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Yale University Press
John Payne Collier: Scholarship and Forgery in the Nineteenth Century, Volumes 1 & 2

John Payne Collier: Scholarship and Forgery in the Nineteenth Century, Volumes 1 & 2

by Arthur Freeman, Janet Ing FreemanArthur Freeman


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John Payne Collier (1789–1883), one of the most controversial figures in the history of literary scholarship, pursued a double career. A prolific and highly influential writer on the drama, poetry, and popular prose of Shakespeare’s age, Collier was at the same time the promulgator of a great body of forgeries and false evidence, seriously affecting the text and biography of Shakespeare and many others. This monumental two-volume work for the first time addresses the whole of Collier’s activity, systematically sorting out his genuine achievements from his impostures.
Arthur and Janet Freeman reassess the scholar-forger’s long life, milieu, and relations with a large circle of associates and rivals while presenting a chronological bibliography of his extensive publications, all fully annotated with regard to their creditability. The authors also survey the broader history of literary forgery in Great Britain and consider why so talented a man not only yielded to its temptations but also persisted in it throughout his life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300096613
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 07/11/2004
Series: Elizabethan Club Series
Pages: 1532
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Arthur Freeman and Janet Ing Freeman are widely published independent scholars living in London.

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John Payne Collier

Scholarship and Forgery in the Nineteenth Century
By Arthur Freeman Janet Ing Freeman

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2004 Arthur Freeman and Janet Ing Freeman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-09661-3

Chapter One

The Life of John Payne Collier

PART ONE 1789-1820

'Nonsensical as it may seem', John Payne Collier reflected at the brash age of twenty-two, 'it gives me some pleasure to think that the period at which I was born was marked by some extraordinary occurrence'-echoing, if unwittingly, the boast of Owen Glendower, with no Hotspur to prick his conceit. His nativity, in the 'great dawn' of 1789, fell just six months before the storming of the Bastille, but other datemarks would now seem more relevant: one year after Byron, three before Shelley, and seven before Keats. Longevity personified, Collier died in September 1883, surviving the Romantic trinity by six decades, and his mid-life friends Thackeray and Dickens by thirty and twenty-three years. The 'Nestor of English Literature' (as one obituarist called him) was still at ninety intent on contextualizing his own life, weaving together in halting memoirs his recollections of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and Leigh Hunt, of actors and theatres, publishers andnewspapers, book collectors and libraries, and reminding posterity of the formidable service to literary history that his own nearly two hundred publications had already rendered. To some extent we have followed our subject's lead in examining his vast and chequered output in its immediate setting; for while the culture of earlier centuries became his effective milieu and refuge, he laboured, accomplished, and transgressed in his own. This long-lived custodian of the literary past-a more than proprietary and less than scrupulous keeper, be it said-was no less a child of his protracted time.

He was born on 11 January 1789 in New Broad Street in the City of London, the first son and the second of five children of a cultivated and initially well-to-do young couple, John Dyer Collier and Jane Payne. Both parents came of respectable mercantile stock, from families accustomed to providing their offspring with both practical education and some kind of material legacy, as individual circumstances might permit. Circumstances for the London Colliers and the infant John Payne would rapidly alter, although an inherited tradition of professional independence endured. So, stubbornly, did the strain of intellectual invention, perceptible for at least two generations before John Payne himself exhibited its best and worst aspects. As a family they functioned, cooperated, and struggled, and as a family the Colliers, with John Payne in their midst, may first be considered.


In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries there were Colliers or Collyers in the vicinity of Witney, Oxfordshire, who operated fulling-mills-factories for processing woollen cloth-and the family still retained a modest interest in at least one in John Payne's day. Jeremy Collier (1650-1726), the famous nonjuring historian and controversialist whose best-known work is an extended attack on the corruptness of the Restoration stage, is supposed to have been 'distantly related', but no real evidence of this survives. John Dyer Collier's father, John, however, was a considerable figure whose activity bridged commerce and literature.

