56. 10 October 1993 [ES] (RS to Yale; Brahms; stylometyry; Rilke)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   Thanks for yours. I'm awaiting Yale's reaction to my typescript (which they rather ominously refer to as a draft). I fear it wasn't really what they bargained for (too much about putative allusion in the Parnassus plays,Pierce PennilessWillobie his Avisa etc). But I'll see what they say. Robert B. at least liked the format (ring binder, etc) and indicated the possibility of printing an approved text direct from my three Amstrad discs, which can apparently he done in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, or a millimicrosecond as the new translation no doubt puts it, at a touch of the appropriate button.

   Meanwhile I've resumed my earlier interests, having forgotten for too long that music hath Brahms for example. I'll get on with that book as soon as I've completed current commitments, such as helping to reorganise the Walther Gruner lieder competition into a multilingual song festival with opportunities for singing in every known tongue. What will this Pentecost cost? Plenty; my working party will be working it out later this very day.

   As one door opens another shuts; the Ironside second edition has just been remaindered. The first made a bomb (as an Ironside should) for its publishers, and a modest moiety for me; so I'm philosophical. You'd be welcome to a copy or two. I'm also writing a few Shakespeare reviews and articles, for N&Q and TLS; but they're still in the melting-pot-boiler stage. A great wave or tsunami of Schadenfreude is sweeping over some of us following the recent merciless exposé of one A.Q. Morton, father of that scandalously illegitimate offspring called stylometry. He was investigated by a TV programme who sent him two samples of written style for comparison. He charged them £500 for his expert analysis, and pronounced the specimens identical, with copious computer graphics. In interview, he was told, to his visible (not to say risible) consternation, that text A was quoted verbatim from a notorious recently-convicted embezzler and text B from the Lord Chief Justice of England. This might have been a profound meditation on Lear's 'handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?', but it looks more like a colossal cock-up. I've been kindly supplied with a video by the TV company concerned.

   This is the same one that has been acquiring Christopher's Schubert film, which is of course masterly. These old eyes were indeed moist, but the equally ancient ears were too dry (overdue for syringing), and I missed, much to my mortification, the wrong locution 'Fischer' for 'Schiffer' in Die Stadt. The facial stillness of Schmidt isn't my idea of lieder-singing either; it would have made a strange contrast with what must surely have been the ineffable radiance of Lehmann’s  countenance at 'golden strahlet' in the final song, a marvellously effective though non-visual postlude. But I didn't mention that either. There's no way that the verbal slip could have been corrected without redoing the whole song at fabulous expense.

   I don't know the St. Francis film, and have I fear no love lost for that reformed rogue and rake, whose calling (including calling birds his little brothers) I find emetically uncongenial. I might even prefer his periphery to his centre, à la Zeffirelli. What was he about?

   Of course you're right about Vickers. I suppose the distinction I was trying to draw, with a palsied hand, was between personal opinion, like Freudianism or vegetarianism (to which by tradition everybody is entitled, preferably well out of earshot in most examples) and demonstrable falsity like memorial reconstruction, or 2+2=5 to which nobody is entitled, ever. But I now see that the frontier is so thin and blurred and wobbly that I shall have to move inland.

   I'll take my complete Rilke with me. I still have trouble with the Elegies, but the Sonnets still stand, like Shakespeare's. I even dote on the early verse, such the Mädchenlieder, which please and impress nobody else – except perhaps you? I'd like to think so.

   I also like to think of you bringing home the Bacon. There should surely be some suitable joint (as it were) ceremony. Might you be visiting these shores again soon?

   best and warmest wishes and regards, as ever,

   yours Eric