George Psalmanazar

George Psalmanazar  was born about the year 1679. All that we know of his early history is from his own memoirs, which were published after his death; but they do not tell us his true name, nor that of his native country, though it is generally believed that he was born in the south of France. His education was excellent, probably obtained in some of the colleges of the Jesuits.

At an early period, he became a wandering adventurer, sometimes passing himself off as a pilgrim, then as a Japanese, and then as a native of Formosa—a large island lying to the east of China, and subject to that country. His extensive learning and various knowledge enabled him to sustain these and other disguises. Thus he travelled over several parts of Europe, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. He was by turns a soldier, a beggar, a menial, a monk; a preceptor, a Christian, a heathen, a man of all trades. At last, he came to Liege in Belgium, pretending to be a Formosan, converted to Christianity. Here he became acquainted with the chaplain of an English regiment, and was solemnly baptized.

He now went to London, and was kindly received by Bishop Compton, who gave him entertainment in his own house, and treated him with the utmost confidence. His great abilities and extraordinary story, seconded by the patronage of the bishop of London, gave him immediate currency with literary men, and he soon became the wonder of the day.

Psalmanazar played his part to admiration. He shunned, rather than sought, the notice of the public, and, avoiding meat, lived chiefly on fruits, and a simple vegetable diet. At the same time, he appeared to display the Christian characteristics, and devoted himself to study. He began to prepare a grammar of the Formosan language, which he finally completed. This was, of course, a fiction, yet he proceeded to translate the Church Catechism into this fabricated tongue. He finally wrote an extensive history of Formosa, which was also a fable; yet such was the reputation of the author, that it was received with general confidence, and speedily passed through several editions.

During this period, he had been sent to study at Oxford, where a controversy was carried on between his patrons, and Dr. Halley, Dr. Mead, and some others, in respect to his pretensions. Certain discrepancies were at last detected in his history of Formosa, and, in the result, Psalmanazar was completely exposed, and finally confessed his imposture. Soon after this, a moral change took place in him: he grew ashamed of his dishonorable courses, and determined to reform. He applied himself intensely to study, and, after a time, became engaged in literary pursuits, by which he earned an honest subsistence, and considerable reputation during the rest of his life. He died in London, in 1753.

He wrote for the large work, styled the Universal History, most of the parts concerning ancient history, except that of Rome, and his writings met with great success. He wrote a volume of essays on several scriptural subjects, a version of the Psalms, beside his own memoirs, already mentioned. He also wrote for the "Complete System of Geography," an article on the Island of Formosa, founded upon authentic information, as a reparation for the stories which he had palmed upon the public in his former account.

Psalmanazar is the name that he had assumed when he began his wandering life, and which he retained till his death. Of the sincerity of his piety, there can be no doubt. Dr. Johnson said that he never witnessed a more beautiful example of humility, and tranquil resignation, combined with an active discharge of duty, than was displayed by him during the latter portion of his life!