The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0717 Friday, 4 August 2006
From: Gerald E Downs <
Date: Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 17:07:03 EDT
Subject: The Collier Leaf, part 3
The independent case Adams made against forgery of the Collier Leaf was
weak. His undoubted besting of Tannenbaum was able to serve instead.
That study was soon followed (if 'soon' accounts for World War II) by
J.M. Nosworthy, who not only accepted Adams's opinions, but who
attempted to strengthen the case against forgery in "The Marlowe
Manuscript" (Lib., 4th ser.. xxvi, 1946, 158-71). Nosworthy is generally
cited for having accepted the leaf as genuine. But Petti suggests, ". .
. his arguments cannot be accepted unreservedly . . .", and the
scholarly, highly critical R E Alton approaches contempt for the
arguments of both Adams and Nosworthy.
Nosworthy's article is an excellent example of bad argument. For
example, he suggests that Collier's faulty transcriptions help to prove
that he was not the leaf's forger:
Verso l. 28: in Censte
Collier, first transcript: incest
The word is perfectly clear and Collier's ridiculous blunder
can only be the result of cursory reading and unintelligent
transcription . . . . the error is one that no forger would be
likely to devise.
Verso l. 29: yt of itself was hote enoughe to worke
Collier, first transcript: That if it self . . .
It was not Marlowe's custom to compose nonsense, and this
line as it stands in the earlier transcript is . . . nonsensical.
Such a blunder seems hardly likely to be a delusive subtlety.
The whole point about these errors is that they can only be
the result of a very hasty perusal of the manuscript . . . The
errors are, in effect, inexcusable in anything but the most
hasty of transcriptions.
Contemplation of Marlowe's custom begs the question of forgery. But
Nosworthy is right to say the errors seem impossible. 'in Censte' is
very clearly written (meaning 'incensed') and the 'o ' in ' of ' could
not more clear. This raises two issues, one inherently more 'iffy' than
the other. First, Collier advertised his transcript as literatim, and
he was quite familiar with the handwriting of the age. Next, he had on
other occasions mistranscribed his forgeries in order to give the
impression that he was troubled by the writing. It would be unusual if a
scholar didn't make an occasional error, and perfect transcripts would
actually cause rather than allay suspicion. Anyone familiar with this
forger knows he took advantage of the naive trust of his victims, who
only reluctantly came to suspect him. Even in his defense he offered up
For example, to give insight into Collier's mind, consider these two
occasions: Defending his "discovery" of a list showing a performance of
Othello in the Bridgewater Library, Collier says:
My object [in speaking with H.J. Todd, former librarian,
[then (typically) deceased] was to gain from him some
information respecting the MS. . . . and I could learn no
more from him than that he [had seen the MS.]. . . In fact,
part of the direction of a letter to . . . Todd remained
between the leaves to keep the place, when I saw the
book. (Ingleby, Complete View, 266)
Collier first asked Todd about the document. To prove Todd had seen it
before him, he found a letter addressed to Todd with the manuscript. He
did not produce the letter. No one today will believe such a "dog ate
the document" provenance. Yet the brazen Collier dared friend and foe
alike to believe. His scorn was surely most reserved for those who
swallowed his "delusive subtlety."
Protesting his innocence of the forged actor's list in the Dulwich
Manuscripts, Collier described how his friend Thomas Amyot (dead by
1850) had seen the document:
Moreover, to set this matter completely at rest, I have
now before me Malone's copy of his Inquiry (8vo, 1796),
as annotated by him for a second edition: it is full of
scribbled scraps and notes with information, not contained
in the first edition, and on the back of a letter addressed
to "Mr. Malone, Queen Anne Street, East," is the very
list of players in question.
