The Writings of Charles Wisner Barrell 17

Earlist Authenticated “Shakespeare” Tanscript
Found With Oxford’s Personal Poems
A Solution of the Significant Proximity of Certain
Verses in a Unique Elizabethan Manuscript Anthology

Copyright 1945 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, April 1945.

Some sixty years before J. Thomas Looney began work on his revolutionary identification of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, as “Shakespeare,” James Orchard Halliwell (later Halliwell-Phillips) one of the greatest collectors of Shakespeareana and most painstaking students of the Stratford native’s career that has ever lived, brought out the fact that the names of the mysterious Bard and the mysterious poet Earl have actually been linked together in unmistakable significance since the 1590’s at least.

The evidence is contained in a small volume of poems copied in the handwriting of one Anne Cornwallis. And Halliwell-Phillips dates the transcription of this unique collection between the years 1585 and 1595. He published the first account of his acquisition of the russia leather-bound quarto bearing the large feminine signature, “Anne Cornwaleys her booke,” in a volume entitled, Catalogue of Shakespeare Reliques In the Possession of James Orchard Halliwell, Esq., F.R.S. in the year 1852. Only seventy copies of the Catalogue were printed and it has now become so rare that comparatively few students of the authorship question even know of its existence. Through the courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, I have been able to consult a copy and will now give a digest of Halliwell-Phillips’ remarks on the Cornwallis manuscript together with some subsequent findings regarding the identity of the Elizabethan lady who made this contemporary collection of poems in her quaint and priceless little “commonplace book.”

Halliwell-Phillips purchased the item from the Russell family of Enfield, following its acquisition by Dr. Russell at the sale of the Bright manuscript collection at Sotheby’s auction rooms in London in June 1844.

The description of the Cornwallis collection is given thus in Sotheby’s sale catalogue:

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SHAKESPEARE. A POETICAL MISCELLANY OF THE REIGN OF ELIZABETH, containing verses by Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, Sir Edward Dyer, Vavasor, G. M., Sir P. Sidney, and Shakespeare; russia, 4 to.

The lines by Shakespeare are an elegant little poem which appeared first in The Passionate Pilgrim, 1599, a surreptitious publication in which they are most incorrectly given. The present Manuscript offers not only a better arrangement of the stanzas, but also a far superior text, in proof of which we subjoin the last stanza:—


Now hoe, inoughe, too much I fear;
For if my ladye heare this songe,
She will not sticke to ringe my eare,
To teache my tongue to be soe longe;
Yet would she blushe, here be it saide,
To heare her secrets thus bewrayede.

            Printed Text

(Poem XIX, The Passionate Pilgrim, 1599)
But soft; enough, too much I fear,
Lest that my mistress hear my song;
She’ll not stick to round me i’ the ear,
To teach my tongue to be so long:
Yet will she blush, here be it said,
To hear her secrets so bewray’d.

In this (manuscript) reading, we get rid of the harsh and false metre of the third (printed) line, and obtain a more natural imagery; the lady wringing, her lover’s ear for betraying her secrets, being certainly a more appropriate punishment for his fault than that of merely whispering (to) him.

Invention has been racked to account for the utter disappearance of the poems of Shakespeare in his own hand. The Rev. Mr. Hunter, in his recently published New Illustrations of the Life and Writings of Shakespeare, ingeniously supposes that the last descendant of the Poet, Lady Barnard (granddaughter of the Stratford citizen) in her over-religious zeal, may have destroyed any writings that remained in her hands. (Later research proves that she never possessed any such assumed writings. C.W.B.) To whatever cause it may be owing, it is a certain fact that, at the present time, not a line of (William Shakspere’s) writing is known to exist. In the absence of his (literary) autographs, any contemporaneous manuscript is of importance; and in this view the present (Cornwallis) one may justly be deemed a literary curiosity of high interest.

