Thursday, April 16, 2015

Shakspeare and His Friends

Robert Folkestone Williams - Shakspeare and His Friends or, "The Golden Age" of Merry England (1838)

Open Library direct link (volume 1)
Open Library direct link (volume 2)
Open Library direct link (volume 3)
Open Library main page

This is not the history the title might suggest but instead a three-decker novel, listed here because it appears to be either quite bad or passable but written by an author who just can't shut up.

Try the opening:  "I prythee have patience, courteous reader! the whilst I describe a certain chamber well worthy of most minute delineation--as thou wilt see anon--from its having been the retreat, or closet, or place retired from the public eye, in which the master spirit of his age, an the glory of all times to come, did first develope those right famous qualities from which the world hath received such profit and delight."

Or this, a single sentence:

"At this instant a serving man entered, to whom orders were given for the bringing of the Ippocras; and Sir Walter Raleigh noticing a peculiar suit of armour, Sir Robert Cecil then did acquaint him how his father, the Lord Burghley, took great delight in making a collection of offensive and defensive arms, of different times and countries, the which he had that room built on purpose to receive, in preference to keeping them at his magnificent mansion at Theobald's, or at Burghley House; and when Sir Walter, being very learned in these things, did explain to him the age and nature of some, he listened with exceeding respect." (Vol 1, p79)

One reason I'm quoting is because I can't find a description or plot synopsis of this book while skimming doesn't reveal much.  Not just Raleigh but Burbage and Will Kemp are characters, some of it seems to be set in Shakespeare's youth and there's a toothpulling scene where the wrong teeth are pulled.  Honestly if anything it looks pretty dull but there are some of those wonderfully convoluted sentences scattered around.  There was an unsigned review in Burton's Gentlemen's Monthly for Nov/Dec 1839 (edited by Poe) which just calls it a "valuable running commentary" but objects to the use of antiquated style for the prose.  At least one scholar attributes the review to Poe but others disagree and in any case it's pretty bland - there's no more indication that the reviewer read the book than I did.

There's not much else available about the author who appears to have been a live-by-his-pen hack now pretty much forgotten.  He wrote several novels (including Mephistophiles in England (that's his spelling) and Youth of Shakspeare), completed an unfinished Marryat novel and was a sub-editor of New Monthly Magazine.  The March 1932 issue of PMLA even attempted to ascribe Mephistophiles to Bulwer Lytton but a June 1984 issues ascribed it right back.