Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of A Life of Washington in Latin Prose,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 103-107


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[page 103, continued:]

A LIFE OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, IN LATIN PROSE: BY FRANCIS GLASS, A. M. OF OHIO. EDITED BY J. N. REYNOLDS. NEW YORK: PUBLISHED BY HARPER AND BROTHERS.

[Southern Literary Messenger, December, 1835.]

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, [page 104:] 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 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 [page 105:] the low log-cabin of a school-house — the clap-board roof but indifferently tight — the holes, ycleped 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 hyper-classical 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 [page 106:] á merveille. 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 plumbeae, 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.

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The ‘barbarisms’ of Mr. Glass are always so well in accordance with the genius of Latin declension, as

“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.” Etc. Etc.

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. [page 107:] 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.

 


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Notes:

Harrison does some odd editing in the present item. In addition to dropping the paragraphs of quoted Latin, he also removes several sentences after “The ‘barbarisms’ of Mr. Glass . . . Latin declension, as,” replacing them with a translation that appears in the original as part of a footnote, ending with “Etc. Etc.”


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[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of A Life of Washington in Latin Prose)