1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Henry Ireland

Anonymous, "Extempore Epistle, from Maister William Shakspeare in the Shades, to Samuel Ireland, Esq." The Oracle, Public Advertiser (24 December 1795).



The following Poem was thrown last night into our Letter-box. — What minor Spirit conveyed the real sentiments of the great Poet, we have, in course, no opportunity of even guessing.


From the regions of bliss that are destined to shed
Immoralities dews on the Poet's proud head,
My mind has consented to look upon earth,
Alarm'd at the threat of her spurious birth.

O IRELAND, can'st thou, whose most grateful research
Explor'd my old TOWN, and took views of its CHURCH;
Who, at Shottery, made the poor peasantry stare,
And from HATHAWAY purchas'd my old *courting chair.

Can'st thou be so gull'd as to dream of possessing
The treasures bequeathed to my wife (1) without blessing,
And presume to surmise that with HEMINGE in league,
She who call'd me her WILLY ere thought of intrigue?

Can'st thou further believe, though instead of (2) thy friend,
All Westminster half the same witness witness should lend;
That HEMINGE, who publish'd the folio edition,
Would let VORTIGERN slumber within his partition?

Or, if in the first folio, published we hear,
When poor NAN, my wife, expir'd the same year,
These treasures of thine were not found to be reckon'd,
Pray what could prevent them from swelling the second?

Where till now have they slumber'd, and no critic spark
Through antiquity's cobwebs display'd such a mark
As should prove a new shot for my old ANNOTATORS,
And contribute to torture my foreign TRANSLATORS.

Thus much, my good friend, to thy reason addrest,
Let us take off the grace of antiquity's vest,
And examine internally all you have shed
In credulity's torrent upon my meek head.

(3) CONUNDRUMS! LOVE LETTERS! PROFESSIONS de foi!
And straggling INDENTURES form de la Loi;
A copy corrected of Britain's old LEAR,
(4) (Where with pleasure I see nothing ribbald appear).

Add to these many sports of the sons of the STAGE,
And the favourite works in retirement of AGE,
On which my weak brain you affirm set more (5) store,
Than all it had ever engendered before.

See you not too devised to your questionless Sires,
Some lands that surrounded the Globe at (6) Black Friars?
When, or all topography is foully belied,
That play-house was seated upon the bank side?

Is there not some anachronism laid at her door,
When of years I had number'd just twenty and four,
To make good Queen Bess her kind compliments pay,
And beg ME and my PLAYERS for (7) Leicester to play?

When the fantastic lord had retired from life's stage,
Ere I had become of the people the rage,
And eight years elaps'd before I could command
One player to move at the Chamberlain's wand.

Can you have forgotten to SOUTHAMPTON'S Earl,
When my fancy presented her very (8) first pearl,
That he had just reach'd eighteen years of his age,
And nothing of mine had been seen on the stage?

But, granting ELIZABETH might have descended,
To write her commands, will the matter be mended?
Would she write, as if (meaning to send by the post)
Full direction were fit; lest the note should be lost?

And, instead of dispatching by one of her squires,
Address to the Globe, on Bankside (not Blackfriars.)
Consider this well, and though honour to me,
With so haughty a Prince will the business agree?

Yet look at thy LEAR, behold its condition,
All stain'd and bemoulded without intermission;
Though the outside such marks of antiquity wears,
Time usually inside the property spares.

T' other day as on STEEVENS I happened to call,
That laborious collector of plays from the stall,
The QUARTO'S I saw, which, though banish'd for ages,
Yet contain'd not a tythe of your soil on their pages.

Do pause then, my friend — let not fondness for me
Make thee swallow a bait that's injurious to thee;
All like me do not know thy uprightness of heart,
Nor, if FRAUD is here practis'd, that THOU hast no part.
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.

* Mr. IRELAND possesses this amorous relic.
(1) The Poet had nearly forgot his wife in his will, and left her at last only an old bed.
(2) The unnamed Gentleman, from whom Mr. IRELAND received these treasures.
(3) The nature of the SHAKSPEARE Papers announced for publication.
(4) The LEAR of Mr. IRELAND has none of KENT'S ribbaldry, by whomever cut out.
(5) This Play the Poet is made to affirm, in the letter to his Publisher, is the best he ever wrote — humanum est errare.
(6) This mistake occurs, we hear, in the legal instrument, by which, for saving his life in the Thames, SHAKSPEARE bequeaths certain tenements to an ancestor of Mr. Ireland.
(7) See the Queen's Letter to Shakspeare.
(8) Venus and Adonis, which he calls "the first heir of his invention," himself.