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John Payne Collier: English Shakespearian Critic

by Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

COLLIER, JOHN PAYNE (1789-1883), English Shakespearian critic, was born in London, on the 11th of January 1789. His father, John Dyer Collier (1762-1825), was a successful journalist, and his connexion with the press obtained for his son a position on the Morning Chronicle as leader writer, dramatic critic and reporter, which continued till 1847; he was also for some time a reporter for The Times. He was summoned before the House of Commons in 1819 for giving an incorrect report of a speech by Joseph Hume. He entered the Middle Temple in 1811, but was not called to the bar until 1829. The delay was partly due to his indiscretion in publishing the Criticisms on the Bar (1819) by “Amicus Curiae.” His leisure was given to the study of Shakespeare and the early English drama. After some minor publications he produced in 1825-1827 a new edition of Dodsley’sOld Plays, and in 1833 a supplementary volume entitled Five Old Plays. In 1831 appeared his History of English Dramatic Poetry and Annals of the Stage to the Restoration, a badly arranged, but valuable work. It obtained for him the post of librarian to the duke of Devonshire, and, subsequently, access to the chief collections of early English literature throughout the kingdom, especially to the treasures of Bridgwater House. These opportunities were unhappily misused to effect a series of literary fabrications, which may be charitably, and perhaps not unjustly, attributed to literary monomania, but of which it is difficult to speak with patience, so completely did they for a long time bewilder the chronology of Shakespeare’s writings, and such suspicion have they thrown upon MS. evidence in general. After New FactsNew Particulars and Further Particulars respecting Shakespeare had appeared and passed muster, Collier produced (1852) the famous Perkins Folio, a copy of the second folio (1632), so called from a name written on the title-page. On this book were numerous MS. emendations of Shakespeare said by Collier to be from the hand of “an old corrector.” He published these corrections as Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare (1852), and boldly incorporated them in his edition (1853) of Shakespeare. Their authenticity was disputed by S. W. Singer in The Text of Shakespeare Vindicated (1853) and by E. A. Brae in Literary Cookery (1855) on internal evidence; and when in 1859 the folio was submitted by its owner, the duke of Devonshire, to experts at the British Museum, the emendations were incontestably proved to be forgeries of modern date. Collier was exposed by Mr Nicholas Hamilton in hisInquiry (1860). The point whether he was deceiver or 690deceived was left undecided, but the falsifications of which he was unquestionably guilty among the MSS. at Dulwich College have left little doubt respecting it. He had produced the Memoirs of Edward Alleyn for the Shakespeare Society in 1841. He followed up this volume with the Alleyn Papers (1843) and the Diary of P. Henslowe (1845). He forged the name of Shakespeare in a genuine letter at Dulwich, and the spurious entries in Alleyn’s Diary were proved to be by Collier’s hand when the sale of his library in 1884 gave access to a transcript he had made of the Diary with interlineations corresponding with the Dulwich forgeries. No statement of his can be accepted without verification, and no manuscript he has handled without careful examination, but he did much useful work. He compiled a valuableBibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books in the English Language (1865); he reprinted a great number of early English tracts of extreme rarity, and rendered good service to the numerous antiquarian societies with which he was connected, especially in the editions he produced for the Camden Society and the Percy Society. His Old Man’s Diary (1871-1872) is an interesting record, though even here the taint of fabrication is not absent. Unfortunately what he did amiss is more striking to the imagination than what he did aright, and he will be chiefly remembered by it. He died at Maidenhead, where he had long resided, on the 17th of September 1883.