( Originally Published 1893 )
FORGERIES occupy no inconsiderable part of literary history, and it is even true that Paleography, the study of ancient writing, began in the endeavour to supply tests by which genuine deeds of a legal kind could be established, and forgeries detected. In the great Benedictine work by Mabillon, De Re Diplomatica (1681, etc.), a vast treatise, written with this particular object, the whole of Book iv., or nearly one-sixth of the entire work, is taken up with a list of 163 palaces belonging to the kings of France. This would seem irrelevant, until we understand that one of the greatest difficulties which a forger of some deed of gift would encounter, would be to know where the king was at any particular date which he might select for his spurious work. This list, therefore, supplies an invaluable means of detecting any mistake in the place where the deed is supposed to have been executed, the name of which would almost certainly occur in a genuine deed, and therefore must be somehow supplied by the forger. But the forgeries of legal deeds were, as a rule, tracked out by the sagacity of lawyers ; and the really gigantic frauds of literature have been perpetrated in the fields of theology or of history.
Before we give illustrations of some famous literary forgeries, it will be well if we try to enter into the forger's mind, for it must be admitted that the subject introduces us to what may be called a high and refined order of crime. Forgery of a literary document, to be successful, requires an intellect of no ordinary acuteness. Not only has a style to be imitated, but numberless inter-dependent facts of a particular time and place have to be profoundly studied. Usually facts have to be added which are not to be found in existing authorities, to give an air of original knowledge, and these guesses must be capable of satisfying the ever-increasing knowledge and the soundest methods of criticism of the age. Undesigned coincidences are among the subtlest solvents of a forgery, and proofs of a genuine record. Old paper with its appropriate watermarks, or parchment carefully stained, has to be provided and duly discoloured : the ink must be of the right tint and appearance, and the writing, not slowly and falteringly traced, but of a firm, boldly drawn kind. The forger, in fact, has to be armed at every point, and the cost of the armour is fortunately, in many cases, prohibitive. But when once obtained, as in the case of Constantine Simonides, the fraud seems to have a veritable fascination for acute and unprincipled adventurers. Again, forgery, really to deserve the name, must be made with intent to deceive, whether that deception be for purely humorous purposes or for sordid gain. For we may remember the example of Thucydides, who deliberately puts rhetorical speeches, which belong both in point of thought and expression to his own time, in the mouths of his characters, yet neither deceived nor intended to deceive his Athenian readers. This case, which, of course, is not one of forgery, yet shows how carefully its characteristics have to be defined. But even when the aim is reprehensible, it is not enough to put down all forgeries under one class—it is essential to take into consideration both the character of the man and the moral standard of his time. There is a wide difference between Chatterton, whose boyish mind was entranced by the old papers he found in the muniment room of St. Mary Redcliffe at Bristol, seeing in them a means of building up a reputation, while himself far too young to be treated as a precocious man of the world ; and such machinators as Vrain-Lucas or Shapira, whose sole thought was the money to be gained by their scheming. Between them may rank the men who, conscious of great powers both of mind and hand, and under considerable temptation, deliberately set themselves to forge and foist on the world some of the lost treatises of antiquity, either to support preconceived theories of their own, or enjoying the excitement and the uncertainty, the sense of superiority in the hour of success, and the boldness of their bid for that success.
The interest of forgeries for the student of literature lies in the method of detection. The same tests which expose the spurious work establish tenfold the character of what remains. It is the clear cut which they enable us to make between truth and seeming truth which shows that these tests are of real value.
