Isaac Disraeli.

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his friends, who would have thought themselves fortunate to
have introduced so poetical an adventure in the numerous
canzoni tliey showered on our youthful poet.

This historiette^ scarcely fitted for a novel, first appeared
where generally Steevens's literary amusements were carried
on, in the General Evening Post, or the St. James's Chron-
icle : and Mr. Todd, in the improved edition of Milton's Life,
obtained this spurious original, where the reader may find it ;
but the more curious part of the story remains to be told.
Mr. Todd proceeds, " The preceding highly-coloured relation,
however, is not singular ; my friend, Mr. Walker, points out
to me a counterpart in the extract from the preface to Poesies
de Margtierite-Eleanore Clotildey depuis Madame de SurviUe,
Poke Frangois du XV, Steele. Paris, 1803."

And true enough we find among " the family traditions "
of the same Clotilde, that Justine de Levis, great-grand-
mother of this unknown poetess of the fifteenth century,
walking in a forest, witnessed the same beautiful spectacle
which the Italian Unknown had at Cambridge ; never was
such an impression to be effaced, and she could not avoid
leaving her tablets by the side of the beautiful sleeper, de-
claring her passion in her tablets by four Italian verses !
The very number our Milton had meted to him ! Oh ! these
four verses ! they are as fatal in their number as the date of
P 3ele's letter proved to George Steevens ! Something still

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escapes in the most ingenious fabrication which serves to de-
compose the materials. It is well our veracious historian
dropped all mention of Guarini — else that would have given
that coup de grace — a fatal anachronism ! However, his
invention supplied him with more originality than the adop-
tion of this story and the four verses would lead us to
infer. He tells us how Petrarch was jealous of the genius
of his Clotilde's grandmother, and has even pointed out a
sonnet which, " among the traditions of the family," was ad-
dressed to her I He narrates, that the gentleman, when he
fairly awoke, and had read the " four verses," set off for Italy,
which he run over till he found Justine, and Justine found
him, at a tournament at Modena ! This parallel adventure
disconcerted our two grave English critics — they find a tale
which they wisely judge improbable, and because they dis-
cover the tale copied, they conclude that " it is not singular !"
This knot of perplexity is, however, easily cut through, if we
substitute, which we are fully justified in, for " Poete du XV.
Siecle"— "du XIX. Siecle!" ITie "Poi^sies" of Clotilde
are as genuine a fabrication as Chatterton's ; subject to the
same objections, having many ideas and expressions which
which were unknown in the language at the time they are
pretended to have been composed, and exhibiting many imi-
tations of Voltaire and other poets. The present story of the
FOUR Italian verses^ and the beautiful Sleeper, would be quite
sufficient evidence of the authenticity of " the family tradi-
tions " of Ghtilde, depuis Madame de Surmlle, and also of
Monsieur De Surville himself; a pretended editor, who is
said to have found by mere accident the precious manuscript,
and while he was copying for the press, in 1793, these pretty
poems, for such they are, of his grande tanfe, was shot in the
reign of terror, and so completely expired, that no one could
ever trace his existence ! The real editor, who we must
presume to be the poet, published them in 1803.

Such, then, is the history of a literary forgery ! A Puck
composes a short romantic adventure, which is quietly thrown

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out to the world in a newspaper or a magazine ; some col-
lector, such as the late Mr. Bindley, who procured for Mr.
Todd his original, as idle at least as he is curious, houses the
forlorn fiction — and it enters into literary history ! A French
Chatterton picks up the obscure tale, and behold, astonishes
the literary inquirers of the very country whence the im-
posture sprung ! But the four Italian verses^ and the Sleep-
ing Touth! Oh! Monsieur Vanderbourg ! for that gentle-
man is the ostensible editor of Clotilde's poesies of the fif-
teenth century, some ingenious persons are unlucky in this
world! Perhaps one day we may yet discover that this
" romantic adventure " of MiUon and Justine de Levis is not
so original as it seems — it may lie hid in the Astree of
D'Urf^ or some of the long romances of the Scuderies,
whence the English and the French Chattertons may have
drawn it. To such literary inventors we say with Swift : —

-" Such are your tricks ;

But since you hatch, pray own your chicks I "

