31. 29 March 1989 [ES] (Shakespeare's Handwriting; music and cipher; Brahms; Wilde; Spinoza; Eliot Slater's death)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

My dear Hayat,

   Thank you for your letter of 18 March. But you disturb me with your mention of a health slowdown. Your sprightly letter shows no sign of it. I'm having an Indian summer in Surrey. You must enjoy a Roman spring in Cortona. Pray let me hear more of La vita nuova, primavera, etc., and pronto.

   It's kind of you to take an informed interest in my prose (the only person, so far as I know, ever to have done so!). Everyone wants such readers - including, vicariously, Shakespeare ('and such readers we wish him'). I see that you're among many other things, a literary critic, resembling in that too your sparkling multi-faceted father. I expect you're a poet also. Indeed, that's how I first read your phrase - 'Now, Eric I know I'm a poet'. I looked again and found it was 'pest'. I felt no less nonplussed than the man in Lewis Carroll who


   though he saw a city clerk

   descending from a bus,

   he looked again and found it was

   a hippopotamus...


No, no, my dear H., you're no pest. You're a rare oasis in the desert of intellectual life. Another is Spinoza, in whom I'm currently somewhat absorbed. Such a magnificent mind; and he never once mentions, even in his letters, any aspect of any art form whatever. Even literature seems to have been a closed book to him. I'm preparing for when I lose all my interests and all my faculties (and some of both are slipping, to say the least); I shall take up philosophy.


   The TV film on music cipher derives from my still unspent passion for cryptanalysis, a wartime trade, which nowadays mainly takes the form of trying to solve historical shorthands (and faute de mieux crosswords). I like to draw attention to such fancy practices in music as Brahms's

for Agathe von Siebold in the G minor sextet. I've written quite a lot on such topics, which normally seem designed to bore the entire population into a state bordering on permanent mummification; but a TV producer, much to my surprise, expressed an interest. The problem now is how to market the hour-long programme on music. I must talk to Christopher about it. He couldn't come to the preview because he was in Vienna for his Schubert film; he rang me from there the other day, and I'm looking forward to seeing him again. I respectfully agree with your assessment of him and his art.

   Hamlet, about which you also kindly enquire, will be published this summer; I'll send you a copy, if I may. Here meanwhile is the latest effusion. I get more combative with every passing year: I shall finish in a rage, like Yeats. And like Hugo, too, in many ways. Hate and love brought out the best in and of him. I have a special soft and doting fondness for the early lyrics set by Fauré and Hahn.

   I'm glad you like Wilde. So, with similar discrimination, does my young friend Erik, of whom more will be heard. He's been accompanying Nicolai Gedda on concert tours; just one of his many talents. And he puts them all (which is particularly pleasing to me) at the service of values. As Spinoza says (sorry about that, but he's in and on my mind) nothing is more esteemed by me than to have the honour of friendship with people who sincerely love truth.

   One might think that with so many aspects and forms of truth available such people could form a majority: but it seems not to be so. And the Shakespeare field is being mowed. My dear friend Eliot Slater, great psychiatrist and Shakespeare scholar, was the first casualty. Last year my clever correspondent and authority on early stage companies, Hugh Calvert, died. [...]

   I hope you're taking great care; good people are scarce. Do get specialist advice. [...] Look after yourself, my dear Hayat: there's a lot of work to be done yet. And anything to do with Bacon must be curable. Please let me know that you're in continuing high spirits and good form.

   Yours as ever, Eric