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Literary Impostures
by [?]

Some authors have practised singular impositions on the public. Varillas, the French historian, enjoyed for some time a great reputation in his own country for his historical compositions; but when they became more known, the scholars of other countries destroyed the reputation which he had unjustly acquired. His continual professions of sincerity prejudiced many in his favour, and made him pass for a writer who had penetrated into the inmost recesses of the cabinet; but the public were at length undeceived, and were convinced that the historical anecdotes which Varillas put off for authentic facts had no foundation, being wholly his own inventions–though he endeavoured to make them pass for realities by affected citations of titles, instructions, letters, memoirs, and relations, all of them imaginary! He had read almost everything historical, printed and manuscript; but his fertile political imagination gave his conjectures as facts, while he quoted at random his pretended authorities. Burnet’s book against Varillas is a curious little volume.[43]

Gemelli Carreri, a Neapolitan gentleman, for many years never quitted his chamber; confined by a tedious indisposition, he amused himself with writing a Voyage round the World; giving characters of men, and descriptions of countries, as if he had really visited them: and his volumes are still very interesting. I preserve this anecdote as it has long come down to us; but Carreri, it has been recently ascertained, met the fate of Bruce–for he had visited the places he has described; Humboldt and Clavigero have confirmed his local knowledge of Mexico and of China, and found his book useful and veracious. Du Halde, who has written so voluminous an account of China, compiled it from the Memoirs of the Missionaries, and never travelled ten leagues from Paris in his life,–though he appears, by his writings, to be familiar with Chinese scenery.

Damberger’s Travels some years ago made a great sensation–and the public were duped; they proved to be the ideal voyages of a member of the German Grub-street, about his own garret. Too many of our “Travels” have been manufactured to fill a certain size; and some which bear names of great authority were not written by the professed authors.

There is an excellent observation of an anonymous author:–“Writers who never visited foreign countries, and travellers who have run through immense regions with fleeting pace, have given us long accounts of various countries and people; evidently collected from the idle reports and absurd traditions of the ignorant vulgar, from whom only they could have received those relations which we see accumulated with such undiscerning credulity.”

Some authors have practised the singular imposition of announcing a variety of titles of works preparing for the press, but of which nothing but the titles were ever written.

Paschal, historiographer of France, had a reason for these ingenious inventions; he continually announced such titles, that his pension for writing on the history of France might not be stopped. When he died, his historical labours did not exceed six pages!

Gregorio Leti is an historian of much the same stamp as Varillas. He wrote with great facility, and hunger generally quickened his pen. He took everything too lightly; yet his works are sometimes looked into for many anecdotes of English history not to be found elsewhere; and perhaps ought not to have been there if truth had been consulted. His great aim was always to make a book: he swells his volumes with digressions, intersperses many ridiculous stories, and applies all the repartees he collected from old novel-writers to modern characters.

Such forgeries abound; the numerous “Testaments Politiques” of Colbert, Mazarin, and other great ministers, were forgeries usually from the Dutch press, as are many pretended political “Memoirs.”

Of our old translations from the Greek and Latin authors, many were taken from French versions.

The Travels, written in Hebrew, of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, of which we have a curious translation, are, I believe, apocryphal. He describes a journey, which, if ever he took, it must have been with his night-cap on; being a perfect dream! It is said that to inspirit and give importance to his nation, he pretended that he had travelled to all the synagogues in the East; he mentions places which he does not appear ever to have seen, and the different people he describes no one has known. He calculates that he has found near eight hundred thousand Jews, of which about half are independent, and not subjects of any Christian or Gentile sovereign. These fictitious travels have been a source of much trouble to the learned; particularly to those who in their zeal to authenticate them followed the aerial footsteps of the Hyppogriffe of Rabbi Benjamin. He affirms that the tomb of Ezekiel, with the library of the first and second temples, were to be seen in his time at a place on the banks of the river Euphrates; Wesselius of Groningen, and many other literati, travelled on purpose to Mesopotamia, to reach the tomb and examine the library; but the fairy treasures were never to be seen, nor even heard of!