The Shakespeare-Shapleigh Entanglement

[The editor finds it expedient to lay before the readers of this correspondence the following letter, which accompanied the MS. to his hands:—

MY DEAR A—: Some time ago, — it may be a year, or perhaps more, time flies so, — Professor Dowden, in one of the London weeklies, if I remember rightly, revived the story of this mask, with an evident desire to believe in it. The article brought out from Karl Elze, of Bonn, one of the least mystifying of the German Shakespearean commentators, a pretty broad intimation that the mask was a fabrication. Whether Elze had got on the track of these letters or not I do not know, but, as you recall, the finding of the mask, in the ordinary story about it, appeals to our belief by not very strong links of circumstantial evidence ; and it would now seem that the matter is not, under the light of this correspondence, to be got clear of the same treacherous kind of testimony. Many a poor fellow has hanged upon a less curious commingling and interlinking of fact and error than may possibly be found to be the warp and woof of this strange recital, quite worthy, it seems to me, of apt pupils — if there be such — of that teacher of novelwriting by correspondence, Mr. Hale. The letters as they are before me are copies ; and judging from the change of a name in one case, at least, which I recognize, I suspect they all are changed, as they say, “for obvious reasons,” so that there is no clue to these epistolary participants in the patronymics here employed. Cordially yours,



LONDON, October 15, 1877.

MY DEAR KATE, — I must tell you what a week of delights the last has been to me. A fortnight ago yesterday I was at Sotheran’s, in Piccadilly, talking with E— about Shakespeare matters, and he told me of an old Elizabethan library in Northamptonshire which I ought to see. Presently he said, “ And here comes the owner of it.” Turning to the door, I saw a gentleman of about sixty entering, and E— introduced me to Sir George Beecham. I was soon engaged to visit Beecham Hall, to see the library, which I was glad to do, and to ride after the hounds, which I was not anxious to do. So down I went ten days ago, by rail, and was most royally treated. I saw Sir George and his son-in-law, Captain Roberts, of the Guards, start off with the hounds one morning, but the finest hunter in the stable could not tempt me ; beside, Lady Beecham and I had, the night before, made what I thought was a discovery, and I was anxious to follow it up.

You must know that the hall dates back to James the First’s days. It has been added to somewhat since ; but the original builder was made a baronet by that monarch, and to him, Sir Gregory Beecham, the chief glory, in my eyes, of the estate is due, and that is its grand old library. I never saw a finer collection of Elizabethan literature in its original editions. The good old baronet seems to have been a devotee of the drama, and from his yearly visit to London and its theatres he appears to have brought away a stock of plays for his nine months of country life. Here are shelf after shelf of those small quartos of plays and poems which are the delight of the collectors of our days, — all fresh in their pristine glory, uncut and unrumpled. It would make an epoch in Sotheby’s history if he could have the selling of them. There is much about the house to interest anybody: a chessboard, for instance, which belonged to Queen Elizabeth, with her monogram ; a buff jerkin, whose leather is as stiff as galvanized rubber, and stained deep brown with blood of Naseby Field,— for the Beechams were stanch royalists ; and in the large hall a replica of Vandyke’s Charles on the horse. But what Lady Beecham and I found last night is quite another thing. Malone puts down an edition of Shakespeare’s Lucrece for 1596 ; but no one else ever saw one, and the bibliographers are all at a loss. Well, Malone was right, — here it was. But what is singular about Malone’s notice, he makes no mention of what this copy yields, — which leads me to think, after all, that he never saw it; that is, a dedication by Shakespeare himself to William Heminge, speaking in it of his brother John Heminge, the player, you know, who was one of those engaged in editing the first folio of Shakespeare’s plays after his death. Here is the mysterious initialed “ W. H.” of the dedication of that volume, which has puzzled everybody so long. Lady Beecham and I are going to make a proclamation on this discovery by and by.

But I must not forget to tell you something that will interest the Shapleys, when you write to them. There was a dinner-party here the evening of my arrival, and I found myself at table beside a certain Lady Shapley. Sir William Shapley, her husband, is now in America, with the English rifle-team, and the wife — who, by the way, is a sister of Lady Beecham — had just received a letter from him, in which he spoke of meeting in New York with our friend of the Massachusetts Berkshire, and how they had succeeded in tracing kinship. This led her to speak of a portrait of an ancient Sir William Shapley, their ancestor, which Lady Beecham had, and I promised to ask to see it, and let her know if I discovered in it any looks of our American Shapleys ; for the lines of the two families were united, it seems, in this old worthy of the Tudor times.

