The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0715 Friday, 4 August 2006
[Editor's Note: Because I am leaving a several hours, I have not had the
time to thoroughly vet the following three long posting by Gerald E.
Downs. I trust that they do not contain any information that I would not
normally post to the list. Mr. Downs has in the past submitted many
essay length submissions. I believe that posts of this length belong
more appropriately on the web site in the "Papers by SHAKSPER-members
seeking critical advice;" but sense I have not established a formal
policy, I am going to let these through. -HMC]
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 17:06:23 EDT
Subject: The Collier Leaf, part 1.
A few years ago I read the literature arguing the legitimacy of the
"Collier Leaf" fragment of "The Massacre at Paris" now at the Folger
Library. The Freemans book on Collier does not add much. I have no plans
for my observations but I thought some list-members may be interested in
a (long) review of the case. Three separately mailed segments may make
Paul Werstine refers to the "Collier Leaf" in his article, "Plays in
Manuscript" (_A New History of Early English Drama_):
The provenance of this irregularly shaped partial
leaf is unknown, a circumstance perilous for the
erection of any scholarly conjecture, especially
in light of the existence for well over a century
now of an increasingly lucrative market for forgeries
of documents alleged to have been associated with
Shakespeare and his contemporaries. (491-2)
Werstine's further discussion of the Collier Leaf is not extensive, yet
anyone familiar with his work may presume that his cautionary words are
well supported. For example, T.J. Brown says, in "The detection of faked
Literary MSS", (The Book Collector, v2, #1): ". . . lack of a pedigree
or association, however remote, with a known or suspected faker should
be treated as danger signals." (8)
The Collier Leaf has no pedigree and was introduced by the prolific
forger, John Payne Collier. Yet Edward J Esche, recent editor of "The
Massacre at Paris" (Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, 1998), says
of this caution:
That Collier was a notorious forger of early documents
is not open to doubt, but to suppose that everything
he touched was forged is, in itself, weak thought;
in this case, he made an honest and lasting discovery
for Marlowe studies. (296)
No one suggests of Collier that "everything he touched was forged." But
'weak thought' is a necessary claimed if one is to ignore danger
signals. It is better to give due weight to Brown's advice by
investigating Collier's story of the leaf, relating it to his habits in
respect of other forgeries and by examining his motives. Once these
matters are studied, it is easy to conclude that acceptance of the
document is bad for Marlowe studies and, peripherally, Shakespeare studies.
Notwithstanding these warnings, there is no shortage of authoritative
opinion on the genuineness of the document. For example, J.Q. Adams in
"The Massacre at Paris Leaf" (The Library, 4th series, volume xiv, 1934)
Yet Dr. Tannenbaum confidently asserts: "We are forced to
conclude not only that the scribe was following a copy, and
that he was not skilled in writing the Elizabethan script,
but also that he was not an Elizabethan scribe" at all.
Remembering Shakespeare's warning "To vouch this is
no proof," and unwilling to advance my unsupported
judgement, I submitted the manuscript to Mr. Seymour
de Ricci, . . . [who] expressed "astonishment" that anyone
could regard it as a forgery; declared that "if ever a
manuscript was genuine, this one is."
Remembering Shakespeare's warning "To vouch this is no proof," Adams's
citation of de Ricci (unencumbered by argument) relies on the fallacious
"appeal to authority" and is of no great value.
Anthony G. Petti offers a more recent (1977) opinion in _English
Literary hands from Chaucer to Dryden_, denying (with at least some
argument) two of Adams's opinions:
The evidence, such as it is, indicates that the leaf is not
holograph, neither can the possibility of forgery be ruled out.
Tannenbaum's extensive evaluation in _Shaksperian Scraps_ argued
forcefully that the leaf was forged. Adams countered with a devastating
attack on Tannenbaum's faulty scholarship and argued not only against
forgery, but that the scene was probably in Marlowe's hand. J. M.
Nosworthy followed with a a literary defense of the leaf (Lib., 1946)
and further argument against forgery. These articles need to be examined
because they are much cited, but seldom read.
