1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Lauder

William Tooke, Note to The Ghost; Poetical Works of Charles Churchill (1804) 2:53-54n.



By Truth inspired, when Lauder's spite
O'er Milton cast the veil of night,
Douglas arose, and through the maze
Of intricate and winding ways
Came where the subtle traitor lay,
And dragg'd him, trembling, to the day;
Whilst he, (O shame to noblest parts!
Dishonour to the lib'ral arts,
To traffic in so vile a scheme!)
Whilst he, our letter'd Polypheme,
Who had confederate forces join'd,
Like a base coward skulk'd behind.

William Lauder, was by birth a Scotchman, and taught Latin at the university of Edinburgh, where in 1739 he published an edition of Johnston's psalms. From thence he came to London, where he made a memorable attack on Milton in a book intitled "An Essay on Milton's use and imitation of the Moderns in his Paradise Lost." His quotations consisting of purposely interpolated passages in old and obscure authors, passed as genuine for a time; but at length the forgeries were detected by Mr. Douglas, now bishop of Salisbury, who had likewise unmasked Archibald Bower, another impostor. Lauder on being discovered, subscribed a confession of his offence, and went to Barbadoes, where he kept a school, and died in 1771.

Dr. Johnson openly approved not only of the design, but of the argument contained in Lauder's book; and seemed to exult in the persuasion that the reputation of Milton was likely to suffer by the discovery. Though certainly not privy to the fraud, the preface to the work was indubitably written by him. Upon the detection of the forgeries by Mr. Douglas in a pamphlet intitled "Milton vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarism brought against him by Mr. Lauder," Dr. Johnson, who was now convinced of the fraud, advised Lauder to subscribe an ample confession of his guilt, which was very ably penned by the Doctor, and published in the form of a letter from Lauder to Mr. Douglas. Notwithstanding this abject humiliation, he shortly after renewed his attacks on Milton, and disclaimed his confession, which he said was written entirely by Dr. Johnson; and to which he had been induced unadvisedly to subscribe his name. This matchless impudence excited no farther notice, and he took refuge in the West Indies from that contempt which overwhelmed him here.