Will it be credited that for the enjoyment of a temporary
piece of malice, Steevens would even risk his own reputation
as a poetical critic ? Yet this he ventured, by throwing out
of his edition the poems of Shakspeare, with a remarkable
hypercriticism, that "the strongest act of parliament that
could be framed would fail to compel readers into their
service." Not only he denounced the sonnets of Shakspeare,
but the sonnet itself, with an absurd question, " What has
truth or nature to do with Sonnets ? " The secret history of
this unwarrantable mutilation of a great author by his editor
was, as I was informed by the late Mr. Boswell, merely done
to spite his rival commentator Malone, who had taken extra-
ordinary pains in their elucidation. Steevens himself had
formerly reprinted them, but when Malone from these sonnets
claimed for himself one ivy leaf of a commentator's pride,
behold, Steevens in a rage would annihilate even Shakspeare
himself, that he might gain a triumph over Malone ! In the

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same spirit, but with more caustic pleasantry, he opened a
controversy with Malone respecting Shakspeare's wife 1 It
seems that the poet had forgotten to mention his wife in his
copious will ; and his recollection of Mrs. Shakspeare seems
to mark the slightness of his regard, for he only introduced
by an interlineation, a legacy to her of his " second best bed
with the furniture " — and nothing more ! Malone naturally
inferred that the poet had forgot her, and so recollected her
as more strongly to mark how little he esteemed her. He
had already, as it is vulgarly expressed, **cut her off, not
indeed with a shilling, but with an old bed ! " All this seems
judicious, till Steevens asserts the conjugal affection of thcj
bard, tells us, that the poet having, when in health, provided
for her by settlement, or knowing that her father had already
done so, (circumstances entirely conjectural,) he bequeathed
to her at his death, not merely an old piece of furniture, hutj
PERHAPS, as a mark of peculiar tenderness^

" The very bed that on his bridal night
Received him to the arms of Belvidera! "

Steevens's severity of satire marked the deep malevolence
of his heart ; and Murphy has strongly portmyed him in his
address to the Malevoli.

Such another Puck was Horace Walpole ! The King of
Prussia's " Letter " to Rousseau, and " The Memorial " pre-
tended to have been signed by noblemen and gentlemen, were
fabrications, as he confesses, only to make mischief. It well
became him, whose happier invention, the Castle of Otranto,
was brought forward in the guise of forgery, so unfeelingly
tc have reprobated the innocent inventions of a Chatterton,

We have Pucks busied among our contemporaries : who-
ever shall discover their history will find it copious though
intricate; the malignity at least will exceed, tenfold, the

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The preceding article has reminded me of a subject by no
means incurious to the lovers of literature. A large volume
might be composed on literary impostors; their modes of
deception, however, were frequently repetitions ; particularly
those at the restoration of letters, when there prevailed a
mania for burying spurious antiquities, that they might after-
wards be brought to light to confound their contemporaries.
They even perplex us at the present day. More sinister
forgeries have been performed by Scotchmen, of whom
Archibald Bower, Lauder, and Macpherson, are well known.

Even harmless impostures by some unexpected accident
have driven an unwary inquirer out of the course. George
Steevens must again make his appearance for a memorable
trick played on the antiquary Gough. This was the famous
tombstone on which was engraved the drinking-horn of
Hardyknute, to indicate his last fatal carouse ; for this royal
Dane died drunk! To prevent any doubt, the name, in
Saxon cliaracters, was sufficiently legible. Steeped in pickle
to hasten a precocious antiquity, it was then consigned to the
comer of a broker's shop, where the antiquarian eye of
Gough often pored on the venerable odds and ends ; it per-
fectly succeeded on the " Director of the Antiquarian So-
ciety." He purchased the relic for a trifle, and dissertations
of a due size were preparing for the Archaeologia ! * Grough
never forgave himself nor Steevens for this flagrant act of
inepitude. On every occasion in the Gentleman's Magazine,
when compelled to notice this illustrious imposition, he

* I have since been informed that this famons invention was originally
a flim-flam of a Mr. Thomas White, a noted collector and dealer in anti-
quities. Bnt it was Steevens who placed it in the broker's shop, where he
was certain of catching the antiquary. When the late Mr. Pegge, a pro-
found brother, was preparing to write a dissertation on it, the first inventor
of the flam stepped forward to save any further tragical termination; the
wicked wit had already succeeded too well !

