Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Did Marlowe Die in Padua in 1627? by Peter Farey

One of the stories dear to the hearts of many Marlovians is one from Calvin Hoffman which concerns a man from Padua—Pietro Basconi—who claimed to have nursed an exiled recluse called Christopher Marlowe when he was terminally ill in Padua in 1627. Unfortunately, it has only very recently come to light that on 23 April 1916, the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, something appeared which seems to show that this whole story is a myth.

According to an item in the Guardian newspaper of 11 July 1983, Calvin Hoffman had been left some notes about it in the will of a journalist friend of his. Here is what it says:

"CALVIN HOFFMAN, probably the most indefatigable friend the Elizabethan playright (sic) Christopher Marlowe ever had, will travel to Italy next week in what he hopes will be the conclusive phase of his 30-year campaign to prove that Marlowe wrote the works of Shakespeare.
This is to follow up written evidence indicating that documents could exist showing that Marlowe lived in hiding in Padua, creating the entire Shakespearean cannon (sic), for 34 years after his supposed death in a tavern brawl in 1593. The evidence is in the form of notes which Mr Hoffman, aged 75, an American former theatre critic, received this year from the will of a journalist friend. These say that a 16th century Paduan, Petro (sic) Basconi, left papers stating that an English writer named Marlowe lived with him as a recluse until dying in 1627, 11 years after Shakespere's (sic) death. The notes add that the writer had "had to leave England." The papers were passed down the Basoni (sic) family and were said to have been shown during the 19th century to a British ambassador to Italy, who is said to have commented that he was "afraid to tamper with a matter so dear to the English heart." ... "Mr Hoffman does not know where to begin looking in Padua."

He did in fact go there and succeeded in finding a 17th century grave for someone called Merlin, a name used for Marlowe when he was at Cambridge, only to discover that it is quite a common name in Padua. He found nothing else.1

It is too good a story to just be left alone, however, and other Marlovians have tried to see what truth there might be in it.

In his 2001 film Much Ado About Something, after hearing of the Guardian account from John Hunt, Michael Rubbo also discovered the existence of a 1983 letter from Hoffman on the same subject, and showed that it mentioned Washington Irving (US Ambassador to Spain, 1842-6, who had apparently seen the relevant document) and Whitelaw Reid (US Ambassador to the UK, 1905-1912). Mike discussed the story with the archivist at Mantua, Dr. Ferrari, but—not really surprising as Padua is over 50 miles from there—found nothing.

In April 2003, Christian Lanciai reported to an internet newsgroup that he had visited three different archives in Padua, finding only (in the Archivio della Stato) that nobody with a name like Marlowe appears in a record of all the deaths in Padua from 1626 to 1651. He did find a Merlini who had died there in 1647, but "no confirmation at all in the city archives of Padua...that Christopher Marlowe had died there in the 1620s." His piece was also published in the Marlowe Society's Newsletter 22, of Spring 2004.

Izabel Gortázar mentioned the result of her research on this in an essay for the Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection blog on 20 September 20102 when she said that she "found no Basconi or Bosconi families in the Padua records." Amplifying this for some of us she said "A few years ago I went to Padua in search of Marlowe. Luckily I had friends who ensured that I had entry to the old Municipal, Church and University records and that I could talk to Librarians and Professors. Although I only spent a few days there I could not find any records of a Basconi/Bosconi family, and indeed was dissuaded by the Librarians to continue looking for such name, assuring me that there had never been a Bosconi or Basconi family in Padua."

Some Marlovians, amongst whom I count myself, nevertheless thought that there might even yet be something in it. At least we did until Edward Clybourn told us about a newspaper article he had found, dated 23 April 1916, which he correctly thought must cast doubt upon the truth of the whole thing. It was from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was by Henry Watterson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal for more than 50 years (1868-1919).3

The first half of it consists mainly of a summary of, and apparent agreement with, his friend Mark Twain's argument against Shakespeare's authorship of the works attributed to him. "Thus Mark Twain briefs the case. Not a single statement can be gainsaid. The conclusion is dead against Shakespeare." Next he considers the Baconian case, finding some merit in it, but also disliking some aspects. He mentions how in a discussion with Whitelaw Reid, American Ambassador to the UK, Reid wouldn't check whether one Baconian argument was true or not, saying that he would not even if he could, "meaning of course that as American Ambassador he could not afford to meddle in such a controversy." Before and after the Bacon bit, however, are anecdotes apparently about how people feel free to make anything up in support of a story if they have enough belief in their version of it. Whereupon he illustrates this with his own story, written of course before Leslie Hotson's discovery of the inquest, and containing a whole lot of information which we now know to be completely wrong.

