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Book IV. of Par. Lost, from both Masenius and Malapertius; having undoubtedly forgotten, when he ascribed its origin to the latter, that he had already ascribed it to the former. In one part of his book he said, that the 11th and 12th Books of the Par. Lost were a copy of Rosse's Virgilius Evangelizans; in another Du Bartas shares the honor of being their original; and in another still, Barlaeus is said to have furnished "the prima stamina of the best part of the last two books of Paradise Lost."
The most amazing instance of effrontery in the whole tissue of his frauds is yet to be noticed. In his first essay, in the Gentlemen's Magazine of Feb. 1747, he actually forged a passage for Milton himself, and then asserted that it was an imitation of two lines which he adduced from Grotius and which are truly cited! Such impudence is astounding! The passage forged was as follows:
"And lakes of living sulphur ever flow,
When Dr. Douglas's Letter appeared, Lauder's booksellers at once told him, much to their honor, that he must either disprove the charges it contained, or they should publicly disclaim all further connexion with him. He unblushingly owned his fraud, and they circulated an advertisement declaring that before the publication of the exposure they had no knowledge of his dishonesty, and excusing themselves by saying, that the man's apparent incapacity to contrive such a scheme of deception had precluded suspicion.
Dr. Johnson wrote for Lauder a letter of contrition to Dr. Douglas, and forced its publication. It is said that this letter, which runs in a strain of extreme humility, by no means expressed the real feelings of Lauder at the time. At any rate, he subsequently retracted it; and, three or four years later, published an additional pamphlet against Milton of the most malignant character. It produced no effect in his favor. He retired to Barbadoes in the West Indies, and died, about the year 1771, in merited poverty and obscurity.
The interest excited in the public mind by this imposture and its detection is well described by the celebrated bishop Warburton in a letter which we find in one of the volumes of Nichols's Literary Anecdotes. "Lauder has afforded much amusement for the public, and they are obliged to him. What
Milton was their
the public wants, or subsists on, is news. reigning favorite; yet they took it well of a man they had never heard of before, to tell them the news of Milton being a thief and a plagiary. When this was no longer news, they were equally delighted with another, as much a stranger to them, who entertained them with another piece of news, that Lauder was a plagiary and impostor."
It should be noticed, that although Dr. D. first disclosed in print the facts relative to this imposition, the merit of the first discovery, as Dr. D. himself ingenuously states in his Letter, belongs to another, a Mr. Bowle of Oriel College, Oxford, who generously communicated to the former considerable aid in unmasking Milton's detractor.
The motives which led Lauder (how inappropriate a name ! lucus à non lucendo,) to the perpetration of this bold fraud have never been ascertained; or at least, if they have, they were exceedingly disproportionate to the danger and infamy of expoIn the penitential letter to Dr. Douglas, he (or rather Dr. Johnson for him) assigns so puerile a reason for his conduct, that, it would seem, no considerate mind could for a moment suppose it the real one. In Nichols's Illustrations of the Literature of the Eighteenth Century there is a private letter of Lauder's to Dr. Mead, dated April 9th, 1751, in which he gives another and equally puerile account of the cause of his procedure, alleging a desire to retaliate on Milton for having attempted, as Milton's enemies have often asserted on no just grounds, to deprive Charles I. of the reputed authorship of the work called Eikon Basilike. The fictitious story to which Lauder referred is, that Milton stole a prayer from Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, and, by means of severe penalties and threatenings," compelled the printer of the Eikon Basilike to subjoin it to his majesty's production; intending to make the world believe that, as his majesty was not the author of that prayer, he was not the author of any portion of the book. "Fallere fallentem non est fraus," was Lauder's attempt at exculpation.
Dr. Johnson's connection with Lauder has been much harped upon by the enemies of that great man; and some of the facts in relation to it wear, it must be confessed, rather an undesirable aspect. Probably, however, he is not justly chargeable with anything more seriously derogatory than too great readiness to believe Lauder's assertions. This sprang from his well
known distaste for Milton's politics, which has imparted undue severity to the criticisms on Milton's poetry which he presented to the readers of the Rambler, and led him to unfair estimation of Milton's character generally. As to the assertion of Sir John Hawkins in his memoirs of Dr. Johnson, that, while the sheets of Lauder's Essay were passing through the press, "Johnson seemed to exult in the persuasion that the reputation of Milton was likely to suffer by this discovery," although it has been pronounced by some a base calumny, we do not hesitate to admit the probability of its correctness; for, with all Johnson's greatness of mind, he had a very remarkable degree of human frailty.
The poems of Ossian, presented to the world by Macpherson, are very generally regarded as an imposture. Chatterton's forgeries, also, have attracted great notice. Much mystery still adheres to them. D'Israeli declares that in his opinion the tale has been but half told. We refer thus cursorily to the supposed frauds of Macpherson and Chatterton because they were not long since discussed by the writer of an article in the North American Review, entitled "British Poetry during the latter part of the last century." If this Reviewer has erred at all, it is probably in respect to the extent of Macpherson's deception, and the error is far from being on the side of lenity. We are disposed to think that the so-called poems of Ossian are, for the most part at least, based upon poetical legends actually current in the highlands of Scotland, many of which were genuine productions of a bard named Ossian.
William Henry Ireland rendered himself notorious by attempting frauds upon the public in relation to the writings of Shakspeare. After disseminating several minor imitations, he became so completely demented as to endeavor to palm off an entire drama of his own composition as the production of the prince of English poets. A volume of the pretended relics appeared in 1798. We have not space to speak particularly of them. Suffice it to introduce some lines inscribed by the Rev. William Mason (author of The English Garden, Elfrida, and other poems) below a portrait of William Henry Ireland. The other forgers referred to in them are Lauder, Macpherson, and Chat
"Four forgers born in one prolific age,
The first was soon by doughty Douglas scared,
Though Johnson would have screened him, had he dared;
Many playful literary impositions have been practised upon the public and upon individuals, which are commonly set down as mere jeux d'esprit, deserving slight, if any, reprehension. A strict moralist, however, can hardly pronounce them innocent.
George Steevens, the commentator on Shakspeare, practised in the course of his very eccentric life, a great many impositions upon the credulity of antiquaries and weak-minded persons of all classes. They were, most of them at least, prompted rather by humor than by any malignant design. The famous story respecting the Upas tree of Java, "the effluvia of which, through a district of twelve or fourteen miles, had killed all vegetation, and had spread the skeletons of men and animals, affording a scene of melancholy beyond what poets have described or painters delineated," is said to owe its origin to Steevens. He published it in the London Magazine as an extract from a Dutch traveller, in whose work, however, no one could ever discover it. The many fictions of this nature which appeared in the London papers during the literary career of Steevens are ascribed by many almost en masse to Steevens, from the fact that several have been satisfactorily traced to his pen.
The younger Scaliger was, as was his father likewise, of an arrogant disposition, and plumed himself much on his supposed infallibility of judgment concerning matters of ancient literature. Muretus, with a mischievous intent to expose him to ridicule, sent him some verses purporting to have been copied from an old MS. Scaliger was entrapped, and affirmed at once that they were written by an old comic author named Trabeus. He cited them as precious relics of antiquity in a commentary on Varro's work De Re Rusticâ. Muretus thereupon disclosed the deception, and Scaliger was deservedly humbled.
Horace Walpole, being at Paris in 1765, wrote a letter to Rousseau in French, purporting to come from Frederic, king of Prussia, which produced the effect anticipated by its author. The extravagant conduct of Rousseau, upon an occurrence
* The writer of these lines evidently had in mind Dryden's Epigram on Milton.
which keenly probed his singular vanity and self-consequence, afforded much amusement. Walpole, be it remembered, was the very man who spurned the unhappy Chatterton, upon discovering that the poems, which he published in the name of Rowley and other ancient writers, were written by himself.
If there was ever an innocent literary deception it was that of Mr. Burke in regard to his "Vindication of Natural Society," which bore on its title page the words: By a late noble Writer," meaning Lord Bolingbroke. So completely did he attain the intended similarity in thought and expression, that many of great sagacity admitted without hesitation the genuineness of the work, and some even praised it above Lord Bolingbroke's best performances. The production was ironical; it was designed to show that, on the same principles of reasoning which had been followed by the "noble writer" in the maintenance of his skepticism concerning Christianity, the expediency of political society might be disputed likewise. During the French Revolution, this same ironical composition of Burke's younger days was republished in England, as a piece of serious argument, by some of the admirers of those principles of anarchy under the venomous influence of which the French nation was then writhing in political convulsions.
The third general division of our subject relates to those who have published intentional untruth, as to the matters of fact which they state in their productions. We have already, however, extended our remarks to such a length as to preclude an examination of any of these frauds. In number and singularity they equal those which we have before noticed. That very extraordinary individual, George Psalmanazar, leads the host which enfilades before our mind's eye in view of this part of the subject of Literary Impostures. His autobiography is, we think, extremely entertaining, although D'Israeli pronounces it tedious.
A work on the literary impositions which have been perpetrated upon the public, besides being replete with interest, would be productive of considerable other advantage. It would furnish an important subject of study in the great science of human nature; exhibiting peculiar, cultivated specimens of criminality.