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Who wrote "A Funerall Elegie"?

My approach to the 1612 "A Funerall Elegie" will be quite different from those adopted by Donald Foster, Richard Abrams, Lars Engle, and others. Rather than asking--as Engle has done--"If the Elegy were Shakespeare's, What Difference would it Make?"(1) I want first to assemble some of the powerful arguments, both internal and external, against its being the work of Shakespeare. Some of these were touched on by Foster in his 1989 Study in Attribution, but many were not. To me these arguments rule out any possibility of Shakespeare's authorship, no matter what Professor Foster's database may reveal. In the process of doing this, I shall explore the poem for indications of the kind of person who appears to have written it, emerging with a "profile" very different from Shakespeare's. Secondly, I shall set out in some detail the credentials of a writer who, on the basis of this "profile," seems to me to be a strong contender for authorship.

Exit Shakespeare

In common, I imagine, with many other Renaissance scholars who have been lucky enough to work in Oxford's Bodleian Library, I first looked briefly at the Elegie many years ago, along with any other works I could lay my hands on that had the initials "W. S." attached to them. The STC makes such a search now quite a simple matter. A perusal of the author's dedicatory epistle, in which he speaks of himself as not a habitual or professing poet--"Exercise in this kind I will little affect, and am lesse adicted to"--soon dulled my curiosity. The writer is modest enough to admit that some divine intervention--indeed, a "miracle"--will be required to sustain his literary labor of love for his friend, the otherwise obscure Devonian William Peter. The poem itself seemed, and to me still seems, charged with that "passionate intensity" that Yeats, in "The Second Coming," attributes to "the worst" among his contemporaries. The quality of the writing, acknowledged by Foster and Abrams to be "aesthetically disappointing," strikes me as a good deal worse than this. Though by no means unintelligent, it is utterly devoid of literary finesse. The poem is slow moving, awkward, and repetitive, and includes lines and phrases of startling clumsiness, such as "O thou deceast!" (539). I suspect that many greater scholars, such as Chambers and Greg, may also have glanced at the poem in their time, turning from it again in disappointment. Certainly there is no evidence that anyone before 1989 ever considered attributing it to Shakespeare. Nor, perhaps more importantly, are there any general allusions to Shakespeare in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries as having any special gift for elegy, the extraordinary "Phoenix and Turtle" notwithstanding--whose utter difference from the Elegie as a dense, concise work of spectacular originality, should surely give us pause. While we may feel that the discovery of some of those pre-1598 texts of "sugred sonnets," as praised by Francis Meres, is still a remote but exciting possibility, there is no reason to believe that there are elegies by Shakespeare awaiting discovery or recovery. In respect of the lack of either specific attribution or general association, the claims of the Elegie are weaker even than those of the lyric "Shall I Die?," which at least is ascribed to Shakespeare in one seventeenth-century manuscript.(2)

I would like to begin by asking some broad thematic questions, prompted by passages in the Elegie, that bear on the probability or otherwise of Shakespeare's authorship. I have already touched on the dedicatory epistle, which seems to assert, a little pompously, that W. S. is not a habitual poet. But that aside, I wonder if A Funerall Elegie could possibly have been written by a professional player and dramatist? To be more specific, how likely is it that a writer whose most celebrated tragic hero envied the histrionic gifts of the First Player, in whom a mere "dream of passion" provoked "Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect," would have been moved to praise William Peter for his determinedly un-actorlike quiet sincerity:

this man (whiles yet he was a man)

Sooth'd not the current of besotted fashion:

Nor could disgest as some loose Mimicks can,

An empty sound of ouer-weening passion.