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This account (remarks Halliwell-Phillips) is correct as far as it goes, but the compiler has omitted to notice the curiosity of the MS. as containing the earliest copy of any of Shakespeare’s writings known to exist. The writing of the MS. is very early; and I very much doubt if any portion of the volume was written as late as 1590. (Some years later Halliwell-Phillips raised this estimated date to 1595.) If I am correct in this supposition, we have here a strong confirmation of Mr. Knight’s opinion, that Shakespeare began to write at an earlier period than has been usually supposed. (1) The MS. formerly belonged to Anne Cornwallis, and has her autograph, so that its descent from Vere, Earl of Oxford, is clearly deducible.

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Here we have the eminent Halliwell-Phillips—seemingly unbeknownst to Mr. Looney—pausing nearly a hundred years ago on the very threshold of a great discovery. Like Inspector Ustrade, he has the leading strings of a sensational solution to a fine mystery. But he fails to grasp their significance. The association of the names “Vere, Earl of Oxford” and “Shakespeare” seems important to him—though not quite important enough to call for a little extra research and deduction!

How ironical this will seem to present day students of the vast quantity of Oxford-Shakespeare testimony now available—that the otherwise insatiably curious and realistically-minded Halliwell-Phillips did not pursue at this time the clues that lay within his hands! Poe’s reasoning in regard to the invisibility of The Purloined Letter is again proven basically sound. The thing best hidden is often that which lies most openly in view.

Halliwell-Phillips continues his 1852 commentary with a genealogical chart, showing that Anne Cornwallis (whom he identifies as a daughter of William Cornwallis and a granddaughter of Sir Thomas Cornwallis, Comptroller of the Royal Household under Mary Tudor) was a cousin of Edward de Vere through her maternal grandfather, Lord Latimer. Like the 17th Earl of Oxford, Latimer was a blood descendant of Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford.

We will go on with Halliwell-Phillips’ remarks on the manuscript collection before adding some comments of our own upon the actual identity of this poetry-collecting member of the Cornwallis family. Oxford’s personal association with the house of Cornwallis will be shown to be a more interesting one than Halliwell-Phillips seems to have realized.

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The MS. commences (says H.-P.) with some verses by J. Bentley, whose fame as an author rests solely on the present volume. It includes some poems printed in The Paradise of Daintie Devices, and one by G.M., supposed to be Gervase Markham. There is also a poem attributed to Sir P. Sidney, but it occurs in England’s Helicon, with the name of Dyer attached to it.

In conclusion, I may observe that during a search of ten years later extended to about fifty years and after a careful examination of every collection of the kind I could meet with, either in public or private libraries, the present is the only specimen of any of Shakespeare’s writings I have seen which was written in the sixteenth century. Scraps may be occasionally met with in miscellanies of a later date, but this volume, in point of antiquity, may be fairly considered to be unique in its kind, and as one of the most interesting illustrations of Shakespeare known to exist.

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Over and above this identification of the daughter of William Cornwallis as the original transcriber of the verses, Halliwell-Phillips is unquestionably right in dating their collection to a period within the 1580’s, with the outside limit for their gathering, placed at 1595.

This is due to the fact that the majority of the poems can be definitely shown to have been written well before 1586, the year in which Sir Philip Sidney died.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to consult the actual manuscript volume bearing Anne Cornwallis’ signature. It is now owned by the Folger Library, but is still packed away with other treasures acquired from England. When it is available for consultation, we shall be able to see, for instance, just which verses are transcribed from The Paradise of Dainty Devices, first printed in 1576. Lord Oxford’s initials appear upon seven lyrics therein. Several of Sir Philip Sidney’s signed poems are known to have been wrongly attributed to his associates, among whom Sir Edward Dyer was prominent. England’s Helicon (1600) contains more than one confused and confusing attribution. The initials G.M. may represent Gervase Markham, who had written his Thyrsis and Daphne as early as 1593, “as Halliwell-Phillips suggests. They could just as well stand for George Montemayor, a much better poet, who was born in Spain about 1520 and from whom “Shakespeare” is said to have translated some episodes used in the Two Gentlemen of Verona.

