**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Literary Impostures
by [?]

The first on the list of impudent impostors is Annius of Viterbo, a Dominican, and master of the sacred palace under Alexander VI. He pretended he had discovered the entire works of Sanchoniatho, Manetho, Berosus, and others, of which only fragments are remaining. He published seventeen books of antiquities! But not having any MSS. to produce, though he declared he had found them buried in the earth, these literary fabrications occasioned great controversies; for the author died before he made up his mind to a confession. At their first publication universal joy was diffused among the learned. Suspicion soon rose, and detection followed. However, as the forger never would acknowledge himself as such, it has been ingeniously conjectured that he himself was imposed on, rather than that he was the impostor; or, as in the case of Chatterton, possibly all may not be fictitious. It has been said that a great volume in MS., anterior by two hundred years to the seventeen books of Annius, exists in the Bibliotheque Colbertine, in which these pretended histories were to be read; but as Annius would never point out the sources of his, the whole may be considered as a very wonderful imposture. I refer the reader to Tyrwhitt’s Vindication of his Appendix to Rowley’s or Chatterton’s Poems, p. 140, for some curious observations, and some facts of literary imposture.

An extraordinary literary imposture was that of one Joseph Vella, who, in 1794, was an adventurer in Sicily, and pretended that he possessed seventeen of the lost books of Livy in Arabic: he had received this literary treasure, he said, from a Frenchman, who had purloined it from a shelf in St. Sophia’s church at Constantinople. As many of the Greek and Roman classics have been translated by the Arabians, and many were first known in Europe in their Arabic dress, there was nothing improbable in one part of his story. He was urged to publish these long-desired books; and Lady Spencer, then in Italy, offered to defray the expenses. He had the effrontery, by way of specimen, to edit an Italian translation of the sixtieth book, but that book took up no more than one octavo page! A professor of Oriental literature in Prussia introduced it in his work, never suspecting the fraud; it proved to be nothing more than the epitome of Florus. He also gave out that he possessed a code which he had picked up in the abbey of St. Martin, containing the ancient history of Sicily in the Arabic period, comprehending above two hundred years; and of which ages their own historians were entirely deficient in knowledge. Vella declared he had a genuine official correspondence between the Arabian governors of Sicily and their superiors in Africa, from the first landing of the Arabians in that island. Vella was now loaded with honours and pensions! It is true he showed Arabic MSS., which, however, did not contain a syllable of what he said. He pretended he was in continual correspondence with friends at Morocco and elsewhere. The King of Naples furnished him with money to assist his researches. Four volumes in quarto were at length published! Vella had the adroitness to change the Arabic MSS. he possessed, which entirely related to Mahomet, to matters relative to Sicily; he bestowed several weeks’ labour to disfigure the whole, altering page for page, line for line, and word for word, but interspersed numberless dots, strokes, and flourishes; so that when he published a fac-simile, every one admired the learning of Vella, who could translate what no one else could read. He complained he had lost an eye in this minute labour; and every one thought his pension ought to have been increased. Everything prospered about him, except his eye, which some thought was not so bad neither. It was at length discovered by his blunders, etc., that the whole was a forgery: though it had now been patronised, translated, and extracted through Europe. When this MS. was examined by an Orientalist, it was discovered to be nothing but a history of Mahomet and his family. Vella was condemned to imprisonment.