"Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs" is the motto of this Essay, and accordingly we accept the author's challenge and proceed to consider his suggestion that Shakespeare's grave should be opened and an examination made of any remains that may be discovered therein. In support of his proposals, Dr. Ingleby urges that three desirable results would be obtained: first, it would be ascertained whether the tomb has been already rifled; secondly, an examination of the remains might enable us to decide several points, such as the authenticity of the bust and the various portraits of Shakespeare, and, we may add, the uncertainty as to his lameness, while phrenological measurements of the skull might settle almost beyond dispute the possibility of Shakespeare's having been the author of Shakespeare's Plays; thirdly, the full satisfaction of all curiosity would prevent future desecration by rendering it unnecessary and unprofitable, and would further prevent the circulation in the future of remains falsely pretending to be genuine relics of the great dead. The doubtful authenticity of the supposed skull of Cromwell is a case in point, and Dr. Ingleby refers to it, and also gives a long account of the strange experiences of Schiller's remains before they found their last resting place. The remains of Raphael and of Charles I have been disinterred to settle historical doubts, and the supposed bodies of Cromwell and Milton were exhibited in contempt to the populace; but Dr. Ingleby considers that in both these latter cases the perpetrators of the outrage were baffled, and that Milton still lies undisturbed in the chancel of St. Giles', Cripplegate, while the great Protector mingles with the dust in an unknown grave on Naseby Field. Apart from the general sentiment which naturally prevails against disturbing the dead in their resting place, the chief objection in Shakespeare's case lies in the four lines inscribed upon his gravestone-
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dust encloased here;
Bleste be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones-
The meaning of these lines seems clear enough, but Dr. Ingleby very ingeniously argues that they only express Shakespeare's dread lest his remains should be conveyed to the charnel-house hard by, thus explaining 'moves' as 'removes.' He does not discuss whether Shakespeare was the author of the verse, which is almost identical with some lines in the epitaph of Thomas and Margaret Huntbach, at Shustoke.
The Essay concludes with a short account of all the Shakespeare Portraits whose title merits the least consideration, and appended is "A Bibliography of the Exhumation Question as affecting Shakespeare's bones." Readers will, no doubt, differ as to Dr. Ingleby's conclusions, but there can only be one opinion as to the value and interest of this remarkable essay, which, it may be added, is handsomely printed.
-"The Midland Antiquary," Volumes 1-2 show more