This is the story of The One That Got Away from Henry Folger, collector extraordinaire of Shakespeare’s First Folios. The story is told with flair by Andrea Mays in her lovely book The Millionaire and the Bard. This is the story of Gladwyn Turbutt, Falconer Madan, Strickland Gibson, William Wildgoose, and Sir Thomas Bodley… aren’t these fantastic names?
In 1905, Turbutt brings a book into the Bodleian Library at Oxford (the Bodleian, named for Thomas Bodley back in 1602). Turbutt’s father found the book moldering in their library at home and he brings it in, maybe to ask about repairing the damage to the cover. Here’s a photo of the book… see the damage on the upper right side?
Ding ding ding… this rings all kinds of bells at the Bodleian, where such damage is not unknown. Falconer Madan, a “sublibrarian” (which doesn’t make him sound very important!) shows it to their bindings guy Strickland Gibson, who realizes the damage is from a chain… books were so valuable hundreds of years ago that they were chained to the shelves. No student thefts!
Gibson also recognizes the binding as the work of William Wildgoose, the go-to-bookbinder in early 17th century Oxford. This places this particular First Folio in Oxford in the 1620s, when the book was published. This sort of makes sense, because the Bodleian had a deal to get a copy of each published book, like the Library of Congress today. It’s odd, though. The Bodleian didn’t collect plays. At least, Sir Thomas Bodley didn’t intend to when he started the library at Oxford… he considered plays “idle books, and riff-raffs” according to a letter Mays found. Riff-raffs!
They apparently found room for Shakespeare at the Bodleian. (Sub)librarian Falconer Madan to the rescue (can we at least call the poor man a librarian after all these years?). He finds reference to this First Folio in a 1635 appendix to the Bodleian catalog (come on, he deserves to be called a full freaking librarian after that detective work, right?!). So how did it become unchained? Was it stolen? Ripped right off that Bodleian shrine to learning, leaving future Oxfordian students Shakespeare-less?
Not to worry, our Librarian (yes! he deserves that title) Falconer Madan’s not done! He finds the First Folio no longer listed as belonging to the Bodleian in 1674. It’s been usurped by the (much inferior, we now know, but at the time cutting edge) Third Folio of 1664… an updated edition that included stuff Shakespeare didn’t even write! Yep, the new and improved Third Folio included such Shakespearean apocrypha as Locrine, The London Prodigal, The Puritan, Sir John Oldcastle, Thomas Lord Cromwell, and A Yorkshire Tragedy. You don’t see any of those plays staged by Shakespeare companies nowadays! Librarian Falconer Madan found that the Bodleian had sold off their First Folio with superfluous discarded books for only £24 to a man with a very ordinary name: Richard Davis. You’d think with all these other great names they could have found someone better-named to buy it. Oh well.
So, this was The One That Got Away from the Bodleian Library in the 1660s. Ahem. Shouldn’t the great library have it back? Librarian Falconer Madan thought so! He got all excited…. Andrea Mays says “jubilant” and showed it off in London, along with presenting all about his hard work (such a fine Librarian!). Only one other First Folio could be traced back to its original 1623 owner (and Henry Folger secretly already owned that one…. another great story, but you’ll need to get Mays’ book to read about the Vincent Folio!).
Mays says simply, “It was not wise of Falconer Madan to publicize his discovery. His excitement had trumped his prudence.” D’oh! Our poor Librarian thought for sure the Bodleian would get their book back automatically. Alas, he didn’t think through the logistics, like money, and the Turbetts now knowing it was worth a lot of money (even more now due to the fine research Librarian Falconer Madan conducted), and the Bodleian not having the money to buy it.
D’oh! Damn, damn, double damn. Can you imagine what Librarian Falconer Madan felt like when he realized what he’d done? Despair! As Mays says, “Madan would come to regret his naive enthusiasm.” D’oh! Bet he was fun to play poker with!
Stay tuned for the next installment of The One That Got Away!