Gerald Massey: a biography - Chapter 5.

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Men counted him a dreamer: - dreams
    Are but the light of clearer skies,
    Too dazzling for our naked eyes;
And when we catch their flashing beams,
We turn aside, and call them dreams!

(Ernest Jones)

THE year of 1863 was slightly less traumatic for Massey.  Although remaining financially constrained and tied considerably by his wife's illness, he continued reviewing for the Athenæum—thirty-two books that year—and contributed fifteen poems for Good Words.  Those together with two major articles showed some improvement in his literary output.  His opinions, despite being openly partisan at times, were generally fair in criticism of both new and established authors, and a number of his longer reviews are very well constructed.  But one is left querying with Walter Bagehot the difference between 'The review-like essay, and the essay-like review', which was so evident in the major mid-Victorian periodicals.[1]

    Professor Aytoun, who had pseudonymously authored ‘Fermilion’ in the Spasmodic style, was cast aside in Massey's review of Nuptial Ode.  He had probably not forgotten Aytoun's scathing remarks which he thought had referred to ‘Babe Christabel’.  With that in mind, Massey was blunt but surprisingly polite in return:

The writer cannot write poetry.  He lacks the natural touch of its quickening spirit; the possession of its genuine fire.  Here is no striving life; no lofty music; no airy elegance; no dainty grace.  Instead we find a treatment unspeakably commonplace …[2]

    A number of years later when lecturing in Australia, Massey was introduced as the person who had presented Jean Ingelow to the Northern Hemisphere.  His carefully constructed appraisal of her Poems ensured their continual popularity and provided her with a successful literary career.  ‘… We are guarded, and desire not to exaggerate what we have found in the little book … this new volume will make the eyes of all lovers of poetry dance with a gladder light than if they had come upon a treasure-trove of gold …’[3]

    It was a year or two before this that Massey became more interested in and involved with Shakespeare in general and the Sonnets in particular.[4]  This is noticed first in a review by Massey of Charles Cowden Clarke's Shakespeare Characters; chiefly those Subordinate.  His critique was of greater length than usual, and would qualify for Bagehot's 'Essay-like review' remark.[5]  Ideas were then being formed gradually that would result in some developed theories regarding Shakespeare's Sonnets.  At the same time, articles on Thomas de Quincey, and the life and times of Thomas Hood, showed that he was now fully developed as an essay writer with an easy, yet critically discerning eye for objectively phrased sensitivity—a feature that was sometimes lacking in his own poetical compositions.[6]  During 1864 he continued to submit some of his lectures to journals, although he had hoped, for financial reasons, to have had them published earlier as a series.

    In the article ‘New Englanders and the Old Home’ he noted that the emigrants' new conditions had developed a change in their character, which was being determined to a great extent by the material size of that country.  When Dickens wrote the sketches of Yankee character in Martin Chuzzlewit, they were attacked in America as gross caricatures, but enjoyed in England as pleasant to laugh at, if not entirely to be believed.  Since then, it was found that Americans do produce such characters and perform such things as cannot be caricatured.  Massey regarded Emerson as one of the few who protested against some of the worst American characteristics—big and blatant to usurp attention—being accepted as representational.  On the other hand, he considered that it was Nathaniel Hawthorne's rather shallow judgement of his visit to England which prompted him to regard British power as having culminated and was in solstice, or was already declining.  Hawthorne had wished that the thirty million inhabitants of England could be transferred to some convenient wilderness in the great American West, whilst a half or a quarter of that amount of Americans could be transferred to England.  The change would be beneficial to both parties.  Praising the English weather and verdant gardens, Hawthorne was surprised at the amount of wasted labour expended in producing ‘an English fruit, raised in the open air, that could not compare in flavour with a Yankee turnip’.[7]  In summary, Hawthorne probably found that England was far too good for the English!

    Robert Browning had always been one of Massey's favourite poets; hence he was pleased to review Browning's Dramatis Personæ, when the Athenæum sent him a copy.  In this review he referred to the anomaly noticed by readers of verse at that time, in the apparent inconsistency to attain consistency; novel poetry which is dramatic in principle and lyrical in expression.  In Browning's poetry, referred to as ‘Browning's Fireworks’, he admits to some ‘obscurity’ due to suggestions which, in subjective poetry can effectively be left to the imagination, but when objective, require more visible forms of expression.[8]

    A few months following this review, his attention had been drawn to an article in the Edinburgh Review which, he was told, had ‘come down a smasher on Robert Browning’.  Assured by the writer that his poetry could not survive except as a curiosity and a puzzle, Browning was accused of being a mine of examples to illustrate some ‘Theory of the Obscure’ disfigured by grotesque and extravagant conceits, and clumsiness of diction.  Massey was quick to spring to Browning's defence in The Reader, saying that:

I turned with some eagerness to the article; because, when any one gives a verdict so sweeping, he ought, at least, to show some unmistakable warrant for the authority. I have now read the article, and been so excessively tickled that I should be greatly obliged if you would permit me to laugh aloud over it: it will do me a world of good

    He then proceeded selectively to criticise the writer for obscurity and lack of accuracy in English, much in the same way that the writer criticised Browning.  But he did not mention directly his own opinions of instances of Browning's ‘obscurity’.[9]

    The article that first introduced his ideas regarding Shakespeare and his Sonnets was published in April, to which he was indebted for helpful suggestions from James Halliwell—later Halliwell-Phillipps—Hon. Secretary of the Shakespeare Society:

Feby. 11th 1864.

