Bacon’s connection to the printing of “Shake-Speares Sonnets”
We look again at Cockburn’s analysis (a little abridged):
THE TITLE PAGE
This is headed simply “Shake-Speare’s Sonnets”, with no first name given. The use of the surname only, and in its hyphenated, metaphorical form, would be consistent with its use as a pen name. There appear to be only three other Elizabethan instances of the first name of a living author being omitted on a title page. However, I think the form of the heading here is of little or no significance since the metaphorical nature of Shakespeare’s surname may have appealed to the publisher and prompted him to use it without a prenomen. Besides, Shakespeare’s first name does appear in the separate heading to A Lover’s Complaint, included in the same volume, which is stated to be “By William Shake-Speare”.
THE DEDICATION TO MR. W. H.
This famous and much mulled-over Dedication (see the earlier post this month of the Sonnet's dedication).
T.T. was Thomas Thorpe, the publisher. The wording is convoluted, but probably means:
I, Thomas Thorpe, wish Mr. W.H., the only begetter of these sonnets, who is wishing himself well as he sets forth on an adventure, all happiness and that eternity promised by our ever-living poet.
But who is Mr. W.H., the only begetter? He cannot be the author of the Sonnets, since the Dedication distinguishes between the two. Is he the inspirer, i.e, the Fair Youth? But the only two serious candidates for that role - Henry Wriothesly (1573-1624), 3rd Earl of Southampton, and William Herbert (1580-1630), 3rd Earl of Pembroke - could not have been addressed as “Mr.”
The final alternative is that “begetter” means “getter”, “procurer”. That is now the most favoured view and I have little doubt that it is correct. “Beget” was an archaic alternative to “get”. Shake-Speare himself comes close to using the word in that sense in Hamlet 3.2.7-8: “You must acquire and beget a temperament that may give it smoothness”. The procurer could also be regarded as begetting the Sonnets in the more usual sense in that he fathered them on the world at large by making them available for publication. Thus the Dedication was Thorpe’s thank-you to the procurer.
But who was the procurer? There are two main candidates. One is Sir William Harvey. The suggestion of his supporters is that the Sonnets were addressed to the young Earl of Southampton, who gave them to his mother the Countess or somehow let them into her possession. The idea is that, because of their intimate nature, she did not want them published in her lifetime. In 1598 she married her 3rd husband Sir William Harvey. She died in 1607 and Harvey inherited her chattels, which included the Sonnets. And then in 1609 he sold them to Thorpe for publication.
This theory is most implausible. Harvey was a Knight. Yet the Dedication addresses Mr. W.H. as “Mr.”. True, the Countess in letters to Harvey addressed him as “Master Harvey” “Mr.” being a contraction of “Master”. But informality is acceptable in letters between spouses. True also that in the House of Commons Knights were referred to as “Mr.”. But that was a rule special to the House. No one has found any Elizabethan precedent for addressing a Knight as “Mr.” in a dedication. Leslie Hotson, who knew so much about such things, rightly dismissed as absurd the notion that “a Jacobean publisher could conceivably address a Right Worshipful Knight: [e.g. Sir William Harvey] as ‘Master”’. The rest of Thorpe’s wording also seems too informal for a dedication to a Knight. In his dedications in other works he published he was facetious and colloquial only when addressing friends or equals.
Again, how would the Sonnets pass from Southampton to his mother (with whom he was not even living for most of the time)? If one assumes for the moment (as the theory assumes) that the Sonnets depict a real and intimate emotional relationship between Southampton and Shakspere the actor, and record also how the two men shared a mistress who, according to three of the Sonnets, was little better than a prostitute, surely his mother would have been the last person Southampton wanted to see the Sonnets. And why would Harvey have them published, so as to bring scandal on the Southampton family? Even if one takes the view, which I shall urge below, that the Sonnets are almost entirely fictional, painting no real relationship, Southampton, his mother and Harvey might all have seen the risk that the world might construe them differently.
By contrast, the other main candidate for the role of Mr. W.H. is utterly convincing. He is William Hall, who was active in the publishing world and became a publisher in his own name in 1606. He seems to have published mostly theological works and business papers; and in 1609 to have been in partnership with Thomas Haviland, and in 1612 in association with John Beale. Hall disappears from the scene about 1614, having on 7 April of that year transferred some copyrights to Beale.
If one refers again to the Dedication, one sees that by removing the full stop after Mr. W.H., one gets Mr. W. Hall. It looks as though the wording may have been deliberately convoluted to bring “all” immediately after “Mr. W.H.”
Mr. W.H. was setting forth on some adventure. One thinks immediately of the colonisation of Virginia which was much in the public mind at that time. It is also worth noting that a William Hall became an “adventurer”, the official description of a shareholder in the Virginia Company, on a date unknown between the Company’s second Charter of 23 May 1609 and its third Charter of 12 March 1612. The Sonnets were entered in the S.R. on 20 May 1609 and presumably printed thereafter. Perhaps Hall became a shareholder before Thorpe drafted his Dedication.
There is a little further evidence that Mr. W.H. was our William Hall. One of the books Hall published was a collection of poems by Robert Southwell. It was printed for Hall by G. Eld who printed the Sonnets for Thorpe. The book has a dedication to one Mathew Saunders which says: “W.H. wisheth [Saunders] with long life a prosperous achievement of his good desires”. W.H. was no doubt William Hall. So there too he went by his initials. Speaking of the manuscripts from which the work was printed, W.H. says: “Long have they lain hidden in obscurity and happily [by hap] had never seen the light of day; had not a mere accident conveyed them to my hands”. Perhaps Hall’s speciality was to procure manuscripts for publication.
Now, all this leads nowhere for our purposes unless one can find some connection between Hall and either Shake-Speare or Bacon. But one can. Though this important point seems never to have been noted in this context, it was Hall and Beale who owned the copyright of the Second edition of Bacon’s Essays. The entry in the S.R. of 12 October 1612 reads:
Wm Hall, John Beale. Entred for their copy under the handes of my Lo: Bysshopp of London & the Wardens A booke called the Essayes of Sr Frs Bacon knight the Ks Sollicitor gen’all
This edition was an authorised one. So Bacon chose Hall or Beale or both as his publisher (probably not Beale alone since Hall’s name is first in the Register). But when the Essays were printed, they appeared under Beale’s name only.
Two of the objections which have been raised to the identification of Mr. W.H. with Hall are that Hall was too obscure a publisher to have obtained so important a work as the Sonnets; and that, had he obtained them, he would surely have published them himself, instead of making them over to another publisher. But Hall’s “obscurity” did not prevent him obtaining the Essays. They were of course a major scoop, especially as this edition contained 39 essays compared with 10 only in the First Edition of 1597. Further, Hall consented to their being published under Beale’s name only; just as, having acquired the Sonnets (if I am right), he made a similar arrangement with Thorpe. It seems that Hall had some reason for not wanting to publish either the Sonnets or the Essays under his own name. Yet he did not pirate the Essays, so perhaps not the Sonnets either.
They are likely to have been obtained from their author, directly or through an intermediary. It would have been difficult to collect the whole set piecemeal, one here, one there, from a number of the author’s friends among whom (so Meres tells us in his Palladis Tamia, 1598) they had circulated.
There are a number of misprints in the Sonnets. But in those days proofs were hardly ever sent to an author. He had to attend the printing house in person daily if he wanted to ensure accuracy. Shakspere could have done that, but Bacon, as Solicitor-General, could not; above all, it would have endangered his anonymity.
Does it not look, then, as though Hall obtained the Sonnets, A Lover’s Complaint and the Essays from the same source - Bacon?
End of part 4