Elgin used bogus, anonymous, Memorandums written by himself or his Chaplin/ Occasional Private Secretary, Dr Philip Hunt, to mislead Parliament in support of his petition for the sale of his collection.
My dormant interest in the Elgin Marbles was awakened in 2001 when I read an article by a history professor, Epaminondas Vranopoulos, who wrote a paper on the marbles. In Chapter 10 of this paper LINK reference is made to a “rare book” on the marbles the professor had found in the library of the Estia of Nea Smyrni (a suburb of Athens?). The book in question was written by an unnamed author who had gone to great lengths to portray Elgin as being motivated only by the preservation of the arts, while praising the virtue of Elgin’s collection, and stressing the immense financial and artistic value of all of the artifacts collected in Greece. The book was published in 1815 in London and Professor Vranopoulos believed that William Richard Hamilton, Elgin’s private secretary, was in fact the author.
I set out to find the book, which was entitled “MEMORANDUM ON THE SUBJECT OF THE EARL OF ELGINS PURSUITS IN GREECE” in the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh and found that the library contained three editions of this book title, by three different publishers, on three separate dates. One of the books may be the 1815 London edition that Professor Vranopoulos found. I then discovered another 1810 edition published in London. So I now had four separate editions of the book all varying slightly. The four editions I have found to date are:
- An 1810 edition printed in Edinburgh by Balfour Kirkwood & Co. LINK
- An 1811 edition printed in Edinburgh by Balfour Kirkwood & Co. LINK
- An 1811 edition of the Memorandum printed in London for William Miller. LINK
- An 1815 second edition Corrected, printed in London by W. Bulmer and Co. LINK
Before mechanisation, at a time in history when printing was carried out on hand presses that produced one page at a time, the printing of at least five editions (the above four and the 1815 first edition) of the anonymous Memorandum must have been a major undertaking. William St. Clair – recognised by many as something of an expert on the Elgin Marbles – has researched this subject extensively and believes that 500 copies of the “second edition” were printed. If that number were repeated in the other editions then we can assume that at least 2500 copies of this book were printed, in the editions we are aware of. With over 100 pages and prints in the 1815, second edition, this was a massive undertaking.
The Memorandum does not appear to have been put on sale and copies of it were given to the influential people of the day as justification for Elgin’s controversial actions in amassing his large collection of artifacts while British Ambassador to the Porte. This was to counter public opinion which was not favourable to Elgin and proves that “spin” is not a modern phenomenon.
Reflecting the controversy of the day on this subject, I found a critique of the Memorandum of 1811 (Miller) by way of a literary review from a publication entitled, “The British Review, and London Critical Journal”. LINK The reviewer was in little doubt as to the purpose of this publication which he said was to “excite a popular feeling in favour of Lord Elgin’s claims for remuneration” though he was as puzzled, as I was, by the anonymous nature of the Memorandum and wrote:
“This publication relates, that much has been performed by the exertions of Lord Elgin, in redeeming the specimens of sculpture and architecture which remained in Greece, and in transmitting them to England. On reading this splendid account, it is a matter of some curiosity to know the name and character of the author. The publication is anonymous; yet, if the whole be not a fabrication, which incontrovertibly it is not, the writer, if not the hero, of the tale is some one mentally connected with his lordship; for he determines not only what Lord Elgin performed, but he presumes to specify what Lord Elgin “conceived.” (p. 18) This folletto, or familiar of his lordship, begins by informing the public, that in the year 1799, when Lord Elgin was appointed to be his Majesty’s ambassador extraordinary to the Ottoman Porte, he happened* to be in frequent intercourse with Mr Harrison, an architect of eminence in the west of England;”……………..Footnote on page *“Why expressed as a casualty?”
The Footnote refers to a line which over-casually says of Elgin “he happened to be in frequent intercourse with Mr Harrison”
The 1811 second edition is again slightly different and reads: “he happened to be in habits of intercourse with Mr Harrison“
The 1815 edition removes the element of chance and reads: “he was in habits of frequent intercourse with Mr Harrison”
The subtle changes to this sentence are intriguing, and it would seem to me that in light of the comments by the literary critic in the footnote of the British Review & London Critical Journal (and perhaps others) the anonymous author who, “seemed to be mentally connected” to Elgin had altered subsequent editions of the Memorandum to take account of criticism or topical questions regarding Lord Elgin’s motives.
One rumour which still persists to this day was that Elgin had consulted Thomas Harrison, the architect who was rebuilding Broomhall at the time, to advise him on the nature and size of the frieze that he might obtain abroad for his Scottish home. After the critic’s reference to the “casualty“ or overly casual reference to Elgin’s discussions with Harrison, the later edition evolved this into a businesslike statement of fact, which would be the normal way of writing this relationship–if it were innocent.
