A STATED Meeting of the Society was held at the Club of Odd Volumes, No. 77 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, on Thursday, 26 February 1953, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Hon. Robert Walcott, in the chair.
The records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
The Recording Secretary, on behalf of the Corresponding Secretary, reported the receipt of letters from Mr. Thomas Boylston Adams accepting election to Resident Membership and from Mr. E. Harold Hugo accepting election to Non-Resident Membership.
Mr. Robert Hammond Haynes, of Cambridge, was elected a Resident Member of the Society.
Mr. Richard Mott Gummere read a paper entitled:
THERE are two personalities in our American Colonial history who might profitably be compared with one another on the Plutarchian principle, pairing them off both for their contrasts and for their resemblances. They are intriguing characters, authors of outstanding diaries, leaders in their respective communities, and classical scholars who could easily have held chairs in the two colleges of which they were overseers, William and Mary, and Harvard. It is this classical tradition, and their reaction thereto, which tempts us to study briefly the writings of William Byrd the Second, of Westover, and Samuel Sewall of Massachusetts Bay.
At the beginning, several clarifying comments are in order. It might be asked: “Why Plutarch, who contrasted men of two different nationalities, and set a Greek over against a Roman in his biographies?” The answer is that, while both were Americans, the provinces of Massachusetts and Virginia were in sentiment and in space practically nearer to England than they were to each other: Byrd regards himself as a stranger to North Carolina, and Sewall worries over the unwelcome latitudinarianism of the Rhode Islanders. A quick voyage “home” to England was almost as easy as the lumbering trip by land from Boston to Williamsburg. Again, their vivid journals, and especially Byrd’s History of the Dividing Line, help to dispel the pronunciamentos of those literary critics who maintained fifty years ago that American literature before the Revolution was “hopeless from the point of view of intrinsic aesthetic value.”63 Another warning should be borne in mind: the concept of Royalist, or Cavalier, or Epicurean versus Roundhead, or Puritan, or Stoic need not be emphasized. Mr. Trevelyan and Mr. Wertenbaker have indicated the necessity for reconsideration.64 We should not be led astray by the dapper portraits of Byrd by Kneller and Bridges, or by the well-known lines of Whittier which make the Judge out to be a re-embodied Old Testament prophet. And in any case we are considering these two Colonial leaders primarily in relation to their interest in the literature and history of Greece and Rome.
As men of mark in their communities they are singularly alike in the positions they held. William Byrd was born in Virginia in 1674, grandson of a London goldsmith and of a Royalist officer. Sewall, born in England in 1652, grandson of a Coventry linen-draper who had been Town Mayor, was related on his mother’s side to the Dummer family. The Virginian was a vestryman of the Established Church, who increased his landholdings from 26,000 to 179,000 acres. The Puritan elder married the daughter of John Hull, the heroine of the pine tree shillings in Hawthorne’s story. Educationally, both received the best. Byrd got his training in a school in Essex and at the Middle Temple, with an interval in Holland. Sewall graduated A.B. at Harvard and remained there for his A.M. as well as for a short stretch as tutor, librarian, and director of the Press. Both ran through what the Romans called the cursus honorum: in the one case receiver-general and auditor-general, the Governor’s Council and in 1743 President of that body; in the other case from selectman to Governor’s Council, Chief Justice, and for a brief space Acting Governor. Byrd spent half his life in England; Sewall made one hurried visit on business in 1688. Byrd backed Andros, and lost; Sewall opposed him, and won. Both headed their respective militia units. Scientifically, Byrd was an up-to-date amateur practitioner, member of the Royal Society, a sort of minor Benjamin Franklin. Sewall’s old-fashioned ideas followed the Aristotelian code of Charles Morton’s Compendium of Physics. A sample of his fear of any conflict between revealed and physical truth is his journal entry when Cotton Mather, his intimate friend, “went Copernican”: “I think it inconvenient to assert such problems.”65 But their main avocation was an enthusiasm and a sound knowledge of the ancient classics.66
The Established Church in Virginia and Puritanism in Massachusetts, along with the essence of the English Common Law, were naturally fundamental forces. But secular interchange in literature, education, and statecraft reflected the Greco-Roman tradition. Even small straws in the wind show this tendency. Samuel Mathews, a member of the Virginia Council, protested in 1634 to Governor Harvey that the latter had violated the statute: “No man shall be recalled from his private labors to any service of his own (the Governor’s) upon any colour whatsoever.” When Harvey disagreed, Mathews in anger “turned his back, and with his truncheon lashed off the heads of certain high weeds that were growing there.”67 The story, told of Tarquin, Thrasybulus, and others, was common property to any reader of classical translations. It also occurred to one of the Founding Fathers: John Adams, in his Discourses on Davila, remarks: “Cut off the heads of the tallest poppies,—Tarquin, and all other heads of parties, Marat, etc.”
