‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Thursday 29 August 2013

On Maturity, Christianity, Bombs

Thinking about childishness. Yesterday, I observed a group of 13/14-year-olds in Bracknell Waterstones larking about (it being school holidays) and despite the sour glances of middle-aged book-browsers. Not me: I approve of kids larking about on principle. The principle, precisely, of kiddishness. But then one of them rebuked the others, in that owl-hooty, deep/suddenly-piping/deep-again voice adolescents use: 'oh God you're so immature!' I remember that from my own school days: 'immature' was a frequently deployed put-down. How we yearned to be mature! To be suave, confident, to smoke cigarettes and have kneeling women clutching our left-hand-sides whilst we stared moodily out at camera with our arms crossed, like James Bond. Now that I am mature I have to say: I am/do none of those things. But I wasn't to know that in 1978.

Now, in one sense, the desire to be 'mature' is very obviously a good thing: It's one of those magnetic forces drawing us through teenagerdom towards the Land of Grown Up. But it has its pernicious side. Or do I mean: the Land of Grown Up has comprehensively misunderstood what 'maturity' means? There's a reason why it's kids who fret most about it.

These thoughts have been occasioned by my listening to a number of Christian commentators on the radio about the current situation in the Middle East. I wonder about a particular tangle of motivations in the souls of Christians who seek to engage with the larger world, especially those who think such engagement must involve sending in 'our' military. What interests me is how such Christians square their faith with their ideology. I don't say so in a sneering way, incidentally: for though there doubtless are hypocrites amongst the ranks of Christians, as there are amongst every other group, many believers strive in good faith to constellate what the New Testament tells them about turning the other cheek and becoming again as a little child, and what their heads tell them about the need to engage in the world in a more -- shall we say -- mature manner than that.

I often feel that many Christians labour with a buried, or half-buried, sense of 'all that peace, love and forgiveness stuff is fine for kids; but sadly we are grown-ups and must deal with a grown-up world.' A little while ago I wondered whether the enduring appeal of Lewis's Narnia books doesn't have something to do with this, the way those novels elevate the Lion of Judah ('an aspect of Christ only marginally adumbrated in the Bible') to the central expression of the messiah’s nature.
The lamb pops up too, from time to time, in the later books; but you can’t help feeling that, subconsciously, Lewis just wanted a more carnivorous Jesus than the one supplied by his actual Bible. A Christ with bigger teeth.

This is political too, of course; and for many (genuine, devout) Christians part of the struggle of their faith is precisely to find a way of decanting off all the hippy, Communist, wimpiness with which their saviour is characterised in the NT. There is a certain type of Conservative for whom, the cosier he is at home, the more he feels that Christian values of ‘love’, ‘mercy’, ‘forgiveness’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ are best manifested in the world via helicopter gunships, daisycutters and the sanctioned torture of tan-skinned detainees.
That last bit is a touch snidely put, I concede; but there's a real question behind my rhetoric. The question is: why do we tend to assume, in our post Lord of the Flies, post-Battle-Royale world, that becoming again as a little child is the same thing as abduring violence? Do we really think kids aren't violent? The issue is maturity; and violence, whatever else it may be, and whatever other satisfactions it offers us, is not mature. The moment when you stop debating with somebody and instead punch them on the nose is the moment your maturity deserts you. The thought of all those fireworky explosions going off in Syria (boom! smash! crash!) is the sort of thing that delights a 5-year-old, not a 35-year-old.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Gulielmus Howardus

Following up on this speculation about the identity of Shakespeare's sonnets and their dedicatee, Mr W.H., I have been in a more-or-less desultory manner searching for any other dedications to William Howard from the 1590s and 1600s. I haven't found any, but I did find this. It is a 1592 edition of Florence of Worcester's Chronicon ex chronicis (from the early 12th-century), edited by 'William Howard'. Is it my man?

Now the William Howard I'm interested in (eldest son of the Lord High Admiral, Baron Howard of Effingham) was born in 1577. That means he turned seventeen in 1592, when this book was published. Accordingly it is unlikely, to say the least, that this is the same William Howard. Except, except! Could editing the Chronicon ex chronicis have been, as it were, a scholar's task given to a bright schoolboy by his tutor?

