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_By William Blades_

NEW YORK: Edited & Reprinted
by _The Winthrop Press_ for _The
American Type Founders Company_


In the good old days when printing was better recognized as a mystery than
as an art, one could call a printer 'a man of letters' without being
guilty of a pun. Books were for the few then, and the man who would print
them must be somewhat of a scholar himself.

To-day, amid the whirr of many presses, and the hurrying to and fro of the
printing office, the printer finds little or no time for literary
pursuits, despite the fact that printing is, in very truth, the handmaid
of literature. It is the more admirable, therefore, when a successful
printer attains to a degree of scholarship - particularly scholarship in
matters that enlighten and dignify his own handicraft.

Such a printer was _William Blades_. During fifty years of active
business life he contributed to the history of printing, a goodly number
of books and a mass of miscellaneous articles. Among these is the most
complete and authoritative life of Caxton, England's first printer,
representing an immense amount of study and research.

The book from which the following pages are reprinted is perhaps the least
familiar of Blades' works, and it evidently was written as a literary
recreation. The thought that reading it may afford recreation to those
busied about the making of books, and the comparative scarcity of the only
edition, are the excuses for reprinting the more interesting portion.

The first chapter (merely a resumé of the theories that have been advanced
by various professions and callings to claim Shakspere for their own) has
been omitted; likewise the appendix, which is a suggestion that many of
the obscurities in the text of Shakspere may be cleared up by a study of
the typographical errors in the first editions. With these exceptions, the
work is given here entire, and, it is hoped, in such form as accords with
the spirit of the author, whose tastes were those of the scholarly

_Editorial Dept.
The Winthrop Press,
32 Lafayette Place, N. Y.
November, 1897_


_The First Chapter of this Tractate is designed to show, in a succinct
manner, the numerous and contradictory theories concerning Shakspere's
special knowledge, the evidence for which has been created by 'selecting'
certain words and phrases from the mass of his writings._

_The Second and Third Chapters, erected on a similar basis of 'selection',
are intended to prove that Shakspere had an intimate and special knowledge
of Typography._

_Old Printers can still call to mind that period of our history when a
stalwart Pressman, on his way to work, ran considerable risk in the
streets of London of being seized by another kind of pressmen, viz., the
Press-gang, and forced_ nolens volens _into the service of the King. Some
readers (not Printers) may think that I have exercised over quotations
from Shakspere's works a similar compulsion, by pressing into my service
passages whose bearing is by no means in a typographical direction. They
may even go so far as to strain somewhat the self-accusation of Falstaff
(Henry IV, iv, 2), and bring against me the charge that_

_I have misused the King's press most damnably, by printing such

_I can only reply that if, notwithstanding a careful consideration of the
proofs here laid before him, the reader should consider my case 'not
proven', I must submit with all humility to his penetration and judgment._

_At the same time, since my proofs that Shakspere was a Printer are at
least quite as conclusive as the evidence brought forward by others to
demonstrate that he was Doctor, Lawyer, Soldier, Sailor, Catholic,
Atheist, Thief, I would claim as a right that my opponent, having rejected
my theory that he was a Printer, should be consistent, and at once, reject
all theories which attribute to him special knowledge, and repose upon the
simple belief that Shakspere, the Actor and Playwright, was a man of
surpassing genius, of keen observation, and never-failing memory._

W. B.


In November, 1589, the company acting at the Blackfriars Theatre thought
it would be advantageous to their interests to send in to the Privy
Council a memorial, certifying that they had never given cause of
displeasure by introducing upon the stage 'matters of State or Religion'.
The actors who signed this memorial styled themselves 'Her Majesty's Poor
Players', and among them appears the name of William Shakspere. We here
meet the Poet's name for the first time after he had left his home at
Stratford-on-Avon, about four years previously. What his employment had
been in the intervening period is a question which few of his biographers
have cared to ask, and which not one has answered.

It is usually supposed that immediately upon his arrival in London he
became in some way associated with the Stage, - but there is no evidence of
this. On the contrary, we shall give reasons for believing that coming to
London poor, needy, and in search of employment, he was immediately taken
into the service of Vautrollier the Printer.