Nathaniel Bacon, hero of the 1676 rebellion, was Master of Arts from Cambridge University at the age of twenty-one. His opponent, Governor Berkeley, was an Oxonian. So was Richard Lawrence, an ally of Bacon. The usual sentiment of a dirge for the departed appears in “Bacon’s epitaph, made by his Man”:
For arts, for arms, whose sword and pen alike,
As Cato’s did may admiration strike
Into his foes.68
George Sandys, an official of the early Jamestown settlement, translated much of his well-known Metamorphoses of Ovid during whatever spare time he could steal in Virginia. John Smith’s reports are full of illustrations from Greek and Roman heroes. Libraries of early planters, such as that of Colonel Richard Lee, contained “a Greek grammar, Caesar, Hesiod, Tulley’s Orations, Virgil, Ovid, Livy, Diogenes, Sallust, World History, Praxis Medicinae.” The tomb of Benjamin Harrison, who died in 1710, has a long inscription in Latin, containing the phrase Fide et ἀϕιλαςγυρίᾳ Insignis.69 There is an impressive total of individual plantation culture, taking the concrete form of authorship, for example, in the History and Present State of Virginia, by Robert Beverley, brother-in-law of the William Byrd with whom we are here particularly concerned. Beverley, whose formal education seems to have been confined to attendance as a lad at a school in Yorkshire, cultivated the life of a Virginia squire and occasional officeholder, but read widely in the classics and shows himself at home in ancient history, science, and Roman Law. His Laws of Virginia was an authoritative document. His History was popular in Europe, and was translated into French.70,71
In the thickly settled Massachusetts Bay region, where University men congregated in large numbers, it might be said epigrammatically that Numa occupied the second place in pulpit matters, and Cicero loomed large in the State House. Even in the Pilgrim community, where such interest was limited, we find a spokesman. William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation is a literary classic. With scanty schooling, he is a clear writer and a self-taught scholar. He is at home in Plato, Seneca, Plutarch, and Marcus Aurelius, besides many of the Church Fathers and writers on religion.72 He describes the sadness of their departure: “They left them as it were weeping, as Orpah did her mother-in-law Naomi, or as those Romans did Cato in Utica who desired to be excused and borne with, though they could not all be Catos.” The famous abandonment of communistic labor speaks for itself: “The experience . . . may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times: that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing, as if they were wiser than God.” The happy-go-lucky Morton of Merrymount is denounced: he “revived the feasts of the Roman goddess Flora, or the beastly practices of the mad Bacchanalians.” There is a touch of humor in the two references to Seneca: the landing at Cape Cod (especially tragic as it was for Bradford) comes as a blessed relief: “no marvel if they were thus joyful, seeing wise Seneca was so affected with sailing a few miles on the coast of his own Italy, as he affirmed, that he had rather remain twenty years on his way by land than pass by sea to any place in a short time.” And the Pilgrims triumph in 1624: “by a great deal of patience they overcame hunger and famine,” which makes me remember a saying of Seneca’s, Epistle 123: “That a great part of liberty is a well governed belly, and to be patient in all wants.” In the threefold combination of Biblical, Anglo-Saxon, and classical, we find both in Massachusetts and Virginia a respectable representation for the heritage of Greece and Rome.
