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Papers of R. B. McKerrow
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‘Pretenders: a desultory conversation’; a play in one act

(This play is described in a later annotation as ‘A very old attempt at a 1-act play in the style of about 1900!’ and has therefore been assigned to the period about that year, though its true date is probably a little later. Note the use of the words ‘motor’ for ‘motor-car’ and ‘Chesterfield’ for a sofa, of which the OED’s earliest examples are from 1899 and 1900 respectively.)

Letter from G. C. Moore Smith to R. B. McKerrow

31 Endcliffe Rise Road, Sheffield.—Discusses McKerrow’s plan of establishing a journal devoted solely to English studies.



31 Endcliffe Rise Road, Sheffield
Nov. 12. 1923

My dear McKerrow,

Many thanks for your kind letter. I am rejoiced to hear that English studies are to have an organ of their own in this country, and that you are to direct it. I have written again & again—to E. K. Chambers I think among others—urging the inadequacy of the MLR to meet the demands made on it & properly to represent English studies {1}—& I have been surprized not to hear earlier of a movement for a Journal devoted to English studies alone.

I pressed on Robertson {2} some time ago (within the last twelvemonths) the desirability of breaking up the MLR so that the English section could appear as a separate Journal. He was evidently against this (believing I suppose that a MLR without English in it could not pay its way)—but said that he thought the solution was a separate Journal for English.

I have at present matter in hand and reviews due that will take all the space for several numbers to come. This means that a book often does not get reviewed in print till 2 years or more after its appearance. It also means that I have to print particularly articles so abstruse or devoid of general interest that they have no chance of getting in elsewhere—& to turn off a popular well-written article—which may be just as valuable—on to some other journal. I have just succeeded in getting an excellent article of Stoll’s on Hamlet into the Contemporary. {3}—There is such an abundance of good matter crying to be published that I hope you will not commit yourself in a hurry to including so much of the nature of Reports of Societies &c. as to limit your powers of publishing the articles & reviews you want. I hope however you will include as the German journals do a page or so of Necrology when required. It has seemed to me sad that the MLR should not be able to include a word on great scholars such as Raleigh & Ker & Vaughan & H. Bradley when they die. {4}

Of course I think the effect on the MLR will be serious. If your standard is as high as ours has been—& it is likely to be higher rather than lower—why should an English student pay for a journal in which English studies occupy only ⅓ of the space as against one in which they hold the field? This is, if the price of your Journal is the same as that of the MLR. Perhaps you will make it less in order to widen your circulation among people who are not actually scholars themselves.

Am I at liberty to send on your letter to Robertson? or are you writing to him?

I understand from your letter that your Journal will not be specially connected with the English Association. However it will no doubt attract the special interest of the E.A. That Association for the last 2 years has made a grant to the MLR to enable it to give 8 more pages to English Of course it will be important for us to know if we may depend on that grant in the future. I am pleased to see that you do not apparently intend giving another quarterly Bibliography.

I suppose you dont intend to pay your contributors—unless for some special articles.

Writing for myself, not for MLR, I look forward with the greatest interest to your Journal. The less it aims at popularity, the more it aims at representing the best English Scholarship, philological, literary-historical, & literary, in my eyes the better—I suppose you will leave articles of technical bibliography rather to the Library?

(I am glad to see that Herford in today’s Manchester Guardian accepts the conclusions of Maunde Thompson &c. as probably sound.) {5}

I dont know if it would be possible to come to any concordat in order to avoid the duplication of reviews. There are a lot of American books sent out by Milford to which justice wd be done if they were reviewed in one English journal only. On the other hand as things are, many books dont get reviewed in the MLR at all. [Footnote:I have not received a copy of the Sir Thomas More book—nor of Herford’s book on Recent Shakespeare Criticism, nor of All. Nicoll’s book on Restoration Drama.’ {6}] The ideal would be for every book of value to be noticed in one journal or the other. I am afraid if this is to be achieved duplication of reviews should be avoided. It might be difficult however to come to any agreement in the matter.

Ever yours
G. C. Moore Smith


{1} Moore Smith was editor of the English section of the Modern Language Review from 1915 to 1927. See MLR, xxxvi (1941). 246.

