William Henry Ireland

Edited and annotated by Jack Lynch

The text comes from An Authentic Account of the Shaksperian Manuscripts, &c. (London, 1796). I have silently corrected a few obvious misprints (such as "Srtatford" for "Stratford"), turned letters ("yon" for "you"), and repeated words ("noticed noticed"). Long s is reduced to short s throughout, and running marginal quotation marks now conform to modern practice. I have introduced no other changes to the text. Inconsistent spellings ("fac similie" and "fac simile," "receipt" and "receit"), punctuation, capitalization, and Ireland's frequent run-on sentences are unchanged. The paragraph numbers and the notes are my own.

Send comments and corrections to Jack Lynch.

[1] In Justice to the world, and to remove the odium under which my father labours, by publishing the manuscripts brought forward by me as Shakspear's, I think it necessary to give a true account of the business, hoping that whatever may occur in the following pages will meet with favor and forgiveness, when considered as the act of a boy.

[2] My education is no otherwise material to the public, than to shew that the schools at Kensington, Ealing, Soho-square, and three years spent at Amiens, and the colledge of Eu in Normandy, were to qualify me for the law, and at the age of sixteen, I was articled to a gentleman of eminence in New-Inn.

[3] My father having a taste for old and curious tracts, I imbibed a liking for the same pursuit, and attended much more to book-stalls, than to Blackstone, or Coke upon Littleton.

[4] Frequently after dinner my father would read the different accounts of Shakspear, and say, it was wonderful, out of so many thousand lines which he must have wrote, that no vestige remained but his signature to the will in the Commons, and his name affixed to the mortgage deed presented by Mr. Wallis to Mr. Garrick; this was often repeated, and, with enthusiastick praises of Shakspear, my father would often say, that if there ever was a man inspired, Shakspear was that man.

[5] Curiosity led me to look at the signatures published in Stevens's Shakspear, and it occured to me, that if some old writing could be produced, and passed for Shakspear's, it might occasion a little mirth, and shew how far credulity would go in the search for antiquities.

[6] Having one day purchased a thin quarto tract of the time of Elizabeth, illuminated and bound in vellum, with her arms on the cover, I determined on trying an experiment with it, and for the purpose wrote a letter (in imitation of the hand of that period) as from the author of the book, making it the presentation copy from himself to the queen.

[7] I wrote this epistle with common ink, weakened with water, but found its appearance too modern, notwithstanding I determined on shewing it; but before I went home from chambers, where it was contriv'd, I call'd on a book-binder in New-Inn passage, of the name of Laurie, and laughingly told him what I had contrived; then, producing the letter, I ask'd him his opinion? he told me it was well done, and might deceive many.

[8] A young man working in the shop then said, he could give me a composition which would have much more the appearance of old ink; I begg'd he would, upon which he mix'd a few drops of acid with some other liquid (used in marbling the covers of books) in a vial; then writing a few words on paper, held it to the fire to shew its effect, when the letters turn'd completely brown. Having procured this, I went back to chambers, and re-wrote the letter, which I took home and shewed my father, who thought it genuine. This, and the book I exchanged with him for some other tract. It was the first thing of the kind I ever attempted, but after I had wrote a great quantity of the Shakspear manuscripts, I thought my first attempt, so badly executed, that I again got it from my father, and destroyed it, fearing a discovery.

[9] Soon after my father went into the country, it being long vacation, I obtained permission of the gentleman with whom I was articled, to accompany him. The last place we visited before our return to town, was Stratford upon Avon, where we remained about ten days; during which time, my father made eager enquiries concerning Shakspear, but acquired little more knowledge than those who went before him.

[10] We visited Clopton House, about a mile from Stratford, the gentleman who occupied it, behaved with much civility. On my father saying, he wished to know any thing relative to our Bard? the gentleman replied, that had he been there a few weeks sooner, he could have given him a great quantity of his, and his family's letters. My father, much astonished, begged to known what was become of them? The gentleman's answer was, that having some young partridges which he wished to bring up, he had, for the purpose, cleared out a small appartment wherein these papers lay, and burnt a large basket-full of them, he said they were all rotten as tinder, but to many of them, he could plainly perceive the signature of William Shakspear; and turning to his wife, said to her, "Don't you remember it my Dear?" Her answer was, "Yes, perfectly well, and you know at the time, I blamed you for destroying them." My father exclaimed, "Good God, Sir!" you do not know what an injury the world has sustained by the loss of them." He then begged permission to see the Room, which the gentleman acquiesced in, adding, "If there are any left Sir, you may have them, for they are but rubbish, and litter up the place." Accordingly, we proceeded into the chamber, but found no trace of any papers; and in every other part of the house our search proved equally ineffectual.