Malone had copied the list onto a letter addressed to himself, a letter
Collier didn't produce. Does this sound familiar? That's Collier, who
was capable of anything that would allow gullible persons to accept his
forgeries. In his day, credulity ruled. But I agree that these
particular errors are too much, and I offer a possibility that may
account for them. Collier announced the Marlowe leaf in 1825. As far as
we know, he didn't produce it until after 1831. It may not have existed
before then, or he may have forged a replacement for his "original."
Collier's early transcript may have been of the original forgery of the
scene, written on a quarto leaf, and having writing more fitting to the
errors of transcription, such as an 'o ' that looks like an 'i '. If
Collier produced a later version of the leaf, he may have been forced to
put it on a folio remnant, but copied the lines in such way as to reduce
the credibility of his early transcript. I don't put any stock in this
speculation, but it is not precluded by our present knowledge.
Collier's scholarship is amply demonstrated. It is most impugned by
those who wish to see him as incapable of forgeries. He was, however,
uniquely able. If he had really discovered a fragment that he believed
may have been in the hand of an Elizabethan playwright, he most likely
would have taken care in copying. The fact that his transcript is
corrupt suggests disingenuousness rather than incompetence.
Yet these features of Collier's transcripts are the only evidence that
Nosworthy adduces beyond Adams's article to proclaim the convicted
forger innocent in this case. Whereupon he says:
Once Collier is vindicated, there is . . . no real justification
for assuming that the leaf may have been forged by some
unknown hand. However, this possibility may be briefly
considered for the sake of thoroughness. (160)
What I propose is to leave Collier in the running. Compared to
Nosworthy's strawmen he is Haystacks Calhoun.
To begin, Nosworthy denies that anyone from the 18th Century would have
the motive to forge a scene from Massacre at Paris. He's probably
right. Next, he asserts what becomes a refrain; that it was "a most
unlikely play for any forger to select." (161) A forger's choice of
material is his own. Collier's selection covers a very wide ground, but
there is usually good evidence showing why he had an interest in forging
the matter he did.
[W]e must postulate a counterfeiter who was familiar with
Elizabethan orthography and punctuation, was at home with
the Elizabethan vocabulary, and was capable of reproducing
Marlowe's style with astonishing fidelity while basing that
reproduction mainly on the two parts of Tamburlaine at a
time when Marlowe's authorship was repudiated by Malone,
as later by Broughton and Robinson. (162)
No one was more familiar with Elizabethan literature in his day than
John P Collier. A reproduction of style based mainly on two other plays
(and on other parts of The Massacre at Paris), that also reproduces most
of a short scene, adding a handful of lines, can hardly be
"astonishing." The fidelity is little other than use of vocabulary from
the above named plays.
In Collier's time Marlowe's canon was disputed, and Collier led the
fight to establish Tamburlaine as his. These connections will be noted.
[T]here are one or two spellings in the manuscript which
could only occur to a fairly experienced student of phonology.
The spellings 'tale' [tall] and 'folishe' are uncommon and
indicate a knowledge of Elizabethan pronunciation and
some awareness of the development of the corresponding
vowel sounds in Middle English.'ser' [sir] is a recorded
Middle English spelling.
Tall, foolish, and sir were the type of words for which spelling
normalized by the late 16th century. Middle English has little to do
with it. These spellings strike me as overzealousness by the modern
speller trying to seem old fashioned. Besides, Collier is proved by his
forgeries and legitimate work to have been familiar with spelling of the
Nosworthy notes vocabulary and concepts in the leaf that are similar to
those used by Marlowe, which he says are "unlikely to occur to a
forger." A forger has a world of books, events, usages, and concepts
from which to choose. Obscurity is his stock, but he needn't
encyclopedic knowledge to ply the trade. He needs directed research,
wide reading, and imagination to come up with something 'unlikely to
occur to a forger.'
Let's take these lines from Guise's speech after the murder.
Hold thee tall soldier. Take thee this and fly. 21
Thus fall, imperfect exhalation,
(Which our great sun of France could not effect),
A fiery meteor in the firmament.
