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THE PROGRESS OF THE FRAUD
Literature, which gave its author, John Berkenhout, a free-thinking physician, his chief claim to remembrance. Steevens was a friend of Berkenhout, and helped him in the preparation of the book. Into his account of Shakespeare, the credulous physician introduced quite honestly the fourteen-year old forgery. The reputed date of 1600, which the supposititious justice of the peace had given it in the Theatrical Review, was now suppressed. Berkenhout confined his comment to the halting reminiscence: "Whence I copied this letter I do not recollect; but I remember that at the time of transcribing it, I had no doubt of its authenticity."
Thrice had the trick been worked effectively in conspicuous places before Steevens died in 1800. But the evil that he did lived after him, and within a year of his death the imposture renewed its youth. A correspondent, who concealed his identity under the signature of "Grenovicus" (i.e., of Greenwich), sent Peel's letter in 1801 to the Gentleman's Magazine, a massive repertory of useful knowledge. There it was duly reprinted in the number for June. "Grenovicus" had the assurance to claim the letter as his own discovery. "To my knowledge," he wrote, "it has never yet appeared in print." He refrained from indicating how he had gained access to it, but congratulated himself and the readers of the Gentleman's Magazine on the valiant feast that he provided for them. His action was apparently taken by the readers of the Gentleman's Magazine at his own valuation.
Meanwhile the discerning critic was not altogether passive. Isaac D'Israeli denounced the fraud in his Curiosities of Literature; but he and others did
their protesting gently. The fraud looked to the expert too shamefaced to merit a vigorous onslaught. He imagined the spurious epistle must die of its own inanity. In this he miscalculated the credulity of the general reader. "Grenovicus" of the Gentleman's Magazine had numerous disciples.
Many a time during the past century has his exploit been repeated. Even so acute a scholar as Alexander Dyce thought it worth while to reprint the letter in 1829 in the first edition of his collected works of George Peele (Vol. I., page 111), although he declined to pledge himself to its authenticity. The latest historian of Dulwich College 1 has admitted it to his text with too mildly worded a caveat. Often more recently has "G. Peel" emerged from seclusion to darken the page of a modern popular magazine. I have met him unabashed during the present century in two literary periodicals of repute-in the Academy (of London), in the issue of the 18th of January, 1902, and in the Poet Lore (of Philadelphia), in the following April number. Future disinterments may safely be prophesied. In the jungle of the Annual Register or the Gentleman's Magazine the forgery lurks unchallenged, and there will always be inexperienced explorers, who from time to time will run the unhallowed thing to earth there, and bring it forth as a new and unsuspected truth.
Perhaps forgery is too big a word to apply to Steevens's concoction. Others worked at later periods on lines of mystification similar to his; but, unlike his disciples, he did not seek from his misdirected ingenuity pecuniary gain or even notoriety. He never set his name to this invention of "Peel" and
1 William Young's History of Dulwich College, 1889, II., 41-2.
A WARNING TO THE UNWARY
"Marle," and their insipid chatter about Hamlet at the "Globe." Steevens's sole aim was to delude the unwary. It is difficult to detect humour in the endeavour. But the perversity of the human intellect has no limits. This ungainly example of it is only worth attention because it has sailed under its false colours without very serious molestation for one hundred and forty-three years.
SHAKESPEARE IN FRANCE 1
NOTHING but good can come of a comparative study of English and French literature. The political intercourse of the two countries has involved them in an endless series of broils. But between the literatures of the two countries friendly relations have subsisted for over five centuries. In the literary sphere the interchange of neighbourly civilities has known no interruption. The same literary forms have not appealed to the tastes of the two nations; but differences of æsthetic temperament have not prevented the literature of the one from levying substantial loans on the literature of the other, and that with a freedom and a frequency which were calculated to breed discontent between any but the most cordial of allies. While the literary geniuses of the two nations have pursued independent ideals, they have viewed as welcome courtesies the willingness and readiness of the one to borrow sustenance of the other on the road. It is unlikely that any full or formal balance-sheet of such lendings and borrowings
1 This paper was first printed in The Nineteenth Century, June, 1899.
will ever be forthcoming, for it is felt instinctively by literary accountants and their clients on both shores of the English Channel that the debts on the one side keep a steady pace with the debts on the other, and there is no balance to be collected.
No recondite research is needed to establish this general view of the situation. It is well known how the poetic career of Chaucer, the earliest of great English poets, was begun under French masters. The greatest poem of medieval France, the Roman de la Rose, was turned into English by his youthful pen, and the chief French poet of the day, Eustace Deschamps, held out to him the hand of fellowship in the enthusiastic balade, in which he apostrophised "le grand translateur, noble Geoffroi Chaucer." Following Chaucer's example, the great poets of Elizabeth's reign and of James the First's reign most liberally and most literally assimilated the verse of their French contemporaries, Ronsard, Du Bellay, and Desportes.1 Early in the seventeenth century, Frenchmen returned the compliment by naturalising in French translations the prose romances of Sir Philip Sidney and Robert Greene, the philosophical essays of Bacon, and the ethical and theological writings of Bishop Joseph Hall. From the accession of Charles the Second until that of George the Third, the English drama framed itself on French models, and Pope, who long filled the throne
1 In the Introduction to a collection of Elizabethan Sonnets, published in Messrs Constable's re-issue of Arber's English Garner (1904), the present writer has shown that numerous sonnets, which Elizabethan writers issued as original poems, were literal translations from the French of Ronsard, Du Bellay, and Desportes. Numerous loans of like character were levied silently on many Italian authors.