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always struck out his own name, and muffled himself up
under his titular office of " The Director ! " Gough never
knew that this " modern antique " was only a piece of retalia-
tion. In reviewing Masters's Life of Baker he found two
heads, one scratched down from painted glass by George
Steevens, who would have passed it off for a portrait of one
of our kings. Gough, on the watch to have a fling at George
Steevens, attacked his graphic performance, and reprobated
a portrait which had nothing human in it ! Steevens vowed,
that, wretched as Gx)ugh deemed his pencil to be, it should
make " The Director " ashamed of his own eyes, and be fairly
taken in by something scratched much worse. Such was the
origin of his adoption of this fragment of a chimney-slab,
which I have seen, and with a better judge wondered at
the injudicious antiquary, who could have been duped by
the slight and ill-formed scratches, and even with a false
spelling of the name, which however succeeded in being
passed off as a genuine Saxon inscription: but he had
counted on his man.* The trick is not so original as it
seems. One De Grassis had engraved on marble the epitaph
of a mule, which he buried in his vineyard : some time after,
having ordered a new plantation on the spot, the diggers
could not fail of disinterring what lay ready for them. The
inscription imported that one Publius Grassus had raised this
monument to his mule I De Grassis gave it out as an odd
coincidence of names, and a prophecy about his own mule !

* The stone may be found in the British Musenm. HARDENVT is the
reading on the ffarthacnut stone ; but the true orthography of the name is

Sylvanus Urban, my once excellent and old friend, seems a trifle un-
courteous on this grave occasion — He tells us, however, that " The history
of this wanton trick, with a facsimile of Schnebbelie's drawing, may be
seen in his volume Ix. p. 217." He says that this wicked contrivance of
George Steevens was to entrap this famous draftsman ! Does Sylvanus
then deny that "the Director" was not also "entrapped? " and that he
always struck out his own name in the proof-sheets of the Magazine, sub-
stituting his official designation, by which the whole society itself seemed
to screen " the Director I "

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It was a simple joke ! The marble was thrown by, and no
more thought of. Several years afler it rose into celebrity,
for with the erudite it then passed for an ancient inscription,
and the antiquary Poracchi inserted the epitaph in his work
on "Burials." Thus De Grassis and his mule, equally
respectable, would have come down to posterity, had not the
story by some means got wind ! An incident of this nature
is recorded in Portuguese history, contrived with the inten-
tion to keep up the national spirit, and diffuse hopes of the
new enterprise of Vasco de Grama, who had just sailed on a
voyage of discovery to the Indies. Three stones were dis-
covered near Cintra, bearing in ancient characters a Latin
inscription; a sibylline oracle addressed prophetically "To
the inhabitants of the West ! *' stating that when these three
stones shall be found, the Ganges, the Indus, and the Tagus,
should exchange their commodities ! This was the pious
fraud of a Portuguese poet, sanctioned by the approbation
of the king. When the stones had lain a sufficient time in
the damp earth, so as to become apparently antique, our poet
invited a numerous party to a dinner at his country-house ;
in the midst of the entertainment a peasant rushed in, an-
nouncing the sudden discovery of this treasure ! The in-
scription was placed among the royal collections as a sacred
curiosity ! The prophecy was accomplished, and the oracle
was long considered genuine !

In such cases no mischief resulted ; the annab of mankind
were not confused by spurious dynasties and fabulous chro-
nologies ; but when literary forgeries are published by those
whose character hardly admits of a suspicion that they are
themselves the impostors, the difficulty of assigning a motive
only increases that of forming a decision ; to adopt or reject
them may be equally dangerous.

