View Eighteenth-Century Literary Hoaxes
Type: Literary Hoaxes.
Summary: The eighteenth century is regarded as the great age of literary forgery.
During the eighteenth century literary fakes poured forth from the pens of writers. A number of factors contributed to this.
First, this was the period during which print culture became ascendant over oral culture. Literacy rates rose dramatically. Therefore, it was natural that more people would turn their hands to print-based hoaxes. Second, the keen popular interest in antiquities and history that developed during this period gave forgers a ready market for any ‘ancient’ manuscripts that they could produce.
Just as forgery had forced Renaissance scholars to hone their critical skills, eighteenth-century scholars now, in turn, began to develop ever more refined methods of differentiating authentic texts from inauthentic ones. For instance, they began to demand to see original manuscripts, not merely ‘copies’ of old manuscripts (as most medieval scholars had been happy with). The forgers responded by becoming better at artificially aging manuscripts. The contest between scholars and forgers was like a kind of arms race: every escalation in skills or techniques on one side immediately prompted a corresponding escalation from the other side.
James Macpherson and the Ossianic Controversy
James Macpherson’s translations of ancient Scottish verse made him rich and famous. But were they translations, or original compositions?
Thomas Chatterton and the Rowley Poems
Young Thomas believed that people would only appreciate his work if he pretended to be a fifteenth-century priest. Sadly, this was true… while he lived.
William Henry Ireland’s Shakespeare Forgeries
Young William Henry Ireland either had an enormous talent for finding previously undiscovered works by Shakespeare, or he had an enormous talent for forging the works of Shakespeare. It was one or the other.