« PreviousContinue »
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 in 1597."
On the 31st of May, 1792, Mr. Felton bought it for five gui. neas; 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 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,
“ Your most obedc. servant, “ Sept. 11, 1792.
“J. WILSON." 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 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 in. dubitable marks of its own authenticity. It is apparently not the work of an amateur, but 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 oil.
* 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 outy and no longer fit for service.
painting, which was then so little understood and practised by the natives of this kingdom.*
Yet, by those who allow to possibilities the influence of facts, it may be said that this picture was probably the ornament of a club-room in Eastcheap, round which other resemblances of contemporary poets and players might have been arranged that the Boar's Head, the scene of Falstaff's jollity, might also have been the favourite tavern of Shakspeare :-that, when our author returned over London bridge from the Globe theatre, this was a convenient house of entertainment; and that for many years afterwards (as the tradition of the neighbourhood re. ports) it was understood to have been a place where the wits and wags of a former age were assembled, and their portraits reposited. To such suppositions it may be replied, that Mr. Sloman, who quitted this celebrated publick house in 1767, (when all its furniture, which had devolved to him from his two immediate predecessors, was sold off,) declared his utter ignorance of any picture on the premises, except a coarse daubing of the Gads. hill robbery.t From hence the following probabilities may be suggested: first, that if Shakspeare's portrait was ever at the Boar's Head, it had been alienated before the fire of London in 1666, when the original house was burnt;-and, secondly, that the path through which the same picture has travelled since,
* Much confidence, perhaps, ought not to be placed in this remark, as a succession of limners now unknown might have pursued their art in England from the time of Hans Holbein to that of Queen Elizabeth.
† Philip Jones of Barnard's inn, the auctioneer who sold off Mr. Sloman's effects, has been sought for; but he died a few years ago. Otherwise, as the knights of the hammer are said to preserve the catalogue of every auction, it might have been known whether pictures constituted any part of the Boar’s Head furni. ture; for Mr. Sloman himself could not affirm that there were no small or obscure paintings above stairs in apartments which he had seldom or ever occasion to visit.
Mrs. Brinn, the widow of Mr. Sloman's predecessor, after her husband's decease quitted Eastcheap, took up the trade of a wire-worker, and lived in Crooked lane. She died about ten years ago. One, who had been her apprentice (no youth) declares she was a very particular woman, was circumstantial in her narratives, and so often repeated them, that he could not possibly forget any article she had communicated relative to the plate, furniture, &c. of the Boar’s Head: that she often spoke of the painting that represented the robbery at Gadshill, but never so much as hinted at any other pictures in the house; and had there been any, he is sure she would not have failed to describe them in her accounts of her former business and place of abode, which supplied her with materials for conversation to the very end of a long life.
is as little to be determined as the course of a subterraneous stream.
It may also be remarked, that if such a portrait had existed in Eastcheap during the life of the industrious Vertue,* he would most certainly have procured it, instead of having submitted to take his first engraving of our author from a juvenile likeness of James I, and his last from Mr. Keck's unauthenticated pur. chase out of the dressing-room of a modern actress.
It is obvious, therefore, from the joint depositions of Mr. Wil. son and Mr. Sloman, that an inference disadvantageous to the authenticity of the Boar's Head story must be drawn; for if the portrait in question arrived after a silent progress through obscurity, at the shop of a broker who, being ignorant of its value, sold it for a few shillings, it must necessarily have been unat. tended by any history whatever. And if it was purchased at a sale of goods at the Boar's Head, as neither the master of the house, or his two predecessors, had the least idea of having pos, sessed such a curiosity, no intelligence could be sent abroad with it from that quarter. In either case then we may suppose, that the legend relative to the name of its painter,and the place where it was found, (notwithstanding both these particulars might be true,) were at hazard appended to the portrait under consideration, as soon as its similitude to Shakspeare had been acknowledged, and his name discovered on the back of it. This circumstance, however, cannot affect the credit of the picture; for (as the late Lord Mansfield observed in the Douglas controversy)“ there are instances in which falschood has been employed in support of a real fact, and that it is no uncommon thing for a man to defend a true cause by fabulous pretences.”