The Diaries are a mine of self-revealing information. Sewall moralizes; Byrd is more satirical. Sewall elaborates; Byrd conceals his deeper feelings under brief staccato comment. The Virginian records 27 April 1710 in a matter-of-fact way: “I rose at 5 o’clock and read a chapter in Hebrew and some Greek in Homer. Then I went to Council. . . . I was appointed commander-in-chief of two counties. . . . We sat in council again till 9 o’clock. I had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty, and said my prayers.” Sewall, when Captain of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery, is more specific. At the conclusion of a training-day program he presents the company with a half-pike: “The pike will stand me in forty shillings, being headed and shod with silver: has this motto fairly engraven:
Est in tutelam Sponsae
On another occasion, the militia meet at the estate of Captain Jefferson (ancestor of Thomas), and Colonel Byrd “caused the troops to be exercised by each captain . . . one of the French was rude to his captain, for which I broke his head in two places”; after which there was a general jollification at John Boiling’s. All this after the usual morning stint of classical reading! Sewall is more serious. He notes elsewhere that Ensign Noyes won the marksmanship contest (Sewall himself failing to “hit the Butt”), and received from his superior officer a silver cup on which he “had provided engraven 4 May 1702, Euphraten siccare potes,” a prophecy of the victory over Anti-Christ and reminder of Sewall’s own pamphlet, Phaenomena Apocalyptica on the Beast and the Vials in Revelations, published a few years previously. Sewall conducts his operations in the spirit of a hymn like our “Onward Christian Soldiers!”; Byrd acts like one of the Three Musketeers. The Puritan records his reading with chapter and verse; the Virginian notes the fact as a journal entry.73
The very nicknames of these two Colonials reflect their reading habits as well as their temperaments. Byrd’s friends called him the “Black Swan,” double punning on the Juvenal proverb: rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cycno.74 In humorous vein he often signs himself avis, ὄρνις, or L’Oiseau. Sewall, perhaps with a coating of humor defines himself as “A Censor Morum for this end of the town.” Even Cambridge, with its excellent pastors and Presidents, must be kept up to standard: Venimus ipsam Cantabrigiam ad stabiliendos et corrigendos mores, “We even go to Cambridge to straighten out and reform character.”75
Byrd’s reading in ancient authors is systematic, and not haphazard. His entry for 18 September 1709, is as follows: “I rose at 3 o’clock and read a chapter in Hebrew and some Greek in Josephus. I said my prayers and danced my dance. I went to church. I read a little Greek in Homer.” It should be noted that the Josephus assignment runs well into October, and that a later spell of Thucydides continues for two months. Latin authors, which are often read in the afternoons, are evidently considered as a lighter job. Lucian and Petronius, special favorites, are not only continuous but repeated. The phrase “I danced my dance,” occurring almost daily, one suspects to refer to his morning calisthenics; for Byrd kept himself in excellent physical condition, as his later wilderness explorations indicate. Since his library included a volume of Seneca’s prose, it is not too farfetched to assume that he profited by the fifteenth Epistle, which criticizes the heavy athletics of the “bruiser” and recommends as the right sort of exercise “high-jumping, or broad-jumping, or the kind which I may call ‘The Priest’s Dance’76 or, in slighting terms, ‘The Clothes-Cleaner’s Jump.’” The parallel is curiously pertinent, for Byrd’s diary of 8 September 1740, contains this remark: “Rain all day; I danced because I could not walk.” The diarist was at that time practically of the same age as the Roman, in the neighborhood of sixty-six.
Sewall, more personal, didactic and detailed, almost thinks in Latin, binding up his thoughts in phrases. In the Diary for 26 March 1711, he notes, in contrast with Byrd’s usual brevity: mihi natalis; in Aedes intravi et ibidem Preces effudi. “My birthday; I went to church and then and there poured forth my supplications.” On another occasion he alters the Stoic proverb to a Christian form: ubi Pater, ibi patria. A phrase from a law book is always handy, as in a letter to Bridget Usher, for whom he was a trustee, with some advice about repair of a house: frustra fit per plures, quod fieri potest per pauciores: “It is useless to put many on a job that can be done by a few.” Classical tags are ever in his mind, as in his sarcastic communication to an agent in the West Indies, reproaching him for lack of promptness in consignments: vestigia terrent . . . spectantia nulla retrorsum, “the footsteps frighten me, for none of them mark the way back.” This refers to the old fable, found in Aesop and Horace, of the lion’s cave and the pretended sickness of its inhabitant.77 On the improvement in his mother’s health, he writes: Laus Deo, qui orationem non vult non exaudire. A pet oak tree is cut down, matre et sorore valde plangentibus. When a certain plan falls through, we find Homo prop, (proponit), Deus disp. (disponit) Omnia.78
