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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 47, September, 1861 online

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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.

VOL. VIII. - SEPTEMBER, 1861. - NO. XLVII.







THE SHAKESPEARE MYSTERY.


In 1853 there went up a jubilant cry from many voices upon the
publication of Mr. Collier's "Notes and Emendations to the Text of
Shakespeare's Plays from Early Manuscript Corrections," etc. "Now," it
was said, "doubt and controversy are at an end. The text is settled by
the weight of authority, and in accordance with common sense. We shall
enjoy our Shakespeare in peace and quiet." Hopeless ignorance of
Shakespeare-loving nature! The shout of rejoicing had hardly been
uttered before there arose a counter cry of warning and defiance from
a few resolute lips, which, swelling, mouth by mouth, as attention was
aroused and conviction strengthened, has overwhelmed the other, now sunk
into a feeble apologetic plea. The dispute upon the marginal readings in
this notorious volume, as to their intrinsic value and their pretence to
authority upon internal evidence, has ended in the rejection of nearly
all of the few which are known to be peculiar to it, and the conclusion
against any semblance of such authority. The investigation of the
external evidence of their genuineness, though it has not been quite so
satisfactory upon all points, has brought to light so many suspicious
circumstances connected with Mr. Collier's production of them before the
public, that they must be regarded as unsupported by the moral weight of
good faith in the only person who is responsible for them.

Since our previous article upon this subject,[A] nothing has appeared
upon it in this country; but several important publications have
been made in London concerning it; and, in fact, this department of
Shakespearian literature threatens to usurp a special shelf in the
dramatic library. The British Museum has fairly entered the field, not
only in the persons of Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Maskelyne, but in that of
Sir Frederic Madden himself, the head of its Manuscript Department, and
one of the very first paleographers of the age; Mr. Collier has made a
formal reply; the Department of Public Records has spoken through Mr.
Duffus Hardy; the "Edinburgh Review" has taken up the controversy on one
side and "Fraser's Magazine" on the other; the London "Critic" has kept
up a galling fire on Mr. Collier, his folio, and his friends, to which
the "Athenaeum" has replied by an occasional shot, red-hot; the author
of "Literary Cookery," (said to be Mr. Arthur Edmund Brae,) a well-read,
ingenious, caustic, and remorseless writer, whose first book was
suppressed as libellous, has returned to the charge, and not less
effectively because more temperately; and finally an LL.D., Mansfield
Ingleby, of Trinity College, Cambridge, comes forward with a "Complete
View of the Controversy," which is manifestly meant for a complete
extinction of Mr. Collier. Dr. Ingleby's book is quite a good one of its
kind, and those who seek to know the history and see the grounds of this
famous and bitter controversy will find it very serviceable. It gives,
what it professes to give, a complete view of the whole subject from the
beginning, and treats most of the prominent points of it with care, and
generally with candor. Its view, however, is from the stand-point of
uncompromising hostility to Mr. Collier, and its spirit not unlike that
with which a man might set out to exterminate vermin.[B]

[Footnote A: October, 1859. No. XXIV.]

[Footnote B: We do not attribute the spirit of Dr. Ingleby's book to any
inherent malignity or deliberately malicious purpose of its author, but
rather to that relentless partisanship which this folio seems to have
excited among the British critics. So we regard his reference to
"almighty smash" and "catawampously chawed up" as specimens of the
language used in America, and his disparagement of the English in vogue
here, less as a manifestation of a desire to misrepresent, or even a
willingness to sneer, than as an amusing exhibition of utter ignorance.
In what part of America and from what lips did Dr. Ingleby ever hear
these phrases? We have never heard them; and in a somewhat varied
experience of American life have never been in any society, however
humble, in which they would not excite laughter, if not astonishment,
- astonishment even greater than that with which Americans of average
cultivation would read such phrases as these in a goodly octavo
published by a Doctor of the Laws of Cambridge University. "And one
ground upon which the hypothesis of Hamlet's insanity has been built is
'_swagged_.'" (_Complete View_, p. 82.) "The interests of literature
_jeopardized_, but not compromised." (_Ib_. p. 10.) "The rest of Mr.
Collier's remarks on the H.S. letter _relates_," etc. (_Ib_. p. 260.)
"_In_ the middle of this volume has been foisted." (_Ib_. p. 261.) We
shall not say that this is British English; but we willingly confess
that it is not American English. Such writing would not be tolerated in
the leading columns of any newspaper of reputation in this country; it
might creep in among the work of the second or third rate reporters.]