[11] Having, by the many conversations which passed, imbibed my father's enthusiasm for Shakspear, that led me not only to search, but also to attempt what I shall after relate.

[12] We returned to town, I attended chambers as usual; two persons being at that time with me, one soon quitted the law, and Foster Powell, the well known Pedestrian, who was the other, shortly after died; I was then left alone, had it been otherwise, I should have found no opportunity of writing the papers.

[13] My father would often lavish his usual praises on Shakspear, and frequently add, that he would give all his curious books to become possessed of a single line of his hand writing.

[14] An idea having struck me, that I might perhaps be fortunate enough to find a signature of his, that induced me to examine a number of deeds and other papers which I met with in the course of my researches: I also carefully looked over many useless deeds at chambers, but without success.

[15] For mere frolick and diversion, I soon after formed the plan of attempting to imitate his hand, and for that purpose copied out as nearly, as I could, the fac similies of his name to the will in the Commons, and to the mortgage deed, both of which are to be found in Steven's Shakspear; I also took down the heads of the deed, with which I went to chambers, and wrote the lease between William Shakspear and John Heminges, Michael Fraser and Elizabeth his wife, it is erroneous in many respects, and those who have seen it, may recollect it's inaccuracy, having stated, "At the Globe by Thames." On telling this story to Mr. Wallis, he referred to the copy of the mortgage deed before-mentioned, from which he found I had nearly worded that of Michael Fraser, and laughingly said, "It was surprising how it should have escaped so many shrewd observers." I had before me a law paper of the time of King James, from which I took the style of writing, and afterwards affixed the names; it was wrote with the before-mentioned ink, which I had kept by me, but it's effect on parchment was different from that which it had on paper, only giving an appearance of common ink weakened with water. I wrote a deed in preference to any thing else, thinking it would more firmly stamp the signature as Shakspear's.

[16] I took it home, and told my father, I had something curious to shew him, on which I wished to have his opinion. After looking over the deed, he assured me, that he thought it genuine. I then begged his acceptance of it, upon which he offered me any of his curious books, I told him, I would receive nothing.

[17] And here I must assure the world, that I had no attention whatever of attempting any thing further, my object was only to give my father pleasure, that wish accomplished, I was satisfied.

[18] However, this deed was shewn, and was generally believed by those who saw it; several persons told me, that wherever it was found, there must undoubtedly be all the Manuscripts of Shakspear so long and vainly sought for; my father likewise said, he was certain that I knew of many more: thus urged, partly by the world, and more by my own vanity, I determined on attempting something further.

[19] Having seen Shakspear's father's Profession of Faith, I thought I would attempt to form one for the son, and as I heard him much censured for the invocation to the Saints, and the superstitious manner in which it was composed, I resolved on writing the son's perfectly simple, wishing thereby to prove Shakspear a Protestant, that having been often a matter of doubt.

[20] I procured a blank sheet of old paper, being the outside leaf of several others, on which accounts had been kept, but not being then acquainted with the water marks of the times, I carefully chose leaves which had none at all, hearing many gentlemen say, if there were paper marks, they would go a great way to prove the manuscripts authentic: I made enquiries, and learn'd that the Jugg was most prevalent in that Day. Accordingly, in all the papers I afterwards produced, I obtained as many marked with the Jugg as I possibly could, those who have inspected the papers, must remember to have seen it frequently occur.

[21] I wrote the Profession of Faith without making a draft copy, placing before me the fac similes I had made, and forming every letter in his name as he might have written them, the rest were from my own imagination; when compleated, I took it home, all who heard it read, admired the simplicity of the stile.

[21] I was much questioned as to where it came from? For some time I gave no particular answer, at length I found it necessary to say something, and for that purpose framed the following story!—

[23] That I had, by mere chance, formed an acquaintance with a gentleman, and being one day at dinner with him, expressing my partiality for old books, as well as the autographs of great personages, I said, the gentleman appointed me to meet him, and told me I might rummage over a large quantity of old deeds and papers which had descended to him from his father, who had practised the law, and acquired a great fortune; I added, that for some time I neglected calling according to my promise, alledging that as he was a young man, he had only meant perhaps to laugh at me; however, one day being near the place, curiosity prompted me to call; the gentleman, I said, was rather angry at my remissness and breach of promise, but having made an apology, he permitted me to go into the next room, where I saw a great quantity of papers tied up in bundles, having searched for some time, I at length found the deed before mentioned, which I took to the gentleman, who was much astonished, but said, since I promised you all you should find worthy your notice, I will not be worse than my word, then desiring me to make him a copy, he gave it me.

