THE MOMENTOUS QUESTION
Respecting the E and the A
IN THE NAME OF
Our National Dramatist
It is said that his surname was Quixada or Quesada, for, in this particular, the authors who have mentioned the subject do not agree. There are, however, very probable reasons for conjecturing that he was called Quixana. But this is of little importance to our story. Let it suffice that, in narrating, we do not swerve a jot from the truth.—The Life and Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha.
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The subject of our early nominal orthography, discussed in the following pages, has elicited so wide an interest, apart from the individual question, that I have been induced to reprint the pamphlet with a few additions and corrections. Hollingbury Copse,
The special case which has occasioned this investigation may thus be briefly epitomized. There having been no standard for the spelling of names in the time of Shakespeare, it follows, of course, that one form of signature was then as correct, or as incorrect, as another, that it was no authority for a printed orthography, and that the election of an uniform mode can be left to modern usage. In selecting, in the case of Shakespeare, the longest form, we are guided by the probability, almost the certainty, founded on the dedications to the first poems, that the great dramatist himself, had he lived to have superintended the publication of an edition of his works, would have adopted in that edition the orthography of his name which was sanctioned by his intimate friends and colleagues when they edited the folio of 1623, the complete form, Shakespeare, accepted with a singular unanimity by Ben Jonson and other contemporaries.
3rd April, 1880.
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* But this in itself would go for very little. A celebrated earl invariably signed himself Leycester, yet no writer, treating of the Elizabethan period, would consider it necessary to introduce that antiquated orthography.
at various periods of life, and if the name in his dedications had appeared in the same form, then there would have been of course an end of the matter. But the facts do not bear out an important similarity. In those deeply interesting epistles to Lord Southampton, the / p.16 / only letters of the great dramatist known to exist, attached to the only works we can confidently believe to have been issued with his sanction, the name appears in its full proportions with both the e and the a. These dedications, to Venus and Adonis in 1593 and to Lucrece in 1594, are to my mind absolutely conclusive of the general question.
There is no good pretence for raising a doubt of the generally acknowledged fact that those poems were issued under Shakespeare's immediate authority. The personal character of the dedications might alone suffice to indicate that this was the case. Not only was there no theatrical management to interfere with the copyright, as was the case with respect to most if not all of his plays, and no symptoms of the bookselling special interest in either of the publications, but both of them were printed, as Mr. Payne Collier*
* This mention of my old friend's name gives me the opportunity of observing that, although, as it has been recently stated, I was the founder of the old Shakespeare Society, yet it was entirely owing to Mr. Collier's influence and active co-operation that the Society was ever established. Under his judicious and genial management every variety of Shakespearean opinion received friendly attention, the Society, during the thirteen years (1841 to 1853) of its existence, doing good and useful work quietly and amicably. Alas that it was not resuscitated on its / p.17 / original basis of common-sense criticism when my late dear friend, Howard Staunton, so ardently desired and had practically commenced its revival in 1871! Let me here gratefully add how much I personally owed in early life to Mr. Collier's kind and unselfish encouragement.
/ p.16 / was the first to point out, by a / p.17 / native of Stratford-on-Avon and the son of one of John Shakespeare's intimate friends. Every circumstance, indeed, connected with the publication of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece tends to show that they were printed under the author's sanction.
Under any circumstances, it is evident that Shakespeare had a voice in the matter with the printer or publisher when he proceeded to dedicate a second work to the same nobleman. Can any one believe that, if the great dramatist had really cared to have his name spelt without the e and the a, he would have permitted the longer form to remain in the second dedication? Is it not clear that, whatever phases his signature may have assumed, he either wished, or, at the very least, tacitly admitted that he did not dislike his name appearing as Shakespeare in his own printed works? Another piece of corroborative evidence is at the end of a poem which he contributed to Chester's Loves Martyr, 1601, and which could hardly have been inserted without his direct sanction. As if to place the matter beyond all doubt, his name is there / p.18 / printed with both the disputed letters and with a hyphen. See the annexed facsimile of the conclusion of this poem. The printed literature of Shakespeare's time is all but unanimous in the adoption of the longer orthography, and in it there are very few instances indeed of the omission of either the e or the a, while there are numerous examples of the occurrence of the full name with a hyphen, as in the poem just mentioned and in the Sonnets, published in 1609, where the hyphened name is given at length upwards of thirty times. It is, in fact, exceedingly curious that one form of a name of such easy variation should have been so generally adopted in print at a time when there was great laxity in such matters in printed books as well as in writings. Thus, in the interesting collection, England's Parnassus, 1600, while the name of one poet is spelt in four different ways, — Achilley, Achelly, Achellye, Achely, — and rare Ben's appears both as Johnson and Jhonson, that of the great dramatist is uniformly printed Shakespeare in upwards of forty instances in that small volume. I will now proceed to a consideration of the poet's five acknowledged signatures, the only examples of undoubted authenticity known to exist.
1. Indenture of Bargain to Shakespeare
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of a house in Blackfriars, 10 March, 1613,*
* The original indenture of conveyance to Shakespeare, dated on the same day, is in my possession, and one of my choicest treasures. This deed, that which was enrolled in Chancery, is in fine and perfect condition, with the original official note of enrollment on the outside. It is endorsed,—Walker et Shakespeare et al.
the original deed being now in the Guildhall Library. Here the signature is unquestionably Shakspere, reading the contraction as er, and considering that which follows the e as a mere flourish. Sir F. Madden, indeed, reads the last syllable per and thinks that the contraction is for the final e. The same result follows from either theory, but the latter one would, I fancy, be more likely to be correct if it had referred to a document of an earlier date. The former is confirmed by what is apparently a very careful facsimile made by the elder Ireland soon after the discovery of the indenture, his original tracing being now in my possession.
2. Mortgage Deed of the same house, dated 11 March, 1613, now in the British Museum. Here again we have a contracted form, the only written letters of the second syllable being spe, but the mark of contraction is different from that in the previous deed, it appearing in this one as if it were an a in the published facsimile / p.21 / of 1790, and u in recent copies, in either case implying, to judge from the usual meaning of abbreviations of the time, that an a was one of the letters of what was intended. The contraction is also clearlygiven as an a in Malone's original tracing made in the year 1784, and although he afterwards thought "that what was supposed to be that letter was only a mark of abbreviation with a turn or curl at the first part of it, which gave it the appearance of a letter," this latter notion was a mere conjecture hazarded without the advantage of another reference to the original (Inquiry, 1796, pp. 118-120), and is an opinion which will not stand the test of a close examination. Many years ago, the original deed now in the Museum was kindly brought to my house by its then owner, Mr. Troward, and my late valued friend, Mr. Fairholt, took the greatest pains on that occasion to make an accurate tracing of the poet's signature. The engraving from that facsimile may be seen in my folio edition of Shakespeare, vol. i., p. 209, and there the contraction is more like a than u, encouraging a suspicion that the top part of the former letter has been obliterated by the handling of the deed during the long period that has elapsed since the autograph was first traced by Malone. / p.22 / Whether there is a probability in this suggestion might perhaps be decided by the use of a microscope; but, at all events, the form of Shakspere cannot in this instance be admitted with anything like certainty.
The exact interpretation of this second autograph is, however, of little moment in our enquiry, for, as it has been well observed, "the contractions exhibited by these two signatures neutralize their evidence," and Shakespeare clearly intended by using those contractions that his name should be included within the narrow limits of the seal-labels. There are then, as absolute evidences of the poet's usage in his signatures, merely the three appended to the will, and these must be examined in detail,—
1. The first is now extremely indistinct, having suffered from the wear and tear of the manuscript. That it was originally Shakspere may be safely concluded from the facsimile made by Steevens in 1776. Dr. Farmer also personally examined the document when it was in a more perfect state, and he confirms this reading in a manuscript note of his in my possession.