… My article is on the personality of Shakespeare, which depends less on dates than any other kind of treatment
My opinion is that the fact of the dedication being run into one is fatal to Mr. Chasles' interpretation. Would not Thorpe have corrected that, supposing the Printers to have bungled it? … The first begetter I make to be Southampton … having got thus far makes it possible that Marlowe was the rival poet … My chief points with the Sonnets are to attack Brown's theory and show that Southampton was not one of the two friends in person but wrote sonnets for both … If you have any external illustration of this internal evidence I shall be glad indeed … [10]

He continued in a letter dated 19 April:

My Article is at Length advertised.  It had to be cut down, but I consider myself lucky to have got it in the Q.R. at all.  I shall be glad to hear what you think of my theory … The argument is only in skeleton; I hope to clothe it in a book, when I have heard what is to be said against it … I am anxious to see how it is proposed to replace Shakespeare where I have seated Southampton … P.S. Of course the Article must not be publicly written of as mine, at present.

    ‘Shakspeare and his Sonnets’ commenced with an introduction by way of a brief synopsis of Shakespeare's life, up to the first edition of the Sonnets in 1609.  Massey then contrasted the divisions of opinion on the identity of the initialled ‘Mr. W. H.’ being ‘the onlie begetter’ in Thorpe's dedication.  Dr. Nathan Drake thought it was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton; Charles Brown and Benjamin Wright gave it to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, while Philarète Chasles considered that it was William Herbert, who dedicated the Sonnets to the Earl of Southampton.  Taking ‘begetter’ in the sense of ‘obtaining’, Massey held that it was William Herbert who had collected the Sonnets via the Earl of Southampton, the original ‘obtainer’.  Later investigators into the Sonnets considered that the word 'begetter' in the dedication could be used either biologically or metaphorically, but principally in the sense of creating.  Massey was to deal with this again, some years hence.  In sectioning the Sonnets as a series of events, Massey determined the earliest as being devoted to Southampton.  Nos. 44-52 are connected with Southampton's courtship with Elizabeth Vernon, cousin to the Earl of Essex, as told through Southampton (not Shakespeare) prior to their marriage in 1598. Nos. 109-125 concern the defence of Shakespeare on behalf of the Earl, on the Queen's opposition to their marriage.

    Following the publication of his article, Massey wrote again to Halliwell on the 6 May:

You may depend on it that I shall not leave the Sonnets until I have fully unfolded my new Theory and done that for it which shall ultimately establish it as the true and only rendering. I am quite confident of being able to prove that Southampton was the real begetter; that he was the Man of whom Shakspeare says ‘sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem’, and calls himself one of his two poets; that a large number of the Sonnets are written dramatically for Southampton at his request—see Sonnet 39 … I am able to shake the personal theory into tinder.  I was of course very limited and confined in my Article; in fact had to struggle. But, I shall have scope in my book. Meanwhile I am willing to offer £100 to any one who will furnish me with such a refutation of the hints given in my article as I shall be unable to refute.  I shall be glad if you or any of your friends will take it on … The Note on Dyce was the Editor's.  They are personal friends.

    On November 30 he outlined his current progress to Halliwell, pressing for more information:

I want to get a week in London this Winter for the purpose of replying to Books on my Shakspeare subject.  Can you help me at all?  By pointing out the Writers on the Sonnets—Is Mr. Correy's List complete?—and by telling me where I can trace Southampton and Wm. Herbert.  I shall want to make a sketch of these two—also of Lady Rich, and, if anything be recorded besides what I found in Rowland White—of Mr. Vernon.  I have got on nicely with my Theory.  I now believe that the ‘Will’ of the latter Sonnets was Herbert.  There is proof in Sonnet 152 that it was not Shakspeare—not a married man.  And, I take it that Sonnets 57 and 58 belong to this series … I am now satisfied that Thorpe dedicated to the only ‘obtainer’ of these Sonnets.  Can you help me to prove it.  He was rather a quaint man, I think, and it sounds to me rather Chapman-like to use ‘begetter’ in that sense … [11]

    It was fortunate for Massey that no serious attempt at a refutation of his developing theories was made in order to claim his £100, which he certainly did not possess.  In November he had again to make an application for a grant from the Royal Literary Fund.  In his letter he told them that the autobiography which he had been preparing had been destroyed:

My special cause of appeal on the present occasion is a sad misfortune which occurred to me some time ago.  For these three Winters past, I have been totally unable to leave home for the purpose of Lecturing and so have been deprived of some £200 a year.  This last year I thought to publish my lectures with some other literary matter, when, in one of her mental aberrations, my Wife destroyed a mass of my papers, including the flowers of my Lectures, plots, articles & the Notes of an Autobiography.  This was a sad blow, and unless you should be able to extend your kindness to me I am afraid that my Household goods must be sold this Christmas …

    Following recommendations from Lady Alford and the Reverend George St. Clair, Massey received £50.[12]

    Lady Alford and Lord Brownlow were very sympathetic to Massey's predicament, his wife's ill health and the unfortunate circumstances which the family had endured for the past ten years.  About the spring of 1865 they offered them a rent-free cottage in Little Gaddesden, in an area known now as Witchcraft Bottom.  At the same time they settled some outstanding debts, caused to some extent by Rosina's alcoholic addiction.  That move was followed a few months later by the gift of a rent free large farmhouse, Wards Hurst at Ringshall, part of the Ashridge estate.

    The arrival of the Massey family in Little Gaddesden caused considerable excitement in that small community, particularly on account of the rather awesome Rosina, who was still suffering from occasional mental imbalance.  While the Masseys were at Witchcraft Bottom, a small boy happened one evening to be passing the cottage where, to his horror, he saw Rosina with her hands outstretched, some cups and saucers on the table apparently moving without human contact.  Whilst we know today that Rosina was practising a form of ‘ouija board’ reading, stories spread around that must have been 'devilish' in nature.  Another incident occurred when a servant girl asked leave to visit her sick mother in Aldbury, a village some two miles away, and was told by Rosina that there was no need for her to make the journey, as she could bring her mother to her.  The girl then ‘saw’ her mother on her death bed.  On arriving at Aldbury, she found that her mother had indeed died that day.  With a few more embroidered supernormal incidents, poor Rosina was branded a witch, and accepted as such by the community, the stories later woven into local folk history.[13]  The family received additional attention when Rosina's brother, Joseph, made the occasional visit to the village.  Joseph was ten years younger than Rosina, and had been born with a severe club-foot deformity.  This made him an invalid, requiring the use of crutches to get around.  As an additional focus of attention, he had to wear a large white strap around his neck to support the afflicted foot.