[24] But when I had wrote more papers, the world wondered how any man could be weak enough to part with such a treasure; to reconcile them to a belief of this, I added the following story: that in searching among my friend's deeds, I had found one which ascertained to him some property, long a matter of litigation and dispute; upon this he promised me every thing I should find appertaining to Shakspear, and further, to stop all enquiries as to his name, &c. I added, that being a man of large fortune, he did not choose to undergo the impertinent questionings of the world, for which reason, he had bound me on oath, to secrecy, and the better to strengthen this, I hinted, that his father perhaps might have detained the papers illegally in the course of his practice, and should his name be known, it would undoubtedly lead to a discover, and throw a slur on the honour of his family; by such means, I for some time stopped all enquiries.

[25] I shall now speak of Mr. Talbot, who has been so much talked of in the business, and explain the reasons. I had for some time known him, he was also placed with a gentleman of New Inn, but his articles expired before I attempted these Manuscripts; he came frequently to chambers, and told me he was certain the deed which I had given my father was not original, but a production of my own; I must add that he well knew I had a facility at copying old hand writings, having often seen me do so before I wrote the manuscripts; I firmly denied the charge, but a few days after, whilst I was busily employed at writing some of the papers which I afterwards gave my father, he came in so instantaneously, the he caught me in the fact; no longer able to deny the charge, I bound him to secrecy, alledging the anger of my father should he know the truth; he promised never to betray me, nor can I say but that he behaved all through the business with the strictest honour and integrity.—He soon quitted London for Dublin; on parting, I assured him, that I would correspond and relate what occurred; this is all Mr. Talbot's concern in the affair; I have already mentioned how I procured the ink; most of the old paper was purchased of a bookseller of the name of Verey, in Great May's Buildings, Saint Martin's Lane, and the language I most solemnly declare to be all my own, no person having furnished me with a single idea.

[26] I wrote the letter to Cowley, thereby wishing to prove Shakspear a perfect good natured man; nothing was meant by the pen and ink drawing, however, the world said it was certainly some witty conundrum, as to their not being able to explain it, there is nothing surprising in that, for I myself do not know it's meaning. My reasons for writing Heminge's note and receipt I cannot at present recollect.—The letter to Ann Hatherwaye, his wife, was to shew his love for her, and that was also meant by the lines addressed to her; as for the lock of hair, it was more a childish frolic than any ways done to strengthen the authenticity of the papers.

[27] Having heard of the Lord Southampton's bounty to Shakspear, I determined on writing the correspondence between them on that subject; but, on enquiry, could not learn that any signature of his Lordship's was in existance, I accordingly formed his mode of writing, merely from myself, and the better to disguise it from Shakspear's, I wrote the whole with my left hand; this was done to give more authenticity to the story.

[28] I may be faulty as to the exact time and order in which the different things were delivered to my father, but, having kept no account, I trust that will not go to disprove the truth of my present narration.

[29] Amongst other gentlemen who came to view the manuscripts were Dr. P——r. and Dr. W——n; I was in my father's study at the time, they passed the highest encomiums on the stile of the papers in general; and I particularly well remember, after having heard read the Profession of Faith, one of them used the following words to my father, "Mr. Ireland, we have very fine things in our church service, and our litany abounds with beauties, but here is a man has distanced us all." I scarce could refrain from laughter on hearing such praises lavished on myself, particularly on a composition not even studied when wrote. I was however struck with astonishment at having attracted the applause of two such learned men, then I first began to think I had any abilities.

[30] I wrote Queen Elizabeth's letter from her signature only, which I copied from an original in my father's possession, this letter was produced to make our Bard appear noticed by the greatest personage of his time, and thereby add, if possible, fresh lustre to his name.

[31] At a broker's in Butcher Row, I one day saw hanging up for sale a coloured drawing, thinking it might serve my purpose, I purchased it, and went to chambers, where, having some water colours, I painted in the letters W. S. and the titles of the several plays, I likewise inserted in the corner, the arms of Shakspear, but was so unacquainted with them as to make the spear run to contrary way to what it really should do; on the back of this drawing was the figure of a Dutchman, this I altered to the character of Shylock, by painting in the knife and scales. When I conceive the design originally to have represented was the contrast of a money getting old father, to a son squandering his property in gay apparel and dissipation; the drawing is certainly very old, but the writing, arms, scales knife &c. were all added by myself.

[32] Many persons having said, that if the original manuscript of one of his printed plays should be found, it would prove whether he wrote all the ribaldry attributed to him in the first quarto's.—That lead me to write over in the old hand the Tragedy of King Lear, and make alterations where I thought the lines beneath him, one of these I shall quote. After Lear's death, the Duke offers Kent his services, which he refuses: in all the printed copies Kent repeats the following couplet so much ridiculed.