That night, when Sir George conducted me up to my chamber, the one candle which he carried strangely lighted up a small portrait that hung, with many others, on one side of the long corridor we were traversing. After he left me, that painted face haunted me. I had only a momentary glimpse of it, but I knew I had seen it before. I never once thought of the Shapley portrait. I found that I could not sleep for thinking of it, and so got out of bed and stealthily went out into the corridor, and took another look at it. I was not satisfied.

The next morning, when I passed along, the sun shone brightly through an opposite window, and brought the painting out in strong drawing. It dawned upon me then. The resemblance was to what is known as the death-mask of Shakespeare, whose story, as we have had it of late years, does not encourage a belief in it, but whose lineaments do, so satisfying are they. I scrutinized the picture closely, — the like nobleness, the same fine-cut features, aristocratic and powerful. Looking more closely, I was quite sure that there was an inscription in the upper right-hand corner. I thought I made out W. Sh. and a date, of which I could see nothing but a 6.

At breakfast I told my story. “ But that’s our old Sir William Shapley ! ” cried Lady Beecham.

I looked puzzled, and she glanced inquiringly. “ If it is so, then that Shakespeare death-mask is Shapley, too,” I answered.

Sir George, who has not much enthusiasm to spare in such directions, turned the talk upon something else; and I never saw the moment, while I was there, again to refer to the picture. . . .


BEECHAM HALL, October 17, 1880.

MY DEAR MR. W— : What do you suppose has happened since I last wrote to you ? You recollect the little old portrait in the corridor. Sir George has had a notion lately that the old hall needs rejuvenating, and one apartment after another has been turned upside down to bring it about, — this corridor among the rest. So all the pictures were taken into some adjacent rooms; and when I went into one of them yesterday to get something, this little portrait lay across two chairs in such a way that a side-light from the window revealed to me the inscription in the upper corner, which I remember you spoke of, but which I had failed to see, after you had gone, when I looked for it. I now made out very clearly what you said you saw, W. Sh., and a little warm water took off enough of the obscurity of over two centuries and a half to make me read plainly, OBIIT AP. 23,1616. Now this, you know, is just the date of Shakespeare’s death, and what if our old Sir William Shapley is the great William Shakespeare, after all! Your associating it with the German death-mask makes me half believe it is so.

I have not said a word of it to any one, nor of our Lucrece either ; but I have got Sir George’s permission to send you the Lucrece, and the picture being mine, I shall send that, and let you investigate both. I have had Flotsam make a case for the painting, and pack it securely, and to-morrow morning it is off for Liverpool to your address in Boston. Let me know of its safe arrival. Don’t deprive me of an ancestor unless you can make Shakespeare a friend of our house. . . .


BOSTON, November 3, 1880.

MY DEAR LADY BEECHAM, — The box and its contents have reached me safely. It was very kind of you to trust so much to my judgment and custody. The inscription as you gave it to me has not faded during the voyage. It is unmistakable. But what else ? I did not know that there was a board protecting the back of the canvas. I soon had it out, and what did it reveal ? On the concealed side of the panel was a painting of the lower portion of a man, standing apparently erect, in a pair of large wrinkled boots. The figure was cut off just above the waist. Attached to the back of the canvas was a paper with this inscription: —

This effigies of Sir William Shapleigh was depicted with the holp of a masgue, took after his dying, the twentie third Aprill, MDCXVI.

It is curious — is n’t it ? — how this date of death corresponds so exactly with Shakespeare’s. Shall we wholly disentangle the fates of the two ? All sorts of complexities trouble me. Perhaps the question will come, Did Shapley write Shakespeare ? as it has come, Did Bacon write Shakespeare ? Is this head Shapley-Shakespeare or Shakespeare-Shapley ? Is the death-mask now called Shakespeare’s other than the one mentioned in this inscription ?

By the way, how about the Shapleys of that day ? Is there no other likeness of them for comparison? Is there no monumental bust anywhere, — say at Brington Church, near Althorpe ? Let me know touching this. I have just written the whole story to my friend Shapley in our Berkshire, of whom Lady Shapley spoke to me as a new-found relative of her husband.

Believe me, my dear Lady Beecham, I was never more eager in any quest than I am in this. . . .


—, BERKSHIRE, November 10, 1880.