1. The Letters of Phalaris
Phalaris was ` tyrant ' or petty king of Agrigentum in Sicily in the sixth century B.C., and for a thousand years no writings of his were known. At last Stobaeus, in the fifth century A.D., quoted from his letters, and the existing Epistles were generally received as genuine. In fact, in the controversy which arose in the latter part of the seventeenth century on the comparative merits of ancient and modern literature, Sir William Temple went so far as to write (in 168o), ` I think the Epistles of Phalaris to have more Race, more Spirit, more Force of Wit and Genius, than any others I have ever seen. . . . I think he must have little Skill in Painting, that cannot find out this to be an Original,' with much to the same effect. This language stimulated the Scholars of Christ Church at Oxford, who were in the habit of producing a classical book once a year, to issue an edition of the Epistles, which was entrusted to the Hon. Robert Boyle, and appeared in 1695. It would probably have excited little attention, but that the one great critic which England had produced, Dr. Richard Bentley, inserted in the second edition of his friend William Wotton's Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1697), a Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris, which appeared, not only to contemporary scholars, but to all succeeding critics, a very miracle of learning, logic, humour and ingenuity ; in fact, in the opinion of no mean scholar of the nineteenth century, ` he so absolutely settled the question, that to a very dolt the maintenance of the genuineness of the Epistles of Phalaris must seem absurd.' The triumph was not immediate, for an attempted answer to it was published by Boyle in 1698, which drew from Bentley in the following year the second and complete edition of his Dissertation. The celebrated Boyle and Bentley controversy went on for some years, but nothing could shake the greatness of the Cambridge Dissertation, and it is still acknowledged as the greatest product of English scholarship in the eighteenth century.
Bentley's method was not to examine the MSS. for signs of falsity, for no MSS. of the date of the forger are extant, much less the forger's autograph, but simply to rely on the internal evidence of the letters themselves. Before his dissecting-knife they fell to pieces. Towns were found to be mentioned which were founded after Phalaris. The Messenians and Zancleans are both named, though Zancle was only the old name of Messene, the two towns being one and the same ; Phalaris is angry with a poet who wrote tragedies against him, though both the name and thing were unknown till later ; the letters are in an Attic dialect instead of the Doric of Sicily, and not even in the Attic of Phalaris' time, but in New Attic. So, too, the coins mentioned are wrong, and wrong just as a forger would go astray ; for when he speaks of talents, the computation shows that he is thinking of Attic talents, each of which was worth 2,000 Sicilian talents. Finally, Bentley shows that words were used in a sense first given them by Plato, and points out numerous inconsistencies in the matter itself. But these points are elucidated with so much solid first-hand learning, with such freshness, and in so humorous and per-suasive a style, that in spite of the immense strides we have since taken in these very departments of knowledge, the Dissertation is still thoroughly instructive as well as entertaining reading.
2. The False Decretals
The early history of Church Law, like the history of the Canon of the New Testament, abounds with apocryphal and spurious works, though it is often difficult to say with what amount of deliberate desire to mislead they were fabricated. The first two documents of Canon or Church Law are spurious, the Apostolic Constitutions and the Apostolic Canons, neither having any connexion with the apostles themselves. They are, however, venerable documents, and throw a clear light on the history of the time when they were fabricated. Several genuine collections of Canons of ecclesiastical councils were made in succeeding centuries ; and among them the Hispana (sc. collectio), representing chiefly Spanish Canon Law, attained celebrity. At last, in the ninth century, one Isidorus Mercator (often confused with the greater Isidor, Bishop of Seville) edited the Hispana, but foisted into it no less than ninety-five fictitious Decretals (or authoritative letters from popes to bishops on points in dispute), the earliest professing to be dated A.D. IOI ! They were recognized as genuine by Pope Nicholas I. in A.D. 865, who did not scruple to assure Hincmar, against whom they were used, that the originals had lain for centuries in the Roman archives. They were, in fact, accepted everywhere until the fifteenth century, when, under the criticism of Valla Erasmus and others, they dissolved away. The extent to which the claims of the Papacy were affected by these convenient forgeries is a keenly-debated point ; but while it is clear, on the one hand, that the intention of the False Decretals was mainly to protect the bishops from the interference of both laymen and councils, yet the policy they professed to initiate, of an appeal to the pope in all greater causes, did certainly aid the popes in their later struggles for temporal power ; and the Decretum of Gratian (in the eleventh century), which is at the base of the system of Canon Law, certainly received and incorporated these forged documents.