Born in Stoke Newington (North London) about 1732, John Collier studied medicine in Edinburgh and in 1756 set up an apothecary's practice in Newgate Street, in the City of London. He married Mary Dyer, the daughter of a wholesale linen-draper, through whom his business prospered, and his relatives now included the Maltbys of Norfolk as well as the eminent Calamys, traditional dissenters, or 'noncons', as his descendants faithfully remained. Grandfather John was able to purchase a sleeping partnership in the firm of John Devaynes (Apothecary to the Queen's Household and to the Charterhouse), moved to Charterhouse Square, and had accumulated a small fortune of u40,000 or u50,000 by 1785, when he sold his practice and abruptly retired. At Theobald's Park in Hertfordshire (1785-89) and Amersham and High Wycombe (1790-93), the apothecary devoted himself to authorship, publishing at High Wycombe in 1791 a massive paraphrase of the Bible 'intended for the perusal of the young', Historical and Familiar Essays on the Scripture of the Old Testament (2 vols.), followed in 1797 by two further volumes of Historical and Familiar Essays on the Scripture of the New Testament. Later he would gather, again for 'my young Friends', Essays on the Progress of the Vital Principle from the Vegetable to the Animal Kingdoms and the Soul of Man, Introductory to Contemplations on Deity (1800), dedicated to his cousin Edmund Calamy of Lincoln's Inn; and finally he turned from juvenile instruction to 'addresses and consolations to the old' with Thoughts on Reanimation, from the Reproduction of Vegetable Life, and the Renewal of Life after Death of Insects; Containing a Brief View of Nature, as She Is Fulfilling Her Benevolent Designs in the Two Systems (1809), an appropriate last topic for the valetudinarian.

John Collier's two sons, Joshua and John Dyer, attended Charterhouse School in nearby Charterhouse Square, where John Dyer learned Latin and Greek, and picked up French and a smattering of Italian. But Charterhouse was not succeeded by Oxford or Cambridge, a decision-possibly reflecting religious considerations-that John Dyer bitterly resented in later life. Their father had determined that both male children should be merchants, and gave them each u10,000 at their coming-of-age, a gesture evoking (perhaps deliberately) the appropriate parable. Unfortunately for the family, both sons' speculations mirrored those of the more celebrated Old Testament beneficiary.

Joshua, the elder brother, invested his stake capital in shipping and the oil trade, and with the increased popularity of natural gas lost not only his original u10,000 but a further large sum advanced him by his father, and having brought the latter into a partnership that failed, the whole of John Collier senior's life earnings were 'swallowed up by bankruptcy'. Joshua had married one Jane Landon, the daughter of a silk merchant-'reckoned handsomer but not so engaging as my mother', his nephew remarked-whose personal fortune was luckily secured in trust and remained unattached by her husband's creditors. An inheritance from old John in 1816 would later provide Joshua with a modest annuity, and after about 1802 he spent much of his time in France, latterly separated from his wife and six children; he was contemptuously described by Henry Crabb Robinson in 1823 as 'a common gambler' (HCR Diary, 1 November). But John Payne Collier remembered his paternal uncle as generous, and indeed his own family sought refuge with Joshua's in their lean times. Like all the Colliers, Joshua had a scribbling bent, contributing papers to the Philosophical Magazine and Nicholson's Journal, and composing at least three short replies to well-known writers on accountancy (E. T. Jones) and political economy (Malthus and Baron Lyndhurst).

John Dyer Collier turned twenty-one in 1783. He soon put his u10,000 birthright into importing Spanish Merino wool, like the oil trade a promising business but headed for trouble. He travelled in Spain, where he learned Spanish well enough to impress a law court some twenty years later, and in March 1786 married Jane Payne, the lively and intelligent daughter of a deceased sugar refiner of Rutland Place, Upper Thames Street, who had le her u7,000, yielding an ultra-secure u120 a year. The couple took a smart house at 36 New Broad Street, where their first daughter, Jane, was born on New Year's Day 1787. Their first son, John Payne, followed in just over two years.