His Greek, except for an excellent understanding of current Biblical scholarship, is less solid than that of Byrd. His style is more Johnsonian: aestuation is used for “a heated argument,” gravaminous for “burdensome,” Thrasonical for “braggart.” Word play on proper names was a favorite sport to him: when the Judge broke down in church after attempting to follow the choir leader (precentor) Mr. John White in a hymn, Sewall manufactured a pentameter line, punwise: Albus praecinuit; vox mihi nulla fuit. And frequently, like his favorite Ovid, “whatever he tried to say, took the form of verse.”79
Of all the classical authors, Ovid, surprisingly enough, is Sewall’s intimate model. We should have expected it to be a philosopher or a type of work like Cicero’s De Officiis. The probable reason is his love of writing original Latin verse, and thus the master of the elegiac couplet became his model. When the Judge is preserved from error spiritually or politically, he uses the slogan which we find again and again in pre-Revolutionary speeches and pamphlets: Fas est et ab hoste doceri.80 The death of Dean Winthrop, last of the old Governor’s children, at the age of eighty-one in 1704, calls forth the picturesque allusion to the Day-Star’s disappearance: Statione novissimus exit.81
One of his earliest journal entries is a communication to his friend Daniel Gookin82 on his detention at home due to illness and his regret that he cannot accompany him back to Cambridge: “Rome in all her pomp and glory could not be so much to so Noble a Man and Poet as that town must be to me.” The date is “16 Kal.Mart.1671,” and the age of the diarist was nineteen. Sewall also runs to the defence of Ovid. Writing to Cotton Mather 27 September 1708, he refuses to admit that the poet ever “stumbles,” instancing the sentiment and grace put into the mouth of Pythagoras in the Metamorphoses:
Morte carent animae, semperque priore relicta
Sede, novis domibus vivunt habitantque receptae:
“Our souls are deathless, and ever, when they have left their former seat, do they live in new abodes and dwell in the bodies that have received them.” This view of the soul’s immortality is a pagan theme welcome as a parallel to the Christian testimony.83
Sewall, oddly enough, falls back upon Ovid as a witness against stage plays. To a colleague in the law he writes 2 March 1714 on a play proposed to be acted in the Council Chamber . . . “I do forbid it. The Romans were very fond of their plays; but I never heard they were so far set upon them, as to turn their Senate-House into a Play-House.” Ovid admits: Ludi quoque semina praebent nequitiae. “Let not Christian Boston goe beyond Heathen Rome in the practice of shameful vanities!”84
One could make up a calendar from the Latin jottings in the Diary and the Letter-Book. When writing to the British agent, Sir William Ashurst, on the death of Queen Anne, Sewall adds the Horatian maxim: Pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas Regumque turres. “Pale Death knocks impartially at the huts of the poor and the palaces of kings.”85 The reconciliation after a slight brush with his friend Cotton Mather results in a line of Terence, a favorite everywhere for proverbial use: Amantium irae amoris redintegratio.86 “The falling out of faithful friends renewal is of love.” Greedy men are faced with the Vergilian Quid non mortalia pectora cogis, Auri sacra James! “O cursed hunger for gold, to what lengths do you not drive the hearts of men!”87 After the delivery of dissertations at a Harvard Commencement, comes some semihumorous advice: Claudite iam rivos, pueri, sat prata biberunt! “Close the sluice-gates now, boys; the meadows are well watered!”88
Many incidents call forth such illustrations. Pirates are hostes humani generis; the New Hampshire boundary dispute provokes a Juvenalian anger; the deaths of old people suggest the well-worn compliment, antiquis moribus, prisca fide. Ideas are documented and sealed with fables or sayings from the ancients (including a large proportion from the Scriptures); and the close-packed life of the Bay Colony reveals itself in proverbial form.
Sewall’s early training had prepared him for the interest which was perhaps nearest his heart after his legal and political duties. Interpretation of the scriptures, and ecclesiastical affairs, were accompanied by constant study of New Testament Greek and commentaries in the Latin language. While he did not go along with his friend Cotton Mather in the march of science, he put full faith in the value of the classics as an aid to his Biblical studies. For example, he combines a gift of Calvin’s On the Psalms with a copy of T. Cooper’s Thesaurus Linguae Romamae et Britannicae, to the schoolmaster Richard Henchman (total cost, 25 shillings), with a Latin quatrain of his own:
Mitto tibi Psaltem Christum et Sua Regna canentem;
Non erit ingratum dulce Poema tibi.