That Shakspeare's family possessed no resemblance of him, there is sufficient reason to believe. Where then was this fashionable and therefore necessary adjunct to his works to be sought for? If any where, in London, the theatre of his fame and fortune, and the only place where painters, at that period, could have expected to thrive by their profession. We may suppose too, that the booksellers who employed Drceshout, discovered the object of their research by the direction of Ben Jonson, who in the following lines has borne the most ample testimony to the verisimilitude of a portrait which will now be
* The four last publicans who kept this tavern are said to have filled the whole period, from the time of Vertue's inquiries, to the year 1788, when the Boar's Head, having been untenanted for five years, was converted into two dwellings for shopkeepers.
† The tradition that Burbage painteda likeness of Shakspeare, has been current in the world ever since the appearance of Mr. Granger's Biographical History.
# It is not improbable that Ben Jonson furnished the Dedica. tion and Introduction to the first folio, as well as the Commen. datory Verses prefixed to it.
recommended, by a more accurate and finished engraving, to the publick notice:
“ The figure, that thou here seest put,
“ Not on his picture, but his Booke.” That the legitimate resemblance of such a man has been in. debted to chance for its preservation, would excite greater astonishment, were it not recollected, that a portrait of him has lately become an object of far higher consequence and estima. tion than it was during the period he flourished in, and the twenty years succeeding it; for the profession of a player was scarcely then allowed to be reputable. This remark, however, ought not to stand unsupported by a passage in The Microcosmos of John Davies of Hereford, 4to, 1605, p. 215, where, after having indulged himself in a long and severe strain of satire on the vanity and affectation of the actors of his age, he subjoinsa
“ Players, I loue yee and your qualitie,
" Yet generous yee are in minde and moode," The peader will observe from the initials in the margin of the third of these wretched lines, that W. Shakspeare was here alJuded to as the poet, and R, Burbage as the painter,
aa he hath hit His face ;] It should seem from these words, that the plate prefixed to the folio 1623 exhibited such a likeness of Shakspeare as satisfied the eye of his contemporary, Ben Jonson, who, on an occasion like this, would hardly have ventured to assert what it was in the power of many of his readers to contradict, When will evidence hai so conclusive be produced in favour of the Davenantico Bettertonian Barryan-Keckian-Nicolsian-Chandosan panvas, which begre not the slightest resemblance to the origi. nal of Drgeshouts and Marshall's engraving? + www.ma are all good,
As long as all these gonda aro no worse we'd;) So, in our ain thor's Othello!
" Where virtue in, these are most virtuous,"
Yet notwithstanding this compliment to the higher excellen. cies of our author, it is almost certain that his resemblance owes its present safety to the shelter of a series of garrets and lumber. rooms, in which it had sculked till it found its way into the broker's shop from whence the discernment of a modern connoisseur so luckily redeemed it.
It may also be observed, that an excellent original of Ben Jonson was lately bought at an obscure auction by Mr. Ritson of Gray's Inn, and might once have been companion to the por. trait of Shakspeare thus fortunately restored, after having been lost to the publick for a century and a half. They are, nevertheless, performances by very different artists. The face of Shak. speare was imitated by a delicate pencil, that of Jonson by a bolder hand. It is not designed, however, to appretiate the distinct value of these pictures; though it must be allowed (as several undoubted originals of old Ben are extant) that an authen. tick head of Shakspeare is the greater desideratum.
To conclude-those who assume the liberty of despising prints when moderately executed, may be taught by this example the use and value of them; since to a coarse engraving by a secondrate artist,* the publick is indebted for the recovery of the only genuine portrait of its favourite Shakspeare.
BY WILLIAM RICHARDSON,
FOR THE PUBLICATION OF
FROM THE PICTURE ALREADY DESCRIBED.
THESE Plates are to be engraved of an octavo size, and in the most finished style, by T. Trotter. A fac-simile of the handwriting, date, &c. at the back of the picture, will be given at the bottom of one of them.
They will be impressed both on octavo and quarto paper, so as to suit the best editions of the plays of Shakspeare.
* There is reason to believe that Shakspeare's is the earliest known portrait of Droeshout's engraving. No wonder then that his performances twenty years after, are found to be executed with a somewhat superior degree of skill and accuracy. Yet sill he was a poor engraver, and his productions are sought for more on account of their scarcity than their beauty. He seems indeed to have pleased so little in this country, that there are not above six or seven heads of his workmanship to be found.