Kent.—I have a journey, Sir, shortly to go,
My master calls, and I must not say no.

[33] In lieu of which I inserted the following lines.—

"Thanks, Sir, but I go to that unknown land,
That chains each pilgrim fast within it's soil,
By living men most shunned most dreaded,
Still my good master this same journey took,
He calls me, I am content, and straight obey;
Then farewell world, the busy scene is done,
Kent lived most true, Kent dies most like a man."

[34] By such alterations the world supposed that all the ribaldry in his other plays was not written by himself but foistered in by the players and printers, herein it cannot be said I injured the reputation of Shakspear, on the contrary, the world thought him a much more pure and even writer than before.

[35] To prove the papers still more genuine, I wrote the agreements between Lowin and Condell the players. I also produced the play house receipts, and other accounts, thereby to prove Shakspear correct in matters of the most trivial nature.—Among these were the receipts for playing before Lord Leicester, the sum there mentioned was very high for that period: By this I meant to shew the esteem in which his company was held before all others, for I knew there were at that time several play houses in London. The strings with which I tied the bundles were unravelled from a piece of old tapestry, part of which I left in the hands of Mr. Wallis, about the same time I entrusted him with the secret.

[36] My ink now failed me, I applied a second time to the book binder's man, and obtained a larger vial full, the remains of which I have also given to Mr. Wallis: thus I continued, and finding so many join in my father's belief, I thought with Richard,—

"The work went bravely on."

[37] At length I determined on writing a play, and having often observed a drawing of my father's from a design of Mortimer's, on the subject of Rowena presenting wine to Vortigern, I thought this story might perhaps serve, and accordingly refer'd to Holinshed's Chronicle, which my father had; this I did when no one was present, finding it applicable to my purpose, I plan'd the story of the play, which I afterwards produced: it consists of more than two thousand lines.—When asked for the originals, I made answer, that my friend would not deliver them till I had transcribed the whole; thus I gained time to compose and write the play in the old hand; At the time of it's completion, I was about nineteen years of age, the world praised many parts, but said it was uneven, having the same errors as are usually found in many of Shakspear's plays, it was generally thought superior to the worst of his plays, and much inferior to his capital one's; I heard and smiled at these remarks, not a little surprised that I could at so young an age at all imitated him.

[38] When Mr. Talbot heard of the play in Ireland, he coolly wrote, informing me of his surprise that I had not let him into this secret, for to speak the truth, I had long neglected corresponding according to my promise, having to compose and write all the before mentioned things; I sent him word I had attempted and wrote the play; after this we corresponded regularly, and I always spoke freely on the subject of the manuscripts.

[39] I wrote a few leaves of Hamlet, with trivial alteration, as I had done in Lear, I likewise finished other receits, and executed a coloured head of Shakspear on parchment, round which I affixed the names of several players of that day; I acquired this knowledge by looking into the folio edition of his plays.

[40] As it was the general opinion, that if a descendant of Shakspear's could be found, he might claim the papers, I determined on proving that a friendship had subsisted between our Bard and some person of the name of Ireland; for that purpose I wrote the deed of gift, and formed the story of his saving Shakspear from "drowning," as I thought that the best method of accounting for their great friendship, and the bequests made to him by Shakspear. I also wrote the tributary lines, and made the drawing of Ireland's house; and to stop all claims whatever to the papers, I said, that my friend told me, they originally belonged to one of our ancestors, and that he had given them to me as a matter of right.

[41] My reason for appearing so much in public, was to make the world think me a giddy thoughtless young man, incapable of producing the papers.

[42] Mr. Talbot came to England, and was much astonished at the variety of things I had wrote; we destroyed mutually all our letters on the subject, and agreed, for the future, never to speak openly on the business.

[43] As the world began to doubt, I begged him to become a party in the story, he with much hesitation consented. I then informed my father, that Mr. Talbot was also concerned, upon which he desired his account of the manuscripts, but Mr. T. not knowing the story he should tell, and fearing to contradict what I might have said before, informed my father that he would, in a few days, send a written account of the whole business. To this my father very reluctantly agreed; and previous to Mr. T. leaving town, we planned the story which he afterwards sent.

[44] I continued as usual producing papers of different kinds, partly to add to the mass which I thought would strengthen their authenticity, and partly because the world did not altogether doubt them, and that I found them still praised by the Literati. I also wrote manuscript notes on books about the number of fifty, all which I gave to my father.