Of course, Shakespeare should not be wholly equated with Hamlet, and any of us may admire in friends qualities that we ourselves lack. Yet of Shakespeare's artistic and economic commitment to the acting profession and theater by this date there can be no possible doubt, and he had just celebrated theatrical illusion brilliantly in The Tempest. I find it impossible to believe that the mature Shakespeare, powerfully aware of the extent to which his status and success depended on the skills of "these our actors," would write so slightingly about their art, even in a passing simile. Indeed, it was in the very year of the Elegie, 1612, that Thomas Heywood used his Apology for Actors as an opportunity to refer to his colleague Shakespeare's settling of his scores with the piratical Jaggard. Clearly Heywood saw both Shakespeare and himself as firmly committed to the value of acting and writing. The word "mimic," OED B.1, refers specifically to a "burlesque actor," and is generally used, as it is here in the Elegie, with adverse connotations. Milton's Samson, for instance, complains of the gross Philistine entertainers with whom his enemies propose to display him, who are "Jugglers and dancers, antics, mummers, Mimics" (Samson Agonistes 1325). My suspicion is that the author who used the phrase "loose Mimicks" so contemptuously may have had far more in common with Milton, ideologically, than with Shakespeare, and positively disapproved of public theatrical performance. Certainly other ways in which this writer praises William Peter remove him far from the penumbra of the London theater. Peter seems to have dressed plainly--"his Vertue was his best Attire" (96)--and was neither drunken nor prodigal, but exhibited a "fit moderation" (77). He spoke little, says the poet, manifesting a "becomming silence" (97-104); and he chose to remain obscurely in his native West Country, rather than frequenting "eminent courts, or places great" (129). Would Shakespeare, one of the leading members of the King's Men, have viewed this as admirable? One creative commission that we know Shakespeare did carry out at this late period of his life was, with Burbage, the composition of an impresa for the Earl of Rutland for the King's Accession Day celebrations.(3) Compared with this sort of prestigious work for a young nobleman, not to mention the writing or part-writing of such courtly plays as Cymbeline and Henry VIII, churning out a long elegy for a younger son of a fairly modest Devon gentry family seems a very dingy project. In more practical terms, also, if Peter is accurately described as being wholly committed to his native soil, what possible opportunities could Shakespeare have had for getting to know and like him? As far as his Oxford career was concerned--I know that Foster's suggestion is that it was in Oxford, rather than in Devon, that the poet got to know him--how much would Shakespeare, a nongraduate, have cared about the fact that William Peter was "double honor'd in degree"? More broadly, why would Shakespeare, notorious both for his reluctance to moralize and for his lack of interest in religion, have adopted the preachy, didactic tone that characterizes the Elegie, as in the rather cloudy passage on Peter's innocent trustfulness that opens with the dreary line "toe heere a lesson by experience taught" (349)? Peter's death is treated as morally exemplary, and the poet demonstrates at tedious length, despite an apologetic reference to "accents breefe" (538--that his having been victim of a malicious assault in no way taints or compromises his integrity. Indeed, the writer seems to feel a special and personal sympathy for William Peter as an innocent victim of "malice": I shall return to this point in a moment. Many passages suggest that the author of the Elegie had strong Puritan leanings, unlikely to be encountered in any dramatist, and surely most implausible in the creator of Malvolio. Indeed, the writer appears to lay his religious cards on the table in the very first line, in which he alludes to William Peter's "predestinated end." Though his death was sudden and violent, it was, the writer claims, part of God's mysterious and immutable scheme. The word is used again in line 497, "Predestinated Time." This seems like an insistent proclamation of Calvinist beliefs. The nearest the canonical Shakespeare ever comes to using the word is in the opening scene of Much Ado, where Benedick jokily refers to Beatrice's shrewishness "so some gentleman or other shall escape a predestinate scratched face" (1.1.123-5).

Moving on to some of the recently praised "literary" features of the Elegie, I am struck by the fact that many of these, like so much else in the poem, corroborate its insistently local, West Country connections. The strongest poetic echoes--one a quoted line--are from the elegies on Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire, by Ford and Daniel. Blount was M.P. for Bere Alston in South Devon. Ford was born at Ilsington, in Devon, and, like William Peter, went to Exeter College, Oxford, the normal destination of West Country students. Samuel Daniel was born near Taunton, in Somerset, and in later life owned a farm at Beckington, near Phipps Norton, also in Somerset. Though the writer is evidently an intelligent and bookish man with a wide and at times adventurous vocabulary, he seems to be much more interested in works by writers connected with his own particular "country," which he apparently shared with William Peter, than with those exclusively associated with "eminent courts, or places great." The chief exception to this, not noted by Foster, lies in a few conspicuous echoes of Sidney, whose poetic mistress Penelope Rich was married, by the time of his death, to Charles Blount. Sidney, too, thereby acquired a tangential association with Devonshire. The phrase in the dedicatory epistle, "what-soeuer is heere done, is done to him, and to him onely" is evidently adapted from Sidney's dedication of the Arcadia to his sister--"Now it is done only for you, only to you."(4) Also, lines 463ff., on the nature of true nobility, which is personal rather than inherited, seem to echo Sidney's favorite personal motto, Vix ea nostra voco.(5) "I scarcely call those things my own," from Ovid's Metamorphoses XIII. 140-41. Sidney used to place the words beneath his arms, to indicate his refusal to take credit for his ancestors' achievements. This may have inspired the lines:

Birth, blood and ancesters, are none of ours,

Nor can we make a proper challenge to them:

But vertues and perfections in our powers,

Proceed most truly from vs, if we doe them.

Another possible Sidney echo occurs in line 247, "my longest last farewell," which may pick up the palinodic motto that closes his Certain Sonnets, "Splendidis longum valedico nugis," [I bid a long farewell to splendid trifles].(6) But the work most frequently echoed in the Elegie is the Bible, and especially those books most drawn on by Puritans, the Old Testament prophets and Revelation. For instance, lines 171-74, praised by Abrams as "One of the poem's few gems," derive from Dan. 9.27:

for the overspreading of abominations tree shall make it desolate, euen

untill the consummation & that determined shall be povred upon the


Likewise, a few lines later, the allusion to "a booke where euery worke is writ," in which William Peter's well-spent time has been recorded, refers to Revelation 20.12, "the booke of life: and the dead were iudged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Another biblical passage may lie behind the image of "the path/Which guides to doing well": Joel 2.8:

Neither shall one thrust one another, they shall walke euery one in his

path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.

