Eliot Slater on Eric Sams

A Reference Letter (1983)

2 Feb 1983

The Clerk to the College

Magdalen College, Oxford.


Dear Sir,        

Dr Eric S. C. Sams

   Thank you for your enquiry, of the 18th January. I have had a friendly acquaintance, mainly by correspondence, with Eric Sams for some twenty years. You ask me about his qualities, capabilities and achievements.

   His outstanding achievements are in the study of music and composers, and in the scholarly appreciation of their music. No musician myself, I am not competent to say much beyond the fact which stand out from his curriculum vitae, i.e. that he is a musicologist of authority and distinction and a scholar of international repute. One could expect that he would bring the same distinction of mind and an equally cultivated taste to the literary studies he now plans to pursue. He should be well equipped for such work. He has a lifelong interest in Shakespeare (as so many of us), and is widely read in early English drama. To this he adds some important specific skills. He received vocational training in cryptoanalysis during the war, and has also made himself informed in palaeographic studies, e.g. the scripts, handwriting and shorthand of the 16th to 17th centuries. I have the impression he is adequately famliar with the literary and stage history of the times. He has made a study in depth of Edmund Ironside, and – an important point – he now has a contract with a publisher for a modern, scholarly edition of that work.

      Eric Sams is a man of strongly marked and very unusual character. His intelligence and the sheer speed of his intellectual function are most im­pressive. As a debater he would be a formidable opponent, beingg so quick in the uptake, with immediate access to a wide and deep memory, store, strong verbality, sharply witty, deft at a sideways step and the unexpected riposte. He thinks for himself and is not overawed by authority. He is original but also consistent and logical in his approach to a problem. There is not much beyond his intellectual grasp, though he is uneasy when confronted with num­erical or statistical argument and data. Of course he has his limitations. He may be liable to reach his judgments with more speed than caution. He will be sceptical of received opinion, especially if he finds its foundation insecure. He is liable to be impatient of hesitations and merely provisional conclusions. He is by temperament more an advocate than a judge. I would estimate his potential for literary research to be very high. I would ex­pect dogged and thorough work with stimulating and original ideas – certainly no run of the mill ortodoxy.

      As a temperamental type, the psychiatrist would classify Dr. Sams as a cyclothymic extravert, friendly, loyal, good-humoured, sociable. I am confident he would get on well with colleagues and with students.

      I have the honour to be, etc.

      Eliot Slater

      CBE, MA, MD, PhD.