INTRODUCTION1. A rhetoric textbook by Thomas Vicars entitled Χειραγωγία, Manuductio ad Artem Rhetoricam…in usum Scholarum (first printed in 1621, and displaying distinctly Ramistic tendencies), which has hitherto languished in near-complete obscurity, NOTE 1 has recently been thrust into prominence by F. Schurink, who in a brief Notes and Queries article NOTE 2 pointed out that in the third edition of that work (1628) Vicars inserted a hitherto-unnoticed reference to William Shakespeare.
2. Thomas Vicars [1589 - 1638] haled from Carlisle. He matriculated from Queen’s College, Oxon, in 1607, took his B. A. in 1611 and his B. A. in 1615. In later life he followed the career of clergyman, serving variously as chaplain to his father-in-law George Carleton, Bishop of Llandaff and latterly of Chichester, vicar of Cowfold and Cuckfield, Sussex, and prebend of Chichester Cathedral. With the exception of the present work, all his books were on theological subjects. The present passage seems to show quite different enthusiasms. He refers to what must have been a large collection of epigrams he had written as a young man, quoting three of them and alluding to a fourth. It would seem that in his younger days Vicars had got caught up in the craze for epigrams of the Martial type that swept England in the 1590’s, begun by Sir John Harington in English and Thomas Campion in Latin, and it may be noteworthy that an epigram attributed to John Owen (evidently wrongly) appears on the title page of the present work, and that two of the contemporary writers he mentions approvingly, George Withers and John Davies, were also distinguished for their satirical epigrams. But, perhaps because he felt their appearance would not be agreeable to the image of himself as a diligent theologian he was trying to project, he never published them.
4. After repeating the list of England’s best poets from a previous rhetoric manual by Charles Butler, the 1597 Rhetoricae libri duo, Vicars added three more of his own:
Istis annumerandos censeo celebrem illum poetam qui a quassatione et hasta nomen habet, Ioannem Davisium, et cognominem meum, poetam pium et doctum Ioannem Vicarsium.
[“To these, I think, should be added that well-known poet who takes his name from the shaking of a spear, John Davies, and a pious and learned poet who shares my surname, John Vicars.”]
This notice raises an obvious question: why allude to Shakespeare in this roundabout way rather than naming him outright? Schurink’s suggested answer was that the name Shakespeare invites word-plays (as can easily be documented by the famous diatribe in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, “for there is an vpstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Iohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.”) This may well be the case. Shakespeare did not possess one of those surnames which can be Latinized easily and gracefully, and, if you come up with something like Shaxpeerus, the results may strike you as less than wholly pleasing. The other day I happened to receive a publisher’s advertisement for a reprint of Alfred Thomas Barton’s 1913 Gulielmi Shakespeare Carmina Latine Reddita. Obviously, Barton was dissatisfied with whatever experiments in Latinizing the surname he may have made, since he resorted to the time-honored Anglo-Latin expedient of retaining it in its English form, a device no doubt originally suggested by the way St. Jerome handled Hebrew proper names in the Vulgate (this same expedient was used by Charles Butler, who added a mention of Shakespeare, likewise not Latinized, to the 1635 edition of his rhetoric manual, quoted by Schurink, note 6). Vicars may have felt the same way about the awkwardness of Latinizing the name, and resorted to word-play as an alternative.
5. In his article, Schurink of course provided a quote and translation of the key sentence of this passage, but he did not provide the text of the passage as a whole. In order to satisfy the curiosity of Shakespearians who would like to read the statement in its full context, I provide the complete text and translation of Vicar’s discursus, which occupies pp. 70 - 72 of the book.
6. I would like to thank Nina Green, a loyal supporter of The Philological Museum, for drawing this item to my attention.
NOTE 1 Sufficient obscurity that it is not mentioned in Stephen Wright’s Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Vicars.
NOTE 2 March 2006 , pp. 72 - 75.