Yorkshire Evening Post (22/May/1907) - A Shakespeare Expert

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.





(Special to "The Yorkshire Evening. Post.")

There has died at Almondbury, near Huddersfield, a remarkable man — a retired publican, who, developing a taste for art and Shakespeare, spent a fortune in collecting "old masters." His collection may be seen at Shakespeare House, Almondbury, once described by an enthusiast as

"The home of classic art, the repository of rare and genuine curios, including the only life portrait of him who is the wonder of the world, and the paragon of poets."

There, in two of those plain grey houses in rows that border at intervals the bleak hill roads of the West Riding, lived Mr. Shakespeare Hirst, the literary publican, who in retirement devoted his whole time to the collection of works of art. It may be that he made of his domicile a perfect treasury of art. Therein this afternoon a representative of "The Yorkshire Evening Post" went the round of some hundreds of art works. The gem of the collection is what has come to be known as the "Hirst" Shakespeare — the only genuine life portrait of the immortal bard ever painted, so the late owner used to say.

That owner was Mr. Shakespeare Hirst, who passed away suddenly the other evening while sitting in his chair. He asked his daughter for the evening paper, and was just adjusting his spectacles when he expired without a word. Thus passed away, at the ago of 63, a many-sided man. Up to ten yearn ago, he, like hie father before him, kept the Shakespeare Hotel in Huddersfield. The father, with a literary enthusiasm which, one may say without offence, is not often associated with the occupation of an hotelkeeper, had become a keen student of Shakespeare.

The son, who had been given the name Shakespeare for a Christian name, inherited his father's love of Shakespeare’s works, and developed it to a passion. He studied the plays most assiduously, and having a fine voice and presence, he became an amateur actor and elocutionist of considerable ability. Formerly he played many parts in Shakespearean plays at amateur theatricals, and his costume recitals were the leading feature of the Shakespearean anniversary celebrations at the Shakespeare Hotel on the 23rd of April. He knew Stratford-on-Avon and its environs thoroughly, and such was his devotion to Shakespeare that he named his children after characters in the plays. Thus, one is known as Cordelia, another as Ophelia, and another as Miranda.

One thinks of The Mermaid tavern when it is mentioned that Mr. Hirst, the poet-lover and Shakespearean expert, was a publican. He collected every possible relic of Shakespeare that he could lay his hands on, and even before he retired from the publican's business it used to be said of him that he used to think and dream and talk of nothing but Shakespeare. He had volumes of Shakespeare in great variety, and finally, after looking long for a portrait, he bought a painting which many connoisseurs have solemnly averred is the one and only genuine Shakespeare in existence. Of this portrait he was exceedingly jealous and careful. He had it handsomely framed and enclosed in a mahogany case, which he always kept looked and double locked, so, he used to say, it should not be photographed.


Our representative saw the portrait this afternoon. It is a bust portrait of about 30 inches by 24 inches, in preservation, and represents the poet with an abundance of dark brown hair and beard. He is dressed in a brown doublet of the period, with lace collar, and in the one ear that is visible he wears an ear-ring. In the top right-hand corner are the initials A. E., and the date 1608, which laid to the supposition that the painter was the great Frankfort painter, Adam Eisheimer. Mr. Hirst used to have a very ready history of the picture. It was painted, he used to say, by Elsheimer in Rome, where Shakespeare would have met him in the course of those visits which he must have taken. Eisheimer at the time was 36 years of age, and Shakespeare was 45.


Another supposed Elsheimer portrait that is included in the collection is one of a lady, believed to be Shakespeare's favourite daughter. Mr. Hirst's faith in these two portraits was unbounded. The Shakespeare portrait came from a wandering Jew, who exchanged it for cloth with a Huddersfield tailor named Glendinning. He, in turn, wanted to dispose of it, and, as Mr. Hirst was one of his customers, and interested in the subject, he promised to let him have the first chance of buying it. "Good," said Mr. Hirst. "I’ll take care nobody has a chance of the second." He was true to his word. He gave the tailor his price, and when afterwards he used to show it to his friends, it used to be with a proud sweep of the hand, and the expression — "Behold: the masterpiece of the world.’’


Mr. Hirst no doubt spent a lot of money in his search for art treasures. He at one time practically kept a man touring the Continent for two years searching for "old masters." Whether the pictures he bought were truly valuable will best be known when they come under the hammer, as they no doubt will do a short time hence. The supposed Shakespeare never has been valued, and it will he interesting to see what price it will fetch. Other pictures there are in the collection, however, about which there is very little doubt if any. There are, for instance, such subjects as "Venue and Adonis," by Leonardo da Vinci; a portrait of Leo X., supposed to be by Raphael; portraits by Velasques; "Christ expelling the money changers from the Temple," by Rubens; "A Lady pleading with Nero," by Titian; and "Ceres drinking at the cottage door," by Elsheimer.


Mr. Hirst was also a collector of violins and violincellos, of which he had two or three score, and his rare books, which our representative was permitted to examine, include original editions of Ben Johnson's works and a third folio Shakespeare, the Droeshout engraving. This volume Mr. Hirst, picked up a few years ago for £20; it is now worth anything up to £300.

In his knowledge of Shakespeare, Mr. Hirst acknowledged very few peers in the land. He entered with assurance into all the Shakespearean controversies, and at one time contributed to "The Yorkshire Evening Post" interesting letters on the eternal discussion which has surrounded Hamlet.