Since Peter died from a stab wound delivered while he was traveling along a dark "path," this text would be peculiarly comforting in its aptness, but the verbal link here is a bit tenuous.

Putting all these things together, I believe that the Elegie's tone, preoccupations, imagery, and literary allusions point to its being the work of someone of strong Puritan faith, most probably a clergyman, living in the West Country. If such a man were in holy orders he would most probably be a university graduate, and his interest in William Peter's academic honors might reflect some preoccupation with his own. I have left till last those passages in the poem that appear to offer the strongest clues to the circumstances and identity of the author. While insistently emphasizing the purity of his own motives in memorializing William Peter, being neither "seruile" (210, 231) nor "hir'd, as heauen can witnesse" (229), the writer freely acknowledges a personal interest in Peter's death and a special insight into his sufferings. This insight is occasioned not simply by the fact that Peter was his friend, but by the fact that he has himself undergone malicious attacks analogous to the blow from Edward Drew that ended Peter's life. The longest passage about this comes in lines 137-52, in which the writer moves with disconcerting abruptness from praising Peter for living and dying "in that soile" in which he will continue to be remembered, to talking about troubles he himself has undergone, "Euen in which place"--the same place, it seems--wherein William Peter "Had education and new beeing." Hitherto lines 149-54 have been construed as alluding to Oxford, where Peter acquired his two degrees. Indeed, Foster in 1989 claimed that "the only thing we can say with any certainty is that the alleged sin took place in Oxford."(7) But the reference in line 131 to the soil "Where tree inioy'd his birth, life, death, and seat" does not tally with this reading, for Peter was not born in Oxford, nor did he own land there. It is just about conceivable--this writer not being distinguished for lucidity--that the "soile" of line 130 is different from the "place" of lines 148-49, where the speaker has lost his credit, and where Peter enjoyed "education, and new beeing," but to me this seems rather unlikely. There is no doubt that Peter was born and grew up in the West Country, and that the family "seat" that, though a younger brother, he enjoyed at the time of his death, was just outside Exeter. In conjunction with "new beeing," which presumably refers to birth, baptism, or both, I think the poet is using "education" in QED's sense 1, current until the Restoration: "The process of rearing a child or young person." The phrase "education and new beeing" is a cumbersome expansion of the very familiar expression "bred and born" (see OED sv breed 11). Though we might anticipate the more correct chronological sequence "born and bred," the reverse order is quite common in Elizabethan usage, occurring, for instance, in Twelfth Night 1.2.22. W. S. appears to be forging a connection between the location of his own "indangered youth," where he experienced "My countries thanklesse misconstruction" and suffered injury to his "name and credit," and the region where Peter was born and bred, has been killed, and will continue to be remembered. This geographical coincidence gives the writer a particular sympathy with Peter's sufferings, and above all with the great damage to the dead man's reputation that may be caused by the manner of his death. This, indeed, seems to be the central purpose of the Elegie--to declare to posterity that, despite William Peter's violent death in somewhat compromising circumstances, "Hee was goode" (532). In order to understand the moral and literary problem posed by the manner of Peter's death for someone setting out to write an elegy, we should perhaps remind ourselves of the utterly different manner in which Milton's contemporary Edward King died, kneeling in prayer as the ship sank. Though King's death was unforeseen, he at least had time to prepare to meet his maker. Such a pious end was denied to William Peter, whose situation was more like that of the man described in Camden's Remaines, killed in falling from his horse, on whom "a good friend made this good Epitaph":

My friend, judge not me,

Thou seest I judge not thee

Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,

Mercy I asks, mercy I found.(8)

Though we might imagine that a eulogy of a dead man by a writer whose own reputation has been damaged would itself be questionable, W. S. strongly denies this. As one who has undergone malice and calumny in the very same place where Peter was pursued and stabbed by the drunken Edward Drew, he claims to be uniquely qualified to perform the task of creating a poetic monument to his good name. It is this sense of shared injury, with a shared need for justification, rather than any poetic skill, that emotionally fuels the poem.

What kind of injury did W. S. undergo? Foster in 1989 was attracted to the suggestion "that Shakespeare cat 1600 was denounced for homosexual conduct of some sort,"(9) though there is of course no evidence for this whatsoever. To me it sounds much more like unpleasant trouble within some close-knit provincial community, such as a parish, county or diocese. If the author were a clergyman, the word "thanklesse" in "My countries thanklesse misconstruction" could suggest that the very group of people who ought to be most warmly responsive to his ministrations--his parishioners, perhaps: have, instead, misunderstood and maligned him. People whose own fortunes and reputations have declined

haue stroue to win

Iustice by wrong; and sifted to imbane

My reputation, with a witlesse sinne


I take it that "witlesse" may be one of W. S.'s fairly cumbrous play on words, like his plays on the names "Peter" and "Drew"--suggesting both an "unwitting" sin and one which entails an accusation of lack of "wit." A later passage indicates that W. S., who boasts of not being "seruile," may have been altogether too independent minded for some people's liking. He was, he says,

Not seruile to be lik't; free from controule;

Which paine to many men I doe not owe it.


This would suit a Puritan minister of stubbornly nonconforming tendencies. W. S. even hints that Peter's fatal disagreement with Drew may have concerned his "Faith" (331) in the religious sense, which was the greatest of his many virtues:

Hence sprung the deadly fuell that reuiu'd

The rage which wrought his end.


Perhaps "Faith" here simply denotes trusfful friendship--the sort of good hearted trustfulness that allowed Duncan to lodge serenely in Macbeth's castle--but if my hunch that the writer was a clergyman is correct, there could be an additional suggestion that William Peter's religious sympathies were close to his own and at odds with those of Edward Drew. As for W. S., it seems that his own sufferings are never far from his mind. Though they are initially associated with the past--"my indangered youth," 147--it is clear that they are still to some extent with him--"those imputations I sustaine" (558). In the final lines of the poem he seems to be saying that he continues to be made deeply unhappy and insecure by both past and present injuries. He clings only to a fragile "Hope," alluding to the proverb, Tilley H602, "Hope is the last thing that man has to flee unto," that if he exercises great self-control and lives quietly "in a poore content" all may yet be well. Indeed, agonized obsession with his own "mischance" (573) almost causes him to forget his chief purpose, to complete a poetic monument to his "fast friend, soone lost," which is suddenly wrapped up in only four further lines.

To me, then, the Elegie reads as if it is the work of a Puritan minister who has undergone severe trials and tribulations somewhere in the neighborhood of William Peter's birth and death. How widely the term "place" should be interpreted is open to question. For the geographical coincidence between the places of William Peter's birth and death with that of W. S.'s sufferings to make any real sense, there would need to be a reasonable degree of proximity, but whether that means that we should not look beyond the immediate environs of Exeter, or whether the whole of Western England could be in play, I am not sure. References to "my indangered youth" (147) and "my dayes of youth" (559) suggest that the writer's troubles began some time ago. It appears that he is still suffering from their consequences, but no longer views himself as being young. The phrase "o thou youth vntimely lost" (197) also implies that he is somewhat older than William Peter. An exact estimation of the writer's age is no more possible than an exact delimitation of "place," but I take it that the author was at least in his mid-thirties, possibly more. I do not detect any particular indications of firsthand knowledge of William Peter's Oxford career, though it is of course theoretically possible that it was in Oxford, as well as or instead of in the West Country, that W. S. became his "fast friend."

We are looking, I think, for a man of education and ability, who had got into some sort of serious trouble, perhaps for his religious convictions. These troubles were strongly linked with the same "place" where William Peter was born and died. This individual did not normally write poetry.(10)

Enter William Sclater, Minister of God's Word

Looking through the Bodleian Library's pre-1920 catalogue on CD-ROM for writers with the initials W. S. who published works in 1610-12, my eye was caught by the name of William Sclater (1575-1627). He published no fewer than five books during these years, one in 1610, one in 1611 and three in 1612. Evidently this, the year of William Peter's death, was a period of exceptional productivity for him. When I ordered the books up, I was startled to discover that every single one had a West Country dedication, all being addressed to local gentry rather than nobility, and that in one of these dedicatory epistles, the one prefaced to A threefold preservative against three dangerous diseases (1610), Sclater reveals that he has been subjected to calumnious attacks, by which he has been deeply injured, and from which he is evidently still smarting. It was the father of the dedicatee of this work, the elder John Colles of Wiveliscombe, who had persuaded the Cambridge graduate and former Fellow of King's to leave his curacy in Walsall, Staffordshire, for the living of Pitminster, in Somerset, of which Colles was the patron. Fuller gives an account of Sclater's career in his Worthies of England:

John Coles Esquire of Summerset-shire over-intreated [William Sclater]

into the Western parts, where he presented him Vicar of Pitmister. Here

he met with manifold and expensive vexations, even to the jeopardy of

his life; but, by the goodness of God, his own innocency and courage,

with the favour of his Diocesan, he came off with no lesse honour to

himself, then confusion to his adversaries.(11)

It appears that trouble struck as soon as Sclater was inducted as Rector of Pitminster. These "vexations" had to do with Sclater's strong Puritan convictions, but the precise details are not entirely clear. His patron John Colles evidently supported him and shared his beliefs, which was why he "over-intreated him" to Pitminster. We should pause here to notice that "John Cole of Devon armiger," this man's son and heir and dedicatee of the A threefold preseruative, was matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford in November 1592, at the age of fourteen. He is likely to have become acquainted there either with William Peter or--more probably--with his elder brother John, dedicatee of the Elegie. When the elder John Colles died in February 1608 he left a will in which "he forbade mourning gowns at his funeral, or any 'solemnity' other than a sermon."(12) It was, of course, William Sclater who preached his patron's funeral sermon, published posthumously by his son as one of Three Sermons (1629). When Sclater's troubles broke out, his "Diocesan," John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells, was clearly supportive. But he also had at least one powerful enemy in his own parish, William Hill, Esquire, of Pitminster, who engaged in litigation against him in 1607 for his refusal to wear the surplice or to administer communion to infirm parishioners in their houses.(13) By 1612 it appears that Hill and Sclater had settled their differences, for Sclater dedicated The Christians Strength to him. This was one of two 1612 works by Sclater to be printed by Joseph Barnes in Oxford. He wished Hill "grace and peace," signing himself "Your worships in the truest loue." However, this may have been a fragile rapport. The epistle already mentioned, addressed to the younger John Colles in 1610, suggests that his troubles were still very much with him at this date:

vnreasonable men . . . (euen for paines) haue made me their by-word.

It were long, to reckon up all slanders of the malicious. These are the

chiefe, Vnlearned, singular, turbulent, factious.(14)

Sclater goes on to answer each of these charges, and in response to the allegation of Turbulentnes speaks of

my parting with many rights for peace sake: disgesting injuries, I say,

not onely without Reuenge, but euen without seeking for iust defence:

raylings, slanders, assaults, hazard of life, indeed what not? and unlesse

they will indite mee for not admitting sicam totam into my bowells, I

know not what show of turbulentnesse they can accuse me of.

When taken in conjunction with Fuller's allusion to Sclater's "jeopardy of life," this passage is very striking. The Latin phrase sicam totam (the whole knife, in the accusative case) is given a marginal reference to "sic. pro Rosc. Amerin," that is, Cicero's oration Pro Roscio Amerino--not to be confused with his defense of the more famous Roscius, the great Roman comic actor. Roscius Amerinus was accused of parricide. The phrase sicam totam does not occur. Sclater seems to have been quoting from memory, remembering section 12, in which Cicero cites the example of the calumniating Gaius Fimbria, who shamelessly slandered a man of great virtue who, on the contrary, deserved high praise. When asked why he did this, he replied "quod non totum telum corpore recipisset" [because he had not received the whole of the weapon in his body]. According to the Loeb edition of Cicero, this alludes to gladiatorial combats, in which, if the audience shouted recipe ferrum (accept the steel) the gladiator had to bare his breast for a death blow. It may be revealing both that Sclater--who does not quote from classical literature very frequently--invokes this passage on popular assaults on a man of great virtue, and that he altered Cicero's totum telum--perhaps unconsciously--to sicam totam, "the whole dagger or poniard" (see Lewis and Short's Latin dictionary sv sica). I am told that the word sica often refers to a weapon used for assassination, as in the murder of Julius Caesar, while Cicero's telum generally refers to a military weapon.(15) I wonder if the "hazard" or "jeopardy of life" we know Sclater underwent took the form of a knife attack. Perhaps he was wounded in this attack, and is suggesting grimly in the epistle to Colles that his enemies would prefer him to have received "the whole dagger." If this conjecture is right, news of the fatal stabbing of William Peter could well have reawakened memories of his own near-fatal trauma. Though a man of great courage in matters of principle, and a fiery preacher, Sclater was physically diminutive, as we learn from his son-he was "some-what after the stature of Zacheus."(16) A savage knife attack, especially if it came from one of his own flock, might have left him feeling shaken and vulnerable for many years.

I do not feel that I have got to the bottom of Sclater's troubles, and therefore find it hard to reach firm conclusions about the precise extent to which they seem to tally with those described by the writer of the Elegie. Thorough searches in Somerset and Devon Record Offices and in the Exeter City Muniments might reveal much more. What I have encountered so far suggests that there were several different ways in which Sclater may have gotten himself disliked. His vigorous attempts to reinstate the payment of tithes must have been much resented by landowners in his parish, especially if, like the enemies referred to in lines 140-41 of the Elegie, they were families whose fortunes had waned. Even more vexatious, perhaps, was his strong belief in particularizing sins from the pulpit. If he revealed to his flock in Pitminster specific cases of (say) adultery, it is easy to imagine that he might provoke a murderous response. Also, in addition to his litigious quarrel over pastoral practice with William Hill, I learn from Dr. Kenneth Fincham that

He was in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities in 1604-9 for not

wearing the surplice, preaching without a licence(17), and (in 1609) for

administering communion to two Devon ministers, both deprived for

nonconformity in 1605.(18)

One of these nonconforming ministers, Anthony Lapthorne, had been at Exeter College in the mid-1590s, and, like the younger John Colles, could have been a friend there of John or William Peter.(19) After he had lost his royal chaplaincy and a benefice in Cornwall, Lapthorne took refuge with his brother-in-law at North Petherton, in Somerset, to the North West of Pitminster.(20) He ended up being excluded from nearly half the dioceses in England. Sclater's courageous decision to offer support to Lapthorne was bound to jeopardize his own position-especially since Lapthorne was notoriously "aggressive and truculent" and seems to have been much disliked by all those who tried to control him.(21) However, I doubt if this kind of trouble with ecclesiastical authority would have provoked the "hazard of life" alluded to by Sclater in 1610. Disagreements with individuals among his own parishioners seem more likely to have led to this.

Though I have found several links between Sclater and recent graduates of Exeter College, Oxford, such as John Colles and Anthony Lapthorne, I have so far searched in vain for evidence of a direct association between Parson Sclater of Pitminster and the Peters of Bowhay. However, I have found one quite strong indirect link. The first version of Sclater's treatise on the legitimacy of tithes, The Ministers Portion, one of the two 1612 works to be printed in Oxford, was dedicated to Mr. Thomas Southcot of "Moones-Otery in Devon," otherwise known as Mohuns Ottery or Awtrie, "the possession of times past of the Mohuns, from whom by right of marriage it came to the Carews," says Camden.(22) This ancient seat was at Luppett, north of Honiton. Southcote may have been the grandest of Sclater's patrons. John and William Peter's mother, the wife of Otho Peter, Francis nee Southcote, was this man's aunt, being a daughter of Thomas Southcote of Bovey Tracy.(23) The younger Thomas Southcote was therefore their first cousin. In this close-knit world of religious and family affiliation and faction such a bond could well be significant. If Thomas Southcote was favorably disposed towards the Puritan Sclater, having perused "the first rude draught" of The Ministers Portion and declared himself open to persuasion by its "unprofitable profitable conclusion,"(24) perhaps his first cousins the Peters also knew him, shared his religious sympathies, and were shown draughts of his work in progress. Given that the author of the Elegie admits that he never indicated his love to William Peter while he was alive and believes that he had been married for nine years, rather than three, he may not have been on very intimate terms with him. Encounters with him at the house of some third party, such as Thomas Southcote of Mohuns Ottery, might meet the case.

Something should be said about the geographical "place" where Sclater lived and moved and had his being. Pitminster itself is in South Somerset, a few miles south of Taunton. On at least one occasion he gave the Assize sermon at Taunton(25); his patron, John Colles, was to be Lord Lieutenant of the County. Pitminster is only a couple of miles from the Somerset-Devon border. The dedications of Sclater's works link him to a large number of other places within a thirty or forty mile radius of Pitminster, ranging from Mells in North East Somerset to Mohuns Ottery in South Devon. From Pitminster it was quite easy to get to the main road that led to Exeter, via Honiton, and any man of Sclater's level of education--he was hard at work on the biblical commentaries that were to gain him a Doctorate of Divinity--would surely want to make regular visits to Exeter, often called the "second London," for the sake of its book shops, cathedral, and cathedral library. It is also clear that Sclater regarded it as his mission to give sermons far beyond the bounds of his parish, since he believed the whole region to be shamefully badly provided with good preachers.(26) Indeed, as has been pointed out, unlicensed preaching was among the activities that got him into trouble. Because of the formation of their valleys, the borders of Devon and Somerset constituted a distinct geographical area, in which, in addition to roads, a network of rivers provided an unusually effective means of transport and communication. As Wallace MacCaffrey says:

The Exe Valley provides a pathway into the heart of North Devon and

into western Somerset . . . The tributary valleys of the Culm, Yeo, and

Creedy open up additional routes of access. No East Devon valley can

boast a haven such as that of the Exe.(27)

Like St. Paul, another diminutive preacher, Sclater may have traveled by boat to the outlying locations of his ministry. Not only were internal communications unusually good in the Devon-Somerset borders, the sea route from Exeter to London also was generally excellent, because of prevailing winds and currents in the English Channel. The sea journey could often be accomplished in four or five days. Whoever put the Elegie in the hands of the publisher Thomas Thorpe may have dispatched it by this route, which would be less subject than an overland journey to the hazards of winter weather. To me it seems quite believable that both the "soile" and the "place" referred to in the Elegie--that region where William Peter was killed and the poet calumniated--may correspond with the Somerset-Devon borders.

As for age, Sclater was just over thirty when he was presented to the living of Pitminster, and was thirty-six or thirty-seven at the time of William Peter's death. I have not as yet discovered the date of his marriage, but since his son, also William, was born on Easter Day, 1609, it most probably took place after he came to Pitminster. He may have thought of the time of his curacy and bachelorhood as his "dayes of youth." But I must confess that I cannot make very good sense of the passages about "my indangered youth" with reference to Sclater, unless the point is that he was exactly the same age as William Peter when he suffered an attack similar to the one that was fatal to the latter. The fact that Peter, though addressed as a "youth," was just thirty makes this possible, for Sclater was thirty when he first arrived in Somerset.

Neither time nor the specifications of the present forum allow me to make a thorough analysis of verbal and metaphoric links between Sclater's many published works and the Elegie. I must confess that a rapid perusal of his published writings does not immediately make me feel, on stylistic grounds, that he definitely composed the Elegie. His sermons and treatises are forceful and carefully labored and are characterized by a vigorous sharpness and clarity that the Elegie, in my view, lacks. Indeed, as the work of the author of these sermons, I, too, would call the Elegie "aesthetically disappointing." However, we know that all these prose works were the outcome of slow and painstaking labor, while the Elegie was produced at very great speed and perhaps--if written by Sclater--composed by a writer in a state of emotional shock, and certainly by one deploying a genre that was not his habitual medium. There is no doubt that Sclater was an adventurous writer in terms of style and vocabulary and would have been quite capable of such a coinage as "possibilitied." The OED includes several hundred citations from Sclater's works. Many of them are extremely idiosyncratic, such as "curre-megients," "dimidiate," "Dutchman-like drinking," "enodation or descision," "exauctorating," "fiduciarily," "gange of body," "mangled and halfed," "handsmooth," "ill hostlership"--to offer only a small selection from the letters A--H. Few of these citations offer links with the diction of the Elegie, yet given its complete difference, both in genre and subject matter, from any of the prose works, this may not be significant. Certainly there is a distinctively theological slant to some of the poem's diction that would suit Sclater, as in the strangely elliptical lines

Learning my dayes of youth so to preuent

As not to be cast downe by them againe

(559-60) The word "prevent" is presumably being used in OED's sense 4b, "Theol.," "said of the action of God's grace, held to be given in order to predispose to repentance, faith and good works." The rather contorted suggestion is perhaps that God's prevenient grace will ensure that the speaker is not, in the future, "cast down" by his troubles, as he was in his "dayes of youth." One of the words shared by Sclater and the poet is "unrest," used in the sense of "disturbance, turmoil, trouble." OED quotes from Slater's posthumously published Sermons Experimentall (1638), "A sweet soliloquie of David with his soul, checking it . . . for the disquiet and unrest it passionately had plunged it self into"; compare the author of the Elegie's distracting preoccupation with "my deep'st vnrest" (572). Undoubtedly there is a scattering of verbal links between Sclater's works and the Elegie, though on the strength of these alone I would not be inclined to conjecture common authorship. For instance, in the dedicatory epistle of A threefold preservative Sclater speaks of the "fond imputations" brought against him by his enemies; compare line 558 of the Elegy, "those imputations I sustain." Likewise, both in The Christians Strength and in The Ministers Portion, there are passages concerning "the terme of double honor" due to a minister of God's word; compare the description of William Peter as "double honor'd in degree," 332. Compare also Sclater's "There are many by-pathes misleading a christian"(28) with "Such in the By-path and the Ridgway lurke," line 41 of the Elegie.

But it is the general spirit and tenor of Sclater's prose works, rather than their precise verbal texture, that I find most consonant with the Elegie. To give just one, perhaps important, example, consider A threefold preservative. This is the text of a sermon preached at Paul's Cross in London in which Sclater uses the occasion to attack both urban vices and rural bigotry: "The Court and City full of effeminate delicacy; the Country of hellish profanenesse."(29) I can well believe that such a man might both have admired William Peter for absenting himself from "eminent courts" and have felt that he shared with him the unhappy distinction of being a victim of provincial malice. Sclater's extremely self-abasing modesty also seems to me to resemble the tone of the poet. In the epistle to Thomas Southcote, for instance, he asks "to be heard on even termes with men, I freely confesse, of far greater gifts." He also shows himself, like the author of the Elegie, rather concerned to indicate the degree of affection he feels to exist between himself and his patrons, as when he signs himself to John Colles "Your thankfull & obseruant fauorite."

Sclater's attested works were published and printed by a wide variety of men, including Joseph Barnes of Oxford. Though none was published by Thorpe, he could have known enough about London publishers and their particular interests to think him an appropriate man to publish a poem. Like Sclater, Thomas Thorpe had connections both with Oxford and with Somerset. In 1608 he had published a collection of epigrams by Richard West of Magdalen College, Oxford; and some longstanding connection with the university is suggested by the fact that he was to end his days in an alms room at Ewelme, which was under the patronage of Oxford's Regius Professor of Medicine. In 1611 Thorpe published The Odcombian Banquet, a jokey tribute to one of Somerset's most celebrated writers, Thomas Coryate, and named after Coryate's native village. If Thorpe was himself a regular visitor to the West Country and happened to be there in January 1612, perhaps enjoying the aftermath of the Christmas holidays, this might account for the extraordinary speed with which the Elegie reached his hands, being entered in the Stationers' Register only nineteen days after Peter was murdered. An alternative possibility--that the manuscript was sent by sea on one of the ships regularly plying between Exeter and London--has already been suggested.