The book is dedicated to William Cecil, Lord Burleigh. One relevant context here has to do with the main factions at Elizabeth's court. One such faction comprised supporters of Burleigh, amongst the most prominent of whom was Charles Howard -- his company of players, the Admiral's Men, was known for its pro-Burleigh bias. Another consisted of supporters of Essex, to whom Shakesperare's Lord Chamberlain's men are sometimes thought to have inclined. Given that the bibliophilic Burleigh was a family friend of the Howards, it would perhaps make sense for a young W.H. to dedicate his project to 'GULIHELMO CECILIO, BARONI DE BURGLEGH'
Cum nuper, vir honoratissime, nonnulli venerandae antiquitatis admiratores, mihi cupidius instarent, ut hunc libellum apud me latentem, non tam quidem stylo tersum, ac oratione politum, quam inventu rarum et lectu jucundum divulgan pateret, nimis inhumanum videbatur tam aequum flagitantibus non annuere, praesertim cum publica multorum utilitas, privatae meae solius voluptati merito sit praeferenda. Horum precibus, quas pro postulati aequitate repudiare non debui, et pro necessitudinis vinculo diutius sustinere non potui, jam tandem victus concessi. Jamque operi e tenebris in lucem prodituro patronus defuit. Unus occurrebas eo nomine inprimis dignus. Hoc igitur qualitercunque elaboratum, umbra tuae amplitudinis, tanquam praecipui literarum Maecenatis, tegere ausus sum, tum ob solidissimum tuum in iisdem judicium, tum propter eximium amorem, quo id genus studii fautores prosequi semper dignatus es. Nec dubito quin pro tua solita et singulari bonitate, quae mihi nunquam defuit, conatus hosce meos in alienis vigiliis edendis, quum nihil dignum oculis, dignum auribus tuis meo Marte proferre valeo, tanquam grati animi et summorum tuorum erga me beneficiorum non obliti pignus sis accepturus: pro quibus, quod solum possum, semper et ubique me tui observantissimum fore et polliceor et praestabo. Amplitudinis tuae deditissimus, GUIELMUS HOWARDUS.
Which means:
It is only recently, my most honourable lord, that various admirers of venerable antiquity eagerly brought this little book out of its hiding place and pressed it upon me, not only, indeed, on account of its polished oration, but that I am always keen to find such rare works for the delight both of reading them and (my pen cleaned and ready) of disseminating them to the world; so that it seemed to me a cruelty to deny their request [to publish it], especially since the work in question tends not only towards private pleasure but towards the public good. I could not reject the fairness of the petition or ignore their entreaties, on account of the bond of solidarity I hold with them; and unable to hold out any longer, I have at last now acceded to them. So that now only a patron is lacking to help the work emerge from the darkness and into the light. Your name was the first to present itself: one most worthy to the task. Therefore, whether the work be well done or not, I have taken the liberty of hiding it beneath the ample shade cast by your mighty name, as important to literature as was Maecenas himself; you yourself being as renowned for your fine judgement as for the love with which you support this manner of study. I have no doubts concerning your singular virtue, and never have doubted it whilst I laboured editing these efforts; that where my sense of gratitude, though unworthy of your eyes and ears, my great Mars, can at least pledge my indebtedness to the high honour of serving you, the honour of which is always and everywhere most evident to me, and I promise so to continue.
Your most devoted WILLIAM HOWARD
Which is so far, so conventional. What about the epistle to Howard's 'candid readers'?
Ecce, benigne lector, tot evolutis saxulis prodit in lucem, et censurae tuae se subjicit opusculum: si auctorem quaeris, Florentii eruditi Wigoruiae monachi: si originem, ab ipsis mundi incunabulis ad Henrici Primi, regis Angliae, tempora deductum: si materiam, tam extra quam domestica gesta continens: et nisi multorum, quod vix fieri posse arbitror, erret judicium, quod praelo mandetur inprimis dignum. Hoc cum jamdiu intra privatos parietes conclusum latuisset, quorundam bortatu animum induxi meum, sumptus aliquos et operam meam in eodem divulgando impendere: maxime in eorum gratiam, qui se totos huic nunquam satis laudato studio devoverunt. Ut autem ad hujus operis pleniorem cognitionem, tanquam Theseo filo, ducaris, liceat mihi bona tua cum venia te prагmonere, auctorem in sua annorum computatione duas observare series, unam secundum Dionysium, cui in vertice paginae haec nota S. D. prаsfigitur: alteram secundum Evangelium, cui ex adverso S. E. indicis loco praeponuntur. Quas quidem series xxn. annis inter se discrepare invenies. ******** Quantum ad historiam spectat, ab antiquo exemplari ne latum quidcm unguem discessi; quo factum est ut nonnuuquam coactus fuerim aliqua manca et mutilata relinquere, cum nullum aliud adesset exemplar quod istius lacunas supplere posset. Hujus operis, ut ante dixi, auctor fuit Florentius, ecclesiae cathedralis Wigorniae monachus, qui historiam suam ab initio mundi ad annum a partu Virginis M.cxviii. deduxit, in quo vitatn una cum opere finivit, quod inde postea ab alio ejusdem ceenobii viro, anonymo, usque ad annum M.cxLi. fuit continuatum: quanto vero ulterius ac nostro saeculo vicinius illa se extendat historia incertus sum, propterea quod libellus unde continuationis illius pars desumitur, aliud est ejusdem auctoris opus, sed imperfectum in fine: quem libellum mihi utendum tradidit dominus Gulielmus Lambardus, cujus multiplicis et non vulgaris eruditionis passim extant pulcherrima testimonia. Quod solum restat, hortarer te, amice lector, nisi eo te duceret naturae tuae candor, ut errata, quae inter excudendum irrepserunt, studio et ardore meo placendi tibi condones. Quod si feceris, sumptui ac operae meae, si quae fuit, abunde satisfacies: et alios pariter incitabis, ut majorum nostrorum lucubrationes, tenebris obductis, quarum quamplures adhuc extant, ad publicam potius utilitatem divulgent, quam ad suam voluptatem sibi detineant. Vale. Calend. Aug. м.dxcii.
Which begins:
Behold (gracious reader) how after the lapse of so many years this little work is produced into the light, and submits itself to your censure. You ask me how it can be that Florence, one of the learned monks of Worcester, was correctly able to lay out things from the very cradle of the world to the time of Henry the First, King of England: and how he was able correctly to record both domestic and also continental affairs.
And ends:
It only remains to urge you, dear reader, to draw on the excellence of your own nature and pardon any mistakes which may have crept into the printing, excusing them as marks of my enthusiasm and eagerness to please you. If you do, the cost and labour expended on this work will be amply repaid if only it encourage others to look again at the lucubrations of our ancestors (many of which are yet extant, though obscured in darkness) in order to publish them for the public good, rather than be occupied only by their own pleasure. Goodbye. Aug. 1592.