Lie there, the King's delight, and Guise's scorn. 25
Revenge it, Henry, if thou list, or dar'st.
I did it only in despite of thee.
All but lines 22 - 24 are in the Octavo.
Tamburlaine 1487: As when a fiery exhalation
2 Tamb. 3193-4: And kindle heaps of exhalations
That being fiery meteors , , ,
2 Tamb. 3558: Who now with Jove opens the firmament
How difficult would it be for a forger to cull these words from the
other plays? He of course could have left these alone and borrowed
others equally effective, and equally demonstrative of Marlowe's usage.
The rest of the passage simply contains nothing beyond the scope of a
casual lifting of terms from the same and similar sources. Collier was
most familiar with every facet of Elizabethan dramatic literature. But
what specifically had he to do with Marlowe?
In _Reforming Marlowe_, Thomas Dabbs gives a revealing history of
Collier's interest in Marlowe. We may recall that Nosworthy thought it
significant that the authorship of Tamburlaine was undecided. Dabbs notes:
Specifically, in order to emphasize Marlowe's important
role in the development of drama, Collier tried to validate
two important features of the playwright's life and work
through forgery. First, he attempted to prove beyond doubt
that Marlowe was the author of Tamburlaine . . . . Second,
he attempted to establish that Marlowe was an actor.
. . . in 1831, Collier claims to have "found" proof that
Marlowe did in fact write Tamburlaine. In _The History
of English Dramatic Poetry_, he announces an entry in
Philip Henslowe's diary that had "escaped the eye of
Pd. To Thomas Dekker, the 20th of Desember, 1597,
for adycyons to Fosstus twentye shellinges, and fyve
shellinges more for a prolog to Marloes Tamburlan . . .
When Collier announces it as having been overlooked by an earlier
scholar, it is usually a forgery. This one is well known. Collier's
intent was to prove to others what he had already pronounced. Another
aspect of his M-O.
The following doggerel rhyme demonstrates how Collier's
interests in Marlowe's works were in fact obsessive.
Collier "found" the lyric on the title page of a play called
An Alarum for London, which he assigned to Marlowe.
Our famous Marlow had in thys a hand
As from his fellowes I do understand
The printed copie doth his muse much wrong
But natheless manie lines are good and strong
Of paris massaker such was his fate
A perfitt coppie came to hand to late.
According to Bakeless, this forgery fooled virtually
no one. And no good reason has been offered since to
suggest that the play was written by Marlowe. Bakeless
also maintains that Collier even wrote his own name,
"J. Payne Collier" on the title page and later inked over
it to make it read S. Leighe Collier." [This is confirmed
by the Freemans.] This particular effort to misrepresent
the authorship of a little-known play, when there seemed
to be no advantage in doing so . . . provides an insight
into the psychology behind Collier's forgeries.
It suggests that Collier's intent in the doggerel was to validate
Massacre at Paris as Marlowe's, and at the same time perhaps to verify
the Collier Leaf as representative of the original play as opposed to
the badly printed version, to which the forged verse directly alludes.
Massacre editor Esche says that "Collier never claimed that the leaf was
in Marlowe's hand"; but he doesn't cite Collier's words:
[I]t perhaps formed part of a copy belonging to the theatre at
the time it was first acted, and it would be still more valuable
should any accident hereafter show that it is in the original
handwriting of Marlow.
Not quite a claim, but definitely a suggestion. It was Collier's
practice to let others take the final step in recognizing the value of
his discoveries. The 'accidents' Collier refers to have occurred to some
extent. Collier's ballad was no accident, though it would have served
had it been accepted. Halliwell's purchase of the Leaf began a wishful
series of ownership culminating in the Folger acquisition. Modern values
inflate the worth of old documents to the extent that suspicion is apt
to be cast aside.