Among the monastic chronicles of England, the most considerable forgery is that of the Latin History of the Abbey of Croyland, attributed to Ingulphus, an abbot of that monastery, who died in 1109. The historian Ordericus Vitalis went to Croyland within a few weeks of Ingulphus' death, collected all the information he could get on the spot, gives us a considerable and authentic account of him, and says no word of his having written a detailed history of the abbey. When the narrative is looked into, the usual signs of imposture appear. The original charters of the house, which are quoted in full, abound with errors—bishops attest deeds before their appointment or after their death, names of places are spelt before the Conquest as they were spelt in the fifteenth century, feudal words occur too early, lands are granted (in A.D. 1013) for one hundred years at a nominal rent when neither kind of condition was in use in England before the Conquest, and the like. So, too, in the narrative itself, Ingulphus describes his education at Oxford, where he studied Cicero and Aristotle, at a time when Aristotle was in no part of Christendom studied at all ; and admits numerous anachronisms both of language and fact. The curious thing is that four out of five known MSS. of the work have disappeared since A.D. 1600. One ` very ancient ' one, described as the autograph of Ingulphus, used to be kept at Croyland under lock and key, but disappeared in the middle of the seventeenth century ; a Cotton MS. which Selden used was burnt in the great fire of 1731 (see p. 95) ; Marsham's codex cannot be traced after about 169o, and Sir Henry Savile's is utterly lost. All that remains is an Arundel MS. in the British Museum, written in the sixteenth century ! This circumstance, and the solid substratum of fact which the History undoubtedly displays (though apparently only adapted from Ordericus Vitalis and others), have induced several modern critics to uphold this suspicious record, and to ascribe its errors to ignorant embellishers But the fact remains that no statement in the entire History can be accepted without corroboration, and that every note of imposture may be found in its pages.
Thomas Chatterton, the boy-poet, was born in poor circumstances in the parish of St. Mary Redcliffe at Bristol. In early years he had access, not only to the church itself, where heraldry and monumental effigies caught the eye at every turn, but also to the muniment room, where ` Canynge's Coffer,' a massive chest, once secured by six keys, but then forced and lying open, supplied numerous opportunities of studying the style and characters of ancient writing. These surroundings and the few books to which he had access predisposed a mind of great power and activity to the study of old English (for the boy never learnt Latin), and he soon compiled a double glossary, of old words with their modern meanings, and of current words with their ancient equivalents. The first use he made of his special knowledge and powers was to produce, in 1764, his twelfth year, a poem entitled ` Elinoure and Juga.' In 1765 he had conceived the idea of making Thomas Rowley, a supposed monk, the fictitious author of several poems. Three years after, Bristol Bridge was reopened with some ceremony, and the city was startled by an elaborate narrative in a newspaper of the first passage of the Mayor over the bridge in 1248. The interest this excited stimulated Chatterton to produce in the same year the best of his poems, the tragical interlude of Ælla. Next we find the youth bold enough to write to Horace Walpole, enclosing some old English poems ; but the great man, after a short time of uncertainty, showed. his applicant the cold shoulder, and returned the poems. The last period of Chatterton's short and clouded life was spent in Lon-don, where, after some bold bids for fame, and chilling failures, he put an end to his life on August 25, 1770.
In Chatterton's forgeries we find the least occasion that can be imagined for wholesale condemnation, and the greatest for pity and indulgence. To his family and even to his friends he confessed, under very little pressure, the simple truth, and the greatest harm he did was to himself. Critics soon saw that the language of the Rowley poems was a mixture of the forms and vocabulary of all past time, and that the matter teemed, as was inevitable, with anachronisms and impossibilities. Poems in the author's own name would have secured attention and brought him reputation, so that meanness at least was wanting to his deceit. And we cannot but wonder what future would have been in store, under happier conditions, for one of whom Walpole could say that he knew of no one with so masterly a genius, and who even drew from Johnson the testimony that he was the most extraordinary young man that had encountered his knowledge.
5. The Ireland Forgeries
The temporary success of what are known as the Ireland forgeries, so lately as the close of the eighteenth century, can only make us wonder at the invincible credulity of mankind. William Henry Ireland, born in 1777, was the son of a small publisher and bookseller who was enthusiastic about Shakespeare and Shakespeariana. The temptation to the son to play upon his father's weakness was too strong to be resisted, and as early as 1794 the latter was shown a lease purporting to be signed by Shakespeare. The success of this practical joke led to further results. Shakespeare's love-letters, one enclosing a lock of his hair, and countless similar relics, were produced, and a statement that they were given by the poet to William Henrye Irelaunde ' in gratitude for a rescue from drowning. The father, who was quite innocently duped, published these, and many persons accepted them as genuine. At last, as might have been foreseen, a complete play was discovered, with the title ` Vortigern,' and Sheridan actually produced it on April 2nd (it should have been the 1st !), 1796, at Drury Lane Theatre. The preparation for this was the crowning point of Ireland's triumph ; for as soon as the play was printed and studied, both the language and sentiments betrayed the fraud. This prevented the appearance of Henry II., another play which had already been written ; and in the same year came a crushing exposure from the pen of Edmund Malone, the Shakespearian commentator, and also both immediately and in 1805 a confession by Ireland himself, in which he displays a certain amount of satisfied vanity at the success he attained.