    Prior to Rosina's mental and alcoholic afflictions, she was highly regarded in London during the late 1840s and early 1850s on account of her clairvoyant faculties.  Even during her years of affliction she had periods of apparent normality.  Massey told of one instance while he and Rosina were washing up after supper one evening, when Rosina suddenly stopped, saying that her mother had died.  At that time she was 200 miles away.  The following morning a letter arrived informing them of the fact.  On another occasion she was visited by an army officer dressed in civilian clothes, accompanied by a friend.  This officer had lost a carpet-bag, and wanted to know if she could find the bag by means of clairvoyance.  Rosina described the bag and its contents, which included a pair of silver-mounted pistols of Indian origin.  There was also another object which she could not clearly identify, until she suddenly noticed that the officer was wearing an artificial arm.  His own arm had been severed in action, and was in the missing bag.  Although Massey and the officer travelled to Liverpool where the bag had been presumed lost, the police considered that there was insufficient confirmation for them to proceed with an inquiry.  From all the accounts cited, the clairvoyant episodes were mainly of a non-predictive nature, events either happening in the present, or had occurred in the recent past.  However, in one exception, Rosina 'saw' the servant breaking the centre pane of a window a few hours before she had actually broken it.[14]

    Literary output was very small during 1865, most of Massey's activities being directed toward the preparation of his work on Shakespeare's Sonnets.  Rosina was strongly opposed to the time being taken in writing the book, on the grounds that her husband might have been employing himself more profitably.  In stating that opinion, she was probably correct at that particular time!  He wrote only one review for the Athenæum that year, Duchess Agnes, &c. by Isa Craig, winner of the Burns Centenary Competition six years earlier.  Massey thought that the verse presented in that volume would certainly give her a place among the sisterhood of living singers, the book containing much better poetry than the Burns ode, which was considerably strained and flamboyant.[15]  An article ‘Browning's Poems’ which he submitted to the Quarterly Review, was an enlarged and recast version of the review he had written the previous year.  Still admitting to the difficulty of understanding his poem ‘Sordello’, Massey believed that Browning was not one of the ‘serene creators of immortal things’ when he composed it, as it represented confusion of the ‘mental workshop’.  Although Browning may have known his own meaning, it had not been conveyed to us.  He noted that most of the nineteenth century poetry had been so far mainly subjective, having lost the secret of the old dramatists.  The objective poetry of simple description, broad handling and portraiture had passed away with Scott. Browning was dramatic, down to his smallest lyric, and it was necessary to understand the principles of his art before being able to interpret his poems correctly.  The subject and character were treated in a manner totally new to objective poetry.  Closeness of observation, directness of description made for fidelity of detail which, at first sight, is somewhat bewildering.  His ‘obscurity’ was due less to poetic incompleteness, than arising from the dramatic conditions.  But, he said, it breathed into modern verse a breath of new life.[16]

    Wards Hurst farmhouse is a large fairly isolated building, bordered on one side by Ashridge Forest and with views to Dunstable Downs on the other.  The arrival of the Masseys from Witchcraft Bottom was instrumental in producing some previously unrecorded phenomena of a poltergeist nature; they had not been at Wards Hurst long before peculiar noises were heard in the night.  Sounds resembling the ring of the kitchen range continually being thrown down, and a metal object falling on the floor disturbed them.  On some nights the noises were sufficiently loud as to keep their Scottish housekeeper awake, but nothing was found to be disturbed when they went to investigate.  This gave Massey considerable concern, as he had no wish to be driven out of a rent free house by ghostly phenomena.  Rosina, who in spite of her mental episodes still possessed her psychic faculties, supplied the information that the phenomena were connected with the spirit of a man who had murdered his illegitimate child, and buried it in the garden.  But on his way to bury the body, in the dark he had dropped the door key in the cellar.  Subsequently Massey did find some human child's bones under a tree in the garden, and a rusty key in the cellar.  On promising to pray for the departed spirit of the murderer, the noises ceased and were not heard again.  Massey claimed later, that he had received valuable information via Rosina which assisted him in his Shakespeare research; she had provided references to books about which they both knew nothing, but that were relevant to the development of his theories.  However, it was not suggested that the spirit of Shakespeare was responsible for this information!

Wards Hurst Farm.

Gerald Massey, early 1870's.
(The Hulton Picture Company)

    By October, Massey had completed his book and even prior to publication was attempting to interest Ticknor & Fields, and Osgood in Boston, for an American issue:


My dear Fields,
You will remember that in my dedicatory notes to you I disclaimed being a Man of Works.  Now however, I do think I have done a work, the best I am likely to do and one that will live.  I do not hesitate to say the Sonnets are settled once and for ever and the Book will read like a sunrise … The work will run to 400 or 500 pp and is wrought elaborately.  To sell them at a guinea I expect Longmans will take it; I am now negotiating with them.  Will you take it over the water?  If so, I'll send sheets as printed.  You may have faith in it I assure you.  It has the elements of a great sensational success …

Decr. 1st.                      

