George Psalmanaazaar: The Fake Formosan

One of the most extraordinary impostors ever to appear in Europe, writes James R. Knowlson, afterwards became the devout and dignified old gentleman whose friendship Samuel Johnson valued.

Impostors, especially successful ones, offer interesting subjects for study. This is probably because the temptation to claim that we are something more than we are—more experienced, more successful, more intelligent as human beings—is commoner than many of us would be prepared to admit.

And though we ought perhaps to be indignant at the deceit, there is also something that approaches satisfaction in the example of a man clever enough to hoodwink the so-called experts among his fellow-men. And the cleverer the hoax, the more we may admire the hoaxer.

Of the numerous instances of “distinguished impostures” that history offers, few have the fascination of that perpetrated at the beginning of the eighteenth century by a Frenchman, whose real name remains unknown, but who called himself George Psalmanaazaar after Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, in the second book of Kings.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.