A Readingite’s Prayer for Peace

Charles Coates, in the appendices to his monumental 1802 work ‘The History and Antiquities of Reading’, records numerous Latin and English pieces that were performed or recited at Reading School. Among these, there is a Latin ode of eighty lines, composed in 1761 by The Rev. John Spicer M. A. (d. 1784), which is translated into English for the first time here.

The ode’s twenty stanzas follow the metrical form of the so-called Alcaic Stanza, a common rhythm in Horace’s Carmina (‘Odes’). The poem is written in a rather turgid, dense style, laden with allusions to, and extensive verbatim borrowings from, the (pagan) Latin Classics; the translation – hard to believe – conveys the poem’s convoluted nature only in part.

The ode reads thus:

Votum pro pace (1761)

O! si benigno Numine Delius
Aspiret ignes, queis chitarae potens
Charusque Musis Addisonus
Marlburii cecinit trophaea;

Digne referrem, ut plus vice simplici 5
Gallorum inanes conciderint minae,
Monstrumque triplex defatiget
Herculeis Fredericus ausis:

Sed per madentes sanguine civico
Errare campos Musa perhorruit, 10
Pompam auspicari festiorem, et
Laetificos renovare plausus

Conata. Terras, Diva, Britannicas
Invise praesens! Jam niveis redi
Pax alma bigis, Gratiaeque 15
Et veteres comitentur Artes!

O quando tandem palmite sub suo
Miles recumbet vulnere plurimo
Distinctus, immistumque Chium
Diis patriis sine fraude libans, 20

Mille et peric’la et mortis imagines
Mille explicabit, Penelope pia
Haerente collo, per genasque
Attonitas oriente gutta?

Aut dulce sera colloquium trahens 25
Sub nocte, laetas concipiet vices,
Et Delphico correptus igne
Fata canet venientis aevi?

Gradive, caedis jam faturum Tibi
Ensem repono; Tum Patriae satis, 30
Tum gloriae, felix laborum
Et spoliis dedit aucta raris

Britanna pubes. Maxime Principum
Io Georgi! Te colit Africa
Donis onusta, aureasque large 35
Fundit opes latebris ab imis:

Te Barbari, quot stagna per intima
Sylvasque caecas nutrit America,
Jam caedis obliti verentur,
Nec solitas meditantur Artes: 40

Quascunque terrarum Oceanus sinu
Circumdat alto, ſulmina navium
Non vana tangunt, imperique
Sceptra tui sonat ore Ganges.

Hic erigas ritu Herculis impigri 45
Rerum columnas, quas vigil Artifex
Ter mille fraudum non refringet
Gallia, non Proceres Britanni

Turpi insolentes foedere. Jam retro
Usque appetentis Monstra Cupidinis 50
Cessere, dentes infremuntque
Compedibus rigidis revincta:

Virtus repulsam proh! nimis asperam
Experta, dignis fulget honoribus;
Et lapsa Libertas ab alto 55
Ore nitet placido per urbes.

O quanta rerum Gloria nascitur!
Quam latus Ordo! non mage dissono
Clamore, victo Caesar orbe,
Rite Pater Patriae audiebat. 60

Quam thure multo, quam prece supplici
Divos fatigat fida Britannia,
Ut propria haec praestes, novaque
Progenie facias beatam,

O Gratiarum cura decentium 65
Charlotta, O Musis nomen amabile
Atque Isidis laetas per undas
Carmine perpetuo sonandum;

Si forte sacras moribus integris
Intrabis aedes nobilis incola, 70
Henricus olim queis struebat
Vincula Francigenis futura:

Hic literato splendidus Otio
Repente flammas nutriet aemulas,
Dum pace, dum bello potentum 75
Suspiciet monimenta Regum;

Hic Ipse amicus pacificae Togae,
Intaminatos sanguine civico
Evolvet Annales Parentis,
Et placidos sine nube Soles. 80

A Prayer for Peace

Oh if the Delian, benevolent,
Inspired such fires by which the master of the lyre,
Dear to the Muses, Addison,
Sang the exploits of Marlborough;

I would dignifiedly report how more than once 5
The French’s inane threats collapsed,
The Threefold Monster is worn out
By Frederick through Herculean deeds.

But through fields, soaking with civic blood,
To err dreaded the Muse: 10
A more joyous parade to initiate, and
Cheerful applauses to repeat,

Was her attempt. British lands, Goddess,
Do visit now! Return already on your snow-white
Chariot, nourishing Peace, and may the Graces 15
and the Old Arts accompany you!

Oh when will, finally, under his vine,
The soldier recline, with many a wound
Decorated, offering blended Chian wine
To the native Gods without deceit 20

And those thousand dangers, and images of death,
another thousand, unfold, pious Penelope,
With hanging neck, over her cheeks,
Astonished, gushes a teardrop.

Or a tender conversation, extending through the late 25
Night, will hold sweet altercations,
and someone, kindled by Delphic fire,
Will sing the fate of the time to come?

