TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. April 2010

Sektion 6.7. The travel: knowledge, communication and / or power
Sektionsleiterin | Section Chair:
Carmen Andras („Gheorghe Sincai Institute for Social Sciences and the Humanities, Târgu-Mureş, Romania)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Psalmanazar's Formosa:

A Pseudo-Historical Narrative and Multiple Identity Games

Elena Butoescu (University of Leeds, UK) [BIO]


George Psalmanazar was a controversial eighteenth-century literary figure, usually associated with imposture, deceit, forgery, spuriousness, disguise, hack writing, and fraud. The same figure had been considered a history writer, religious authority, and Hebrew scholar (Keevak "Johnson's Psalmanazar" 105) before he acknowledged his Formosan forgery in his autobiography, Memoirs of ***, Commonly known by the name of George Psalmanazar; a reputed native of Formosa, which was published, after his death, in 1764. Even after Psalmanazar's own confession that he was not the Formosan he had pretended to be and that his historical and geographical account of Formosa was his invention, various literary studies available up to the beginning of the twentieth century valued his narrative as accurate.

To cut a long story short, George Psalmanazar's real name and real identity have not been found out so far. It is assumed that he was a Frenchman, although he is believed to have been an Englishman, a Dutch, or a wandering Jew:

A Catholic who posed as a pagan before being converted to Protestantism and mistaken for Jewish, Psalmanazar was a Frenchman who masqueraded as Irish in Italy and Japanese in Germany before arriving in England as Formosan. (Ruthven 20).

"The fake Formosan traveller" (Groom 71) called himself Psalmanazar, or Psalmanaazaar, from Shalmaneser, an Assyrian conqueror of the Israelits [2 Kings 17:3], a reference to the Hebrew tradition. He was educated by his mother and left school when he was 16 years old, because he was displeased with his teachers. Finding himself at a loss what to do as he was in debt, he invented his first identity as an Irish Catholic. He assumed all the other identities according to the circumstances: a native to Japan converted to Christianity, a pagan Japanese, and a Formosan.

Michael Keevak argues that a lot was known about Formosa at the beginning of the eighteenth-century, and he especially refers to the publication of Frederic Coyett's work, "Neglected Formosa" in Amsterdam, in 1675 ("Pretended Asian" 17). Frederic Coyett was the last Dutch governor of Formosa, before the Chinese took the island over in 1661. The Dutch original book was published in 1675, followed by a German translation in 1677, but the English version came out very late and was not known to the English readers until the twentieth century. It was only between 1922 and 1924 that Pierre Martin Lambach, Dutch interpreter to the Governor General of Formosa translated it into English. This translation did not appear in print until 1975 (Coyett xiii). Therefore, the English readers knew little about Formosa and Japan early in the eighteenth-century, as no English translation of Coyett's book was available then. Under these circumstances, it is very unlikely that the English people knew "a lot" about Formosa and its inhabitants, which also explains why Psalmanazar easily passed for an Asian visitor, despite his fair complexion and round eyes.

In 1703, Psalmanazar came to London in a Formosan disguise, after he posed as a pagan, then as a Catholic, to end up playing with various identity masks, impersonating a Jewish, a Frenchman, an Irish, and a Japanese. In 1704, the first edition of his Formosan tales was published under the full title An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, An Island Subject to the Emperor of Japan, Giving an Account of the Religion, Customs, manners, etc., of the Inhabitants. Together with a relation of what happen'd to the Author in his Travels; particularly his conferences with the Jesuits and others, in several parts of Europe. Also the History and Reasons of his Conversion to Christianity, with his Objections against it (in defence of Paganism) and their Answers. To which is Prefix'd a Preface in Vindication of himself from the Reflections of a Jesuit lately come from China, with an Account of What Passed between them, signed by G.P, "a native of the said island, now in London."