MY DEAR FRIEND, — Your letter, and what you say of the Shapleys of Northamptonshire, and particularly your account of the canvas you have received from Lady Beecham, interests me deeply. I am confident enough to hope for some revelations yet more surprising, when what you know and what I know are put together.

I will not say more now, but leave to your unraveling skill the enigma which I have sent to you by express to-day. You will find a paper with it, some of it old and some very new, the latter my own script, which will help you all it is entitled to in coming to a conclusion.


BOSTON, November 25, 1880.

MY DEAR LADY BEECHAM, — I told you in my last that I had written to my friend Shapley. It drew from him an enigmatical letter by post and a box by express. The latter contained a small picture on a panel, somewhat roughly done, but unmistakably of the same person as your canvas, and, as I think no one can doubt, the same head with the Shakespeare death-mask. There is a similar well-balanced brow, the same craniological development, the same firm yet delicate nose. To make the case sure, this new panel-picture is, as clear as can be, the upper half of the figure, the lower half of which the protecting board of your picture has on its inner surface. The two pieces of wood fit together; the grain matches; the lines of the figure coincide ; the sheath of the sword is in the one, of which the hilt is in the other. And so, after at least two hundred and forty years of separation in the Shapley lines, these two pieces of the same panel have come together, confirming all the facts we have so far got. With it my friend has sent me a yellow parchment, which he has marked as being the blazon of the family arms with the family pedigree, as made out at the Herald’s office. The tradition is that this paper was brought out to this country in 1635, by an old Geoffrey Shapley who was a younger son of your Sir William, and on this parchment the baronet is put down as dying April 23, 1616, — another confirmation.

I am now anxiously waiting your reply to my inquiry about monumental effigies of the Shapleys. I fancy there must be some. I don’t think that death-mask, which I now feel certain is not Shakespeare’s, was made for nothing, or for this portrait merely. The mask is so striking that Gerard Johnson must have been a feeble lout indeed if he could not make anything more nearly resembling it than the bust in the. Stratford Church. William Page, the artist, you remember, published a few years ago his faith in the mask as that of Shakespeare, and gave corresponding measurements between it and the Stratford bust to show how the one was moulded from the other. I hope you will find a Shapley monument at Brington, or somewhere, and see if correspondences which Page fancied in the Shakespeare bust don’t come out patent in the Shapley. Fearing you can’t readily find photographs of the death-mask, to make the comparison, I send you two views of it. I shall wait anxiously your report. . . .


BEECHAM HALL, December, 1880.

MY DEAR MR. W—: You have hit it. There is a monumental bust of the old Sir William in the Brington Church, in the opposite corner from the Washington monuments which you told me Earl Spencer took you to see. You had not had your curiosity excited then, and naturally did not notice it. I knew there were Shapley monuments there; but never gave them much thought. Sir William’s is there now, I know ; for Sir George and I drove over yesterday and saw it, and had your photographs with us for comparison. The inscription gives the same date of death as your friend’s parchment, and the likeness to the photographs and to the portrait as I remember it is perfect. I don’t want you to take my word for it. Sir George has this moment gone to town to send a photographer to Brington to take pictures of the monument, and I shall keep back this letter for a day or two, so as to inclose them. . . .

P. S. Here they are. See for yourself.


BOSTON, January, 1881.

MY DEAR FRIEND, — We are on the high road to a definite solution of this matter. Lady Beecham writes to me that there is a monumental bust to Sir William Shapley at Brington, as I hoped there might be, and, on comparing it with photographs of the Shakespeare mask, she thinks it certain one was made from the other.

You ask where you can find the best account of this death-mask. I have already referred you to Page’s paper on it, comparing it with the Chandos picture, the Stratford bust, and the Droeshout print of the first folio, in which he comes to the conclusion that they all represent the same person. He says : “ The more I studied and restored and modeled the mask, the more I saw the concurring testimony that this is Shakespeare, if the Droeshout print is Shakespeare. If the Chandos portrait is Shakespeare, this is more so. If the Stratford bust is Shakespeare, this is most Shakespeare.” Page, of course, cares nothing for the pedigree of the mask, with its disconnected links. His arguments are based on the agreement of measurements by calipers of the mask and the Stratford bust, of which he says that ten or twelve fit exactly just so many out of twenty-six, which he took of the mask. He clinches his statement thus : “ Few persons need be told that this planet never did at any one moment contain two adult heads whose faces agreed in any dozen like measures, and the law of probabilities makes it remote when such an epoch will arrive.” That is all very good, of course, even in its lordly extravagance ; but you and I care to know just what is known, or even presumed, about the descent of this mask. Page’s paper was printed in a New York magazine in 1875, and in the previous year there was in the same periodical the best account I can refer you to of just this circumstantial history. Let me give you the main points of it.