Mars Gradivus, what already heralds slaughter for you,
The sword I cast off; By then for the Fatherland enough, 30
By then for Glory, too, burgeoning with hard work,
And endowed with rare spoils of war, has given

The youth of Britain. Greatest of Princes,
Io, George! Africa worships you,
Laden with gifts, and abundantly golden 35
Artworks it exhales from its deepest lairs:

The Barbarians, however many of them across its inner swamps
And dark woods America does spawn,
No longer mindful of the slaughter, they respect you,
And pursuing Arts previously unknown. 40

Whatever lands the Ocean with its bosom
Wide engulfs, the thunderbolts of ships
Ominously reach, and the Ganges
Resounds with its mouth the sceptres of your realm.

Here may you erect, in the tradition of the indefatigable Hercules, 45
The Columns of the World, which that vigilant Artist
Of three-thousand deceits may not upset,
France, nor those noble Britains,

Haughty in their hideous covenant. Aback already
The Spectres of Greedy Lust, striving perpetually, 50
Have retreated, snarling and bellowing,
Restrained in their firm bonds.

Virtue who, alas!, has experienced the Defeated in its
Utter acrimony, shines with honours worthy;
And fallen Liberty from high above
Shines with a pleasant face across the cities.

Oh what universal Glory arises!
What universal Order! No longer in dissonant
Clamour, once the world has been subjected, will Caesar
Rightly be hailed Father of the Fatherland. 60

With what amount of frankincense, with how suppliant a prayer
Does faithful Britannia tire the Gods,
For you to grant this in particular, and with a new
Offspring to make her happy,

Oh concern of the decent Graces, 65
Charlotte, oh name lovable to the Muses,
Across the waves of Isis
In eternal song to resound;

If, perchance, with blameless character the sacred
Building should enter a noble citizen, 70
Where Henry once upon a time did instruct himself
To become the Frenchmen’s Fetter:

He, in learned Peacefulness, sublime
Afresh will nourish striving flames,
While in peace, while in the war of the mighty 75
He will glimpse the monuments of Kings;

Here the friend of the peaceful toga himself
Undefiled by the blood of citizens
The Annals of the father will unfold,
And Days, placid, without a cloud.  80

Undoubtedly, better poetry has been written. Yet, on closer inspection, the ode becomes a touchingly romantic piece – in times, in which armed conflicts, civil unrest, nationalism, and dehumanised cruelty appear to mushroom across the globe.

Spicer’s epitaph in Reading’s Saint Laurence church praises this native resident’s ‘genius, learning, friendship, charity, and genuine patriotism’. So what exactly did this learned patriot from Reading (with a rather ill-concealed dislike for the French and a colonialist mindset not untypical of his times) have to say – or rather, what was he praying for?

Spicer’s first move is to take a bow to the poet Joseph Addison (1672-1719), who had written an extensive poem The Campaign, to commemorate the exploits of the Duke of Marlborough in the Battle of Ramillies. Spicer claims that, if only he had the same talent as Addison, he would glorify the Herculean deeds of Frederick (i. e. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia), who had defeated France multiple times, with France being that ‘threefold monster’ (an allusion to the threefold nature of the mythological chimera, traditionally described as a hybrid of a lion, a snake, and a goat) during the Seven Years’ War (which was still in full swing at the time the ode was written).

Yet, Spicer’s Muse dreads the war-theme. The Muse, and with her Peace, the Graces, and Old Arts, are called back to Britain. For far too long, says Spicer, British soldiers had been employed abroad: when will they be home, when will they be able to retire, when will they have time to come to terms with their wounds, their trauma, and when will they have time to be reunited with their beloved ones? When will civil life return to Britain after all? The Youth of Britain has given quite enough to their fatherland already, it has assembled enough glory and it has collected enough exotic spoils for its monarch.

The monarch in question, George III., whose reign began in 1760 and whose coronation took place in 1761, the year of the above ode, was already ‘respected’ in Africa, America, and India: now, suggests Spicer at the very middle of the poem, it is therefore time to settle, to stabilise and to secure what has been achieved, to erect the proverbial pillars of Hercules – pillars so solid that not even France, ‘that vigilant Artist of three-thousand deceits,’ or subversive elements among the British nobility could upset them.

The Monstra Cupidinis, the Spectres of Greedy Lust, are to be restrained, and time for Virtus (‘Virtue’), Libertas (‘Liberty’), Gloria (‘Glory’), and Ordo (‘Order’) to rule has come. This new order, says Spicer, has to be based on contemplation, deep learning, the study of History (ideally at Queen’s College, Oxford, as the allusion to Henry V. would imply?), to embrace a world of peacefulness and civilisation for placid days to come.

Spicer makes a firm plea for the role and value of education (and the presence of an inspired Muse) as a corrective to armed conflicts, uncertainty, and lack of civilisation. While he longs for peace, order, and liberty, he is not at all a proponent of universal pacifism. Yet he comes across as someone who has recognised that there has to be more to life than just endless, traumatising conflict, all the time and everywhere, triggered by what he calls the Spectres of Greedy Lust, the insatiable, carnal desire for more, whether there is any need for it or not: eventually, time is ripe for contemplation, study, and civilisation, with a glass of Chian wine, and to consider what has been achieved historically, and what is to come next – ideally in the realm of the learned peacefulness of a University.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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