The first English edition, which came out in London, in 1704 was dedicated to "The Right Honourable and Right Reverend Father in God, Henry, by Divine providence, Lord Bishop of London, and One of her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council" (1704). Psalmanazar considered that the approbation of an authority would best serve its readers' interests and would guarantee that his discourse was a legitimate one. The second English edition, which was published in 1705 added some "improvements" to the first edition. Psalmanazar wrote a second Preface "in Vindication of himself from the Reflections of a Jesuit lately come from China, with an Account of what passed between them" (1705), and introduced several illustrations which were not present in the former edition, such as a map of Formosa and the image of the Devil worshipped by the Formosan people.

George Psalmanazar translated the geography and history of Formosa, present day Taiwan, into fable, and his narrative was not exposed as invention until the posthumous publication of his autobiography. He described Formosa as being subject to the Emperor of Japan and stated that classical Greek was taught in Formosan schools, which was an aspect that contradicted his other statements regarding the practice of cannibalism and the eating of raw meat on the island. His journey from Formosa to England was an imaginary one, but the fabulous stories of Formosan emperors, festivals, and eating habits were taken for granted and even promoted by the Royal Society in London. Psalmanazar's Formosan alphabet is his own invention, even if the letters remind the reader of other languages, such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, although Psalmanazar pretended he was not familiar with Hebrew at the time of his writing.

The controversy around the publication of George Psalmanazar's Description of Formosa in London was not solved at the time of its publication, in 1704, nor was it settled 60 years later, when his Memoirs of ***, Commonly known by the name of George Psalmanazar; a reputed native of Formosa came out as a posthumous apology on the part of the author for the lies and inaccurate illustration of Formosa and its society.

Even today, after three monographs have been written, and a few articles have been devoted to the topic of the "false Formosan," the problem of the identity of the man known in the literary history as George Psalmanazar is still uncertain.

Psalmanazar was an eighteenth-century author who was very influential for the future writings of the time, especially the satiric narratives of Oliver Goldsmith, Tobias Smollett, and Jonathan Swift. It is assumed that one of Psalmanazar's literary models was William Dampier's "A New Voyage Round the World" published in 1697 as a real voyage containing exact and accurate observations on New Holland. Unlike Dampier, who went as far as New Holland and brought back to England some Australian plants, fossils, and artefacts that were later collected by private scientists or passionate collectors (Eisler 133), Psalmanazar did not travel to Formosa and was the perfect example of an armchair traveller. In his Memoirs he states that "Out of Europe I was not born, nor educated, nor even travelled" (70). But his perfect cheat did not prevent the Royal Society from encouraging and advertising his imposture.

On the contrary, George Psalmanazar met with Church leaders and members of the Royal Society. He was sent to Oxford to teach Formosan at Christ Church College, he was invited over dinner in the house of the then Secretary of the Society, Hans Sloane, and became a close friend of Samuel Johnson. Johnson used to speak very highly of Psalmanazar and it seems that he appreciated his 'regularity' and 'uniformity.' "I would rather contradict a bishop," Johnson used to say when mentioning Psalmanazar's name. He added, "I sought after George Psalmanazar the most. I used to go and sit with him at an alehouse in the city." (Boswell 241). Such a figure could not pass unnoticed in the contemporary literary history and could not be avoided in the critical approaches to eighteenth-century literary studies.

As a creator of fantasies in the English society, as well as a designer of Oriental constructs, Psalmanazar imposed himself on an eighteenth-century reading public as the figure of the fictional oriental traveller. He displayed his various masks one by one, as he played with different identities and he created such a perfect disguise that he was believed to be exactly who he pretended to be for sixty years. What seems controversial is the fact that the collection of qualifications he received ranges from the most appreciative remarks, such as history writer, religious authority, Hebrew scholar, "one of the eighteenth-century's more entertaining personalities" (Shufelt 148), "a fascinating companion" (Maycock 798), "an instant celebrity" (Keevak "Johnson's Psalmanazar" 101), and a regular man leading an "uniform life" (Keevak "Pretended Asian" 108), to the most despising and biting comments: "the penitent charlatan" (Keevak "Johnson's Psalmanazar" 113), an impostor, a marginal man and a trickster (Shufelt 147), "a genuine example of the fake" (Needham 79), as well as "a professed cannibal" and "hack world maker" (Eilon 173). Recently, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has run him down, but has recognized his authority at the same time: he is introduced both as an impostor and author. Robert DeMaria, jun. attributes Psalmanazar the names of "impostor and author," acknowledging the fact that Psalmanazar is still considered an author, and, despite his imposture, he is incorporated in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2006).

