Posted By Roger Stritmatter on November 29, 2013
My Mind to me a kingdom is;
……My wealth is health and perfect ease,
My conscience clear my chief defence;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
Nor by deceit to breed offence:
Thus do I live; thus will I die;
Would all did so as well as I!
In May, 1853, C. Mansfield Ingleby, soon to become one the founders of the New Shakspere Society and editor of the Shakspere Allusion Book (1873), published a brief note on the already famous lyric poem, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is.”
The poem, despite remaining anonymous for almost 250 years after first appearing in William Byrd’s 1588 Psalmes, Sonets, & Songs of Sadnes, is among the best loved poems in the English language, having been almost continuously in print since being published in Byrd’s song book. Based on an attribution given in the Rawlinson manuscript, it was in 1850 for the first time attributed to Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607), a minor court poet.
Citing conceptual and semantic parallels from 3 H. VI, Ingleby’s brief 1853 communication to Oxford University Press’s Notes and Queries insisted, however, that the “the idea [of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is”] is Shakespeare’s.”[i]
Ingleby’s laconic expression may admit of multiple interpretations, but one thing is certain about it. Much to the consternation of today’s Stratford cold warriors, he did not hesitate to designate the idea of the poem as Shakespeare’s.
The poem’s leading motif – namely that idea that a “contented mind” supplies the poet with a substitute for a more literal “crown and kingdom” – could not be found expressed in the English language in any other 16th century source except Shakespeare and the lyric in question. In confirmation, a year later another note[ii] identified an echo of the idea in the much-later 17th century emblem book, School of the Heart, ode iv. St. 5.: “My mind’s my kingdom: why should I withstand Or question that, which I myself command.”
I dwell in Grace’s court,
Enriched with Virtue’s rights;
Faith guides my wit, Love leads my will,
Hope all my mind delights.
In lowly vales I mount
To pleasure’s highest pitch;
My silly shroud true honour brings;
My poor estate is rich.
My conscience is my crown,
Contented thoughts my rest;
My heart is happy in itself;
My bliss is in my breast.
I have been unable to precisely date this poem, but it must date to before 1595 when Southwell died. For our purposes, however, the critical point is that the poem is itself manifestly a derivative imitation of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” and it in no way effects the controversy over the authorship of that poem.
Aside from these two imitations of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” and Shelly’s “self-empire,” the idea seems impossible to trace among English poets of the Jacobean or Elizabethan periods. That the lyric was already famous by the late Elizabethan period is, on the other hand, indicated in Ben Jonson’s 1600 parody in Every Man Out of His Humour.
Ingleby’s identification of the poem’s idea as “Shakespeare’s” constitutes a prime example of an important principle in intellectual history. Res gestae, a principle drawn from law, is “based on the belief that because certain statements are made naturally, spontaneously, and without deliberation during the course of an event, they carry a high degree of credibility and leave little room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation….such statements are more trustworthy than other secondhand statements and therefore should be admissible as evidence.”[iii]
In law res gestae statements are considered exceptions to hearsay rules of exclusion. In the history of ideas they function somewhat differently, being rather reminders of the importance of reading all claims of truthfulness within a larger historic and epistemic context.
In 1853, on the insecure basis of one unreliable manuscript, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” had just been attributed to the minor court poet Edward Dyer. There was nothing especially controversial about pointing out that both the idea of the lyric and even its particular collocation of words were highly suggestive of the bard’s own literary work. That would merely mean that 1) Either Shakespeare or Dyer had copied the other, or, 2) both had depended upon some common source of inspiration. Neither theory posed any threat to the cherished illusions of a powerful intellectual status quo ante.
Another way of conceptualizing the problem is to realize that by characterizing Ingleby’s statement as res gestae we are categorizing it as the logical opposite of the fallacy generally known as “ad hoc reasoning” – which happens when a party to a dispute modifies a theory “in order to save it from being falsified.” According to the serviceable definition at Wikipedia, “Ad hoc hypothesizing is compensating for anomalies not anticipated by the theory in its unmodified form.”
In other words, Ingleby’s spontaneous admission of the “Shakespearean” character of the poem’s leading idea was an honest assessment. Most interestingly, however, it was one offered in with less than full awareness of its potentially “incriminating” implications. Unable to foresee the dramatic implications of his own words, Ingleby was content to put on record his spontaneous, honestly achieved insight that the idea and idioms of the poem were – and are – markedly “Shakespearean” in character (fuller details of the close association of both thought and language between the poem and various Shakespearean passages will be given in a later blog entry).
All that began to change in 1975 when Georgetown College Professor Dr. Stephen May, a specialist in early modern lyric poetry manuscript traditions, published a brief article in Review of English Studies suggesting that “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” was not by Dyer, but by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).[iv]
To be continued….
[i] C. Mansfield Ingleby, “My mind to me a kingdom is,” Notes and Queries 186 (May, 21, 1853): 511.
[ii] C. Mansfield Ingleby, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” Notes and Queries (October 21, 1854): 353.
[iv] Stephen May. “The Authorship of My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” Review of English Studies XXVI (1975), 385-94.