Imposters and Charlatans

Thomas Chatterton, born in 1752, started publishing in journals at the age of 11. He wrote pseudo-medieval poetry and articles under several nom de plumes, passing them off as originals or translations from originals. He made his way to London, where, after having had his work rejected, he committed suicide at 17 by taking arsenic. His Works of Thomas Rowley, published posthumously, was initally assumed to be the writing of a genuine fifteenth-century poet. Chatterton became an idol of the Romantic movement, mentioned in poems by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, and others. Some of his works may be read here.

In 1760, James Macpherson claimed to have discovered an ancient Scottish poet named Ossian. He translated the poems and published them in a book called Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland. The next year, he claimed to have found an epic, which he "translated" and published as Fionnghall. The notion of an ancient British literary titan writing works on the scale of Homer took Europe by storm. Napoleon was enthusiastic, and "Ossian" was a major influence on the writings of Goethe and Sir Walter Scott. Macpherson was later uncovered as a fraud.