Petti and Werstine are correct: forgery cannot be ruled out. The leaf
must remain in evidentiary limbo, yet study of it can be rewarding for
other reasons. Much of the scholarship on the leaf is iffy, but spotting
bad argument is good exercise.
As is often the case, the ways of the scholars are more interesting than
their subject. Of course this goes double for J P Collier. Those few
still insisting on his innocence will reluctantly follow his trail of
crime, but it is essential to any effective study of the leaf.
Nonessentials abound, however. For example, Werstine cites the
"lucrative market" for forged documents. But the Collier Leaf belongs to
the Folger Library and has not been subject to market forces. Or has it?
Joseph Quincy Adams was appointed Director of Research at the Folger in
1932 and served till his death in 1946. Was he less likely to condemn
the only example of Marlowe's hand as a forgery when Mrs. Folger still
lived? Was it a conflict of interest to set himself as judge?
Werstine's commentary is in respect of W W Greg's naming the Collier
Leaf as an example of "foul papers," a category that Werstine denies as
demonstrable in dramatic documents surviving the era. He says Greg's
choice "seems desperate." It is likely that Greg cited the leaf
(Editorial Problem) not from conviction or desperation to prove the
concept of foul papers, but to support Adams's opinion as a courtesy. A
longtime Tannenbaum antagonist, Greg will have liked the thrashing
administered by Adams.
The Massacre at Paris may be found online. A quick read, the baddest
octavo in town is generally thought a memorial reconstruction. In the
scene the Collier Leaf revises, the Duke of Guise (leader of the
murderers of the Heugonots) hires an agent to assassinate Mugeroun, King
Henry's minion, who'd been shucking Guise's corn (so to speak): of which
cuckoldry Henry had guyed Guise:
Enter a Souldier.
SOULDIER. Sir, to you sir, that dare make the Duke
a cuckolde, and use a counterfeite key to his privie
Chamber doore: And although you take out nothing but
your owne, yet you put in that which displeaseth him,
and so forestall his market, and set up your standing
where you should not: and whereas tree is your Landlord,
you would take upon you to be his, and tyll the ground
that he himself should occupy, which is his own free land.
If it be not too free there's the question: and though I
come not to take possession (as I would I might) yet I
meane to keepe you out, which I will if this geare horde:
what are ye come so soone? have at ye sir.
Enter Mugeroun. He shootes at him and killes him.
Enter the Guise.
GUISE. Holde thee tall Souldier, take thou this and flye.
Lye there the Kings delight, and Guises scorne. Revenge it
Henry as thou list'st or dar'st, I did it only in despite
of thee. Take him away.___________________________
The recto of the Collier Leaf reads:
Enter A souldier with a mvskett
Now ser to you yat dares make a dvke a Cuckolde
and vse a Counterfeyt key to his privye Chamber
souldier thoughe you take out none but your owne treasure
yett you putt in yat displeases him / And fill
vp his rome yat he shold occupie. Herein ser
you fore stalle the markett and sett vpe your
standinge where you shold not: But you will saye
you leave him rome enoughe besides: thats no
answere hes to have the Choyce of his owne
freeland / yf it be not to free theres the
questione / Now ser where he is your landlorde.
you take vpon you to be his / and will needs
enter by defaulte / whatt thoughe you were
once in possession yett Comminge vpon you once
vnawares he frayde you out againe. therefore
your entrye is mere Intrvsione this is againste
the lawe ser: And thoughe I Come not to keep
possessione as I wolde I mighte, yet I Come to
keepe you out ser. yow are wellcome ser have at you
Enter minion he kills him
minion Trayterous guise ah thow hast mvrthered me
Hold thee tale soldier take the this and flye Exit
Guise thus fall Imperfett exhalatione
which our great sonn of fraunce Cold not effecte
a fyery meteor in the fermament
lye there the Kinges delyght and guises scorne
revenge it henry yf thow liste or darst
I did it onely in dispight of thee
The first scholar to examine the leaf with any real punch (though he led
with his chin) was Dr. S. A. Tannenbaum, whose commentary included more
than 100 notes, mostly on the handwriting. He pronounced the leaf a
Collier forgery. Tannenbaum reproduced Collier's introductory remarks
and published clear photographs of both recto and verso. The
doctor/scholar was erratic, but never more discombobulated than in this
article, which must have been a hurriedly written last chapter. Reliance
on photographs for his palaeographic analysis and overconfident
expectation of a cut-and-dried case led Tannenbaum into many errors.