[45] Not owing to himself only, but frequently urged by other gentlemen, my father determined on publishing the papers; I begged he would desist, he made answer, that the world should not be deprived of such a treasure; at length, afraid to tell this narrative, which he would not have believed, and not knowing what step to take, I one day, as my last effort, assured him, that if he was bent on publishing the papers it must be done at his own risk, for that my friend would have nothing to do in the business; he gladly replied, that he would take all upon himself, thus, finding it impossible to stop him, I was compelled to suffer the publishing of the papers.

[46] I wrote the deed of trust to John Hemings, distantly hinting, that the gentleman who gave the Manuscripts was a descendant of his, and that his ancestor had not fulfilled the bequests mentioned in that deed, but kept them to himself; this I alledged was cause sufficient for the concealment of his name. Had I not been urged to write this Pamphlet, I should have composed the Interlude of the Virgin Queen, and the play of King Henry the Seventh, mentioned in the deed of trust.

[47] The play of Vortigern was then agreed for, and with much delay brought forward; the world condemned it, but that did not lessen the satisfaction I felt in having at so early an age wrote a piece which was not only acted, but brought forth as the work of the greatest of men.

[48] Mr. Malone's very tedious epistle then appeared, the forgery, he says is weak, and poorly contrived, whey then should he bestow so much time and labour, and dive into antiquities, or search registers of births, marriages, deaths, &c. and spin out an Epistle to Lord Charlemont of upwards of four hundred pages, to prove, what as he says, was visible to the meanest capacity, but most of the time he was confessedly in a dream.

[49] I wrote the play of King Henry the Second, of which I only executed three leaves in the old hand, now in my father's possession; it was thought by many superior to Vortigern.

[50] At length the world in general accused my father of being a party concerned in writing the papers, and then I first began to feel uneasy.

[51] Mr. Talbot's letter, I must here mention, came to hand, containing the story which we had agreed to tell, and I soon after received one part of which I have here transcribed, as it goes to prove myself alone author of the manuscripts.

6th January, 1796.

Dear Sam,

"It is now a month, I believe, since I wrote to your father a particular account of the discovery of Vortigern, with every thing that has passed before and since the fortunate finding it at H——'s; I wrote by the same post to yourself, begged you to shew H—— the letter I wrote your father, and keep a copy yourself; now I think it rather hard I am not favoured with an answer, and that my particular request is not complied with.—I asked for a copy of Vortigern and Rowena, as curtailed for representation; now, Sam, though you neglect me so much as to with-hold the copy of the play, which you know when in London I had not time to read, and which you may naturally suppose I would wish to know almost as I would all Shakspear's works, yet mark how I am situated, and then you will not blame me for renewing my request; every one knows here the concern I have with Vortigern and Rowena, and every one asks for the particulars: I then show the copy of the letter sent your father; but when I am asked as to the play, and its merits, plot, beauties, &c. I know nothing. It is much wondered at that I can give no account of its coming out; some ask me if I have not in my own possession any scrap of the writings of Shakspear.—So, Sam, I request you will send me some bill, receipt, or letter of his, &c., &c."

[52] By this part of Mr. Talbot's letter, I mean to prove that he knew nothing of the play of Vortigern, had he aided me in writing it, he certainly would not disclaim all knowledge of its merits, plots, or beauties. He certainly knew the fact, and that was all; as to his joining in the story, he did it at my most earnest request, though much against his own inclination.

[53] A committee of gentlemen was now called to inspect the manuscripts, and report what they thought concerning their authenticity; I was obliged to be present, many questions were put to me about the papers, my answer was, that I attended there only to exculpate my father from the odium which was heaped on him, but to answer nothing farther; I likewise offered to make oath, that my father was no ways whatever concerned; but this was over-ruled by some gentleman present. Other committees were held, in which Mr. Talbot's letter was frequently read, and at one of these, a petition was drawn up, signed by the committee, stating my father's situation with the world, which I was required to deliver to my friend, when alone, I determined rather than he should undergo so much unmerited blame, that I would myself come forward with the truth.

[54] I therefore, at the next meeting, said, that the person from whom I had the papers would reveal the secret to any two gentlemen of respectability, for that purpose a list was made, which I was to shew my friend, those names which he did not approve he was to blot out, but any two of those he left standing, and who would receive the secret, to them he would communicate it.

[55] At the next morning I delivered the list, having only marked out the names of a few who had been sanguine in their belief of the papers, not liking to hurt their feelings, but of those gentlemen whose names I left standing, some were out of town, and others did not choose to undertake the embassy.

