Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shakespeare's Time

[Max Beerbohm to the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette]

5 May 1898

48 Upper Berkeley Street

Dear Sir,

Your reviewer complains that in Mr. George Wyndham's edition of the sonnets there is no note upon that much-debated line:

Various editors have sought to elucidate this line in various ways, but so far as I know, none has hit upon the following explanation, which seems to me to be the only one that is quite plausible. In all ancient books of heraldry one finds that the chief escutcheons bear on either side certain wing-like appendages, which are technically called "flourishes". Each of these appendages signified "a noble Place or Poste under the Crowne". The tenure of a Royal seal or charter, for example, or admission to the Privy Council, entitled a nobleman to add one of these flourishes to his arms. But if for any misdemeanour he forfeited his privilege the heralds caused a line to be drawn through his flourish, which was thenceforth described by them as a "flourish transfix". Thus in Hort's Compleat Booke of Antient Heraldrie and the Devices, published in 1653, one finds that the arms of the Earl of Forde had as many as nine flourishes, two of which were crossed--one "transfix in the yeare 1540 for Rebellion". All flourishes were abolished by Charles II, soon after the Restoration, when it was found that many noblemen had contrived to embellish their arms with flourishes to which they had no right.

I am your obedient servant,
Max Beerbohm

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

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