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De-anglifying Bertram: from forger to foreigner
Halmstad University, School of Humanities (HUM), Contexts and Cultural Boundaries (KK).
2010 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Not much is known of Charles Bertram, English teacher and forger. He was born in London in 1723, at some point – possibly as a child – moved to Denmark with his fanily, and became a teacher of English at the Danish Sea Cadet Academy. Much of the information comes from his preserved letters: in 1746, Charles Bertram initiated a correspondence with William Stukeley – one which would eventually lead to the printing of a fake medieval ms and a posthumous reputation for Stukeley as naive and gullible. Bertram’s side of the correspondence is in the Bodleian, Stukeley’s has unfortunately been lost, together with most of Bertram’s papers. It covers contemporary news and politics, cures for various illnesses, and, most of all, their shared interest in British history and antiquarianism.

From the beginning of this correspondence, Bertram positions himself as explicitly British, referring in his letters to “our Mother Isle of Britaine,” and to “our native Country,” states that he “had no other Profit in View than the serving my Native Country of Britain by my Publication of the Scriptores,” and finishes a discussion of contemporary British politics by stating  that “my love to my Native Country makes me wish it well.” Despite his living in Denmark, Charles Bertram perceives himself as an Englishman, and is anxious to be thus perceived by others.

However, Stukeley, in 1757, after ten years of correspondence filled with patriotism, refers casually to the first letter as being “polite, full of compliments, as usual with foreigners.” In Stukeley’s eyes, all the protestations of patriotic fervour cannot make Bertram British. Clearly, Stukeley’s and Bertram’s definitions of what it meant to be an Englishman differed. In this paper, I argue that Bertram’s perceived un-Englishness is not primarily a case of his being domiciled abroad, but a matter of linguistics and of the image of Englishness.

Stukeley’s comment on Bertram’s compliments indicates that the foreignness he perceives is primarily linguistic. Bertram, despite being fluent in English, lacks the sociolinguistic competence which informs the speaker what register to use: instead of elegant he becomes over-polite – as is also clear when his letters are compared to letters by his contemporaries. He is out of the English-speaking sphere, and quite possibly also out of his social class: while the articles claiming that he was the son of a silk dyer do not refer to any actual source for this statement, his attitude towards the prominent people around him indicates a desire to rise in society, and an insecurity of his ability to do so. His lack of sense of the proper register to use places him as not English, as foreign.

The other source of this understanding of Bertram as foreign is a matter of image. Stukeley is not the only person who perceives Bertram as a foreigner. As it becomes increasingly clear that the ms is a forgery, more and more scholars are eager to point out that Bertram is not an Englishman: he does fit the image of the honest Englishman. In his 1853 Britannic Researches. Or New Facts and Rectifications of Ancient British History, Beale Poste refers to Bertram as “a foreigner born at London”, his primary argument seems to be that no Englishman would be guilty of such a forgery. In The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1853, B. B. Woodward points out that the ms name for a road appears to be an attempt to create an earlier form of Watling Street, but that no sources spell the name so, “nor in any way so much as suggestive of it to an English scholar.” Indeed, Bertram’s very eagerness to be English would appear to be considered suspect; his presentation of himself as English is clearly frowned upon.

Bertram, then, attempts to present himself as English but does not succeed, due to a lack of sociolinguistic skill but also due to his being a forger. The correspondence and other texts enable us to see both what the expectations of an Englishman were at the times, but also to follow the attempts by an 18th century man to construct an identity of nationality and class.

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010.
Keywords [en]
Charles Bertram, imagology, national narrative
National Category
Specific Languages
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-5367OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-5367DiVA, id: diva2:344242
Conference
NAES-FINSSE 2010: English in the North, University of Oulu, Finland, June 9-13, 2010
Available from: 2010-08-18 Created: 2010-08-18 Last updated: 2018-03-23Bibliographically approved

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Hildebrand, Kristina

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