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IRELAND, William Henry (1777--1835)
Miscellaneous papers and legal instruments under the hand and seal of William Shakspeare: including the tragedy of King Lear and a small fragment of Hamlet, from the original MSS. in the possession of Samuel Ireland, of Norfolk Street.
London: printed by Cooper and Graham. Published by Mr. Egerton; Messrs. White; Messrs. Leigh and Sotheby; Mr. Robson, and Mr. Faulder; and Mr. Sael, 1796.
xix, [1], [32] p., 156 [i.e. 154], [1], 7 p., [1] pl. ; 19.0 cm. (8º)

Documents forged by William Henry Ireland, edited by his father Samuel Ireland, a self-taught artist with an obsessive enthusiasm for Shakespeare. The first octavo issue. Pages 153--154 misnumbered 155--156 and p. 130 misnumbered 301; the leaf following p. '156' is blank. The first printing of this book was in folio with dedication dated 'Dec. 1795' (ESTC t144546) and issued in 138 copies (according to Lowndes) to the 'few who ought to have known better, [who] lent themselves to the support of the imposition so far as to encourage by subscription, a collection which was the disgrace of literature' - Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors, 1816 (q.v.), p. 173. It was unable to withstand the onslaught of Edward Malone's An inquiry into the authenticity of certain miscellaneous papers and legal instruments, London: T. Cadell, Jun. and W. Davies, 1796, published on the eve of the production mounted at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane of the new Shakespearean play 'Vortigern and Rowena' which had one performance before a packed house on 2 April 1796. The fabrication unravelled in the wake of the debacle of the play's opening night when William Henry Ireland published An authentic account of the Shaksperian manuscripts (1796), in which he acknowledged that he was the sole author of all of the manuscripts. Samuel Ireland excused himself with Mr. Ireland's vindication of his conduct, respecting the publication of the supposed Shakspeare Mss. (1796), and an edition of 'Vortigern' was published in 1799 with a preface by Samuel Ireland who died in 1800. Five years later, his son wrote The confessions of William Henry Ireland: containing the particulars of his fabrication of the Shakspeare manuscripts: together with anecdotes and opinions (hitherto unpublished) of many distinguished persons in the literary, political, and theatrical world. London: printed by Ellerton and Byworth ... for Thomas Goddard ..., 1805. He took refuge in France and only returned to England in 1832. Ireland published Vortigern: an historical play, with an original preface, London: Joseph Thomas, 1832. In this second edition the preface recounted afresh the events of 1795--99 but to very little notice. See: Fakes, forgeries & facsimiles, exh., Folger Shakespeare Library, 2003 (link, accessed 10 October 2013); see also J. Farington, The diaries, London, 1978, entries for Thursday 31 March 1796. ESTC t125752; Lowndes 1164; Jaggard 163.

Copy Notes Imperfect; wanting the half-title, the first two leaves of the unpaginated sequence ('Words and Letters supplied ...') and all after the end of the unpaginated sequence (i.e. the text of the 'Tragedye Of Kinge Leare' and 'Hamblette'). The volume has been disbound and the leaves and plate remounted as a folio extra-illustrated with further engravings from the folio edition and MS. facsimiles of documents including a blank leaf exhibiting a watermark (in all 29 items). With a cartouche on the free-endpaper opposite the title-page inscribed in ink For a full description of the contents of this curious volume consult the Confessions of Wm. Hy. Ireland. The same hand has added captions to many of the illustrations, e.g. Spurious Signature of Queen Elizabeth, Tracing from an Original Signature, etc. The volume was bought from A.W. Barlace for £12 (with two other books) on 13 November 1826. (Priv. Corr. XVI.E.6.11). Inscribed in ink on first free-endpaper (by Barlace?) Very curious. £4.14.6. It is not recorded whether Soane was at Drury Lane to see the performance of 'Vortigern'; he and Mrs Soane visited Sadler's Wells and the Opera in May and June 1796.

Binding C19th blind-panelled calf with double palmette borders and central lozenge, blind-tooled spine, gilt spine-title 'Shakespeare / Papers / M.S.'

Reference Number 1533


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