Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lauder, William (d.1771)

LAUDER, WILLIAM (d. 1771), literary forger, is said to have been related to the well-known family of Fountainhall. He was educated at Edinburgh University, and graduated M.A. on 11 July 1695 (Cat. of Edinburgh Graduates, Bannatyne Club, p. 151). On taking his degree he engaged in teaching, but while watching a game of golf on Bruntsfield Links, near Edinburgh, he received an accidental blow on the leg, and improper treatment of the wound rendered amputation necessary. He was assistant to Adam Watt, professor of humanity at Edinburgh, for a few months before Watt's death in 1734, and he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chair that Watt's death vacated. His testimonials described him as 'a fit person to teach humanity in any school or college whatever.' Soon afterwards he applied, without result, for the keepership of the university library.

Lauder was a good classical scholar, and was a student of modern Latin verse. In 1732 he published 'A Poem of Hugo Grotius on the Holy Sacrament, translated into English [blank] Verse,' and dedicated it to the provost (John Osburn) and the corporation of Edinburgh. In 1738 he announced his intention of issuing by subscription a collection of sacred poems, and stated that Robert Stewart, professor of natural history at Edinburgh, John Ker, professor of humanity there, and Thomas Ruddiman had promised him their aid. The work was printed at the press of Thomas and Walter Ruddiman, and appeared in 1739, in two volumes, with the title 'Poetarum Scotorum Musæ Sacræ.' It was dedicated to Charles Erskine of Tinwald, Dumfriesshire. Lauder contributed an elaborate and well-written Latin preface and a Latin life of Arthur Johnston. There follow much of Johnston's Latin poetry, including his renderings of the Psalms and Song of Solomon; paraphrases of other parts of the Bible by Patrick Adamson, William Hog, Robert Boyd of Trochrig, David Hume of Godscroft, George Eglisham, and William Barclay; and some original Latin verse by Thomas Ruddiman, Professor John Ker, and other of the editor's friends and contemporaries. Lauder forwarded a copy, with an adulatory Latin inscription, to Alexander Cruden [q.v.] (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. vi. 297). Throughout Lauder vehemently insisted on Johnston's superiority to Buchanan as a latinist, and he sought to turn this literary preference to pecuniary profit. On 19 May 1740, he presented to the general assembly a petition, in which, after describing himself as 'teacher of humanity in Edinburgh,' he urged the desirability of introducing Johnston's paraphrase of the Psalms into all the grammar schools of Scotland. Professors Stewart and Ker and Thomas Ruddiman supported the petition; after due consideration it was granted on 13 Nov. 1740, and Johnston's work was recommended as 'a good intermediate sacred lesson-book in the schools between Castalio's "Latin Dialogues" and Buchanan's paraphrase.' The decision caused discontent among the admirers of Buchanan, and 'A Letter to a Gentleman in Edinburgh,' signed 'Philo-Buchananus,' and issued a day or two before the general assembly reported, tried to convict Johnston's Latin verse of habitual inaccuracy, and Lauder of ineptitude as a critic. The author was John Love, rector at one time of Edinburgh High School, and afterwards of Dalkeith school (Calumny Display'd, pt. iii. p. 1 n.). Lauder defended his poet with great energy and bitterness in 'Calumny Display'd, or Pseudo-Philo-Buchananus couch'd of a Cataract, being a modest and impartial Reply to an impudent and malicious Libel,' Edinburgh, 1741, 4to. His adversary retorted in 'A Second Letter,' and Lauder returned to the attack with unbecoming warmth in his 'Calumny Display'd,' parts ii. and iii., Edinburgh, 1741. He tried to enlist Pope's sympathy by sending him a copy of his edition of Johnston, and a letter acquainting him with the controversy with Love. But Pope did not reply, and in 1742 he published in the third book of the 'Dunciad' a couplet (ll. 111–12), in which he unfavourably contrasted Johnston's literary merits with Milton's. On Pope's action Lauder placed an exaggerated importance. To 'Mr. Pope's blasting the credit of Johnston's paraphrase' he attributed the pecuniary failure of his work and an annual loss of 20l. to 30l. (An Apology for Mr. Lauder, p. 22). He further asserted that he 'was censured with great freedom for forcing upon the schools an author whom Mr. Pope had mentioned only as a foil to a better poet' (Letter to Dr. Douglas, 1751, p. 13). He took a somewhat subtle revenge by recklessly traducing the memory of the 'better poet' (Milton).