His first mistake was of protocol. Joe Q Adams wrote the forward to
_Shaksperian Scraps_ surely unaware of a Collier Leaf chapter.
Otherwise, he would have informed Dr T of his objections before
publication of the book, where the first-year Folger Director seems to
subscribe to shoddy scholarship and a disagreeable finding on a valuable
document. Dr T's judgment gave Adams both the motivation and the tools
to respond personally with an unanswerable rebuttal. The questions could
have been addressed jointly by friendly adverseries.
Adams effectively destroyed Tannenbaum's credibility, but discovery of
false argument does not always decide scholarly issues. They are decided
by valid argument (all of it, pro and con). I believe Adams let his
advantage in credibility serve as refutation, and that the arguments he
put forward in favor of authenticity are wrong or of too little value to
decide the issue.
Do any of Tannenbaum's arguments carry weight? I think they may, and
some may be expanded. Unfortunately, the clash of scholars in one
generation often keeps a topic from full consideration in the next.
Suspected forgery should be examined. Petti says, "The Massacre at Paris
does in fact provide an important test case, and the literature
concerning it is deserving of scrutiny on the question of method" (34).
In his first comment on Collier's introduction to the leaf, Adams says
that in 1825 Collier called attention to the ms., "then in the hands of
Rodd, the London bookseller, and printed an inaccurate transcript of it,
perhaps hurriedly made in the dealer's shop" (447).
What did Collier really say as editor of a reprint of Dodsley's _Old
Plays_ on this crucial matter of provenance?
A curious MS. fragment of one quarto leaf of this tragedy
came into the hands of Mr. Rodd of Newport-street not
long since, which, as it very materially differs from the
printed edition, is here inserted literatim. (244)
A veteran Collier watcher on reading this passage might raise one
eyebrow, but not the other. He will have seen these 'seven kinds of
Collier does not say the leaf was then in the hands of Rodd. Rather, it
"came into his hands." He does not say whether the leaf was acquired by
Thomas Rodd or his father, who had recently died. The younger Rodd might
well have disavowed knowledge of the leaf without discrediting Collier
in the least. What does "not long since" mean? Nothing, really. The
transcript is not 'literatim' but inaccurate.
Adams compliments Tannenbaum's transcript, accomplished on a few hours'
visit to the Folger. Dr T himself said he did not have time to inspect
the writing. Yet the already experienced Collier made mistakes, a few of
which are inexplicable. Can we be certain that his errors were caused by
The 'fragment' is a portion of a foolscap folio leaf, not a quarto leaf,
as Collier would have known. Can this error be ignored? Tannenbaum
found the lack of pedigree and Collier's account of the discovery
(impossible to corroborate) to be evidence of forgery. Adams said this
argument was "without force" and unworthy of comment (467). On the
contrary, Petti notes:
But any manuscript purporting to be a few hundred
years old which has no traceable lineage or even
immediate history must, of course, be immediately
The question is not merely of evidence, but also of attitude. If one is
inclined to take Collier at his word on provenance of the leaf, one will
not question the ambiguities. Yet if we assume forgery it is apparent
that Adams drew conclusions that Collier would have hoped for while
leaving himself plenty of room to disavow guilt, even to the extent of
not producing the document. I will return to this subject and its
Adams describes the leaf as 7-1/8 inches high and 7-7/8 wide, the bottom
portion of a page. Partial leaves are easily had. Adams argues that the
leaf is most likely an example of "foul papers" (first-draft writing),
leading to this statement:
If this explanation . . . [is] correct, the natural inference, of
course, would be that the writer was Marlowe himself; yet,
in the absence of any recognized specimen of Marlowe's
hand, we can not be certain. (450)
Certain or not, this is the inference Greg made use of to find an
example of foul papers, and the inference that Nosworthy followed in
making his literary case for Marlowe as author of the scene. But, as
Werstine notes, the
handwriting bears no resemblance to the single signature
ever attributed to Marlowe; yet if the fragment is to be "fowle
papers" the handwriting would have to be that of the play's
The Marlowe signature referred to was discovered in 1939, and no one
seems to question it. R E Alton countered an amateurish attempt to prove
the Collier Leaf holograph from comparison to the signature. Esche's
edition of "Massacre" cites some of Alton's expert testimony in TLS,
There are between the signature and the leaf many striking
variations of detail which are not susceptible to such an
explanation: that the ascending loop of h should have
acquired an angle, or that in all positions, including the final,
the descender of y should have been all but doubled in length,
can hardly be called simplifications, nor can the Massacre
scribe's remorseless separation of letters be excused as
"a necessity for a man who has much writing to do" (297).