John Dyer and his wife were intellectually demanding parents, and John Payne's personality and career owe perforce to their influence. A conventionally stable upbringing, however, was not one of their gifts to the child, although John Dyer's first financial reversal cannot have been all his fault: the French Revolution, that 'extraordinary circumstance' which tickled John Payne's sense of destiny, spelled disaster for the Spanish Merino wool supply. It also wrought havoc in the domestic wool-spinning industry of England, and John Dyer was not an isolated victim. In the autumn of 1789 the Colliers gave up their house in New Broad Street and decamped to Leeds, where John Payne's earliest recollections include a bee-sting, an amputated chilblain, and 'the large dog bringing in a bone from the churchyard and being beaten for it'. The family remained at Leeds for about thirty months, while John Dyer struggled to salvage his business. But Saxony wool had won the day, and John Dyer was obliged to payoff his Spanish contracts out of his own funds, his coadjutants having shrewdly fixed everything in his name. He seems narrowly to have skirted bankruptcy, and the family was now dependent upon Jane's inherited income alone.

With no professional training and no obvious prospects, John Dyer Collier migrated with his wife and three children (Mary, or 'Polly', was born at Leeds in late 1791) to his father's retreat at High Wycombe, and subsequently to cheap lodgings with a shoemaker at Worthing. Tempers became strained; John the apothecary was in no position to help, with his savings under siege from Joshua's creditors; and John Payne remembered his mother 'often in tears' (JPC Memoirs, p. 14). By 1793 they were installed in a small cottage at Thames Ditton, across the river from Hampton Court, where John Dyer, now aged thirty-two, and self-instructed from his father's cast-off Blackstone, commenced to read for the bar.

A fourth child and second son, Richard Price-named after another famous 'noncon' and family connection, the Newington Green moralist and political philosopher (1723-91)-was born at Thames Ditton when John Payne was five. One further son, William Field, was later christened with the name of Jane Collier's brother-in-law, a tallow importer who provided the family with a brief and unexpected period of prosperity in 1795-98. Still reading law while coping with creditors and a 'bad ague' contracted while bathing near his riverside cottage, John Dyer had reluctantly assumed the management of an unpromising soap factory in Great Suffolk Street, Southwark, at Field's invitation. After a short stay with uncle Joshua in nearby West Square, the family took up quarters in the factory building, and by dint of hard work and a 'glib tongue' in merchandising John Dyer turned the business around. In less than four years of administration, with Jane's help as bookkeeper, he more than doubled its output and banked a personal dividend of u2,500; whereupon William Field sought to restrict his manager to a fixed salary, and John Dyer Collier resigned in a huff. In the summer of 1798 he converted his entire savings from the soap business into a 250-acre farm at Abridge near Epping, which proved an unmitigated disaster. For nearly four years, remembered John Payne, he 'struggled on, from bad to worse ... finally lost all his capital and was made bankrupt. He was in confinement part of the time & the misery and grief to us children and our mother is not to be described.' Their only unassailable income was again Jane's u120 a year, and by mid-1802 John Dyer and his long-suffering wife, with five children under age sixteen, were once more at loose ends in London. Joshua took them in briefly, and John the apothecary (who had resumed his practice after losing his own savings in Joshua's failure) managed some help; they took lodgings in Lambeth, with an engraver who taught Jane the rudiments of his trade, and subsequently in Pimlico. With the prospect of a late legal career yielding to family demands, John Dyer Collier at forty became, in the words of his friend and creditor Henry Crabb Robinson, 'a bookseller's fag' (HCR Reminiscences, i:218). Authorship, journalism, reportorial and editorial work became the mainstay of the Colliers henceforth.