For a practical certainty we know that the Eccho verses, which represent a collaboration between the Earl of Oxford and his mistress, Anne Vavasor, must have been composed during the earlier years of their liaison—between 1579 and 1581. After the latter date their relationship was never on the same carefree, playful basis apparent in these youthful lines.

The Eccho verses have been reprinted many times by writers on the Oxford-Shakespeare case since their original inclusion in “Shakespeare” Identified. They appeared most recently in the NEWS-LETTER for June, 1942. But always, it seems, the copy used has been the one from the Rawlinson Poetical MS., 85.11, in the Bodleian Library. Sir Edmund Chambers, who has seen both the Rawlinson and the Cornwallis versions of the Eccho song, says that the copies vary slightly, but that the names of Lord Oxford and Anne Vavasor are attached to each. The Shakespearean repetitions from these lyrics, as often pointed out, reappear both in Juliet’s balcony speech and in Venus and Adonis, 829-34. Strangely enough, Halliwell-Phillips does not seem to have been aware of this fact.

It would surely be incredible for anyone to assume that Shakspere of Stratford had easy access either to Anne Cornwallis’ commonplace book or to the Rawlinson script. Hence, there is never any mention made in Stratfordian circles of the Verses made by the earle of Oxforde and Mrs Ann Vavasor—which lingered in the Bard’s mind. Neither, for that matter, do Shakspere’s accepted biographers—other than Halliwell-Phillips ever refer to the fact that “Shakespeare’s” poem XIX in The Passionate Pilgrim first appears anonymously in the Cornwallis anthology. Not a word on so interesting a circumstance is given, for example, in Sir Sidney Lee’s Life of the alleged Bard, although Lee devotes acres of space to tenuous speculation regarding the Stratford native’s brain- pickings of suppositious “travelers” and “men prominent at Court” who “are believed” to have supplied him with background color for his masterpieces!

Another very cogent reason for arguing that the Cornwallis transcripts were collected in the 1580’s is the fact that the opening verses, bearing the name of “J. Bentley,” may be assigned on the best of grounds to the noted Elizabethan actor, John Bentley, who was a leading man with the Queen’s Players from 1583 until his death in August 1585. The known facts of Bentley’s career are briefly given in Nungezer’s Dictionary of Actors (1929). Thomas Dekker in A Knight’s Conjuring (1607) describes “inimitable Bentley” as a poet among Poets; “though he had been a player, yet because he had been their lover, and a register to the Muses.”

Thomas Nash, a contemporary and evident acquaintance, also pays high tribute to Bentley’s creative quality in Pierce Pennilesse (1592), bracketing him with Tarlton, Ned Allen and William Knell as the foremost stage performers of Nash’s memory. He says he hopes some day to write a full account of these players in Latin so that their accomplishments “shall be made known to France, Spain and Italie: and not a part that they surmounted in, more than other, but I will there note and set down, with the manner of their habits and attire.” So when Nash tells us that John Bentley was an artist whose abilities should be signalized throughout Europe, we can be quite certain that he was literate enough to have composed the verses bearing his name in Anne Cornwallis’ album. What a pity it is that Nash, the keenest and most garrulous chronicler of the Shakespearean age, never mentions the Stratford “genius” at all!

And so we see that by the ordinary rules of logic and chronology, Halliwell-Phillips is perfectly justified in dating the contents of the Cornwallis anthology according to his original estimate between 1585 and 1590. For every identifiable contributor, with the sole exception of the uncertified marvel of Stratford, answers the requirements of the case without the slightest strain on credulity. The inclusion of “Shakespeare’s”‘ anonymous contribution is the one difficult thing to explain. That is apparently the very reason why the professional authorities so studiously avoid the problem.