"TO COME directly to the point, there is a simple but perfect thesis in explanation of the Shakespearean mystery," he said. "This relates that the plays were written by Christopher Marlowe. They were revised by Francis Bacon. Thus prepared for the stage, they were produced by William Shakespeare." Then comes the "story". Marlowe and Shakespeare were celebrating in a tavern when he got into row with an actor called Herrick, who was accidentally killed in a scuffle. Marlowe's friend and "former classmate" Francis Bacon happened to be passing and helped to sort it out. Marlowe and the dead Herrick would swap clothes and the former "fly for his life". "Next day it was given out that Marlowe had been killed, and, the penalty death for him in case he came to life again, it was ever after thus proclaimed." He travelled to Paris and Spain, and "Finally, all individual traces lost, he repaired to Italy and settled down in Padua." There he wrote the plays which he sent back home to Bacon.

So far, so good, but now Watterson gives full rein to his imagination:

"Bacon left no cryptogram. No more did Marlowe. But, in an early edition of the Lemounier (sic) Vasari, the Comte de la Borde (sic), correcting one of the many errors in the Guida de Bassano,4 refers to a recluse of Padua, Pietro Basconi by name, who claimed to have nursed Marlowe in his last illness (Marlowe died in 1627, just a year after Bacon's death), and to have had from him the story and reduced it to writing. This strange composition came into the possession of Andreas Basconi, a descendant of Pietro, and was read, we are told, as late as 1843 by no less a person than Washington Irving, who, thinking it a doubtful yarn, and with Whitelaw Reid, knowing it dangerous for a man of importance (he was the American minster (sic) to Spain) to tamper with a subject so sacred to the British heart, wrote nothing about it, nor, indeed, spoke of it except to one or two intimate friends."

So could it have happened like that? "Why Not? Why Not?" Watterson asks. Couldn't a friend of his, long resident of Florence, have heard the story and told him about it? Or why, when in London, couldn't he have "fallen in with a ragged Italian in Leicester Square who, born and reared in Padua, had an inkling of the truth and who tried to sell me a plaster cast of Christopher Marlowe, declaring that, if I would go with him on a dark night into a wood by the river Wye, he would produce from the hollow of an old oak the identical Basconi manuscript."

Now comes the important bit. "Go to! Go to!" he says. "I am not on the witness stand making oath to anything—only pursuing the usual Bacon-Shakespeare method" ... "Why may I not call from the shadows and the stars the strange story of Christopher Marlowe ... at the moment of his supposed death the greatest of English poets and dramatists...many of whose early conceits, and some of his actual phrasing, to be found in the plays later ascribed to William Shakespeare?"5 In other words, whilst agreeing with the Marlovian theory, the story he told about it was "from the shadows and the stars"—all made up. In fact it is easy to see that the bit about the River Wye must have been inspired by the actions in 1907 of a Baconian, Dr. Orville Ward Owen, who claimed he had decoded instructions revealing that a box containing proof of Bacon's authorship had been buried in the River Wye near Chepstow, but whose dredging machinery failed to retrieve any concealed manuscripts.

Henry Watterson did clearly favour the Marlovian theory over any other. The Wikipedia article6 on the Louisville Courier-Journal says that "He attracted controversy for attempting to prove that Christopher Marlowe had actually written the works of Shakespeare" and the New York Times carried his reaction to the Oxfordian book of J. Thomas Looney, saying that "My own guess—we can only guess—has always been that Marlowe wrote the plays."7 His correspondence with Wilbur G. Zeigler—the first known Marlovian—is also held in the Library of Congress, and should be well worth reading.8

The date when his article appeared is an interesting one, though. Not only was it the exact tercentenary of Shakespeare's death,9 but it followed hard upon a quite extraordinary court case, which ran from 3 to 21 April, in which a Colonel Selig—who had produced several films about Shakespeare (presumably ready for the tercentenary)—sued a Baconian, Colonel Fabyan, because the recent publishing of his anti-Stratfordian theory would lose Selig money. The judge actually came down on Fabyan's side because he found that Bacon must indeed have written the works of Shakespeare! The plaintiff and defendant were apparently good friends, however, and cynics suggested that the publicity given to Selig's films would have been well worth the cost to him of those proceedings. Watterson's article appeared on 23 April as a signed front-page feature article in his own Courier-Journal, which apparently realized over a thousand dollars for its syndication of the story to other newspapers.10