Henry Crabb Robinson

Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1869), lawyer and literary enthusiast, often characterized as 'the diarist', was John Dyer Collier's junior by thirteen years, and Jane Payne Collier's by seven. The son of a staunch dissenting family of tanners in Bury St. Edmunds, he had been denied, like John Dyer, a much-desired university education. Throwing up a legal apprenticeship in Colchester, he came to London in April 1796 to seek work as a solicitor's clerk, but a timely inheritance freed him from wage-slavery. So provided, from the outset of his cosmopolitan bachelor career he expressed strong Republican sympathies and a literary taste more radical and prescient than most of his dilettante contemporaries, including the Colliers. By 1799 he knew Thomas Holcro , William Hazlitt, and William Godwin personally, and was reading Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, and Lamb, all later to be intimate friends. But the acquaintance which he himself says 'changed the whole course of my life' was with John Dyer Collier, his wife, and his children, especially John Payne; Robinson's diary, reminiscences, and voluminous correspondence remain, after John Payne Collier's own writings, the most significant source for any account of the early life of the latter, and for our purposes invaluable.

In his first years in London Robinson frequented the evening 'forums', public (but polite) debates on social issues held at Coachmaker's Hall and elsewhere, and before June 1797 had observed from afar one 'occasional speaker of extreme liberal opinions who was distinguished from all others by an aristocratic air-his voice very sweet tho' feeble-his tone that of a high bred man.... He was accompanied by his wife, one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.' They met briefly, and on 13 July Robinson encountered Jane at another forum in company with a friend, a Miss Dawson. Carriages being unavailable after the debate, Robinson gallantly escorted the ladies home to Southwark, and a few days later John Dyer called on the young clerk to thank him. An invitation to dine at the soap factory followed (13 August), and an association that endured for the lifetimes of all was begun. 'My intimacy with [John Dyer] encreased and during my life to no family have I ever been so much indebted for happiness as to the Collier family', wrote Robinson (always a bachelor) nearly fifty years later. And having loyally concealed his own feelings for Jane-despite seven years of sharing a roof and three decades of personal correspondence-he committed them retrospectively to paper in 1846: 'Of Mrs Collier I will say only thus much, that of all the women I have ever known she is the one with whom I should have been most willing to have passed my life in marriage'-adding, immediately, 'Now, their eldest son John Payne Collier, the editor of Shakespeare, is one of my most respected friends' (HCR Reminiscences, i:91).

Robinson continued to visit the Colliers at Hydes Farm in Essex, while John Dyer mismanaged his capital away. In January 1799 the younger man lent his friend u400, which predictably vanished with the rest. When in May 1802 John Dyer became formally bankrupt, he asked Robinson not to prove his outstanding debt for proportionate settlement, 'because he would treat it as a debt of honour'. Meantime Robinson had embarked on a protracted Lehrjahr in Germany (it turned into five), and in March 1803 John Dyer proposed a further rearrangement: in lieu of u20 per annum interest, Robinson should lodge with the Colliers when in London ('You have a rascally debtor, and you might conveniently contrive to put yourself under his roof and set his Beef and Pudding at work to rub off a little of the score'). Robinson, ever unattached, was pleased with the suggestion, and on his return to London in early 1806 moved in with the Colliers at 3 Little Smith Street, Westminster. He would remain more or less en famille until July 1813.


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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations....................ix
Abbreviations in the Text and Notes....................xxi
A Note on Spelling and Transcription....................xxvii
I. The Life of John Payne Collier PART ONE: 1789-1820....................3
PART TWO: 1821-31....................101
PART THREE: THE 1830S (I)....................149
PART FOUR: THE 1830S (II)....................228
PART SEVEN: SHAKESPEARIANA....................446
PART EIGHT: THE PERKINS FOLIO (I)....................563
PART NINE: AWAY FROM PERKINS....................640
PART TEN: THE PERKINS FOLIO (II)....................718
PART TWELVE: THE LONG LAST YEARS....................898
APPENDICES I. Collier's Physical Forgeries....................1031
II. Red Herrings....................1037
III. Collier's Pseudonyms....................1042
IV. Publications on the 'Perkins Folio', 1852-62....................1049
V. Books Dedicated to Collier....................1055
II. Bibliography of Works by John Payne Collier INTRODUCTION....................1059
A. BOOKS AND PAMPHLETS....................1064
C. INDIRECT CONTRIBUTIONS....................1393
WORKS CITED Manuscript Sources for the Life of Collier....................1399
Printed Sources....................1402

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