THOMAS VAUTROLLIER, entitled in his patents 'typographus Londinensis, in
claustro vulgo Blackfriers commorans', was a Frenchman who came to England
at the commencement of Queen Elizabeth's reign. He was admitted a brother
of the Stationers' Company in 1564, and commenced business as Printer and
Publisher in Blackfriars, working in the same premises up to the time of
his death, which occurred in 1588. His character as a scholar stands high,
and his workmanship is excellent. He had a privilege, or monopoly, for the
printing and sale of certain books, as all the chief Printers then had.
Shortly before his death he married his daughter to Richard Field, who for
this reason, and because he succeeded to the premises and business of the
widow, is erroneously supposed by Ames to have served his apprenticeship
to Vautrollier. But why bring in the name of Richard Field? The reply is
important. Field was Shakspere's own townsman, and being of about the same
age and social rank, the boys probably grew up together as playfellows.
Field's father, Henry Field, was a Tanner at Stratford-on-Avon, and
Halliwell says 'a friend of Shakspere's family'. Early in 1578 young Field
came up to London, and at Michaelmas was apprenticed for seven years to
George Bishop, Printer and Publisher. Being in the same trade as
Vautrollier, Field would naturally become acquainted with him; and in
1588, a year after he was out of his time, he married Vautrollier's
daughter. Here, then, we seem to have a missing link supplied in the chain
of Shakspere's history. In 1585 Shakspere came up to London in a 'needy'
state. To whom would he be more likely to apply than to his old playmate
Richard Field. Field, a young man nearly out of his apprenticeship, on
terms of intimacy with Vautrollier, could do nothing better than recommend
him to the father of his future wife. Once introduced we may be sure that
Shakspere, with his fund of wit and good humour, would always be a welcome
guest; and that this friendly feeling was maintained between him and the
Vautrollier-Field families receives confirmation from the fact that
Richard Field, who succeeded to the shop and business soon after the death
of his father-in-law, actually put to press the two first printed works of
the great Poet, the 'Venus and Adonis', 1593, and the 'Lucrece', 1594.

Here then, in Vautrollier's employ, perhaps as a Press-reader, perhaps as
an Assistant in the shop, perchance as both, we imagine Shakspere to have
spent about three years upon his first arrival in the metropolis. Placed
thus in Blackfriars, close to the Theatre, close to the Taverns, close to
the Inns of Court, and in what was then a fashionable neighbourhood,
Shakspere enjoyed excellent opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of men
and manners.

Field did not succeed Vautrollier immediately upon his death. His widow
endeavoured for some time to carry on the business alone; but for some
unknown reason the Stationers' Company withheld their license; and after a
fruitless effort to obtain it, she was succeeded by her son-in-law. These
business changes would probably be the occasion of which Shakspere eagerly
availed himself to join the Players at the neighbouring theatre.

The Sonnets, although not printed until 1609, are generally acknowledged
to be among Shakspere's earliest efforts, and we cannot help imagining
that Sonnet XXIV was written while in the employment of Vautrollier; or
at any rate, while the shop, hung round with prints, was fresh in the
Poet's memory. May be some of their warmth was inspired by the charms of
the buxom widow herself who was apostrophised by the Poet when wishing her

To find where your true image _pictured_ lies,
Which in my bosom's _shop_ is hanging still,
That hath his _windows_ glazed with thine eyes.
_Sonnet_ xxiv.

At any rate, we have here in three lines as many metaphors, and all
derived from just such employment as we suppose Shakspere at that time to
have been engaged in.

Then, again, to a Printer's widow, not over young, what more telling than
the following reference?

Or what strong hand can hold Time's swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in _black ink_ my love may still shine bright.
_Sonnet_ lxvi.

Note here, that the jet black ink which everybody admires in old
manuscripts was much too thick for a running hand, and had long been
superseded by a writing fluid which, in the 16th century, was far from
equalling the bright gloss of Printing Ink.

Before turning to the internal evidence supplied by Shakspere's writings
in support of our theory, let us glance at the list of works printed and
published by Vautrollier, and see if Shakspere reflected any trace of
their influence upon his mind.