Et trahit: hinc Solymae moenia celsa Novae.89
The same juxtaposition may be noted in his experience at sea in 1688 on his only visit to England: “My Erasmus was quite loosened out of the binding by the breaking of the water into the Cabbin when it did. Was comforted in the even by reading the 4, 5, 6, 7, verses especially of the Ephesians.”90
Church matters went deep with Sewall, who took his theology more seriously than did Byrd. On the arrival of that stormy petrel George Keith, who was an emissary from the Bishop of London to make converts for the Established Church, and who wrote a warm letter to the President of Harvard after hearing some “heretical” Commencement speeches, the Judge confides to his journal that he looked upon this visitor as a “Helena,” a “destroyer.”91 He vigorously opposes the building of an Episcopalian church at Newbury. Though a friend of Joshua Gee, who later became an Overseer of Harvard and a colleague of Cotton Mather, he was greatly disturbed at Gee’s Commencement oration of 6 July 1720: An Christus qua mediator sit adorandus. Negat. “Should one pray to Christ in his capacity as Mediator? Answer in the Negative.”92 He was forever distributing tracts, making brief translations from the Greek and Latin versions of the Testaments, analyzing Beza’s Latin sermons on the Song of Solomon, disputing the readings of texts, and having a generally good time over his books. Often fanciful, he is at least in earnest, and usually sound in the fundamentals of the ancient languages. The devotional motif is continually in the foreground; even in a business letter to an agent in “Antego” (Antigua), asking for “as much Lignum Vitae as may make two or three very fair Mortars and pestils,” he adds a comparison with the “Tree of Life mentioned in the two and twentieth of Revelation.”93
This is an advance indication of the idea which resulted in Sewall’s favorite publication ten years later. It crystallized in 1696 in a suggestion to the President of Harvard: “Writ to Mr. Increase Mather to desire that one of the Masters might hold the following Question at the next Commencement: Res Antichristiana in America, est Euphrates ille Apocalypticus, in quem Angelus Sextus effundit Phialam Suam? Affirmat respondens S.S.”94 The Sixth Vial dries up the Euphrates; then Christ will “lift up his head.” This speculation on the significance of the Apocalypse continued to be an absorbing allegory, applied to the spiritual state of the current world and a heated subject also in the time of Jonathan Edwards. A year later we find the note: “I read to the Lieut.-Governour my Phaenomena Apocalyptica, what [sic] had written of it. He licenses the printing of it.” And a year later still: “I sent to the college Library my Phaenomena, well bound in Calvs Leather, with Mr. Oakes’s election sermon, and Mr. Willard’s Tract about Swearing, by Josiah Cotton.”95
In order that his Phaenomena might get a hearing in England, Sewall forwards a copy to Sir William Ashurst. He declares: “with Saint Austin, Recedat Donatus; Recedat Caecilianus; nec ille, nec iste Deus meus est.”96 And in this same connection we meet with the great John Wise of Ipswich, whose clerical writings forecast the doctrine of American Independence in their insistence that each Congregational parish should stand on its own feet.97 Wise, differing from Sewall and the Mathers on the subject of church organization, was pleased by Sewall’s book, and drew from the Judge a friendly exhortation: Non deficiamus Evangelium praedicare, non deficiamus Dominum annunciare; usque in Idumeam extendam calceamentum meum. Sewall himself administered a Latin rebuke to Increase Mather for his unwillingness as President of Harvard to reside in Cambridge: “Waited on Mr. Mather: I told him the Honor of Athanasius, maluit sedem quam Fidei syllabam mutare.”98
We have already noted that William Byrd’s Diaries record day by day his steady and cumulatively extensive reading in the Greek and Latin authors. The results of all this are seen in his History of the Dividing Line, an acknowledged American classic. The first ingredient of this delightfully described expedition was an official series of letters to headquarters in England. Second, came the Secret History of the Line, an informal account, which Byrd read to his family and his friends. In this version members of the party are given fictitious and caricatured names, “Firebrand,” “Humdrum,” etc. “The people looked upon us as men devoted, like Codrus and the two Decii, to certain destruction for the service of our country.” Ned Bearskin, the Indian, enlarges on his religious beliefs over the campfire: there are two roads for the soul after death, to be shown by lightning flashes, one on the right to a lovely country where a “venerable old man” sits as judge, the other over rough terrain where an ugly old woman threatens, “her head covered with rattle-snakes instead of tresses.” The party camped at a waterfall, “the noise of which gave us poetical dreams, and made us say our Prayers in Metre when we waked.”99 The third and finished product is both statistical and literary. It has the wit of Gulliver, the scientific observation of a Franklin, and the lightly worn dress of a cultivated classicist.