Does this sound like a young and eager scholar? Could it be this William Howard? Hints in that direction: a 'stylus tersus', a wiped or cleaned pen, is something a schoolboy might use. The exaggerated respect for 'venerable ancestors' reads, perhaps, like a youngling sucking up to his elders, as does the reference to 'studio et ardore meo' in the epistle. The reference in the dedication to the book being brought to him, even of its being pressed upon him, rather than it being something he himself discovered, reads to me like a student recording the imposition of a scholarly task.

UPDATE. A piece of evidence from this Book Auction catalogue from 1904, which records the sale of a copy of this very edition, inscribed on the cover: 'Gulielmo Lambardo dedit dominus Gulielmus Howardus', which is to say: 'Lord William Howard gave this to William Lambarde.' (The catalogue dates the book to '1570' in error). William Lambarde (1536-1601) was this fellow: he knew Elizabeth personally, and was a family friend of the Howards'.

SECOND UPDATE. Here's another piece of evidence, not only that our William Howard (ie the son of the Lord Admiral) was the editor of this edition, but that he was sometimes addressed, his nobility notwithstanding, as 'Mr': it's William Cave's Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Historia literaria (1688), where the edition of 'Florence of Worcestor's Chronicon ex chronicis is recorded as having been edited for publication by 'nobilissimus Vir Gulielmus Howardus, postea Comes Northamptonensis'; 'the most noble Mr. William Howard, afterwards Earl of Northampton' (the capital 'V' of 'Vir', there, shows that Cave doesn't mean 'that most noble man ...' but rather 'the most noble Mr. W. H.').

PS. Howard's edition was printed by 'Thomas Dawson for Richard Watkins'. Watkins' apprentice, Richard Bonian, published a licensed edition of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida in 1609 (the year the Sonnets were published). As for Thomas Thorpe, publisher of those sonnets and author of the dedication to Mr. W.H.: well, Sidney Lee's 1905 life of Shakespeare, quoting Arber’s Transcripts of the Registers of the Stationer’s Company, tells us that Thorpe was an innkeeper’s son from Barnet, who was in ‘midsummer 1584 ... apprenticed for nine years to a reputable printer and stationer, Richard Watkins. Nearly ten years later he took up the freedom of the Stationers’ Company, and was thereby qualified to set up as a publisher in his own right.’ That means that William Howard very likely had dealings with Thomas Thorpe in 1592, as he brought his schoolboy Latin project to the press.


FINAL UPDATE. All for nothing! Turns out this edition has nothing to do with the Admiral's son, whatever William Cave thought in 1688. It was edited by a different, much older Lord William Howard (1563-1640). Judging by his DNB article, he was something of a dangerous fellow, politically. But none of this is of any use to me; for this W.H. is too old for the Sonnets. Bah!

Monday 26 August 2013

Some responses to "Eric, or Little by Little"

The coming academic year sees me teaching (amongst other things) a course on Childrens’ Literature. I am starting the process of getting my bits and pieces together with regard to that, and generally girding my loins. Loin-girding. Fitting girders to those loins, good and proper.

Now: one of the set texts I'm assigning them (I rub my hands in secret glee) is Farrar’s Eric, or Little by Little (1858). It’s on the syllabus because a major strand of the 20-week course is school literature, up to and including Harry Potter. And Eric was staggeringly influential and popular in its day; it’s one reason the name ‘Eric’ came into 20th-century vogue. But it is, let’s make no bony bones about it, very bad indeed. Here’s Jeffrey Richards, in Happiest Days: The Public Schools in English Fiction (Manchester University Press 1988), summarising reactions:
Few best-sellers can have been so reviled and excoriated over the years as Dean Farrar’s Eric, or Little by Little. It has consistently earned such critical judgments as ‘mawkishly false’ (Vivian Ogilve), ‘a preposterous book’ (John Rowe Townshend), ‘the sort of story Dr Arnold would have written if he’d taken to drink’ (Hugh Kingsmill), ‘terrible warnings, soaked in nauseously cloying piety’ (Roger Lancelyn Green), ‘the only book I ever wanted to lose’ (Eric Ambler), ‘the nightmare emanation of some morbid, introverted brain’ (Edward C. Mack), ‘one of the most idiotic books of the nineteenth-century’ (Benny Green). The undoubted immortality of Eric is, then, as one historian has put it, ‘an immorality of derision.’ [70]
That’s posterity. What about the book’s contemporaries?
The criticism began as soon as the book was published. Writing in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1861, W Lucas Collins said of the book, ‘A more utter failure can hardly be conceived. Seldom has a book been written with such an excellent intention, by a scholar and a gentleman, which is so painful to read.’ He admitted its popularity, which he attributed to the general interest in school stories, the authority of the author as a Harrow master, and the sensationalism and ‘painful and repulsive details of the story’, which ‘confirmed all that anxious mothers had always feared and half-believed of the enormities of large schools.’ But he deprecated the sensationalism (‘granting the facts, we can see no sufficient motive for dragging such a miserable history into the daylight’) and the excessive emotionalism. … The Saturday Review complained ‘we can scarcely imagine a less healthy book to put into a boy's hand’, pointing to the dangers of inculcating priggishness, self-importance and a morbid self-consciousness. It also poured scorn on the excess emotionalism:
Its general tone is uniformly sad and this sadness is heightened artificially. To say nothing of three more or less violent deaths, two of which involve angelic deathbeds, everything is served up with tear sauce. The boys quote hymns, and to the infinite indignation of all English readers, occasionally kiss each other.
Experts on children’s literature were soon expressing doubts similar to those of the critics. In 1869 Charlotte Yonge described Eric as that morbid dismal tale, which we hope no mother or boy ever reads, since it can answer no purpose but to make them unhappy and suspicious, besides that it enforces by numerous telling examples that the sure reward for virtue is a fatal accident. [70-72]
There's something glorious about that Saturday Review piece. As to why such tosh became so widely read and influential: well that’s a large question, and for another day.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Alt-historical India and Afghanistan, 1842

