Re-Posting Reason 11: Oxford’s Prefatory Letter for “Cardanus Comforte” of 1573

(Note: Below is a re-posting of all three parts of Reason 11 much as they originally appeared on this blog site. The combination of all three parts accounts for the length of this single post.  The same entry, reduced in length, now appears as Reason 25 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.

When J. Thomas Looney hypothesized that Edward de Vere earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare,” he came upon his prefatory letter for Thomas Beddingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte published in 1573, when Oxford was twenty-three, and one can only imagine Looney’s amazement upon finding such self-evident support for his thesis.  After all, here was a letter we might well have expected to find from “Shakespeare” as a young man.

“CARDANUS Comforte, translated And Published by commaundement of the right Honourable the Earle of Oxenforde.” This is the 1576 edition; the first was in 1573.

Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified (1920) that Oxford’s letter “gives us a glimpse into the nature of the man himself as he was in these early years.  Whatever may have been the pose he thought fit to adopt in dealing with some of the men about Elizabeth’s court, this letter bears ample testimony to the generosity and largeness of his disposition, the clearness and sobriety of his judgment, and the essential manliness of his actions and bearing towards literary men whom he considered worthy of encouragement…

“As a letter it is, of course, prose, but it is the prose of a genuine poet: its terse ingenuity, wealth of figurative speech, and even its musical quality…”

Oxford had taken the court by storm; an expert in horsemanship, he was the new champion of the Whitehall tiltyard; and already he had risen to the heights of the royal favor, amid gossip that he and the queen were lovers despite his marriage to the daughter of chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England. In addition, breaking with tradition as he had done with sponsorship of The Courtier by Castiglione, the young earl was clearly England’s great champion of literature and the Italian renaissance.

John Thomas Looney (1870-1944)

Looney’s parting word on the Cardanus preface was a plea to his readers to “familiarize themselves thoroughly with the diction of this letter” and then “read the dedication of Venus and Adonis” to Southampton printed in 1593: “So similar is the style that it is hardly necessary to make any allowance for the [twenty] intervening years.”

An Oxfordian who picked up on the latter theme was Joseph Sobran (1946-2010), who, in the appendix section of Alias Shakespeare (1997), offered perceptive observations such as:

“This document unmistakably prefigures the Southampton poems of Shakespeare: the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece. Written when Oxford was only twenty-three, the letter anticipates these poems in spirit, theme, image, and other details. Like those poems, it borrows, for figurative use, the languages of law, commerce, horticulture, and medicine. It speaks of publication as a duty and of literary works as tombs and monuments to their authors. It has echoes in the plays, and the points of resemblance to the Southampton poems are especially notable…

“Alias, Shakespeare” (1997) by Joseph Sobran

“Oxford’s letter is Shakespearean in a wider respect too: in its overwhelming warmth and generosity, verging on excess, yet controlled by a pleasant irony. He loves to praise, but he avoids the risk of fulsomeness by disguising praise as admiring accusation. ‘For shame!’ he says: ‘You want to hoard your own excellence, deny your virtue to the world!’  This is exactly the rhetorical strategy of Sonnets 1 through 17, using much the same language and many of the same images…”

Here is Oxford’s public letter in 1573 to Bedingfield in full, followed by the dedication of Venus and Adonis in 1593 to Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton:

“To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.

“After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests and better I thought it were to displease one than to displease many: further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity, as may not with a little persuasion of reason be repaired again. And herein I am forced like a good and politic captain oftentimes to spoil and burn the corn of his own country lest his enemies thereof do take advantage. For rather than so many of your countrymen should be deluded through my sinister means of your industry in studies (whereof you are bound in conscience to yield them an account) I am content to make spoil and havoc of your request, and that, that might have wrought greatly in me in this former respect, utterly to be of no effect or operation: and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use? I do not doubt even so you think of your studies and delightful Muses. What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others? Wherefore we have this Latin proverb: Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter. What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit unto another? What doth avail the vine unless another delighteth in the grape? What doth avail the rose unless another took pleasure in the smell?  Why should this tree be accounted better than that tree, but for the goodness of his fruit? Why should this vine be better than that vine, unless it brought forth a better grape than the other? Why should this rose be better esteemed than that rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other rose?

“And so it is in all other things as well as in man. Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue, through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt, but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornament of virtue.  And in mine opinion as it beautifieth a fair woman to be decked with pearls and precious stones, so much more it ornifieth a gentleman to be furnished in mind with glittering virtues.

“Wherefore considering the small harm I do to you, the great good I do to others, I prefer mine own intention to discover your volume before your request to secret the same; wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or physician, who, although his patient in the extremity of his burning fever is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body, yet for the danger he doth evidently know by his science to ensue, denieth him the same. So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion, yet I, knowing the discommodities that shall redound to yourself thereby (and which is more, unto your countrymen) as one that is willing to salve so great an inconvenience, am nothing dainty to deny your request.

