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Literary Impostures
by [?]

The Spanish antiquary, Medina Conde, in order to favour the pretensions of the church in a great lawsuit, forged deeds and inscriptions, which he buried in the ground, where he knew they would shortly be dug up. Upon their being found, he published engravings of them, and gave explanations of their unknown characters, making them out to be so many authentic proofs and evidences of the contested assumptions of the clergy.

The Morocco ambassador purchased of him a copper bracelet of Fatima, which Medina proved by the Arabic inscription and many certificates to be genuine, and found among the ruins of the Alhambra, with other treasures of its last king, who had hid them there in hope of better days. This famous bracelet turned out afterwards to be the work of Medina’s own hand, made out of an old brass candlestick!

George Psalmanazar, to whose labours we owe much of the great Universal History, exceeded in powers of deception any of the great impostors of learning. His Island of Formosa was an illusion eminently bold,[44] and maintained with as much felicity as erudition; and great must have been that erudition which could form a pretended language and its grammar, and fertile the genius which could invent the history of an unknown people: it is said that the deception was only satisfactorily ascertained by his own penitential confession; he had defied and baffled the most learned.[45] The literary impostor Lauder had much more audacity than ingenuity, and he died contemned by all the world.[46] Ireland’s “Shakspeare” served to show that commentators are not blessed, necessarily, with an interior and unerring tact.[47] Genius and learning are ill directed in forming literary impositions, but at least they must be distinguished from the fabrications of ordinary impostors.

A singular forgery was practised on Captain Wilford by a learned Hindu, who, to ingratiate himself and his studies with the too zealous and pious European, contrived, among other attempts, to give the history of Noah and his three sons, in his “Purana,” under the designation of Satyavrata. Captain Wilford having read the passage, transcribed it for Sir William Jones, who translated it as a curious extract; the whole was an interpolation by the dexterous introduction of a forged sheet, discoloured and prepared for the purpose of deception, and which, having served his purpose for the moment, was afterwards withdrawn. As books in India are not bound, it is not difficult to introduce loose leaves. To confirm his various impositions, this learned forger had the patience to write two voluminous sections, in which he connected all the legends together in the style of the Puranas, consisting of 12,000 lines. When Captain Wilford resolved to collate the manuscript with others, the learned Hindu began to disfigure his own manuscript, the captain’s, and those of the college, by erasing the name of the country and substituting that of Egypt. With as much pains, and with a more honourable direction, our Hindu Lauder might have immortalized his invention.

We have authors who sold their names to be prefixed to works they never read; or, on the contrary, have prefixed the names of others to their own writings. Sir John Hill, once when he fell sick, owned to a friend that he had over-fatigued himself with writing seven works at once! one of which was on architecture, and another on cookery! This hero once contracted to translate Swammerdam’s work on insects for fifty guineas. After the agreement with the bookseller, he recollected that he did not understand a word of the Dutch language! Nor did there exist a French translation! The work, however, was not the less done for this small obstacle. Sir John bargained with another translator for twenty-five guineas. The second translator was precisely in the same situation as the first–as ignorant, though not so well paid as the knight. He rebargained with a third, who perfectly understood his original, for twelve guineas! So that the translators who could not translate feasted on venison and turtle, while the modest drudge, whose name never appeared to the world, broke in patience his daily bread! The craft of authorship has many mysteries.[48] One of the great patriarchs and primeval dealers in English literature was Robert Green, one of the most facetious, profligate, and indefatigable of the Scribleri family. He laid the foundation of a new dynasty of literary emperors. The first act by which he proved his claim to the throne of Grub-street has served as a model to his numerous successors–it was an ambidextrous trick! Green sold his “Orlando Furioso” to two different theatres, and is among the first authors in English literary history who wrote as a trader;[49] or as crabbed Anthony Wood phrases it, in the language of celibacy and cynicism, “he wrote to maintain his wife, and that high and loose course of living which poets generally follow.” With a drop still sweeter, old Anthony describes Gayton, another worthy; “he came up to London to live in a shirking condition, and wrote trite things merely to get bread to sustain him and his wife.”[50] The hermit Anthony seems to have had a mortal antipathy against the Eves of literary men.