From Herbert's 'Typographical Antiquities' we find that in the 'Shop'
would be the two following works:

_A brief Introduction to Music. Collected by P. Delamote, a Frenchman;

_London_, 8vo., 1574.

_Discursus Cantiones; quæ ab argumento sacræ vocantur, quinque et sex
partivm. Autoribus Thoma Tallisio et Guilielmo Birdo. Cum Privilegio._

_London_, oblong quarto, 1575.

Delamote's Introduction, as well as the Sacred Songs by Tallis and Bird,
were Vautrollier's copyright, and we have already seen how intimate an
acquaintance Shakspere had with music. Might not the above works have been
the mine from which he obtained his knowledge?

Of religious works, Vautrollier printed and published several, all in
accordance with the principles of the great Reformation, and the writer
who argued that from his intimate knowledge of the tenets of Calvin,
Shakspere must have been himself a Calvinist, would have found sufficient
explanation of his special knowledge in the following books from
Vautrollier's press:

_The Neu Testament, with diversities of Reading and profitable
annotations. An epistle by J. Calvin, prefixed._

4to., 1575:

_Institutio Christianæ Religionis, Joanne Caluino authorè._

8vo., _London_, 1576: and

_The Institution of Christian Religion_ [not in Herbert's Ames]
_written in Latine, by Mr. John Calvine, and translated into English
by Thomas Norton. Imprinted at London, by Thomas Vautrollier._

8vo., 1578.

This last contains an Epistle to the Reader by John Calvin, as well as an
address headed _Typographus Lectori_. Of each of the above works several
editions were published.

In one of his pedantic speeches Holofernes exclaims:

Venetia! Venetia!
Chi non te vede non ti pretia.
Old Mantuan! Old Mantuan! who understandeth thee not, loveth thee not.
_Love's Labour Lost_, iv, 2.

Where did Shakspere learn his Italian, which, although then a court
language, he quotes but rarely, and in an awkward manner? Surely at
second-hand, and probably quoting the phrases current at the period, or
still more probably from conning in his spare moments:

_An Italian Grammer, written in Latin by M. Scipio Lentulo: and turned
into Englishe by Henry Grantham. Typis Tho. Vautrolerij._

_London_, 16mo., 1578.

This was put to press again in 1587. In Vautrollier's 'shop' he would also
have often in his hands:

_Campo di Fior; or else the Flourie field of foure Languages, for the
furtherance of the learners of the Latine, French, English, but
chiefly of the Italian tongue. Imprinted at London, by Thos.
Vautrollier, dwelling in the Black Friers by Ludgate._

16mo., 1583.

Here, again, we have a very extensive Italian vocabulary upon all common
subjects quite sufficient for an occasional quotation; as to the plots
taken from Italian sources, such as 'Romeo and Juliet', it seems to be now
generally admitted that Shakspere in every instance followed the English

But Shakspere knew also a little French, and uses a few colloquial
sentences here and there. In one play indeed, _Henry V_, iii. 4, there is
a short scene between the Princess and her attendant, in alternate French
and English, which reads almost like a page of a Vocabulary. Shakspere's
knowledge of Latin was apparently about the same in extent; and for the
uses to which he has applied both tongues, the _Flourie Field of Four
Languages_, already quoted as the source of his Italian, would be quite
sufficient. If not, he had the opportunity of consulting under his
master's roof

_A Treatise on French Verbs._

8vo., 1580.

_A most easie, perfect, and absolute way to learne the Frenche

8vo., 1581; and

_Phrases Linguæ Latinæ._ 8vo., 1579;

the last compiled from the writings of that great Printer, Aldus Manutius.

Some of Shakspere's biographers have maintained that he must have been
acquainted with Plutarch and other classical writers, because he quotes
from their works. Dr. Farmer in his masterly essay on the learning of
Shakspere, has shown that the Poet took all his quotations, even to the
blunders, from the edition of Plutarch, in English, printed and published
by Vautrollier, a year or two before we suppose that Shakspere entered
into his service:

_Plutarch's Lives, from the French of Amyott, by Sir Tho. North.