[56] It having been observed by me, as before stated, that the gentleman was under apprehensions for his situation should the truth be known, and some one of the committee suggesting that he ought to apply for legal advice in the business, where he might with safety communicate the affair, I went myself to Mr. Wallis, and told him nearly this story, under a strict injunction of secrecy, at the same time giving him in writing a short account of the principal matters herein contained, which I wrote before him, as well in the old hand as my own; he likewise put several questions to me, as to the reasons which lead me to attempt so many different things, which I immediately answered in writing; it is now five Months since, and on comparing the reasons given in this account, with those left in his hands, they are found to coincide; and to which I refer any person who desires to be satisfied.

[57] Still the world accused my father of being a party concern'd;——This was frequently mentioned, which rendered him unhappy: He wrote to Mr. Talbot to know if he would make affidavit to the truth of the story, Mr. T—— answered, that if I would join with him he would make oath, that no one, except us two, and a third person, knew the secret; this he did, well assured, that I could not enter into any such affidavit, there being no third person at all concern'd; on my refusal, my father, of course, laid all the blame on me; and to prove what I have asserted, that Mr. Talbot has several times been requested to make the oath alone, but will not consent.

[58] My father left town during his absence, I form'd the resolution of quitting the house, as I could not tell the truth, and live with him after to be a witness of his unhappiness; besides, he complained of the secret being told to another person, and not himself; I therefore put my plan in execution.—As a proof of my father's feelings at that time, I insert the following letter which he sent me; those who peruse it may conceive a father's anxiety, and my embarrassed situation.

"It is now more than a week, my dear Sam, since I left London, and not a word or a line from you: in the situation, unsettled as you are, you cannot suppose but that my mind is much agitated, both on your account and that of the family.——

"I expected, according to your promise, that you would certainly have written to me and have pointed out what was your plan:——And not only so, but your intentions with regard to the papers. I do assure you, my state is truly wretched on both accounts; I have no rest either night or day, which might be much alleviated by a more open and candid conduct on your side; surely, if there is a person for whom you can for a moment feel, it must be for a parent, who has never ceased to render you every comfort and attention from your earliest moment of existance to the present.—I think you must sometimes reflect, and place yourself in your imagination as at a future period of life, having a son, and being in such a predicament as I stand at present, and then judging what must be your state of mind, and what must be mine at present.

"I do not mean reproaches by this letter, but to assure you, that if you cannot think me your friend, I fear you will be deceived in all friendships you may in future form. I do not recollect that any conduct of mine toward you, has been other than that of a friend and companion, not that of a rigid or remorse parent? It is therefore doubly unnatural, that I should be found to apply for information through any channel whatever, when I ought to hear it voluntarily from yourself. You seem to be estranging yourself, not only from me, but from all your family, and all my acquaintances. Reflect well what you do, and what determinations you make, for this is the moment that may, in all probability render you comfortable in your future establishment, and future situation, or make you an alien to happiness for ever. I have heard of my situation with the world, as to the papers, at Reading, from many gentlemen there, who all agree, that my state is truly a pitiable one, and all seem to dread the event; I know not the nature of your oaths, and engagements, nor does the world; but it is universally allowed, that no obligation should lead a parent into ruin.—If the papers are established as genuine, why delay to furnish me with the documents so lately promised? But I will say no more on the subject at present.—By a paragraph in the Sun of Thursday last, it should appear, that I am not in the secret, some persons are. The paragraph runs thus——'We are at length enabled to form a decisive opinion with regard to the Manuscripts in the possession of Mr. Ireland, though motives of delicacy at present prevent us from rendering that opinion publick'! Pray give me a line by to-morrow's post, as I am impatient to hear from you, and believe me your very sincere friend, and affectionate father,"

Samuel Ireland.

June 5, Sunday.

[59] I then ask'd Mr. Wallis what I could do to exonerate my father; he drew up a paper which I sign'd, and have here inserted.

In justice to my father, and to remove the odium under which he labours respecting the papers published by him as the manuscripts of Shakspear, I do hereby solemnly declare, that they were given to him by me as the manuscripts of Shakspear, and that he was totally ignorant and unacquainted with the source from whence they came, or with any matter relating to the same, or to any thing save what was told him by myself; and that he published them without any knowledge, or even the smallest intention of fraud or imposition, but under a firm belief and persuasion of their authenticity, as I had given him to understand they were so.