And here we pause a moment to consider the temper in which this question
has been discussed among the British critics and editors. From the very
beginning, eight years ago, there have been manifestations of personal
animosity, indications of an eagerness to seize the opportunity of
venting long secreted venom. This has appeared as well in books as in
more ephemeral publications, and upon both sides, and even between
writers on the same side. On every hand there has been a most deplorable
impeachment of motive, accompanied by a detraction of character by
imputation which is quite shocking. Petty personal slights have been
insinuated as the ultimate cause of an expression of opinion upon an
important literary question, and testimony has been impeached and
judgment disparaged by covert allegations of disgraceful antecedent
conduct on the part of witnesses or critics. Indeed, at times there has
seemed reason to believe the London "Literary Gazette" (we quote from
memory) right in attributing this whole controversy to a quarrel which
has long existed in London, and which, having its origin in the alleged
abstraction of manuscripts from a Cambridge library by a Shakespearian
scholar, has made most of the British students of this department
of English letters more or less partisans on one side or the other.
Certainly the "Saturday Review" is correct, (in all but its English,)
when it says that in this controversy "a mere literary question and a
grave question of personal character are being awkwardly mixed together,
and neither question is being conducted in a style at all satisfactory
or creditable to literary men."

Mr. Collier is told by Mr. Duffus Hardy that "he has no one to blame but
himself" for "the tone which has been adopted by those who differ from
him upon this matter," because he, (Mr. Collier,) by his answer in the
"Times" to Mr. Hamilton, made it "a personal, rather than a literary
question." But, we may ask, how is it possible for a man accused
of palming off a forgery upon the public to regard the question as
impersonal, even although it may not be alleged in specific terms that
he is the forger? Mr. Collier is like the frog in the fable. This
pelting with imputations of forgery may be very fine fun to the pelters,
but it is death to him. To them, indeed, it may be a mere question of
evidence and criticism; but to him it must, in any case, be one of vital
personal concern. Yet we cannot find any sufficient excuse for the
manner in which Mr. Collier has behaved in this affair from the very
beginning. His cause is damaged almost as much by his own conduct, and
by the tone of his defence, as by the attacks of his accusers. A very
strong argument against his complicity in any fraudulent proceeding
in relation to his folio might have been founded upon an untarnished
reputation, and a frank and manly attitude on his part; but, on the
contrary, his course has been such as to cast suspicion upon every
transaction with which he has been connected.

First he says[C] that he bought this folio in 1849 to "complete another
poor copy of the seconde folio"; and in the next paragraph he adds, "As
it turned out, I at first repented my bargain, because when I took it
home, it appeared that two leaves which I wanted were unfit for my
purpose, not merely by being too short, but damaged and defaced."
And finally he says that it was not until the spring of 1850 that he
"observed some marks in the margin of this folio." Now did Mr. Collier,
by some mysterious instinct, light directly, first upon one of the
leaves, and then upon the other, which he wished to find, in a folio of
nine hundred pages? It is almost incredible that he did so once; that he
did so twice is quite beyond belief. It is equally incredible, that if
the textual changes were then upon the margins in the profusion in which
they now exist, he could have looked for the two leaves which he needed
without noticing and examining such a striking peculiarity. Clearly
those marginal readings must have been seen by Mr. Collier in his search
for the two leaves he needed, or they have been written since. Either
case is fatal to his reputation. His various accounts of his interviews
with Mr. Parry, who, it was thought, once owned the book, are
inconsistent with each other, and at variance with Mr. Parry's own
testimony, and the probabilities, not to say the possibilities, of the
case. He says, for instance, that he showed the folio to Mr. Parry; and
that Mr. Parry took it into his hand, examined it, and pronounced it the
volume he had once owned. But, on the contrary, Mr. Parry says that Mr.
Collier showed him no book; that he exhibited only fac-similes; that he
(Mr. Parry) was, on the occasion in question, unable to hold a book, as
his hands were occupied with two sticks, by the assistance of which he
was limping along the road. And on being shown Mr. Collier's folio at
the British Museum, Mr. Parry said that he never saw that volume before,
although he distinctly remembered the size and appearance of his own
folio; and the accuracy of his memory has been since entirely confirmed
by the discovery of a fly-leaf lost from his folio which conforms to
his description, and is of a notably different size and shape from the
leaves of the Collier folio.[D] - Mr. Collier has declared, in the most
positive and explicit manner, that he has "often gone over the thousands
of marks of all kinds" on the margins of his folio; and again, that he
has "re√Ђxamined every fine and letter"; and finally, that, to enable
"those interested in such matters" to "see _the entire body _in the
shortest form," he "appended them to the present volume [_Seven
Lectures_, etc.] in one column," etc. This column he calls, too, "A
List of _Every Manuscript Note and Emendation_ in Mr. Collier's Copy of
Shakespeare's Works, folio, 1632." Now Mr. Hamilton, having gone over
the margins of "Hamlet" in the folio, finds that Mr. Collier's published
list "_does not contain one-half_ of the corrections, many of the most
significant being among those omitted." He sustains his allegation by
publishing the results of the collation of "Hamlet," to which we shall
hereafter refer more particularly, when we shall see that the reason of
Mr. Collier's suppression of so large a portion of these alterations and
additions was, that their publication would have made the condemnation
of his folio swift and certain. We have here a distinct statement of
the thing that is not, and a manifest and sufficient motive for the
deception.