In 1742, armed with recommendations from Patrick Cuming, professor of church history at Edinburgh, and from Colin Maclaurin [q.v.], he applied for the rectorship of Dundee grammar school, but was once again rejected. Bitterly disappointed, he soon made his way to London with a view to maintaining himself by literary work. Early in 1747 Lauder startled the learned world by publishing an article in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for January, in which he showed that Milton's 'Paradise Lost' was largely constructed of plagiaristic paraphrases of a Latin poem entitled 'Sarcotis,' by Jacobus Masenius (1654). He followed up his attack in four succeeding papers (pp. 82, 189, 285, 363). By long quotations from Grotius's 'Adamus Exsul' and Andrew Ramsay's 'Poemata Sacra' (1633) he went far to prove, if his quotations merited reliance, that Milton was a very liberal and a very literal borrower. Richard Richardson ventured to contest Lauder's conclusions on general grounds in a letter to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for April 1747, and before the year was out Richardson published 'Zoilomastix, or a Vindication of Milton from all the invidious charges of Mr. William Lauder,' London, 1747. But Lauder was not defeated. He pursued his alleged investigations, and in August issued proposals for printing by subscription Grotius's 'Adamus Exsul,' 'with an English version and notes, and the lines imitated from it by Milton subjoined.' Cave, who consented to receive subscriptions, probably introduced Lauder to Dr. Johnson, who wrote the prospectus of the undertaking (cf. Gent. Mag. 1747, p. 404; Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, iv. 430–2). But Lauder suspended his labours on this publication in order to complete an expanded version of his essays in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' which appeared at the close of 1749 under the title of 'An Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns in his "Paradise Lost,"' London, 1750. Milton's line, 'Things unattempted yet in prose or rhime,' was printed as a motto on the title-page. With Dr. Johnson's consent the little essay that formed the prospectus of Lauder's promised edition of 'Adamus Exsul' was employed as the preface, and Johnson also appended a postscript appealing to the benevolent public for 'the relief of Mrs. Elizabeth Foster,' Milton's granddaughter. In this curious volume Lauder quotes from eighteen poets, chiefly modern writers of Latin verse, and pretends to prove Milton's extensive debt to all of them. From Taubmann's 'Bellum Angelicum' (1604) and Caspar Staphorstius's 'Triumphus Pacis' he alleges that Milton translated some of his noblest lines. Public excitement was aroused, and, in order to take full advantage of it, Lauder announced (3 July 1750) proposals for printing the little-known works whence his quotations were drawn, under the title 'Delectus Auctorum Sacrorum Miltono facem prælucentium.' But suspicion was soon expressed as to the accuracy of Lauder's quotations. Warburton wrote to Hurd, immediately after the publication of the work, 'I have just read the most silly and knavish book I ever saw' (Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, ii. 177). Richard Richardson first showed, in a letter sent to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' in January 1749–50 (but not published till December 1750), that the crucial passages which Lauder placed to the credit of Masenius and Staphorstius were absent from all accessible editions of their works, and had been interpolated by Lauder from William Hog's Latin verse rendering of 'Paradise Lost.' John Bowle [q.v.] also detected the fraud. In the spring of 1750 John Douglas [q.v.], afterwards bishop of Salisbury, came independently, and more decisively, to the same conclusion, and in 'Milton vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarism … in a Letter to the Earl of Bath,' proved beyond all doubt that Lauder had garbled nearly all his quotations, and had wilfully inserted in them extracts from the Latin version of the 'Paradise Lost.' Lauder did not at once perceive the consequences certain to follow Douglas's attack. Cave, the publisher of the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' wrote on 27 Oct. 1750: 'I have procured a Latin Comus [also by Hog] for Lauder, of which I suppose he makes great account' (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, v. 43). Dr. Johnson, whose reputation was involved, soon, however, obtained from Lauder a confession of his guilt, and Lauder readily consented to put his name to an abject apology, which Dr. Johnson dictated to him (20 Dec. 1750). It appeared as 'A Letter to the Reverend Mr. Douglas, occasioned by his Vindication of Milton … by William Lauder, A.M.,' 1751, and supplied a long list of the forged or interpolated lines. But to it Lauder appended, undoubtedly without Johnson's sanction, many of his early testimonials, and a postscript by himself impudently denying any criminal intent, and treating his performance as a practical joke, aimed at the blind worshippers of Milton. Another apology he forwarded to one of his subscribers, Thomas Birch, and it remains in manuscript at the British Museum (Addit. MS. 4312, f. 465). Lauder's publishers at once prepared a reissue of his 'Essay,' to which they prefixed an account of his 'wicked imposition,' and admitted that the only interest that the work could now claim was as 'a curiosity of fraud and interpolation.' The enemies of Johnson tried to make capital out of his connection with the offending publication, but Johnson's integrity was undoubted. 'In the business of Lauder,' he said later, 'I was deceived, partly by thinking the man too frantic to be fraudulent' (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 551). Douglas made no little reputation out of his successful exposure of the trick, and Goldsmith refers in his 'Retaliation' to the character that he consequently gained as 'the scourge of impostors and terror of quacks,' who was always on the alert for 'new Lauders' from across the Tweed. At the same time Lauder was violently assailed in many popular squibs. 'Pandæmonium, or a new Infernal Expedition, inscrib'd to a being who calls himself William Lauder, by Philalethes,' London, 1751, 4to, was probably the earliest of these effusions. In 'The Progress of Envy … occasioned by Lauder's Attack on the Character of Milton,' 1751, 4to, the writer charitably attributes the fraud to Lauder's poverty; and 'Furius, or a Modest Attempt towards a History of the Life and Surprising Exploits of the Famous W. L., Critic and Thiefcatcher,' has been assigned to Andrew Henderson (fl. 1734–1775) [q. v.]. 'Lauder has offered much amusement to the publick,' Warburton wrote sarcastically, 'and they are obliged to him' (ib. v. 650). Lauder's character was of the meanest, and his fraud contemptible. Nevertheless he has the credit of first proving that Milton had studied deeply the works of Grotius and other modern Latin verse-writers, and had occasionally assimilated their ideas. But his charges of plagiarism are impertinent, and confute themselves.

