« PreviousContinue »
account of the discovery of it, we must again refer to the proposals of Mr. Richardson, at whose expence two engravings from it have been already made.
We are happy to subjoin, that Messieurs Boydell, who have resolved to decorate their magnificent edition of Shakspeare with a copy from the same original picture lately purchased by them from Mr. Felton, have not only favoured us with the use of it, but most obligingly took care, by their own immediate superintendance, that as much justice should be done to our engraving, as to their
MR. RICHARDSON'S PROPOSALS, &c.
BEFORE the patronage of the publick is solicited in favour of a new engraving from the only genuine portrait of Shakspeare, it is proper that every circumstance relative to the discovery of it should be faithfully and circumstantially related.
On Friday, August 9, Mr. Richardson, printseller, of Castle Street, Leicester Square, assured Mr. Steevens that, in the course of business having recently waited on Mr. Felton, of Curzon Street, May Fair, this gentleman showed him an ancient head resembling the portrait of Shakspeare as engraved by Martin Droeshout in 1623.
Having frequently been misled by similar reports founded on inaccuracy of observation or uncertainty of recollection, Mr. Steevens was desirous to see the Portrait itself, that the authenticity of it might be ascertained by a deliberate comparison with Droeshout's performance. Mr. Felton, in the most obliging and liberal manner, permitted Mr. Richardson to bring the head, frame and all, away with him; and several unquestionable judges have concurred in pronouncing that the plate of Droeshout conveys not only a general likeness of its original, but an exact and particular one as far as this artist had ability to execute his undertaking. Droeshout could follow the outlines of a face with tolerable accuracy*, but usually
* Of some volunteer infidelities, however, Droeshout may be convicted. It is evident from the picture that Shakspeare was partly bald, and consequently that his forehead appeared unusually high. To remedy, therefore, what seemed a defect to the engraver, he has amplified the brow on the right side. For the sake of a more picturesque effect, he has also incurvated the
left them as hard as if hewn out of a rock. Thus, in the present instance, he has servilely transferred the features of Shakspeare from the painting to the copper, omitting every trait of the mild and benevolent character which his portrait so decidedly affords. There are, indeed, just such marks of a placid and amiable disposition in this resemblance of our poet, as his admirers would have wished to find.
This portrait is not painted on canvas, like the Chandos Head *, but on wood. Little more of it than the entire countenance and part of the ruff is left; for the pannel having been split off on one side, the rest was curtailed
line in the fore part of the ruff, though in the original it is mathematically straight.
It may be observed, however, to those who examine trifles with rigour, that our early-engraved portraits were produced in the age when few had skill or opportunity to ascertain their faithfulness or infidelity. The confident artist therefore assumed the liberty of altering where he thought he could improve. The rapid workman was in too much haste to give his outline with correctness; and the mere drudge in his profession contented himself by placing a caput mortuum of his original before the publick. In short, the inducements to be licentious or inaccurate, were numerous; and the rewards of exactness were sel dom attainable, most of our ancient heads of authors being done, at stated prices, for booksellers, who were careless about the veri-similitude of engravings which fashion not unfrequently obliged them to insert in the title-pages of works that deserved no such expensive decorations.
* A living artist, who was apprentice to Roubiliac, declares that when that elegant statuary undertook to execute the figure of Shakspeare for Mr. Garrick, the Chandos picture was borrowed; but that it was, even then, regarded as a performance of suspicious aspect; though for want of a more authentick archetype, some few hints were received, or pretended to be received, from it.
Roubiliac, towards the close of his life, amused himself by painting in oil, though with little success. Mr. Felton has his poor copy of the Chandos picture, in which our author exhibits the complexion of a Jew, or rather that of a chimney-sweeper in the jaundice.
It is singular that neither Garrick, or his friends, should have desired Roubiliac at least to look at the two earliest prints of Shakspeare; and yet even Scheemaker is known to have had no other model for our author's head, than the mezzotinto by Zoust.
and adapted to a small frame *. On the back of it is the following inscription, written in a very old hand: "Guil. Shakspeare +, 1597 ‡. R. N." Whether these initials belong to the painter, or a former owner of the picture, is uncertain. It is clear, however, that this is the identical head from which not only the engraving by Droeshout in 1623, but that of Marshall § in 1640 was made; and though the hazards our author's likeness was exposed to, may have been numerous, it is still in good preservation.
But, as further particulars may be wished for, it should be subjoined, that in the Catalogue of "The fourth Exhibition and Sale by private Contract at the European Museum, King Street, St. James's Square, 1792," this picture was announced to the publick in the following words:
"No. 359. A curious portrait of Shakspeare, painted
On the 31st of May, 1792, Mr. Felton bought it for five guineas; and afterwards urging some inquiry concerning the place it came from, Mr. Wilson, the conductor of the Museum already mentioned, wrote to him as follows:
"To Mr. S. Felton, Drayton, Shropshire.
"The Head of Shakspeare was purchased out of an old house known by the sign of the Boar in
* A broker now in the Minories declares, that it is his usual practice to cut down such portraits as are painted on wood, to the size of such spare frames as he happens to have in his possession.
† It is observable, that this hand-writing is of the age of Elizabeth, and that the name of Shakspeare is set down as he himself has spelt it.
The age of the person represented agrees with the date on the back of the picture. In 1597 our author was in his 33d year, and in the meridian of his reputation, a period at which his resemblance was most likely to have been secured.
§ It has hitherto been supposed that Marshall's production was borrowed from that of his predecessor. But it is now ma-} nifest that he has given the very singular ruff of Shakspeare as it stands in the original picture, and not as it appears in the plate. from it by Martin Droeshout.
Eastcheap, London, where Shakspeare and his friends used to resort, and report says, was painted by a player of that time*, but whose name I have not been able to learn.
"I am, Sir, with great regard,
Sep. 11, 1792."
August 11, 1794, Mr. Wilson assured Mr. Steevens, that this portrait was found between four and five years ago at a broker's shop in the Minories, by a man of fashion, whose name must be concealed: that it afterwards came (attended by the Eastcheap story, &c.) with a part of that gentleman's collection of paintings, to be sold at the European Museum, and was exhibited there for about three months, during which time it was seen by Lord Leicester and Lord Orford, who both allowed it to be a genuine picture of Shakspeare.-It is natural to suppose that the mutilated state of it prevented either of their Lordships from becoming its purchaser.
How far the report on which Mr. Wilson's narratives (respecting the place where this picture was met with, &c.) were built, can be verified by evidence at present within reach, is quite immaterial, as our great dramatick author's portrait displays indubitable marks of its own authenticity. It is apparently not the work of an amateur, but of an artist by profession; and therefore could hardly have been the production of Burbage, the principal actor of his time, who (though he certainly handled the pencil) must have had insufficient leisure to perfect himself in oilpainting, which was then so little understood and practised by the natives of this kingdom †.
* The player alluded to was Richard Burbage.
A Gentleman who, for several years past, has collected as many pictures of Shakspeare as he could hear of, (in the hope that he might at last procure a genuine one,) declares that the Eastcheap legend has accompanied the majority of them, from whatever quarter they were transmitted.
It is therefore high time that picture-dealers should avail themselves of another story, this being completely worn out, and no longer fit for service.
+ Much confidence, perhaps, ought not to be placed in this remark, as a succession of limners now unknown might have