When offered a Mystery in which the river Thames participates specifically, as purported,
Two forgers from the previous century, of supplied names William and Charles,
come to mind, and the human activity of scavenging, a pair of mudlarks
Scouring the tidal flats around Shoreditch
And having conspicuous success in finding medieval remnants in pewter and other base metals,
Which they sold to eager antiquarians.
Left, forgotten, discarded, lost. Revoked.
A remarkably curious and unique collection of signs, or badges, from the time of Richard II. Pilgrim’s tokens, said some of the antiquarians, their eagerness to examine the Latin inscriptions for the history they might reveal.
These fakes, my immediate inclination is point up the gullibility of the antiquarians: far too quickly they discarded all critical faculties when pilgrim was attached to the finds.
Indeed, with Ossian and many other fakeries, such as The Letter of Prester John, pilgrim and sanctity were clouding factors.
Those setting off from the sign of the Tabard,
As thrilling as though The Pardoner or The Shipman or The Reeve were connected.
If not these, then at least good Geoffrey Chaucer might once have held one in his palm—
The wretches! So much wiser! The mudlarks who need not travel anywhere near the chilly Thames busy casting them at a small foundry they had made in a back room,
Manufacturing at the rate of five thousand a year.
Against the excitement, the doubters voicing their fears in The Gentleman’s Magazine, and so the fraud was fully discovered in time, with arrests following. When released after serving their inevitable term, Charlie soon died, but William was spared (and, it may be suspected, continued in that profession even then).
These tokens reaching our era to be known as ‘Billies and Charlies’, after their makers, not their finders, or ‘the Shadwell Forgeries’.
Fakery is blunt, opaque,
The molten swirls of the slag, cock metal and latten,
Quick with the reply of ‘Smith’ to any Scotland Yard Inspector,
The forger at his forge, the foundryman;
Hot from furnace to cool, taken, the truth from the stream,
How the Pilgrims’ Latin turned out to be Gibberish
At the Illiterates’ guess. Mudstained trifles, quickly washed
To wink a Holy refulgence:
Imitation, and we are at Resemblance.
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When No One is Looking by Hannah Shilling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.