Lauder made many vain attempts to recover his reputation. He first published a querulous 'Apology for Mr. Lauder in a Letter to [Thomas Herring] the Archbishop of Canterbury,' 1751, in which he disclaims all malignity to Milton, and dishonestly complains that his own preface to the original edition of his 'Essay' was suppressed by his publishers. In a further vain attempt to overcome popular hostility, Lauder issued in 1752–3 two volumes of his promised 'Delectus,' including Ramsay's 'Poemata Sacra,' Grotius's 'Adamus Exsul,' Masenius's 'Sarcotis,' Taubmann's 'Bellum Angelicum,' and some shorter pieces. Each work was separately dedicated to some well-known nobleman or scholar. He was still resolute in his charges against Milton, and in the second volume gave a list of ninety-seven authors whom (he alleged) Milton had robbed. Finally, in a fit of desperation, Lauder issued 'King Charles I Vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarism brought against him by Milton, and Milton himself Convicted of Forgery,' London, 1754. Going over the old ground, Lauder here blames Johnson for extorting his first confession. Milton, he disingenuously argues, had himself inserted in the printed edition of Charles I's 'Eikon Basilike' a prayer from Sidney's 'Arcadia,' and had afterwards charged the king with blasphemy in quoting it. Such conduct, Lauder urged, justified the very mild injury which his garbled quotations had done the poet's memory. He had used a similar argument in a letter of excuses sent to Dr. Mead on 9 April 1751 (cf. Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, iv. 428–30).

But Lauder's reputation was irretrievably lost, and he emigrated to Barbadoes. At first he opened a grammar school, but the enterprise failed. Subsequently he took a huckster's shop in the 'Roebuck,' and purchased an African slavewoman, who helped him in the business. He died in Barbadoes in pecuniary distress in 1771.

He left a daughter, Rachel, whom he is said to have treated with loathsome brutality. Captain Pringle of H.M.S. Centaur contrived while at Barbadoes to deprive Lauder of her custody, and after marrying Deputy-provost-marshal Palgreen she became landlady of the Royal Naval Hotel. She called herself Rachel Pringle Palgreen, and was remarkable for her geniality and obesity. In 1786 Prince William (afterwards William IV), while in command of the frigate Pegasus, visited her hotel, and took part in a drunken frolic there, in the course of which much damage was done to her furniture. The prince handsomely compensated her for her loss (cf. Notes and Queries, 4th ser. v. 83–5).

[Chambers's Scottish Biography; Chalmers's Life of Ruddiman; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, }} i. 228–31; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes and Illustrations; Symmons's Life of Milton, pp. 549–566.]

S. L.