[Footnote C: Notes and Emendations, p. vii.]

[Footnote D: This volume is universally spoken of as the Perkins folio
by the British critics. But we preserve the designation under which it
is so widely known in America.]

It has also been discovered that Mr. Collier has misrepresented the
contents of the postscript of a letter from Mistress Alleyn to her
husband, Edward Alleyn, the eminent actor of Shakespeare's day. This
letter was first published by Mr. Collier in his "Memoirs of Edward
Alleyn" in 1841, where he represents the following broken passage as
part of it: -

"Aboute a weeke a goe there came a youthe who said he was Mr Frauncis
Chaloner who would have borrowed X'li. to have bought things for ... and
_said he was known unto you and Mr Shakespeare of the globe, who came
... said he knewe hym not, onely he herde of hym that he was a roge...
so he was glade we did not lend him the monney ... Richard Johnes [went]
to seeke_ and inquire after the fellow," etc.

The paper on which this postscript is written is very much decayed,
and has been broken and torn away by the accidents of time; but enough
remains to show that the passage in question stands thus, - the letters
in brackets being obliterated: -

"Aboute a weeke agoe ther[e] [cam]e a youthe who said he was || Mr.
Frauncis Chalo[ner]s man [& wou]ld have borrow[e]d x's. - to || have
bought things for [hi]s Mri[s]..... [tru]st hym || Cominge wthout...
token.... d ||I would have.... || [i]f I bene sue[r] ..... || and
inquire after the fellow," etc.

The parallels || in the above paragraph indicate the divisions of the
lines in the original manuscript; and a moment's examination will
convince the reader that the existence of those words of Mr. Collier's
version which we have printed in Italic letter in the place to which he
assigns them is a physical impossibility, as Mr. Hamilton has clearly
shown.[E] And that the mention of Shakespeare, and what he said, was not
on a part of the letter which has been broken away, is made certain by
the fortunate preservation of enough of the lower margin to show that no
such passage could have been written upon it.

[Footnote E: _An Inquiry_, etc., pp. 86-89. See also Ingleby's _Complete
View_, etc., pp. 279-288. Both Mr. Hamilton and Dr. Ingleby give
fac-similes of this important postscript.]

