The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0717  Friday, 4 August 2006

From: 		Gerald E Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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 
the ridiculous.

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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