to Chapter 5]
SHAKESPEARE AND SPIRITUALISM
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!
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
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 …
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 …’
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. 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.
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. 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’. In
summary, Hawthorne probably found that England was far too good for the
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
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’.
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 … 
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 … 
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.
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.
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
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. 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.
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
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 … 
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
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. 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.
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 …
THE MEMORY OF
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
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
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.
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.’ One
Shakespeare researcher, Philarète Chasles, also writing in the
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.
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.
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.
Two articles and four reviews that year completed his writing
on literary subjects and concluded his association with the
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. ‘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.
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 … 
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 affectionate remembrance of John William Spencer, Earl
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
…‘ 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.
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.’
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 …’
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
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. Eva’s Uncle,
Oscar (c. 1795-1867) a dancer, taught Ellen Terry and Charles
(son of Edmund Kean), deportment. Eva’s grandmother was a dancer
who performed at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden. She eloped
with James Byrn, her leading man and musical director
(information from Heather Massey). Eva appears to
have made no notable impact on Massey's life, apart from
providing a secure and 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? …'
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,
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
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.
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. 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. In consequence of this
action, in common with a number of other notable persons such as
Cromwell Varley FRS., 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
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
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 …’
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:
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.
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
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 … 
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
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
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
Your Lordship's Grateful
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.
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.’ 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.’ 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. 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 …’
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.
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!
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.
de Quincey—Grave and Gay’ North British Review, 39, (Aug.
1863), 62-86. ‘The Life and
Writings of Thomas Hood’ Quarterly Review, 114, (Oct.
115, (Jan. 1864), 42-68.
Athenæum, 4 Jun. 1864,
Browning's Poems’—published in the Edinburgh Review, Oct.
1864, 537-65. Massey's retort,
published in The Reader, 26 Nov. 1864, 674-5.
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.
Literary Fund, File No. 1581.
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.
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,
Quarterly Review, 118,
(Jul. 1865), 77-105.
Huntington Library, San Marino. Mss. HM. FL3293-99.
Library of Congress. William J. Niles was a brother of Thomas Niles,
of Roberts Brothers Publishers.
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.
Huntington Library, San Marino. Mss. HM FL3293-99.
Fortnightly Review, 5, (Aug. 1866), 734-41.
Treasury of English Sonnets (London, Blackwood, 1880), 279-80;
Athenæum, 28 April 1866.
Athenæum, 16 Feb. 1867,
223-4., 16 Mar. 1867, 355-6.
Fritz, Shakespeare's Southampton-Sonnette (Leipzig, Englemann,
Shakespeare's Sonnet Sequence: A statistical approach
to determining the order in which they were written. Peter Farey,
1998. See: (www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/sonnets.htm).
'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 (gerald.massey.org
) 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.
Fraser's Magazine, 75, (May
University of Texas. Goss, E., Wise, T., The Letters of Algernon
Charles Swinburne 2 Vols. (London, Heinemann, 1918), I, 63-4,
Good Words, 1 Jun.
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
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,
‘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.
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.
28 Jan. 1870, 2.
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.
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.
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.