been dining with Erskine in his pretty little house in Birdcage
Walk, and we were sitting in the library over our coffee and
cigarettes, when the question of literary forgeries happened
to turn up in conversation. I cannot at present remember how
it was that we struck upon this somewhat curious topic, as it
was at that time, but I know that we had a long discussion about
Macpherson, Ireland, and Chatterton, and that with regard to
the last I insisted that his so-called forgeries were merely
the result of an artistic desire for perfect representation;
that we had no right to quarrel with an artist for the conditions
under which he chooses to present his work; and that all Art
being to a certain degree a mode of acting, an attempt to realise
one's own personality on some imaginative plane out of reach
of the trammelling accidents and limitations of real life, to
censure an artist for a forgery was to confuse an ethical with
an aesthetical problem.
Erskine, who was a good deal
older than I was, and had been listening to me with the amused
deference of a man of forty, suddenly put his hand upon my shoulder
and said to me, 'What would you say about a young man who had
a strange theory about a certain work of art, believed in his
theory, and committed a forgery in order to prove it?'
'Ah! that is quite a different
matter,' I answered.
Erskine remained silent for a
few moments, looking at the thin grey threads of smoke that were
rising from his cigarette. 'Yes,' he said, after a pause, 'quite
There was something in the tone
of his voice, a slight touch of bitterness perhaps, that excited
my curiosity. 'Did you ever know anybody who did that?' I cried.
'Yes,' he answered, throwing
his cigarette into the fire, 'a great friend
of mine, Cyril Graham. He was very fascinating, and very foolish,
and very heartless. However, he left me the only legacy I ever
received in my life.'
'What was that?' I exclaimed.
Erskine rose from his seat, and going over to a tall inlaid cabinet
that stood between the two windows, unlocked it, and came back
to where I was sitting, holding in his hand a small panel picture
set in an old and somewhat tarnished Elizabethan frame.
It was a full-length portrait
of a young man in late sixteenth-century costume, standing by
a table, with his right hand resting on an open book. He seemed
about seventeen years of age, and was of quite extraordinary
personal beauty, though evidently somewhat effeminate. Indeed,
had it not been for the dress and the closely cropped hair, one
would have said that the face with its dreamy wistful eyes, and
its delicate scarlet lips, was the face of a girl. In manner,
and especially in the treatment of the hands, the picture reminded
one of Francois Clouet's later work. The black velvet doublet
with its fantastically gilded points, and the peacock-blue background
against which it showed up so pleasantly, and from which it gained
such luminous value of colour, were quite in Clouet's style;
and the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy that hung somewhat formally
from the marble pedestal had that hard severity of touch
so different from the facile grace of the Italians
which even at the Court of France the great Flemish master never
completely lost, and which in itself has always been a characteristic
of the northern temper.
'It is a charming thing,' I cried,
'but who is this wonderful young man, whose beauty Art has so
happily preserved for us?'
'This is the portrait of Mr.
W. H.,' said Erskine, with a sad smile. It might have been a
chance effect of light, but it seemed to me that his eyes were
quite bright with tears.
'Mr. W. H.!' I exclaimed; 'who
was Mr. W. H.?'
'Don't you remember?' he answered;
'look at the book on which his hand is resting.'
'I see there is some writing
there, but I cannot make it out,' I replied.
'Take this magnifying-glass and
try,' said Erskine, with the same sad smile still playing about
I took the glass, and moving
the lamp a little nearer, I began to spell out the crabbed sixteenth-century
handwriting. 'To the onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets.'...
'Good heavens!' I cried, 'is this Shakespeare's Mr. W. H.?'
'Cyril Graham used to say so,'
'But it is not a bit like Lord
Pembroke,' I answered. 'I know the Penshurst portraits very well.
I was staying near there a few weeks ago.'
'Do you really believe then that
the sonnets are addressed to Lord Pembroke?' he asked.
'I am sure of it,' I answered.