I have received your Note per favor of Messrs. Longman.  Ticknor & Fields have republished my poetry and I was looking to them to reprint my new work on Shakspeare.  It may be however that it will not be so much in their line … I shall ask £100 for the republishing … Whoever takes it will make a good thing of it … I anticipate a great success in England, a greater still in America.  It cannot fail to create a sensation …
Wm. J. Niles Esq

    The following year, 1866, marked the beginning of a personal change in Massey's life following the death of Rosina aged 33, on 13 March.  According to one account, Rosina prepared her coffin, which had been in the house for some time.  She took a candle, a penny and a hammer the candle to light her way through the darkness, the penny to pay her toll, and the hammer to knock upon the doors of heaven.[19]  This unlikely story, knowing the Masseys' beliefs, was probably attributed to Rosina as it was apparently a local custom at that time.  Massey's account of Rosina's death was given later.  She had turned on her left side in bed and they were both talking to each other.  It was when Massey received no reply, that he realised she was dead.  On his first séance with the medium D. D. Home, a spirit purporting to be his wife said, ‘Oh, Gerald, when I turned on my left side to pass that night, and had got through, I could not believe it.  I kept talking, and thought you had gone suddenly deaf, as I could not hear you answer me.’  Massey considered that this episode represented the continuity of consciousness in death.  There is no death.  There is no break—no cessation of motion: it is like the top when we say it sleeps—that seems to stand still when it spins perfectly.[20]

    According to the death certificate, Rosina died from ‘Morbus Cordis’— heart disease, but there is no indication of the underlying cause, or of tuberculosis, which had been considered earlier.  She is buried in the churchyard of the beautiful and secluded Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Little Gaddesden, near Tring.


Little Gaddesden churchyard.
Rosina's grave is first on right on entering.

Rosina's gravestone. Its badly weathered inscription reads …


BORN MARCH 30 1832
DIED MARCH 13 1866

    Up to that time Massey had received no definite indication of any intent to publish his Shakespeare book in America, and was beginning to have doubts concerning this. Hence he wrote again to enquire:

March 14                      

My dear Fields,
There has been a misunderstanding between me and the Agent of Roberts Brothers and I have sent the first parcel of sheets to you by Book-post.  Getting on for 2/3rds of the Book.  You will read the sheets please and if you do not care to print—I cannot but think you will take to it—you will oblige me by seeing if you can save something for me from the Pirates.  The Book is announced for the 28th Inst. in England.  Do the best you can for me.  I am in sad trouble.  My poor Wife—after long, long, suffering and trials insurmountable, is lying dead at last …

    The publication of his Shakspeare's Sonnets Never before Interpreted: his Private Friends identified: together with a Recovered Likeness of Himself was dedicated to Lord Brownlow ‘In poor acknowledgement of princely kindness’, and received with some courtesy by the press.  Commencing with a summary of the theories to date, particularly the Personal Theory of Charles Brown, he continued by sectioning the Sonnets into Personal and Dramatic.  His deductions, following his previous Quarterly Review article (Shakspeare and his Sonnets) are worked in greater detail, and his source references are extensive.  Robert Bell while disagreeing with Massey's conclusions, commented that ‘Whatever may be the ultimate reception of Mr Massey's interpretation of the Sonnets, nobody can deny that it is the most elaborate and circumstantial that has yet been attempted.’  He referred to ‘the bolder outlines, the richer colouring and the more daring flights’ than Armitage Brown had given in his own essay on the subject.[22]  David Main spoke of ‘Mr Massey's masterly and luminous exposition’, while in Hepworth Dixon's view, expressed in the Athenæum, Massey had ‘entered into the personal and political history of Shakspeare's time with a good deal of pains’ and had thrown out ‘some excellent suggestions.’[23]  One Shakespeare researcher, Philarète Chasles, also writing in the Athenæum, complimented Massey on his eloquent and erudite pages, but noted some very hard words that Massey had written against sceptical critics who failed to chime in with the author's settled opinions.  Chasles, after further research, suggested that the ‘Begetter’ of the Sonnets, ‘Mr. W. H.’, was William Hathaway.  Massey responded and, defending his argument that ‘only begetter’ means ‘only obtainer’, asked what historical facts and dates ran counter to his theory.  He was exceedingly perplexed as to the unwillingness of critics to follow his reading of what he termed the Dramatic Sonnets.[24]  Although very pleased with his work, Massey must have been disappointed that the book did not reach a second edition, and that no publisher accepted it in America.  There was one compensation however, which Massey noted in later advertisements, in that Professor Fritz Krauss in Germany accepted much of his theory, and used it in his Shakespeare—Southampton Sonnets, 1872.[25]

    There is of course, continuing interest in Shakespeare's Sonnets, albeit within more specialised frameworks of Shakespeare societies and university English literature courses.  The research side of the subject received much attention when computer programs were developed that were able to detect word text blocks, pattern and rhythm of words and sentences etc. within the Sonnets.  These were able to indicate authorship characteristics and early and late works by the same poet.  Peter Farey used a statistical approach to determine whether the original order as printed by Thomas Thorpe (assumed almost as Shakespeare wrote them) or if some of the other authors and editors who considered a better sequence were more correct.  Statistical analysis showed considerable support to Thorpe's original sequence as being nearer to the order in which they were written, and also showing what the most probable sequence, written over a number of years, actually is.  Comparisons were made from Thorpe's 1609 edition, with those of 19 different authors and editors dating from 1841 to 1995.  Massey's 1888 edition of his revised book on Shakespeare's Sonnets received a high ranking.  William Boyle in the Shakespeare Fellowship's Shakespeare Matters, summarises a literary analysis and determines that out of 1,800 books on the sonnets, Gerald Massey's 1866/1872 Shakespeare's Sonnets … is the only one that gets close to the true historical context.  He was also the first to identify persuasively the Earl of Southampton as the poet's "true love" of Sonnet 107.  Massey may also have been correct in suggesting that Southampton requested that the drama of Richard II was altered by Shakespeare on purpose to be played seditiously, with the deposition scene (not published until 1608) newly added.  He argued that if Shakespeare was not hand-in-glove with the Essex faction, he fought on their side pen-in-hand.  In the new scene King Richard gives up the throne with Bolingbroke in his presence, which is what Essex and Southampton hoped to persuade Queen Elizabeth to do.[25]