Via American adventurer (and prototype for Kipling's Dravot), Josiah Harlan, who won the right to the title Prince of Ghor by training troops for Indian leaders, and generally adventuring around that part of the world in the 1820s and 1830s. His A Memoir of India and Avghanistaun: With Observations on the Present Exciting and Critical State (1842) is available on Google Books. And he's not kidding: he is convinced that British India was teetering on the very brink of catastrophic destruction.
The tenure of British India, and consequently the integrity of the British empire, is at this moment sustained by a single hair, and that so tensely drawn that the slightest adverse movement will certainly snap asunder the retaining power. The thousand native princes of India are regarding with intense anxiety and ardent hopes the movements of the British army before the Khyber pass, and the fate of General Sale at Djillalabad. Every able-bodied man, whose numbers are not less than five millions, covetous and exasperated enemies, is standing with "the foot in the stirrup and hand on the spear," gloating on the hope of plunder which the traditions of old age have placed in fascinating visions before them. The sentinels are in the watch-towers and their runners are in the way,—and the earliest promulgation of the last reverses of the British in Avghanistaun will signalize the destruction of every Englishman throughout the whole of India. If the Avghans slaughter the remnant of British troops under General Sale at Djillalabad, and defeat the British army in its projected attempt to force the Khyber defile, the British power in India expires instantly, without a doubt, as it will without a struggle—except the death-throes of their officers, as the native army strangle them in their beds. The Indians can more readily perform than the Avghans could conceive. Simultaneous movement, whether the effect of design or fortuitous occurrence, or the consequence of circumstance, will eventuate in the same conclusion. So far in this massacre of the British army nothing has been effected to disturb the Anglo-Indian government. But the clouds that have gathered in the Indian Caucasus, and scathed with their lightning the British army, have not ceased to thunder on the invading host. Should they rain destruction on the beleaguered forces at Djillalabad, an electric shock will rapidly pass through the chain of connexion that unites the Indo-British empire throughout, and important consequences must ensue beyond the control of England, which will seriously derange the supremacy of that race in India. The Avghans can submit to be defeated daily during the next six months; news will reach us of the repeated decisive victories of the British forces; but we, who are acquainted with the value of an English bulletin, know that the repetition of a decisive battle implies the continual necessity for defensive operations— and the Avghans will conduct a guerilla warfare, which exhausts by the pertinacity of incessant assault. The English admit that their position cannot be maintained against artillery. Should Djillalabad be a defensible position against native aggression, which certainly is not the case, even in English hands, where the disparity of the antagonists is measured by thousands against hundreds in favour of the assailants, a deficiency of provisions will oblige these brave men to yield, not to their enemies, but to the dismal alternative of—death. Sir Robert Sale and the English troops under his command, when no other choice remains but the stipulation of death or dishonour will unhesitatingly prefer the grave of honour in place of honour's grave. [20-21]
That's telling us!

This is nearly two decades before 1857; but I don't doubt Harlan was right. It makes me wonder how the century would have shaken out if the British had been broken in India at the beginning of the 40s, as they could very easily have been. (Part of the cultural logic of 'Empire' is the way it retrospectively casts in marble what was, at the time, a much more friable, precarious edifice). A whole alt-historical story starts to spool itself out.

Sunday 18 August 2013

Mr W. H.: a New Theory

There has been no shortage of theories as to the full name of the person identified here as 'Mr W. H.':

Wikipedia supplies what it calls a 'non-exhaustive' list of possible candidates, some of whom are plainly sillier and less likely than others.
William Herbert (the Earl of Pembroke). Herbert is seen by many as the most likely candidate, since he was also the dedicatee of the First Folio of Shakespeare's works. However the "obsequious" Thorpe would be unlikely to have addressed a lord as "Mr".

Henry Wriothesley (the Earl of Southampton). Many have argued that 'W.H.' is Southampton's initials reversed, and that he is a likely candidate as he was the dedicatee of Shakespeare's poems Venus & Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Southampton was also known for his good looks, and has often been argued to be the Fair Youth of the sonnets; however, the same reservations about "Mr." also apply here.