The extraordinary scantiness of our knowledge of Shakespeare's personal life, and of the authority and relationship of the Folio and Quarto editions of his plays, has unfortunately stimulated others besides Ireland to concoct some of the missing information ; and in the last century a deliberate attempt was made to pass off forged and falsified records as genuine, by John Payne Collier (d. 1883), who from 1831 to at least 1853 issued Shakespearian books in which a certain ` Perkin's Folio ' and Alleyn MSS. at Dulwich were freely drawn upon, both of which sources were demonstrably manufactured or tampered with by insertion.
6. Constantine Simonides
The greatest forger of the last century was undoubtedly Constantine Simonides, a Greek, who was born in 1824. To meet the requirements of modern critics, who know styles of writing, the colours of the ink and paints of different times, and the very kinds of parchment used, there is need of such a combination of intellect with versatility, industry with ingenuity, as is rarely found. Yet, as even Juvenal could instance the audacity of the Graeculus esuriens, so in modern times that mixed race has shown many of the qualities which, when perverted to a base use, produce the skilled forger. Simonides started by becoming a citizen of the world. From 1843 on, we find him successively on the shores of the Euxine, in Asia Minor, Thrace, Athos (where he wrote a hagiography), the Aegean, Cyprus, Alexandria, Cairo, Sinai (1844), Syria, Babylon, Persia, Russia, and Constantinople (in 1846). His next journeys were from Greece to Constantinople again, Odessa, St. Petersburg, and Germany ; then again to Egypt, the Aegean coasts, and finally to Liverpool (in 1853) and London. His stock-in-trade was a large number both of genuine MSS., obtained largely from Mount Athos, and of forged ones written by himself ; and his custom was to present first some genuine ones, and when his customer was off his guard, some of the second sort ; while he paid England and Germany the dubious compliment of selecting them as the field of his operations, as possessing either the largest amount of hard cash, or the greatest number of probable dupes. Even in 1846 he is stated to have been in possession of 5000 MSS., which he exhibited to savants at Athens.
In 1854 and 1855, Simonides was well known at the British Museum and the Bodleian ; but Sir Frederick Madden extracted a considerable number of genuine MSS. from him at the former place, while Mr. Coxe, when asked his opinion of the date of some presented to him in Oxford, assigned them to the latter half of the nineteenth century. In Sir Thomas Phillipps, however, Simonides found a less critical purchaser, and in the great Phillipps Library at Cheltenham are to be found some of the finest specimens of his powers in a Phocylides, an Anacreon, and a boustrophedon Hesiod.
In 1855 he visited Berlin and Leipzig ; and when in July he met Wilhelm Dindorf, he informed him that he owned a Greek palimpsest, containing three books of records of the Egyptian kings, by Uranius of Alexandria, son of Anaximenes. Dindorf offered a large price for it, but Simonides loftily replied that he intended to publish it first himself, and then to give the original to the library at Athens. By persistence, however, Dindorf obtained temporary (boustrophêdon,` in the manner in which an ox turns') describes an ancient method of writing, in which the first line was written from left to right, the second from right to left, the third as the first, and so on : just as an ox in ploughing traces each successive furrow in an opposite direction to the preceding one possession of th€ precious palimpsest, and sent it to Berlin, where it deceived all the members of the Academy except Humboldt ; and the King of Prussia offered £700 for the seventy-one leaves. Further, Dindorf's representations induced the Clarendon Press at Oxford to take up the treatise,—and, indeed, it could hardly have done otherwise,—and actual specimens were printed, with a preface by Dindorf, and early in 1856 published. Only seven copies were sold, besides the eleven sent to the delegates of the Press, when the news came that Uranius was a most uncelestial forgery. It was found—(1) that the ancient writing of Uranius was on the top of the later twelfth century writing, as could clearly be seen by the help of a microscope ; (2) that the Greek was far from correct 1 ; and (3) that the coincidence between the most recent views of Lepsius and other Berlin Egyptologists and the new-found treatise was a little too striking. After this, Uranius was very little heard of ; but Simonides continued to be in evidence, for he was put on his trial at Leipzig to answer two distinct charges—that he had stolen the MS. from the Turkish Royal Library ; and that he had forged it himself. To the first he triumphantly replied that, if it was stolen, it was at least not a forgery ; that they were bound to show in what library and in what catalogue it was marked as missing ; and, finally, that the Turks had no libraries, and did not know what they were. To represented ` in my opinion,' and so on.
The second plea he replied by a threat, which must have carried conviction to the dullest of his judges, to the effect that, if they would prove it was a forgery, he would forthwith print, under his own name, the other works of Uranius which he possessed, and achieve fame as the cleverest of authors, by exhibiting a knowledge of details which reached far beyond existing evidence ! In the end he was banished from Saxony, a kingdom which he was probably, on other grounds, not unwilling to quit.
After this Simonides appeared only once with any prominence before the public, when in 1861 he boldly asserted that he himself had written the whole of the Codex Sinaiticus, which Tischendorf had brought in 1856 from the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. The statement was, of course, received with the utmost incredulity ; but Simonides asserted, not only that he had written it, but that, in view of the probable scepticism of scholars, he had placed certain private signs on particular leaves of the codex. When pressed to specify these marks, he gave a list of the leaves on which were to be found his initials or other monogram. The test was a fair one, and the AIS., which was at St. Petersburg, was carefully inspected. Every leaf designated by Simonides was found to be imperfect at the part where the mark was to have been found. Deliberate mutilation by an enemy, said his friends. But many thought that the wily Greek had acquired through private friends a note of some imperfect leaves in the MS., and had made unscrupulous use of the information.
Certainly Simonides' work, as evidenced by the MSS. at Cheltenham, was careful and laborious to a very high degree ; but the absolute breakdown of his pretensions, and of those of his only successor in audacity, Shapira,—who in the year 1883 demanded 1,000,000 for an ancient fragment of the Hebrew Pentateuch containing an eleventh commandment, ` Thou shalt not hate thy brother,'—seem to show that it is now almost impossible to deceive permanently the trained scholars and paleographers who are to be found in Germany, France, and England.
7. The Vrain-Lucas Forgeries
The collection of autograph letters has a great and natural attraction for many persons. Instead of a single author's works in manuscript, the collector of autographs obtains specimens of the handwriting of any number of celebrities, who may belong to a period or nation or class in which he is specially interested, or may represent general fame. For him all who can write are authors, and his ambition is to obtain an a. 1. s. (autograph letter signed), or at least a signature, of all who come within the scope of his designs. There is a chiromancy connected with handwritings as well as hands, and the possession of an important and unpublished letter of a notable personage not only stimulates our interest, but may contribute something, if only through a study of literary style and handwriting, to an appreciation of his character.
The most celebrated trial in connexion with literary forgeries is perhaps that of Vrain-Lucas in 187o, for the most unblushing manufacture of autograph letters. The chief interest attached to the dupe and not the forger, for M. Chasles, besides being a collector of autographs, was a celebrated geometrician, and a Member of the French Academy. It is hardly credible that Vrain-Lucas between 1861 and 1869 supplied M. Chasles with no less than 27,000 autographs, for which he received 140,000 francs. These included letters of Julius Cesar, Cicero, Socrates, and Shakespeare, and six were from Alexander the Great to Aristotle ! After this we can receive with calmness the information that one was from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius, and one from Judas Iscariot to St. Mary Magdalene ! The cream of it was that nearly every letter was in modern French, and on paper, and that the water-mark of the paper was in many cases a fleur-de-lys. However, M. Chasles was prepared to receive any number in addition, when a circumstance induced him to submit some of his collections to wiser men than himself. He was engaged in writing a book to prove that the discovery of the principle of gravitation was not due to Sir Isaac Newton, but to Pascal. Vrain-Lucas, knowing this, supplied him with a correspondence between Pascal and the Hon. Robert Boyle, and finally between Pascal and Newton himself, on the deepest questions of geometry, although the latter was at the supposed date just eleven years old. This was too interesting to be concealed, and was accordingly exhibited with pride to the Academy. But M. Prosper Faugère and Sir David Brewster, who was a Foreign Correspondent of the Academy, denounced the letters at once on general grounds as a forgery, and after a short investigation the whole edifice collapsed. To illustrate a scientific principle, a cup of coffee was introduced in a letter, some years before coffee was known in Paris. French letters of Galileo were produced, though Galileo was never able to write that language ; and in the end Vrain-Lucas was brought to trial and condemned to imprisonment. The only redeeming feature about the affair was that, with the exception of a very few letters, the whole of the forgeries had been purchased by M. Chasles, and none escaped to disseminate the deception.