    Two articles and four reviews that year completed his writing on literary subjects and concluded his association with the Athenæum.  ‘Yankee Humour’ was a revised version of his previous ‘American Humour’ of 1860, in which he acknowledged a greater number of representative authors, but again strongly favoured Lowell's Biglow Papers as being the most characteristic and complete expression of American humour.[26] ‘Charles Lamb’, a lecture that he delivered many times during his tours to universal praise, was more an appreciative biographical sketch than a critical appraisal of Lamb's works.[27]  Although well constructed containing colourful poetical phrases, it remained a lecture, rather than being developed as a literary study.  Not impressed by Lamb's poetry, he concluded that: ‘The most minute poring of personal affection cannot discover anything very precious … When he wrote his verses he had not got into that vein of incomparable humour which afterwards yielded such riches to his essays and letters …’  Swinburne wrote to him on 22 May disagreeing with those comments:

Of your work on Shakespeare's sonnets I read something when it appeared, but had no time to follow it out Hitherto I am myself unconvinced that any of the series were written in the character of another real person; they all seem to me either fanciful or personal—autobiographic or dramatic.  But I hope before long to study the question started by you more fully.  I have been reading this evening your essay on Lamb in the Fraser of this month.  Will you excuse the protest of a younger workman in the same field as yourself against the deprecatory mention of Lamb's poetry?  I remember Tennyson speak of it in the same tone; but against both my seniors I maintain that there are two or three poems and many passages of serious and noble beauty besides the verses you quote on his Mother's death.  I have always thought that but for his incomparable prose the world would have set twice as much store by his verse … [28]

    The sudden death of Lord Brownlow whose health had been fragile for many years occurred in February 1867.  To his memory, Massey composed one of his finest poems, In Memoriam, ‘In affectionate remembrance of John William Spencer, Earl Brownlow’.[29]  Thomas Cooper in a letter to Thomas Chambers, asked ‘… Have you seen Gerald Massey's lines on Earl Brownlow in Good Words?  They are very beautiful.  The best thing he ever did, in my conception …‘[30]  Following that publication Massey reprinted the poem in a private, full leather bound edition, dedicated to Lady Marian Alford ‘As his offering of sympathy in the common sorrow’.

Why should we weep, when 'tis so well with him,
Our loss even cannot measure his great gain?
Why should we weep, when death is but a mask
Through which we know the face of life beyond? …

Why do we shrink so from ‘Eternity’?
We are in Eternity from Birth, not Death!
Eternity is not beyond the stars—
Some far Hereafter—it is Here, and Now! …

Massey's In Memoriam rebound in vellum and presented to
Massey by Lady Marian Alford.

    It is not known if Lady Alford agreed entirely with the Spiritualistic sentiments expressed in the poem, but she was ‘deeply obliged’ and held it in sufficient regard for her to present the author with a vellum bound inscribed copy emblazoned in colour with her Coat of Arms.[31]  While calling on Lady Alford at Ashridge, W. E. Gladstone was shown the poem, who then requested that the copy be sent to Queen Victoria.  The Queen wrote in reply, ‘The Queen returns the volume, having read and greatly admired the poem.  She would indeed be most pleased to possess a copy of it.’[32]  On 2 August Thomas Cooper wrote again to Thomas Chambers, making a probable reference to his privately printed volume, which had not been reviewed. ‘ Is Gerald Massey's new poem really out?  I never see any review of it, or any extract from it.  They will break his heart if they do not quote him & praise him.  He cannot live without praise, poor fellow …’[33]

Lady Marion Alford, c. 1870 - cdv signed Flli. D' Alessandri, Roma.

    Massey was now left with two children to bring up.  Although Christabel, the elder, was fourteen, and he employed a housekeeper, his lecture tours became a necessity for financial reasons, and these would require long periods away from home in the winter months.  In her autobiography Recollections of Fifty Years, the poetess and author Isabella Fyvie Mayo recounts that Massey offered his hand to the poetess Jean Ingelow.  But, as events transpired, on 2 January 1868 in St. Mary's Church, Paddington, he married Eva Byrn, who was one year younger than the late Rosina.  Eva, who had received a French education, was the daughter of Charles Byrn, an artist and ‘Professor of Dancing,’ in Cambridge Street, Paddington.  She appears to have made no notable impact on Massey's life, apart from providing a secure stable family environment, so sadly lacking during his marriage to Rosina.

    Since 1854 when he had tried to sustain Samuel Smiles' brief interest in commencing a London newspaper, Massey had hoped, despite his experiences in Edinburgh, that some similar venture would appear in which he could participate.  From literary acquaintances he heard that the poet and novelist George MacDonald might be favourably disposed to such a suggestion.  Writing to MacDonald, he mentioned his Shakespeare book, and then asked quite directly, ' Have you any thoughts of a Magazine of your own?  I have long had, tho' I have never sought to realise them.  Do you think there would be a chance of our working together with one? …'[34]  But this was another of Massey's optimistic hopes that never materialised.  A few years later from 1872-3, MacDonald became editor of Good Words for the Young, while Massey's plans had again changed direction.

    In June 1868, in honour of the marriage of John William Spencer's successor and brother, the Rt. Hon. Adelbert-Wellington Cust to Lady Adelaide Talbot, 3rd daughter of the 18th Earl of Shrewsbury, Massey composed a cycle of poems, Carmina Nuptialia, which he dedicated to Lady Marian Alford and the married couple, the new Earl and Countess Brownlow.  Again privately printed, the poems were mainly sentimental love lyrics, philosophically idealistic, with some religious and Spiritualistic overtones:

Now pray we.
                Lord of Life, look smiling down
Upon this pair; with choicest blessings crown
Their love; the beauty of the Flower bring
Back to the bud again in some new spring!
We would not pray that sorrow ne'er may shed
Her dews along the pathway they must tread:
The sweetest flowers would never bloom at all
If no least rain of tears did ever fall.
In joy the soul is bearing human fruit;
In grief it may be taking divine root.
Come joy or grief, nestle them near to Thee
In happy love twin for eternity!