'Pembroke, Shakespeare, and Mrs. Mary Fitton are the three personages
of the Sonnets; there is no doubt at all about it.'
'Well, I agree with you,' said
Erskine, 'but I did not always think so. I used to believe
well, I suppose I used to believe in Cyril Graham and his theory.'
'And what was that?' I asked,
looking at the wonderful portrait, which had already begun to
have a strange fascination for me.
'It is a long story,' said Erskine,
taking the picture away from me rather abruptly
I thought at the time 'a very long story; but
if you care to hear it, I will tell it to you.'
'I love theories about the Sonnets,'
I cried; 'but I don't think I am likely to be converted to any
new idea. The matter has ceased to be a mystery to any one. Indeed,
I wonder that it ever was a mystery.'
'As I don't believe in the theory,
I am not likely to convert you to it,' said Erskine, laughing;
'but it may interest you.'
'Tell it to me, of course,' I
answered. 'If it is half as delightful as the picture, I shall
be more than satisfied.'
'Well,' said Erskine, lighting
a cigarette, 'I must begin by telling you about Cyril Graham
himself. He and I were at the same house at Eton. I was a year
or two older than he was, but we were immense friends, and did
all our work and all our play together. There was, of course,
a good deal more play than work, but I cannot say that I am sorry
for that. It is always an advantage not to have received a sound
commercial education, and what I learned in the playing fields
at Eton has been quite as useful to me as anything I was taught
at Cambridge. I should tell you that Cyril's father and mother
were both dead. They had been drowned in a horrible yachting
accident off the Isle of Wight. His father had been in the diplomatic
service, and had married a daughter, the only daughter, in fact,
of old Lord Crediton, who became Cyril's guardian after the death
of his parents. I don't think that Lord Crediton cared very much
for Cyril. He had never really forgiven his daughter for marrying
a man who had not a title. He was an extraordinary old aristocrat,
who swore like a costermonger, and had the manners of a farmer.
I remember seeing him once on Speech-day. He growled at me, gave
me a sovereign, and told me not to grow up "a damned Radical"
like my father. Cyril had very little affection for him, and
was only too glad to spend most of his holidays with us in Scotland.
They never really got on together at all. Cyril thought him a
bear, and he thought Cyril effeminate. He was effeminate, I suppose,
in some things, though he was a very good rider and a capital
fencer. In fact he got the foils before he left Eton. But he
was very languid in his manner, and not a little vain of his
good looks, and had a strong objection to football. The two things
that really gave him pleasure were poetry and acting. At Eton
he was always dressing up and reciting Shakespeare, and when
we went up to Trinity he became a member of the A.D.C. his first
term. I remember I was always very jealous of his acting. I was
absurdly devoted to him; I suppose because we were so different
in some things. I was a rather awkward, weakly lad, with huge
feet, and horribly freckled. Freckles run in Scotch families
just as gout does in English families. Cyril used to say that
of the two he preferred the gout; but he always set an absurdly
high value on personal appearance, and once read a paper before
our debating society to prove that it was better to be good-looking
than to be good. He certainly was wonderfully handsome. People
who did not like him, Philistines and college tutors, and young
men reading for the Church, used to say that he was merely pretty;
but there was a great deal more in his face than mere prettiness.
I think he was the most splendid creature I ever saw, and nothing
could exceed the grace of his movements, the charm of his manner.
He fascinated everybody who was worth fascinating, and a great
many people who were not. He was often wilful and petulant, and
I used to think him dreadfully insincere. It was due, I think,
chiefly to his inordinate desire to please. Poor Cyril! I told
him once that he was contented with very cheap triumphs, but
he only laughed. He was horribly spoiled. All charming people,
I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction.
