Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 1, December 1835, 2:52-54


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[page 52, column 2:]

WASHINGTONII VITA.

A Life of George Washington, in Latin Prose: By Francis Glass, S. M. of Ohio. Edited by J. N. Reynolds. New York: Published by Harper and Brothers.

We may truly say that not for years have we taken up a volume with which we have been so highly gratified, as with the one now before us. A Life of Washington, succinct in form, yet in matter sufficiently comprehensive, has been long a desideratum: but a Life of Washington precisely such as a compendious Life of that great man should be — written by a native of Ohio — and written too, in Latin, which is not one jot inferior to the Latin of Erasmus, is, to say the least of it, — a novelty.

We confess that we regarded the first announcement [page 53:] of this rara avis with an evil and suspicious eye. The thing was improbable, we thought. Mr. Reynolds was quizzing us — the brothers Harper were hoaxed and Messieurs Anthon and Co. were mistaken. At all events we had made up our minds to be especially severe upon Mr. Glass, and to put no faith in that species of classical Latin which should emanate from the back woods of Ohio. We now solemnly make a recantation of our preconceived opinions, and so proceed immediately to do penance for our unbelief.

Mr. Reynolds is entitled to the thanks of his countrymen for his instrumentality in bringing this book before the public. It has already done wonders in the cause of the classics; and we are false prophets if it do not ultimately prove the means of stirring up to a new life and a regenerated energy that love of the learned tongues which is the surest protection of our own vernacular language from impurity, but which, we are grieved to see, is in a languishing and dying condition in the land.

We have read Mr. R’s preface with great attention; and meeting with it, as we have done, among a multiplicity of worldly concerns, and every — day matters and occurrences, it will long remain impressed upon our minds as an episode of the purest romance. We have no difficulty in entering fully with Mr. Reynolds into his kindly feelings towards Mr. Glass. We perceive at once that we could have loved and reverenced the man. His image is engraven upon our fancy. Indeed we behold him now — at this very moment — with all his oddities and appurtenances about him. We behold the low log-cabin of a school-house — the clap-board roof but indifferently tight — the holes, yeleped windows, covered with oiled paper to keep out the air — the benches of hewn timber stuck fast in the ground the stove, the desk, the urchins, and the Professor. We can hear the worthy pedagogue’s classical ‘Salves,’ and our ears are still tingling with his hyperclassical exhortations. In truth he was a man after our own heart, and, were we not Alexander, we should have luxuriated in being Glass.

A word or two respecting the Latinity of the book. We sincerely think that it has been underrated. While we agree with Mr. Reynolds, for whose opinions, generally, we have a high respect, that the work can boast of none of those elegancies of diction, no rich display of those beauties and graces which adorn the pages of some modern Latinists, we think he has forgotten, in his search after the mere flowers of Latinity, the peculiar nature of that labor in which Mr. Glass has been employed. Simplicity here was the most reasonable, and indeed the only admissible elegance. And if this be taken into consideration, we really can call to mind, at this moment, no modern Latin composition whatever much superior to the Washingtonii Vita of Mr. Glass.

The clothing of modern ideas in a language dead for centuries, is a task whose difficulty can never be fully appreciated by those who have never undertaken it. The various changes and modifications, which, since the Augustan age, have come to pass in the sciences of war and legislation especially, must render any attempt similar to that which we are now criticising, one of the most hazardous and awkward imaginable. But we cannot help thinking that our author has succeeded ámerveille. [column 2:] His ingenuity is not less remarkable than his grammatical skill. Indeed he is never at a loss. It is nonsense to laugh at his calling Quakers Tremebundi. Tremebundi is as good Latin as Trementes, and more euphonical Latin than Quackeri — for both which latter expressions we have the authority of Schroeckh: and glandes plumbeæ, for bullets, is something better, we imagine, than Wyttenbach’s bombarda, for a cannon; Milton’s globulus, for a button; or Grotius’ capilamentum, for a wig. As a specimen of Mr. G’s Latinity, we subjoin an extract from the work. It is Judge Marshall’s announcement in Congress of the death of Washington.

“Nuncius tristis, quem heri accepimus, hodierno die nimium certus advenit. Fuit Washingtonius; heros, dux, et philosophus; ille, denique, quem, imminente periculo, omnes intuebantur, factorum clarorum memori duntaxat vixit. Quamvis enim, eos honore afficere solenne non esset, quorum vita in generis humrnani commodis promovendis insumpta fuit, Washingtonii, tamen, res gestce tante extiterunt, ut populus universus Americanus, doloris indicium, qui tam lati patet, deposcere suo jure debet.”

“Rempublicam hancce nostram, tam longs latique divisam, unus feri Washingtonius ordinandi et condendi laudem meret. Rebus omnibus, tandem confectis, quarum cause exercitibus Americanis proepositus fuerat, gladium in vomerem convertit, belltumque pace letissimi commutavit. Cumr civitatum federatarum Americanarum infirmitas omnibus manifesta videretur, et vincula, quibus Columbi terra latissima continebatur, solveren. tur, Washingtonium omnium, qui hancce nostram preclaram rempublicam stabiliverant, principem vidl.nus. Cum’ patria charissima eum ad sedandos tumultus, bellumque sibi imminens ad propulsandum et avertendu.n, vocaret; Washingtonium, otium domesticum, quod ei semper charum fuit, relinquentem, et undis civilibus, civium commoda et libertatem servandi causa, mersum, haud semel conspeximus; et consilia, quibus libertateal Americanam stabilem effecerat, perpetua, ut spero, semper, erunt.”