At one point, there were almost thirty-one miles between inhabited Virginia and the North Carolina border. The fifteen miles of No Man’s Land between the Notaway River and Wicocon Creek, covering much of the Dismal Swamp, were in question. The surveying party, including a chaplain and the mathematics professor at William and Mary College, reported at Corotuck Inlet, off Albemarle Sound, on 5 March 1728. Diplomatic relations were none too good: Byrd pokes fun, somewhat snobbishly, and perhaps unfairly, at his Carolina coadjutors in the survey. Their country has a parallel in “what Ancient Rome did before them, which was made a City of Refuge for all Debtors and Fugitives.” The Dismal Swamp is so foul that “not even a Turkey-Buzzard will venture to fly over it, no more than the Italian vultures will over the filthy Lake Avernus.” The survey was a muddy job, but the men were undaunted: “Hercules would as soon have sold the Glory of cleansing the Augean Stables, which was pretty near the same sort of work.” When the company made a fire to counteract the swamp exhalations, they built it “as large as a Roman Funeral-Pile.” “The happy man whose lot it was to carry the Jugg of Rum began already, like Aesop’s Bread-Carriers, to find it grow a great deal lighter.” Flights of birds remind the traveler of ancient omens. Myrtle, laurel, and bay trees are “sacred to Venus and Appollo.” Fountain’s Creek was named after an unfortunate who was drowned there previously and, “like Icarus, left his name to that fatal stream.” Byrd compares the gravel bottom of the Dan River to the gold of the “Pactolus in lesser Asia.” The red ochre on the banks of Paint Creek reminds him of “the river Adonis in Phoenicia, by which there hangs a celebrated fable.”100
The porters complained that they had been “half-starved, like Tantalus in the midst of plenty.” Indian scalping is like that of the “Ancient Scythians, who used these hairy scalps as Towels at Home, and Trappings for their horses.” But the cruelties of Indian torture, in Byrd’s opinion, are no worse than Achilles’ treatment of Hector, or Alexander’s crucifixion of the two thousand Tyrians. He hears of an Indian princess, last of her race, who “poison’d herself, like an Old Roman, with the Root of the Trumpet-Plant.” An unkempt native is a revolting sight, “like one of Herodotus’s East Indian Pigmies.” In their later expedition, the Progress to the Mines, a lazy weaver “needed Minerva’s inspiration.” In planning for the future city of Richmond, at the Falls of the James, the site is desirable because it is “too high for any Flood, less than that of Deucalion’s.”101 On occasion, the horses became so tired that “even Orpheus could not have inspired them to step lively”; they needed the type of martial music which “made the great Alexander start up from his seat and handle his javelin.” And at the close, “Thus ended our second expedition in which we extended the Line within the shadow of the Chariky Mountains, where we were obliged to set up our pillars, like Hercules, and return home.”
The whole journey is recorded in high spirits. Watching the wild life, Byrd wonders whether there is anything in the story of Aelian about the Egyptian frog, which carries a reed crosswise in its mouth in order not to be swallowed by an enemy. When the camping party stops for the night and the King’s birthday is announced, he bids his men throw long reeds on the fire and explode the air confined between the joints of the canes as a salute to his Majesty! The light touch is everywhere. Byrd wanted his learning to have an offhand flavor; one of the amusing passages in his diary is the scene where his wife quarreled with him because he and Parson Dunn talked Latin in her presence, and the Parson lost his temper and went off to bed. Byrd concludes: “Parson Dunn is a man of no polite conversation, notwithstanding he be a good Latin scholar.”102
One of Byrd’s few regularly published works, which can be considered in the same light as Sewall’s Phaenomena, as a wholly serious document, is his pamphlet on the history of plagues, issued in 1721 at the press of J. Roberts in Warwick-Lane, London. Characteristically anonymous, it is by “A Friend of Mankind,” with the Vergilian motto: Dü talem avertite pestem! It is serious study of pestilences, beginning with “the dreadful judgments executed upon Pharaoh,” and discussing the Hebrew words which indicate such calamities. The Homeric plague, the visitation which came upon the Romans and was described by Livy,103 through various manifestations of modern times, including the London tragedy of 1665, are described in detail. The remedies attempted in the Athenian disaster recorded by Thucydides, are mentioned. Byrd’s membership in the Royal Society, his keen interest in herb remedies, and his modern contact with science, indicate that he wished to make a definite contribution to a problem which troubled all nations. And, typically Virginian, his sovereign cure is the medicinal use of tobacco, as a disinfectant.
