1859 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Lauder

William Anderson, in Scottish Nation (1859-66) 2:631-32.



WILLIAM LAUDER, a literary impostor, who attempted to ruin the reputation of Milton by charging him with plagiarism, was a connexion of the Lauders of Fountainhall, and obtained his education at the University of Edinburgh. While yet a boy, he suffered amputation of one of his legs, in consequence of having accidentally received a stroke from a golf-ball on his knee. He acquired a high college character for talent and scholarship, and, devoting himself to teaching for a livelihood, was, in 1734, employed by Professor Watt to conduct the humanity class during his illness. In 1738 he issued proposals to print, by subscription, a collection of Sacred Poems, which, published in 1739 by Ruddiman, in 2 vols., under the title of Poetarum Scotorum Musae Sacrae, is a well-known work in Scottish literature. Having failed in several applications for employment in Scotland, he went to London, and soon after commenced his singular attack on the fair fame of the author of Paradise Lost, which redounded so much to his own dishonour. He began by sending some letters to the Gentleman's Magazine for 1747, the object of which was to prove that Milton, in the composition of his immortal poem, had largely stolen from the works of certain Latin poets of modern date. In 1751 he published his charge in a more elaborate and complete form, in a volume, entitled An Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns in his Paradise Lost, 8vo. This daring attempt to blast the poetical reputation of Milton created a considerable sensation among the literati of the time. The falseness of Lauder's representation was, however, fully exposed by Dr. Douglas, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, in a letter published the same year, addressed to the earl of Bath, entitled Milton Vindicated from the charge of Plagiarism, brought against him by Lauder, and Lauder himself convicted of several Forgeries and gross Impositions on the Public, in which he showed that the passages cited from Massenius, Staphorstius, Taubmannus, and others, had been interpolated by Lauder himself from Hogg's Latin Translation of the Paradise Lost. The appearance of this able refutation overwhelmed Lauder with confusion. He subscribed a confession dictated by Dr. Johnson, who had allowed himself to be imposed on by his statements, and had even lent himself to the fraud, by writing a preface and postscript to Lauder's work. In 1754, Lauder, with a pertinacity that appears almost the effect of insanity, renewed his attack in another shape, by publishing a pamphlet, entitled The Grand Impostor Detected, or Milton convicted of Forgery against King Charles the First, which was answered in the Gentleman's Magazine of the same year. Finding his character utterly ruined, he quitted the kingdom, and for some time taught school in Barbadoes, where he died about 1771.