Scott Laming’s AbeBooks page Jokes, Hoaxes & Other Literary Frauds has a brief description of a few famous literary hoaxes (Thomas Chatterton, Howard Hughes’s “autobiography,” Adolf Hitler’s “diaries”) and a useful collection of examples with pictures (and ABE links); the one that most intrigued me was Feodor Vladimir Larrovitch: An Appreciation of His Life and Works, “A book written about an author who did not exist designed to teach a know-it-all a lesson”; a little googling got me to the relevant passage (starting on page 23) in Books in Black Or Red, by Edmund Lester Pearson (Ayer, 1923):
The authors and scholars who joined in celebrating the Larrovitch Centenary were so numerous that the resulting volume is probably unique. One or two originated the hoax, but a large group carried it on and perfected it. Designed at the beginning, I think I have heard, to rebuke the painful omniscience of one enthusiast in Russian literature, this little tribute is called “Feodor Vladimir Larrovitch; an Appreciation of his Life and Works.” The editors are William George Jordan and Richardson Wright; it was published by the Authors Club of New York in 1918. To this volume Clinton Scollard contributed a sonnet, and there are scholarly essays and personalia about the great Russian by Professor Franklin Giddings and Dr. Titus Munson Coan. The bibliographies add to the charm of the book, but perhaps the most touching thing of all is the picture of “a pressed flower” from the grave of Larrovitch at Yalta, which is preserved and framed on the walls of the Authors Club. As with “Spectra,” the hoax was inspired by a pose, a form of literary affectation; it cleverly satirizes the tendency in England and America to accept any Russian writer at whatever estimate some chortling enthusiast likes to put upon him. Max Beerbohm’s “Kolniyatsch,” in his book “And Even Now,” is an earlier essay upon the theme. Kolniyatsch, the last of a long line of rag-pickers, acquired a passionate alcoholism at the age of nine, murdered his grandmother when he was eighteen, and spent the rest of his life in an asylum, writing poems and plays. His friends and relatives, as well as the officials, adopting the world’s timid philosophy, called him insane, but Max Beerbohm, who was able to read his works in the original Gibrisch, would make no such clumsy classification.
I love the phrase “acquired a passionate alcoholism.” Thanks, Paul!