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A London Shakespearean forger?

Louis Charles Alexander (L.L.D., F.R.C.S., F.R.Hist: S) is not a well known London based author except for one other book which is too of some disrepute besides the one we will discuss below. L. C. Alexander was a learned man and a member of the Society of Authors. He was in the same crowd as Walter Besant, Lord Tennyson, among other noted writers of the period. Yet L.C’s writing didnt amount to much. His work, said to be based upon fact, was clearly suspect.

This story begins with a book I myself purchased from Greenwich book market in March 1996. The price had been marked down from £10 to £1 because the bookseller had trouble flogging it. When I picked up the book and quickly read what I could of it, it was obvious the context was of doubtful quality, yet it also appealed to me. It may have been the decked (rough-cut) pages, clearly meant to impress that it had quality. But perhaps more important is at the time I was reading several works related to the Bard as part of a degree course. I thought perhaps an essay could be written at some point on fake stories revolving around the Bard and use the book I had just picked up as a source. It never happened for ultimately I found English language and literature very hard and switched to sociology.

Its well acknowledged there ‘s a huge gap in the life of Shakespeare between 1585 and 1592, some of which were probably spent in London.  Quite a few authors along the way have liberally padded out the missing bits in the life of Shakespeare. Yet L. C. wrote a book which covered the missing period in far greater detail than anybody else – right down to the exact addresses the Bard lived at, people he knew, detail of his life and actual conversations he had with other people. That just wasn’t possible there was nothing that could give that sort of information.

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Frontspiece of my copy of L. C. Alexander’s Autobiography of Shakespeare

L. C. can be said to be one of a large number of people who try to make the subject of Shakespeare their very own. As Gary Taylor points out, authors are constantly re-inventing Shakespeare. If L.C. was spot on, as we shall see later, then he should have written about Christopher Marlowe’s role in authoring parts of The Bard’s plays. As L.C. himself shows, Shakespeare wrote all his own plays and at different times to what is considered accepted fact.

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The book by L. C. is The Autobiography of Shakespeare and it was written in Putney during the 1900s. L.C. claimed he had access to sources unavailable to others. The work was published in a limited edition of 1000, each duly numbered individually by the author himself. I think he gave up writing the numbers as there is evidence some were left un-numbered. My own copy has the relatively early 71.

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In the introduction to the book, Alexander explains “Five years ago I laid these following papers aside. I was then much broken in health and spirit. And I was overwhelmed by the solemn importance of the work, and bewildered and almost discouraged by the many inconsistencies with known, or rather, assumed facts or beliefs, and even, very often, with itself.”

L.C. is telling us he suspects the book has inconsistencies and he is pretty much too discouraged by these, but nevertheless viewed it as far too important a work to abandon. He then explains further his age is also a problem:

“About six months ago I was strongly impelled to complete my obvious duty. At my age of seventy-two I cannot afford further delays or daring triflings with time.”

Our author was indeed in a hurry to complete and publish this important work on Shakespeare before he himself too expired. But it seems there were other reasons for this apparent rush to get things printed – one namely being that he didn’t want too many people questioning the veracity of his work…

How did L. C. get hold of this apparent Shakespearean autobiography? It wasn’t derived from any actual sources or documentation. The author does not say it explicitly, but it was done by psychic methods. In other words the Bard was communicating with him from the dead and L.C. was medium, simply writing down what was being communicated to him.

L.C. in fact beseeches with the reader to overlook that at the age of seventy-two he simply hasn’t got the time to check the facts of the story. Readers therefore shall be forgiven for any doubt that shall be extended towards the book itself. As if to occlude that further, he indeed appealed to others for their help to corroborate the text:

“Yet I would fain have waited for further corroborations -personal, literary, topographical. I earnestly beg all who can help – particularly as regards the sermons, plays and books which Shakespeare brought to London – to communicate with me.”

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The section introducing Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Its claimed this was written in 1590

What were his qualifications for writing works such as that above? For a start L.C. was a member of the Royal Historical Society, as well as a Doctor of Law. I suppose one can have historical and legal qualifications and still write works of fiction under those related subjects! His qualifications were impressive and showed him to be a man of considerable repute.

L. C. had connections to some of the other literary giants in the UK. Among these were Besant and Tennyson. At one point, this was during 1905, these two (and others such as George Meredith, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir George Newnes,  Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, Sir Francis Cowley Burnand, Sir William Robertson Nicoll and more) collaborated together with L.C. to establish the Bret Harte Assistance Fund.

The purpose of this fund was to ‘permanently benefit Miss Ethel Bret Harte’ and her mother, left destitute after the famous writer Bret Harte had died penniless. The fund collected nearly £1,000 from about five hundred subscribers. L. C. was the fund’s secretary, and advertising in relation to the fund cited all correspondence be sent to him at his Putney address.

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The fund (and the author’s own books) shows he lived at Holly Lodge, Upper Parkfields, Putney. I don’t think this Lodge exists now but cant find out for sure. Upper Parkfields has disappeared. There is a very simple reason for that. Its now Coalecroft Road. Lower Parkfields is today known as Parkfields.

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Putney Common Lower Cemetery. The L.C. Alexander grave stone is the large one

L. C. died in 1913 at the age of seventy-four and is buried at the nearby Lower Cemetery. That cemetery on Putney Common is quite near to the bus 22 terminus. The grave itself is just a few yards inside of the main gates and its also that of his wife and son.

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Memoriam to L. C. Alexander

L.C. wrote some other considerable works even though they’re not well known – bar quite possibly another. These are The Other Half (1884), Book of Ballynoggin (1902), The Wife Sealers (1903), The Testament of Omar Khayyám [The Wasiyyat] (1907) and Echoes of Whistler (1910.) The latter was a sort of giveaway to the techniques L.C. himself used to write both The Autobiography and The Wasiyyat.

What of these books? The Wife Sealers according to one reviewer, Grant Richards (The Athenaeum, 1903) was “coarse, laboriously facetious, and unconvincing. It is tiresome to find all the characters in a story made to converse in a complicated slang, a sort of cant or ‘patter.’ The thing becomes intolerable when the author himself, as author, makes his puppets take ‘elongated’ drinks from a trayful of ‘humidities,’ …” Alexander himself “thinks it right to explain that he is not, himself, a Mormon, and that this story is in no way founded upon fact.” (The Bookman – Vols 23-24 – P252. 1903.) The Book of Ballynoggin – “Quite racy of the soil.” (Spectator.) “Full of wit and daring, and withal extremely touching.” (Guardian.)

The other substantial work, besides The Autobiography, happens to be The Testament of Omar Khayyám. We are told this work “surely must be one of the most peculiar books in the Omarian canon.”

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Reviews of the book were quite glowing:

‘Mr L. C. Alexander has done a service to Omar’s memory, and to literature.’ (Yorkshire Post); ‘Deserves a place alongside the better-known Omar.’ (Glasgow Herald); ‘The poetic fervour of the poet has been faithfully observed.’ (Western Morning News.)

The Testament contains quatrains allegedly penned by Persia’s (Iran) famous poet and mathematician, Omar Khayyám,  who lived in the 11th Century. L.C. claims the book’s sources were passed to him by Edward Granvile Browne, Professor of Arabic at Cambridge.

Professor Browne had indeed conducted considerable research on Umar ibn Ibrahim al-Khaiyámi (to give the poet’s full Arabic name) and had spent considerable time in Persia as part of his work. This culminated in a collection of documents curated at Cambridge University. A catalogue of the Persian manuscripts in the Library of the University of Cambridge, 1896, details the entire collection.

Did L.C. really know Browne? Its possible since he knew many reputable people therefore there’s nothing to either confirm or refute this. There is one suspect element to this story however. L.C., writing in the introduction notes to The Testament, says “I am greatly indebted to Professor E. G. Browne of Cambridge for the most kind and ready assistance which he was good enough to give me — though a personal stranger to him.” There we have it! Browne allegedly gave Alexander documents passed on by somebody else… End of trail. Enjoy the book!

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L. C.’s acknowledgements to Browne for his help with the Testament

Browne’s A Literary History of Persia, written in 1906, sheds little light on the subject. He says “while it is certain that Umar Khayyam wrote many quatrains, it is hardly possible, save in a few exceptional cases, to assert positively that he wrote any particular one of those ascribed to him.”

Its quite possible L.C. grabbed the opportunity to plug this hole in the literary output by Khayyám, since no-one would be able to prove, or not prove otherwise – in basically the same way he did with Shakespeare. The Testament had been written by L.C. himself and the book to this day is not even considered in any way a reputable work upon Omar Khayyám.

“To find one literary revelation like The Wasiyyat is extraordinary enough, but to find a second, like The Autobiography of Shakespeare, arouses suspicion.” These words from expert Bob Forrest pinpoints the problem exactly. One book written in suspicious circumstances, and a second also written in suspicious circumstances, no doubt tells us fully the truth behind these books’ veracity.

The Autobiography of Shakespeare can be downloaded from the Internet Archive.

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