Psalmanazar, George

Psalmanazar, George a remarkable impostor in the religions and literary world, was born, probably, in the year 1680, and was of French origin. He received his education partly in a free school taught by two Franciscan monks, and afterwards in a college of Jesuits in an archiepiscopal city, the name of which, as also that of his birthplace and of his parents, remains unknown. Upon leaving the college, he was recommended as a tutor to a young gentleman, but soon fell into a mean, rambling kind of life that produced in him plenty of disappointments and misfortunes. The first pretence he took up with was that of being a sufferer for religion; and he procured a certificate that he was of Irish extraction, had left the country for the sake of the Roman Catholic religion, and was going on a pilgrimage to Rome. Not being in a condition to purchase a pilgrim's garb, he had observed, in a chapel dedicated to a miraculous saint, that such a one had been set up as a monument of gratitude by some wandering pilgrim; and he contrived to take both staff and cloak away at noonday. "Being thus accoutred," says he, "and furnished with a pass, I began, at all proper places, to beg my way in a fluent Latin, accosting only clergymen or persons of figure, by whom I could be understood, and found them mostly so generous and credulous that I might easily have saved money and put myself into a much better dress before I had gone through a score or two of miles." His next trick was to impose on men in the garb of a soldier, menial preceptor, beggar, or vagrant nondescript, living on his wits as he could, according to the whim or necessity of the hour. In the course of his wanderings, he was thrown into the companionship of a colonel Lauder at Sluys, to whom he gave himself out under the name by which he is so celebrated, representing himself as a Japanese convert to Christianity, and native of the island of Formosa. The chaplain of the regiment took Psalmanazar to England, and he instantly became the religious lion of the day, his patron (who was a man equally acute and unprincipled) skilfully availing himself of the connection to secure for himself preferment in the Church. Different ecclesiastical dignitaries contended for the honor of being serviceable to him; and through the influence of the bishop of Oxford, apartments were assigned him at the university, in order that he might prosecute his studies there. The talent, ingenuity, and resource which he displayed in keeping up the deception go far to account for what may seem to us the strange credulity 'with which his story was received. He published, in Latin, a fabulous account of the island of Formosa, the consistency and verisimilitude of which imposed upon the learned world. He also invented a language, compact and somewhat complex in structure, and was able, in virtue of a memory not less than astonishing, to defy the ordinary methods of detection. In the midst of his success, however, at the age of about thirty-two, he became the subject of religious impressions, and his conscience awoke to the ignominy of the deceit which he was practicing. Urged by what seems to have been a genuine feeling of penitence, he withdrew hlimself from public notice, and for the rest of his long life honorably earned his livelihood by literature, in which he had a moderate success. Besides much assiduous compilation for the booksellers, of history, geography, and the like, he published several works anonymously, one of which, An Essay on Miracles, by a Layman, was for some time exceedingly popular, and another a version of the Psalms. On his death in London in 1762, it was found that he had also busied himself in preparing for posthumous publication an account of his curious career, which, under the title Memoirs of — commonly known as George Psalmanazar, a reputed native of Formosa, written by himself, was some years after given to the world. See the art. in Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Auth. s.v., and the references there given; Chambers's Cyclop. s.v.; National Repository (April, 1878), p. 376.

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