“Cum populi liberi magistratus summus bis constitutus esset, cumque tertib prieses fieri facillirnm potuisset, ad villam, tamen, suam, secessit, seque ab omni munere civili in posterum procul amoveri, ex animo cupiebat. Utcunque vulgi opinio, quoad alios homrines, mutetur, Washingtonii, certi, fama sempiterna et eadem permanebit. Honoremus, igitur, patres conscripti, hunc tantum virum mortuum: civitatum federatarum Americanarum consili. um publicum civium omnium sententias, hac una in re, declaret.”

“Quamobrem, chartas quasdam hic manu teneo, de quibus Congressiis sententiam rogare velim: ut, nempe, civitatum feederatarum A.nericanarum consilium publicum prcesidem visat, simul cum eo, gravi de hoc casu, condoliturum: ut Coiigressiis principis sella vestibus pullis ornetur; utque Congressus pars reliqua vestibus pullis induatur: utque, denique, idonea i Congressu parentur, quibus plani mainifestum fiat, Congressum, virum bello, pace, civiumque animis primum, honore summo afficere velle.”*

The ‘barbarisms’ of Mr. Glass are always so well in accordance with the genius of Latin declension, as [page 54:] never to appear at variance with the spirit of the language, or out of place in their respective situations. His ‘equivalents,’ too, are, in all cases, ingeniously managed: and we are mistaken if the same can be said of the ‘equivalents’ of Erasmus — certainly not of those used by Grotius, or Addison, or Schroeckh, or Buchanan, neither of whom are scrupulous in introducing words, from which a modern one is deduced, in the exact sense of the English analogous term — although that term may have been greatly perverted from its original meaning. Having said thus much in favor of the Washingtonii Vita, we may now be permitted to differ in opinion with Professor Wylie and others who believe that this book will be a valuable acquisition to our classical schools, as initiatory to Caesar or Nepos. We are quite as fully impressed with the excellences of Mr. Glass’ work as the warmest of his admirers; and perhaps, even more than any of them, are we anxious to do it justice. Still the book is — as it professes to be a Life of Washington; and it treats, consequently, of events and incidents occurring in a manner utterly unknown to the Romans, and at a period many centuries after their ceasing to exist as a nation. If, therefore, by Latin we mean the Language spoken by the Latins, a large proportion of the work — disguise the fact as we may — is necessarily not Latin at all. Did we indeed design to instruct our youth in a language of possibilities did we wish to make them proficient in the tongue which might have been spoken in ancient Rome, had ancient Rome existed in the nineteenth century, we could scarcely have a better book for the purpose than the Washington of Mr. Glass. But we do not perceive that, in teaching Latin, we have any similar view. And we have given over all hope of making this language the medium of universal communication — that day-dream, with a thousand others, is over. Our object then, at present, is simply to imbue the mind of the student with the idiom, the manner, the thought, and above all, with the words of antiquity. If this is not our object, what is it? But this object cannot be effected by any such work as the Washingtonii Vita.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 53, column 2, running to the bottom of page 54, column 1:]

*  The sad tidings which yesterday brought us, this day has but too surely confirmed. Washington is no more. The hero, the general, the philosopher — he, upon whom, in the hour of danger, all eyes were turned, now lives in the remembrance, only, of his illustrious actions. And although, even, it were not customary to render honor unto those who have spent their lives in promoting the welfare of their fellow men, still, so great are the deeds of Washington, that the whole American nation is bound to give a public manifestation of that grief which is so extensively prevalent. Washington, we had nearly said Washington alone, deserves the credit of regulating and building up, as it were, the widely extended territory of this our Republic. Having finally achieved all for which he had accepted the command of the American forces, he converted his sword into a ploughshare, and joyfully exchanged war for peace. When the weakness of the United States of America appeared manifest to all, and the bands by which the very extensive land of Columbus was held together, [page 55:] were in danger of being loosened, we have seen Washington the first among those who re-invigorated this our glorious Republic. When his beloved country called him to quiet tumults, and to avert the war with which she was menaced, we have once more seen Washiigton abandon that domestic tranquillity so dear to him, and plunge into the waters of civil life to preserve the liberties and happiness of his countrymen: and the counsels with which he re-established American liberty will be, as I hope, perpetual.

When he had been twice appointed the Chief Magistrate of a free people, and when, for the third time, he might easily have been President, he nevertheless retired to his farm, and really desired to be freed from all civil offices forever. However vulgar opinion may vary in respect to other men, the fame of Washington will, surely, be the same to all eternity. Therefore, let us show our reverence for this so great man who is departed, and let this public counsel of the United States of America declare upon this one subject the opinion of all our citizens.

For this end I hold these resolutions in my hand, concerning which I would wish the opinion of Congress, viz: that this public counsel of the United States of America should visit the President to condole with him upon this heavy calamity — that the speaker’s chair be arrayed in black — that the members of Congress wear mourning — and lastly, that arrangements be entered into by this assembly, in which it may be made manifest that Congress wish to do every honor to the man first in war, first in peace, arid first in the hearts of his countrymen.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (December 1835)