2. There is more doubt about the second one, the space between the p and the r apparently / p.23 / indicating the original presence of two letters, which were read ea by Dr. Farmer, but, judging from the best facsimiles, and without a new inspection of the original, it is my conviction that here we should read Shakspere, the minute blank between the e and the r being occasioned by the intervention of the loop of a letter hanging from the body of the will. Here again the microscope might be of use.
3. In the last autograph the second syllable appears to be speare in all the facsimiles, as it does in that of Steevens made in the year 1776, and then so accepted by Malone. The latter writer, indeed, afterwards changed his opinion, not, however, from a second examination of the original, but merely because an anonymous correspondent was of opinion that "though there was a superfluous stroke when the poet came to write the letter r in his last signature, probably from the tremor of his hand, there was no a discoverable in that syllable," Inquiry, 1796, p. 118. The notion of the tremor of the hand is simply gratuitous, the will having been executed more than a month before the death of the poet, and there being no evidence that he was then invalided. Be this as it may, the correspondent's surmise cannot invalidate the authority of Steevens's own tracing in / p.24 / the original of which, still preserved, the latter a is clearly exhibited, the accuracy of the facsimile being ratified by the following note,—G. Steevens delineavit accurante et testante Edmondo Malone, 1776. That there are two letters between the p and the r seems beyond a reasonable doubt, and a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1789, reads speere, but surely the formation of the writing supports our first interpretation. But what about the first syllable of the autograph? A distinguished scholar has just pointed out to me — and it is, as in the case of the management of the egg by Columbus, most singularly curious so obvious a fact should have escaped the notice of all others — that the character following the letter k is the then well-known and accepted contraction* for es.
*Mr. Hardy, Appendix to Fortieth Report on the Public Records, p. 567, observes that this contraction "generally occurs at the end of words." Its situation in this signature is peculiar and difficult of explanation.
There cannot be a doubt on this point, and therefore the poet's last signature appears in his own selected literary form of Shakespeare.
Malone expatiates on the "very extraordinary circumstance that a man should write his name twice one way, and once another, on the same / p.25 / paper," Inquiry, p. 117; but it is not certain that the three signatures were written on the same day. At that period, the two first would not necessarily require the attendance of witnesses, and might have been added when the will was first copied ready for signing in January, or at any time between then and Lady Day.*
* There was so much laxity in such matters excepting in the presence of witnesses at the final signature, it is not at all unlikely that the day of the later month is incorrect. At all events it is singular that the will should be executed on the very same day of March on which it was originally dated in January.
On a careful examination it will be seen that the last signature differs somewhat in formation from the others, especially in that of the capital letter W. But even supposing that all the signatures were attached to the will on the same day, a variation in their forms would not be more extraordinary than that of Walter Roche, the poet's schoolmaster, signing his name twice in different ways on the same day in the same document, or than Margaret Trevelyan at a later period writing her own name and that of her husband with different spellings in the very same line, — "Margaret Trevelyan, for her husband George Trevelian." Sir William Brown, who signed indiscriminately in at least three different ways, spells his name Browne in a letter to Lord Sidney, May 24th, 1604, and Broune in another / p.26 / letter written on the very next day to the same nobleman. I possess an indenture of the year 1692, in which one party signs his name Banckyes, his uncle Banckys, and his mother Bancks, all written on the same day. A little more research would no doubt produce many other like examples, although the extraordinary laxity formerly displayed by nearly every one in the orthography of surnames scarcely requires more confirmatory evidence. This is, in fact, the whole gist of the matter, that the forms f autographs were in those days no reliable guides for an uniform printed usage, and, as I ventured to say in my other pamphlet, "to follow signatures would revolutionize the whole system of early nominal orthography, and lead to preposterous results."