    The same year was noted in the extramundane realm for the case of Lyon v. Home.  Daniel Dunglas Home was the famed Victorian physical medium immortalised unfavourably in Robert Browning's 'Mr Sludge, the Medium' in 1864.  Browning, interested in the phenomena, previously had a séance with Home but disapproved of the discourses given in trance.[35]  Home was on no occasion detected in fraud, and was fully investigated some years later by Sir William Crookes, the accuracy of his scientific experiments never receiving serious challenge.[36]  Mrs Lyon, a wealthy widow, was attracted to Home, and was prepared to settle £24,000, and later a further £30,000, on him if he were to add her name to his, as an adopted son, and make it Home-Lyon.  After this had been done, Mrs Lyon changed her mind, and sued for recovery of the money.  She based her action on a statement that she had been influenced by spirit communications from her late husband, coming through Home, despite telling people, including Massey, that she had not been thus influenced.  Home found out, too late, that Mrs Lyon was flighty, obstinate, fond of her own way, apt to change her mind, and tyrannical.  Massey declared that he would not have stood for it for £30,000 a year!  She had informed various people how she had to urge Home to take the money, and also told Massey in January 1867 how delighted she was at seeing Home's astonishment when she made her proposals, her gifts being so unsought and unexpected.[37]  In consequence of this action, in common with a number of other notable persons such as Cromwell Varley FRS.,[38]  Massey made an affidavit in Home's favour:

I, Gerald Massey, of Ward's Hurst, Ringshall, Hemel Hempstead, in the County of Herts, author, make oath, and say as follows:

On the 28th of December, 1864 I met Mr Home and Mrs. Lyon for the first time.  It was at the house of Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall.  Since then I have seen a great deal of Mr Home, and have never had the slightest reason to look upon him other than as a man of the most honourable character and kindliest disposition—in fact, a gentleman whom I should judge to be quite incapable of any such baseness as has been laid to his charge.
                                                                                    Gerald Massey.

    Following a lengthy trial, Home was found guilty, despite undisputed evidence that Home did not exercise undue influence over Mrs Lyon.  The judge's final comment showed extreme bias, ‘Nevertheless, I decide against him; for as I hold Spiritualism to be a delusion, I must necessarily hold the plaintiff to be the victim of a delusion, and no amount of evidence will convince me to the contrary.’  Mrs Lyon, on ‘adopting’ Home, had taken possession of jewellery that had belonged to Home's wife, much of which was never recovered.  'The Great Spiritual Case', Lyon v. Home, (Illustrated Police News office, London, 1868, 24-25) adds more detail.

    Massey was involved in a further unusual discussion during the summer of 1868.  On this occasion the authenticity of a poem was in question, "An Epitaph", discovered penned on the reverse of the final page of a volume of Milton's Poems both English and Latin held in the British Museum.  Its finder attributed this previously unknown poem to John Milton, an event that caused widespread interest in the press.  Between 16 July and 11 August, correspondence on the subject appeared in The Times, Telegraph, and other national newspapers.  After much debate—not all of it friendly—involving some well-known literary personages, matters appear to have been drawn to a close with a letter from Massey to the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette.  Massey's finely argued verdict was that the poem owed more to the style of Crashawe than of Milton, but was by neither and might have been intended as a forgery. (Appendix C.)

    During the period 1868-69, recommencing his winter lectures—he was at Stranraer in December 1868 giving his talk on Thomas Hood—Massey was more firmly and openly aligning himself on the side of the Spiritualists.  This received public attention with his next volume of poetry, A Tale of Eternity and other Poems.  Published in January 1870, it gave a dramatic account of his experience and investigation into the poltergeist type phenomena at Wards Hurst, some six years earlier.  Charles Kent, editor of the Sun, referred to it [A Tale of Eternity] as the most remarkable of all his productions, and ‘beyond what we had regarded as the range of Mr Massey's capacity … Weird, grisly, eerie, eldritch horror runs through the whole current of the narrative … Despite blemishes of thought and expression … and the tone of the poem verging at intervals towards the blasphemous … Gerald Massey has evidenced a wealth of vocabulary and a force of imagination far beyond the reach of any mere versifier … Seldom has a young poet of the large promise of Gerald Massey more fully justified than he himself has done in the present instance …’[39]  Kent, for religious reasons, judged the work to be ‘clouded and misted over with the hazy influence of what is called spiritualism’, but did not denounce the poem on that account, as others might have done.

    The Athenæum was very slow in publishing its review, and Massey, always impatient, could not resist writing to the proposed reviewer, Thomas Purnell:

Ward's Hurst,       
Hemel Hempstead.

Dear Mr. Purnell,
I have sent, per Evans, a batch of my very best pickings which will afford you ample choice for quotation without your tearing up your Copy.  I have forgotten your number or should have sent direct. Curiously enough I had corresponded with the ‘Athm.’ people about resuming my old seat on their Critical bench.  But, after one meeting and your communication, I shall drop the subject and not ask for any Books.  The whole affair is infinitely funny.  I say old fellow, if you let that Book of mine lie there another week, and I die first I'll haunt you.  Remember me to your Sister.
                                                 Yours faithfully,
                                                 Gerald Massey.

    After some further delay, the published review was politely appreciative and more formal in tone than the Sun.  Purnell admitted he had been initially puzzled by the whole poem, believing that readers would approve more of the succeeding verse, which included ‘In Memoriam’ and ‘Carmen Nuptiale.’

    The plot is of the slightest texture; its theme is remote from ordinary human interests; the whole story occasionally drags; and more than once we fancied ourselves on the border-land of the grotesque … [But] it is higher in aim, broader in scope, and contains passages of sustained power … The theories of Swedenborg, Böhmen and others of the illuminati have apparently been utilized by him, and he shows an extensive acquaintance with the results of modern science … there will be no disagreement about the value of the poetry … [41]

It was an awful hour of storm and rain
And starless gloom in which the Child was slain.
Wild, windily the Night went roaring by,
As if loud seas broke in the woodlands nigh …

He had dug his grave amid this war of storm;
He bore the murdered Babe upon his arm
For burial, where no eye should ever mark!
Just then Heaven opened at him with a bark
Of all the Hell-hounds loosed. And in the dark
Out went the light, and down he dropped the key …
He was alone with Death, and paces three
Beyond the door an open grave gaped, free
For all the daylight world to come and see  …
He ventured: bravely dashed the weapon down,
And turned to triumph, when, by the student-gown
He was held fast, as if the living Tomb
Had closed upon him; clutched him in the gloom.
He had pinned his long robe to the coffin!