In 1843 a German gentleman, Franz von Kesselstadt, died at Mayence ; and when his effects were sold, among them was a small miniature, which represented a man, crowned with laurel, and lying asleep or dead on a bed or bier; this picture showed the body upwards from a point a few inches below the chin. A burning candle was represented by his side. The picture had on the face “ Aō 1637,” and on the back “ Den Traditional nach Shakespeare.” This picture was said to have been long in the Kesselstadt family, and if it represented a dead man it might naturally be supposed to be painted after a cast ; but no such cast was found among the effects, though there was a report that such a cast had existed. A dealer bought the picture, and four years later (1847) sold it to Ludwig Becker, a portrait-painter in Mayence, who set about inquiries for the cast, and is said to have found in a junk shop, in 1849, a mask which bore a striking resemblance to the picture. It had on the back of it, impressed in the plaster, and, as experts said, before the plaster was hardened, this inscription : “ † Ao DM 1616.” This was the year, you know, of Shakespeare’s death, and a few hairs which adhered to the cast were auburn, which we are told was the color of Shakespeare’s hair. This is the whole story, and it constitutes all the evidence there is, except that kind of evidence which Page finds in correspondences with the well-known likenesses of Shakespeare. Of course you can imagine all sorts of ways in which the mask may have reached Germany; but not a bit of testimony is produced to show any way to have been the true one. Becker, the next year (1850), having worked himself into the belief that he had the death-mask of Shakespeare, took it to England, and, being a naturalist, made the acquaintance of Professor Owen, of the British Museum, with whom he left the mask, while he went to Australia. Owen and others were struck with its appearance, but the missing link in its descent prevented any one seriously giving in his adherence to the view of it held by Becker, or at least the authorities of the British Museum did not. They are said to have tried hard to establish the fact that some member of the Kesselstadt family had been in England in King James’s day. Owen had the mask for ten years, and on the death of Becker, in 1861, it was sent to Becker’s brother in Darmstadt, where it now is, or was recently.

You are aware that the Stratford bust is known to have been made before 1623, and that sculptors, or some at least, have agreed to its bearing evidences of having been made from a death-mask. The important point to be established is, of course, Did Gerard Johnson, the tombmaker, have this mask ? He did not, certainly, if our proofs pass for anything.


BEECHAM HALL, January, 1881.

MY DEAR MR. W—: You can’t imagine what an ardent disciple you have got in Captain Roberts. He came down from London to pass the holidays with us, and I told him about our quest, and how it was going on, and showed him the photograph of the Kesselstadt mask. You know how warm Roberts is, when he gets excited, and nothing could prevent his starting off one day to Brington in a drag, though it was threatening a furious storm at the time. Klinch, the rector there, is an old college mate of his, and Roberts would have him light up the sexton’s torches and take him into the church, and made poor Klinch hold the torch while he clambered upon the sexton’s shoulders to get a nearer view of the bust. He saw enough to make him feel sure that the maker’s name was cut at the back of the marble ; so he stayed all night with Klinch, and sent word to us to keep his wife from worrying, for it was now pelting furiously. The next morning, Klinch, he and the sexton managed to move the bust, so that they got at the inscription, and found it to read, KENNELTON SCULPSIT.

Roberts came home, full of exultation.

“ We ’ll have it now. When I get back to London, Rowe will tell me all about Kennelton, — whom he married, what he ate for breakfast; there is not anything Rowe don’t know.” You can well picture Roberts saying this in his enthusiastic way ; but perhaps you don’t know that Rowe is one of the people at the British Museum, who, as Roberts says, “ knows everything.”

But Rowe did not give us the first light. Emily said, in that quiet way which you remember, “Kennelton,— Kesselstadt.” I don’t know whether to put a question-mark or not after this little speech, she uttered it so half inquiringly and half exultantly. But we did not any of us see the point, and poor Emily had to explain.

You remember that day when I took you to Naseby Field how we passed a pretty, sequestered lodge, to which, I told you, an Austrian gentleman came every autumn to try our shooting. Some of his people are often over to our kennels, and Emily had picked up the word Kessel, which they used sometimes instead of Hundestall.