{2} J. G. Robertson, founder and chief editor of the MLR. See MLR, xxviii (1933), 19.

{3} ‘Recent Criticism of Hamlet’, Contemporary Review, cxxv (1924), 347–57.

{4} Sir Walter Raleigh and C. E. Vaughan died in 1922, W. P. Ker and Henry Bradley in 1923,

{5} The reference is to a review of Shakespeare’s Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More, ed. A. W. Pollard (1923), one of the chapters of which was written by the palaeographer Sir Edward Maunde Thompson. C. H. Herford was a regular reviewer for the Manchester Guardian.

{6} The books referred to are Shakespeare’s Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More (see the previous note), A Sketch of Recent Shakespearean Investigation, 1893–1923, and A History of Restoration Drama, 1600 to 1700, all published in 1923.


The items described under this head are, with one exception, autograph manuscripts of short stories written by McKerrow in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The exception, B1/4, is a series of numbered press-copy sheets, containing a copy of the story ‘The Inevitable Morning’ (B1/3), together with copies of five poems, the originals of which are in B2/13 and B2/15.

The earliest story, ‘Our Trip up “The River”’ (B1/1), was, according to McKerrow’s later annotation, ‘a contribution to a magazine that I tried to start at Wedderlie’. It is in three parts, the first two of which conclude with the words ‘To be continued in our next’. It is unclear whether Wedderlie refers to what Bartholomew’s Gazetteer (1914) calls a ‘shooting-lodge and stream, 1¼ m. NE. of Westruther, Berwickshire’, or some other place; it may be noted, however, that the events related in McKerrow’s story ‘A Strange Adventure’ are said to have occurred while the narrator was spending the autumn at ‘a small house on one of the Scotch moors’. From the style, subject-matter, and handwriting, it must have been written in the 1880s. ‘A Strange Adventure’ (B1/2), which was submitted unsuccessfully to Chambers’s Journal in 1892, was presumably written the same year. ‘The Inevitable Morning’ (B1/3)—the title of which may derive from Emerson’s poem ‘The World-Soul’—is subscribed with the pseudonym ‘Kenneth Niel’ and was written about the same time as a group of poems (B2/13) submitted under the same pseudonym to the Yellow Book about January 1895 (Henry Harland’s letter of rejection is dated the 14th). The next five stories (B1/5–9) are explicitly dated. The dates of the last three items (B1/8–10) are uncertain, but they were probably written at some time in the latter half of the eighteen-nineties.

Letter from Wladimir Lesserich to R. B. McKerrow

Romodan, Government of Poltava, Russia.—Has contributed an article on Nashe to La Pensée Russe.

(In French. With envelope.)



Russie, Romodan, gouvt de Poltava,
le 14 juin 1904.

Monsieur et trés honoré confrère,

Je commence par Vous demander pardon pour le hardiesse que je prends en m’adressant à Vous sans avoir eu l’honneur de Vous être recommandé; je me fais une illusion d’espérer que le motif de ma lettre pourra me servir d’excuse auprés de Vous, et je tâche à vaincre mon indécision.

Le premier volume de Votre belle édition des oeuvres de Nashe me procure ce motif: il me suggère l’idée qu’il ne Vous sera pas indifférent à savoir que cet auteur ne reste pas privé d’interêt dans ce pays et que j’ai eu la bonne chance de présenter à nos lecteurs un article sur se signification littéraire, inserré dans la revue “La Pensée Russe” (Rousskaia Mysl, {1} 901, N 5) et faisant partie d’une série d’études intitulées “L’origine du roman moderne.” Le tirage à part de deux premières chapitres de cette série suivent ma lettre.

M. le Professeur Morfill a lu ces études et il pourra Vous en donner des renseignements; les “foot-notes” Vous en diront le reste.
En comptant sur Votre bienveillance je Vous prie bien, Monsieur, de me permettre à Vous souhaiter le meilleur succés de Votre excellente édition et de Vous présenter l’expression de mon profond respect

Wladimir Lesserich

[Direction on envelope:] Заказное {2} | M-r A. H. Bullen, | 47 great Russell street, | London. | England. | On prie bien de remettre | à M-r Ronald B. McKerrow | Editor of the Works of Th. Nashe | Лондонъ {3} | Ромоданъ, Полт. губ. {4}


The envelope is postmarked ‘1РОМОДАНЪПОЛТАВГ1 | 2 | 19 04 | VI | ПОЧТ.ТЕЛОТД’, ‘REGISTERED | 20 | 19 JU 04 | LONDON’, and ‘REGISTERED | 7.15.AM | 20 JU 04 | 4 | LONDON.W.C’.

