The New York Times, April 29, 1875
PROPOSED SHAKESPEAREAN MEMORIAL.
To the Editor of The New York Times:
I have just received a letter from an English friend of mine, whose hospitality I enjoyed some days at his house, in Stratford on-Avon, and I feel sure that the matter he writes about will interest Americans. He incloses a circular, which I will insert in this place:
"A preliminary committee was recently formed for the purpose of ascertaining the possibility of carrying out the project of a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, the old theatre in the town having been purchased and pulled down by Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillips for the purpose of restoring the site to 'New Place' and completing those gardens. A meeting was held at the Town Hall on Monday to receive the committee's report. Sir Robert N. C. Hamilton, Bart., K.C.B., was in the chair. The honorable Secretary, Mr. C. E. Flower, stated that the proposal had been most favorably received, and the committee recommended that the theatre should be erected by subscription and any sum raised beyond the amount required for the building, and any profit realized by the rental on ordinary occasions to be applied, after defraying the necessary expenses of the establishment, to the celebration of the anniversary of the poet's birthday and to the promotion and improvement of legitimate acting, by the establishment of prizes for essays upon the subject, lectures and ultimately a dramatic training school or college. The building to be erected upon a site which has been given for the purpose, the surrounding ground, from which beautiful views of the church and the river can be obtained, to be laid out as ornamental gardens. Connected with the theatre the committee also recommended that a library and saloon or gallery, intended to receive pictures and statuary of Shakespearean subjects, (several of which have been already promised), should be provided. Donors of [pound sign] 100 and upward to be Governors and managers of the property. The Governors to meet annually and vote personally, or by proxy, for the election of the Executive Council and frame rules for the general management of the memorial property and funds. For convenience of administration the association to be incorporated under section 23 of the Companies act, 1867 for associations formed not for profit but for the promotion of science, art, etc. The report was unanimously adopted, a list of promised donations to the amount of [pound sign] 2,563 10s. was read, and generous offers from managers and members of the theatrical profession of free performances were announced. Subscriptions of the smallest amount will be received, and it is hoped that a truly appropriate memorial to Shakespeare in his native town will receive the support of many in all parts of the world who have received instruction and pleasure from his works."
By another circular I perceive that this project, young as it is, is already becoming popular, for no less than twenty two lovers of Shakespeare have come forward with their [pound sign] 100 apiece, and assumed the dignity of Governors of the Memorial Theatre. In this list I find the following: Creswick, the actor; F. B. Chatterton, of the Drury Lane, London; Benjamin Webster, of the Adelphi, London; Buckston, the comedian, and Mr. Sothern.
I now come to my point, which will be found in this extract from my English friend's letter:
"You may possibly remember some timber wharves on the Avon above my garden. These I have bought and given for a site for a Memorial Theatre. I think it possible that some Americans who have visited Stratford might be able and feel inclined to become Governors, (that is, [pound sign 100 shareholders,) in the Memorial Theatre and grounds, and that others not so well off might like to contribute smaller sums to help beautify it."
Therefore he asks me to make the suggestion in point here, and I very gladly do it. I think the mere suggestion is all that is necessary. We are not likely to be backward when called upon to do honor to Shakespeare. One of the circulars says:
"Subscriptions can be paid to the Shakespeare Memorial Fund at the Old Bank, Stratford-upon-Avon, and will be invested in the names of Sir R. N. C. Hamilton, Bart., and C. E. Flower, Esq., who have consented to act as Trustees until the registration is completed."
Will you, Sir, undertake to receive and forward the American subscriptions? Or if not, will you kindly name some responsible person who will do it?
I believe that Americans of every walk in life will cheerfully subscribe to this Shakespeare memorial; I think that some of our prominent actors (I could almost name them) will come forward and enroll themselves as Governors; I think our commercial millionaires and literary people will not be slow to take governorships, or at least come as near it as they feel able; and I think it altogether likely that many of our theatres, like those of England, will give it a benefit.