“Again, we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more than by erecting them of tombs; whereby when they be dead indeed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument; but with me, behold, it happeneth far better, for in your lifetime I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say [in] your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone. And in your lifetime, again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life, whereby I may declare my good will, though with your ill will as yet that I do bear you in your life.

“Thus earnestly desiring you in this one request of mine (as I would yield to you in a great many) not to repugn the setting-forth of your own proper studies, I bid you farewell. From my new country muses at Wivenghole, wishing you as you have begun, to proceed in these virtuous actions. For when all things shall else forsake us, virtue yet will ever abide with us, and when our bodies fall into the bowels of the earth, yet that shall mount with our minds into the highest heavens.

“By your loving and assured friend, E. Oxenford”

DEDICATION OF “VENUS AND ADONIS” – 1593:

“TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton, And Baron of Tichfield

“Right Honourable,

“I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden.  Only, if your Honour seem but pleased, I account my self highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour.  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather: and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest.  I leave it to your Honourable survey, and your Honour to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation.

“Your Honors in all duty, William Shakespeare”

///

The Oxford Universal Dictionary cites “Shakespeare” as the first person to write “persuade” and “murdered” as he used those words here:

“… your king … sends me a paper to persuade me patience?” – 3 Henry VI

“’Glamis hath murdered sleep…’” – Macbeth  

But Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford had used “persuade” and “murdered” in those same ways much earlier, when he was twenty-three, within his dedicatory letter to the translator of Cardanus Comforte:

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”

“The Mysterious William Shakespeare” (1984, 1992) by Charlton Ogburn Jr.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. reported these findings in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984), supporting the theory that Oxford himself was the author of 3 Henry VI and Macbeth, in which case he was simply using “persuade” and “murdered” as he had done years before.   Centuries later “Shakespeare” would be credited with creating those word usages without anyone noticing that in fact it was de Vere.

The above is just one small example of what will be discovered (and re-discovered) once Oxford and “Shakespeare” are recognized as one and the same man.

////

William Plumer Fowler’s magnum opus,  Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters (1986), will one day be recognized as a major contribution to studies of Shakespearean authorship; and most of the examples cited below are taken from that important work of 872 pages.

Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters (1986) by William Plumer Fowler

Following is the first paragraph of Oxford’s prefatory dedication addressed “To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.”   I have underlined words and phrases that will appear in the plays, poems and sonnets to be published under the “Shakespeare” name two or three decades after 1573:

After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

Oxford: “After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield…”

Shakespeare: “Have you perused the letters from the pope” – 1 Henry VI, 5.1.1

Oxford: “…finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt…”

Shakespeare: “I cannot choose but pity her” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 4.4.77

Oxford: “… whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book.”

Shakespeare: “I’ll force thee to yield to my desire” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 5.4.59

Shakespeare: “We’ll execute your purpose” – Troilus and Cressida, 3.3.50

Shakespeare (Following the same sentence construction used above by Oxford): “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” – Hamlet, 3.1.55

Oxford: “For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little.”

Shakespeare: “For Polixenes, with who I am accused, I do confess” – The Winter’s Tale, 3.2.62

Shakespeare: “You … have misdemeaned yourself, and not a little” – Henry VIII, 5.3.14

Oxford: “But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind…”

Shakespeare: “My lord, I have considered in my mind” – Richard III, 4.2.83

Oxford: “… of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work.”

Shakespeare: “So you do condescend to help me now” – 1 Henry IV, 5.3.17

Shakespeare: “In strange concealments, valiant as a lion” – 1 Henry IV, 3.1.166

Shakespeare: “A little of that worthy work performed” – Coriolanus, 2.2.45

Oxford: “Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same…”

Shakespeare: “I profit in the knowledge of myself” – Twelfth Night, 5.1.25

(In the above lines, within a single paragraph, Oxford uses concealment, worthy and profited; and all three are echoed in a single passage of 1 Henry IV, 3.1.164-166: “In faith he is a worthy gentleman, exceedingly well read, and profited in strange concealments.”)

Oxford: “…that shall comfort the afflicted …”

Shakespeare: “For this affliction has a taste as sweet as any cordial comfort” – The Winter’s Tale, 5.3.76

 

Oxford:  “… confirm the doubtful …”

Shakespeare: “As doubtful whether what I see be true, until confirmed” – The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.148

 

Oxford: “… encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man…”

Shakespeare: “Faith, I’ll bear no base mind” – 2 Henry IV, 3.2.240

 

Oxford: “… to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue…”

Shakespeare: “To leave for nothing all thy sum of good” – Sonnet 109, line 12

 

Oxford: “… whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.”