A simple printing error for Shakespeare's initials, 'W.S.' or 'W. Sh'. This was suggested by Bertrand Russell in his memoirs, and also by Foster and by Jonathan Bate. Bate supports his point by reading 'onlie' as something like 'peerless', 'singular' and 'begetter' as 'maker', ie. 'writer'. Foster takes "onlie" to mean only one, which he argues eliminates any particular subject of the poems, since they are addressed to more than one person. The phrase 'Our Ever-Living Poet', according to Foster, refers to God, not Shakespeare. 'Poet' comes from the Greek 'poetes' which means 'maker', a fact remarked upon in various contemporary texts; also, in Elizabethan English the word 'maker' was used to mean 'poet'. These researchers believe the phrase 'our ever-living poet' might easily have been taken to mean 'our immortal maker' (God). The 'eternity' promised us by our immortal maker would then be the eternal life that is promised us by God, and the dedication would conform with the standard formula of the time, according to which one person wished another "happiness [in this life] and eternal bliss [in heaven]". Shakespeare himself, on this reading, is 'Mr. W. [S]H.' the 'onlie begetter', i.e., the sole author, of the sonnets, and the dedication is advertising the authenticity of the poems.

William Hall, a printer who had worked with Thorpe on other publications. According to this theory, the dedication is simply Thorpe's tribute to his colleague and has nothing to do with Shakespeare. This theory, originated by Sir Sidney Lee in his A Life of William Shakespeare (1898), was continued by Bernard Rowland Ward in his The Mystery of Mr. W.H. (1923), and has been endorsed recently by Brian Vickers, who notes Thorpe uses such 'visual puns' elsewhere. Supporters of this theory point out that "ALL" following "MR. W. H." spells "MR. W. HALL" with the deletion of a period. Using his initials W.H., Hall had edited a collection of the poems of Robert Southwell that was printed by George Eld, the same printer for the 1609 Sonnets. There is also documentary evidence of one William Hall of Hackney who signed himself 'WH' three years earlier, but it is uncertain if this was the printer.

Sir William Harvey, Southampton's stepfather. This theory assumes that the Fair Youth and Mr. W.H. are separate people, and that Southampton is the Fair Youth. Harvey would be the "begetter" of the sonnets in the sense that it would be he who provided them to the publisher, after the death of Southampton's mother removed an obstacle to publication. The reservations about the use of "Mr." do not apply in the case of a knight.

William Himself (i.e., Shakespeare). This theory was proposed by the German scholar D. Barnstorff, but has found no support.

William Haughton, a contemporary dramatist.

William Hart, Shakespeare's nephew and male heir. Proposed by Richard Farmer, but Hart was nine years of age at the time of publication, and this suggestion is regarded as unlikely.

William Hatcliffe of Lincolnshire, proposed by Leslie Hotson in 1964.

Who He. In his 2002 Oxford Shakespeare edition of the sonnets, Colin Burrow argues that the dedication is deliberately mysterious and ambiguous, possibly standing for "Who He", a conceit also used in a contemporary pamphlet. He suggests that it might have been created by Thorpe simply to encourage speculation and discussion (and hence, sales of the text).

Willie Hughes. The 18th-century scholar Thomas Tyrwhitt first proposed the theory that Mr. W.H. and the Fair Youth were one "William Hughes," based on presumed puns on the name in the sonnets. The argument was repeated in Edmund Malone's 1790 edition of the sonnets. The most famous exposition of the theory is in Oscar Wilde's short story "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.," in which Wilde, or rather the story's narrator, describes the puns on "will" and "hues" in the sonnets, (notably Sonnet 20 among others), and argues that they were written to a seductive young actor named Willie Hughes who played female roles in Shakespeare's plays. There is no evidence for the existence of any such person. However, several scholars in the early 20th century identified other persons with that name as possible candidates.
You'd think, given this wearyingly long list of possibles, that Shakespearians had exhausted all the relevant contemporaries whose initials were 'W.H.'. But not so! Behold my spanking new theory: the dedicatee is William Howard.