Americans have already subscribed [pound sign] 1,000 for an American memorial window to be put in the Shakespeare Church at Avon. About three-fourths of the visitors to Shakespeare's tomb are Americans. If you will show me any American who has visited England and has not seen that tomb, Barnum shall be on his track next week. It was an American who roused into its present vigorous life, England's dead interest in her Shakespearean remains. Think of that! Imagine the house that Shakespeare was born in being brought bodily over here and set up on American soil! That came within an ace of being done once. A reputable gentleman of Stratford told me so. The old building was going to wreck and ruin. Nobody felt quite reverence enough for the dead dramatist to repair and take care of his house; so an American came along ever so quietly and bought it. The deeds were actually drawn and ready for the signatures. Then the thing got wind and there was a fine stir in England! The sale was stopped. Public-spirited Englishmen headed a revival of reverence for the poet, and from that day to this every relic of Shakespeare in Stratford has been sacred, and zealously cared for accordingly. Can you name the American who once owned Shakespeare's birth place for twenty-four hours? There is but one who could ever have conceived of such an unique and ingenious enterprise, and he is the man I refer to - P. T. Barnum.
We had to lose the house; but let us not lose the present opportunity to help him build the Memorial Theatre.
HARTFORD, Monday, April 26, 1875
_Is Shakespeare Dead?_ By Mark Twain
"For the instruction of the ignorant I will make a list, now, of those
details of Shakespeare's history which are FACTS - verified facts,
established facts, undisputed facts ....
He was born on the 23d of April, 1564.
Of good farmer-class parents who could not read,
could not write, could not sign their names.
At Stratford, a small back settlement which in that day was shabby and
unclean, and densely illiterate. Of the nineteen important men charged
with the government of the town, thirteen had to "make their mark" in
attesting important documents, because they could not write their
Of the first eighteen years of his life NOTHING is known.
They are a blank.
On the 27th of November (1582) William Shakespeare
took out a license to marry Anne Whateley.
Next day William Shakespeare took out a license
to marry Anne Hathaway. She was eight years his senior.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In a hurry.
By grace of a reluctantly granted dispensation there was
but one publication of the banns.
Within six months the first child was born.
About two (blank) years followed, during which period
NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENED TO SHAKESPEARE, so far as anybody knows.
Then came twins - 1585. February.
Two blank years follow.
Then - 1587 - he makes a ten-year visit to London,
leaving the family behind.
Five blank years follow. During this period NOTHING HAPPENED TO HIM,
as far as anybody actually knows.
Then - 1592 - there is mention of him as an actor.
Next year - 1593 - his name appears in the official list of players.
Next year - 1594 - he played before the queen. A detail of
no consequence: other obscurities did it every year of
the forty-five of her reign. And remained obscure.
Three pretty full years follow. Full of play-acting.
Then in 1597 he bought New Place, Stratford.
Thirteen or fourteen busy years follow; years in which
he accumulated money, and also reputation as actor and manager.
Meantime his name, liberally and variously spelt, had become
associated with a number of great plays and poems,
as (ostensibly) author of the same.
Some of these, in these years and later,
were pirated, but he made no protest.
Then - 1610-11 - he returned to Stratford and settled down for good
and all, and busied himself in lending money, trading in tithes,
trading in land and houses; shirking a debt for forty-one shillings,
borrowed by his wife during his long desertion of his family; suing
debtors for shillings and coppers; being sued himself for shillings
and coppers; and acting as confederate to a neighbor who tried to rob
the town of its rights in a certain common, and did not succeed.
He lived five or six years - till 1616 -
in the joy of these elevated pursuits.
Then he made a will, and signed each of its three pages with his name.
A thoroughgoing business man's will. It named in minute detail
every item of property he owned in the world - houses, lands,
sword, silver-gilt bowl, and so on - all the way down to
his "second-best bed" and its furniture.
It carefully and calculatingly distributed his riches among the
members of his family, overlooking no individual of it. Not even his
wife: the wife he had been enabled to marry in a hurry by urgent grace
of a special dispensation before he was nineteen; the wife whom he
left husbandless so many years; the wife who had had to borrow forty-
one shillings in her need, and which the lender was never able to
collect of the prosperous husband, but died at last with the money
still lacking. No, even this wife was remembered in Shakespeare's
He left her that "second-best bed."
And NOT ANOTHER THING; not even a penny
to bless her lucky widowhood with.
It was eminently and conspicuously a business man's will,
not a poet's.
It mentioned NOT A SINGLE BOOK.
Books were much more precious than swords and silver-gilt bowls and
second-best beds in those days, and when a departing person owned
one he gave it a high place in his will.