The murderer did not madden thus, but he
Was stamped as if for all Eternity  …

    Prior to the published edition, Massey had sent a subscription copy to Matthew Arnold who, in a private letter dated 19 December 1869, commented that:

Strahan brings you out at rather a formidable moment in conjunction with Tennyson, whose new volume calls to so many readers and buyers.  I do not myself think, however, that in this new volume of his he proves—except for the first moment of publication—a dangerous competitor.
                          Ever sincerely yours, Matthew Arnold

    Following the review in the Sun, he wrote in reply to a note from Samuel Wilberforce to whom he had sent a copy of his book:

I am afraid my long poem will prove a stumbling block to many of the Critics. It is founded on a fact and is the result of an experience remote from the Common.  Nearly 20 years ago your Lordship saw my Wife that then was show something of psychical phenomena.  This poem of mine is the latest result of my living for many years face to face with a life mystery.

A Writer in the
Sun—a Mr. Kent, who is a R. Catholic seems to think the poem not very orthodox but I claim for it that it is on the side of Belief and Positivism and was written with that fully in view.  Also, it ought to tell against Child-Murder, I think.  Anyhow I hope it may not be made to stand in the light of a poem like my ‘In Memoriam’ written on the death of the late Earl Brownlow.  For love of him and his Mother I would do much to get that poem largely recognised—especially after the decision with regard to Berkhamsted Common.
                                                        I am
                                                        Your Lordship's Grateful
                                                        Gerald Massey.

P.S. The Notice enclosed—from the ‘Sun’—does an injustice to Wm. Strahan thro' a mistake—the Copy sent to him was the same as your Lordship's—in Quarto—but the one issued for the public is a smaller size—in Crown.[43]

    There is no record of Wilberforce's private or public experience of Rosina's clairvoyance, which would have been between 1851-4.  Wilberforce was not completely alien to this type of phenomenon, having had an experience in 1847, concerning one of his sons.  While in his library at Cuddesdon with three or four of his clergy writing with him at his table, he suddenly raised his hand to his head, and exclaimed, ‘I am certain that something has happened to one of my sons.’  He found out later that his eldest son, Herbert, who was a naval midshipman at sea, had at that same time received a severe crushing accident to his foot.  In a letter to Miss Noel, dated 4 March 1847, Wilberforce wrote, ‘It is curious that at the time of his accident I was so possessed with the depressing consciousness of some evil having befallen my son Herbert, that at last on the third day after, the 13th, I wrote down that I was quite unable to shake off the impression that something had happened to him, and noted this down for remembrance.’[44]  Previous to this, he had experimented with mesmerism, with some success, writing that ‘I am very deep in mesmerism … I sent two into a deep sleep, one instantly, and one soon.’[45]  Later, about 1852, Lord Carlisle, commenting on one of the private literary breakfasts that Wilberforce held quite often, wrote in his diary, ‘The Bishop and I fought a mesmeric and electrobiological battle against the scornful opposition of all the rest.’  The ‘others’ being Macaulay, Lord Overstone and Sir G. C. Lewis.[46]  In 1859 due to reports of his continuing interest in psychic phenomena, Wilberforce had to write a disclaimer in a letter concerning his activities in that direction:

You have been misinformed as to the fact that I practise Table Turning.  When the existence of such a power was first announced as an electrical phenomenon, I in concert with many others, tried whether the fact was so.  But no table turning followed my manipulation …

    In order to emphasise his official orthodox position, he added, ‘I should say that it [table turning] was the work of the Evil Spirit …’[47]

[Chapter 6]




This theme is dealt with in Politics and Reviewers: The Edinburgh and the Quarterly in the early Victorian age, by Joanne Shattock. (Leicester U.P., 1989).


Athenæum, 7 Mar. 1863, 328.


Ibid. 25 Jul. 1863, 106–108. Massey had suggested in a letter to Jean Ingelow—20 July 1863—before the Athenæum review was published, that she send her Poems to his American publisher, Ticknor and Fields of Boston for their consideration, in order to prevent piracy. (Roberts Brothers Collection, Massey to Jean Ingelow, The Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford).  The fact that Ingelow's Poems was published by Roberts Brothers rather than Ticknor & Fields led some to suppose that her book had been 'pirated' by Roberts as Massey had feared.  However, recent research by Maura Ives ('Her life was in her books. Jean Ingelow in the literary marketplace.' Victorian Newsletter, 22 March 2007) strongly suggests otherwise.  Ingelow had contacted Ticknor & Fields, sending them a copy of her book, and it appears likely that they—or less likely Massey or Ingelow herself, had then contacted Thomas Niles, [previously from Whittemore, Niles and Hall] an editor for Roberts Brothers.  Due to Massey's popularity in America, some there believed him to be an American (anecdote in Lucifer, Sept. 1888), a mistake that might equally have come to apply to Jean Ingelow!


He had, possibly as early as 1862, obtained a Reader's Ticket for the British Museum Reading Room—now the British Library. In December 1864 he recommended an application for a ticket for a friend. British Library Add. Mss. 48340.f.300.


Athenæum, 3 Oct. 1863, 425-27.


Thomas de Quincey—Grave and GayNorth British Review, 39, (Aug. 1863), 62-86. ‘The Life and Writings of Thomas HoodQuarterly Review, 114, (Oct. 1863), 332-68.


Ibid. 115, (Jan. 1864), 42-68.


Athenæum, 4 Jun. 1864, 765-67.


Critical article—‘Robert Browning's Poems’—published in the Edinburgh Review, Oct. 1864, 537-65. Massey's retort, published in The Reader, 26 Nov. 1864, 674-5.