Who? Well, the same person to whom John Norden dedicated the Vicissitudo rerum in 1600:
To the Right honora-
ble Sir VVilliam Howard knight, the
Lord Howard of Effingham, Sonne and heyre
apparent to the Right Honorable Earle of
Nottingham, Lord high Admirall of England.
And which Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, Lord High Admiral of England is that, you ask? Why, this one. The same one who sponsored the Admiral's Men. That theatrical company second only to the Chamberlain's men (Shakespeare's company) in London for The Drama. The same Charles Howard who opposed the closing of the theatres in 1584, thereby earning the gratitude of all professional players (like Shakespeare). Whose company who is linked to the first performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III (indeed, latest scholarly opinion is that, at some point early in his career, Shakespeare must have been attached to the Admiral's Men himself). That Charles Howard. Might Shakespeare have good reason to dedicate his sonnets to the Earl's son, William Howard, born right at the end of 1577 and accordingly a toothsome 20-21 in 1598-99 when the sonnets were probably written? Who must have looked something like this:
That's William's grandfather as a young man; but the best I can do (and, you know: family resemblance, and all that). A fair youth, no?

It's all speculation, of course; but likelier than some. That Shakespeare, writing sonnets perhaps during the plague-related temporary closure of the theatres, might dedicate them to the son of the man who had kept the theatres open a decade and some years earlier? That he would have known the son of the patron of the company where he had worked, as a young man? That, talking not to the Earl himself (Lord High Admiral of England is pretty high), but to his son, a 'Mr' might not seem too demeaning? (William was a knight, but to re-quote the W. H.-ikipedia from above, 'The reservations about the use of "Mr." do not apply in the case of a knight') NOT TO MENTION!--lots of 'how' and 'ward' punning in the sonnets. To take the latter; and starting with one of the procreation sonnets ('The first 17 poems, traditionally called the procreation sonnets, are addressed to a young man urging him to marry and have children in order to immortalize his beauty by passing it to the next generation'):
Neither in in-ward worth nor out-ward fair,
Can make you live your self in eyes of men. [16]
Shakespeare was fond of this:
As thus; mine eye's due is thy outward part,
And my heart's right, thy inward love of heart. [46]
He talks of 'sure wards of trust!' [48]; splits sonnet 50 between 'how' and 'ward' (first line; 'How heavy do I journey ...'; last line: '... My grief lies onward); tells the addressee that he has 'prison[ed] my heart in thy steel bosom's ward' [133]; plays cryptic-clue games ('Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide'; take away the robe from wardrobe and you have the last syllable of W.H.'s name). Sonnet 51 ends with 'will' and '[ho]ward' in close proximity:
'Since from thee going, he went wilful-slow,
Towards thee I'll run, and give him leave to go.'
Then there's sonnet 62, which takes on a new meaning in the light of this hypothesis:
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
'Self love' because he (Shakespeare) is called Will, and he is in love with a man called Will; and that fourth line sits up a begs to be read as 'It is so grounded Howard in my heart'. Of 'How's, short for 'Howard' there are many many more. 'Who taught thee, How[ard], to make me love thee more?' 150; better still, 120:
O! that our night of woe might have remember'd
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
See? My deepest sense, Howard true sorrow hits! Really, once you start looking you find yourself thinking: how did nobody spot this before?

And I haven't even started on on my 'buried nautical references, by way of punningly honouring the son of the man who saved England from the Spanish Armada' theory yet.

Wednesday 14 August 2013


'It is an absurdity to try to be original. You might as well try to be beautiful, or intelligent.' C. H. Sisson, Art and Action (1965)

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Youthful radical, elderly conservative

I have a genuine question: we're all familiar with this ideological trajectory (youthful radical, elderly conservative). It strikes me as having two main iterations. One: the Saul-on-the-road-to-Tarsus version, where something happens, externally or internally, and Person A switches their ideological affiliation about recto-verso. Two: the My-Principles-Have-Remained-Consistent version. This latter interests me more, actually, because my proximate motivation for asking my question (yes, yes, I'll come to the question in a moment) is Coleridge, who was a youthful radical and became a Church-and-State Tory, yet who insisted repeatedly that his principles had not altered one jot. (A related version, though without the youthful radicalism, is Tim Rice's Genghis-gallop rightwards and consequent disaffection with the Tory party, of which he famously said: 'I didn't leave the Conservative Party; the Conservative Party left me').

So, my question: this is so common a feature of ideological life it must have been theorised, analysed, discussed and critiqued. But I can't think by whom, or in which books, essays or blogs. Do you know?