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George Psalmanazar

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George Psalmanazar
George Psalmanazar - portrait, c. 18th cen. - Houghton MS Hyde 76 (1.1.xix).jpg
"Mr. George Psalmanazar" (MS Hyde 76 (1.1.xix), Houghton Library, Harvard University)
Alias(es) George Psalmaanaazar
Born Birth name unknown
Birth date unknown; given as 1679
Birth place unknown; possibly the Kingdom of France or Swiss Confederacy
Died 3 May 1763
Ironmonger Row, St. Luke's, London, England, Great Britain
Known for Claims to being a native of Formosa (modern Taiwan)

George Psalmanazar [Psalmanaazaar] (c. 1679 - May 3, 1763) was an apparently French-born writer who engaged in the pretense of being a native of Formosa, becoming a celebrity in England for a brief time before being ultimately compelled to admit his fraud, thereafter withdrawing from public life to become an editor, essayist, pamphleteer, and writer-for-hire on London's Grub Street.

Selected Bibliography

Resources

Reading

  • Rees, Abraham, ed. (1819), "PSALMANAZAR, George.", The Cyclopaedia; Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature, 28 

    PSALMZANAZAR, George, in Biography, a literary impostor who assumed that name, was probably a native of the fourth of France, though he never made known either his country or family. He was supposed to be born about 1680, and educated partly at a Franciscan seminary, then at a Jesuits college, and at last at a university. He seemed to have had an uncommon facility in the attainment of languages, but was not sufficiently steady to render himself tolerably perfect in any. At an early age he left the college, in order to support himself by private tuition. But this was not at all agreeable to his disposition, and he went to Avignon, where he pretended to have left his father's house on account of an ill usage through his attachment to the Roman Catholic religion. He next assumed the character of a young Irish student of theology, who had left his country for the sake of religion, and was going on a pilgrimage to Rome; and having obtained a certificate, and equipped himself with a suitable garb, he set out on his rambles. After passing through several scenes he enlisted for a soldier, and become acquainted with one Innes, a chaplain to a Scotch regiment. This man soon discovered Psalmanazar to be an impostor, but instead of exposing him, immediately conceived a plan of more extensive fraud, by which he himself might reap some profit. He engaged the young man to act the part of a convert from heathenism, and having written a letter to Dr. Compton, bishop of London, with a flattering account of his pupil, he baptized him in a public manner, procured his discharge, and in consequence of the bishop's invitation, proceeded with him to London. The learned prelate listened to his story, which he endeavoured to pass for a native of the island of Formosa, of which little was known to Europeans. Innes set him about translating the church catechism into a pretended Formosan language, which he had framed, and he next employed him in writing a "History of Formosa." Though he had no other materials than what his own invention could furnish, aided by the account of Formosa by Varenius, he drew up such a work as excited the curiosity of the public and was regarded, at that time, as containing genuine information; though in fact, when examined with a careful and scrutinizing eye, it was found full of inconsistencies and improbabilities. A second edition was preparing, when the bishop of London sent Psalmanazar to Oxford to pursue his studies in that seminary. He remained there six months, and then returned to London, but either his patrons distrusted him, or failed to put him in any suitable way of living, for in a few years he sold his name to a manufacturer of a kind of white porcelain, which was to pass as a secret communicated by Psalmanazar, and was advertised by the name of the "curious white Formosan work." He next endeavoured to get some money as a medical empiric, and as a teacher of languages and fortification; but these resources were inadequate to his wants, and he became a clerk to a regiment of dragoons, which marched to the north in the year 1715, and in that character he visited many parts of the kingdom. Without following him through all the changes of this part of his life, it may be observed that he acknowledges himself to have been dissolute, unprincipled, and void of any fixed purpose. At length he obtained some steady employment as a translator, and is said, that Law's Serious Call, without other devotional works falling into his hands, he was awakened to a sense of his past misconduct, and formed resolutions of amendment. He entered deeply into the study of the scriptures, and of the Hebrew language, in which he soon acquired such a proficiency that he composed a dramatic piece in Hebrew verse, entitled "David and Michael." His reputation for learning caused him to be engaged as one of the writers in the Universal History, which was his principal literary labour, and employed much of his time. The history of the Jews, the Celtes, and Scythians, of the Greeks at the early periods, the ancient Spaniards, Gauls, and Germans, were the chief parts of which he contributed to this voluminous work. It does not appear when he dropt the imposture of being a Formosan convert; but in his last will, dated 1752, there is an explicit and penitential confession of his criminality in adopting that fraud, and supporting it by his pretended account of the island. After his death, in 1763, his life, written by himself, was published, from which farther information may be obtained. See Memoirs f the Life of **** commonly known by the name of George Psalmanazar.

  • "George Psalmanazar", Book-Lore: A Monthly Magazine of Bibliography 6 (33): 71-78, August 1887, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044083143206&view=1up&seq=95 
  • Keevak, Michael (2004), The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar's Eighteenth-Century Formosan Hoax, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, https://www.amazon.com/Pretended-Asian-Psalmanazars-Eighteenth-Century-Formosan/dp/081433198X/?tag=apopheniacs-20