An Engineered Literary Hoax

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In September 1810, Scottish writer Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) wrote a letter to Robert Southey (1774 – 1843) relating about a plagiarism allegation he received from an anonymous individual:

A witty rogue, the other day, who sent me a letter subscribed “Detector,” proved me guilty of stealing a passage from one of Vida’s Latin poems, which I had never seen or heard of; yet there was so strong a general resemblance as fairly to authorize “Detector’s” suspicion.

In Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott (1845), John Gibson Lockhart wrote:

The lines of Vida which “Detector” had enclosed to Scott, as the obvious original of the address to “Woman,” in Marmion, closing with —

“When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!”

end as follows: and it must be owned that if Vida had really written them, a more extraordinary example of casual coincidence could never have been pointed out.

“Cum dolor atque supercilio gravis imminet angor,
Fungeris angelico sola ministerio.”

“Detector’s” reference is Vida ad Eranen, El. ii. v. 21; but it is almost needless to add there are no such lines, and no piece bearing such a title in Vida’s works.

Later, it was found that “Detector”, the creator of the hoax, was a Cambridge student named Mr. Drury.

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is

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