillons)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

thanks for yours of 6 February, which has just arrived. Had I known of your intentions in advance, I could and would have warned you, from the depths (sic] of my own naval background and maritime experience, about hammocks: from one slung next to mine on a troopship during a storm c. 1945 a comrade fell, struck his head on a stanchion, and was buried at sea in the Bay of Biscay - with full honours, but that wasn't much consolation for the fact that 'far from his folk a dead lad lies/ that once was friends with me'. Well, I'm doubly happy to hear that you've survived, though discommoded; I hope that will soon be amended. You must take the utmost care meanwhile. Life is fraught with peril; pray resist all further temptations to lead a swinging life.

   I enclose various items including a copy of an unsolicited letter I wrote to BV in some distress of spirit. This letter remained unanswered, as Henri de Montherlant reiterates throughout a rather long novel about which I remember nothing else. I find these little things slipping, as my grandfather said at about ninety, much vexed and mortified at his temporary inability to recite whole books of Paradise Lost etc verbatim. The family was rather relieved. But I was enchanted by your prodigious six-year-old, who should surely have some sort of prize for meritorious memory. May a halo shine round her curls or pigtails. Perhaps she will one day be Saint Joan, whose cri de coeur 'how long, o Lord, how long?' I daily reecho.

   Also today I heard from Evert Sprinchorn himself, whom I lunch with now and then when he's over here (though I protest I had no notion that he was going to write to the TLS). His professorial subject at Vassar is drama (including music-drama) rather than literature, so he thinks in terms of action and interaction rather than textual criticism – a good strong stride on the road to sanity. [...]

   I've been getting on with a book on Brahms songs, and writing an introduction for a new edition of Schumann Op. 2, the ever-enchanting Papillons. But all such divertissements must be set aside; for Yale have sent me their two official academic reports on my Shakespeare book (both favourable, one quite and one very) with a reasonable request for certain revisions and the announced aim of publication in September. So all the rest is subordinate to that prime task, much eased by a new, charming, musical and clever Yale editor called (to the Shavian's great gratification) Candida.

   I much look forward to the chance of seeing you in July. Next week I'm due to have lunch at the University Women's Club, where I always try to occupy the table where you once coined the notion of Baudelairisation. Which reminds me that I'm re-reading that master, on art and artists. How pleased I was to recall his remark (about Wagner, but of general application I'm sure) that music must always be approached with imagination. I can use that for my Papillons piece.

   Love as ever,

   yours Eric