W. H. Ireland.

17 January, 1796.

[60] Still my father was dissatisfied; nor would the world believe that he was not concern'd in the business.——I afterwards wrote him a letter, confessing, that I was really the author, of which I kept no copy, or should undoubtedly here have inserted it.—This proved as ineffectual as any thing I before had done, for he still thought Shakspear the author of the papers, and me totally incapable of writing them.—

[61] I shall insert a message left in writing with Mr. Wallis, which still goes to prove my father a stranger to the whole affair.——

"That I insist on having the affidavit drawn up by Sam, and sign'd and sworn before a magistrate, in order to its being sent to Talbot, and then to be laid before the public, and I likewise insist on having the remainder of the papers so often promised me."

[62] The papers which my father here alludes to, and of which he has a list, were those which I intended to have written, had not the business taken such a turn as it has done.

[63] I introduce a fresh speech, the original of which, with my various alterations, was delivered, with so many other things, to the care of Mr. Wallis, leaving the world to judge of its merits if it possesses any.

On contemplating Westminster Abbey.

"O! my good lord how irksome passed the time,
While in yon porch I did wait your coming;
Yet as this chrystal arch, this bright heaven
Doth shine upon the emeral tipped wave,
And paints upon the deep each passing cloud;
E'en so the smallest and most gentle plant
That waves before the breath of thee sweet heaven,
To man gives food for contemplation;
And shows how soon this blazing frame of youth
Must sink on Age's chilling icy bed,
And dwindle down to second nothingness;
Look but on yon clock those lanky fingers,
The tolling heralds of swift winged time,
Whose clapper wakens men from drowsy sleep;
Changing the dreary stillness of black night
To days first infancy, the blushing morn;
While blest Aurora rears her purple crest,
And tip-toe stands, shaking her golden hair,
Eager to visit the busy sons of men:
Her blazing journey ended, down she sinks,
And so I liken her to man's strange end.
Look on yon pile, under whose fretted roof,
So many kings have seized the precious gem
Of royalty, and sucked the courtiers
Lip laboured lies.
Where are ye now, dead alas and rotten;
O! my good lord, let us from hence away,
This spot doth smell too strong of royal dust
Throwing its lures to catch the minds of men;
Blowing in their ears the feverous blast
Of mirth, feasts, merriment, prosperity;
Till on a sudden grappling with their souls,
Thou knittest them at once in death eterne."

[64] This speech I intended to have introduced in a play taken from the life of William the Conqueror; it was to have been spoke by Earl Edwyn, who conspired against him in consequence of his tyrannical government: he was to wait near the Abbey in disguise, for Marcarus another conspirator, and there make his speech.—The plan of this play, as well as several others from English history, I have lately deposited with Mr. Wallis, together with many other things relating to this business, where they may be inspected by those whose curiosity may lead them to require that satisfaction.

[65] On Thursday the 17th of November I wrote the following letter to Mr. Talbot.

Dr. Montague,

"The various things which have passed since I last wrote to you cannot be here repeated,—I only beg you will say nothing more about the papers, nor take any trouble in explaining the business to my father. I find it necessary to keep the world no longer in suspence, and am preparing a circumstantial account of the whole, wherein I shall inform them of the truth, that I am the Author; be assured I will excuse you in every point for what you have said concerning their authenticity, and take it all upon myself,—you may suppose what I have undergone to bring me to such a confession, after what passed between us, but I find that truth will always prevail.

I remain your's ever,

W. H. Ireland.

[66] That the world may not suppose any thing lurks behind, this expression in my letter (after what passed between us) I shall explain its meaning.—On Mr. Talbot's quitting me, I made him a promise, that I would not tell the business on any account, unless he was willing, which promise I have not faithfully observed, this I hope will be excused, as my peculiar situation alone caused the breach of it.—

[67] Before I conclude, I shall sum up this account, and am willing to make affidavit to the following declarations, as well as to the whole of this narration.

[68] First, I solemnly declare that my father was perfectly unacquainted with the whole affair, believing the papers most firmly the productions of Shakspear.

[69] Secondly,—That I am myself both the author and writer, and have had no aid or assistance from any soul living, and that I should never have gone so far, but that the world praised the papers so much, and thereby flattered my vanity.

[70] Thirdly,—That any publication which may appear tending to prove the manuscripts genuine, or contradict what is here stated, is false; this being the true account.

W. H. Ireland

[71] Here then I conclude, most sincerely regretting any offence I may have given the world, or any particular individual, trusting at the same time, they will deem the whole the act of a boy, without any evil or bad intention, but hurried on thoughtless of any danger that awaited to ensnare him.

[72] Should I attempt another play, or any other stage performance, I shall hope the public will lay aside all prejudice my conduct may have deserved, and grant me that kind indulgence which is the certain inmate of every Englishman's bosom.