Since Psalmanazar was attributed the name of trickster (Shufelt 147), we can assume that, as a trickster, he was positively identified with creative powers, even if he departed from the norm and behaved "in the most antisocial manner" (Babcock-Abrahams 147). From this perspective, Psalmanazar should be considered an anti-Establishment author, rejecting the official world with its system of values and, in a Rabelaisian manner, using lies and false historical accounts as a form of the unofficial truth. According to Babcock-Abrahams, the trickster is somewhere in-between categories and her portrait of the trickster of the margins that surrounded Psalmanazar's life: imposture and penitence, guilt and remorse, chaos and regularity. The trickster is interested in

[...] those areas between categories, between what is animal and what is human, what is natural and what is cultural. Trickster and his tales exemplify this preoccupation, for at the center of his antinomian existence is the power derived from his ability to live interstitially, to confuse and to escape the structure of society and the order of cultural things (148).

As a trickster, Psalmanazar deviated from the social codes imposed by the eighteenth-century order, both as a citizen, who did not reveal his real identity and lived as an outsider, and as a writer, who did not respect the literary conventions of the time and designed a false piece of history, ethnography and anthropology avant-la-lettre. He ignored temporal and spatial boundaries, he exhibited a paradoxical nature, and he had difficulty in distinguishing reality from the effect of reality, combining "the secular and the sacred in a single figure" (Babcock-Abrahams 162). What is typical of Psalmanazar's personality is a collapse of binary oppositions, characteristic for postmodernism, as his text is neither completely factual, nor fictional, but a hybrid combination of both.

Another image that is associated with the figure of Psalmanazar is that of the impostor. The case of Psalmanazar was even discussed in medical terms by Phyllis Greenacre from the Cornell University Medical College, who, in her article dedicated to the study of imposture, uses Psalmanazar's case as an example of imposture, classifying him among "some notorious impostors of history" (360). The Oedipal problems that are identified by Greenacre as specific to Psalmanazar empasize too much a medical aspect that should not be dominant in Psalmanazar's case, in spite of his ambiguous feelings for his father. According to Greenacre,

Psalmanazar's childhood is described in his own memoirs, unreliable as they may be, in which he depicts an anxious, devoted, ambitious mother, separated from an unsuccessful but pretentious father when the boy was six (368).

However, Psalmanazar makes it very clear in his Memoirs that his father was "obliged" to leave his mother before he was five, as his father was "of an ancient, but decayed family" (71). Psalmanazar blames the social milieu and conventions for his father's absence from his life and states that his father's "misfortunes" (71) prevented him from contributing to his education. As such, it would be quite odd to explain Psalmanazar's stories about Formosa and himself through a psychiatric reading. Besides, Greenacre characterizes the impostor as driven by the struggle between two dominant identities in the individual: "the temporarily focused and strongly assertive imposturous one" and "the frequently amazingly crude and poorly knit one from which the impostor has emerged" (Greenacre 364), which is an exaggeration given the context that accommodated Psalmanazar and the eighteenth-century craze for the Orient. Whether Psalmanazar was a sick person impersonating an impostor or simply a satirist of the time, it is hard to affirm and his addiction to laudanum has been often mentioned in support of his fraudulent behaviour.

