Category:John Payne Collier

John Payne Collier (1789-1883) was a literary editor and forger. The following are excerpts from the Collier entry in the ODNB by Arthur Freeman and Jane Ing Freeman:

"By the late 1820s Collier was at work on his most important, if flawed, work of scholarship, a History of English Dramatic Poetry and Annals of the Stage (to about 1660), which John Murray published in three volumes in 1831 (HEDP). Although some whimsical fictions and slight literary impostures had found their way into Collier's earlier works-from the Critical Review in 1819 to verse by 'Lord Byron' in Punch and Judy-here, for the first time in extenso, fabrications of historical evidence and documentary text are interspersed in an otherwise meticulous and original scholarly work. Some twenty instances of fakery have by now been identified in HEDP, mostly involving text for which no source has ever come to light, but several are based upon physical forgeries in the British Museum manuscript collections, the State Paper Office, and among the Alleyn and Henslowe papers at Dulwich College. Collier's personal responsibility both for the unsubstantiated reports and for the forged handwritten material in public repositories was long disputed, not least by himself, but the accumulation of subsequent evidence seems to rule out the agency of any other mischievous perpetrator. Why he should thus have marred a work of great merit, and blighted a literary career already successfully advanced, has always vexed his biographers, but whatever the reason or reasons, once indulged, his propensity for invention never subsided. For decades, however, no one suspected HEDP of corruption, and it served most Victorians as a blameless authority and the principal guide to its subjects. …"

"Following the publication of HEDP he gained access to the largely uninvestigated collection of books and manuscripts kept at Bridgewater House by Lord Francis Leveson Gower, afterwards Lord Egerton (1833) and earl of Ellesmere (1846). Collier produced an elaborate printed catalogue of the rarer English books in the Bridgewater collection (1837), and in 1840 edited a selection of Egerton Papers for the Camden Society. The family muniments, particularly those relating to James I's chancellor, Sir Thomas Egerton, yielded material for three Shakespearian tracts, published by Collier through the learned bookseller Thomas Rodd: New Facts Relating to the Life of Shakespeare (1835), New Particulars etc. (1836), and Farther Particulars etc. (1839). Alongside genuine material, however, Collier again printed a number of forgeries and fabrications, including 'antique' ballads of his own composition, as well as several 'contemporary' letters and documents referring to Shakespeare that he claimed to have found among Egerton's uncatalogued papers. …"

"In 1838 Collier participated in founding the Camden Society, devoted to reprinting 'materials for the Civil, Ecclesiastical, or Literary History of the United Kingdom', and, in 1840, the Percy and Shakespeare societies (ballads and popular literature; drama and theatrical history). For the Camden Society he produced four volumes, including the first edition of John Bale's Kynge Johan (1838), prepared from the manuscript he had purchased on Devonshire's behalf, and for the Percy Society he was responsible for ten more little volumes over the years 1840-44. In addition to serving as director of the Shakespeare Society and editing four volumes of its papers, Collier wrote or edited a further twenty-two volumes under its imprint (1841-51). These included a life of Edward Alleyn (1841) and an edition of Philip Henslowe's diary (1845), both based upon manuscripts at Dulwich College, and both valuable in part, but again riddled with fabricated material, some of it based on forged interpolations in the Dulwich originals. Two volumes of extracts from the registers of the Stationers' Company (Shakespeare Society, 1848-9), and a continuation in Notes and Queries (1861-3), are likewise contaminated: several forged additions to the original registers, especially those attributing authorship, have been blamed upon Collier, as well as a large number of otherwise unknown 'contemporary' ballads published as illustrative matter in the extracts. …"

"In The Athenaeum for 31 January 1852 Collier announced his discovery of a Shakespeare Second Folio (1632) extensively 'corrected' in a mid-seventeenth-century hand. In 1853 he published the annotations, mostly providing plausible new readings, as a volume of notes and emendations to his 1842-4 Shakespeare, and gave in the preface an account (later somewhat adjusted) of his purchase of the volume from the bookseller Thomas Rodd the younger (d. 1849). This was followed in the same year by a one-volume edition of Shakespeare incorporating the emendations, and in 1858 by a new six-volume critical edition; the folio itself, usually called the 'Perkins folio' from an ownership inscription on its cover, was presented by Collier to the duke of Devonshire in 1853. Over the next years the emendations of Collier's anonymous 'Old Corrector' were attacked on textual grounds by a wide range of commentators, including his young friend J. O. Halliwell, later Halliwell-Phillipps (1820-1889), his former friend Alexander Dyce (1798-1869), and his professed adversaries S. W. Singer (1783-1858), Howard Staunton (1810-1874), C. M. Ingleby (1823-1886), and A. E. Brae (1800/01-1881). …'"

Collier never confessed to his forgeries, and he continued to work to some acclaim as well as condemnation until his death at age 90. Freeman and Freeman conclude with the diaspora of Collier's library:

"Many of his rare English books had earlier been sold to J. O. Halliwell or to Frederic Ouvry (1814-1881), Collier's nephew by marriage, and the bulk of his remaining books and papers were offered by Sothebys on 7-9 August 1884, when they made £2105 16s. 6d. At that sale the British Museum acquired one of Collier's forged volumes of ballads (lot 214, now Add. MS 32380) and Dulwich College purchased a transcript in Collier's hand of Edward Alleyn's diary (lot 200), examination of which confirmed the case for his having forged interpolations in the original manuscript. Other papers remained in the family, but most, including Collier's late diary (1872-82), his 1811 shorthand notes of Coleridge's lectures, an incomplete autobiography, and the so-called Hall commonplace book, containing ballads in a faked seventeenth-century hand, have now found institutional homes, principally at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC."