1750
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Milton's use and imitation of the Moderns.

An Essay on Milton's use and imitation of the Moderns, in his Paradise Lost.

William Lauder


William Lauder accuses Milton of plagiarizing neoLatin poetry including (among others) Grotius's Adam Exul. He sarcastically takes as his epigraph, "Things unattempted in Prose or Rhyme." The resulting controversy over originality, imitation, and plagiarism attracted much comment in the periodicals, much of it carried on in The Gentleman's Magazine. In his zeal, Lauder forged several quotations, exposed by John Douglas in Milton Vindicated (1750). Samuel Johnson contributed a preface to Lauder's essay, though he came to regret having anything to do with this odd and angry man.

William Warburton to Richard Hurd: "I have just read the most silly and knavish book I ever saw; one Lauder, on Milton's Imitations. An observation at the bottom of 44, and the top of 45, proves him either one or the other with a vengeance. If there are those things in Masenius, why did he not produce them? They are of more weight to prove his charge than all he says besides. If they are not, he is a knave. I think he has produced about half a dozen particular thoughts that look like imitations — but the matter of Imitation is a thing very little understood" 23 December 1749; in Nichols, Illustrations (1817-1858) 2:177n.

Charles Knight?: "The author of this tract, William Lauder, was a disappointed Scotch teacher of the classics, (in which, however, he was very well read,) who sought to mend his fortunes and establish his reputation by one of the most impudent forgeries, or rather series of forgeries, ever palmed upon the public, in the work just referred to. In that work, (the preface and postscript to which were written by Dr. Johnson, on whose Tory prejudices Lauder had easily imposed,) Milton is charged with the grossest plagiarisms from Masenius, and early drama by Grotius, Fox, Quintanus, Beza, Strophorstius, Taubman, and other modern Latin poets, from all whose works quotations are affected to be given. Some of these were most clearly proved to be sheer forgeries, others full of the pen of the most barefaced interpolations, in a masterly pamphlet from the pen of the Rev. John Douglas, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, entitled Milton vindicated from the charge of Plagiarism, brought against him by Mr. Lauder, and Lauder himself convicted of several Forgeries and gross Impositions on the Public. — 8vo. Lond. 1750" "Puffs Against Tobacco" London Magazine S3 2 (October 1828) 339.

Thomas Edwards mentions Lauder's work in explaining to Samuel Richardson why he has decided not to edit Spenser: "this is a work not to he done with a wet finger, and is, I doubt, beyond my strength; not to mention the collecting parallel places where he has imitated other authors, a work which Lauder has made me sick of" 30 March 1751; in Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Barbauld (1804) 3:15.

On Lauder, see Robert Lloyd's The Progress of Envy. A Poem. In Imitation of Spenser (1751). Moses Browne responded in Gentleman's Magazine, "The Owl will hoot that cannot sing, | Spite will displume the muse's wing, | ... | A Virgil 'scaped not the Maevius' page, | And Milton has his Lauder," Lives of the Poets (1753) 2:131.

W. Davenport Adams: "William Lauder (b. 1710, d. 1771), edited the Poetarum Scotorum Musae Sacrae (1739), and wrote An Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns in his Paradise Lost (1751), and The Grand Impostor Detected, or Milton Convicted of Forgery against King Charles the First (1754). The charges made in both these latter works were refuted" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 327.




An ingenious writer having some years ago obliged the world with an essay on Milton's imitation of the ancients, which was very favourably reviewed both here and at Edinburgh, where it was printed: I have, after his example, adventured to publish the following observations on Milton's imitation of the moderns; having lately fallen on four or five modern authors in Latin verse, whom I have reason to believe Milton has consulted in composing his poem, Paradise lost. And if my conjecture shall appear well-founded, the novelty of the subject will entitle me to the favour of the reader since I no way intend unjustly to derogate from the real merit of that noble poet, who certainly is entitled to a high degree of praise, for raising so beautiful a structure, even supposing all the materials were borrowed. . . .


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