Nosworthy followed the lead of Adams and Greg in assuming "foul papers"
status for the leaf. One of his reasons is that "Corrections are made
currente calamo." In contradiction, the latest and most judicious
authority Werstine remarks:
The leaf bears no sign of free composition: not so much as
a single letter, let alone a word, has been erased (that is,
crossed out), and so there has been absolutely no revision
either currente calamo or afterward. There are also none of
the other signs that, according to Greg, mark "fowle papers".
Van Dam seconded that opinion in 1934: "Neither can it be part of
Marlowe's 'foul papers,' for there is nothing foul in it, at least not
in the technical sense." Alton cogently faced the issue of whether the
leaf is a first draft:
[Adams] would clearly like to believe in his non-existent case,
for, unable to deny one of the most striking characteristics of
the manuscript, namely that, as Tannenbaum pointed out,
"There is not in these thirty-six lines a single correction
suggestive of an author's first draft", [Adams] produces in
explanation the following fantasy: "Alterations, however, . . .
would be introduced in the final transcript." I resist the
temptation to add 'sic'.
In other words, Adams postulates for his 'first draft' hypothesis that
an author saves his corrections for his 'last draft', denying all we
know from study and personal experience. Alton is my kind of guy. He
sees through the phony argument, the kind made by one who disbelieves
his own case, but who expects to convince others:
The argument throughout this history of wishful thinking
continues at the same extraordinary level. . . . Like Adams,
[Nosworthy] wants to believe that the scene is in Marlowe's
handwriting, and therefore accepts unquestioningly that it
is a "tentative draft' . . . He disposes . . . of the view that
the manuscript might be a copy of Marlowe's draft by the
following remarkable statement: "But the leaf looks more
like an original than a copy, for no copyist would be guilty
of all the blemishes and irregularities that it contains." . . .
However, Nosworthy is as conscious as Adams that the
leaf contains no corrections of the sort to be expected
in an author's first draft and he produces an explanation
less fantastic than Adams's but no more convincing:
"the speeches were carefully thought out before they were
set down on paper". Apparently not carefully enough to
prevent Marlowe from making errors of a kind normally
found in the work of a partially attentive copyist. . . .
Nosworthy lists six . . . and uses them as evidence, first
against forgery, . . . and secondly in favour of the process
of composition, which errors of this type are surely not.
There is no evidence, then, that the leaf is in an author's hand. The
great likelihood is that it is a copy, no matter how well thought out.
And a forger would of course compose his work before setting it to a
valuable leaf from a bygone era. But a forger is easily distracted by
his need to form letters credibly, and that can lead to errors.
We should turn to the leaf itself in a quest for anything that may
suggest forgery. Collier's story of it's provenance leads us to suspect
him of its manufacture, especially when his motives and related
forgeries are taken into account. However, the question of forgery can
only be answered ultimately by close examination of the writing and its
The writing should be put to every test and examined for anomalies by
unbiased experts. Literary analysis is a secondary consideration, which
anyone may indulge in. In this case, Van Dam's article on the leaf is
(as usual) a very good place to start. He rejects foul paper provenance
but accepts the leaf as copied from a theatrical manuscript.
As noted by others, the number of detached letters is most unusual for
what purports to be a cursive hand. This feature would make it easier
for a forger to give the impression of casual freedom, when logically it
is a sign of non-expertise. However, the copyist may have truly not
been fully adept.
The writer treats some letters differently. a and o are most always
detached; e is almost always connected to the next letter. In these
respects, the writing is consistent, and the penman is not wholly
practiced. For example, Petti remarks the unusually simple p, but it is
always written in the same way. Nevertheless, many oddities occur to
Tannenbaum's notice that should be independently judged for signs of
The leaf has v for initial u, as one would expect, but v for medial v;
usually u is written for medial u, which indicates the beginning of a
modern look. However, in some words a v is used for medial u, as in
mvrthered, dvke, and Intrvsione. This is unusual, but not unprecedented.
And that is as far as I got. Gerald E Downs
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