So how is it that Calvin Hoffman got hold of this, and thought it worth following up? We know that the notes about it had been left to him in 1983 by a friend of his. Any of Henry Watterson's five children would have been well over 100 years old by then, so we are probably looking at one of his grand—or great-grand—children. It is in fact interesting that the Watterson Papers as held at the University of Louisville carry on until 1983, despite his having died in 1921. Perhaps this descendant lived until 1983, having carried on collecting related documents, and then left them all to the University of Louisville and the Library of Congress, except for one item. They left the "notes" about the Basconi/Padua story to Calvin Hoffman, because they not only knew of Henry's beliefs but also that Hoffman's 1955 book had argued much the same theory. It is just a pity that they seem to have missed their ancestor's point—that that bit was just a story.

©Peter Farey, 2012

1 I am grateful to Gene Ayres for sharing with me this information which he obtained from the then archivist at King's College Canterbury, Paul Pollak.
2 http://marlowe-shakespeare.blogspot.com/2010/09/more-doubts-about-will-4-real-death-of.html (accessed 13 February 2012).
3 The article is quite long, but it can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/watterson-item  (accessed 13 February 2012).
4 The earliest edition of Vasari’s writings published by Lemonnier appeared in 1846. As Ellen Wilson pointed out to me, this must therefore refer to Léon-Emmanuel-Simon-Joseph, Comte de Laborde (1807-69). He wasn't one of Lemonnier’s editors, however, so this would appear to have been in the form of handwritten marginalia.
5 I have corrected part of this, where the lines were set in the wrong order.
6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Courier-Journal (accessed 13 February 2012).
7 Thanks to Ellen Wilson for finding this at http://tinyurl.com/watterson-NYT (accessed 13 February 2012).
8http://memory.loc.gov/service/mss/eadxmlmss/eadpdfmss/2009/ms009072.pdf (accessed 13 February 2012).
9 Thanks to Anthony Kellett for pointing this out.
10 Wall, Joseph Frazier. Henry Watterson, Reconstructed Rebel (1956). Oxford University Press, New York. pp.293-4.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Crossing the Channel by Isabel Gortázar

To the best of my knowledge, pending further research, the first documented appearance of someone whom I personally believe might have been Christopher Marlowe after 1593 occurs in 1595.

Going through the Anthony Bacon Papers1 in 1995, A.D. Wraight2 and Peter Farey3 found several documents relative to a Frenchman, possibly passing for a Huguenot4, named Mr. Le Doux (no Christian name mentioned), staying in the house of Sir John Harington, at Burley-on-the Hill near Exton in Rutland, as tutor to Sir John’s son.

The information is contained in a series of letters from various persons, including: Mr. Le Doux; a de-frocked possibly Huguenot nun called Ide du Wault; Anthony Bacon; and a French servant of the latter called Jacques Petit. Le Doux, Petit and Ide du Wault are all at the house of Sir John Harington during the Christmas Festivities of 1595/6.

Jacques Petit’s letters to Anthony Bacon, together with other documents found in the Lambeth Palace Archives, led A.D. Wraight and Peter Farey to surmise that Le Doux could have been Christopher Marlowe, acting as a secret agent to the Earl of Essex.

(For those who wish to know more about Mr. Le Doux, Anthony Bacon and Jacques Petit as they appear in the Bacon Papers [Lambert Palace Library], and their possible relation with Christopher Marlowe, I suggest they visit The Marlowe Studies, where they will find most of the information published so far on the subject.)

This document below has been included and published as part of a longer essay: "About Mr. Le Doux and Some Related Matters," at The Marlowe Studies website.

However, I thought to post it here separately as well, for what I believe to be interesting information for Marlowe researchers in general, even if probably not particularly relevant to the theories about Mr. Le Doux.

As I say, I find this letter from Jacques Petit to Anthony Bacon interesting in itself, for two reasons. In the first place, it confirms the problem of dates, as it gives us good proof of the unreliability of apparent dates in some of the documents contained in the Bacon papers. The dates can be unreliable on two accounts: The fact that not all the correspondents seem to be using the same calendar, which affects primarily all documents dated January, February and March, of any particular year, but also the day. A second misleader is that we sometimes find the date of reception of one document, but not the date when it was written or even sent.