Chris Amirault made further medical associations between Psalmanazar's case and the Munchausen syndrome, but all these medical justifications in support of Psalmanazar's behaviour do not elucidate his real interests and motivations behind his so-called imposture. On the face of it, Psalmanazar appears to have been a clinical case, but what if he attempted to satirise the European naive belief in different ridiculous stories that were made up about Japan and Formosa, or the Orient in general?

My intention is to discuss the purposes and consequences of Psalmanazar's (self)-created identities and pseudo-historical narrative and draw some conclusions concerning the causes and institutions they were produced to serve. Behind the description of the Formosan society and customs, there is a historical reality to take into consideration. As a marginal man, Psalmanazar uses similitudes to convey the image of an epoch to the public, and turn the unfamiliar and exotic aspects into familiar characteristics. The vices and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the Jesuits are revealed through the Formosan religious practices, the illustrations in his book on Formosa stand for the Georgian aspects of social life, some aspects of Formosan religion, as well as Psalmanazar's assumed name are similar to Hebrew traditions, while the motif of the Trojan horse reminds of the Greco-Roman history.

The priestly costumes in the illustration that represents the funeral practice "are curiously reminiscent of the habits worn by the ranks and orders of Roman ecclesiastics, from the bishop's mitre to the monk's cassock" (Swiderski 72). Frederic J. Foley insists on Psalmanazar's permanent attack on the Roman Catholic Church in his monograph The Great Formosan Impostor (1992), while Peter Mason discusses Psalmanazar's illustrations of Formosan customs in relation to the European habit of "exoticizing" the non-European worlds (58).

According to Jennifer Speake, "When trying to describe what was foreign to them, travel writers had to fall back either on the familiar and banal or on the fictitious and fantastical" (xi). Unlike William Dampier, for instance, who, in writing about his cultural "other," chose the former option mentioned by Speake and used familiar language and comparisons, distancing himself from the writers of imaginary voyages, Psalmanazar perfectly exemplified the latter choice mentioned by Speake.

Psalmanazar was in the limelight of eighteenth-century salons because he adopted exotic practices and challenged the established order. He spoke a foreign language, ate raw flesh, and assumed the practices of a different religion. From a literary point of view, he lived for a season, exactly as much as a festival or a carnival that was meant to turn the established order upside down. As an accurate "exemplar" of his own century and as a "child of his time," Psalmanazar "both fitted into and exemplified the intellectual history of his time" (Day 198), continuing the tradition of John Mandeville, and being followed by Princess Caraboo in the nineteenth-century.

Psalmanazar was included in either hoax stories compilations or along with the imaginary voyages of the eightenth-century, in the vicinity of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" or Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe." Psalmanazar was blamed and praised at the same time for being a contributor to a history based on rumours, a history compiled by writers who did not have much time to read because they had to write. The only excuse for Psalmanazar's fraud that the reader can grasp from the pages of his memoir is the context which caught him in a net of religious and political interests. Discussions around Psalmanazar's case connect him with both historical inauthenticity and literary forgery, thus bringing up the old debate of the presence of the fabulous in the historical accounts. Even the various labels that have been attached to his name and fame are paradoxically contradictory. For instance, R. L. Hadfield discusses Psalmanazar as part of his collection of "Picturesque Rogues," and even if Psalmanazar is considered "a literary hoaxer" who came from France (11), he is nevertheless a "daring and skilful" one (11), who performs his roles with "considerable success" (17). The same combination of negative naming and positive appreciation, of condemnation and praise is present in Frederick M. Smith's discussion of Samuel Johnson's friends. Psalmanazar is "a pious fraud" (111), described with sympathy, humour, and even delight, at times, as a young Frenchman who "maintained his character of a Japanese, but instead of passing as a convert to Christianity, he gave a little spice to existence by posing as a pagan who had stubbornly held out against conversion" (129).