'However, I must tell you about
Cyril's acting. You know that no actresses are allowed to play
at the A.D.C. At least they were not in my time. I don't know
how it is now. Well, of course, Cyril was always cast for the
girls' parts, and when As You Like It was produced he
played Rosalind. It was a marvellous performance. In fact, Cyril
Graham was the only perfect Rosalind I have ever seen. It would
be impossible to describe to you the beauty, the delicacy, the
refinement of the whole thing. It made an immense sensation,
and the horrid little theatre, as it was then, was crowded every
night. Even when I read the play now I can't help thinking of
Cyril. It might have been written for him. The next term he took
his degree, and came to London to read for the diplomatic. But
he never did any work. He spent his days in reading Shakespeare's
Sonnets, and his evenings at the theatre. He was, of course,
wild to go on the stage. It was all that I and Lord Crediton
could do to prevent him. Perhaps if he had gone on the stage
he would be alive now. It is always a silly thing to give advice,
but to give good advice is absolutely fatal. I hope you will
never fall into that error. If you do, you will be sorry for
'Well, to come to the real point
of the story, one day I got a letter from Cyril asking me to
come round to his rooms that evening. He had charming chambers
in Piccadilly overlooking the Green Park, and as I used to go
to see him every day, I was rather surprised at his taking the
trouble to write. Of course I went, and when I arrived I found
him in a state of great excitement. He told me that he had at
last discovered the true secret of Shakespeare's Sonnets; that
all the scholars and critics had been entirely on the wrong tack;
and that he was the first who, working purely by internal evidence,
had found out who Mr. W. H. really was. He was perfectly wild
with delight, and for a long time would not tell me his theory.
Finally, he produced a bundle of notes, took his copy of the
Sonnets off the mantelpiece, and sat down and gave me a long
lecture on the whole subject.
'He began by pointing out that
the young man to whom Shakespeare addressed these strangely passionate
poems must have been somebody who was a really vital factor in
the development of his dramatic art, and that this could not
be said either of Lord Pembroke or Lord Southampton. Indeed,
whoever he was, he could not have been anybody of high birth,
as was shown very clearly by the 25th Sonnet, in which Shakespeare
contrasting himself with those who are "great princes' favourites,"
says quite frankly
Let those who are in favour
with their starsand ends the sonnet by congratulating
himself on the mean state of him he so adored:
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most;
Then happy I, that love and
am belovedThis sonnet Cyril declared would
be quite unintelligible if we fancied that it was addressed to
either the Earl of Pembroke or the Earl of Southampton, both
of whom were men of the highest position in England and fully
entitled to be called "great princes"; and he in corroboration
of his view read me Sonnets CXXIV and CXXV, in which Shakespeare
tells us that his love is not "the child of state,"
that it "suffers not in smiling pomp," but is "builded
far from accident." I listened with a good deal of interest,
for I don't think the point had ever been made before; but what
followed was still more curious, and seemed to me at the time
to dispose entirely of Pembroke's claim. We know from Meres that
the Sonnets had been written before 1598, and Sonnet CIV. informs
us that Shakespeare's friendship for Mr. W. H. had been already
in existence for three years. Now Lord Pembroke, who was born
in 1580, did not come to London till he was eighteen years of
age, that is to say till 1598, and Shakespeare's acquaintance
with Mr. W. H. must have begun in 1594, or at the latest in 1595.
Shakespeare, accordingly, could not have known Lord Pembroke
till after the Sonnets had been written.
Where I may not remove nor be removed.
'Cyril pointed out also that
Pembroke's father did not die till 1601; whereas it was evident
from the line,
You had a father; let your
son say so,that the father of Mr. W. H.
was dead in 1598. Besides, it was absurd to imagine that any
publisher of the time, and the preface is from the publisher's
hand, would have ventured to address William Herbert, Earl of
Pembroke, as Mr. W. H.; the case of Lord Buckhurst being spoken
of as Mr. Sackville being not really a parallel instance, as
Lord Buckhurst was not a peer, but merely the younger son of
a peer, with a courtesy title, and the passage in England's
Parnassus, where he is so spoken of, is not a formal and
stately dedication, but simply a casual allusion. So far for
Lord Pembroke, whose supposed claims Cyril easily demolished
while I sat by in wonder. With Lord Southampton Cyril had even
less difficulty. Southampton became at a very early age the lover
of Elizabeth Vernon, so he needed no entreaties to marry; he
was not beautiful; he did not resemble his mother, as Mr. W.