Now, in conclusion, with a flourish of magnanimity. If it be possible that any earnest Shakespearean student, after perusing the above luminous exposition, can wish to discard the e and the a, he has my solemn assurance that I shall not have the slightest inclination either to roar him down or quarrel with him on that account. On the contrary, if such an individual appear and will favour me with a visit, he shall be received with all the attention due to a rara avis at my primitive and / p.27 / ornithological bungalow. Although my library is small, it includes some of the choicest Shakespearean rarities in the world, and there is also an unrivalled collection of drawings and engravings illustrative of the life of the great dramatist. A mere glance over the latter will occupy a summer's day. And the feast of reason shall be irrigated by the flow of port, claret, or madeira, and by what is not now to be seen every day of the week, really old sherry. If, unfortunately, he has forsworn racy potations and not discovered that good sherris-sack "ascends into the brain and dries there all the foolish, and dull, and crudy vapours which environ it," then are there our deep chalk wells, yielding an inexhaustible supply of the pure aqueous element as bright and sparkling as the waves and atmosphere of Brighton herself.
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* This is adroitly but not very fairly put. The balance of probability is clearly in favour of the printed form having been sanctioned by the poet himslef.—J. O. H.-P.
No wonder then that some of us, with all deference to a most conscientious, diligent, and able scholar, prefer Shakspere.—Western Daily Press.
Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps has materially strengthened his argument in favour of spelling the name of our greatest poet with the additional e after k, — Shakespeare, in "A Few Additional Words on the Momentous Question respecting the E and the A in the name of our National Dramatist." We quite agree with him that there ought to be uniformity in this matter. It is surely time we arrived at a determination concerning it. Our own argument has been that while we receive the name as Shake-speare in pronunciation, the poet has not used the e after the k in any of his signatures remaining to us. The suggestion now is that in one of the signatures to the will the character following the letter k is the then well-known and accepted contraction for es. This, if established, should suffice to settle the matter. The objection that will probably be taken is the infrequency of the use of that contraction anywhere but at the end of a word. If, however, we remember that in some of the dedications the word is divided by a hyphen, its introduction before the hyphen might be accepted as probable. — The Builder.
To the antiquary there are no such things as trifles; to the Englishman everything connected with the name of Shakspere is sacred. Hence it can excite no surprise to find that a vivacious controversy is now proceeding as to the proper spelling of Shakspere's name. There has always been a curious want of uniformity in the orthographical presentation of the surname of our national dramatist. Dr. Johnson, Rowe, and other com-/ p.30 / mentators spell it Shakspeare; Dyce and Cowden Clarke say Shakespeare; in the folio of his works, brought out by his own intimate associates, the form of Shakespeare is used. The Stratford register contains entries of the poet's baptism and death, of the baptism of his children, and the death of his son. In these the name is uniformly spelled Shakspere. The quarto editions of the plays, and, what is still more important, the editions of the poems issued during his lifetime say Shakespeare. Of manuscript evidence there is, unfortunately, very little, and it is not quite consistent. There are only five signatures of the poet that are beyond all doubt authentic. The signatures to the indenture of bargain and mortgage deed of the house in Blackfriars are both contracted so as to get the name included within the narrow limits of the seal label, and it has been said that the varying "contractions exhibited by these two signatures neutralise their evidence." So far as they go, one appears to be Shakspere, but the other is more doubtful. There remain, then, the three signatures to the will. The first is admittedly Shakspere; the space between the e and the r of the second signature was read ea by Dr. Farmer, but Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps is of opinion that the minute blank was caused by the intervention of the loop of a letter hanging from the body of the will. The third signature was given in all the fac-similes as Shakspeare, though Malone afterwards thought there was reason for discarding the a. Such, in brief, is the body of evidence. Of late years greater favour has been given to the shorter forms of Shakspere's name, and Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps on recently advocating the longer form was assailed by an outcry of Toryism. Undaunted by his opponents, Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps returns to the charge, and in a pamphlet bearing the title of Old Lamps and New sets forth his reasons for desiring to retain "the e and the a in the name of our national dramatist." The first matter to be remembered is that in Shakspere's days there was no settled orthography of surnames. In local MSS. the name of the poet's family is given as Shakspeyr, Shaxspere, Schacksper, Shakyspere, Shaxpeare, and other forms, without the slightest uniformity. Mr. Halliwell- / p.31 / Phillipps lays stress upon the fact that the subscriptions to the dedications of the poems is in the longest form of the name. "It is not clear," he asks, "that, whatever phases his signature may have assumed, he either wished, or at least tacitly admitted, that he did not dislike his name appearing as Shakespeare in his own printed works?" The same form is used at the end of the poem in Chester's Love's Martyr, 1601, whilst the printed literature of the time "is all but unanimous" in using it. On the other hand, there is one argument not to be disdained for the spelling Shakspere. It is the shortest orthography that has yet been proposed, and that in a busy age is a very great recommendation. — The Manchester Guardian.
Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps has just issued an interesting little pamphlet, full of both erudition and humour, on the mode of spelling the name of the national dramatist. He argues that Shakespeare is the proper manner, commencing his observations by amusing references to the virulence of some gentlemen of the "intense" sort, who compared the reluctance to adopt the shorter form of the poet's name with the fearful obstruction of Toryism to everything that is correct and proper. Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps proceeds to point out that in the dramatist's time a person's signature was scarcely evidence at all of the correct orthography of his own name or that of his relatives. He instances a number of examples in which a man signed his name in one way and his wife in another, and of two or three forms of signature by one individual. Thus, says the author, one of the poet's sons-in-law wrote himself Quyney, Quyneye, and Conoy, while his brother, the curate, signed Quiney, His other son-in-law, Dr. Hall, signed himself Hawle and Hall. Thomas Nash, who married the poet's granddaughter, signed himself both Nash and Nashe. In point of fact, people in those days signed their names according to taste or momentary caprice. Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps examines the acknowledged signatures of the poet; and dismissing those of the indenture of bargain of the house in Blackfriars and of the mortgage deed of the same property as having contracted letters, and therefore useless for the purposes of the inquiry, he proceeds to consider/ p.32 / the three signatures affixed to the will. The first autograph he pronounces to be Shakspere, the second probably the same, while the third he concludes was Shakespeare, which was also the printed signature affixed to the dedications of the poems. The pamphlet comes to a close with a funny but highly genial inviation from the accomplished and kindly old scholar, asking those who disagree with him to pay him a visit at Hollingbury Copse and discuss the matter amicably over some "really old sherry." — Birmingham Daily Globe.
Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, the well-known Shakspearean scholar and enthusiast, has written a pamphlet some thirty pages long in order to settle for ever the momentous question "respecting the E and the A in the name of our National Dramatist." A very bright and sparkling brochure is this controversial tract dated from Hollingbury Copse, Brighton; but its most original feature is a hospitable invitation to Shakspearean students — and they must be legion — to visit the author and look over his library, containing "the choicest Shakspearean rarities in the world, and an unrivalled collection of drawings and engravings illustrative of the life of the great dramatist." Nay, more, Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps promises to entertain his guests in splendid fashion. "The feast of reason," he says, "shall be irrigated by the flow of port, claret, or madeira, and by what is not now to be seen every day of the week, really good sherry." As for the teetotallers, they are promised "an inexhaustible supply of the pure aqueous element from our deep chalk wells." But, supposing all the Shakspearean students in the United Kingdom accepted the universal invitation on the same day, how long would the cellars or the wells of Hollingbury Copse hold out? — The Illustrated London News.