In order to better understand the context that accommodated Psalmanazar and the way he successfully used both fact and fiction to create his own version of Formosa, I will briefly look at the debates over story and history, from the classical period to the beginning of the twentieth century. As we shall notice, every century saw the overlapping of the fabulous accounts with the historical facts and the difficulty to objectively separate historical truth from metaphorical language.

To start with, the classical tradition accepted accounts of the past mixed with what might have been imagined about the past. The question of how to differentiate a false tale from historical truth goes back to Socrates, who banned poets from his Republic because they would not tell the truth. Also, Aristotle described poets and dramatists as "skilful liars" (Nelson 3), although he praised them more than he condemned them, and he considered verisimilitude as the main characteristic of a successful lie. Cicero noticed some fabulous aspects in the works of Herodotus and Theopompus, while Lucian, in his True Histories considered Iambulus, who wrote his fabulous traveler's narrative between 165 and 50 BC, a liar, because he described an island whose double-tongued men could communicate with two different people at once (Nelson 11-12). William Nelson concludes, "What mattered was not whether the tale was true, or partly true, or not true at all, but whether it was edifying or amusing" (6).

It seems that the "utile dulce" principle was used as an excuse for the tall tales used to both entertain and instruct the readers. As long as the people benefited from and enjoyed what they read, then little importance was attached to historical fact. The first centuries of the Christian era became concerned with the problem of the legitimacy of fiction and felt the need to distinguish true from false histories: "The unquestionable verity of Biblical story relegated all other histories to the realm of human uncertainty" (Nelson 35). St. Augustine's statement distinguishes figurative language from truth, a characteristic which will be later found in the seventeenth-century rejection of metaphors by the philosophers:

[...]not everything that we make up [fingimus] is a lie; but when we make up that which signifies nothing, then it is a lie. When, however, our fiction is related to a certain signification it is not a lie but in some way a figure of truth. Otherwise everything said figuratively by wise and holy men, or even by the Lord Himself, will be reckoned a lie since by customary understanding truth does not abide in such discourse (Augustine, 2 quaest, Evangel., quaest 51, in Migne, Patrologiae Cursus, Series Latina, XXXV, col. 1362, in Nelson 14).

During the seventeenth-century, the figural language was condemned by the members of the Royal Society, who viewed metaphors as a threat to the reasonable and decent language of science and as having a negative influence upon the readers. Thomas Sprat rejected the use of metaphors in his "History of the Royal Society" (1667), Robert Boyle saw no need for stylistic ornamentation and Joshua Childrey believed that language hid the true meaning of things. (Rossi 145-175). Before that, the medieval narratives were written in a quasi-historical mode and the apocryphal tales "created a substantial precedent for a kind of imaginative literature which was presented not as fiction but as documented history" (Nelson 22).

As a consequence, the Renaissance and early modern period excluded the classical liberty of inventing speeches and battle descriptions and it rejected the figural language. Artistic composition and figural language were considered as ornaments and were associated with fabrication and lies, which separated the historian from the poet.

The seventeenth-century concern for authenticity of sources dismissed fictional narratives as time-wasting, vain, and frivolous, and one should not forget that Puritanism and Counter-Reformation were both intolerant to frivolity. Philip Sidney considered that "it is the persistent childishness in grown men that makes them so receptive to imagined story" (Apology 113), and so, there was a visible interest in finding new methods to legitimate historical writings. For instance, Harley, Cotton, Pepys founded great libraries and collections of MSS and the job of the eighteenth-century historians was to assess their value: "the more revered the MS, the more the right of literature to be regarded as a potential source for the historians" (Haywood 21).

Not all these manuscripts were authentic and the desire for the original source resulted in the forgery of other texts, which eventually led to an increasing fabrication of manuscripts. The historian made use of authoritative documents, but the problem these documents put forward was related to their authenticity. This obsessive search for authenticity and legitimacy in a manuscript as the true witness of the past was misunderstood and even taken advantage of. Ian Haywood observes that "Locke's plea for more ancient MSS found an answer in the forgeries" (20), which is an exaggerated statement, but might be a possible response to the change in the perception of historical reading.

