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The facts which Lauder alleged were not disputed in print for a great while after their publication. Nor is this strange; for who could imagine that his book was an unmingled tissue of imposture. The very impudence of his enterprise protected him. His triumph was undisturbed for nearly a year. At the end of that period, however, the fine fabric he had constructed was dissipated to the winds, and he was degraded from the patronage and society of the great to his proper estimation; he became a thing at which general indignation and contempt were directed. In 1751, Dr. Douglas published a letter to the Earl of Bath, entitled "Milton vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarism," which, in a temperate but mercilessly thorough manner exposed the vile arts of Lauder, and rescued Milton's towering fame from his malicious assault.
The lines of Milton himself in the very poem so rancorously vilified, which describe the effect produced by the touch of Ithuriel's spear upon the visible form of Satan, as he sat "squat, like a toad, close at the ear of Eve," will not perhaps be regarded as entirely inapposite. Lauder was, we know,
"Blown up with high conceits, engendering pride.
Touched lightly; for no falsehood can endure
Dr. Douglas was then rector of Eton Constantine in Shropshire, England. This letter was his first literary production. He died in 1807, bishop of Salisbury. When Lauder's book first came into his hands, and for a considerable time after its perusal, he, like others, did not once imagine it possible that the works referred to by Lauder wanted the passages ostensibly quoted from them; although he considered the deductions from the premises as unwarrantably harsh, and was ready to maintain, as he does in the first part of the letter which disclosed Lauder's fraud, that, even admitting all the premises, no inference could be drawn to Milton's discredit. In this idea he
was undoubtedly misled by his veneration for the great poet; for nothing could be said in censure of any plagiarisms whatsoever, if we allow the character of innocence to those which Milton must have committed, had Lauder been veracious in his quotations.
In the summer of 1750, Dr. D. went to reside for a while at the University of Oxford. Curiosity, along with the unusual facility of gratifying it which his situation afforded, induced him to make search for the books to which Lauder referred. Many of them were so rare as not to be procurable even at Oxford. The two to which Lauder had made most frequent reference, that of Masenius and the Adamus Ersul of Grotius were not to be found. Those which he did obtain, however, revealed the imposition, probably unparalleled in point of hardihood, which Milton's detractor had practised upon the world. The first circumstance, which forcibly attracted Dr. D.'s attention, was that in every case Lauder omitted telling his readers in what part of the work to which reference was made the pretended quotation was to be found. This laid him under the necessity of turning over an entire volume page by page in order to find the lines alleged to be a citation.
Dr. Douglas's examination resulted in the disclosure that, of the lines adduced, those which bore any special resemblance to Milton's were invariably wanting in the original, and were therefore interpolated by Lauder. Dr. D. did not even leave Lauder the merit of having himself composed all the Latin verses that he had foisted into the productions which he pretended to quote with fairness. “The lines are good ones,” says he, 6 and therefore let us give the honor of them to their real author.” He discovered that nearly all of them were derived from a Latin translation of the Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, executed by William Hogg, or Hogæus, as he calls himself on the title-page, and printed at London in 1690. Thus Milton was branded and reviled as a plagiary for having stolen from himself! “It seems so extremely improb
! able," says Dr. Douglas, “ that any one should ever venture to put so gross an imposition on the world, that I almost despair of being believed, although I know the certainty of the fact.”
Dr. Douglas also points out in Lauder's assertions many inconsistencies and extreme absurdities, such as always accompany very complicated deception. For example, he charged Milton with stealing the comparison of Eve to Pandora, in
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 Basilikē. 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 Basilikē 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,