The boldest attempt in modern times to prove an accepted book to be a forgery is undoubtedly that of Ross (1883) and Hochart (189o), who both declared that the sole MS. of the early part of Tacitus's immortal Annals (Books i.-vi.) was written by Poggio Bracciolini, the Italian scholar of the Renaissance. The MS. is generally believed to be of the eleventh century, but it is well known that a revival of the style of that and (more usually) the succeeding century did take place in the fifteenth century ; and it is maintained that Poggio had not only practice in the imitation of old writings, but also opportunities in connexion with this particular codex. It is undoubtedly remarkable that there is only one clear reference to any part of the Annals before the fifteenth century, namely, that Ruodolphus, a monk of Fulda in the ninth century, mentions him as writing of the river Visurgis (Annals, Books i. and ii.). But it may be remembered that Catullus also was entirely lost sight of for centuries together, and except that one of his poems occurs in a tenth century Anthology, depends altogether on MSS. not written before the second half of the fourteenth century. As Furneaux, the most recent editor of the Annals, and the only one who has had to defend their genuineness, says, we ought to be satisfied with a few clear instances of facts unknown in the Middle Ages, mentioned only by Tacitus and confirmed by more recent epigraphical discoveries. Of these he gives a list, the nature of which can be gathered from the following samples. They may seem insignificant, but it is their insignificance which makes them for this special purpose of real importance. Nero, the eldest son of Germanicus, is stated by Tacitus to have been espoused to a daughter of Creticus Silanus. An inscription, discovered since the time of Poggio, confirms this, and supplies the name Junia. Tacitus again especially notes that Julia Augusta, in dedicating a statue to Augustus, gave offence to Tiberius by placing her name before his. The Praenestine Calendar confirms the fact by giving the names in the same order. There remains one extraordinary proof of a kind hardly to be parallelled elsewhere. Tacitus writes in one place, referring to a Frisian insurrection, ad sua tutanda digressis rebellibus (the insurgents having moved off to protect their own quarters) ; but Ptolemy, who wrote in Greek only one generation after Tacitus, must have had the Annals before him, for in a list of towns in North Germany he gives the name of one as (Siatoutanda), which cannot be anything else than a mistaken idea that sua tutanda was the name of a place. Ptolemy gives the latitude and longitude of Siatoutanda !
It may be confessed, however, that it is only too easy to prove that the Italian scholars of the Renaissance were not altogether above deceit with respect to classical authors ; for example, Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo (Leonardus Aretinus), when he believed he possessed the unique MS. of Procopius's Greek treatise, De bello Italico adversus Gothos gesto, promptly issued it, in a Latin dress, as his own work, so that even when printed in 1470 it bore his name as author, and brought him posthumous fame for some years, until a second MS. of the Greek work was found, and Leonardus was deposed.
A curious instance of a supposed original with a romantic story attached to it may fitly close this series of examples, and will illustrate as well as any other the means for detecting originals and copies. Among the Cotton MSS. at the British Museum is a grant by Eadred, in AM. 949, of certain lands to the monastery of Reculver in Kent, the body of it as usual being in Latin, and the boundaries of the lands described in Old English. The whole deed and the numerous signatures of attesting witnesses are also, as usual before the twelfth century, in one and the same handwriting, without autograph attestations. But one of the signatures reads thus : ` Ego Dunstanus indignus abbas rege Eadredo imperante hanc kartulam dictitando composui et propriis digitorum articulis perscripsi ' (` I, Dunstan, an unworthy abbot, at King Eadred's command drew up and composed this charter, and wrote it throughout with my own finger joints '). Here we have a most interesting instance of a charter, not only in the words, but from the pen of the great Dunstan, the first in the line of English ecclesiastical statesmen. How much is our interest heightened when we look closely at the indignus of the document ! For beneath the first three letters are clearly visible the traces of abb, first written and then smudged out. So we can imagine the Abbot of Glastonbury, when he wrote out the charter and came to his own name, first writing Ego Dunstanus abb — and then, in a sudden access of humility, substituting indignus abbas. What life it seems to put into the parchment, and how near we seem to draw to Dunstan himself !
