Exploring Psalmanazar

Exploring Psalmanazar

By John Gohorry

Price: £10.00

ISBN: 978-1-912524-21-1

Number of pages: 110

Poetry, Paperback, 135x210mm, English

John Gohorry was born Donald Smith in Coventry in 1943. He gained an M.Phil. at University of London in 1970 for a thesis on Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, and has combined a lifetime of lecturing in Further and Higher Education with enquiries into the resources of the human imagination. One of the poems in this, his thirteenth collection, gives an account of an expedition he made long ago to the now lost island of Antichthon, and the fruits of his discoveries there. He is married with five adult children and fourteen grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

George Psalmanazar (1675?–1763) came to London in the summer of 1703, claiming to be a native of Formosa (modern Taiwan), a country about which Europeans knew very little at the time. The following year, he published a Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, which among much else contained an account of the (fictitious) Formosan language, which he was able to write and speak, and translate into fluently, both from Latin and from English. His confession of these forgeries was published posthumously, though he never revealed his true name or nationality.

Psalmanazar was a formidable linguist. Besides the Formosan he invented, and the French he spoke from birth, he had English and Latin, learned during his schooldays, and in adult life taught himself Hebrew by immersing himself in Hebrew translations of Latin versions of the Psalms. Eventually he was able to read most of the Old Testament in Hebrew, and to speak Hebrew with some of the Moroccan Jews worshipping at the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London.

Should we see Psalmanazar’s career as he presented it, in terms of a cut-and-dried development between two documents from forgery to confession, from falsehood to truth, or as something more nuanced, in which the forgery contains grains of truth and the truth grains of falsehood? Only by taking both documents with a pinch of salt and a generous leavening of our own imaginations do we come close to penetrating the dark interior of Psalmanazar’s Formosa.