In the first place, the poem—one of the bawdiest effusions to bear the Master’s imprint—is plainly not a copy of the 1599 Passionate Pilgrim version. The latter is a pirate printer’s mangled and mistranscribed steal from this—the truer original. It would be absurd to argue otherwise. Moreover, if it were the other way about, why should the collector leave the famous name of “‘Shakespeare” off the poem, while carefully setting down lesser ones? Such being the case, the 1599 date of the first printing of Poem XIX means absolutely nothing in respect to its original composition and acquisition by this Elizabethan lady of wealth and social position. Neither will it do for the Stratford conjecturalists to opine that their butcher’s apprentice from the illiterate household by the Avonside “must have” scraped acquaintance with Anne Cornwallis shortly after he “ran from his master” to London—or to the Cornwallis estate in Norfolk—where he presented her with this humid commentary on the refined arts of love-making.

Although we must do violence to the Stratfordian’s approved rule of side-stepping all such annoying dilemmas, an answer should be sought to these questions:

1) When and where was the material for this unique anthology collected?

2) Who was the particular Anne Cornwallis who transcribed the poems?

The best answers, I think, will be found in the documentation of the poet Earl of Oxford’s private life.

This at once shows us that Lord Oxford was not only a distant relation of the Cornwallises of Brome, Norfolk, as Halliwell-Phillips emphasizes, but had intimate, personal contact with William Cornwallis, eldest son and heir of Sir Thomas Cornwallis, the statesman. Letters in the Cecil family collection at Hatfield House, as reproduced in the Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquess of Salisbury, Vol. 3, pp. 377-8, under date of December 20th; and December 31, 1588, tell us that some time previously, evidently in the autumn of the same year, the Earl of Oxford had sold his large and palatial estate in Bishopsgate Street Without, commonly called “Fisher’s Folly,” to William Cornwallis. The Earl had put through this deal hurriedly and secretly—without the knowledge or consent of his father-in-law Burghley—and very much to the Lord Treasurer’s eventual chagrin.

The first letter explaining this transaction is written by Sir Thomas Cornwallis in reply to what must have been a sharp and serious reproof from Burghley. For Sir Thomas expresses himself as troubled, not to say frightened, by a turn of events which might loose the powerful Burghley’s enmity. He disclaims all personal interest in the transaction, declares that he strongly advised his son against purchasing the property—which the Lord Treasurer evidently wished to hold against the support of Oxford’s three surviving daughters by Anne Cecil—and eloquently begs Lord Burghley not to blame him for the actions of his headstrong son.

“I protest that I never saw nor heard any part of the assurance which hath passed between the Earl and my son,” he declares. . . . “And, good my Lord, . . . think me not so doting and foolish in my age that for the attaining of Fisher’s Folly, I would once put in adventure to lose the goodwill and favour which I have ever found towards me, since our first acquaintance.”

In his later letter, Sir Thomas, having mollified Burghley, states that his son (William Cornwallis) will not confess any intent or knowledge to defeat any purpose of your Lordship. For the secrecy he used he allegeth some reasons, but for the hasty conclusion (of the purchase) he layeth it wholly upon my Lord of Oxford.”

Fisher’s Folly was one of the show-places of Elizabethan London. It occupied the present site of Devonshire Square, just east of Bishopsgate Street Without. It is described as a huge structure with “gardens of pleasure, bowling-alleys and the like.” Built by Jasper Fisher, one of the clerks in Chancery, and a member of the Goldsmiths’ Company, the maintenance of this princely establishment proved such a strain on its builder’s resources that the place was called Fisher’s Folly. Oxford, with characteristic disregard of his own financial uncertainty, appears to have taken over the estate about 1584. Except for a visit which the Queen once paid him here, there is no record of the Earl having gone in for lavish entertaining while he owned the house. His city residence was still maintained at Oxford Court by London Stone. But by 1586 the poet’s financial situation had become so precarious that he was obliged to accept a pension from the Crown. At the same time, he is known to have had many theatrical associations, he was still the acknowledged patron of many poets and dramatists, and his own reputation as the best of the Court writers grew apace. All of these facts indicate that Lord Oxford had really acquired Fisher’s Folly as headquarters for the school of poets and dramatists who openly acknowledged his patronage and leadership. These men included John Lyly, Thomas Watson, Robert Greene, Anthony Munday, Thomas Churchyard and Thomas Nash—all of whom tell us that they are, or have been, on terms of personal association with the Earl. In Strange News Nash describes the household of the literary nobleman in London where he has done most of his writing.