In this class we must place Annius of Viterbo, who pub-
lished a pretended collection of historians of the remotest
antiquity, some of whose names had descended to us in the
works of ancient writers, while their works themselves had

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been lost. Afterwards he subjoined commentaries to confirm
their authority hy passages from known authors. These at
first were eagerly accepted by the learned ; the blunders of
the presumed editor, one of which was his mistaking the
right name of the historian he forged, were gradually de-
tected, till at length the imposture was apparent ! The pre-
tended originals were more remarkable for their number
than their volume ; for the whole collection does not exceed
171 pages, which lessened the difficulty of the forgery;
while the commentaries which were afterwards published,
must have been manufactured at the same time as the text.
In favour of Annius, the high rank he occupied at the Roman
court, his irreproachable conduct, and his declaration that he
had recovered some of these fragments at Mantua, and that
others had come from Armenia, induced many to credit
these pseudo- historians. A literary war soon kindled;
Niceron has discriminated between four parties engaged in
this conflict. One party decried the whole of the collection
as gross forgeries ; another obstinately supported their au-
thenticity ; a third decided that they were forgeries before
Annius possessed them, who was only credulous; while a
fourth party considered them as partly authentic, and
ascribed their blunders to the interpolations of the editor, to
increase their importance. Such as they were, they scattered
confusion over the whole face of history. The false Berosus
opens his history before the deluge, when, according to him,
the Chaldeans through preceding ages had faithfully pre-
served their historical evidences! Annius hints, in his
commentary, at the archives and public libraries of the
Babylonians : the days of Noah comparatively seemed
modern history with this dreaming editor. Some of the
fanciful writers of Italy were duped : Sansovino, to delight
the Florentine nobility, accommodated them with a new title
of antiquity in their ancestor Noah, Imperatore e mofiarcha
deUe genti, visse e mori in quelle parti. The Spaniards com-
plained that in forging these fabulous origins of different

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nations, a new series of kings from the ark of Noah had been
introduced by some of their rhodomontade historians to pol-
lute the sources of their history. Bodin*s otherwise valuable
works are considerably injured by Annius's supposititious
discoveries. One historian died of grief, for having raised
his elaborate speculations on these fabulous originals ; and
their credit was at length so much reduced, that Pignoria
and Maffei both announced to their readers that they had
not referred in their works to the pretended writers of An-
iiius ! Yet, to the present hour, these presumed forgeries
are not always given up. The problem remains unsolved
— and the silence of the respectable Annius, in regard to the
forgery, as well as what he affirmed when alive, leave us in
doubt whether he really intended to laugh at the world by
these fairy tales of the giants of antiquity. Sanchoniathon,
as preserved by Eusebius, may be classed among these an-
cient writings, or forgeries, and has been equally rejected
and defended.

Another literary forgery, supposed to have been grafted
on those of Annius, involved the Inghirami family. It was
by digging in their grounds that they discovered a number
of Etruscan antiquities, consisting of inscriptions, and also
fragments of a chronicle, pretended to have been composed
sixty years before the vulgar era. The characters on the
marbles were the ancient Etruscan, and the historical work
tended to confirm the pretended discoveries of Annius. They
were collected and enshrined in a magnificent folio by Cur-
tius Inghirami, who, a few years after, published a quarto
volume exceeding one thousand pages to support their au-
thenticity. Notwithstanding the erudition of the forger,
these monuments of antiquity betrayed their modem condi-
ment. There were uncial letters which no one knew ; but
these were said to be undiscovered ancient Etruscan charac-
ters ; it was more difficult to defend the small italic letters,
for they were not used in the age assigned to them ; besides
that there were dots on the letter i, a custom not practised

VOL. IV. 14

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till the eleventh century. The style was copied from the
Latin of the Psalms and the Breviary ; but Inghirami dis-
covered that there had been an intercourse between the
Etruscans and the Hebrews, and that David had imitated
the writings of Noah and his descendants ! Of Noah the
chronicle details speeches and anecdotes !

The Romans, who have preserved so much of the Etrus-
cans, had not, however, noticed a single fact recorded in
these Etruscan antiquities. Inghirami replied, that the
manuscript was the work of the secretary of the college of
the Etrurian augurs, who alone was permitted to draw his
materials from the archives, and who, it would seem, was
the only scribe who has favoured posterity with so much
secret history. It was urged in favour of the authenticity
of these Etruscan monuments, that Inghirami was so young
an antiquary at the time of the discovery, that he could not
even explain them; and that when fresh researches were
made on the spot, other similar monuments were also disin-
terred, where evidently they had long lain ; the whole affair,
however contrived, was confined to the Inghirami family.
One of them, half a century before, had been the librarian
of the Vatican, and to him is ascribed the honour of the
forgeries which he buried where he wa» sure they would be
found. This, however, is a mere conjecture! Inghirami,
who published and defended their authenticity, was not con-
cerned in their fabrication ; the design was probably merely
to raise the antiquity of Volaterra, the family estate of the
Inghirami ; and for this purpose one of its learned branches
had bequeathed his posterity a collection of spurious historical
monuments, which tended to overturn all received ideas on
the first ages of history.*