It should also be noted that in the 1815 Memorandum (as the Select Committee hearing approaches) various letters and an article, in addition to the two from Benjamin West (which feature in all editions), appear to further praise Elgin and his efforts. One fawning anonymous letter even compares Elgin’s marbles equal in value to Napoleon’s Borghese collection worth £500.000.00.
As to the identity of the author? The National Library of Scotland is clear in identifying the author of the 1811 and 1815 editions as Bruce, Thomas, 7th Earl of Elgin. However there is a faint pencilled annotation of “Wm R Hamilton” next to the 1811 edition. In the case of the 1810 edition the N.L.S. attributes the work to Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy whose two letters to Lord Elgin form an appendix to all four editions. In a sense this is partly correct as West was a co-author in that his 2 letters form part of the Memorandums.
As the forerunner to the National Library in Scotland, the Library of the Faculty of Advocates (Advocates’ Library) formed in 1689 was, by virtue of a Royal Charter granted by Queen Ann in 1710, entitled to receive a copy from the publishers of every book printed in Great Britain. The Faculty of Advocates is a body that has as its members all of the law officers, judges and senior lawyers practicing in Scotland and one would assume that they would know what-was-what. If indeed it is the case that the contemporaneous records of the Advocates’ Library are correct, and the author in the Advocates’ Library “Catalogue of Accessions to 1871” is quite clearly stated, then Lord Elgin wrote his own reference. LINK
What is clear beyond doubt is the fact that the anonymous Memorandum was printed on an industrial scale and widely distributed to support Elgin who sent a copy together with his proposal for purchase of his collection under cover of a letter dated May 6th 1811 to the Right Honourable Charles Long MP, Paymaster General with a Postscript added February 1816. The letter states:
“The Memorandum recently published, on the subject of my pursuits in Greece (of which I did myself the honour of sending you a copy), and the inspection of my Museum, will sufficiently explain that my undertaking could have had no other object………….” LINK
Elgin also wrote separately at the same time to the Prime Minister, Spencer Percival in similar terms again quoting the Memorandum and also begging that he be made a “Scotch peer“.
If the Parliamentary Select Committee was given the latest and corrected edition of the Memorandum to replace the original 1810 edition it is likely that the additional appendices would have been intended to influence the Select Committee as to what was a supposedly fair assessment of the price of the collection.
There is another possible explanation regarding the identity of the anonymous author of the Memorandum that supported Elgin’s petition to Parliament. This explanation is supported by several factors, is just as damaging to Elgin’s reputation and the legitimacy/provenance of the marbles, and it is that Hunt wrote the Memorandum.
A similar theory was favoured by Dr Epaminondas Vranopoulos who thought that Elgin’s secretary William Hamilton had written it. However I believe he is right about the motive for writing but wrong with regard to the identity of the author. The author of the Memorandum in my opinion was Hunt.
This is verifiable by cross referencing the Memorandum and the letters of Hunt. In 1805, Hunt wrote to Mrs Hamilton Nisbet (Elgin’s mother in law) from Pau, near Lourdes, France, where he was imprisoned with the Elgins. The language in Hunt’s letter is identical to that used in the 1810 Memorandum and differs only by way of the pretence of anonymity attempted in the latter.
For Example Hunt’s letter of 1805 states:
“Near the Parthenon are three temples so connected in their structure, and by the rites celebrated in them, that they may be almost considered as a triple temple. They are of small dimensions, and of the Ionic Order. One of them dedicated to Neptune and Erectheus; the second to Minerva Polias the Protectress of Citadels; the third to the Nymph Pandrosos. It was on the spot where these temples stand that Minerva and Neptune are supposed to have contended for the honour of naming the city. Athenian superstition long shewed the mark of Neptunes’s trident, and a briny fountain, that attested his having there opened a passage for his horse; and the Original Olive tree produced by Minerva was venerated in the Temple of Pandrosos as late as the time of the Antonines”.
“The temple of Minerva Polias is of the most delicate and elegant proportions of the Ionic Order; the capitals and bases of the columns are ornamented with consummate taste; and the sculpture of the frize and cornice is exquisitely rich. One has difficulty to conceive how marble has been wrought to such a depth, and brought to so sharp an edge; the palmetti, onetti, etc. have all the delicacy of works in metal”. LINK
It is not necessary to reproduce all of the text of the 1810 Memorandum here, as it is, word-for-word a duplication of Hunt’s letter, with the exception of the last line where the Memorandum refers to “ovetti, &c.” as opposed to “onetti etc”. in Hunt’s letter. There are countless other examples of text that is identical in the 1810 Memorandum and Hunt’s letter such as this: “Gymnasiarch’s chair in marble, on the back of which are figures of Harmodius and Aristogiton with daggers in their hand, and the death of Lecena, who bit out her tongue during the torture rather than confess what she knew of the conspiracy against the Pisistratidae.”
Further evidence that points to Hunt being the author of the Memorandum can be found by comparing references to the Posticum of the Parthenon in Hunt’s letter from Pau in 1805, and the 1810 Memorandum. Here in identical descriptive passages Hunt, the writer of the letter is forced to change “I also procured some valuable inscriptions”, into “Lord Elgin also procured some valuable inscriptions” in the Memorandum, so as to preserve the charade of objectivity and anonymity.
That the anonymous Memorandum was taken from the letters or writings of Hunt is now undeniable, and can be proven further if such proof were necessary by examining a portion of Hunt’s letter where reference to what actions we (Hunt and Elgin) had jointly taken is deleted from the letter text so as to preserve Hunt’s anonymity in the Memorandum. For example, Hunt’s letter of 1805 states :
“One of the bombs fired by Morosini, the Venetian from the opposite hill of the Musæum injured many of the figures of this fronton, and the attempt of General Königsmark to take down the figure of Minerva ruined the whole. By purchasing the house of one of the Turkish Janissaries built immediately under it, and then demolishing it in order to excavate, Lord Elgin has had the satisfaction of recovering the greatest part of the Statue of Victory, in a drapery which discovers all the fine form beneath, with as much delicacy and taste as the Flora Farnésé. We also found there the Torso of Jupiter, part of Vulcan, and other fragments. I believe his Lordship has also had the Hadrian and Sabrina taken down and sent to England. On the other frontispiece was the contest between Minerva and Neptune about giving a name to the city. The goddess of Wisdom had just gained the victory by proving how much greater a benefit she should confer by the peaceful and productive olive, than the God of the Ocean by his warlike gift of a horse.”
The 1810 Memorandum has an almost identical passage, which deals with the part that would have identified the author (red in paragraph above) by replacing it with: “Lord Elgin also found there the torso of Jupiter, part of Vulcan, and other fragments.”
It is evident that Elgin misled the Parliament by presenting a supposedly objective document of testimony that he himself dictated to his accomplice, or that Hunt had written while in prison in France with Elgin. Given the close confines of their detention at Pau it would be astonishing if Elgin was not aware of the writings of his closest aide to his mother-in-law. Whether or not the writings of Hunt were part of a conspiracy, hatched in Pau, or a later attempt that used Hunt’s writings from Pau will never be known. But it is clear that the words of Hunt were copied verbatim in large parts into a Memorandum aimed at persuading Parliament that Elgin had acted properly in acquiring all manner of relics, and that these items should be purchased for the nation at an inflated monetary value. It is also clear that both Hunt and Elgin would be the only ones to know of this (apart from Mary Nisbet’s mother who is hardly likely to have been a party to any pro-Elgin plot) and know that the Memorandum was weighted entirely in terms that would benefit the seller.
At best, if, as seems likely, the Advocates Library were informed of the correct identity of the author by the publisher who supplied copies of the various Memorandums (as per the 1710 Queen Ann Act), it would suggest that Elgin (or possibly his Private Secretary Hamilton) plagiarised Hunt’s letters or writings and had them written into an anonymous Memoranda for publication. Alternatively Hunt used his earlier letters to Elgin’s mother-in-law as the text of the Memorandum.
Whatever the circumstances, by writing or having his Chaplin/Occasional Private Secretary or Private Secretary write his own reference Elgin, or Hunt, or both Elgin & Hunt misled Parliament by allowing the Memorandum to be used for fraudulent purposes. Elgin and Hunt also gave evidence to Parliament without disclosing the fact that Hunt was the original author of the narrative, which became the anonymous Memorandum in support of Elgin’s petition.
These matters require further investigation by Parliament and the police because they suggest that Elgin set out to defraud Parliament and the people by relying on a supposedly objective documents written by an unknown author in an attempt to portray his motives in collecting the marbles as being altruistic, when in fact the document was written by him or one of his staff to dupe Parliament in order to make financial gain.
By far and away the most notorious example of plagiarism was the recent case of the university graduate’s paper on Iraq being used–typographical errors and all–by the UK Government to make the case for the invasion of that country.
In 2003, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy (spin-doctor), released a briefing document to journalists entitled “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation.” What became known as the “Dodgy Dossier” described Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction programs, and even when it was discovered to be in large part an article by a post-graduate student Ibrahim al-Marashai, which had no factual basis, it was used by Blair for his 45 minute warning speech in the Westminster Parliament and by Colin Powell in his speech to the UN advocating military action against Iraq.
Elgin’s Memorandums show us that history does indeed repeat itself. Just as the Select Committee of 1816 wanted desperately to believe Elgin’s propaganda, their modern-day peers excused their actions on the climate of fear that Tony Blair’s warning of imminent attack by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction engendered.