44. 28 December 1992 [ES] (King John as source of Troublesome Reign; early start: William Langland's verse)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

28 December 1992


Dear Hayat,

Thanks for yours of 6 December. Christmas has brought various affectionate recognisances of you, from Christopher and the Burltons. Now, as the poet sings,


The clock is crouching, dim and small,

like a time-bomb in the hall;

gather round me, children dear,

duck! here comes another year!


You're right to be puzzled at finding King John made the source of Troublesome Reign. That bizarre buzz emanates from a bee in the bonnet of one Ernst Honigmann, sometime professor of English at Newcastle; a nice enough chap who was unfortunate enough to fall among memorial reconstructionists at an impressionable age and stage. This malign illusion has so distorted his own clear vision of Shakespeare's early start that he prefers to fill the ten-year gap 1582-92 by absurdly antedating all the canonical works, on no evidence, instead of asking which of the early anonymous plays were written by the young Shakespeare. And now I'm afraid that Honigmann is beginning to realise just how far astray he has gone, although he (alone among his contemporaries) actually found the right road.

As to Essex-Shakespeare, why not indeed; that road too is wide open, via Southampton. I feel they were all anti-Elizabeth.

   As to alliteration; I respect it as the earliest structural device in English verse, as exemplified by William Langland, c.1350:


In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne...

A faire felde ful of folke fonde I there...

As on a May morwenyng on Maluerne hulles...

            'After sharpest shoures' quath Pees 'most

                       sheene is the sonne;
            Ys no weder warmer than after watery cloudes'.


I hear these strains coming straight from the heart and root of the language; the tongue's tongue, intoning a plaintive plainchant in which the successive consonants serve as barlines.

   Christopher came to London at Christmas only to hear the sad tidings of no joy that the much-loved Milstein had died. We shall hear more after the funeral; we hope there'll be another chance of a meeting and chat with Chris here, which is always a pleasure. In our last telephone

talk I thought of a useful way of boosting and bolstering his morale. I pointed out how easily and naturally he forms strong and durable friendships with great artists, and then asked him to draw the natural and obvious inference. I think he was quite impressed by that line of argumentation. I had a previous success when he once said that he'd only been lucky; here the effective riposte was to quote grandmaster Capablanca, who agreed during an interview that there was an element of luck in chess but added that it favoured the strongest players.

   I've been off colour and off form during the holidays, and haven't yet recovered. But I'll be back; and there are already one or two encouraging signs, including a further contract with the Guildhall School for more masterclasses and a lecture on poetry and music, i.e. liederature.

   Meanwhile I trust you are well and flourishing; and I wish you a shining

new year.

    Best, as ever, Eric