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Under the title of Contributions towards a Life of Shakespeare, it is possible, health, strength, and inclination permitting, that I may some day commence a series of folio volumes in which I should hope to fully investigate the truth or probability of every recorded incident in the personal and literary history of the great dramatist, and to include a vast mass of correlative information, the accumulation of many years' researches, the whole to be copiously illustrated with wood engravings and fac-similes. Amongst the latter would be fac-similes of every known contemporary document in which the name of the poet appears.
It is scarcely necessary to observe that the compilation of a satisfactory life of Shakespeare is an impossibility. A biography without correspondence, without details of conversation, and without any full contemporary delineations of character, must necessarily be fragmentary. There is, however, more to be learned respect- / p.34 / ing the history of the poet's career than many people would imagine, and some new facts and much that is suggestive that have not yet been published. Moreover, a new and most interesting source of information has just unexpectedly opened, and this circumstance has tended more than anything else to overcome my increasing reluctance to encounter the worries of publication. Researches, at least in my case, are not energetically carried on if there is no ultimate view of some use being made of the results. A part of my scheme would include minute details respecting the condition of Stratford-on-Avon in the time of the poet, and generally, as was stated when I projected a similar work in 1874, to give notices of his surroundings, that is to say, amongst others, of the members of his family, the persons with whom he associated, the books he used, the stage on which he acted, the estates he purchased, the houses and towns in which he resided, and the country through which he travelled. The consideration of these and similar topics will not be without its biographical value. It will bring us nearer / p.35 / to a knowledge of Shakespeare's personality if we can form even an approximate idea of the condition of England and its people in his own day, the sort of places in which he lived, how he made his fortune, the occupations and social positions of his relatives and friends, the nature of the ancient stage, and the usages of contemporary domestic life.
The numerous traditions respecting the great dramatist have never been minutely investigated. It is astonishing how long personal traditions lingered in the provinces before the newspaper age, and any that can be traced even so far back as the last century deserve careful examination. There are many that are sheer inventions, others extremely doubtful, but some that can be partially authenticated. In this department of the biography I have had the advantage of a close friendship and numerous discussions on the subject with the late R. B. Wheler and W. O. Hunt of Stratford-on-Avon, the last links of the traditional period. All genuine oral traditions have now expired, but unfortunately a considerable number of similar stories have / p.36 / been unblushingly fabricated in even recent years. The assurance with which these have been uttered would be amusing were it not so mischievous.
Charles Dickens, in one of his hasty letters, writes thus:—"The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should come up." Now, if I thought that there were even a remote chance of a revelation that would exhibit Shakespeare in the light of one who could in any fairness be termed a bad man, my inquisitive researches would not be continued. But there is too abundant favourable evidence of his general character to render such a contingency possible. That he was wild in his youth, that he sometimes drank a little more wine than was good for him, and that he occasionally flirted with the young ladies at the Bankside more freely than Mrs. Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon would have approved of, may be conceded by those who do not consider it requisite to assume that the greatest of poets must necessarily be the greatest of saints. But that he deliberately would either have ruined / p.37 / the character of another, or betrayed the domestic confidence of a friend or host, is too inconsistent with the contemporary opinions of his character to be at all credible. With the exception of a tale that is a palpable fabrication, the Davenant story is the only recorded one respecting Shakespeare which, if true, would really involve an accusation of criminality; but so difficult is it to eradicate scandal, however baseless, that the tale has been accepted as truthful for many generations and by even recent writers. It is, therefore, with peculiar satisfaction that, after the lapse of nearly three centuries, I can announce the discovery of contemporary evidences which prove decisively that there is not a word of truth in the libel.
The first volume of the projected series could not be completed at the earliest before the Spring of next year.
I do not intend to receive subscribers' names, as the work will not be so published. If it ever appear, it will be obtainable only through a special London agent, and the impression will be extremely limited. This preliminary an- / p.38 / nouncement is made in the hope of ascertaining whether there is sufficient interest taken in the subject to encourage the commencement of so large and costly an undertaking.
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JOS L. CHESTER.
J. O. HALLIWELL-PHILLIPPS, ESQ.