Page images

author's likeness was expofed to, may have been numerous, it is ftill in good prefervation.

But, as further particulars may be wifhed for, it fhould be fubjoined, that in the Catalogue of "The fourth Exhibition and Sale by private Contract at the European Museum, King Street, St. James's Square, 1792," this picture was announced to the publick in the following words:

"No. 359. A curious portrait of Shakspeare, painted in 1597."

On the 31ft of May, 1792, Mr. Felton bought it for five guineas; and afterwards urging fome inquiry concerning the place it came from, Mr. Wilson, the conductor of the Museum already mentioned, wrote to him as follows:

"To Mr. S. Felton, Drayton, Shropshire.


[ocr errors]

The Head of Shakespeare was purchased out of an old house known by the fign of the Boar in Eaftcheap, London, where Shakefpeare and his friends used to refort,-and report fays, was painted by a Player of that time,' but whose name I have not been able to learn.

[ocr errors]

"I am, Sir, with great regard,

"Your most obed'. servant,

"Sept. 11, 1792."

"J. Wilfon."

I The player alluded to was Richard Burbage.

[ocr errors]

A Gentleman who, for feveral years paft, has collected many pictures of Shakspeare as he could hear of, (in the hope that he might at laft procure a genuine one,) declares that the

Auguft 11, 1794, Mr. Wilfon affured Mr. Steevens, that this portrait was found between four and five years ago at a broker's fhop in the Minories, by a man of fashion, whofe name must be concealed: that it afterwards came (attended by the Eaftcheap ftory, &c.) with a part of that gentleman's collection of paintings, to be fold at the European Mufeum, and was exhibited there for about three months, during which time it was feen by Lord Leicester and Lord Orford, who both allowed it to be a genuine picture of Shakspeare,-It is natural to fuppofe that the mutilated state of it prevented either of their Lordships from becoming its purchafer,

How far the report on which Mr. Wilfon's narratives (refpecting the place where this picture was met with, &c.) were built, can be verified by evidence at present within reach, is quite immaterial, as our great dramatick author's portrait difplays indubitable marks of its own authenticity. It is apparently not the work of an amateur, but of an artift by profeffion; and therefore could hardly have been the production of Burbage, the principal actor of his time, who (though he certainly handled the pencil) must have had infufficient leifure to perfect himself in oil-painting, which was then fo little understood and practifed by the natives of this kingdom.2

Eaftcheap legend has accompanied the majority of them, from whatever quarter they were tranfmitted.

It is therefore high time that picture-dealers should avail them-. felves of another ftory, this being completely worn out, and no longer fit for fervice.

[ocr errors]

2 Much confidence, perhaps, ought not to be placed in this remark, as a fuccellion of limners now unknown might have purfued their art in England from the time of Hans Holbein to that of Queen Elizabeth.

Yet, by those who allow to poffibilities the influence of facts, it may be faid that this picture was probably the ornament of a club-room in Eaficheap, round which other resemblances of contemporary poets and players might have been arranged :—that the Boar's Head, the scene of Falstaff's jollity, might also have been the favourite tavern of Shakspeare:that, when our author returned over London Bridge from the Globe theatre, this was a convenient houfe of entertainment; and that for many years afterwards (as the tradition of the neighbourhood reports) it was understood to have been a place where the wits and wags of a former age were affembled, and their portraits repofited. To fuch fuppofitions it may be replied, that Mr. Sloman, who quitted this cele.brated publick house in 1767, (when all its furniture, which had devolved to him from his two immediate predeceffors, was fold off,) declared his utter ignorance of any picture on the premises, except a coarfe daubing of the Gadshill robbery.3 From

3 Philip Jones of Barnard's Inn, the auctioneer who fold off Mr. Sloman's effects, has been fought for; but he died a few years ago. Otherwise, as the knights of the hammer are faid to preferve the catalogue of every auction, it might have been known whether pictures constituted any part of the Boar's Head furniture; for Mr. Sloman himself could not affirm that there were no fmall or obfcure paintings above ftairs in apartments which he had feldom or ever occafion to visit.

Mrs. Brinn, the widow of Mr. Sloman's predeceffor, after her husband's decease quitted Eaftcheap, took up the trade of a wireworker, and lived in Crooked Lane. She died about ten years ago. One, who had been her apprentice (no youth,) declares the was a very particular woman, was circumftantial in her narratives, and fo often repeated them, that he could not poffibly forget any article fhe had communicated relative to the plate, furniture, &c. of the Boar's Head:-that the often spoke of the painting that reprefented the robbery at Gadshill, but never fo much as hinted at any other pictures in the house; and had there been any, he is fure the would not have failed to defcribe them

hence the following probabilities may be suggested: -first, that if Shakspeare's portrait was ever at the Boar's Head, it had been alienated before the fire of London in 1666, when the original house was burnt; and, fecondly, that the path through which the fame picture has travelled fince, is as little to be determined as the courfe of a fubterraneous ftream.

It may alfo be remarked, that if fuch a Portrait had exifted in Eaftcheap during the life of the induftrious Vertue, he would moft certainly have procured it, inftead of having fubmitted to take his firft engraving of our author from a juvenile likeness of James I. and his laft from Mr. Keck's unauthenticated purchase out of the dreffing-room of a modern actress.

It is obvious, therefore, from the joint depofitions of Mr. Wilfon and Mr. Sloman, that an inference disadvantageous to the authenticity of the Boar's Head story muft be drawn; for if the portrait in queftion arrived after a filent progrefs through obfcurity, at the fhop of a broker who, being ignorant of its value, fold it for a few fhillings, it must neceffarily have been unattended by any history whatever. And if it was purchased at a fale of goods at the Boar's Head, as neither the mafter of the houfe, or his two predeceffors, had the leaft idea of having poffeffed fuch a curiofity, no intelligence could be fent abroad with

in her accounts of her former business and place of abode, which supplied her with materials for conversation to the very end of a long life.

4 The four laft publicans who kept this tavern are faid to have filled the whole period, from the time of Vertue's inquiries, to the year 1788, when the Boar's Head, having been untenanted for five years, was converted into two dwellings for shopkeepers.

it from that quarter. In either cafe then we may fuppofe, that the legend relative to the name of its painter,5 and the place where it was found, (notwithstanding both these particulars might be true,) were at hazard appended to the portrait under confideration, as foon as its fimilitude to Shakspeare had been acknowledged, and his name difcovered on the back of it. This circumftance, however, cannot affect the credit of the picture; for (as the late Lord Mansfield obferved in the Douglas controverfy) "there are inftances in which falfhood has been employed in fupport of a real fact, and that it is no uncommon thing for a man to defend a true cause by fabulous pretences.'


That Shakspeare's family poffeffed no resemblance of him, there is fufficient reafon to believe. Where then was this fafhionable and therefore neceffary adjunct to his works to be fought for? If any where, in London, the theatre of his fame and fortune, and the only place where painters, at that period, could have expected to thrive by their profeffion. We may fuppofe too, that the bookfellers who employed Droefhout, difcovered the object of their research by the direction of Ben Jonson, who in the following lines has borne the most ample teftimony to the verifimilitude of a portrait which will now be recommended, by a more accurate and finished engraving, to the publick notice:

5 The tradition that Burbage painted a likeness of Shakspeare, has been current in the world ever fince the appearance of Mr. Granger's Biographical Hiftory.

It is not improbable that Ben Jonfon furnished the Dedication and Introduction to the first folio, as well as the Commendatory Verfes prefixed to it.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »