The Tale of the Partridge Manuscript

“In 1936 Professor Norman Nash, a colleague of Dr. [William H. P.] Hatch [at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts], was explaining to the junior class in New Testament Studies that scholars for some time had been struck by the curious construction of the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. He indicated that he had come to feel that the doxology appearing in Romans 16:25-27 was originally to be found between verses 13 and 14 of the fifteenth chapter. Nash acknowledged that there was no manuscript evidence that supported his theory, but he concluded, ‘Who knows what archaeologists may one day turn up?’

“Following the class, Barrett Tyler and Reamer Kline talked further about their professor’s wistful comment. Between the two of them, they formed a plan to provide what Nash was hoping would some day turn up. At one of the stationery shops on Harvard Square they obtained a sheet of high-grade parchment. After returning to their room in Lawrence Hall they proceeded to ‘age’ their purchase in a solution of coffee grounds and strong tea. Following repeated boilings and soakings the desired coloration was achieved and the now antiqued parchment was placed under the dormitory doormat, where the traffic of students’ feet would give the sheet a still more aged appearance.

“By practicing with a broad-nib pen, Kline copied on ordinary paper the style of Greek script from photostats of various New Testament Greek manuscripts. Finally he chose the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus as his model. This is written in uncial letters, the capital letters of the Greek alphabet, and therefore the easiest ancient style to imitate. Beginning with Romans chapter 15, as precisely as possible Kline copied the text of Vaticanus until he came to verse 14. There he inserted the ‘missing’ doxology and continued on to the end of the page.

“Next it was necessary to bring the ‘Kline-Taylor manuscript’ to the attention of the New Testament scholars. A letter was written on stationery from the Hotel Essex near South Station in Boston and sent to Professor Nash. It read as follows:

April 27, 1936

Dear Professor Nash,

Enclosed you will find a manuscript which I bought during a recent trip to Egypt. I happened to be staying in Cairo and visited my friend Howard Lowell. While I was showing him various curios collected during the trip he became particularly interested in this manuscript.

I called your house this morning but you were out. I am leaving for Portland on business but will stop on my way back. I would appreciate any information you might give me concerning this manuscript as to whether it might be of value. Looking forward to meeting you, I remain very truly yours,

Wilfred J. Partridge

229 Greenwood Boulevard
Evanston, Illinois

“The letter and the manuscript arrived in the office of Professor Nash two days later. Being a cautious man by nature, Nash was skeptical but intrigued. It had the feel of an ancient manuscript, and important discoveries have occasionally happened unexpectedly. At any rate, he was certain that his colleague, Will Hatch, an internationally recognized authority on uncial manuscripts, could give an authoritative opinion concerning the authenticity and value of the fragment.

“The style of the script was clearly similar to other fourth-century specimens. After consultation with Professor Gulick of Harvard it seemed that the manuscript warranted serious consideration. The unexpected location of the doxology stimulated additional attention, and a technical opinion was requested from the Fogg Museum. The Fogg specialists asked for permission to scrape off a bit of ink for chemical analysis. Apart from such an analysis, they could render only a tentative opinion that the ink appeared to be of a variety common to many ancient manuscripts.

“Nash and Hatch agreed that chemical analysis was called for, but were reluctant to go ahead with it without first receiving permission from the owner of the document. Unfortunately, Mr. Partridge of Evanston, Illinois, had not returned from his business trip and consequently was unavailable.

“The Episcopal Theological School is a small community and interest in the Partridge Fragment began to spread. At this point Tyler and Kline began to have second thoughts. Their ‘fragment’ had been taken seriously and academic reputations were at stake. Their own academic future could be in some jeopardy.

“A few days later, a postcard arrived at Professor Nash’s office with a Cambridge postmark and dated April 30. It contained an adapted quotation from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ and was signed by the missing Wilfred J. Partridge. It read,

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of manuscripts and sealing wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—.’

“The following day, the two students appeared in Nash’s office and revealed the entire story to him. An unamused Professor Hatch was informed as gently as possible, and the ‘Partridge Fragment’ was retrieved from the Fogg Museum.

“Tyler and Kline were graduated in 1938 and were subsequently ordained in the Episcopal Church. Kline went on to become president of Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, and Tyler became a military chaplain. Professor Hatch never quite got over his sense of professional embarrassment, and the Partridge Fragment was rarely mentioned in his presence.

“Ten years later, in 1948, a magnificent stained glass window was dedicated at Episcopal Theological School in memory of Barrett Tyler, who had been killed in the service of his country during World War II. The circular window depicts scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress and contains an inconspicuous memento recollecting the hoax of the Wilfred Partridge manuscript. The central panel shows Bunyan’s Christian, at whose feet stands the figure of a partridge, firmly grasping a cord from which dangles a rolled scroll!

“Following the ceremony of dedication of the window Hatch was heard to say that he could not recall the mention of a bird in Bunyan’s classic allegory. Whether anyone ventured to explain to him the reason for its presence in the window must remain unknown.”

Bruce Manning Metzger, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), pp. 133-6. (Incidentally, the late Professor Metzger’s delightful memoir is chock-full of stories of scholarly lore, and should be read by all.)

[The header image of the partridge and the above reproduction of the panel in which it appears are both details from the Barrett Langdon Tyler Memorial Window at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They are taken from Ralph Adam Fine’s beautiful photograph of the same, and are used here by his kind permission. Mr Fine is a talented photographer and all-around nice fellow, and his work may be sampled, among other places, on his Flickr page.]

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5 responses to “The Tale of the Partridge Manuscript

  1. Oh, you should! You know, I had originally hoped to catch a glimpse of Metzger the man, and especially of his warm piety, but there is very little (if anything!) of that here. I was originally disappointed in this, but then it occurred to me that Professor Metzger had to be conscious of his unique place in the story of 20th-century biblical scholarship, and probably wrote this memoir out of a sense of duty to report on the events in which he took part. This is why the memoir is really not about himself (in fact, it is often downright self-effacing), but serves as a personal guided tour of the story of biblical scholarship in the last century. He was truly the last of the gentlemen-scholars!

  2. Pingback: Around the Blogosphere (09.28.2012) | Near Emmaus

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