Quarterly Review, 115, (Apr. 1864), 430-81. Massey's spelling of Shakespeare as 'Shakspeare' followed that of Ben Johnson's 1623 'To the memory of my beloved Master William Shakspeare.' The spelling was also used by Walter Savage Landor in his 'Citation and Examination of William Shakspeare', 1834. Several variants of the name have been used, and although all are valid, the usual 'Shakespeare' is most favoured.


Halliwell Mss in Edinburgh University Library.


Royal Literary Fund, File No. 1581.


Bell, V., Little Gaddesden (London, Faber, 1949), 131-34. The servant's name is not given. In the census return for 1871, Wards Hurst, he was employing Maggie Ogilvy, then aged 30 years from Chesham as a General Servant, and Sarah Staple, 15 years, from Scotland, as a Nursemaid. By that date his family had increased.


These, and a number of other incidents, are recorded in the Spiritualist, 15 May 1972, 36, and more fully in the Medium and Daybreak, 17 May 1872, 177-79.


Athenæum, 14 Jan. 1865, 49-50.


Quarterly Review, 118, (Jul. 1865), 77-105.


The Huntington Library, San Marino. Mss. HM. FL3293-99.


Ms. The Library of Congress. William J. Niles was a brother of Thomas Niles, of Roberts Brothers Publishers.


Bell, V., Little Gaddesden, op. cit. Bell states, p. 134, incorrectly, that ‘On the 3 May 1866 she prepared her coffin … ’


Banner of Light, 10 Jan. 1874, 1.


The Huntington Library, San Marino. Mss. HM FL3293-99.


Fortnightly Review, 5, (Aug. 1866), 734-41.


A Treasury of English Sonnets (London, Blackwood, 1880), 279-80; Athenæum, 28 April 1866.


Athenæum, 16 Feb. 1867, 223-4., 16 Mar. 1867, 355-6.


Krauss, Fritz, Shakespeare's Southampton-Sonnette (Leipzig, Englemann, 1872), 5-13.
Shakespeare's Sonnet Sequence: A statistical approach to determining the order in which they were written. Peter Farey, 1998. See: (
'With the Sonnets now solved ...' in William Boyle, Shakespeare Matters, (The Shakespeare Fellowship). vol. 3, no 4, Summer 2004 pages 11, 17, 18, 21.
'A Critique of Massey's Shakespeare Sonnets' an essay by E. Wingeatt  mentions Massey's often lack of adequate referencing and sometimes using subjective inferences rather than objective facts. Many of his conclusions, as with most recent authors on the subject, tend to be essentially more subjective and less strictly evidentially based. See also p. 230 fn. 3.


Quarterly Review, 122, (Jan. 1867), 212-37.


Fraser's Magazine, 75, (May 1867), 657-72.


Ms. University of Texas. Goss, E., Wise, T., The Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne 2 Vols. (London, Heinemann, 1918), I, 63-4, letter 33.


In Good Words, 1 Jun. 1867, 273-4.


Ms. Bishopsgate Institute, dated 20 Jun. 1867.


Deposited at the Local History Unit, Upper Norwood Library.


Medium and Daybreak, 10 Oct. 1873, 451. A copy exists of In Memoriam that was inscribed by Lady Marian Alford and sent by her to Lady Gertrude Talbot (1840-1906), the 3rd daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and dated 1869.


Ms. Bishopsgate Institute. Massey was always sensitive to criticism, and adverse comments produced self-doubt and depression, particularly when he had to rely on popularity for his living and family support. He usually countered criticism by a strong literary response, sometimes to the point of discourtesy.


Aberdeen University Library, Ms. 2167/1/18. Undated.


Through a Glass Darkly. Spiritualism in the Browning Circle. Katherine H. Porter, (Univ. Kansas Press, 1958. New York, Octagon, 1972), 47.


‘Experimental Investigation of a New Force,’ in Quarterly Journal of Science, 8, (Jul. 1871), 9-43. ‘Notes of an Enquiry into the Phenomena called Spiritual’, 11, (Jan. 1874), 81-102. Prior to this, his authority was unquestioned. After his affirmation that the phenomena were genuine, he was doubted, questioned and criticised.


Home, Mme. D., D. D. Home. His life and Mission (London, Trubner, 1888), 252-74. Also Home, D. D., Incidents in my life (London, Tinsley, 1872, 2nd series), 193-374 for an account of the court case. The Great Spiritual Case, Lyon v. Home at Cambridge University Library, Pam.5.86.29. See also Elizabeth Jenkins' The Shadow and the Light. A defence of Daniel Dunglas Home, the Medium (London, Hamish Hamilton 1982).


Spiritualist, 1 Sep. 1873, 307.


Sun, 28 Jan. 1870, 2.


Source personal. Ms. deposited at the Local History Unit, Upper Norwood Library. Massey had not reviewed for the Athenæum since 1867. His friend and chief editor, Hepworth Dixon, had left in 1869 when Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke obtained the Athenæum following the death of his father, the previous owner. Dixon was succeeded in 1870 by Norman MacColl. Both were responsible for changes in policy, but the reason why Massey was not reappointed is not known. See The Athenæum. A Mirror of Victorian Culture, by Leslie A. Marchand. (New York, Octagon, 1971).


Athenæum, 9 Apr. 1870, 476.


Cited in My Lyrical Life, l, ii. Tennyson's poem was his Holy Grail.


Bodleian Library, Ms. Wilberforce c.16. fols.190-93. Dated 3 February. Purnell in his review commented on the unusual size of the book, which had been issued as a subscription edition. He should have been sent the smaller, published edition. Earl Brownlow, prior to his death, had clashed with the Berkhamsted Commoners over encroachments of common land.


Report of the Literary Committee of the Society for Psychical Research, Proceedings, 1882, I, part 2, 133.


Wilberforce, Reginald, The Life of the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce D.D. 3 vols. (London, Murray, 1881) 1, 259-61.


Ibid. 2, 7-8.


Ibid. 2, 425.