1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Henry Ireland

George Steevens to Thomas Percy, 26 December 1796; Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 7:8-9.



Our newspapers may have informed you that a compound of illiterateness, folly, and deceit, entitled An Authentic Account of the Shakspearian MSS. &c. by W. H. Ireland, has made its appearance. In this publication a new game of fraud should seem to have been contrived. The hopeful youth takes on himself the guilt of the entire forgery, and strains to exculpate his worthy father from the slightest participation in it. The father, on the contrary, declares that his son had not sufficient abilities for the execution of so difficult a task. Between them, in short, there is a pretended quarrel, that they may not look as if they were acting in concert on the present occasion. No credit, however, is given to this extraordinary performance, which is produced with the sole view of whitewashing the senior culprit, and thickening the veil between the publick and the other parties concerned in the original imposture. We are threatened with a second pamphlet (or rather book) by Ireland the elder. In this he says (I use what is reported to have been his own elegance of expression) he will give a "lerupping" to all his adversaries. Mr. George Chalmers likewise is almost ready with a third work, designed as an Apology for the late Believers, &c. He means, I suppose, since the house had been on fire, to throw a featherbed out of the window, that he himself may fall soft upon it. I have told my story vilely; for I ought previously to have said, that (according to your friend Mr. Ritson's account of Mr. Ireland's intended narrative) the names of all those who subscribed to the authenticity of the Norfolk Street MSS. will be published, and that the words at the head of the paper subscribed were furnished by Dr. Parr. His name, and that of our friend Dr. Joseph Warton, for this last week, have been the sport of our daily papers. Like my neighbours, I am very poor, and had a serious regard for the 1000 I subscribed to Mr. Pitt's loan, by which, even then, I expected to be a loser; but if any one would double that sum, and give it into my hands at this very moment, I would refuse the present, if the terms of it were, that my signature should be found on that register of shame — Mr. Ireland's list of believers. Yet in that situation, I hear, your friend Pinkerton's will make its appearance. But I forbear to take up more of your Lordship's time, by any further descant on so worthless a subject.