Shakspeare Relíques, 1825

The following comes from the preface of a book published in 1825. It discusses some of the actual relics from William Shakespeare’s life, and yes, it uses an alternative spelling for Shakespeare. Much of the talk centers around the first Shakespeare Jubilee, which was organized by actor David Garrick in 1769.

The most minute particulars relative to our great dramatist have a peculiar charm for his admirers; and anything, however insignificant, which time has hallowed with recollections of Shakspeare, becomes venerable from the force of association.

Some traditions affirm that Anne Hathaway, Shakspeare’s wife, was born at Shottery, a village in the vicinity of Stratford. The cottage where Anne’s family resided, still stands: some time ago, there was a bed in it, which attracted great notice; an old woman of seventy was the chief witness in its favour, she has slept in it from childhood, and had been invariably told that it was as antient as the house, consequently, Shakspeare might have slept in it. Large sums of money were repeatedly offered for this treasure; but in vain.

During the celebration of Garrick’s Jubilee, his brother George, purchased an inkstand, which the poet is said to have used, and a pair of fringed gloves, which it was assumed he had worn. David Garrick, notwithstanding all his enthusiasm for Shakspeare, was too careful of his purse to part with its contents for reliques, the genuineness of which was so questionable.

In the garden attached to New Place, flourished a mulberry-tree, which the dramatist had planted with his own hands; and in 1742, when Garrick and Macklin visited Stratford, they were regaled beneath its venerable branches by sir Hugh Clopton; who, instead of pulling down New Place, according to Malone’s assertion, repaired it and did everything in his power for its preservation. The rev. Francis Gastrell purchased the building from sir Hugh Clopton’s heir, and being disgusted with the trouble of shewing the mulberry-tree to so many visitors, he caused this interesting and beautiful memorial of Shakspeare, to be cut down.

In the recess of a chimney stood an old oak chair, which, for many years, received worshippers as numerous as the renowned shrine of the Virgin at Loretto. This relic was, in the year 1790, purchased by a Russian princess, and removed to London in a post-chaise…

The best authenticated Shakspeare reliques were disposed of at the sale of Garrick’s effects, in 1823. An auction took place at that great actor’s residence in the Adelphi, on the 23d of June. His collection of pictures fetched a large sum, but the following lots are the only ones necessary to be noticed here:

An ink-stand, formed of the Stratford mulberry-tree; sold for £5; 15s; 6d. to Mr. Knowles. A salt-cellar, made of delft-ware, which it is believed belonged to Shakspeare, sold for £2; 2s. to Mr. Webb.

A pair of gloves and a dagger, formerly worn by Shakspeare, said, on tolerably good grounds, to be authentic; sold for £3; 5s. Mrs. Garrick also bequeathed a pair of gloves, once worn by Shakspeare, to Mrs. Siddons; how are we to distinguish the genuine?

A box, made of the mulberry-tree at Stratford, containing the freedom of Lichfield, presented to Mr. Garrick; £4; 10s. We have little confidence in the gloves, dagger, and salt-cellar: the box and ink-stand were certainly curious, and if composed of the true wood, acquire a value with every lover of genius.

A vase and pedestal of the most exquisite workmanship, formed of the mulberry-tree, planted by Shakspeare, curiously mounted and ornamented with silver gilt, and a finely polished black marble base and steps, the pedestal containing a medallion of Shakspeare on the one side, and on the other the following inscription: “Sacred to the memory of William Shakspeare, the applause, delight, and wonder of the British stage, born 1564, died 1616,” supported on a carved and partly gilt bracket, with a glass cover, sold for £22; 11s; 6d. This vase was placed in the chamber in which Garrick slept. A singularly curious elbow-chair, enriched with the emblems of tragedy and comedy, admirably carved from a design by Hogarth, with a medallion of Shakspeare on the back, carved from a portion of the celebrated mulberry-tree, by Hogarth himself; sold for £152; 3s. This chair was always placed by the side of the statue of Shakspeare by Roubilliac, in the temple dedicated to the bard. A medallion portrait of Shakspeare, carved on a piece of the Stratford mulberry-tree, and originally worn by Garrick at the Jubilee, sold for £13.

Harvey, W. Prolegomena to the Works of Shakspeare. London: Sherwood & Paternoster Row, 1825, pp ixv-xvi. Print.

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