Mr. Collier has also been convicted by Mr. Dyce of positive and
malicious misrepresentation in various passages of the Prolegomena and
Notes to his last edition of Shakespeare. (London, 1858, 6 vols.) The
misrepresentations refer so purely to matters of textual criticism,
and the exhibition of even one of them would involve the quotation of
passages so uninteresting to the general reader, that we shall ask him
to be content with our assurance that these disgraceful attempts to
injure a literary opponent and former friend assume severally the form
of direct misstatement, suppression of the truth, prevarication,
and cunning perversion; the manner and motive throughout being very
shabby.[F] The purpose of all these attacks upon Mr. Dyce is not only to
wound and disparage him, but to secure for the writer a reputation for
superior sagacity and antiquarian learning; and we regret that we are
obliged to close this part of our paper by saying that we find that the
same motive has led Mr. Collier into similar courses during a great part
of his literary career. It has been necessary for us to examine all
that he has written upon Shakespeare, and we have again and again
found ourselves misled into giving him temporary credit for a point
established or a fact discovered, when in truth this credit was due
to Malone or Chalmers or some other Shakespearian scholar of the past
century, and was sought to be appropriated by Mr. Collier, not through
direct misstatement, but by such an ingenious wording and construction
of sentences as would accomplish the purpose without absolute falsehood.
An instance of this kind of manoeuvring is brought to light in
connection with the investigations into the discovery and character of a
paper known as "The Players' Petition," which was first made public by
Mr. Collier in his "Annals of the Stage," (Vol. i. p. 298,) and which
has been pronounced a forgery. Of this he says, in his "Reply to Mr.
Hamilton," (p. 59,) "Mr. Lemon, Senior, _undoubtedly did_ bring the
'Players' Petition' under my notice, and very much obliged I was," etc.
Now Mr. Collier, in the "Annals of the Stage," after extended remarks
upon the importance of the document, merely says, "This remarkable paper
has, perhaps, never seen the light from the moment it was presented,
until it was recently discovered." No direct assertion here that Mr.
Collier discovered it, but a leading of the reader to infer that he did;
and not a word about Mr. Lemon's agency, until, upon the suggestion of
that gentleman's son, it is serviceable to Mr. Collier to remember it.
By reference to Mr. Grant White's "Shakespeare," Vol. ii. p. lx., an
instance may be seen of a positive misstatement by Mr. Collier, of
which, whatever the motive or the manner, the result is to deprive
Chalmers of a microscopic particle of antiquarian credit and to
bestow it upon himself. In fact, our confidence in Mr. Collier's
trustworthiness, which, diminished by discoveries like these, as our
knowledge of his labors increased, has been quite extinguished under the
accumulated evidence of either his moral obliquity or his intellectual
incapacity for truth. We can now accept from him, merely upon his word,
no statement as true by which he has anything to gain.

[Footnote F: See Dyce's _Strictures_, etc., pp. 2, 22, 28, 35, 51, 54,
56, 57, 58, 70, 123, 127, 146, 168, 192, 203, 204.]

The bad effect of what he does is increased by the manner in which he
seeks to shield himself from the consequences of his acts. He should
have said at once, "Let this matter be investigated, and here am I to
aid in the investigation," Soon after this folio was brought into public
notice, Mr. Charles Knight proposed that it should be submitted to a
palaeographic examination by gentlemen of acknowledged competence; but
so far was Mr. Collier from yielding to this suggestion, that we have
good reason for saying that it was not until after the volume passed, in
1859, into the hands of Sir Frederic Madden of the British Museum,
that the more eminent Shakespearian scholars in London had even an
opportunity to look at it closely.[G] The attacks upon the genuineness
of the writing on its margins Mr. Collier was at once too ready to
regard as impeachments of his personal integrity, and to shirk by making
counter-insinuations against the integrity of his opponents and the
correctness of their motives. He attributes to the pettiest personal
spite or jealousy the steps which they have taken in discharge of a duty
to the interests of literature and the literary guild, and at the risk
of their professional reputations, and then slinks back from his charges
with, - "I have been told this, but I don't believe it: this may be so,
but yet it cannot be: I did something that Mr. So-and-so's father did
not like, yet I wouldn't for a moment insinuate," etc., etc.[H] Then,
Mr. Collier, why do you insinuate? And what in any case do you gain?
Suppose the men who deny the good faith of your marginalia are the
small-souled creatures you would have us believe they are, they do not
make this denial upon their personal responsibility merely; they produce
facts. Meet those; and do not go about to make one right out of two
wrongs. Cease, too, this crawling upon your belly before the images of
dukes and carls and lord chief-justices; digest speedily the wine and
biscuits which a gentleman has brought to you in his library, and let
them pass away out of your memory. Let us have no more such sneaking
sentences as, "I have always striven to make myself as unobjectionable
as I could"; but stand up like a man and speak like a man, if you have
aught to say that is worth saying; and your noble patrons, no less than
the world at large, will have more faith in you, and more respect for
you.

