Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Book Note: The Millionaire and the Bard

Mays, Andrea E. The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015

After waiting for some time for my library to buy this book, process it, and make it available for checking out, I was very excited to dig right in.

I was almost immediately disappointed. But I did give this book a second try, and I'm glad I did.

My disappointment was in the many minor but annoying inaccuracies in describing Shakespeare's life and times.  These included the following:
  • The old canard that it's somehow meaningful that his burial record says "Will. Shakspeare, gent. [sic, including spelling and punctuation]" instead of "Will. Shakspeare, poet."
  • The insistence that Shakespeare's first play was Titus Andronicus.  Yes, it may have been, but there's absolutely no certainty about it.
  • The claim (baldly-stated as a fact) that only three of Shakespeare's signatures survive, together with "by me" on his will as the only words besides his signature in his hand. Yes, there's not much out there, but there are six signatures, the words "by me" (none of which is seriously disputed), and the uncertain but possible "Hand D" in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More. No, the last isn't established as unquestionably Shakespeare's writing, but that point in the book would be the time and place to mention it.
I gave up at that point but later decided to skip all the Shakespeare stuff and cut to the Henry Folger material. My advice is to start on page ninety-one—that's where things get really exciting and the material seems solid.

Read the extract from a later chapter included below and see if you don't agree that there's much interest, suspense, and tension in the story. The section is about Folger's attempts to purchase what became Folger Shakespeare Library Folio Number One—which, in 1903, he eventually bought for £10,000. It was then the most expensive book in the world. The folio (like all folios) is unique—but the ways in which Folger One is unique are that it is the tallest; the only known presentation copy; its presenter was William Jaggard, the First Folio's printer; and the presentation is dated 1623, the year of the First Folio's publication.

Folger made many mistakes in his attempts to buy the folio, but here's Mays' account of the final transactions (you can start on the first full paragraph on 137 or at the top of 136):

It's interesting stuff—just start on page ninety-one.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest