Thursday, October 25, 2007

Heraldrie in Question

[Thomas Tyler* to the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette]

May 1898
5 Thornhill Square, N

Sir, A letter signed "Max Beerbohm" in the Pall Mall Gazette for May 7 has come under my notice. The letter mentions a line in Shakespeare's sixtieth sonnet which certainly presents some difficulty:

According to Mr Beerbohm the line contains a metaphor borrowed from heraldic usage. "Flourishes" were appendages to coats-of-arms indicating honours attained. Misconduct might be punished by a line "transfixing" the flourish. An alleged case in point is that of "the Earl of Forde", for information concerning which we are referred to "Hort's Compleat Booke of Antient Heraldrie and the Devices, published in 1653". Mr Beerbohm's suggestion would have been not without value if verification had been possible. Unfortunately this is not the case. No such work as that mentioned is to be found in the British Museum catalogue, or in that of the Bodleian or of the Huth Library, or in Moule's Bibliotheca Heraldica, or in other well-known lists. Dr Furnivall, who has taken a good deal of trouble in the matter, wrote to a friend of his, a distinguished member of the Heralds' College; but this gentleman knew nothing of "the Earl of Forde", and did not believe in "transfixed flourishes". I do not like to come to the conclusion that Mr Beerbohm's letter was a practical joke; but if so, it can scarcely be regarded as other than very objectionable. Appearing in a journal so well known and so influential as the Pall Mall Gazette, it may, as Dr. Furnivall points out, crop up again fifty years hence; and even now it may lead astray German or American students, who are unable to consult the great libraries of this country.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant
Thomas Tyler*

*Thomas Tyler: Shakespearean scholar (1826-1902), who produced the theory that the Dark Lady of the Sonnets was Mary Fitton. Shaw in the preface to his play The Dark Lady of the Sonnets described Tyler as "a gentleman of such astonishing and crushing ugliness that no one who had once seen him could ever therafter forget him". [R. Hart-Davis editor]; Edited an edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets (London: David Nutt, 1890).[Pepys].

-from Letters of Max Beerbohm 1892-1956 edited by Rupert Hart-Davis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988) p. 14-15.

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