The chief points in favor of Sclater's authorship of the Elegie are, to sum up: (1) his initials; (2) his being a published writer active in the years 1610-16; (3) his connections with gentry families in the Somerset-Devon borders, including a cousin of the Peters; (4) some verbal links between his published works and the Elegie; (5) his links with Oxford(30); (6) his recent experience of calumnies and vexations, which may even have included a knife attack; (7) his Calvinistic piety; and (8) his not being a habitual poet. The author of the Elegie is engagingly candid about the difficulty of his "taske" in writing about Peter in verse, and the inadequacy of the results:

Heere then I offer vp to Memory,

The value of my tallent (precious man)

Whereby if thou liue to Posterity,

Though't be not as I would, tis as I can:

"In minds from whence endeauor cloth proceed,

"A ready will is taken for the deed.

Sclater's "tallent"--by no means inconsiderable--was as- a preacher and a theologian. If he is indeed the author of the Elegie--my mind is not quite made up on this subject--it is hard to know whether the clergyman or the playwright would be more surprised to learn of the recent confusion caused by the coincidence of their initials. As writers, they are poles apart. Shakespeare is notorious for his refusal to moralize; and the author of the moralistic Elegie makes much of his lack of expertise in poetry. To me it reads entirely plausibly as the work of a Puritan clergyman accustomed to addressing a captive, church-going audience.


(1.) Paper presented to Professor Dubrow's seminar on "The Sonnets in the Twentieth Century" World Shakespeare Congress, Los Angeles, April 1996.

(2.) See Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987), 450-55.

(3.) Samuel Schoenbaum, Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1975), 220.

(4.) Jean Robertson, ed., Sir Philip Sidney: The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The Old Arcadia) (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1973), 3.

(5.) As testified by Edmund Molyneux in Holinshed's Chronicles (1588); cf. K. Duncan-Jones ed., The Oxford Authors: Sir Philip Sidney (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1989) 314.

(6.) Sidney, Arcadia, ed. cit., 38

(7.) Study in Attribution, 172.

(8.) William Camden, Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine (1605), "Epitaphes" 55.

(9.) Foster, Study in Attribution 173-74.

(10.) Though Donald Foster has made admirably thorough searches, chronicled in his 1989 Study in Attribution, for writers with the initials W. S., I believe he has made a "category error" in confining his most intense scrutiny to poets with these initials. Most probably, on the evidence of the dedicatory epistle and several passages in the Elegie, this writer was not a poet.

(11.) For fuller biographical details, see Dictionary of National Biography

(12.) P. W. Hasler, The House of Commons 1558-1603 (Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1981), 1.632.

(13.) Someset Record Office, D/D/Cd 30, Depositions 1606-7. I owe this reference to Dr. Kenneth Fincham.

(14.) William Sclater, A threefold preseruative against three dangerous diseases of these latter times (1610) sigs. [A2.sup.r-v].

(15.) Personal communication from Dr. Miriam Griffin.

(16.) William Sclater, A Brief, and Plain Commentary, with Notes . . . upon the whole Prophecie of Malachy (1650) sig. [b1.sup.r].

(17.) Presumably in outlying parishes in the Somerset/Devon borders, since he was licensed to preach in his own Pitminster.

(18.) Personal communication from Dr. Fincham, July 1996.

(19.) C. W. Boase, Register of Exeter College, Oxford (Oxford Historical Society, 1894), 84.

(20.) Kenneth Fincham, Prelate as Pastor: The Episcopate of James I (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990), 224-25.

(21.) Ibid.

(22.) William Camden, Britaine (1610), 206.

(23.) F. T. Colby, ed., Visitation of the County of Devon in 1620 (1872), 210, 269.

(24.) William Sclater, The Ministers Portion (Oxford 1612), sigs. [A2.sup.r-v].

(25.) William Sclater, A Sermon preached after the last generall Assise holden for the County of Somerset at Taunton (1616).

(26.) Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, 193-94.

(27.) Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Exeter, 1540-1640: The Growth of an English County Town (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1975), 6.

(28.) William Sclater, The Christians Strength (Oxford, 1612), 9.

(29.) Sclater, A threefold preservative, sig. [E1.sup.r].

(30.) Detailed study of the history of the two surviving copies, in Balliol College and the Bodleian, might be rewarding. The Bodleian copy is included in the 1620 printed catalogue as "Will. Peter. A funerall Elegie in memory of him, Lond. 1612." At that date it was already bound up with its present companions, four of which are works of Puritan theology, and at least two--those by Thomas Tuke and Hugh Broughton--by Cambridge graduates. Thomas James--if it was he who put these six works together--may not have known who the author of the Elegie was, but might have known that William Peter was himself a Puritan, and have felt that this was an appropriate location for his poetic monument. It is possible also that William Peter, a younger son, and a man who had taken an M.A. as well as a B.A., was himself considering ordination at the time of his death.
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Title Annotation:Forum: "A Funeral Elegy" by W. S.
Author:Duncan-Jones, Katherine
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Previous Article:"A Funeral Elegy": obstacles to belief.
Next Article:Who was Will Peter? Or, a plea for literary history.

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