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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Henry VIII Query
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1929  Thursday, 12 October 2000.

From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Oct 2000 22:34:56 -0600
Subject: 11.1913 Re: Henry VIII Query
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1913 Re: Henry VIII Query

Sam Small wrote:

>   Drew Whitehead wrote:
>> In an 1850 Notes and Queries article on the authorship of Henry VIII,
>> Samuel Hickson quotes four lines which he claims are by Shakespeare
>> though he does qualify the matter by adding that he had met with these
>> lines "in no other edition than Mr. Collier's."  The lines are:
>>
>> Crowns have their compass; length of day their date;
>> Triumphs, their tomb; felicity her fate;
>> Of nought but earth can earth make us partaker,
>> But knowledge makes a king most like his maker.
>>
>> A thorough search of several versions of Henry VIII has failed to turn
>> up these lines.  Does anyone know where they come from?  Was Collier in
>> the habit if inserting extra poetry into his editions?
>
>I would bet my last shirt that Shakespeare didn't write those lines.

And Brian Vickers further wrote:

>Hickson's 1850 essay on Henry VIII was posthumously reprinted in the
>Transactions of the New Shakspere Society in 1874, together with
>Spedding's essay of 1850. To it Spedding added a note:" These
>lines...are engraved under Simon Passe's print of James sitting on his
>throne; which formed the frontispiece to the collection of his works,
>printed in 1616. Whoever wrote them ought to have the credit of the true
>reading of the third line:
>
>   Crounes haue their compass ; length of days their date ;
>   Triumphs, their tomb ; felicity her fate ;
>   Of more then earth, can earth make none partaker,
>   But knowledge makes the KING most like his maker. " (20*)

Spedding made a few mistakes in his transcription, but he was correct
about the source of the lines, or rather about the source of the
earliest datable text of them.  These lines exist in many 17th-century
manuscript commonplace books, usually without any attribution.  In three
cases (all from the 1630s or 1640s at the earliest) there is an
attribution:  two manuscripts (Folger MS V.a.160, p.2, 2d series and
Folger MS V.a.262, p.131) attribute the poem to Shakespeare, while one
(Bodleian MS Ashmole 38, p.39) attributes it to Robert Barker, the royal
printer under King James and the co-publisher of the 1616 Workes.  The
attribution to Shakespeare was first noted by James Boswell in his 1821
Variorum edition of Shakespeare, and that's probably where Hickson got
it from.

For what it's worth, many of these MS copies of the poem appear to
derive not from the 1616 Folio of James' Workes, but from a series of
broadside portraits of King James and his family printed in 1619 by
Compton Holland, brother of the poet Hugh Holland.  These 1619 prints
were in turn based on a similar series of prints Holland had done in
1613.  The 1613 prints of James and Anne were each accompanied by a
four-line verse inscription; the lines under Anne's portrait had
appeared ten years earlier in the middle of a commendatory poem to Anne
in John Davies of Hereford's *Microcosmos* (1603), and would later
appear in George Wither's *Juvenilia* (1622).  The 1613 print of
Princess Elizabeth is accompanied by four Latin couplets and eight lines
of English verse signed "Io: Davies".  John Davies of Hereford was a
known friend of the Holland brothers, so it's not surprising that he
would have contributed such verses.  When Holland reprinted the
portraits in 1619 after the death of Queen Anne, he replaced the
original verses under James' portrait with the verses under discussion
(from the 1616 Workes), and he replaced the verses under Anne's portrait
with James' own funeral elegy on his wife.

Donald Foster discusses all this in his article "The Gift is Small, the
Will is All" in the Jay Halio Festschrift (published in 1998 or 1999),
and he suggests, on the basis of both internal evidence and the
Davies-Holland friendship noted above, that John Davies of Hereford
wrote the four-line poem we're discussing.  This may or may not be true,
but it's worth noting that the 1616 Folio of King James' works was
demonstrably not completed until late in the year, months after
Shakespeare's death.  This doesn't mean Shakespeare couldn't have
composed the lines earlier, but the additional attribution to Barker,
and the multiple connections to Davies of Hereford, make the attribution
to Shakespeare doubtful, at least for me.

Dave Kathman

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