Special Collections Department
FORGING A COLLECTION
John Payne Collier and the Perkins Folio
John Payne Collier was born in London on January 11, 1789, the son of John Dyer Collier, a prominent journalist. After a brief flirtation with the Bar, John Payne Collier entered the writing trade as well and began writing for The Times and other periodicals. Collier was an accomplished Parliamentary reporter by the time he was twenty and earned enough income to feed his growing interest in books and literature.
Although Collier continued to work as a political journalist, by his late twenties he was devoting more time to his literary interests and contributed numerous essays and poetry to literary periodicals. In 1820, Collier's book The Poetical Decameron, or Ten Conversations on English Poets and Poetry was published. He became known as an authority on the history of the English stage and also began writing theater reviews. In 1828, Collier obtained the position of librarian to the Duke of Devonshire, who possessed one of the finest private libraries in England. Here Collier refined his interest in the work of Shakespeare. In 1840, he founded the Shakespeare Society and by 1841 Collier's reputation as a Shakespeare scholar had risen to such heights that he was solicited to edit a new edition of the works of Shakespeare which was published, in eight volumes, between 1841-1843.
Collier announced his retirement in 1850, though he continued to devote a good deal of time to his Shakespeare research. Two years later he announced the discovery of a copy of the Second Folio of Shakespeare's plays which contained extensive manuscript annotations and corrections in a hand seemingly contemporary with the book's 1632 publication. The volume became known as the Perkins Folio because it contained the inscription "Tho. Perkins, his booke" on the outer cover. Collier published his findings in Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare's Plays: from Early Manuscript Corrections in a Copy of the Folio, 1632 in the Possession of J. Payne Collier (1853). He subsequently edited a new edition of Shakespeare's plays incorporating the corrections and changes he had discovered.
According to Collier, his examination of the Perkins Folio revealed numerous manuscript notations, ranging from simple changes in punctuation, to revised stage directions and entire new lines. Collier's findings caused a sensation in Shakespeare circles and his contemporaries pleaded with him to allow a thorough examination of the volume, but he never granted anyone more than a cursory look at the book. As might be expected, his claims were questioned by a number of critics, notably Samuel Weller Singer and Alexander Dyce, both of whom published critiques of Collier shortly after the publication of Notes and Emendations. Though challenged, Collier was unyielding and might have remained so if not for the death of his patron, the Duke of Devonshire, in 1858.
Shortly after Collier claimed to have discovered the Perkins Folio, he presented the volume to the Duke in whose library it resided, under the watchful eye of his librarian. Following the Duke's death, his heir deposited the Perkins Folio in the British Museum. There it was examined thoroughly by experts and in July, 1859, Nicholas S. E. A. Hamilton, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, initially in a letter to The Times, declared that the manuscript annotations had been written in the nineteenth century, not the seventeenth. The implication was quite obvious: John Payne Collier had forged the emendations in the Perkins Folio.
Although Collier had defenders, the evidence against him continued to mount. The publication of Hamilton's An Inquiry into the Genuineness of the Manuscript Corrections in Mr. J. Payne Collier's Annotated Shakspere, Folio, 1632: and of Certain Shaksperian Documents Likewise Published by Mr. Collier (1860) summarized the analysis done at the British Museum. But the final salvo came from the critic Clement Mansfield Ingleby, who in 1859 had accused Collier of deceit in The Shakspeare Fabrications. Ingleby built upon the evidence that had been amassed by various critics and produced A Complete View of the Shakspere Controversy which was published in 1861. Ingleby summarized all of the evidence in the case and accused Collier outright of having forged the manuscript annotations in the Perkins Folio. Collier never responded to this attack and his guilt was established.
Collier continued his scholarly endeavors for the duration of his life--he even edited another edition of Shakespeare--but his reputation remained tarnished. Following Collier's death, new discoveries were made which suggested he had produced other forgeries and he remains an unfortunate figure in the history of English letters. Although Collier produced some of the most important works of legitimate scholarship of his era, his forgeries have tainted these accomplishments permanently and his reputation has never recovered.
John Payne Collier, 1789-1883.
New Facts Regarding the Life of Shakespeare, in a Letter to Thomas Amyot ... from J. Payne Collier .... London: Thomas Rodd, 1835.
In this pamphlet Collier revealed new information concerning Shakespeare's life which he claimed to have discovered in documents at the Bridgewater Library. These documents were later revealed to be spurious and eventually deemed the work of a modern forger, with Collier the prime suspect.
John Payne Collier, 1789-1883.
Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare's Plays: from Early Manuscript Corrections in a Copy of the Folio, 1632 in the Possession of J. Payne Collier. New York: Redfield, 1853. First American edition.
The notes and changes in the Perkins Folio were originally published in January 1853 and quickly reprinted the same year in the United States and again in England in a revised, enlarged edition. Notes and Emendations also includes Collier's account of his discovery of the Perkins Folio.
John Payne Collier, 1789-1883.
Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare's Plays: from Early Manuscript Corrections in a Copy of the Folio, 1632: in the Possession of J. Payne Collier ... Forming a Supplemental Volume to the Works of Shakespeare by the Same Editor. Second edition, revised and enlarged. London: Whittaker and Co., 1853.
This expanded edition includes a new Preface in which Collier responds to his critics. The new edition was also issued to serve as a supplement to Collier's recently-published edition of Shakespeare's plays which incorporated the Perkins Folio emendations.
N. E. S. A. (Nicholas Esterhazy Stephen Armytage) Hamilton, d. 1915.
An Inquiry into the Genuineness of the Manuscript Corrections in Mr. J. Payne Collier's Annotated Shakspere, Folio, 1632; and of Certain Shaksperian Documents Likewise Published by Mr. Collier. London: Richard Bentley, 1860.
Nicholas Hamilton, the Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, followed up the accusations of forgery he made originally in The Times with this in-depth analysis of the Perkins Folio in which he concludes the manuscript notes are modern forgeries.
Clement Mansfield Ingleby, 1823-1886.
A Complete View of the Shakspere Controversy, Concerning the Authenticity and Genuineness of Manuscript Matter Affecting the Works and Biography of Shakspere, Published by Mr. J. Payne Collier as the Fruits of His Researches. London: Nattali and Bond, 1861.
This book was the final, damning blow against Collier. Neither Collier nor his defenders ever issued a serious challenge to Ingleby's Complete View, although he directly accused Collier of numerous offenses of which "the fabrication of the Perkins notes is the worst."
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Last modified: 12/21/10