A Letter to the Reverend Mr. Douglas,
LAUDER William (1751)
£2200.00 [First Edition]
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"TOO FRANTIC TO BE FRAUDULENT": LAUDER'S "APOLOGY" (DEMANDED BY JOHNSON) FOR ACCUSING MILTON OF PLAGIARISM
occasioned By his Vindication of Milton. To which are subjoin'd Several curious original Letters from the Authors of the Universal History, Mr. Ainsworth, Mr. Maclaurin, &c.
First Edition. 4to (282 x 224mm). 24pp. Title-page and verso of final leaf evenly browned, a dark stain across the upper section of the title-page (just touching the first letter of the title), some minor marking in a couple of places, edges a little dusty but otherwise a very good, extraordinarily large and entirely uncut copy. Bound in modern calf-backed marbled boards.
London: for W. Owen, 1751
Fleeman 51.1LLD. Rothschild 1312.
Lauder's apology - dictated by Samuel Johnson - for suggesting that Milton plagiarised sections of Paradise Lost.
William Lauder's (c.1710-c.1771) famous claim that Milton had used sections of an earlier Latin poem by Jacobus Masenius when writing Paradise Lost was eventually debunked by John Douglas in his Milton vindicated from the charge of plagiarism (c. 1750). Samuel Johnson had initially been intrigued by Lauder's argument - Paul Baines in the ODNB suggests that Johnson, "to some degree countenanced Lauder's claims—partly no doubt out of political antipathy towards Milton, but also out of his habitual charity towards poor scholars and a genuine liking for modern Latin verse".
When Johnson became aware of the hoax he "immediately caused Lauder to publish a dictated confession, apologising for the offences listed by Douglas and revealing the other offences for which evidence was lacking" (ODNB).
Lauder writes at the beginning of this work:
"I will not so far dissemble my Weakness, or my Fault, as not to confess that my Wish was to have passed undetected; but since it has been my Fortune to fail in my original design, to have the suppositious Passages which I have inserted in my Quotations made know to the World, and the Shade which began to gather on the Splendour of Milton totally dispersed, I cannot but count in an Alleviation of my Pain, that I have been defeated by a Man who knows how to use Advantages with so much Moderation, and can enjoy the Honour of Conquest without the Insolence of Triumph" (p.3).
Unbeknown to Johnson, Lauder attached a second section to the work in which he added, "a further series of testimonies in his [Lauder's] favour, mostly old letters recommending him for teaching posts, and a more truculent account of his distaste for Milton, which somewhat lessened the dignity of the confession". Johnson is famously said to have commented on the episode: "In the business of Lauder, I was deceived; partly by thinking the man too frantick to be fraudulent".
The present copy is remarkably large: the copy in Fleeman is described as "uncut" as was the last copy to appear at auction (before the present copy) but both copies are still almost a centimetre shorter in both height and width. Most "standard" cut-down copies are much smaller - one copy we have examined measured 243 x 188mm and another was smaller again (by almost a centimetre). It seems highly unlikely that a large paper copy of this work was deemed necessary but nonetheless it is much larger than any other copy we have come across.
A copy was offered in the Maggs Samuel Johnson catalogue 1038 described as "rare" - a defective copy in modern wrappers lacking the final gathering (£125).
Provenance: Inked "B" or "13" in the upper fore-corner of the title-page. Pencil note with a price "£4000" (Ximenes) on title-page.
Stock Code: 244509