Thou art thy mother's glass,
and she in theeand, above all, his Christian
name was Henry, whereas the punning sonnets (CXXXV and CXLIII)
show that the Christian name of Shakespeare's friend was the
same as his own Will.
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
'As for the other suggestions
of unfortunate commentators, that Mr. W. H. is a misprint for
Mr. W. S., meaning Mr. William Shakespeare; that "Mr. W.
H. all" should be read "Mr. W. Hall"; that Mr.
W. H. is Mr. William Hathaway; and that a full stop should be
placed after "wisheth," making Mr. W. H. the writer
and not the subject of the dedication, Cyril
got rid of them in a very short time; and it is not worth while
to mention his reasons, though I remember he sent me off into
a fit of laughter by reading to me, I am glad to say not in the
original, some extracts from a German commentator called Barnstorff,
who insisted that Mr. W. H. was no less a person than "Mr.
William Himself." Nor would he allow for a moment that the
Sonnets are mere satires on the work of Drayton and John Davies
of Hereford. To him, as indeed to me, they were poems of serious
and tragic import, wrung out of the bitterness of Shakespeare's
heart, and made sweet by the honey of his lips. Still less would
he admit that they were merely a philosophical allegory, and
that in them Shakespeare is addressing his Ideal Self, or Ideal
Manhood, or the Spirit of Beauty, or the Reason, or the Divine
Logos, or the Catholic Church. He felt, as indeed I think we
all must feel, that the Sonnets are addressed to an individual,
to a particular young man whose personality for some reason seems
to have filled the soul of Shakespeare with terrible joy and
no less terrible despair.
'Having in this manner cleared
the way as it were, Cyril asked me to dismiss from my mind any
preconceived ideas I might have formed on the subject, and to
give a fair and unbiassed hearing to his own theory. The problem
he pointed out was this: Who was that young man of Shakespeare's
day who, without being of noble birth or even of noble nature,
was addressed by him in terms of such passionate adoration that
we can but wonder at the strange worship, and are almost afraid
to turn the key that unlocks the mystery of the poet's heart?
Who was he whose physical beauty was such that it became the
very corner-stone of Shakespeare's art; the very source of Shakespeare's
inspiration; the very incarnation of Shakespeare's dreams? To
look upon him as simply the object of certain love-poems is to
miss the whole meaning of the poems: for the art of which Shakespeare
talks in the Sonnets is not the art of the Sonnets themselves,
which indeed were to him but slight and secret things
it is the art of the dramatist to which he is always alluding;
and he to whom Shakespeare said
Thou art all my art, and dost
advancehe to whom he promised immortality,
As high as learning my rude ignorance
Where breath most breathes,
even in the mouths of men, was surely none other than the
boy-actor for whom he created Viola and Imogen, Juliet and Rosalind,
Portia and Desdemona, and Cleopatra herself. This was Cyril Graham's
theory, evolved as you see purely from the Sonnets themselves,
and depending for its acceptance not so much on demonstrable
proof or formal evidence, but on a kind of spiritual and artistic
sense, by which alone he claimed could the true meaning of the
poems be discerned. I remember his reading to me that fine sonnet
How can my Muse want subject
to invent,-- and pointing out how completely
it corroborated his theory; and indeed he went through all the
Sonnets carefully, and showed, or fancied that he showed, that,
according to his new explanation of their meaning, things that
had seemed obscure, or evil, or exaggerated, became clear and
rational, and of high artistic import, illustrating Shakespeare's
conception of the true relations between the art of the actor
and the art of the dramatist.