Alas ! Truth is better than romance, however bare and cold that truth may seem to be. The incisive criticism of modern times cuts clean away this interesting story, by proving that this charter is a copy and not an original. The critic confesses that abb was written and blotted out ; but when he proceeds to read the document he finds the following sentence : ` Unde nobis uictus restat sine dubio certus defuictoque Dominus dixit ' (` From which source there remains to us a livelihood undoubtedly secure . . . the Lord said,' and a quotation from the Gospels follows). But what is defuictoque ? It may be doubted whether the solution would ever have been discovered, did there not exist at Canter-bury another copy of this charter which gives us the s. uictu clue. There the clause reads—` . . . de quo . . showing that de quo was written (` about which'), and that then to explain the quo there was written above the word ` s(cilicet) uictu,' which forms what is called a gloss on quo. This gloss the scribe of the British Museum document tried to incorporate in the text, mistaking the f of s(cilicet) for f, and otherwise blundering until the defuictoque was produced ! Now Dunstan could not conceivably have written this monstrous word.
But is the Canterbury document in Dunstan's own hand ? No, not even that ; it also is a copy of the original, which itself has no doubt perished. The proof is that, in the Old English boundaries a clause is omitted through homoioteleuton (see p. 72), which Dunstan could not have omitted without being presently corrected. It need hardly be said that the accidental omission of indignus before abbas is not found in the Canterbury deed.
It has to be confessed, therefore, that if the work of Dunstan's ` own finger-joints ' does anywhere remain to us, it is not in the charter of Eadred, but in the words inscribed on the picture of Dunstan at the feet of Christ now in the Bodleian, figured at p. 105 of vol. i. of the illustrated edition of J. R. Green's Short History of the English People.'
This chapter has only attempted to deal with a few typical and famous falsifications, and has deliberately passed over a countless host, such as the Donation of Constantine (by which that Emperor surrenders important rights to the Bishop of Rome and his successors, and which was thoroughly believed in through the Middle Ages, and mourned over by Dante) ; the travels of Sir John Mandeville in the fourteenth century ; the Antiquitates of Johannes Nannius of Viterbo, 1498 ; the Casket Letters of Mary Queen of Scots (which are still believed in by some historians, and when produced from their silver box and declared to be autograph love-letters of the Queen, formed a weighty part of the evidence against her) ; the Portraiture of His Majesty's [Charles I.'s] Sufferings ' (now ascertained to have been written by Bishop Gauden, though professing to be the King's retrospect of his own life, and intended to cause a revulsion of popular feeling in his favour at his trial, but accidentally delayed till about the time of his death), and the Poems of Ossian (pretended by Macpherson in 176o-63 to be epics translated from the Gaelic, but which it is not wholly fair to class as forgeries, since they appear to be based on the floating traditional poetry of the Western Highlands). For a fuller account of these see Literary Forgeries, by J. A. Farrer, 1907. But enough have been de-scribed to exhibit the salient features of this class of fraud, the extraordinary ingenuity and industry expended on them, the correspondence of the matter falsified with the needs and expectations of the time, the curious complexity of motives which the circumstances of their production lay bare, motives in which vanity and greed play a large part ; and the almost inevitable detection which, at least in these critical and reflective days, awaits the person who tries to impose on the world a concocted literary composition. Yet it has to be confessed that about twenty-five years ago, letters of Mary Queen of Scots, letters of Jacobite leaders, inedited poems of Burns, letters by Sir Walter Scott, and the like, some of which are undoubtedly spurious and many more probably so, were scattered far and wide by public sale in England and Scotland, having been found, as there seems no reason to doubt, in the secret drawer of an old cabinet where the original forger may have placed them. When this could take place before our eyes, it is premature to say that the book of successful literary fraud is closed.