18th Century Literary Fakes

The eighteenth century is known as the great age of literary forgery. Fakes poured forth from the pens of writers. A number of factors contributed to this. First, this was the period during which print culture became ascendant over oral culture. Literacy rates rose dramatically. Therefore, it was natural that more people would turn their hands to print-based hoaxes. Second, the keen popular interest in antiquities and history that developed during this period gave forgers a ready market for any "ancient" manuscripts they could produce.

The sheer volume of forgery ironically promoted the advance of scholarship because it forced scholars to improve their analytical skills in order to separate authentic from inauthentic texts. The forgers, in turn, responded by becoming better at faking manuscripts. This "arms race" between scholars and forgers continues to this day. Any improvement in skills or techniques on one side immediately prompts a corresponding improvement from the other side.


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