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George Psalmanazar the Celebrated Native of Formosa


George Psalmanazar One of the most famous literary frauds of the eighteenth century centered around a mysterious figure known as George Psalmanazar. Born in the South of France, sometime between 1679 and 1684, Psalmanazar never revealed his birth name and allegedly adopted his pseudonym from the Old Testament figure Shalmaneser, King of Assyria. He traveled to Germany, took on the persona of an uncivilized Japanese--who spoke fluent Latin--and joined a regiment in the service of the Dutch. Psalmanazar recounted colorful stories of his past life to his fellow soldiers and when his regiment was posted to Sluys, in the Southwest region of the Netherlands, Psalmanazar came to the attention of the Rev. Alexander Innes, who served as chaplain to a Scottish regiment. Intrigued by Psalmanazar's wild claims, Innes soon discovered Psalmanazar's fraud--purportedly by asking him to translate a passage from Cicero into Japanese. Once he discovered the fraud, however, Innes became Psalamanazar's confederate, seeing in him a means to better his own fortune. Innes baptized Psalmanazar a Christian and persuaded him to change his putative birthplace from Japan to the even more exotic Formosa, which at the time was largely unknown in Europe. In 1703, Innes brought Psalmanazar to Rotterdam and then to England where he entertained audiences with his alleged adventures in Formosa.

Psalmanazar quickly became a celebrity in London and was persuaded to write an account of his native country. Accordingly, in 1704, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa appeared under the authorship of "George Psalamanaazaar, a native of the said island." With its lurid descriptions of polygamy, human sacrifice, cannibalism, infanticide, and other grisly activities, the book was a sensation. Originally written in Latin by Psalmanazar, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa was translated into English and quickly went through two editions. A French translation appeared in Amsterdam in 1705 and interest in the book was high enough a decade later to prompt a German version, which was published in Frankfort in 1716. By this time, however, Psalamanazar's fraud had been revealed in England and he lapsed into relative obscurity. He worked at a variety of jobs, the most successful of which, ironically, involved writing. Psalmanazar became a knowledgeable Hebraist, co-authored A General History of Printing (1732), and contributed a number of articles to the Universal History. Although Psalmanazar would never again experience the acclaim he had in the past, he became a respected man of letters and enjoyed the friendship of Samuel Johnson and others. Eventually, a repentant Psalmanazar wrote his memoirs and arranged to have them published posthumously. Accordingly, a year after his death in 1763, Psalmanazar's Memoirs of ****: Commonly Known by the Name of George Psalmanazar, a Reputed Native of Formosa (1764) was published. In the Memoirs, Psalmanazar chronicled his fraudulent past; typically, however, he never revealed his true name which remains unknown today.


Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa George Psalmanazar, 1679?-1763.
An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa: ... Giving an Account of the Religion, Customs, Manners, &c., of the Inhabitants: together with a Relation of What Happen'd to the Author in His Travels, Particularly His Conferences with the Jesuits, and Others, in Several Parts of Europe: Also, the History and Reasons of His Conversion to Christianity, with His Objections against It (in Defence of Paganism) and Their Answers ..., by George Psalamanaazaar, a native of the said island, now in London. London: Printed for Dan. Brown ...: G. Strahan and W. Davis ...: Fran. Coggan ...: Bernard Lintott ..., 1704.

The first edition of Psalmanazar's spurious account of his life in Formosa book includes sixteen elaborately-engraved plates depicting images of religious practices, styles of clothing, funeral ceremonies, and even a chart of Psalmanazar's version of the Formosan alphabet.


Formosan alphabet George Psalmanazar, 1679?-1763.
Description de l'ile Formosa, en Asie: du gouvernment, des loix, des moeurs & de la religion des habitans, dressée sur les mémoires du Sieur George Psalmanaazaar ...; avec une ample & exacte relation de ses voiages dans plusieurs endoits de l'Europe ..., par le Sieur N.F.D.B.R. Amsterdam: Aux dépens d'Estienne Roger ..., 1705.

Psalmanazar's account of his life and adventures in Formosa was quickly translated into French and published in Amsterdam less than a year after the original English edition appeared.


George Psalmanazar, 1679?-1763.
Essays on the Following Subjects: I. On ... Miracles ... II. On the Extraordinary Adventure of Balaam ... III. On the ... Victory, Gained by Joshua over Jabir King of Hazor ... IV. On the Religious War of the Israelitish Tribes against that of Benjamin ... V. On the ... Relief which Saul ... Brought to the Besieged Inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead ...: wherein Most Considerable Objections Raised against Each Respective Subject, Are Fully Answered ... , written some years since ... by an obscure laymen in town .... London: Printed for A. Millar ..., 1753.

This collection is one of the scholarly treatises to which Psalmanazar devoted himself in the decades following the disclosure of the Formosan hoax. This copy contains extensive annotations in a hand contemporary with the book's publication.


George Psalmanazar, 1679?-1763.
Memoirs of ****: Commonly Known by the Name of George Psalmanazar, a Reputed Native of Formosa. Dublin: Printed for P. Wilson, J. Exshaw, E. Watts, S. Cotter, J. Potts, and J. Williams, 1765.

Psalmanazar's Memoirs were published posthumously in 1764 and went through several editions; this is a copy of a Dublin edition published in 1765.


Ireland Macpherson Chatterton
Hoaxes Index Collier
Wise
Prokosch Fortsas
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