NB: See Part I for an introduction to this series, and Part II for the continuation. Note that only the relevant sections from Farington's entries are included here.
Continuing with Joseph Farington's diary entries relating to the William Henry Ireland Shakespeare forgeries, we're now in the "critical period," the months leading up to and including the first (and only) performance of Ireland's "Shakespeare" drama, Vortigern: An Historical Tragedy, on 2 April.
Thursday, 4 February 1796. "Lysons called on me. He has seen the part of the Play of Vortigern appropriated to Mrs. Siddons1, and says it is contemptible. Association Reeves is a believer."
Monday, 15 February 1796. "Humphry also came. He dined lately in company with Sheridan & J. Richardson. Speaking of Irelands Manuscript play of Vortigern, Richardson jokingly said to Sheridan, 'perhaps you think is as good as Shakespeare.' The fact is Sheridan does not think so highly of Shakespeare as people in general do."
Tuesday, 16 February 1796. "Lord Salisbury has refused to licence Irelands Play of Vortigern."2
Wednesday, 17 February 1796. At a dinner at Malone's house, attended by Mr. Kemble3: "Kemble mentioned that the Lord Chamberlain has expunged several passages in Irelands play of Vortigern. Kemble thinks contempibly of it."
Monday, 29 February 1796. "Malone shewed me an answer to Irelands attack on him for delay; this answer is to be inserted in the Gentlemans Magazine."4
Tuesday, 29 March 1796. "Westall called this evening to offer me a place in a Box on Saturday to see Irelands play of Vortigern."
Thursday, 31 March 1796. "Malone called early this morning, & left for me his book on Irelands forged papers, which was published this morning."5
Friday, 1 April 1796. "Humphry told me that Wyatt a nephew of James Wyatt He dined in company with yesterday, and heard him strongly support the authenticity of Irelands manuscripts and assert the futility of Malones book."
Saturday, 2 April 1796. "Dined at the Academy. Irelands play I went to with Westall, Hoppner & Lawrence. Lord Berwick, Mr Clarke his Tutor, Honble. Mr. Tufton, Revd. Dr. Grant, Dance, Porden & Braine in our Box.
Prologue spoken at 35 minutes past 6: Play over at 10 — A Strong party was evidently made to support it, which clapped without opposition frequently through near 3 Acts, when some ridiculous passages caused a laugh, which infected the House during the remainder of the performance, mixed with groans. Kemble requested the audience to hear the play out abt. the end of the 4th. act and prevailed. The Epilogue was spoken by Mr. Jordan who skipped over some lines which claimed the play as Shakespeares. Barrymore attempted to give the Play out for Monday next but was hooted off the stage. Kemble then came on & after some time was permitted to say that the 'School for Scandal would be given', which the House approved of by clapping.
Sturt, of Dorsetshire, was in a Stage Box drunk, & exposed himself indecently to support the Play, and when one of the stage attendants attempted to take up the green cloth, He Sturt seized him roughly by the head. He was slightly pelted with oranges.
Ireland, His wife, son, & a daughter, Pratt (Courtney Melmouth) & two others were in the Center Box, at the Head of the Pitt. Ireland occasionally clapped, but towards the end of the 4th. act He came into the front row, and for a little time leant his head on his arm, and then went out of the Box and behind the scenes."
Sunday, 3 April 1796. "Malone I called on this morning. Harding at breakfast with him. He was at the Play last night in a private Box, and when it was over the Duke of Leeds took him, Sir George Beaumont & Kemble home to supper, where they staid till 3 o'clock. — The Play house he said contained an audience that amounted to £800.
500 copies of Malones Book are sold already. Steevens & Sir Wm. Musgrave wrote notes of approbation to it to Malone, which He read to us.
The scurrilous advertisements & hand bills published by Ireland against Malone makes him desirous that somebody should publish an acct. of Irelands progress through life that his character may be fully known."
Tuesday, 30 June 1796. "Malone I called on. ... Douglas, a Clergyman & some others are supposed to have a concern in fabricating the 'Ireland manuscripts'."
Wednesday, 6 July 1796. "[T.] Taylor met S. Ireland the other day, who mentioning his Son frequently, always called him Sam, though his name is given out in the publication to be William Henry. Ireland said Sam had left his House without notice, & had imposed upon him throughout the whole of the Shakespearian manuscript business."
Wednesday, 11 July 1796. "Westall called on me this evening. Young Ireland now declares Himself to be the Author of the Shakespearian forgeries. Old Ireland abuses his Son & says He has not half sense enough, but that he stole or procured them somewhere."
And that's the end of this volume of Farington's diary; once I've had a look at the others we'll see if he adds further commentary, perhaps around the time of Samuel Ireland's death in 1800 or in 1805, when William Henry Ireland published his Confessions.
1: Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was to have played the role of Rowena, but she backed out shortly before the play's debut. Her understudy, Jane Powell, went on in her stead. In a March 1796 letter to Hester Thrale Piozzi, Siddons expresssed her doubts about the script's authenticity: "All sensible persons are convinced that 'Vortigern' is a most audacious imposter. If he be not, I can only say that Shakespeare's writings are more unequal than those of any other man."
2: Presumably James Cecil (1748-1823), Marquess of Salisbury, in his capacity as Lord Chamberlain.
3: John Philip Kemble (1757-1823), manager of the Drury Lane Theatre and the actor who played Vortigern.
4: This seems to be the statement printed in the February issue of The Gentleman's Magazine, pp. 92-93 (available via Google Books here). The periodical contained many pieces on the forgeries and the books/pamphlets they spawned throughout the year.
5: Malone's An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, Published Dec. 24, 1795, and Attributed to Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, and Henry, Earl of Southampton (London, 1796). Available via Google Books here.