Folio, 1579.

Moreover, Vautrollier, who was a good scholar, appears to have had a great
liking for Ovid. He printed _Ovid's Metamorphoses_, _Ovid's Epistles_, and
_Ovid's Art of Love_. Now it is a notable fact that although Shakspere,
unlike contemporary writers who abound in classical allusions, scarcely
ever mentions a Latin poet, and still more seldom a Greek poet, yet he
quotes Ovid several times:

As Ovid, be an outcast quite abjured.
_Taming of the Shrew_, i, 1.

_Tit._ Lucius, what book is that she tosseth so?
_Luc._ Grandsire, 'tis Ovid's Metamorphoses.
_Titus_, iv, 1.

I am here with thee and thy goats as the most
capricious poet, honest Ovid was among the Goths.
_As You Like It_, iii, 3.

Ovidius Naso was the man.
_Love's Labour Lost_, iv, 2.

Of _Cicero's Oration_ Vautrollier issued several editions, and had the
privilege 'ad imprimendum solum' granted him; and to this work also, on
at least two occasions, Shakspere refers:

Hath read to thee
Sweet poetry and Tully's Orator.
_Titus_, iv, 1.

Sweet Tully.
_2 Henry VI_, iv, 1.

The fact to be noted with reference to these classical quotations is this:
Shakspere quotes those Latin authors, and those only, of which Vautrollier
had a 'license'; and makes no reference to other and popular writers, such
as Virgil, Pliny, Aurelius, and Terence, editions of whose works
Vautrollier was not allowed to issue, but all of which, and especially the
last, were great favorites in the sixteenth century, as is shown by the
numerous editions which issued from the presses of Vautrollier's

Among other publications of Vautrollier was an English translation of
_Ludovico Guicciardini's Description of the Low Countries_, originally
printed in 1567. In this work is one of the earliest accounts of the
invention of printing at Haarlem, which is thus described in the Batavia
of Adrianus Junius, 1575. 'This person [Coster] during his afternoon walk,
in the vicinity of Haarlem, amused himself with cutting letters out of
the _bark_ of the beech tree, and with these, the _characters_ being
inverted as in seals, he printed small sentences.' The idea is cleverly
adapted by Orlando:

these trees shall be my _books_,
And in their _barks_ my thoughts I'll _character_.
_As You Like It_, iii, 2.

Lastly, it would be an interesting task to compare the Mad Folk of
Shakspere, most of whom have the melancholy fit, with

_A Treatise of Melancholie: containing the Causes thereof and Reasons
of the Strange Effects it worketh in our Minds and Bodies._

_London_, 8vo., 1586.

This was printed by Vautrollier, and probably read carefully for press by
the youthful Poet.

The disinclination of Shakspere to see his plays in print has often been
noticed by his biographers, and is generally accounted for by the theory
that reading the plays in print would diminish the desire to hear them at
the theatre. This is a very unsatisfactory reason, and not so plausible as
the supposition that, sickened with reading other people's proofs for a
livelihood, he shrunk from the same task on his own behalf. His
contemporaries do not appear to have shared in the same typographical
aversion. The plays of Ben Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher were all
printed in the life-time of their authors. Francis Quarles had the
satisfaction and pride of seeing all his works in printed form, and showed
his appreciation and knowledge of Typography by the following quaint
lines, which we quote from the first edition, literatim:

_On a Printing-house._

The _world's_ a _Printing-house_: our _words_, our _thoughts_,
Our _deeds_, are _Characters_ of sev'rall sizes:
Each _Soule_ is a Compos'ter; of whose faults
The Levits are Correctors: Heav'n revises;
_Death_ is the _common Press_; fro whence, being driven,
W' are gathered _Sheet_ by _Sheet_, & bound for _Heaven_.
From _Divine Fancies_, 1632, lib. iv, p. 164.


