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Literary Impostures
by [?]


[Footnote 43: Burnet’s little 12mo volume was printed at Amsterdam, “in the Warmoes-straet near the Dam,” 1686, and compiled by him when living for safety in Holland during the reign of James II. He particularly attacks Varillas’ ninth book, which relates to England, and its false history of the Reformation, or rather “his own imagination for true history.” On the authority of Catholic students, he says “the greatest number of the pieces he cited were to be found nowhere but in his own fancy.” Burnet allows full latitude to an author for giving the best colouring to his own views and that of his party–a latitude he certainly always allowed to himself; but he justly censures the falsifying, or rather inventing, of history; after Varillas’ fashion. “History,” says Burnet, “is a sort of trade, in which false coyn and false weights are more criminal than in other matters; because the errour may go further and run longer, though their authors colour their copper too slightly to make it keep its credit long.”]

[Footnote 44: The volume was published in 8vo in 1704, as “An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan.” It is dedicated to the Bishop of London, who is told that “the Europeans have such obscure and various notions of Japan, and especially of our island Formosa, that they believe nothing for truth that has been said of it.” He accordingly narrates the political history of the place; the manners and customs of its inhabitants; their religion, language, etc. A number of engravings illustrate the whole, and depict the dresses of the people, their houses, temples, and ceremonies. A “Formosan Alphabet” is also given, and the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and Ten Commandments, are “translated” into this imaginary language. To keep up the imposition, he ate raw meat when dining with the Secretary to the Royal Society, and Formosa appeared in the maps as a real island, in the spot he had described as its locality.]

[Footnote 45: Psalmanazar would never reveal the true history of his early life, but acknowledged one of the southern provinces of France as the place of his birth, about 1679. He received a fair education, became lecturer in a Jesuit college, then a tutor at Avignon; he afterwards led a wandering life, subsisting on charity, and pretending to be an Irish student travelling to Rome for conscience sake. He soon found he would be more successful if he personated a Pagan stranger, and hence he gradually concocted his tale of Formosa; inventing an alphabet, and perfecting his story, which was not fully matured before he had had a few years’ hard labour as a soldier in the Low Countries; where a Scotch gentleman introduced him to the notice of Dr. Compton, Bishop of London; who patronised him, and invited him to England. He came, and to oblige the booksellers compiled his History of Formosa, by the two editions of which he realized the noble sum of 22l. He ended in becoming a regular bookseller’s hack, and so highly moral a character, that Dr. Johnson, who knew him well, declared he was “the best man he had ever known.”]

[Footnote 46: William Lauder first began his literary impostures in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1747, where he accused Milton of gross plagiarisms in his Paradise Lost, pretending that he had discovered the prototypes of his best thoughts in other authors. This he did by absolute invention, in one instance interpolating twenty verses of a Latin translation of Milton into the works of another author, and then producing them with great virulence as a proof that Milton was a plagiarist. The falsehood of his pretended quotations was demonstrated by Dr. Douglas, Bishop of Salisbury, in 1751, but he returned to the charge in 1754. His character and conduct became too bad to allow of his continued residence in England, and he died in Barbadoes, “in universal contempt,” about 1771.]