The will mentioned NOT A PLAY, NOT A POEM, NOT AN UNFINISHED
LITERARY WORK, NOT A SCRAP OF MANUSCRIPT OF ANY KIND.
Many poets die poor, but this is the only one in history that has died
THIS poor; the others all left literary remains behind. Also a book.
If Shakespeare had owned a dog - but we need not go into that: we know
he would have mentioned it in his will. If a good dog, Susanna would
have got it; if an inferior one his wife would have got a dower
interest in it. I wish he had had a dog, just so we could see how
painstakingly he would have divided that dog among the family,
in his careful business way.
He signed the will in three places.
In earlier years he signed two other official documents.
These five signatures still exist.
There are NO OTHER SPECIMENS OF HIS PENMANSHIP IN EXISTENCE.
Was he prejudiced against the art? His granddaughter, whom he loved,
was eight years old when he died, yet she had had no teaching, he left
no provision for her education, although he was rich, and in her
mature womanhood she couldn't write and couldn't tell her husband's
manuscript from anyone else's - she thought it was Shakespeare's.
When Shakespeare died in Stratford it was not an event. It made no
more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theater-
actor would have made. Nobody came down from London; there were no
lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national tears - there was merely
silence, and nothing more. A striking contrast with what happened when
Ben Jonson, and Francis Bacon, and Spenser, and Raleigh, and the other
literary folk of Shakespeare's time passed from life! No praiseful
voice was lifted for the lost Bard of Avon; even Ben Jonson waited
seven years before he lifted his.
SO FAR AS ANYBODY KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, Shakespeare of
Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.
SO FAR AS ANYBODY KNOWS AND CAN PROVE,
he never wrote a letter in his life.
SO FAR AS ANY ONE KNOWS, HE RECEIVED ONLY ONE LETTER DURING HIS LIFE.
SO FAR AS ANY ONE KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, SHAKESPEARE OF STRATFORD WROTE
ONLY ONE POEM DURING HIS LIFE. This one is authentic. He did write
that one - a fact which stands undisputed; he wrote the whole of it;
he wrote the whole of it out of his own head. He commanded that his
work of art be engraved upon his tomb, and he was obeyed.
There it abides to this day. This is it:
Good friend of Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
Am I trying to convince anybody that Shakespeare did not write
Shakespeare's Works? Ah, now, what do you take me for? Would I be so
soft as that, after having known the human race familiarly for nearly
seventy-four years? It would grieve me to know that any one could
think so injuriously of me, so uncomplimentarily, so unadmiringly of
me. No, no, I am aware that when even the brightest mind in our world
has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it
will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine
sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any
circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of
that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. We always get
second hand our notions about systems of government; and high tariff
and low tariff; and prohibition and anti-prohibition; and the holiness
of peace and the glories of war; and codes of honor and codes of
morals; and approval of the duel and disapproval of it; and our
beliefs concerning the nature of cats; and our ideas as to whether
the murder of helpless wild animals is base or is heroic; and our
preferences in the matter of religious and political parties;
and our acceptance or rejection of the Shakespeares....
We are the reasoning race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-
tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our
reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that our
fetish is safe for three centuries yet. The bust, too - there in the
Stratford Church. The precious bust, the priceless bust, the calm
bust, the serene bust, the emotionless bust, with the dandy mustache,
and the putty face, unseamed of care - that face which has looked
passionlessly down upon the awed pilgrim for a hundred and fifty years
and will still look down upon the awed pilgrim three hundred more,
with the deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle, subtle, expression of a
[Shakespeare] HASN'T ANY HISTORY TO RECORD. There is no way of getting
around that deadly fact. And no sane way has yet been discovered to
getting around its formidable significance. Its quite plain
significance... is, that Shakespeare had no prominence while he lived,
and none until he had been dead two or three generations. The Plays
enjoyed high fame from the beginning; and if he wrote them it seems a
pity the world did not find it out. He ought to have explained that he
was the author, and not merely a nom de plume for another man to hide
behind. If he had been less intemperately solicitous about his bones,
and more solicitous about his Works, it would have been better for his
good name, and a kindness to us. The bones were not important. They
will moulder away, they will turn to dust, but the Works
will endure until the last sun goes down.">>