{1} The name of the journal in Russian.

{2} ‘Registered.’

{3} ‘London.’ This is the second of four words on this line; the others I have been unable to decipher.

{4} ‘Romodan, Government of Poltava.’ These words are preceded by four others, which I have not been able to decipher.



Dear Sir and most respected colleague,

I begin by asking your pardon for the liberty I take in addressing you without having had the honour of being recommended to you; but I flatter myself with the hope that my motive for writing will serve as an excuse, and have therefore tried to overcome my hesitation.

I derive my motive from the first volume of your fine edition of the Works of Nashe: it suggested to me the idea that you might be interested to know that this author does not remain without interest in this country, and that I have had the good fortune to present to our readers an article on his literary significance, inserted in the journal La Pensée Russe (Rousskaia Mysl, 901, No. 5) as part of a series of studies entitled ‘The Origin of the Modern Novel’. An offprint of the two first chapters of this series will follow my letter.

Professor Morfill has read these studies and he will be able to give you details of them; the footnotes will tell you the rest.

Relying on your kindness, I beg you, sir, to allow me to wish you every success in your excellent edition and to assure you of my deepest respect,

Wladimir Lesserich

Letter from Alice Walker to R. B. McKerrow

2 Bankfield Lane, Southport.—Defends her theory that Hamlet contains a reference to Malchus.



2 Bankfield Lane, Southport.
28 November 1935

Dear Dr. McKerrow,

Thank you very much for your letter. I’m disappointed not to have convinced you about Malchus {1} as, quite apart from the aptness of the reference, it avoids the necessity for altering the 2Q. and F. readings as well as the awkward conjunction of a verb used only with agent nouns with a concrete noun. I can’t believe that Hamlet was ever intended to reply ‘This is skulking misdeed’ or that the difficulty can be got round by assuming (with Mr. Dover Wilson) {2} that an abstract noun can be substituted for a concrete in this context as there seems no warrant for this in malhecho or any other derivative from malefactum. However, as everyone seems quite satisfied with the emendation and its explanation, perhaps I’m wrong. I havn’t any idea where Shakespeare could have come across Malchus unless it was in Josephus {3} (unlikely I think), a Herod and Antipater play or some collection of exempla (perhaps under ‘revenge’ as the revenge motive enters). I can’t do anything about the last here (except get the L.L. collection of exempla with Sabellicus etc. in) {4} and the only relevant plays I can find in the Elizabethan Stage are too late or academic: {5} but I hope to convince you!

I was interested in what you had to say about dumb shows, but I think that as I know so little about them I had better leave the question to those who know more. I sympathise with your wish not to embroil yourself or the R.E.S. in interminable Hamlet arguments (is Hamlet the editor’s nightmare?). Unfortunately, I can’t resist the challenge of a problem.

Thank you very much for forwarding my enclosure and for bothering to answer my letter when you are so busy.

Yours sincerely,
Alice Walker.


Typed, except the signature.

{1} Walker’s idea was that the phrase ‘Miching Malicho’ (Hamlet, III. ii. 137, spelt as in F1) refers to Malichus, or Malchus, the poisoner of Antipater, father of Herod the Great. She expounded the theory in the Modern Language Review the following October. It would appear from the present letter that she may previously have offered an article on the subject to the Review of English Studies.

{2} See What Happens in ‘Hamlet’ (1935), pp. 153–63, and the gloss in the New Cambridge Hamlet (1934), p. 277. In The Manuscript of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and the Problems of its Transmission (2 vols., 1932) Dover Wilson was concerned only with the Q2 reading ‘munching’ (pp. 107, 248, 253).

{3} See Jewish War, Book i, sections 220–35 (Loeb ed., Books i–iii (1927), pp. 103–11).

{4} Marcus Antonius Coccius Sabellicus (1436?–1506) was the author of a history of the world entitled Enneades sive rapsodiae historiarum (Venice, 1504), in which the story of Antipater’s poisoning is related, from Josephus (see Ennead vi, Book ix). But the book Walker refers to is the London Library’s (‘L.L.’) copy of the compendium Exempla virtutum et vitiorum (Basel, 1555), compiled by Johannes Heroldt, which contains, among other things, Sabellicus’s Exemplorum libri decem, first published at Strasbourg in 1507. However, there appears to be no mention of Malchus in the latter work; the story certainly does not occur in the section entitled ‘De contemptu religionis et ultione’, where one would expect it to be. Probably Walker knew that Sabellicus had told the story but mistook the work in which it occurred. The only other works by Sabellicus in the London Library are 18th-century editions of books on Italian antiquities, namely De situ urbis Venetae and De vetustate Aquileiae et Fori Julii libri sex, both in Graevius’s Thesaurus antiquitatum et historiarum Italiae (Leiden, 1722), and Historiae rerum Venetarum ab urbe condita libri XVIII in Degl’istorici delle cose Veneziane (Venice, 1718–22). There is a reference to exempla in Walker’s article ‘The Reading of an Elizabethan: Some Sources of the Prose Pamphlets of Thomas Lodge’ (RES, viii. 268).

{5} See E. K Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (1923). The plays to which Walker refers probably include the academic play Herodes (iv. 375).

Letter from Alice Walker to R. B. McKerrow

The White House, Tite Hill, Englefield Green.—Sends what she has done with 1 Henry VI, Act I. The queries need revision, but give an idea of her difficulties.



at The White House, Tite Hill,
Englefield Green. Surrey.
1 May 1936.

Dear Dr. McKerrow,

Herewith what I have done with I Henry VI Act I. I am not really satisfied with the result and if I had not said I would put it in the post this evening I would have kept it as I am quite sure that my list of queries and questions would be the better for revision. I have put down all my first impressions and the wheat still needs sifting from the chaff, so if any suggestions I have made seem to you, at first glance, silly please don’t try to find some sense in them—there mayn’t be any! My notes and queries may, however, give you some idea of the kind of difficulties I have met and if I get those which are likely to recur straightened out I don’t think I shall need to bother you for some time. I should be very glad if I might have these papers back some time so that I can revise them when I have a better sense of perspective and wider knowledge of analogous cases.

Yours sincerely,
Alice Walker.


Typed, except the signature.

Postcard from G. C. Moore Smith to R. B. McKerrow

[Sheffield.]—Cites an example of the use of the word ‘dowdy’, in illustration of a note by McKerrow (on Nashe).

(Postmarked at Sheffield.)



From ‘Poetical Effusion’ by Mr Ayloffe Trinity College (? 18th century)—given in The Cambridge Tart . . by Socius. 1823. p 21.

Fops ‥ Who after the first bottle still the same,
Can never higher rise than Anagram,
Or at most quibble on their Dowdy’s name.

This seems to show that ‘Dowdy’ at that time still had the sense, for which you have given some examples in your note. {1}


23 Nov 1911

[Direction:] Dr McKerrow | 4 Phoenix Lodge Mansions | Brook Green | Hammersmith | London W


Postmarked at Sheffield S.D.S.O. at 1 p.m. on 24 November 1911.

{1} See Works of Nashe, iv. 453–4 (note on the Preface to Menaphon).

Letter from R. W. Chapman to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—The misunderstanding as to the relationship between the Press and the new journal came about in a natural way. Offers to discuss the matter further, and expresses the Press’s goodwill towards the enterprise.



P 4509

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
9 Jan. 1924 {1}

My dear McKerrow

This is a private letter in the sense that it expresses only a personal opinion. But I am filing a copy of it for convenience—I have no means of keeping papers in order outside this office!

Thank you very much indeed for writing so friendly and so frank a letter. Like you I regret the turn events have taken, in one respect; but it happened very naturally. We understood that we should hear again, if any thing were projected; but we were then talking to representatives of the English Association; and I understand that the Assn as such has nothing to say, so hasnt said it. I see, too, the way in which the conclusion was arrived at, that it would be useless to ask me to consider the later scheme; though I think that conclusion was not really deducible from the previous discussion about an editor. I wish you had asked!

Now I have been wondering whether I ought to ask if we can do any thing to assist you e.g. in the USA and Dominions. I hesitate to do so—much as I should like to help—because I dont want even to seem to poach; because I see that if we had ‘a foot in it’ we should be somewhat committed if (say) you went in to liquidation with a view to reconstruction; lastly, because it is clear to me that the Review would be much more attractive to us if it were offered as a new thing than if it were relinquished by its original publishers—because of course such relinquishing must suggest (to purchasers and advertisers) a financial loss and a disappointing circulation.

I may already have written either too much or too little! If you make no reply I shall not be surprised or offended. But if you would like to have some further discussion, I dont think it could do any harm—you know that we are well-disposed to the enterprise in any event.

I shall be at Amen Corner {2} on Monday, {3} and could be free 11–1, or after 3.

Yours sincerely
R. W. Chapman

R. B. McKerrow Esq.


{1} The first two figures of the year are printed.

{2} The address of the Press’s London warehouse.

{3} 14th.

Letter from W. J. Craig to R. B. McKerrow

55A Gloucester Place (London).—Praises McKerrow’s edition of The Devil’s Charter.

(With envelope.)



55a G P {1} Ja 31st {2}

My dear McKerrow

Thank you much for The Divils Charter. {3} I like the edition. The type is clear; your notes and Index are most useful and good. I have not yet had time to read it through. Yes come in and see me. I am going away to Reigate {4} from Saturday till Monday {5} and I am dining out Friday. After that I am fairly free.

I remain
sincerely yours
W J Craig

[Direction on envelope:] R B McKerrow Esqr | 30 Manchester Street | Manchester Square


Typed, except the address, date, and signature. The envelope was postmarked at London, W., at 4.15 p.m. on 31 January 1906. The typing is erratic and many of the words are run together in the original. These errors have been silently corrected.

{1} 55A Gloucester Place, Portman Square, London, Craig’s home. Cf. Add. MS. c. 75/13.

{2} Altered from ‘30th’.

{3} Barnabe Barnes, The Devil’s Charter, edited by R. B. McKerrow (1904). The spelling in the letter is that of the 1607 quarto.

{4} Craig apparently had a significant connection with Reigate, as he was buried in the churchyard there.

{5} 3–5 February.

List of the contents of a parcel, by Alice Walker



1. Text, pp. 1–12 (blue pencil numbering)

2. Your MS. of collation notes, pp. 2–5 (p. 1 you already have).

3a. Typescript, clean copy, of collation notes, pp. 3–10 (1–2 you have)

b. Marked copy (pp. 1–10) of same.

4. Queries concerning collation notes.

5. Puzzle page.

6. Some general queries.

7. Notes to Act I (I still have your MS. of these)

8. Queries re Notes.

9. Addendum to Richard III.

10. A suggestion in reply to one of your queries.


Typed, except the entry marked ‘b’ and the ‘a’ of ‘3a’.

Letter from Sidney Lee to R. B. McKerrow

108A Lexham Gardens, Kensington, W.—Commends the latest issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine (the first of a new series under the editorship of A. H. Bullen, with McKerrow as assistant).

(With envelope.)



108A Lexham Gardens, Kensington, W.
2 March 1906.

Dear Mr McKerrow,

I am very much obliged to you for your courtesy in sending me a copy of ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ for February. It presents a very satisfactory appearance, and will, I do not doubt, prove very serviceable.

I am
Yours very truly,
Sidney Lee.

[Direction on envelope:] R. B. McKerrow, Esq., | 30 Manchester Street, | Manchester Square, | W.


The envelope was postmarked at Kensington Sorting Office, W., at 1.15 p.m. on 2 March 1906.

{1} This number began a new series of the magazine, under the editorship of A. H. Bullen, with McKerrow as assistant. It was effectively discontinued the following year, though ‘copyright registration copies’, consisting of the wrappers only, continued to be sent to the British Museum till 1922. See F. C. Francis, ‘A List of the Writings of Ronald Brunlees McKerrow’, Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 4th series, xxi (1941), 235–6, and McKerrow’s letter in the Times Literary Supplement, 18 June 1931, p. 487.

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