[Footnote G: Such hasty examinations as those which it must have
received at the Society of Antiquaries and the Shakespeare Society,
where Mr. Collier took it, are of little importance.]

[Footnote H: See, for instance, "I have been told, but I do not believe
it, that Sir F. Madden and his colleagues were irritated by this piece
of supposed neglect; and that they also took it ill that I presented the
Perkins folio to the kindest, most condescending, and most liberal of
noblemen, instead of giving it to their institution." (_Reply_, p. 11.)
And see the same pamphlet and Mr. Collier's letters, _passim_.]

But what has been established by the examination of Mr. Collier's folio
and the manuscripts which he has brought to light? These very important
points: -

The folio contains more than twice, nearly three times, as many marginal
readings, including stage-directions and changes of orthography, as are
enumerated in Mr. Collier's "List of Every," etc.

The margins retain in numerous places the traces of
pencil-memorandums.[I]

[Footnote I: This is finally admitted even by Mr. Collier's supporters.
The Edinburgh Reviewer says, - "But then the mysterious pencil-marks!
They are there, most undoubtedly, and in very great numbers too. The
natural surprise that they were not earlier detected is somewhat
diminished on inspection. Some say they have 'come out' more in the
course of years; whether this is possible we know not. But even now they
are hard to discover, until the eye has become used to the search. But
when it has, - especially with the use of a glass at first, - they become
perceptible enough, words, ticks, points, and all."]

These pencil-memorandums are in some instances written in a modern
cursive hand, to which marginal readings in ink, written in an antique
hand, correspond.

There are some pencil-memorandums to which no corresponding change in
ink has been made; and one of these is in short-hand of a system which
did not come into use until 1774.[J]

[Footnote J: In _Coriolanus_, Act v. sc. 2, (p. 55, col. 2, of the C.
folio,) "struggles or instead noise," - plainly a memorandum for a
stage-direction in regard to the impending fracas between Menenius and
the Guard.]

These pencil-memorandums in some instances underlie the words in ink
which correspond to them.

Similar modern pencil-writing, underlying in like manner antique-seeming
words in ink, has been discovered in the Bridgewater folio, (Lord
Ellesmere's,) the manuscript readings in which Mr. Collier was the first
to bring into notice.

Some of the pencilled memorandums in the folio of 1632 seem to be
unmistakably in the handwriting of Mr. Collier.[K]

[Footnote K: Having at hand some of Mr. Collier's own writing in pencil,
we are dependent as to this point, in regard to the pencillings in
the folio, only upon the accuracy of the fac-similes published by Mr.
Hamilton and Dr. Ingleby, which correspond in character, though made by
different fac-similists.]

Several manuscripts, professing to be contemporary with Shakespeare, and
containing passages of interest in regard to him, or to the dramatic
affairs of his time, have been pronounced spurious by the highest
palaeographic authorities in England, and in one of them (a letter
addressed to Henslow, and bearing Marston's signature) a pencilled guide
for the ink, like those above mentioned, has been discovered. These
manuscripts were made public by Mr. Collier, who professed to have
discovered them chiefly in the Bridgewater and Dulwich collections.

In his professed reprint of one manuscript (Mrs. Alleyn's letter) Mr.
Collier has inserted several lines relating to Shakespeare which could
not possibly have formed a part of the passage which he professes to
reprint.

In the above enumeration we have not included the many complete and
partial erasures upon the margins of Mr. Collier's folio; because these,
although they are inconsistent with the authoritative introduction of
the manuscript readings, do not affect the question of the good faith of
the person who introduced those readings, or serve as any indication of
the period at which he did his work. But it must be confessed that
the points enumerated present a very strong, and, when regarded by
themselves, an apparently incontrovertible case against Mr. Collier and
the genuineness of the folios and the manuscripts which he has brought
to light. Combined with the evidence of his untrustworthiness, they
compel, even from us who examine the question without prejudice, the
unwilling admission that there can be no longer any doubt that he has
been concerned in bringing to public notice, under the prestige of his
name, a mass of manuscript matter of seeming antiquity and authority
much of which at least is spurious. We say, without prejudice; for


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 47, September, 1861 → online text (page 1 of 20)