“ Now,” cries Roberts, “was it a Kesselstadt who came from Germany to be a statuary here, and Englished his name, or was it a Kennelton, going to Germany, Germanized his ? I ’ll ask Rowe.”

So there, dear Mr. W—, the matter stands at present. I hope you are making as good progress on your side of the ocean.


BOSTON, February, 1881.

MY DEAR LADY BEECHAM, — You are toppling Page’s Shakespeare over splendidly. I never did like it. I saw it at Ben Stevens’s, in Trafalgar Square. Page had managed to give a very supercilious look to so noble a model as the Kennelton mask, let us call it.

I have written to a friend of mine in Heidelberg, giving him some hints suggested by your letter, and perhaps something will come of it.



HEIDELBERG, March, 1881.

MY OLD FRIEND, — An inquiry such as yours, coming to an old pupil of Gervinus, must have a prompt and careful response. I have been at Darmstadt, and have seen the mask, and compared it with the photographs which you sent. What you suppose to be a depression on the brow is nothing but a discoloration of the plaster, which is perfect except for the unfortunate snip of the nose, which the photograph shows. I could not find that the present owners could give me the slightest addition to what you already know. You know Dr. Becker, who owned the mask, has been dead twenty years, and I don’t think anybody has since tried to follow up the Kesselstadt history. So I determined to go to Mayence. Here I chanced to stumble upon Hans Büchner in the street. You remember Hans; he was the biggest swaggerer of the Swabians, and left not a little of his blood on the Hirschgasse floor. You and I went with the whitecapped Prussians, you recollect. Those were days we have got over bravely, my dear —, and Hans has, too. He is now quite the man of Mainz, and edits the Zeitung. Most singularly he has in his office a grandson of the old Graf von Kesselstadt, and I had a talk with the young man. His father, the son of the Graf, had been long absent at the time of the old gentleman’s death, and was supposed to be dead. In fact, he never returned, but died at Capetown, in Africa, where our young friend was born. While there the family were much with English people, and indeed our friend’s mother was an Englishwoman, or, rather, of English origin, and born at the Cape. So Shakespeare was familiar reading to her son. He was still young when his father died, but he was old enough to take an interest in his stories about his grandfather, and remembers his father’s speaking to him of the portrait of Shakespeare ; but he says, as he looks back upon it and recalls how he spoke of the inscription which the picture had on the back, that he half suspected, even then, the inscription might have been the work of his father’s boyish mischief. The father, by all accounts, must have had a wild youth.

This gave me a good opportunity to turn the light of your discoveries upon the usual story of the picture and the mask ; and I found he had no particular pride in the story, and was quite willing to accept any interpretation. The name Kennelton did not seem to suggest anything to him. He said he had a few old papers, that were found in his father’s cabinet after his death; but he did not seem to know anything of them. I tried to get him to let me see them, but he made excuses. . . .

I am quite delighted at this renewal of our correspondence ; and in memory of old days I am as ever, etc.



HEIDELBERG March, 1881.

MY DEAR—: I had but just dispatched my letter yesterday when I got one from my new friend at Mainz. It seems to settle the question. I had barely mentioned to him the name Kennelton, so he had no data to concoct a story upon, and what he writes complements what you have written me too exactly to leave room for any further question. He says that among the papers which he has he found a letter dated London, June, 1617, in which the writer speaks of his success in London, and of his being employed by notable people in the making of monuments, and mentions the bust of a Lord “ Shepleg,” which he was then at work upon, as offering the noblest head imaginable for his art. He tells his correspondent, whoever he was, to direct his letters to “Kenelton, tomb-maker, with Maximilian Powtran.” The letter is without address and signature ; indeed, is but half a sheet. . . .


BOSTON, April, 1881.

MY DEAR LADY BEECHAM, — We don’t need Rowe. It is all fixed now. Just read the two inclosed letters from my friend Von Gagern.

Powtran, you know, was the statuary whom James the First employed to build that magnificent monument to Elizabeth in Henry the Seventh’s chapel in the Abbey. Can’t you find, my dear Lady Beecham, a place somewhere at Beecham Hall to set up the bust by Page, which used to be called Shakespeare’s ? It is a capital likeness of doughty old Sir William Shapleigh, despite its superciliousness. Perhaps Lady Shapley will buy it. If either of you don’t, my friend and your kinsman, Geoffrey Shapley, will. Adieu.