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date
'It is of course evident that
there must have been in Shakespeare's company some wonderful
boy-actor of great beauty, to whom he intrusted the presentation
of his noble heroines; for Shakespeare was a practical theatrical
manager as well as an imaginative poet, and Cyril Graham had
actually discovered the boy-actor's name. He was Will, or, as
he preferred to call him, Willie Hughes. The Christian name he
found of course in the punning sonnets, CXXXV and CXLIII; the
surname was, according to him, hidden in the seventh line of
the 20th Sonnet, where Mr. W. H. is described as
A man in hew, all Hews in his controwling. 'In the original
edition of the Sonnets "Hews" is printed with a capital
letter and in italics, and this, he claimed, showed clearly that
a play on words was intended, his view receiving a good deal
of corroboration from those sonnets in which curious puns are
made on the words "use" and "usury." Of course
I was converted at once, and Willie Hughes became to me as real
a person as Shakespeare. The only objection I made to the theory
was that the name of Willie Hughes does not occur in the list
of the actors of Shakespeare's company as it is printed in the
first folio. Cyril, however, pointed out that the absence of
Willie Hughes's name from this list really corroborated the theory,
as it was evident from Sonnet LXXXVI that Willie Hughes had abandoned
Shakespeare's company to play at a rival theatre, probably in
some of Chapman's plays. It is in reference to this that in the
great sonnet on Chapman, Shakespeare said to Willie Hughes
But when your countenance
fill'd up his line,the expression "when your
countenance filled up his line" referring obviously to the
beauty of the young actor giving life and reality and added charm
to Chapman's verse, the same idea being also put forward in the
Then lack'd I matter; that enfeebled mine
Whilst I alone did call upon
thy aid,and in the immediately preceding
sonnet, where Shakespeare says,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace;
But now my gracious numbers are decay'd,
And my sick Muse doth give another place;
Every alien pen has got my
usethe play upon words (use=Hughes)
being of course obvious, and the phrase "under thee their
poesy disperse," meaning "by your assistance as an
actor bring their plays before the people."
And under thee their poesy disperse,
'It was a wonderful evening,
and we sat up almost till dawn reading and re-reading the Sonnets.
After some time, however, I began to see that before the theory
could be placed before the world in a really perfected form,
it was necessary to get some independent evidence about the existence
of this young actor, Willie Hughes. If this could be once established,
there could be no possible doubt about his identity with Mr.
W. H.; but otherwise the theory would fall to the ground. I put
this forward very strongly to Cyril, who was a good deal annoyed
at what he called my Philistine tone of mind, and indeed was
rather bitter upon the subject. However, I made him promise that
in his own interest he would not publish his discovery till he
had put the whole matter beyond the reach of doubt; and for weeks
and weeks we searched the registers of City churches, the Alleyn
MSS. at Dulwich, the Record Office, the papers of the Lord Chamberlain
everything, in fact, that we thought might contain some allusion
to Willie Hughes. We discovered nothing, of course, and every
day the existence of Willie Hughes seemed to me to become more
problematical. Cyril was in a dreadful state, and used to go
over the whole question day after day, entreating me to believe;
but I saw the one flaw in the theory, and I refused to be convinced
till the actual existence of Willie Hughes, a boy-actor of Elizabethan
days, had been placed beyond the reach of doubt or cavil.
'One day Cyril left town to stay
with his grandfather, I thought at the time, but I afterwards
heard from Lord Crediton that this was not the case; and about
a fortnight afterwards I received a telegram from him, handed
in at Warwick, asking me to be sure to come and dine with him
that evening at eight o'clock. When I arrived, he said to me,
"The only apostle who did not deserve proof was St. Thomas,
and St. Thomas was the only apostle who got it." I asked
him what he meant. He answered that he had not merely been able
to establish the existence in the sixteenth century of a boy-actor
of the name of Willie Hughes, but to prove by the most conclusive
evidence that he was the Mr. W. H. of the Sonnets. He would not
tell me anything more at the time; but after dinner he solemnly
produced the picture I showed you, and told me that he had discovered
it by the merest chance nailed to the side of an old chest that
he had bought at a farmhouse in Warwickshire. The chest itself,
which was a very fine example of Elizabethan work, he had, of
course, brought with him, and in the centre of the front panel
the initials W. H. were undoubtedly carved. It was this monogram
that had attracted his attention, and he told me that it was
not till he had had the chest in his possession for several days
that he had thought of making any careful examination of the
inside. One morning, however, he saw that one of the sides of
the chest was much thicker than the other, and looking more closely,
he discovered that a framed panel picture was clamped against
it. On taking it out, he found it was the picture that is now
lying on the sofa. It was very dirty, and covered with mould;
but he managed to clean it, and, to his great joy, saw that he
had fallen by mere chance on the one thing for which he had been
looking. Here was an authentic portrait of Mr. W. H., with his
hand resting on the dedicatory page of the Sonnets, and on the
frame itself could be faintly seen the name of the young man
written in black uncial letters on a faded gold ground, "Master
'Well, what was I to say? It
never occurred to me for a moment that Cyril Graham was playing
a trick on me, or that he was trying to prove his theory by means
of a forgery.'
'But is it a forgery?' I asked.
'Of course it is,' said Erskine.
'It is a very good forgery; but it is a forgery none the less.
I thought at the time that Cyril was rather calm about the whole
matter; but I remember he more than once told me that he himself
required no proof of the kind, and that he thought the theory
complete without it. I laughed at him, and told him that without
it the theory would fall to the ground, and I warmly congratulated
him on the marvellous discovery. We then arranged that the picture
should be etched or facsimiled, and placed as the frontispiece
to Cyril's edition of the Sonnets; and for three months we did
nothing but go over each poem line by line, till we had settled
every difficulty of text or meaning. One unlucky day I was in
a print-shop in Holborn, when I saw upon the counter some extremely
beautiful drawings in silver-point. I was so attracted by them
that I bought them; and the proprietor of the place, a man called
Rawlings, told me that they were done by a young painter of the
name of Edward Merton, who was very clever, but as poor as a
church mouse. I went to see Merton some days afterwards, having
got his address from the printseller, and found a pale, interesting
young man, with a rather common-looking wife
his model, as I subsequently learned. I told him how much I admired
his drawings, at which he seemed very pleased, and I asked him
if he would show me some of his other work. As we were looking
over a portfolio, full of really very lovely things,
for Merton had a most delicate and delightful touch,
I suddenly caught sight of a drawing of the picture of Mr. W.
H. There was no doubt whatever about it. It was almost a FACSIMILE
the only difference being that the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy
were not suspended from the marble table as they are in the picture,
but were lying on the floor at the young man's feet. "Where
on earth did you get that?" I said. He grew rather confused,
and said "Oh, that is nothing. I did not
know it was in this portfolio. It is not a thing of any value."
"It is what you did for Mr. Cyril Graham," exclaimed
his wife; "and if this gentleman wishes to buy it, let him
have it." "For Mr. Cyril Graham?" I repeated.
"Did you paint the picture of Mr. W. H.?" "I don't
understand what you mean," he answered, growing very red.
Well, the whole thing was quite dreadful. The wife let it all
out. I gave her five pounds when I was going away. I can't bear
to think of it now; but of course I was furious. I went off at
once to Cyril's chambers, waited there for three hours before
he came in, with that horrid lie staring me in the face, and
told him I had discovered his forgery. He grew very pale and
said "I did it purely for your sake. You
would not be convinced in any other way. It does not affect the
truth of the theory." "The truth of the theory!"
I exclaimed; "the less we talk about that the better. You
never even believed in it yourself. If you had, you would not
have committed a forgery to prove it." High words passed
between us; we had a fearful quarrel. I dare say I was unjust.
The next morning he was dead.'
'Dead!' I cried,
'Yes; he shot himself with a
revolver. Some of the blood splashed upon the frame of the picture,
just where the name had been painted. By the time I arrived
his servant had sent for me at once the police
were already there. He had left a letter for me, evidently written
in the greatest agitation and distress of mind.'
'What was in it?' I asked.
'Oh, that he believed absolutely
in Willie Hughes; that the forgery of the picture had been done
simply as a concession to me, and did not in the slightest degree
invalidate the truth of the theory; and, that in order to show
me how firm and flawless his faith in the whole thing was, he
was going to offer his life as a sacrifice to the secret of the
Sonnets. It was a foolish, mad letter. I remember he ended by
saying that he intrusted to me the Willie Hughes theory, and
that it was for me to present it to the world, and to unlock
the secret of Shakespeare's heart.'
'It is a most tragic story,'
I cried; 'but why have you not carried out his wishes?'
Erskine shrugged his shoulders.
'Because it is a perfectly unsound theory from beginning to end,'
'My dear Erskine,' I said, getting
up from my seat, 'you are entirely wrong about the whole matter.
It is the only perfect key to Shakespeare's Sonnets that has
ever been made. It is complete in every detail. I believe in
'Don't say that,' said Erskine
gravely; 'I believe there is something fatal about the idea,
and intellectually there is nothing to be said for it. I have
gone into the whole matter, and I assure you the theory is entirely
fallacious. It is plausible up to a certain point. Then it stops.
For heaven's sake, my dear boy, don't take up the subject of
Willie Hughes. You will break your heart over it.'
'Erskine,' I answered, 'it is
your duty to give this theory to the world. If you will not do
it, I will. By keeping it back you wrong the memory of Cyril
Graham, the youngest and the most splendid of all the martyrs
of literature. I entreat you to do him justice. He died for this
thing, don't let his death be in vain.'
Erskine looked at me in amazement.
'You are carried away by the sentiment of the whole story,' he
said. 'You forget that a thing is not necessarily true because
a man dies for it. I was devoted to Cyril Graham. His death was
a horrible blow to me. I did not recover it for years. I don't
think I have ever recovered it. But Willie Hughes? There is nothing
in the idea of Willie Hughes. No such person ever existed. As
for bringing the whole thing before the world
the world thinks that Cyril Graham shot himself by accident.
The only proof of his suicide was contained in the letter to
me, and of this letter the public never heard anything. To the
present day Lord Crediton thinks that the whole thing was accidental.'
'Cyril Graham sacrificed his
life to a great Idea,' I answered; 'and if you will not tell
of his martyrdom, tell at least of his faith.'
'His faith,' said Erskine, 'was
fixed in a thing that was false, in a thing that was unsound,
in a thing that no Shakespearean scholar would accept for a moment.
The theory would be laughed at. Don't make a fool of yourself,
and don't follow a trail that leads nowhere. You start by assuming
the existence of the very person whose existence is the thing
to be proved. Besides, everybody knows that the Sonnets were
addressed to Lord Pembroke. The matter is settled once for all.'
'The matter is not settled!'
I exclaimed. 'I will take up the theory where Cyril Graham left
it, and I will prove to the world that he was right.'
'Silly boy!' said Erskine. 'Go
home: it is after two, and don't think about Willie Hughes any
more. I am sorry I told you anything about it, and very sorry
indeed that I should have converted you to a thing in which I
'You have given me the key to
the greatest mystery of modern literature,' I answered; 'and
I shall not rest till I have made you recognise, till I have
made everybody recognise, that Cyril Graham was the most subtle
Shakespearean critic of our day.'
As I walked home through St.
James's Park the dawn was just breaking over London. The white
swans were lying asleep on the polished lake, and the gaunt Palace
looked purple against the pale-green sky. I thought of Cyril
Graham, and my eyes filled with tears.
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