1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Henry Ireland

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:938.



1835, April 17. Died, WILLIAM HENRY IRELAND, some time editor of the York Herald, and whose name is rendered notorious by one of the boldest literary impostures recorded in English history. He was the son of Samuel Ireland, born in London, and educated at Soho school; after which he was articled to a conveyancer in New Inn, where having some leisure he began to exercise his ingenuity in the imitation of ancient writing. His success in these attempts set him upon the bold design of forging some papers, and passing them off as the genuine remains of Shakspeare. Having executed some of these on the blank leaves of old books, he communicated the treasure to his father, who, strange to say, made a parade of the discovery to the world, without secretly examining into the authenticity of the manuscripts, and the truth of the tale which he related concerning the manner of his obtaining them. For some time the public were greatly amused by these literary relics, and a few individuals, whose names stood high in the literary world, ought to have known better than to have lent themselves to the support of this gross imposition, and encourage, by subscription, a collection which was a disgrace to literature. A splendid volume made its appearance in 1796, and a play was performed at Dury-lane theatre with the title of Vortigern; but this last dissolved the spell, and the discernment of an English audience quickly detected the cheat, of which no doubt could be entertained after the ample exposure it experienced from Mr. Malone.

In 1796, Mr. Ireland published An Authentic Account of the Shakepeare Manuscripts, 8vo. in which he makes the following declaration:

"I solemnly declare first, that my father was perfectly unacquainted with the whole affair, believing the papers most firmly the productions of Shakspeare. Secondly, that I am myself both the author and writer, and had no aid from any soul living, and that I should never have gone so far, but that the world praised the papers an much, and thereby flattered my vanity. Thirdly, that any publication which may appear, tending to prove the manuscripts genuine, or to contradict what is here stated, is false; this being the true account. W. H. Ireland."

Besides the tragedy of Vortigern, Mr. Ireland produced an historical drama, entitled Henry II., which be wished to impose upon the world as the genuine production of Shakspeare. He was also the author of several novels, romances, and poems.