It was probably such impostures, and those of false de^

* The volume of these pretended Antiquities is entitled Elrwcarum An^
UquitcUum Fragmenta^ fo. Franc. 1687. That which Inghirami published
to defend their authenticity is in Italian, Discarso sopra V Opposizumi fatU
alf AnHchita Totcane, 4to. Fireme, 1645.

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cretals of Isidore, which were forged for the maintenance
of the papal supremacy, and for eight hundred years formed
the fundamental basis of the canon law, the discipline of the
church, and even the faith of Christianity, which led to the^
monstrous pyrrhonism of father Hardouin, who, with im-
mense erudition, had persuaded himself, that, excepting the
Bible and Homer, Herodotus, Plautus, Pliny the elder, with
fragments of Cicero, Virgil, and Horace, all the remains of
classical literature were forgeries of the thirteenth and four-
teenth centuries ! In two dissertations he imagined that he
had proved that the -^neid was not written by Virgil, nor
the Odes of Horace by that poet Hardouin was one of
those wrong-headed men, who once having fallen into a delu-
sion, whatever afterwards occurs to them on their favourite
subject only tends to strengthen it. He died in his own faith !
He seems not to have been aware, that by ascribing such
prodigal inventions as Plutarch, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus,
and other historians, to the men he did, he was raising up an
unparalleled age of learning and genius when monks could
only write meagre chronicles, while learning and genius them-
selves lay in an enchanted slumber with a suspension of all
their vital powers.

There are numerous instances of the forgeries of smaller
documents. The Prayer-Book of Columbus, presented to
him by the Pope, which the great discoverer of a new world
bequeathed to the Genoese republic, has a codicil in his own
writing as one of the leaves testifies, but as volumes com-
posed against its authenticity deny. The famous description
in Petrarch's Virgil, so often quoted, of his first rencontre
with Laura in the church of St. Clair on a Good Friday,
6 April, 1327, it has been recently attempted to be shown is
a forgery. By calculation, it appears that the 6 April, 1327,
fell on a Monday ! The Good Friday seems to have been a
blunder of the manufacturer of the note. He was entrapped
by reading the second sonnet, as it appears in the printed
editions !

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** Era il giomo ch* al sol m tcolorana
Per la pietk del suo fattore i rai.'*

** It was on the day when the rays of the sun were obscured

by compassion for his Maker." The forger imagined this

description alluded to Good Friday and the eclipse at the

Cnicifixion. But how stands the passage in the MS. in

the Imperial Library of Vienna, which Abbe Costaing has

found ?

" Era il giomo ch* al sol cfi color raro
Parvt la pietk da suo fattore, at rai
Qnand lo fu preso; e non mi guardai
Che ben vostri occhi dentro mi legaro."

" It was on the day that I was captivated, devotion for its
Maker appeared in the rays of a brilliant sun, and I did not
well consider that it was your eyes that enchained me ! "

The first meeting, according to the Abbe Costaing, was
not in a church, but in a meadow — as appears by the ninety-
first sonnet The Laura of Sade was not the Laura of Pe-
trarch ; but Laura de Baux, unmarried, and who died young,
residing in the vicinity of Vaucluse. Petrarch had often
viewed her from his own window, and often enjoyed her so-
ciety amidst her family.* If the Abb^ Costaing's discovery
be confirmed, the good name of Petrarch is freed from the
idle romantic passion for a married woman. It would be cu-
rious if the famous story of the first meeting with Laura in
the church of St. Clair originated in the blunder of the forg-
er's misconception of a passage which was incorrectly printed,
as appears by existing manuscripts !

Literary forgeries have been introduced into bibliography ;
dates have been altered ; fictitious titles affixed ; and books

* I draw this mformation from a little "new year's gift," which my
learned friend, the Rev. S. Weston, presented to his friends in 1822, enti-

Online LibraryIsaac DisraeliCuriosities of literature → online text (page 18 of 43)