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Posts Tagged ‘Sir Herbert Croft 5th Baronet’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Henry Ireland
2 August 1775 – 17 April 1835

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William Henry Ireland

William Henry Ireland claimed throughout his life that he was born in London in 1777, recently discovered evidence puts his birth two years earlier, on 2 August 1775. His father, Samuel Ireland, was a successful publisher of travelogues, collector of antiquities and collector of Shakespearian plays and “relics”. There was at the time, and still is, a great paucity of writing in the hand of Shakespeare. Of his 37 plays, there is not one copy in his own writing, not a scrap of correspondence from Shakespeare to a friend, fellow writer, patron, producer or publisher. Forgery would fill this void.

William Henry also became a collector of books. In many later recollections Ireland described his fascination with the works and the glorious death of the forger Thomas Chatterton, and probably knew the Ossian poems of James Macpherson. He was strongly influenced by the 1780 novel Love and Madness by Herbert Croft, which was often read aloud in the Ireland house, and which contained large sections on Chatterton and Macpherson. When he was apprenticed to a mortgage lawyer, Ireland began to experiment with blank, genuinely old papers and forged signatures on them. Eventually he forged several documents until he was ready to present them to his father.

In December 1794, William told his father that he had discovered a cache of old documents belonging to an acquaintance who wanted to remain unnamed, and that one of them was a deed with a signature of Shakespeare in it. He gave the document – which he had of course made himself – to his overjoyed father, who had been looking for just that kind of signature for years.

A letter supposedly written by Shakespeare (forged by Ireland) expressing gratitude towards the Earl of Southampton.

Ireland went on to make more findings – a promissory note, a written declaration of Protestant faith, letters to Anne Hathaway (with a lock of hair attached), and to Queen Elizabeth – all supposedly in Shakespeare’s hand. He claimed that all came from the chest of the anonymous friend. He “found” books with Shakespeare’s notes in the margins and “original” manuscripts for Hamlet and King Lear. The experts of the day authenticated them all.

On 24 December 1795, Samuel Ireland published his own book about the papers, a lavishly illustrated and expensively produced set of facsimiles and transcriptions of the papers called Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments under the Hand and Seal of William Shakespeare (the book bears the publication date 1796). More people took interest in the matter and the plot began to unravel.

In 1795, Ireland became bolder and produced a whole new play – Vortigern and Rowena. After extensive negotiations, Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan acquired rights for the first production of the play at London’s Drury Lane Theatre for £300, and a promise of half of all profits to the Irelands.

Sheridan read the play and noticed it was relatively simplistic compared to Shakespeare’s other works. John Philip Kemble, actor and manager of Drury Lane Theatre, later claimed he had serious doubts about its authenticity; he also suggested that the play appear on April Fool’s Day, though Samuel Ireland objected, and the play was moved to the next day.

Although the Shakespeare papers had prominent believers (including James Boswell), sceptics had questioned their authenticity from the beginning, and as the premiere of Vortigern approached, the press was filled with arguments over whether the papers were genuine or forgeries. On 31 March 1796, Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone published his own exhaustive study, An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, about the supposed papers. His attack on the papers, stretching to more than 400 densely printed pages, showed convincingly that the papers could be nothing other than modern forgeries. Although believers tried to hold their ground, scholars were convinced by Malone’s arguments.

Vortigern and Rowena opened on 2 April 1796, just two days after Malone’s book appeared. Contemporary accounts differ in details, but most agree the first three acts went smoothly, and the audience listened respectfully. Late in the play, though, Kemble used the chance to hint at his opinion by repeating Vortigern’s line “and when this solemn mockery is o’er.” Malone’s supporters had filled the theatre, and the play was greeted with the audience’s catcalls. The play had only one performance, and was not revived until 2008.

When critics closed in and accused Samuel Ireland of forgery, his son published a confession – An Authentic Account of the Shaksperian Manuscripts – but many critics could not believe a young man could have forged them all by himself. One paper published a caricature in which William Henry is awed by the findings when the rest of the family forges more of them (as opposed to what was really going on). Samuel Ireland’s reputation did not recover before his death in 1800.