The passage is somewhat heated, for it is in reply to Gabriel Harvey s strictures on Tom’s personal activities:

“For the order of my life, it is as civil as a civil orange. (3) I lurk in no corners but converse in a house of credit, as well governed as any college, where there be more rare qualified men and selected good Scholars than in any Nobleman’s house that I know in England. (My italics.)

“If I had committed such abominable villanies, or were a base shifting companion, it stood not with my Lord’s honour to keep me. . . . ”

These comments occur in the midst of surrounding references to the poet Earl of Oxford, the same “Gentle Master William Apis Lapis” to whom Strange News is dedicated, as we have shown.

Furthermore, the legal statement prepared by Thomas Kyd in 1593 to clear himself of the charge of heretical writing in collaboration with Marlowe, describes the same kind of an establishment, supported by a Lord with important theatrical and literary interests. Kyd’s patron has always been a man of mystery to tile orthodox “authorities.” But he is obviously one and the same with Nash’s patron—the poet Earl of Oxford.

All such evidence leads me to the conclusion that Fisher’s Folly housed Oxford’s circle of writers for a time.

After William (later Sir William) Cornwallis took the place over in 1588, he is known to have provided a situation in his household as “reader” for Thomas Watson, one of Oxford’s literary protégés. Cornwallis tells a strange tale of his relations with Watson—whom he describes as a prolific popular playwright—in letters to Sir Thomas Heneage. (4) The Cornwallis statements regarding Watson’s playwriting activities deserve, and shall have further investigation elsewhere. The point to be emphasized here is that it is abundantly apparent that the acquisition of Oxford’s house by the Cornwallis family in 1588 provided the perfect opportunity for a member of that family to secure the copies of personal poems which are transcribed in the anthology bearing the signature of “Anne Cornwaleys.” From some overlooked corner of the Earl’s library at Fisher’s Folly these verses could have been retrieved, the anonymous “Shakespeare” poem among the others. This certainly bears every evidence of being one of Oxford’s early commentaries upon his affair with Anne Vavasor.

And now, finally, as to the actual identity of Anne Cornwallis:

William Cornwallis had a daughter of that name. We do not know the date of her birth, although there were at least two adolescent children in the family in 1588.

Moreover, Cornwallis had an aunt named Anne who “died unmarried.” His own mother—the wife of Sir Thomas Cornwallis—bore the same cognomen. Anne was also the name of both of the wives of Charles Cornwallis, William’s younger brother. Thus, we have four Anne Cornwallises, all closely connected with William Cornwallis of Fisher’s Folly, either by blood or marriage—and all of them seemingly alive and of age to have transcribed “Anne Cornwaleys her Booke” within the period of the 1580’s or early 1590’s.

Here the case must rest for the present. But Lord Oxford’s personal connection with the rare manuscript volume which contains the first authenticated transcription of a “Shakespeare” poem is clear and unmistakable, just as Halliwell-Phillips pointed out nearly a hundred years ago.


1. Charles Knight was one of the first Shakespeare editors to sense the unscientific conjectural basis of the assumed Bard’s creative chronology—the guesswork pattern of which has since been completely shattered by such notable investigators as Alexander, Cairncross, Hart, Mrs. Clark and Bénézet.

2. See the testimony of Thomas Nash. Gabriel Harvey and others, as reproduced in the October 1944 and January 1945 QUARTERLY.

3. A pun on Seville, from which London’s oranges were imported. Note that Shakespeare uses the same pun in Much Ado. II.1.263: “The count is neither sad nor sick … but civilcivil as an orange.”

4. Tower Miscell. Rolls No. 458 (Darrell papers &c.).

5. See New Light on Sir William Cornwallis the Essayist. Review of English Studies . Vol. 8. pp. 155-69.