The trickster as an instrument of enlightenment: George Psalmanazar and the writings of Jonathan Swift ☆
The publication of George Psalmanazar's Description of Formosa (1704–1705) and the controversy surrounding the young man who claimed to be ‘a Native of Formosa, An Island subject to the Emperor of Japan,’ must place text and author among the most audacious examples of literary fraud in any language. Psalmanazar's Formosa fabrications—including claims of endemic polygamy, cannibalism, and child sacrifice—titillated and appalled his contemporaries, including Jonathan Swift, who paid mock tribute to the ‘famous Salmanaazor’ in A Modest Proposal (1729), crediting the ‘Formosan’ with being the true genius behind the plan ‘for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country’. Little attention has been paid to the possibility that Psalmanazar may have been a source for other Swift satires, including the little-known An Account of the Court and Empire of Japan (1727–1728), and major texts such as Gulliver’s Travels (1726). This essay aims to bring the image of one of the 18th century's more entertaining personalities into sharper resolution, and to explore the possibility that his influence on Swift was greater than has been generally suspected.
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