William Henry Ireland
Ireland was born in 1775, and began his forgeries late in his teen years. An Authentic Account is the first form of his public confession; his Confessions of William-Henry Ireland containing the Particulars of His Fabrication of the Shakspeare Manuscripts, an expanded version of the account, appeared in 1805. After his fraud was exposed, he continued to publish poems and novels, but died in poverty in 1835.
One of the Inns of Court, the center of legal activity in London.
Blackstone, or Coke upon Littleton
Sir William Blackstone (1723–80), English legal scholar and author of the most important eighteenth-century study of English law, Commentaries of the Laws of England (1765–69); Sir Edward Coke (pronounced Cook) (1552–1634), author of another famous legal work, a commentary on the Tenures of Sir Thomas Littleton or Lyttleton (1402–81).
Mr. Garrick
David Garrick (1717–19), English actor, theatre manager, dramatist, and Shakespeare enthusiast. He accumulated one of the eighteenth century's largest collections of Shakespeareana.
Stevens's Shakspear
George Steevens (1736–1800) collaborated with Samuel Johnson on the revised edition of the works of Shakespeare (1773); he published his own edition from 1793 to 1803. He also produced diplomatic transcripts of the early quartos in Twenty Plays of Shakespeare (1766).
John Heminges
John Heminges (or Hemings), one of Shakespeare's partners.
The Globe
The Globe Theatre in London, at which many of Shakespeare's plays were produced.
King James
King James VI and I (1566–1625), king of Scotland from 1567 and, after Elizabeth's death in 1603, king of England. He reigned over England through roughly the second half of Shakespeare's career.
Profession of Faith
In 1757, in a house in which Shakespeare had lived, workers discovered a manuscript supposedly by John Shakespeare, the playwright's father, which demonstrated he was a Catholic. The document disappeared soon after, and has never been recovered.
Paper marks
Watermarks were beginning to be used to expose forgeries of old documents: works on paper first manufactured in 1650, for instance, could not have been printed in 1600.
A gentleman
Ireland refers to the mysterious invented gentleman only as "Mr. H," and hints in paragraph 46 that he is a descendant of John Heminges.
Richard Cowly, a member of Shakespeare's company.
Ann Hatherwaye
Anne Hathaway, wife of Shakespeare. Ireland modified the spelling of her name to "Anna Hatherrewaye."
Lord Southampton's bounty
Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, a patron of Shakespeare and other scholars and poets. Shakespeare dedicated his first poem, Venus and Adonis, to Southampton, and there refers to him as "the first heir of my invention."
P——r and W——n
Parr and Warton.
Whether he wrote all the ribaldry
Eighteenth-century critics often complained of the low humor in Shakespeare's works. Some proposed that such passages were not Shakespeare's, but interpolations by actors and booksellers.
The following couplet
From King Lear, 5.3.

Lowin and Condell
Two members of Shakespeare's company. In the Confessions, Ireland describes "a payment of two shillings extra, made by William Shakespeare 'toe masterre Lowinne' for his 'goode servyces and welle playnge.'" Another document supposedly demonstrates that 'Henry Condell the player convenanted to perform for the further space of three years, at the weekly salary of one pound and one shilling.'"
Lord Leicester
Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester (1532&0150;88), before whom Shakespeare's company played in 1587.
With Richard
From Colley Cibber's adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III (1700), Act 3.
Rowena presenting wine to Vortigern
Vortigern (fl. 450), prince of southeast Britain, married Rowena, daughter of Hengist. Vortigern is said to have invited the Saxons to enter Britain in order to help him in his struggle with the Picts in the north.
Holinshed's Chronicle
Raphael Holinshed (d. c. 1580), English historian. His Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577; 2nd ed., 1587) provided Shakespeare with much of the material for his British histories.
Some person of the name of Ireland
Ireland in fact forges a letter to one William Henrye Irelande, supposed to be his ancestor.
The play of Vortigern was then agreed for
Ireland's forged Shakespearean play was produced by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It played for one night, 2 April 1796, at Drury Lane Theatre. Although the theatre was crowded, the reception was mostly hostile, as much of the audience found both the writing and the performance laughable. The play finally appeared in print in 1799.
Mr. Malone's very tedious epistle
Edmund Malone (1741–1812), Irish scholar and editor of Shakespeare. His lengthy exposée of Ireland's forgery was published the day after Vortigern appeared on the stage.
The play of King Henry the Second
Never performed. It was published as Henry the Second, an Historical Drama, Supposed to be Written by the Author of Vortigern, in 1799.
Although apparently christened William Henry, Ireland's father Samuel took to calling his son "Sam" after the death of the forger's elder brother, Samuel.
William the Conqueror
William I of England (1027–87), who led the Norman Invasion of England in 1066 and established a Norman-French government in the country.