John Payne Collier English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...
and forger, was born in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
Reporter and solicitor
His father, John Dyer Collier (1762–1825), was a successful journalist, and his connection with the press obtained for his son a position on the Morning Chronicle
as leader writer, dramatic critic and reporter, which continued till 1847; he was also for some time a reporter for The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...
. He was summoned before the House of Commons in 1819 for giving an incorrect report of a speech by Joseph Hume
Joseph Hume FRS was a Scottish doctor and Radical MP, born in Montrose, Angus.-Medical career:He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and moved to India in 1797...
. He entered the Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn...
in 1811, but was not called to the bar until 1829. The delay was partly due to his indiscretion in publishing the Criticisms on the Bar
(1819) by "Amicus Curiae."
Controversial Shakespearian scholar
His leisure was given to the study of Shakespeare and the early English drama. After some minor publications, he produced in 1825–1827 a new edition of Dodsley
Robert Dodsley was an English bookseller and miscellaneous writer.-Life:He was born near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, where his father was master of the free school....
's Old Plays
and in 1833 a supplementary volume entitled Five Old Plays
. In 1831 appeared his History of English Dramatic Poetry and Annals of the Stage to the Restoration
, a badly arranged but valuable work. It obtained for him the post of librarian to the Duke of Devonshire
William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire KG, PC , styled Marquess of Hartington until 1811, was a British peer, courtier and Whig politician...
, and, subsequently, access to the chief collections of early English literature throughout the kingdom, especially to the treasures of Bridgewater House
Bridgewater House is at 14 Cleveland Row, Westminster, London, England. It is a Grade I listed building.The earliest known house on the site was Berkshire House built in about 1626-27 for Thomas Howard, second son of the Earl of Suffolk and Master of the Horse to Charles I of England when he was...
. In 1847 he was appointed secretary to the Royal Commission on the British Museum
The Royal Commission on the British Museum was set up to review the activities of the British Museum particularly in relation to its Library....
Collier used these opportunities to effect a series of literary fabrications. Over the next several years he claimed to find a number of new documents relating to Shakespeare's life and business. After New Facts
, New Particulars
and Further Particulars respecting Shakespeare
had appeared and passed muster, Collier produced (1852) the famous Perkins Folio
, a copy of the Second Folio
Second Folio is the term applied to the 1632 edition of the works of William Shakespeare, following upon the First Folio of 1623.Much language was updated; there are almost 1,700 changes from the First Folio....
(1632), so called from a name written on the title-page. In this book were numerous manuscript emendations of Shakespeare, said by Collier to be from the hand of "an old corrector." He published these corrections as Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare
(1852) and boldly incorporated them in his next edition (1853) of Shakespeare.
Their authenticity was disputed by S.W. Singer in The Text of Shakespeare Vindicated
(1853) and by E.A. Brae in Literary Cookery
(1855) on internal evidence. In 1859 the folio was submitted by its owner, the Duke of Devonshire, to experts at the British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...
; the emendations were incontestably proved to be forgeries of modern date. Collier was exposed by Nicholas Hamilton in his Inquiry
(1860). The point whether he was deceiver or deceived was left undecided, but the falsifications of which he was unquestionably guilty among the manuscripts at Dulwich College
Dulwich College is an independent school for boys in Dulwich, southeast London, England. The college was founded in 1619 by Edward Alleyn, a successful Elizabethan actor, with the original purpose of educating 12 poor scholars as the foundation of "God's Gift". It currently has about 1,600 boys,...
have left little doubt respecting it. He had produced the Memoirs of Edward Alleyn
for the Shakespeare Society in 1841. He followed up this volume with the Alleyn Papers
(1843) and the Diary of Philip Henslowe
He interpolated the name of Shakespeare in a genuine letter at Dulwich, and the spurious entries in Alleyn's Diary
were proved to be by Collier's hand when the sale of his library in 1884 gave access to a transcript he had made of the Diary with interlineations corresponding with the Dulwich forgeries. No statement of his can be accepted without verification, and no manuscript he has handled without careful examination, but he did much useful work. He compiled a valuable Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books in the English Language
(1865); he reprinted a great number of early English tracts of extreme rarity and rendered good service to the numerous antiquarian societies with which he was connected, especially in the editions he produced for the Camden Society
The Camden Society, named after the English antiquary and historian William Camden, was founded in 1838 in London to publish early historical and literary materials, both unpublished manuscripts and new editions of rare printed books....
and the Percy Society
The Percy Society was a British book-club. It was founded in 1840 and collapsed in 1852.It was a scholarly collective, aimed at publishing limited-edition books of rare poems and songs...