This problem was not sorted out at the beginning of the eighteenth-century, which saw the proliferation of both historiography, in the sense of a revaluation of history, and the novel. Most novels pretended to be documents (journals, memoirs, and letters) and false documents were used to authenticate historical writings. Eighteenth-century writings did not make a proper distinction between history and fiction, historiography and literature, as "history told an exciting story" (Haywood 17).

R. G. Collingwood analyses what he calls 'constructive history' (240). The historian, in his attempt to bridge the gaps between what the authorities tell us imagines what happened in some circumstances that are not revealed by the authority: what he infers is in fact something he imagines (241). Collingwood names this concept "a priori imagination" (241), which is different from the arbitrary fancy: "it is this activity which, bridging the gaps between what our authorities tell us, gives the historical narrative or description its continuity" (241). Collingwood warns us that the imagination in the concept of the historical imagination is not to be misunderstood for the fictitious or unreal. Historical imagination is "not ornamental, but structural" (241). Unlike Collingwood, Roland Barthes's idea of history or historical imagination is an arbitrary one. Barthes views history as a form of narrative and argues that the relationship of fictional discourse to historical reality is an arbitrary one and even "historical narratives are also arbitrary in this sense" (204):

The difference between historical narratives and most fictional narratives is that the form tend to disguise their arbitrary nature by the use of certain linguistic devices judged most apt to create an illusion of objectivity or a 'reality effect' (204).

To Collingwood, both the novel and the history are "works of imagination" (246). They both "must" (245) make sense: "nothing is admissible in either except what is necessary, and the judge of this necessity is in both cases the imagination" (246): "Both the novel and the history are self-explanatory, self-justifying, the product of an autonomous or self-authorizing activity; and in both cases this activity is the a priori imagination" (246). The difference between them is that "the historian's picture is meant to be true [...] to construct a picture of things as they really were and of events as they really happened" (246). The historian does this by respecting three rules of method. First of all, his picture must be localized in space and time (246), which implies accuracy in relation to the chronotope. Second of all, "history must be consistent with itself" (246). In the novel, there may be various imaginary worlds, while there is "only one historical world" and "everything in it must stand in some relation to everything else, even if that relation is only topographical and chronological" (246). And then, the most important aspect refers to the fact that "the historian's picture stands in a peculiar relation to something called evidence" (246).

The evidence is the here-and-the-now available to him, but the principles according to which the evidence is interpreted and the methods used by the historian change: "every new generation must rewrite history in its own way; every new historian, not content with giving new answers to old questions, must revise the questions themselves" (Collingwood 248). When a historian attempts to reopen a discussion about an old question, he realises "the question has changed" (248), which adds a second dimension to the historical thought. The historian himself and the historical evidence he uses has become part of the process he is studying (248).

George Psalmanazar did not write an accurate historical and geographical account of Formosa, but pretended he did. The Description abounded in fabulous stories, but the details were not very much exaggerated in this first edition. An almost Utopian society was described, mirroring Europe in the illustrations, religious life, social organization, and education curriculum. The author presented Formosa as a well-structured, hierarchical society, in which polygamy was admitted, as it ensured the necessary supply of the annually sacrificed boys, 18,000 in number. The god of Formosa was represented in the shape of an elephant or an ox, the image of the priests in the funeral procession was similar to that of the bishops, and the upper class ladies looked like medieval clothing. Meat was usually eaten raw and cannibalism was not so often practiced in the first English edition. Human sacrifice was a common practice, yet, at the same time, the Formosans had an elaborate alphabet, and they were taught Greek and Latin in school.

