literary frauds

literary frauds,

manuscripts that are presented to the public as works of famous authors but that are actually forgeries or imitations. Literary frauds are perpetrated for various reasons—occasionally to sell a manuscript or book for large sums, often to win recognition for an original work that would not attract attention by itself, sometimes simply as a joke. Although such hoaxes were evident in classical times and during the Middle Ages, it was in the 18th cent. that literary frauds flourished. A man who pretended to be a native of Taiwan (then known as Formosa) published a Description of Formosa (1704) under an assumed name, George PsalmanazarPsalmanazar, George
, 1679?–1763, English literary imposter. His real name is not known. Born and educated in France, he developed a marked ability in learning languages. He traveled through Europe posing as a Japanese convert to Christianity.
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 (his real name is not known). In the 1760s James MacphersonMacpherson, James,
1736–96, Scottish author. Educated at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, he spent his early years as a schoolmaster. In later life he held a colonial secretaryship in West Florida (1764–66), and he was a member of Parliament from 1780 until his death.
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 wrote a group of poems that he claimed were translations of the 3d-century Celtic poet Ossian. Thomas ChattertonChatterton, Thomas,
1752–70, English poet. The posthumous son of a poor Bristol schoolmaster, he was already composing the "Rowley Poems" at the age of 12, claiming they were copies of 15th-century manuscripts at the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.
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 wrote poems in an imitation of 15th-century English that he claimed were transcriptions from a manuscript of a poet-priest of that period. William IrelandIreland, William Henry,
1777–1835, English forger of Shakespearean documents and manuscripts. Besides forging deeds and signatures relating to Shakespeare, Ireland fabricated two plays, Vortigern and Rowena (1796) and Henry II (both pub.
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 falsely claimed to have found two lost plays of Shakespeare. The most famous 19th cent. literary frauds were spurious first editions of such famous writers as Tennyson, Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Elizabeth Browning, and Kipling. They were long considered genuine and were not definitely proved forgeries until 1934. In 1939 the author of these forgeries was shown to be Thomas WiseWise, Thomas James,
1859–1937, English bibliographer and book collector. His famous Ashley Library of rare editions and manuscripts was acquired by the British Museum in 1937.
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, a noted book dealer. An interesting literary fraud of the early 20th cent. was the "Spectra hoax." In 1916 the American poets Witter BynnerBynner, Witter
, 1881–1968, American poet, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., grad. Harvard, 1902. As a poet Bynner had a remarkable facility for catching the cadences of other writers and cultures.
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 and Arthur Davison Ficke published a book of parodies, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments, satirizing such contemporary literary movements as the vorticists and the imagists. The book won acclaim from critics, and the Spectrists were publicly accepted as a valid literary school. Of more financial than literary interest was the Hughes hoax, when a writer named Clifford Irving received some $750,000 in 1972 from several publishers, including McGraw-Hill and Life magazine, after he deceitfully convinced them that the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes wished Irving to assist him in writing his autobiography. Irving was subsequently convicted of fraud and sent to prison. In 1984 the announcement of the discovery of manuscript diaries of Adolf Hitler created great interest: several prominent historians, including H. R. Trevor-Roper, vouched for their authenticity and were considerably embarrassed when the diaries were soon proven to be fraudulent.
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