Here we see at a glance the difference between Alton's descriptive,
objective argument and the stupidly subjective quotation he ends with.
Cursive styles (even the Secretary hand unfamiliar to modern eyes) are
meant for rapid writing. Busy writers would not ordinarily separate
cursive letters without being slowed down, or without adopting the
simpler Italic. One of the most noticed features of the Collier leaf is
the large number of unconnected letters. That method would be easier for
a forger, who could concentrate on fewer letters at a time. The argument
for authenticity would better fit an unschooled writer (a real
possibility). Alton continues:
The signature is full of character, with firm alternations of
pressure and pronounced horizontals: the hand of the leaf
is flat, lacking in currency and grace. It would be hard to
conceive of two hands which belonged to the same type
(the Secretary script) and yet were more distant in general
appearance and in detail; the dissimilarities go far beyond
the discrepancies to be expected between a man's
signature and his normal hand. (297)
So much for Marlowe's hand: his literary presence is another matter. But
now, if any credence is given Adams's rationale for "foul papers", it
indicates forgery or an unpracticed scribe copying a scene for no
apparent reason on a loose, irregular leaf. The latter alternative
should not be arbitrarily denied. Adams himself said that
It is difficult to believe that a contemporary transcriber would
use for this purpose an awkwardly shaped scrap of paper,
would write so carelessly, or would leave one side of the leaf
But he would have been forced to believe it had he known of the Marlowe
signature and if he still rejected the possibility of forgery.
Adams's critique of Dr. Tannenbaum need only be reproduced in part to
show its effectiveness and that those arguing issues may be defeated by
carelessness and foregone conclusions. Tannenbaum was capable of better.
1) Dr T wrote: ". . . the leaf shows a vertical crack or crease along
its whole length, as if the leaf had been folded . . . Another
characteristic indicative of forgery is the fact that the writing was
done after the paper had been creased and folded. . . . a sixteenth
century scribe or author would not have been likely to use a folded sheet."
Adams replied: "Dr. Tannenbaum was here cruelly deceived by his
photographs. . . . The wrinkling obviously came about after the writing
was done; so high and uneven is it that to write over it would be quite
impossible. . . in places the wrinkle has been pressed . . . in such a
way as to make the paper overlap some of the pen strokes. . . . Even if
the scrap of paper had been 'folded', the scribe would have cared
little, so long as he could freely write across the crease."
The paper was not folded, as the photos had made it seem; they wrongly
indicated too that the writing was across a fold. Misled, Tannenbaum
worsened his error by the subjective opinion that a folded leaf would
not be used, an irrelevant supposition at best, since the paper had not
2) Adams replied to much of Tannenbaum's analysis of the writing. Of
'Cuckolde' (line 2), Dr T said, "The downstroke of the C was made
hesitantly, and the writer made a new start near the bottom of the
initial descending curve."
Adams: "The main body of the letter seems to have been written with one
continuous stroke . . . . Dr. Tannenbaum was deceived by a small blot of
ink where the crossbar, later added, passed over the wet, 'descending
3) Dr T noted that at line 29 in the word 'worke', the r is dotted.
Adams says, "The dot is merely a small orange-colored stain . . ."
To be continued: Gerald E Downs
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