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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography

This six-volume biographical dictionary was published between 1887 and 1889 and was one of the first and most definitive works of its kind published in America. It can still be found as a reference source in many libraries throughout America, and was republished in 1968 by the Gale Research Company. Unfortunately, a large number of its biographical sketches (perhaps as many as 200 of them) are entirely fictitious (a fact which Gale did not publicize when it reprinted the work). The fictitious entries were not discovered until almost thirty years after the original publication of the volumes. Almost all the false sketches describe pre-nineteenth century European scientists who travelled to the New World to study its natural history.

Some of the false entries are more obvious in retrospect than others. For instance, the biography of Charles Henry Huon de Penanster, identified as a French botanist, almost exactly parallels the real life of Nicolas Thiery de Menonville (whose biography also appears in the Cyclopedia). The biography of Nicolas Henrion, a French scientist, reports that he arrived in South America in 1783, just as the Asiatic cholera broke out there. However, epidemic Asiatic cholera first broke out in South America only in 1835. Miguel da Fonseca e Silva Herrera, a Brazilian historian, was said to have been presented with a gold medal by the historical institute of Rio de Janeiro in 1820, even though this society was not founded until 1838.

Most of the false entries are fairly dry, but a few are more colorful, such as that of Jean Pierre de Vogué, a Flemish adventurer who apparently ended his days wandering through the Brazilian rainforest in search of the fabled "Mountain of Wealth", and the Spanish geographer Andres Vicente y Bennazar who reportedly published a map of the world clearly displaying both North and South America sixteen years before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The author (or authors) of the false entries is not known, but the motive for writing the pieces was probably financial since contributors to the Cyclopedia were paid by space, and the articles were generally checked only for form.


References: Barnhart, John Hendley. "Some Fictitious Botanists." Journal of the New York Botanical Garden 20 (September 1919): 171-81. O'Brien, Frank M. "The Wayward Encyclopedias", New Yorker, XII (May 2, 1936), pp. 71-74. Schindler, Margaret Castle. "Fictitious Biography." American Historical Review 42 (1937), pp. 680-90. Dobson, John Blythe. "The Spurious Articles in Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography—Some New Discoveries and Considerations." Biography 16(4) 1993: 388-408.

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A Partial List of Entries Known to be Fictitious in Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography

Harmand, Louis Gustave Henrion, Nicolas Herauld, André Herbette, André Paul Hermstaedt, Nicholas Piet Hernandez, Vicente Herrera, Miguel da Fonseca e Silva Hjorn, Oscar Horne, Antoine Houdetot, François Lauriot de Huden, Lucas Van Huet de Navarre Hühne, Bernhard Huon de Penanster, Charles Henry Huss, Magnus Igolino, Giuseppe Kehr, Gustav Herman Kerckhove, Lorenz Wenceslas Kjoeping, Oläus Klüber, Melchior Koehler, Alexander Daniel Lotter, Frederic August Monteil, Nicolas Antoine

Mortier, Édouard Louis 

Nascher, Friedrich Wilhelm Neé, Isidore Charles Sigismond Ramée, Stanislas Henri de la Sylvie, Édouard Tapin, Richard Thibaudin, Gaston Louis Verden, Karl von Verdugo, Vicente Verhuen, Jacobus Veuillot, Désiré Viana, Miguel Pereira Vicente y Bennazar, Andres Vigier, George Villadarias, Manoel Duarte Caldeiras Centenera de Villiers, Jean Pierre Vilmot, Charles Stanislas Vivier, Jacques du Vogué, Jean Pierre Voisin, Charles Antoine Voisin, Pierre Joseph Voiture, Nicolas Auguste Wallerton, Charles Louis Auguste Watteau, Boudoin Louis

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VOGUÉ, Jean Pierre de, Flemish adventurer, b. in Malines in 1570; d. in Brazil in 1630. He was a captain in the Spanish army when, hearing the fabulous description of the country of the Es- meraldas, he went to Espiritu Santo, in Brazil, and succeeded to the command of the colony that had been founded there. The establish- ment soon dissolved, as the adventurers were only anxious for riches; and Vogué, having announced that he knew the location of the Mountain of Wealth, was soon at the head of a host, and led an expedition to the interior of the Mamalucos country, wandering for several years through cen- tral and south Brazil, and suffering many mis- fortunes. His confidence in ultimate success was never shaken, but he was abandoned by his follow- ers, and fell at last into the hands of the Charcas Indians. It is supposed that he died during his captivity, although the "Colleccão de alguns manu- scriptos curiosos" credits to him the work "Jor- nada por el descobrimento de las Serras Esme- raldas" (Seville, 1690).

From Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography

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VICENTE Y BENNAZAR, Andres (ve-then'- tay), Spanish geographer, lived in the second half of the 15th century. He published at Antwerp in 1476 four charts, representing the four conti- nents of the world. Unlike Columbus, he did not imagine America to be part of Asia, but repre- sented it as a distinct continent and, what is more remarkable, as a continent divided into two parts by an isthmus. This publication, at so early a date, and before columbus's discovery, has caused much discussion. Some authorities think that Vicente y Bennazar had arrived at the conclusion that America existed as a distinct continent; others, that such an opinion was general among scientific circles in the 15th century; and still others, that he only intended to reproduce the lost Atlantis spoken of by Plato and the ancients.

From Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography