Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Some Latin Blunders

Henry Gunning (1768-1854), Reminiscences of the University, Town, and County of Cambridge, from the Year 1780, 2nd. ed., Vol. I (London: George Bell, 1866), p. 17:
Nothing could he pleasanter than the hour passed at [John Barlow] Seale's lectures,—such was his kindness to all, particularly to those who wished to profit by them. When any ludicrous blunder occurred (which was not unfrequently the case), he joined in the laugh as heartily as any of us. One of his pupils, when construing a passage in Grotius, made a mistake, which set us all in a roar of laughter: the passage was this,—"Merite suspecta merx est, quae hâc lege obtruditur, ne inspici posset." The nature of the blunder will be understood by Seale's remark upon it: "I think, Sir, you have mistaken merx for meretrix!"
Grotius actually wrote "Merito suspecta merx est, quae hac lege obtruditur, ne inspici posset." The quotation appears in his treatise De Veritate Religionis Christianae (Paris: Seb. Cramoisy, 1640), p. 198 (from book VI, discussing prohibitions against reading the Bible). The sentence means "Deservedly suspect is merchandise offered for sale with the restriction that it can't be inspected." Instead of translating merx as merchandise, Seale's student confused the word with meretrix (prostitute) and presumably translated the sentence somewhat as follows: "Deservedly suspect is a prostitute offered for sale with the restriction that she can't be inspected."

Gunning, Vol. II, p. 47:
I have previously mentioned that in consequence of ill health, the Regius Professor of Divinity was allowed, in 1787, to appoint Dr. Kipling, of St. John's, his deputy. Dr. Kipling was the Senior Wrangler of his year, and had published a treatise on optics, which was but little read and soon forgotten; he also edited Beza, and published a Latin preface so full of bad Latin, that he deemed it expedient to call in those copies that had been circulated in the University, that the work might be re-issued with an amended preface. A friend of mine was so much delighted with its blunders that he refused to part with his copy, saying that he considered it a literary curiosity, which in a few years would become extremely valuable. I could at one time quote a number of memorable expressions, but I can now only remember his using the word Paginibus which actually appeared in several copies of the amended preface.
John Selby Watson (1804-1884), The Life of Richard Porson, M.A. Professor of Greek in the University of Cambridge from 1792 to 1808 (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861), p. 202:
There was also in the preface some bad Latinity, and Frend in consequence charged Kipling with "inability to speak or write a single sentence of pure Latin." One blunder was paginibus, on which somebody, perhaps Porson, made this epigram, in the style of the Epistolae obscurorum Virorum:
Paginibus nostris dicitis mihi menda quod insunt;
  At non in recto vos puto esse, viri.
Nam, primum, jurat (cetera ut testimonia omitto)
  Milnerus, quod sum doctus ego et sapiens.
Classicus haud es, aiunt. Quid si non sum? in sacrosanctâ
  Non ullo tergum verto theologiâ.
The last two words in italics exemplify some of the Doctor's other inaccuracies. Kipling had "the paginibus sheet," as it was called, reprinted in the copies that had not been issued, but in a large number the blunder necessarily remained. The publication cost the University nearly two thousand pounds, and Kipling is supposed to have cleared at least six hundred guineas.
Kipling should have written paginis, not paginibus. According to M.L. Clarke, Richard Porson: A Biographical Essay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1937), p. 46, "As a result of an unfortunate dative or ablative form the deputy won the nickname of Dr Paginibus..." Kipling's other errors castigated in Porson's epigram are presumably omitto for omittam, and ullo for ulli, although I can't find anywhere on the Internet a copy of Codex Theodori Bezae Cantabrigiensis Evangelia et Apostolorum Acta complectens, quadratis literis Graeco-Latinus. Academia auspicante venerandae has vetustatis reliquias summa qua potuit fide adumbravit expressit edidit codicis historiam praefixit notasque adjecit Thomas Kipling, S.T.P., Coll. Div. Joan. nuper socius (Cantabrigiae: e prelo Academico impensis Academiae, 1793), 2 vols.

Robert Forsyth Scott, ed., Admissions to the College of St. John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge, Part III: July 1715-November 1767 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903), p. 699:
The opportunity of making things disagreeable to Kipling came when his edition of the Codex Bezae appeared. He was guilty of several mistakes in his introductory preface and there were many misprints in his text. His work was sharply criticised by Porson in the British Critic, iii. He was also fiercely and coarsely attacked by Thomas Edwards (of Clare Hall, LL.B. 1782, LL.D. 1787, and Fellow of Jesus College; sometime Vicar of Histon; who died at Huntingdon 30 March 1820), who published Remarks on Dr Kipling's Preface to Beza, Part i, 1793; Part ii, 1797. In this he disclaims any personal animosity to Dr Kipling, but displays extraordinary bitterness. Kipling is constantly referred to as 'our Promoter.' His slips in Latin are pointed out and his learning held up to ridicule. Edwards seems to have been the author of the expression 'a Kiplingism,' which afterwards passed into the slang of the University as the equivalent of an error in latinity.
Gradus ad Cantabrigiam: or, A Dictionary of Terms, Academical and Colloquial, or Cant, which are used at the University of Cambridge (London: W.J. and J. Richardson, 1803), p. 81:
A KIPLINGISM; a blunder-BUS levelled at poor Priscian's head by the learned Dr. Kipling. The opposition wits at Cambridge have composed an epigram of Kiplingisms.—(Kiplingius loquitur.)
Porson's epigram follows on p. 82 of the Gradus.

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