Psalmanazar pretended he had given a true and accurate account of Formosa and his belief was clearly expressed in his dedication to Bishop Compton, as well as in the Preface to the second edition of An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa:

When I had met with so many Romantick Stories of all those remote Eastern Countries, especially of my own, which had been impos'd upon you as undoubted Truths and universally believ'd, then I was much discourag'd from proceeding in my Description of it; yet since Truth ought to dispel these Clouds of fabulous Reports, and I could not escape uncensur'd even by myself, should I (by my silence) suffer you to remain in ignorance, or rather deceiv'd by misrepresentations, I thought myself indispensably oblig'd to give you a more faithful History of the Isle of Formosa, than as yet you have met with (1705).

Pslamanazar continued the tradition of the imaginary voyage presented as a real one and was a real inspiration for Daniel Defoe who, in his 1719 Preface to the Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner revealed the fact that "the editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is their any Appearance of Fiction in it." As such, pseudo-voyages created a huge confusion. For instance, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was based on a real shipwreck, that of Alexander Selkirk, in 1704, but Defoe's story was fictitious, despite departing from a real story.

There was much advertising and interest in voyages even before 1700 and travel narratives became a prolific business, closely supervised by the Admiralty and the Royal Society:

And in the eighteenth-century so much in demand were manuscripts of any long voyage that the British Admiralty followed the practice of confiscating all journals written on government-sponsored sailing expeditions so that an official version could be produced by careful editing (Adams 42).

The periodicals and newspapers that came out in an ever increasing number were much concerned with voyages and travels, and one of the roles the Royal Society assumed was to be the patron of travellers, publishing information about what were believed as the most fascinating travel experiences in its Philosophical Transactions. Other periodicals, such as The Gentleman's Magazine, or the London Magazine, both founded in the 1730s, contained depictions of remote and exotic regions. It is obvious that the bodies of authority supported and encouraged such exotic approaches to the depiction of non-European worlds.

Psalmanazar's account of Formosa consists of a mixture of the factual and the fabulous, the familiar and the remote exotic, the historical clothed in a fictional coat: Formosa is a hierarchical, well-ordered society mirroring Europe, and yet, people practice cannibalism and eat raw meat. The Jesuits and their Christian mission in non-European parts of the world are real details, yet human sacrifice practiced by the Church is Psalmanazar's invention. Ultimately, Formosa exists on the map, but the description that is attributed to it and the idea that Greek is taught in their school is a fabulous creation. There is a very thin border between factual description and fabulous images of Formosa in Psalmanazar's writings.

He offered an excellent tableau vivant of his contemporary age through the writings that his Description stimulated. According to some references (Napier 1979; Napier 1981; Dussinger 1992; Reisner 1993), Psalmanazar was used as a source of inspiration for Oliver Goldsmith's Citizen of the World, Jonathan Swift's Travels into Remote Nations of the World. By Lemuel Gulliver (1726), and Swift's An Account of the Court and Empire of Japan. Swift mentioned him in A Modest Proposal as a bad example, which reinforces his irony and political and religious attack.

Formosa exists on the map, but Psalmanazar's own version and description of it is a fiction. It is an almost impossible task to attempt to classify Psalmanazar in the literary world, as he was as much an impostor as an imaginary character satirizing the mores of his time behind a Formosan mask. Eventually, his writing seemed to have a double effect upon Psalmanazar's soul: it was both the poison and the remedy, because from a self-declared impostor he became a respected "regular" man. Literary history does not have a portrait of an unmasked Psalmanazar. His various assumed or attributed disguises served him and literary history for various purposes, usually misleading ones. His writings should not be regarded as unimportant for the eighteenth-century studies, for they posed as facts and they were taken for granted as early as 1703 by the Royal Society, the readers and the following travel accounts: "Indeed, Psalmanazar's fabrication is so thoroughly woven into the historiography of Taiwan that his deception has continued to dupe and mislead scholars even to the present day." (Shufelt 171).


Primary sources

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6.7. Discourses of Difference in Philip Glazebrook's Journey to Kars (1984)

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For quotation purposes: Elena Butoescu: Psalmanazar's Formosa: A Pseudo-Historical Narrative and Multiple Identity Games - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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