1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Lauder

Leigh Hunt, "William Lauder" The Cabinet NS 1 (February 1809) 111.



The latter part of the life of this impostor is very little known. He fled from the indignation of his countrymen to Barbadoes, where he was befriended by the grandfather of the present writer, who first pitied him for his real repentance, and afterwards admired him for his real learning. By the interest of this gentleman he obtained the mastership of a free-school in Bridgetown, and died much respected. He has been described to me as a stout decent-looking man, with a wooden leg. The treatment of Lauder, on his detection by Dr. Douglas, was exactly in the spirit of Englishmen, who will suffer none of their great men to be abused but their Kings and Ministers. His reasons for his imposture were at once ludicrous and contemptible. Pope, it seems, had offended him by ridiculing in the Dunciad a Scotch physician named Johnson, who had formerly versified the Psalms in Latin; and Lauder, who was publishing this version, and procuring it admittance into the Scotch grammar-schools, assures us that he found it suddenly neglected and despised. Well, but what has that to do with Milton? Why, Mr. Lauder was offended with Pope, who was a great poet, and so he felt angry with all great poets; and as the fate of Dennis perhaps had rendered him fearful of attacking Pope, he immediately assaulted Milton.

Of the share which Johnson had in assisting the forgery, the greater part, I believe, was sufficiently complacent. It would have done his patriotism good to have plucked out an unwarrantable laurel from the "dog of a whig." But he was certainly deceived in the book-stall reading of Lauder, who had inserted lines in the most Gothic Latin versifiers to assimilate Milton with his pretended originals. The moment the imposture was discovered, Johnson himself wrote the man's recantation in terms of strong humiliation.