In 1805 William Henry published The Confessions of William Henry Ireland, but confession did not help his reputation. He took on a number of miscellaneous jobs as a hack writer but always found himself short of money. In 1814 he moved to France and worked in the French national library, continuing to publish books in London all the while. When he returned in 1823, he resumed his life of penury. In 1832 he published his own edition of Vortigern and Rowena (his father had originally published it in 1799) as his own play with very little success.

There has been recent scholarly interest in his later Gothic novels and his poetry. His illustrated Histories were popular, so to say that Ireland died in obscurity is probably not correct. He was, however, perpetually impoverished; he spent time in debtors’ prison, and was constantly forced to borrow money from friends and strangers. When he died, his widow and daughters applied to the Literary Fund for relief. They received only token amounts.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sir Herbert Croft 5th Baronet
1 November 1751 – 26 April 1816

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Herbert Croft

Sir Herbert Croft 5th Baronet was born at Dunster Park, Berkshire, son of the son of Herbert Croft and Elizabeth Young. He matriculated at University College, Oxford, in March 1771, and was subsequently entered at Lincoln’s Inn. He was called to the bar, but in 1782 returned to Oxford with a view to preparing for holy orders. In 1786 he received the vicarage of Prittlewell, Essex, but he remained at Oxford for some years accumulating materials for a proposed English dictionary. Croft spent years on this project and he also took on preparation work made by Joseph Priestley. However, despite compiling thousands of entries not found in other dictionaries, the project was finally abandoned because of a failure to find sufficient subscribers. He was twice married, and on the day after his second wedding day he was imprisoned at Exeter for debt.

He then retired to Hamburg, and two years later his library was sold. He had succeeded in 1797 to the baronetcy, but not to the estates, of a distant cousin, Sir John Croft, 4th Baronet. He returned to England in 1800, but went abroad once more in 1802. He lived near Amiens at a house owned by Lady Mary Hamilton, the daughter of Alexander Leslie, 5th Earl of Leven. Later he removed to Paris, where he died on 26 April 1816.

In some of his numerous literary enterprises he had the help of Charles Nodier. Croft wrote the Life of Edward Young inserted in Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets.

In 1780 he published Love and Madness, a Story too true, in a series of letters between Parties whose names could perhaps be mentioned were they less known or less lamented. This book, which passed through seven editions, narrates the passion of the soldier-turned-clergyman James Hackman for Martha Ray, mistress of the earl of Sandwich, who was shot by her lover as she was leaving Covent Garden in 1779 (see the Case and Memoirs of the late Rev. Mr James Hackman, 1779).

Love and Madness has permanent interest because Croft inserted, among other miscellaneous matter, information about Thomas Chatterton gained from letters which he obtained from the poet’s sister, Mrs Newton, under false pretences, and used without payment. Robert Southey, when about to publish an edition of Chatterton’s works for the benefit of his family, published (November 1799) details of Croft’s proceedings in the Monthly To this attack Croft wrote a reply addressed to John Nichols in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and afterwards printed separately as Chatterton and Love and Madness … (1800).

This tract evades the main accusation, and contains much abuse of Southey. Croft, however, supplied the material for the exhaustive account of Chatterton in Andrew Kippis’s Biographia Britannica (vol. iv., 1789).

In 1788 he addressed a letter to William Pitt on the subject of a new dictionary. He criticized Samuel Johnson’s efforts, and in 1790 he claimed to have collected 11,000 words used by excellent authorities but omitted by Johnson. Two years later he issued proposals for a revised edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, but subscribers were lacking and his 200 vols. of manuscript remained unused. Croft was a good scholar and linguist, and the author of some curious books in French.

Charles Nodier was working as a secretary to the elderly Croft and his platonic friend, the novelist Lady Mary Hamilton in France. During this time Nodier translated Hamilton’s book Munster Village and helped her write La famille du duc de Popoli or The Duc de Popoli which was published in 1810.

The Love Letters of Mr H. and Miss R. 1775–1779 were edited from Croft’s book by Mr Gilbert Burgess. See also John Nichols’s Illustrations … (1828), v. 202–218.

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