It really would seem that the more absurd a deception is, the better it succeeds. All Paris was in delight at possessing an original Shakespeare, while the London amateurs were in despair at such a treasure being lost to England. The ingenious person soon found a purchaser, and a high price recompensed him for his trouble. But more remains to be told. The happy purchaser took his treasure to Ribet, the first Parisian picture-cleaner of the day, to be cleaned. Ribet set to work; but we may fancy his surprise as the superficial impasto of Zincke washed off beneath the sponge, and Shakespeare became a female in a lofty headgear adorned with blue ribbons.
In a furious passion the purchaser ran to the seller. “Let us talk over the affair quietly,” said the latter; “I have been cheated as well as you: let us keep the matter secret; if we let the public know it, all Paris and even London too, will be laughing at us. I will return you your money, and take back the picture, if you will employ Ribet to restore it to the same condition as it was in when you received it.” This fair proposition was acceded to, and Ribet restored the picture; but as he was a superior artist to Zincke, he greatly improved it, and this improvement was attributed to his skill as a cleaner. The secret being kept, and the picture, improved by cleaning, being again in the market, Talma, the great Tragedian, purchased it at even a higher price than that given by the first buyer. Talma valued it highly, enclosed it in a case of morocco and gold, and subsequently refused 1000 Napoleons for it; and even when at last its whole history was disclosed, he still cherished it as a genuine memorial of the great bard.
By kind permission of Mr. B.B. MacGeorge, the owner both of the letter and bellows, I was enabled to give a reproduction of the portrait in my large edition.
Ireland was the author of “Vortigern,” the forged play attributed to Shakespeare.]
CHARLES LAMB TO JOHN HOWARD PAYNE
Dear Payne—A friend and fellow-clerk of mine, Mr. White (a good fellow) coming to your parts, I would fain have accompanied him, but am forced instead to send a part of me, verse and prose, most of it from 20 to 30 years old, such as I then was, and I am not much altered.
Paris, which I hardly knew whether I liked when I was in it, is an object of no small magnitude with me now. I want to be going, to the Jardin des Plantes (is that right, Louisa?) with you to Pere de la Chaise, La Morgue, and all the sentimentalities. How is Talma, and his (my) dear Shakspeare?
N.B.—My friend White knows Paris thoroughly, and does not want a guide. We did, and had one. We both join in thanks. Do you remember a Blue-Silk Girl (English) at the Luxembourg, that did not much seem to attend to the Pictures, who fell in love with you, and whom I fell in love with—an inquisitive, prying, curious Beauty—where is she?