Biography of William Henry Ireland and the "Lost Works" of Shakespeare Part 2

About the famous or infamous English Forger William Henry Ireland, his biography as he attempted to pass off forgeries as the lost works of Shakespeare.

WILLIAM HENRY IRELAND (1777-1835).

English forger.

One day, Ireland located a rent roll from the Elizabethan period. It had a blank parchment sheet. Next, he diluted bookbinding fluid to approximate a well-faded brown ink. Then, from a printed book, he traced Shakespeare's signature until he was able to write it freehand. Finally, he created a 16th-century property lease and at the bottom, with a flourish, he signed it, "Wm. Shakespeare." He hurried to his father with the lease, and breathlessly told how he had obtained it. He explained that he had "made an acquaintance at a coffeehouse with a gentleman of fortune, who was from my conversation given to understand that I had a great predilection for everything like antiquity, he had in consequence requested that I would pay him a visit; stating at the same time that he had many old papers which had descended to him from his ancestors." Ireland visited the wealthy gentleman's apartment, and examining bundles of aged papers, "I discovered to my utter astonishment, the deed between our Bard and Michael Fraser, bearing the signature of Shakespeare." The gentleman then offered this document to Ireland, and any others by Shakespeare that might be found, on the condition that the owner's name be kept anonymous, for the gentleman "did not think fit to subject himself to the impertinent questions" that might follow.

The dazed elder Ireland studied the lease, checked the ancient paper, cracked old seals, faded ink, the signature itself, and authenticated the find. Immediately, he sent world of it to the nation's scholars and press.

Meanwhile, son William began producing a steady stream of 16th-century licenses, notes, receipts, deeds, snippets of verse, contracts with actors--all in Shakespeare's handwriting and all gifts of the mysterious wealthy gentleman.

Early in 1796, Samuel Ireland collected his son's discoveries and published them as Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments under the Hand and Seal of William Shakespeare.

The Irelands were soon celebrities. Young William was advancing his own prestige, but he also wanted to do something for his idol. He wanted to show that the great poet was a recognized man of social consequence even in his own day. So William fabricated correspondence between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, forging the poet's letters with his right hand and the nobleman's replies with his left. Going one better, he "discovered" several chatty exchanges between Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. And to refute lingering suspicions that the great playwright had been a Catholic, William conveniently found a 300-word "Profession of Protestant Faith," proving the great man a good Anglican after all. A learned clergyman who read the statement declared: "We have many fine passages in our Church Service and our litany abounds in beauty, but here, Sir, is a man who outdistances us all."

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