In the letter we have here, we find, written sideways on the margin the following note: “De Jacques Petit, le 4eme Feburier 159?” The last digit is unclear, but it seemed to me to say 1596. We know from other documents in this correspondence that this letter could not have been written in January 1595/6, when Petit was at Burley writing frantic letters to Bacon about Le Doux and du Wault (see the complete essay). The printed Index in the LPL indicates the year 1597, which would be consistent with the apparent 1596 (OS) in the MS itself. For the record, however, the day that Petit starts this Diary, the 6th of January 1596 was a Tuesday in the Julian, Old Style calendar, and a Saturday in the Gregorian calendar. In 1597, January 6th was a Thursday (Julian) or Monday (Gregorian). In fact we only find January 6th to be a Friday in 1595 (Gregorian), and in 1598 (Julian).

This discovery not only gives us new food for thought as to Petit’s movements, but, as I said above, may also require that we revise several year-dates in the Bacon Papers in order to establish which calendar is being used in each case, and this can only be done by double-checking against week-days whenever possible, and/or following up on events and/or information dated beyond the tricky months of January, February and March. Once we know which calendar is being used in each document, we must remember to add or detract the ten days’ difference that existed between the two.

In this respect, for example, we will find that the letter written from Middleburg by Le Doux to Anthony Bacon, dated 22nd June 1596, would have meant 12th June in England, because the Baron Zeroitin in his letter to the Earl of Essex, also from Middleburg, also dated 22nd June, explicitly says he is using the Gregorian calendar. Even if we cannot be certain that Le Doux had crossed the Channel with Zeroitin, both men seem to have entrusted their letters to the same courier.

The second reason why I think this letter from Petit is interesting to Marlovian researchers has to do with the information it gives us about Channel crossing conditions in the Sixteenth Century - a matter of extraordinary importance when it comes to speculating as to who might have been where, when.

As we will see, Petit’s Diary (Journal) sheds abundant light on the matter, and goes a long way to prove that making exact plans about arrival, or even departure, dates across the Channel may have been futile.

Reading this document we realize that it took Petit nearly a week to go from the Thames Estuary to The Hague. We also realize that the precise dates of departure and arrival were a matter of chance. The crossing could have been done in two or three days, it also might have been delayed even longer. Contrary winds, bad weather, a greedy captain, pirates, enemy ships… There are other documents telling a similar story that I will endeavour to publish in the near future. So here is the letter:

Jacques Petit: Journal de passage from Gravesend to The Hague.

Recorded by Anthony Bacon as follows: “De Jacques Petit, le 4eme Feburier 159?

Below is the transcription (in italics) and English translation, of a two-page document preserved among the Bacon Papers in the Lambeth Palace Archives (MS65, f34 r/v.). It is a letter from Jacques Petit to Anthony Bacon. For easier reading, I have placed each translated paragraph just under its French transcription.

Memoire de nôtre passage depuis Gravesend jusques a La Haye en Hollande:

Diary of our Crossing from Gravesend to The Hague in Holland.

Vendredi, le six de Janvier sommes parties de Gravesend & avec la Maree sommes descendus jusques a Lee por le minuit. Le vent et la maree estant contraires, le maitre du navire est retourné a Gravesend pour avoir davantage de passagers et faire mieux son profit.

Friday, January sixth we have set off from Gravesend and sailed down with the tide, reaching Lee at midnight. As we had the wind and the tide against us, the captain of the vessel took us back to Gravesend to find more passengers so he could make more money

Sammedi nous n’avons point bougé de la a cause que le vent estoit toujours mauvais.

Saturday we have not moved because the wind was still bad.

Dimanche de grand matín, avec bon vent et la maree, sommes descendus jusque a Lee, puis a la seconde maree sommes arrives a Lands End. La nuit avec peu de vent avons passé Dunkirk et jetté l’ancre entre Ostend et Newport.

Sunday, early in the morning, with good wind and the tide, we sailed to Lee, then with the second tide we arrived at Lands End. At night with little wind, we passed Dunkirk and anchored between Ostend and Newport.

Lundi il a eté calme tellment que n’avons peu bouge de tout ce jour jousques avec la maree.

Monday it was so calm that we have moved very little all day, until the tide.

Mardi sommes arrives a Fleshingue ou nos passagers (qui n’avaint ni vivres ni argent) on mis pied a terre. et de 20 ou 25 qu’ils estoint il ny a a pas 20 qui ayent paye pour leur passage. Cestoit telle racailleque c’est merveille que n’ayons ete submerges. Et que l’enemy ne nous aye pris veu les blasphemes et les vilanies quon y profiroit et endurcit tant des homes et des femmes & le mauvais gouvernement plein de nonchalance de nos mariniers.

Tuesday, we arrived at Flushing, where our passengers (who had neither food nor money) disembarked, and out of the 20 or 25 there were, not 20 had paid for their trip. They were such riff-raff that it’s a miracle we didn’t drown. And that the enemy did not take us despite the blasphemies and villainies they proffered, both the men and the women, and the bad managing of the indifferent sailors.

Ceux de Flesingue qui vinrent regarder nôtre Flibot chargé de chaux (a la valeur seulement de 30p sterling)5 et de ces passagers nous demandant si l’enemy nous avoit rencontres s’estonoit d’entendre que non, disant qu’il y avait et navires et scouters de Dunkirk que auront rode les alentours tout hier et la nuit passé.

Those of Flushing who came to inspect our Flyboat loaded with lime (at the value of only 30d sterling) and of those passengers were asking us if we had met the enemy and they were surprised when we said we hadn’t, saying that there were vessels and scouters6 from Dunkirk that would have been roaming around all of yesterday and last night.

Mercredi: Nous sommes arrives a Dort,7 et de la a Rotterdam, puis de Rotterdam jusques a Delft ou nous avons couche.

Wednesday: We arrived to Dort , and, from there (continued) to Rotterdam, then to Delft, where we have stayed the night.

Jeudi: Au matin nous sommes arrives a La Haye ou nous nous sommes retires chex un Mr Daniel Anglois (name unclear), ou Sir Francies Ver a aussi son logis. La nous avons mis les hardes de Sr William Woodhouse, et faissons nôtre ordinaire ailleurs lequel revient pour nous 5, a un angelot par jour, ce qui est le moins que l’on puisse payer car tout est extremement cher.

Thursday: In the morning we arrived at The Hague where we rested in the house of one Mr. Daniel Anglois (name unclear), where Sir Francis Ver also lives. There, we changed into some rags (provided by) Sir William Woodehouse, and we are staying in an inn which costs us 5 one angelot8 each day, which is the least one can pay, because everything is extremely expensive.

Si nous n’entendons point bientôt des nouvelles de Mr W. Wodehouse, il nous faudra vivre a credit car son despensier dit qu’íl n’a plus d’argent de son maistre et commence déjà a nous laisser faire comme nous pourrons.

If we don’t hear soon from Mr. William Woodehouse we will need to live on credit, because his agent says he has no more money from his master and is already leaving us to fend for ourselves.


©Isabel Gortázar, February 2012

My sincerest thanks to LCR Seeley and Anthony Kellett for their invaluable help in translating and making sense of this document. Thanks also to S. Foster for sharing his Channel navigation experience with me. I wish to thank Cynthia Morgan as well, for her help and suggestions.

1Bacon Papers. Lambeth Palace Library.
2Wright, A.D. Shakespeare, New Evidence. (Adam Hart Publishers Ltd. 1996.) Also online at
3See Farey’s extensive research at: http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/title.htm; Also at http://www.themarlowestudies.org
4Huguenots and Walloons were French and French-speaking Flemish Calvinists respectively.
5 The denomination of sterling is difficult to make out, as the letter after 30 is not clear. However, having consulted my colleague Anthony Kellett about the possible relative prices of lime at the time, and discarding absolutely the it may refer to pounds sterling, the probable meaning seems to be 30d, rather than 30s, particularly in view of Petit qualifying the sum with the word “only." Here follows Kellett’s information:
“One cubic metre of lime would cost around four shillings (48d) in Holland, in 1596; and weigh roughly one tonne (though both price and weight would vary, based on the actual material described as 'lime'). Therefore, as an approximation, Petit’s transport either carried around 7 cubic metres (7 tonnes), and was worth 30 shillings; or less than one tonne (one cubic metre) and was worth 30d."
6 "scouters" may mean “privateers." If they were “from Dunkirk," as the letter says, they would have been under Spanish orders. Dunkirk was taken in 1583 by Spanish forces led by the Duke of Parma. It became a base for the Dunkirkers, a series of ships that acted both as pirates, and as part of the Spanish “Armada de Flandes” (Flemish Armada).
7 Dort, or Dordrecht, in Dutch.
8 This would be the second time we find, in the Bacon Papers, Jacques Petit referring to “an angelôt” as 10 shillings. It would also seem that Petit’s travelling party could have consisted of five people, but that is not clear.