These journal entries and the occasional publications104 of Byrd and Sewall, viewed in a classical mirror, give us a general view of their intellectual interests. To go beyond this stage would involve an extensive book, dealing with the politics and the manners of the two provinces. We may content ourselves with a glance at the most informal, and nonofficial side of the two colonial leaders. This comes out in Sewall’s hobby of original Latin verses, and in Byrd’s character studies in letter form.
Byrd the Virginia plantation owner, the diligent early-morning reader of his classics, the energetic politician, was one man at Westover, and another during his two long sojourns in London. Amid his family, with occasional bursts of frivolity, he is a typical, hard-working Southern squire. His diary indicates that from March to May of 1712 he was reading Petronius; to this period we may assign his translation of that author’s Ephesian Matron story.105 Since his library of more than 3,600 volumes included a Theophrastus, Byrd’s “Characters” in epistolary form, with assumed names for the recipients, were adapted to the fashion of the times. Some of them were written in Virginia, as that of “Veramour” to “Fidelia,” the Lucy Parke whom he married on 4 May 1706. He describes himself as taking pains at “a translation of that difficult passage of Plyny concerning the Nightingale in the 10th Book of his Natural History.”106 The translation is loose; the musical terminology is in the current fashion; and the writer renders Pliny’s non in novissimis digna miratu avis as “This is an admirable Byrd.”
Byrd in London, however, is as opposite to Sewall as anyone could be. He is trying to be as like Congreve (probably once a fellow student of his in the Middle Temple) as possible, and not succeeding. He plunged deep into the sophisticated coarseness of the period, as his third Diary indicates. He moves comfortably in the society of London and Tunbridge Wells, contributes some verses to “Tunbridgalia,” a volume by several hands, adding nothing to “the well of English undefiled,” and addressing sundry petitions to the Board of Trade seeking official position in Virginia. Between 1715 and 1725 he was thus devoted to social and political affairs, in search also for a second wife. Some of the Latinized belles whom he courted can be identified. Sabina, who refused him, was the daughter of a London magnate whom he parodied as Vigilante. “My demon,”107 he writes, “has acquainted me with many instances of your compassion.” Parthenissa, who might be Patty Blount, the friend of Pope, Facetia (Lady Elizabeth Cromwell), Zenobia, a shadow-shape, move amid clever and saucy language across his pages. The identity of Monimia is unknown, a pathetic heroine in The Orphan of Otway. The wording is mostly in terms of classical swains and shepherdesses and of ancient mythology. When irritated, he writes to Minionet on 27 June 1722: “The Graces and Furys were both represented in the shape of Women,” as in the cases of Lucrece and Messalina. His best “character” is a tribute to his friend and benefactor, Sir Robert Southwell (Cavaliero Sapiente); the best line in his Tunbridgalia is the couplet from Martial108 which introduces the collection:
Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt mala plura
Quae legis hic; aliter non sit, Avite, liber.
And the best of his miscellaneous writings is his proposal to his second wife, in Greek:109 “When I thought you knew only your mother-tongue, I was passionately in love with you; but when indeed I learned that you also spoke Greek, the tongue of the Muses, I went completely crazy about you. In beauty you surpassed Helen, in culture of mind and ready wit Sappho. It is not meet therefore to be astonished: I was smitten with such grandeur of body and soul when I admitted the poison of Love both through my eyes and my ears. Farewell. If you deem it to send any reply, you will write it in English. To Mr. Ornis at Will’s Coffee House in Bow Street, Covent Garden.”
Such was the Byrd of London days. Even in his diary deep feeling must not be shown; here is a characteristic contrast to the agonies of soul which Samuel Sewall confides to his journal. The advice of Seneca and Epictetus is as inadequate to cure a passion as is hellebore to cure Folly.110 Mix nine grams of folly with one of wisdom, is Byrd’s recommendation to Lucretia, an English relative: “That is the just proportion which Ovid and all the doctors in the deep science of Love allow to a Woman that would be invincible.”
Samuel Sewall, despite his many engagements and public responsibilities, turned off a large amount of original Latin verses. In looking over these amateur efforts of his we should not demand a Miltonic excellence; we should note the fact that a busy man, soaked in the classical tradition, produced so many of them, with naive gusto, occasional quality, and only rare lapses from correct prosody. Because of space, we must be content with a few specimens.
