The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0076  Monday, 18 February 2013


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

Date:         February 18, 2013 1:51:51 AM EST

Subject:     Revels Accounts


On 2/12 Tom Reedy argued:


> Regarding the two Revels Accounts books, the inks were

> tested 100 years ago. The results indicating the books were

> authentic, as well as much other evidence in favor of their

> being genuine, were given in Ernest Law's Some Supposed

> Shakespeare Forgeries (1911) A. E. Stamp showed that the

> wormholes penetrated the ink and paper at the same time in

> his address to the Shakespeare Association published as

> The Disputed Revels Accounts (1930).

> This is all old stuff. In the absence of any new information,

> to suspect that the account books are forgeries in this day is

> to ignore all the evidence that has been amassed demonstrating

> their authenticity.


Tannenbaum argues against Law, often quite effectively. That’s why it is a mistake to overlook his works. The topic can be difficult so I won’t fault Tom for his confusions. He mentions “results indicating the books were authentic . . . .” Law himself corrects Tom: “This being the result of the testing of the playlist of 1604-5, it was obviously superfluous to subject the less impugned one of 1611-12 to any similar analysis” (71). So why “books”? Tannenbaum prints James Dobbie’s report of the “ink used in writing an Account Book of Revels in the year 1604-5 . . . .” He was speaking of “Book A,” not “B.” Apparently Dobbie never saw the latter—why not? (His report mentions a letter of request about A only, the document brought to him.) The tests, such as they were, were easy to duplicate. Is it possible that the learned chemist was the victim of a shell game? Might he have recoiled to see the characteristics of ‘Book A’ replicated in ‘B’ (a “glistening gummy appearance” that “in drying has frequently shrunk . . . forming fissures and cracks”)? We’ll never know, but it seems Sir James and his curiosity weren’t “in the loop.” I believe modern investigation of both ‘books’ is imperative. In case Tom asks, I’ve not “read much Law,” but this looks a bit crooked to me. Thanks for its online whereabouts.


I won’t take Tom too much to task for unobservant reading because he’s not alone. Although in 1928 Tannenbaum responded largely to Law and Wood, who rely on (and misrepresent) Dobbie, Dr. T. reported: “The Books of Revels for 1604-5 and 1611-12 were . . . submitted to Professor Dobbie.” As no one quotes a word from Dobbie about the 1611-12 account and since Law says it wasn’t examined, Tannenbaum must simply assume B came along for the ride. The assumption seems to be held by others who tack on an exam. Although Dr. T. observes that Dobbie reports only on Book A (8), he helps to confuse readers.


Wood reports that the “chemical composition of the ink has been tested at the National Laboratory and . . . adjudged to be all of the same date and all ancient” (Dr. T., 7). But Dobbie wrote, “There is no evidence in my opinion to support the suggestion that the writing on pages 3 and 4 is of a different date from the writing on the remainder of the document.” Tannenbaum observes that “He does not say that the ink is ancient; he does not say that the writing is ancient or genuine” (8). And he didn’t see Book B, as far as we know.


As for the chemical examination, Tom is right that “this is all old stuff.” Scientifically, it is a century too old. Spin hasn’t changed too much, but chemistry has. In the horse-and-buggy days ink of the traditional kind could not be dated, as Dobbie would have known. He held that Book A’s ink is the same throughout. That is not true of B, which he didn’t examine. But no one (in modern times at least) suggests the suspected forgeries are added to the original accounts (with minor exceptions). Tannenbaum argues that the playlists are combined with legitimate entries and that the entirety is rewritten.


Is Tom arguing that “in the absence of any new information” no new information should be sought? That doesn’t sound quite right to me. I prefer the advice of a certain Peirce Penniless: do not stand in the way of inquiry. Even the complacent should encourage research.


The wormholes in the six pages of Book A might be “red herring holes.” Stamp doesn’t “show” much of anything in his book. There’s not much info to go on without new investigation. I agree with Tannenbaum’s main point on this. Greg said the holes are “of such crucial significance” that he spent some time arguing they had spoilt Tannenbaum’s “transmitted light” photograph, which led Dr. T. to a mistaken interpretation. This circumstance led Greg to a greater disparagement of photography in the investigation of forgery. Tannenbaum responded that in “no way is the point of ‘crucial significance.’ Even if Dr. Greg were right in every detail it would prove only that as regards this point I made a mistake or was misled by a poor photograph; it would not prove the documents genuine” (More about the Forged Revels Accounts, 1932, p.27).


Greg mentions of the holes at 4A that a “minute examination proves the surface of the paper to be absolutely intact . . . . The lighter marks . . . are in two instances slight irregularities in the wire-marks, in the rest minute worm-holes . . . .” (T. 1932, 27). He doesn’t mention any ink and Tannenbaum notes, “the only worm-holes which have been mentioned hitherto occur in the margins where there is no writing . . .” (1932, 33). I agree with Tannenbaum that closer study of these holes is in order (if hardly necessary), including testing of any ink. Otherwise, speculations pro and con have no real value.


Following Osborn (the bibliotist), Tannenbaum put great stock in photography as a tool. His examination was of enlargements and photos from varying lighting. His book illustrations are facsimiles, not photos. Insofar as he hadn’t access to the originals he wasn’t able to act on Osborn’s directive to check against originals; in consequence Tannenbaum does put too much trust in photographs. As a rule they are trustworthy and valuable aids, as the literature suggests. Greg overplayed his “originals” hand more than Tannenbaum did his photos. Obviously, the most up-to-date techniques should be used to examine the documents and care should be given to avoid “experts for sale” or otherwise biased testing.


Read closely, the argument goes to Tannenbaum, in my opinion. He makes many more valid points and relies on proper science. But the case won’t be settled without another (fair) go-round.


Gerald E. Downs


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