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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: March ::
Re: Death of Sam Schoenbaum
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0247.  Sunday, 31 March 1996.

(1)     From:   Ted Nellen <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 Mar 1996 01:54:52 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0244 Death of Sam Schoenbaum

(2)     From:   Tad Davis <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 Mar 1996 14:23:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Schoenbaum


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Nellen <
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Date:           Friday, 29 Mar 1996 01:54:52 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0244 Death of Sam Schoenbaum
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0244 Death of Sam Schoenbaum

My condolences to the family and Shakespearean scholars around the world.

I would like to say that Mr Schoenbaum has had a great influence upon me.  I
had the pleasure of hearing him and speaking to him one evening in NYC at the
CUNY Graduate Center in the late 80's.  He had inspired and ignited a fire in
me in regards to  the Lost years of Shakespeare.  Those years fascinate me, and
he had done some remarkable work on that subject.  He shared and complimented
me on my ideas and inspired me to further work.  We also shared in the pleasure
of having seen Patrick Stewart play Shylock and in considering it a brilliant
performance.  I just wished to share my brief time with this brilliant man with
you. Thank you, Sam Schoenbaum.

Give you good night. - O, farewell.
Ted

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <
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Subject:        Schoenbaum
Date:           Friday, 29 Mar 1996 14:23:46 -0500 (EST)

I was very saddened yesterday to hear that Samuel Schoenbaum had died. It's
probably presumptuous of me to say anything about him in this forum; I'm not a
professional Shakespearean; I only met him once, in person, for about 20
minutes, and exchanged letters with him three or four times. Yet I feel a
terrible sense of loss. His passionate devotion to accuracy and detail -- never
losing sight of the humanity of his subjects -- touched me deeply and had a
profound influence on my intellectual development. I never took a class with
him, and yet in some sense I feel that I was a student of his, or at least an
auditor. He enriched my life, and it seems ungrateful not to say anything in
return.

I first heard of him the year after I graduated with a B.A. in English. I was
working in a medical library in Richmond, Virginia when the "Documentary Life"
was first announced. I was trying to write a play that involved Shakespeare,
and I had taken up the hobby of reading about his life. I'd read Marchette
Chute, Anthony Burgess, and A. L. Rowse. Now came someone promising to deliver
the real goods.

But I was put off by the price. In 1975, I think it was $50; on my income at
the time, it might as well have been $500. I probed the libraries in town,
hoping one of them would order it. When the public library finally got a copy,
it was kept on reserve, not allowed to circulate; I spent a number of lunch
hours that year leafing through the book.

Meanwhile I found a copy of "Shakespeare's Lives" in the library and started
reading that too. At first it didn't appeal to me. The first 50 pages or so,
the summary of what's known, is a bit dry, like the documents themselves. But
by the time I'd gotten through the first chapter of part II, I was hooked. The
Schoenbaum in later chapters is quite different from the Schoenbaum of that
opening section.  He was witty, acerbic at times, devastating in his analysis,
and yet always with a compassionate eye for detail. The people he wrote about
sounded like real people -- some of them brilliant, some of them insane, some
of them thieves and mutilators of texts, all of them fellow human beings. Over
all the bustle watched that stern and dispassionate judge, the one who said:
what matters is what your sources say -- not what you think they say. Open your
eyes and see what's actually in front of you. What matters is the thing itself.

During the middle of this reading experience, my wife and I took a long drive
through North and South Carolina to visit her family in Georgia. Interminable
hours on interstates, no tape player in the car, no radio stations we wanted to
listen to.... so I took out my copy of "Shakespeare's Lives" and started
reading it out loud. We took turns driving and reading Schoenbaum to each
other. We've often agreed, over the course of the last 20 years, that it was
one of the best trip entertainments we've ever selected.

I wrote him a letter of appreciation. To my amazement, he answered it. He
rarely heard from people outside the profession, he said, and it was a great
pleasure to know that he had been able to "get through."

I corresponded with him several more times -- once when the "Compact
Documentary Life" came out, a couple of times with research questions, and
again many years later when his Signet introductory volume came out. He always
answered my letters generously, with gratitude for my appreciation and with a
reference or two for me to follow up if I was interested. If I was ever in
Washington, he said once, I should look him up at the Folger; he was usually
there on such-and-such a day.

I took him at his word, and sent him a letter saying I would be able to visit
the Folger on that day in two weeks, and I would most certainly look him up.

When the day arrived, I took the train to DC and headed for the Folger. I had
never been there before, and the security was, to say the least, impressive.
The guard at the front desk laughed when I told him I was there to see Prof.
Schoenbaum. "Haven't seen him today," he said. He made it clear that even if I
was a Ph.D. candidate with three letters of recommendation I would have a hard
time getting past him. But if I wanted to look around the gallery for awhile, I
could do that.

I wandered around for over an hour. Every time I walked past the guard he gave
me a pitying look, and I averted my eyes. Outside it began to snow.

When I was about to give up, Prof. Schoenbaum scurried in, apologizing for the
misunderstanding. He'd never gotten word that I was there. He brought me to a
little sitting room in back, offered me coffee, told me how pleased he was to
actually meet a "fan." Then he asked me a lot of questions about my own plays
and writings. We talked about the (then) upcoming BBC Shakespeare on PBS ("some
of them," he said cautiously, "are likely to be better than others"). He
introduced me to one of his colleagues who wandered by. He said the next time
my wife and I came to Washington, we should give him and his wife a call, maybe
get together for a chat. The visit ended abruptly when someone came in to
announce the Library was closing because of the snow. He walked me out, we
shook hands, and I left. That was it.

We corresponded a couple of times after that. Once, when I was trying to write
an article, I needed an obscure book by Halliwell-Phillipps the Folger had (and
apparently only one or two other places on the face of the earth). I wrote to
him, and he offered to give me a reference to help me get access to the book,
or at least a photocopy. "It would be good, though," he said, "if you spelled
his name right when you ask." I had left the second "P" out of Phillipps. I was
mortified for about five minutes; but the gentle tone of the correction sank
home. It matters what your sources say -- not what you think they say. Open
your eyes and see what's actually in front of you. What matters is the thing
itself.

In the years since then, I moved into a career in programming. Yet Prof.
Schoenbaum's influence on me continues. Every time I have to investigate a
problem or document a program, I think about him and his indefatigable quest
for the accurate detail and the balanced analysis. (I still have the original
poster, with the Droeshout engraving, announcing the publication of "Mr.
William Shakespeares Documentary Life set forth by S. Schoenbaum and Printed
according to the True Originall Copies." It's hanging next to my desk.) The
body of work he created is an intimidating legacy. But it didn't get there
overnight, I tell myself. He built it up piece by piece, picking up one
document at a time, examining it, turning it over, transcribing it, checking
the transcription, and moving on. He kept his focus on what was actually in
front of him, not what he thought was in front of him, not what he wished was
in front of him. And when he didn't know, he had the grace and courage to admit
he didn't know. And when he made a mistake or discovered new information, he
wasn't afraid to "stop the presses" to get it out, even if was only in a
paragraph tucked away on the last page of the index.

And braced with that reflection, I open up my listings and reports and go to
work.

Tad
 

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