That he was particular with his “quantities” is proved by a letter in which he corrects his friend Richard Henchman the schoolmaster, who ended a hexameter line with: dominantur undique fraudes. “I send home your verses with thanks. There are many good strokes in them: but in my mind the English excell. I think (the phrase) does not well end a verse; the dominantur is short by rule.”111 There are times when the text is suspicious because of the rapidity of the Judge’s writing, and one is tempted to try some emendation. Keenly interested in the progress of youthful scholars, Sewall dictates a distich to his nephew Jonathan at school:
Vive, doce, regna, semper mihi, CHRISTE Sacerdos;
pendet ab officiis Spes mea tota tuis.112
Benjamin Larnell, an Indian in whom Sewall was interested, had to present the usual copy of verses on admission to Harvard; and the Judge supplies him with these rather severe offerings:
Erroresque meos mihi condonate perosos;
Absenti-que mihi precibus succurrite semper.113
Letters of sympathy on deaths among his circle of friends, or on national losses in newspaper communications, are frequent. But these, usually in Latin couplets, were customary among scholarly New Englanders, as were also such tributes as the Pietas et Gratulatio volume on the accession of George the Third, or the tribute of Latin verses offered yearly by the students of William and Mary.
We do not need to desolemnize Sewall overmuch; for the festive element is not lacking. “Captain Crow, of his Majesty’s ship Arundel, now riding at anchor in the Harbour of Boston,” receives a piece of Sewall’s daughter’s bride cake, with these punning Latin verses:
Ecce per antiphrasin vocitaris, Ductor Arundel;
Nomen te corvum dicit, natura columbam.
Et quoties opus est, pugnas virtute leonis.
Undique sic Christi nobilitate viges.
“There is a paradox in your name, O commander of the Arundel: your name is that of a Crow, your nature that of a dove. Whenever necessary, you can fight with the valor of a lion. Thus in all respects you are favored with Christ’s approval.”114 A charming little piece on the marriage of Edmund Quincy’s daughter115 in 1724 needs no apology in the company of any epithalamium:
Parvula cognatum conscendis epistula Montem,
Connubiique faces Splendentes visere gestis.
Et Sponsum, et Sponsam, iubeo syncere Salutes;
In mare dum currunt Hudson Carolusque profundum.
“O my little letter, you are ascending the Hill where my relatives live: you are eager to behold the shining wedding-torches. I bid you greet with full heart the bride and the groom. May they flourish in harmony, happy in offspring who will carry the family name, as long as the Charles and the Hudson rivers run to the sea.” The “Hill” is Mount Wollaston; the groom is John Wendell of Albany, New York.
Sewall himself, as he admitted to his friend, Richard Henchman, makes no pretence of perfection in these original Latin verses, either for himself or for others of his American colonial contemporaries. But they are of interest as vital component parts of a cultural fashion, and they were close to the heart of the writer, who was by no means a creative artist, but a cultivated leader who did not permit his college learning to lapse.
We have altered the Plutarchian method somewhat in this study of two early Americans. We have interwoven the contrasts as we went along. Sewall conforms to the Puritan tradition; Byrd, with more of Restoration England in him than most Virginia squires, is still true to his type. Sewall takes his classical scholarship seriously, and documents it; Byrd, to repeat the phrase previously used, is far more scholarly than he wishes us to think him, and takes his learning lightly. The goal of Sewall is edification, Byrd’s is entertainment. The former is literal, the latter allusive. Since we are dealing primarily with their reaction to the classics, we need not do more than point to Sewall as a moralist and to Byrd as a man of the world; but both men are genuine. They are forces in their communities, willing to be downright about their beliefs and policies. In their hands the language and literature of the Greeks and Romans—whom they never mention without respect and acknowledgment as masters, is a living essence, serving, in the words of Bacon, “for delight, for ornament, and for ability.”
Mr. Samuel Eliot Morison read an account by the Abbe Casgrain of his visit to Boston in 1871, during which he was the guest of Francis Parkman. He also read a spurious letter addressed to George Nichols and signed “Francis Higginson,” recently deposited in the Essex Institute, and demonstrated from both internal and circumstantial evidence that the letter is a forgery, probably composed in a spirit of fun by the brother of a nineteenth-century George Nichols.