This is blogging as stress reduction, which it has been once or twice in the past. But it’s also an exercise in sorting my thoughts out, and illustrates, for what it’s worth, the peculiar difficulties of reading not just nineteenth-century Latin, but nineteenth-century Latin that is consciously promoting the language as equal to the demands of the modern day: the Latin of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ newspaper Alaudae, needless to say. As I’ve mentioned before, Ulrichs was interested in the post in any case, but had a professional interest in its workings while producing and broadcasting his newspaper across the world in the last years of his life, 1889-95.
At the point I’m going to talk about here (in issue 17-18, March 1891), he’s in the process of arguing that the administration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire would be better done in Latin, thereby removing the unfair advantage enjoyed by German, and by German-speakers within the Empire. Tongue somewhat in cheek, Ulrichs goes on to coin Latin equivalents for common contemporary postal terms, and here in a nutshell is the challenge (and appeal) of understanding and translating Alaudae, since it requires not only understanding Ulrichs’ Latin but also knowing what kind of postal items were in circulation in late nineteenth-century Europe. I can claim some limited expertise in the former.
Back in that earlier blog I mentioned one such postal item that I hadn’t encountered before, the newspaper wrapper, but once I did encounter it, it made a whole lot more sense of a couple of passages in Alaudae (Ulrichs’ Latin for this wrapper is fascia). Insight there had come with this video from the philatelists of Lancaster County, PA. But since then I’ve found a marvellous resource for understanding Victorian postal stationery: a series of six short articles by Colin Baker in the British Philatelic Bulletin issue 32 (1994-5) which are scanned and hosted on the Collect GB Stamps website and available here (1), here (2), here (3), here (4), here (5, including newspaper wrappers) and here (6). These are primarily concerned with developments in the UK, but postal practice was effectively developing in parallel across the nations signed up to the Universal Postal Union, established in 1874, and Baker notes what countries the UK imitated and how slow or fast the Post Office was to adopt innovations from abroad.
On the back of these articles, here is Ulrichs’ text at the relevant point, my translation, and the postal items that I think Ulrichs has in mind, with links to descriptions and illustrations where I have them. WordPress plays havoc with formatting, but it still should be fairly clear what goes with what. My interpretation of Ulrichs’ Latin is embodied in the translation as much as anything, and I welcome corrections.
Ecce, quem in modum fingi possint verba postalia Latina:
Chartula epistolaris duplex. Huic parti adjuncta appendix respondendo destinata est. Appendix responso scribundo. In hoc latere praeter inscriptionem nil poni licet.
Epistola curae praecipuae commendata. Epistola ad certam summam cautione postali munita. Epistola chartas continens aeris vice fungentes.
Mandatum de solvendo postale. (Assignatio postalis.) Appendicula separabilis. Quam resecandi et sibi habendi accipienti jus est.
In chartula duplici conglutinabili recentissimae inventionis: Chartula epistolaris clausa. Quam ut aperias, secundum foraminum seriem avelle marginem.
En, res facillima.
Witness how postal words may be fashioned in Latin:
‘Two-fold letter card.’ ‘The attachment joined to this part is intended for a reply.’ ‘Attachment for writing a reply.’ ‘On this side nothing beside an address may be put.’
‘Letter entrusted to special care.’ ‘Letter protected by postal insurance to a set sum.’ ‘Letter containing sheets serving in place of cash [cheques].’
‘Postal order for payment. (Postal assignment.)’ ‘Detachable counterfoil, which the recipient has the right to cut off and keep.’
On the sealable two-fold card recently invented: ‘Closed letter card. To open, tear the edge along the line of perforations.’
There, nothing easier!
Reply Card: development of the simple postcard (one side for the message & one for the address) with two cards folded together, one detachable for the reply. Description & image pp. 80-81 here.
Various forms of registered post, which included compensation for loss or damage calculated according to a table of fees: see here.
Still today a reasonably familiar item, but shouldn’t the counterfoil be for the sender, mittenti, not the recipient, accipienti?
A development of the first item known as a Letter Card and designed for messages requiring privacy, a sealable double card: pp. 208-209 here, confirming that in 1891 it was indeed a recent invention.
A joke in Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ Alaudae. Probably not worth a blog (though what is these days?), but it’s a good one, I think: donnish and thus my favourite kind.
In Issue 22 of Alaudae (from January 1892) Ulrichs has got hold of an American publication called The University Magazine, a rather waspy exercise focussed on the elite US institutions of higher education. He spends a bit of time in this and subsequent issues sharing, in Latin of course, a description of the physical monuments of the College of New Jersey, Collegium Neo-Caesariense in Latin, shortly to be renamed Princeton University in 1896, but he also refers to some of the other articles in the issue.
One he mentions is an odd little narrative, “Ione: A Tale of Old Mycenae”. It’s hard to summarise, but the story basically comes down to Aristocles, the husband of the divinely beautiful Ione, being tempted by the gods, Aphrodite in particular, by way of a test of his professed devotion to his wife. It features some exceptionally affected dialogue, for instance:
“‘My Aristocles, thou doth distrust me. Dost thou wonder that for thee my beauty is divine? Love is blind only because, forsooth, it doth o’erlook all blemishes in its ideal! Whatso’er doth move a man is divine for him. Dost thou forget that Love is very godfulness?’ ‘I mistrust thee not,’ he answered,” etc. etc.
I’m delighted to report that the author of “Ione”, James E. Homans, seems to have made his living after graduating from Harvard writing the last word in practical guides to everyday stuff: ABC of the Telephone: A Practical and Useful Treatise for Students and Workers in Telephony (1901); Self-propelled Vehicles : A Practical Treatise on the Theory, Construction, Operation, Care and Management of All Forms of Automobiles (1902); New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information: A Practical and Educational Compendium Suited to the Needs of Everyday Life (1905); and Homans’ First Principles of Electricity (1916).
But Ulrichs has his own way of puncturing this overheated prose. By manipulating Ione’s name into the genitive case, and retaining its Greek inflection in his Latin text, and by doing the standard thing back then of writing a consonantal i as a j, well, it becomes narratio ficta, sumta ex antiquis Mycenis, sub titulo puellae Jones, “A tale of old Mycenae with the title, the Jones girl.”