His Old Man's Diary
(1871-72) is an interesting record, though even here the taint of fabrication is not absent. Unfortunately, what he did amiss is more striking to the imagination than what he did aright, and he will be chiefly remembered by it. He died at Maidenhead
Maidenhead is a town and unparished area within the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, in Berkshire, England. It lies on the River Thames and is situated west of Charing Cross in London.-History:...
, where he had long resided, on 17 September 1883.
For an account of the discussion raised by Collier's emendations, see C.M. Ingleby
Clement Mansfield Ingleby was a Shakespearian scholar, perhaps best remembered as John Payne Collier's nemesis.-Early life and education:...
, Complete View of the Shakespeare Controversy
In the later twentieth century, some scholars attempted a re-evaluation of Collier, defending him against the charge of forgery. The main effort was by Dewey Ganzel, in his 1982 study Fortune and Men's Eyes.
In Ganzel's view, Collier's accusers were motivated largely by envy and class bias; they were upper-class dilettantes determined to put down a lower-class but ferociously hard-working and talented striver. The case for Collier has relied on the fact that not all of the accusations of forgery against Collier have stood up to critical examination. (The American psychiatrist Samuel A. Tannenbaum
Samuel Aaron Tannenbaum was a prolific early-20th-century literary scholar, bibliographer, and palaeographer, best known for his work on William Shakespeare and his contemporaries....
accused Collier of forging all
the accounts of the Master of the Revels
The Master of the Revels was a position within the English, and later the British, royal household heading the "Revels Office" or "Office of the Revels" that originally had responsibilities for overseeing royal festivities, known as revels, and later also became responsible for stage censorship,...
, an accusation that went much too far.)
The consensus of scholarly opinion has remained convinced of Collier's guilt. Samuel Schoenbaum
Samuel Schoenbaum was a leading 20th century Shakespearean biographer and scholar.Born in New York, Schoenbaum taught at Northwestern University from 1953 to 1975, serving for the last four years of this period as the Frank Bliss Snyder Professor of English Literature. He later taught at the City...
, in his discussion of the Collier case, mentions a damning incident omitted by Ganzel. In his old age in 1875, more than thirty years after the Perkins folio, Collier claimed in a letter to possess a John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...
folio "full of Milton's brief notes and references; 1500 of them." By this time his reputation was so tarnished that he was not able to launch another campaign of forgery, and while the "Milton" folio indeed exists (New York Public Library), the annotations are not by Milton.
A two-volume study by Arthur Freeman and Janet Ing Freeman, published in 2004, re-examines the evidence and concludes yet again that Collier was a forger.
Ganzel has written in response to the Freemans' study, "He (Freeman) assumes Collier's guilt and that leads to looking at Collier's work with the expectation of finding fraud....my study revealed what was the irrefutable evidence that he was a victim of a conspiracy of which Frederick Madden was a part...Freeman starts with a criminal; I tried to end up with a man. Freeman says that in 'suspending judgement' of Collier's guilt 'one forfeits the opportunity to explain him at all'. That confusion leads to only one kind of explanation of the events he describes, and, for me, not a very satisfactory one. The point is, the crimes are not 'unproven'; the perpetrators are."
Perhaps Schoenbaum is correct in leaving the final word to Collier himself. In the last few years of his long life, Collier expressed moments of remorse in his diary. On 19 February 1881 he wrote, "I have done many base things in my time—some that I knew to be base at the moment, and many that I deeply regretted afterwards and up to this very day." And on 14 May 1882: "I am bitterly sad and most sincerely grieved that in every way I am such a despicable offender[.] I am ashamed of almost every act of my life...My repentance is bitter and sincere[.]"
Frank Kermode maintains that Collier's "repentance would have been more useful if he had identified his fabrications and forgeries."
An article in the March, 2010 edition of 'Family History Monthly' by Richard J. Westall, Collier's great-great-grandson, entitled 'To forge or not to forge?' summarises Collier's supposed forgeries and quotes the note dictated by Collier to his daughter shortly before his death: 'I have written much in verse and prose, but can confidently say that I never produced a line, either in verse or prose that was calculated to be injurious either to morality or religion'. Ganzel suggest Collier's so-called 'confession' was in reference to the fact that he had not accepted certain Christian beliefs. Arthur Freeman maintained in a letter to Westall that 'we never presume JPC guilty until the evidence is sifted', which, Westall remarks, 'hardly squares with the disparagement made in their (the Freemans') biography of those who 'high-mindedly' suspend judgement, stating such an approach 'forfeits the opportunity to explain him at all'.