Shakespeare: “The Doll and Helen of thy noble thoughts is in base durance” – 2 Henry IV, 5.5.36

Here is another section of Oxford’s letter:

I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests … further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity … and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use … What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others … So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion … “ – Edward de Vere, in his prefatory letter to Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte from Italian into English.

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) the Italian philosopher and author of “Cardanus Comforte,” was still alive when Oxford was in Italy during 1575-1576

The 23-year-old earl created an elaborate “excuse” for publishing the work despite his friend’s wish that he refrain from doing so.  This apology or justification was not meant to be taken seriously by the readers; rather it was a literary device that Oxford used to create a lofty, amusing piece of writing while introducing Cardano’s work that has come to be known as the book Hamlet carries with him and reads on stage.

What Oxford produced was a piece of Elizabethan prose that Percy Allen described in the 1930’s as “one of the most gracious that even those days of exquisite writing have bequeathed to us, from the hand of a great nobleman … with its friendship that never condescends, its intimacy that is never familiar, its persuasive logic, its harmonious rhythms, its gentle and compelling charm.”  [The Life Story of Edward de Vere as “William Shakespeare” – 1932]

Here is surely the same voice we hear in the Prince of Denmark’s words, Allen noted.  Here is prose that sounds like Hamlet’s speech to the common players who arrive at the palace.  As Delia Bacon had put it in the 19th century, the author of the play must have been quite like “the subtle Hamlet of the university, the courtly Hamlet, ‘the glass of fashion and the mold of form’” – a description that perfectly fits Lord Oxford in the early 1570’s, when he was in the highest royal favor at the Court of Elizabeth.  [The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded – 1857]

Oxford and “Shakespeare” both argue that the possessor of a talent has a duty to use it, that anyone with a virtue has a responsibility to share it with others rather than hoard it for himself alone.  The earl writes that if he had failed to publish Bedingfield’s translation he would have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”  By contrast his act of causing the work to be published is but a “trifle” to be overcome; and from “Shakespeare” we shall hear the same words within the context of the same theme in the sonnets to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton:

So the time that keeps you as my chest – Sonnet 52

Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? – Sonnet 65

But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are – Sonnet 48

But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,

And kept unused the user so destroys it;

No love toward others in that bosom sits

That on himself such murderous shame commits.  – Sonnet 9

Oxford rhetorically asks his friend to consider how it avails “a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags and never to be employed to your use?”  What good are Bedingfield’s studies if he chooses to “not participate them to others”?  Why would he want to “bury” his works “in the grave of oblivion?”

By new unfolding his imprisoned pride – Sonnet 52

Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty – Sonnet 58

 

Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament [“time’s best jewel”]

And only herald to the gaudy spring,

Within thine own bud buriest thy content,

And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.

Pity the world!  Or else this glutton be:

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee – Sonnet 1

 

In Venus and Adonis of 1593, the goddess Venus lectures young Adonis on the same theme using the same words:

What is thy body but a swallowing grave,

Seeming to bury that posterity

Which by the rights of time thou needs must have,

If thou destroy them not in dark obscurityVenus and Adonis, lines 757-762

Thou art the grave where buried love doth live – Sonnet 31

The Tudor Rose – “That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – Juliet

Oxford enlarges upon his theme:

“What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit to another … What doth avail the Rose unless another took pleasure in the smell … Why should this Rose be better esteemed than that Rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other Rose?  And so it is in all other things as well as in man.  Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornaments of virtue…” 

And “Shakespeare” more than two decades later:

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.

But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

Lose but their show; their substance still smells sweet.

– Sonnet 5

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem

By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!

The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odor which doth in it live.

The Canker-blooms have full as deep a dye

As the perfumed tincture of the Roses

But for their virtue only is their show,

They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade,

Die to themselves.  Sweet Roses do not so:

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odors made.  – Sonnet 54

 

Oxford writes:

“ … wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or Physician, who, though his patient in the extremity of his burning Fever, is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body …”

And Shakespeare uses the same image:

My love is as a fever longing still

For that which longer nurseth the disease,

Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,

The uncertain sickly appetite to please:

My reason, the Physician to my love…” – Sonnet 147

And finally, to choose among many such examples, Oxford anticipates one of Shakespeare’s major themes in the Sonnets printed in 1609, the power of his pen to create a “monument” for posterity:

“Again we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more then by erecting them of Tombs: Whereby when they be dead in deed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument, but with me behold it happeneth far better, for in your life time I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say in your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone.  And in your life time again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life…”

Sonnet 81:

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues overturn

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.  

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth!  – Sonnet 55

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

 

Sonnet 107, the couplet at the end:

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

 

 

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