GLADSTONE, William Ewart, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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'The Emperor of Russia a dupe'

GLADSTONE, William Ewart (1809-1898). Prime Minister 1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886, and 1892-1894.
Autograph Letter Signed to the Rev Dr R. Lee, 2½ pages 8vo, 11 Carlton Terrace, 23 January 1863. Discussing copies of the Codex Sinaiticus, and declaring that he had been told that the 'the whole thing' was a gross forgery.
In 1859 Lobegott Friedrich Constantin (von) Tischendorf (1815-1874), a hunter of ancient manuscripts and a notable charlatan, had discovered In St Katherine's Monastery (now Mount Athos) what became known as the Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript of the complete New Testament and parts of the Old in Greek, dating from the fourth century. He "persuaded" the monks to present the manuscript to his patron, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, who arranged for its publication in four volumes in 1862. On 13 September 1862 Constantine Simonides (1820-1876), a forger of manuscripts, claimed in print in The Guardian that he had himself written the codex in 1839. This palpably absurd claim was exposed for what it was by a letter to the paper dated 26 January 1863 from Henry Bradshaw (1831-1886), three days after the date of the present letter, from which it appears that Gladstone was still ignorant of the true facts.
 The manuscript, acknowledged as the most important book in existence, was eventually sold by the Russian government to the British Nation (and is now in the British Library) in 1933 for £100,000, the agents for the sale being the distinguished firm of Maggs Brothers of Berkeley Square (then in Conduit Street).
'I am not aware that the British Government has any thing to say to the distribution of the copies of the Codex Sinaiticus: and I have, if my memory serves me right, always eschewed connection with the Editor [of the Guardian]& his proceedings. But I happened to hear it positively stated two days ago, by a gentleman of great literary authority & of the highest character that the whole thing is a gross & now admitted forgery & the Emperor of Russia a dupe. Take this for what it is worth ...'
The present letter is noted as amongst the several that Gladstone wrote on this day (see The Gladstone Diaries, vol. VI ed. H.C.G. Matthew (1978), page 176). The Diaries also record that Gladstone met Tischendorf on 15 February 1865, but give no indication of what, if anything, may have passed between them.
[No: 24287]


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