Nature endows no man with knowledge, and although a quick apprehension may
go far toward making the true lover of Nature a Botanist, Zoologist, or
Entomologist, and although the society of 'Men of Law', of Doctors, or of
Musicians may, with the help of a good memory, store a man's mind with
professional phraseology, yet the _opportunity_ of learning must be there;
and no argument can be required to prove that, however highly endowed with
genius or imagination, no one could evolve from his internal consciousness
the terms, the customs, or the working implements of a trade with which he
was unacquainted. If, then, we find Shakspere's mind familiar with the
technicalities of such an art as Printing - an art which, in his day, had
no such connecting links with the common needs and daily pleasures of the
people, as now - if we find him using its terms and referring frequently to
its customs, our claims to call him a Printer stand upon a firmer base
than those of the Lawyer, the Doctor, the Soldier, or the Divine; and we
have strong grounds for asking the reader's thoughtful attention to some
quotations and arguments, which, if not conclusive that Shakspere was a
Printer, afford indubitable evidence of his having become at some period
of his career practically acquainted with the details of a Printing
Office. We propose, then, to carefully examine the works of the Poet for
any internal evidence of Typographical knowledge which they may afford.

But here, at the outset, we are met by obvious difficulties. Would
Shakspere, or any poet have made use of trade terms and technical words,
or have referred to customs peculiar to and known by only a very small
class of the community in plays addressed to the general public? They
might have been familiar enough to the mind of the writer, but would
certainly have sounded very strange in the ears of the public. Shakspere
was too artistic and too wise to have committed so glaring a blunder. His
technical terms are used unintentionally, and with the most charming
unconsciousness. Therefore, when we meet with a word or phrase in common
use by Printers, it is so amalgamated with the context, that although
some other form of expression would have been chosen had not Shakspere
been a Printer, yet the general reader or hearer is not struck by any
incongruity of language.

What simile could be more natural for a Printer-poet to use or more
appropriate for the public to hear than this:

Your mother was most true to wedlock, prince;
For she did _print_ your royal father off,
Conceiving you.
_Winter's Tale_, v, 1.

Here, surely, the Printer's daily experience of the exact agreement
between the face of the type and the impression it yields must have
suggested the image.

Printers in Shakspere's time often had patents granted them by which the
monopoly of certain works was secured; and unscrupulous printers
frequently braved all the pains and penalties to which they were liable by
pirating such editions. It is this carelessness of consequences which is
glanced at by Mistress Ford when debating with Mistress Page concerning
the insult put upon them by the heavy old Knight, Sir John Falstaff:

He cares not what he puts into the Press when he
would put us two.
_Merry Wives_, ii, 1.

What printer is there who has put to press a second edition of a book
working page for page in a smaller type and shorter measure but will
recognise the Typographer's reminiscences in the following description of
Leontes' babe by Paulina:

Behold, my Lords,
Although the _print_ be little, the whole _matter_
And _copy_ of the father ...
The very _mould_ and _frame_ of hand, nail, finger.
_Winter's Tale_, ii, 3.

Is it conceivable that a sentence of four lines containing five distinct
typographical words, three of which are especially technical, could have
proceeded from the brain of one not intimately acquainted with Typography?
Again, would Costard have so gratuitously used a typographical idea, had
not the Poet's mind been teeming with them?

I will do it, sir, in print.
_Love's Labour Lost_, iii, 1.

The deep indentation made on the receiving paper when the strong arm of a
lusty pressman had pulled the bar with too great vigour is glanced at

Think when we talk of horses that you see them
_Printing_ their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth.
_Henry V_, Chorus.

The frequency with which the words _print_ or _imprint_ are used is very

The story that is _printed_ in her blood.
_Much Ado about Nothing_, iv, 1.

I love a ballad in _print_.
_Winter's Tale_, iv, 4.

She did _print_ your royal father off conceiving you.
_Winter's Tale_, v, 1.

You are but as a _form_ in wax, by him _imprinted_.
_Midsummer-Night's Dream_, i, 1.

His heart ... with your _print impressed_.
_Love's Labour Lost_, ii, 1.

I will do it, sir, in _print_.
_Love's Labour Lost_, iii, 1.

This weak _impress_ of love.
_Two Gentlemen of Verona_, iii, 2.


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