Documents for the canonisation of Romeo of Lucca (d. 1380) and beatification of Aloysius Rabatà (1443-1490), presented by the Carmelite postulator Joseph Maria Palma to the relator, Cardinal Mezzofanti (Rome, 1841-42). Notes: Interest is rivetted here not on the respective prospectives so much as on the Relator. The person appointed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to assemble the historic documentation of the candidate for canonization.” This is not the main feather in the cap of Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774-1849), who is one of the most awesome figures of early 19th century Rome. Awesome because he was a hyperpolyglot, one of the most famous, able to speak about thirty languages “with rare excellence” and several more fluently. Trying to explain Mezzofanti is like trying to explain Mozart. Ni hao is my response to reading statements of fact like “he mastered Chinese in four months and … found Chinese to be one of the most difficult languages he ever tried to learn.” Such is his fame in linguistic circles that James Joyce puns on his name in Finnegans Wake, that novel composed of every language under the sun, plus some other invented ones. It is not surprising to learn that, as a priest, one of his jobs was confessor to foreigners. The Library holds the biography by Charles William Russell (1858), five hundred pages of stunning claims that still do not explain the mystery of memory. With Cardinal Mezzofanti in the room, who needs Google Translate? His job as Relator seems to be one of those extra-things-to-do in his twilight years.
Thursday, 28 May 2020
Sunday, 24 May 2020
The main title page
The separate, ornate dedication title page
A dictionary or, to use a much more impressive synonym, a gazophylacium of the Persian language, with matching terms in Italian, Latin, and French (Amsterdam, 1684). Notes: The Carmelite mission to Persia, initiated in 1604 by Pope Clement VIII with the support of Sigismund III Vasa of Poland, resulted in many cultural exchanges, significant among them linguistic works on a two-way street. Thesauri, grammars, dictionaries, translations into and from Persian, were produced, including the first Persian version of St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles (ms. Vaticano persiano 59). The Carmelites set up the first printing press in Persia. The Discalced Carmelite Ange de Saint-Joseph (1636-1697) would probably have trained in Rome before travelling East. A found record of a Teheran reprint of 2013 provided me with the name of his collaborator-editor, Muḥammad Ḥusayn Mar’ashi, whose name appears at the head-of-title in his own language. This record also supplied me with the transliterated Persian not to be found on the first record I uncovered, at the Carmelite Library in Boxmeer in the Netherlands. As the pictures show, ‘Gazophylacium linguae Persarum’ is arranged alphabetically in Italian, with cross indexes from the Latin and French. A fascinating short history of the Carmelites in Persia in the 17th century can be read in the Encyclopaedia Iranica here: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/carmelites-in-persia
Blessing in Italian, Latin, French, and Persian
The Index that leads readers to the Latin equivalents in the main text
Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Monday, 11 May 2020
Amarasimha, here Amarasinha (5th-6th c. CE, though even that is narrowing down his possible dates) the first part of his ancient Sanskrit dictionary Amarakosha, translated into Latin, with commentary. (Rome, 1798). Notes: This superb book is one of the earliest translations of what is thought to be the oldest thesaurus of Sanskrit terms. West meets East. The Latin of Paulinus a S. Bartolomaeo (1748-1806) reveals how ‘De Caelo’ moves from synonyms for the heavens to names of Indian deities, each with their own special powers or virtues. The thesaurus worked as a rhyming mnemonic, leaving us marvelling at the added levels of sophistication of the original. The title page presents a bio-line of the Carmelite at time of printing, which can be picked out even by someone with no formal Latin: “Carmelita Discalceato, Linguarum Orientalium Praelectore, Missionum Asiaticarum Syndico, & Academiae Velieternae ae Neapolitanae Socio.” Similar strings of achievements in other records I found disclose that he worked with the Malabar Mission in India, when not sifting manuscripts at San Pancrazio in Rome. He is typical, in this regard, of the brilliant linguists who gravitate to la Città Eterna in every century, busy about it in the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana and other babbling booknooks. WorldCat led me to a very good record at the University of California Berkeley which contains a wealth of information ‘outside the book’ to describe this very rare one.
Saturday, 9 May 2020
Sometime in the fifteenth century handwriting lost its grip. The day started well. It nearly always does. The precise day is hard to calculate. But on that day the perfection of alphabet blocks took its first steps towards child’s play for compositors everywhere.
This was by no means the end of handwriting, which continues to this day in one shape or another. Just as the lost art of letter-writing keeps being rediscovered by those with pluck and something to say, so its concomitant enabler curves across a fresh page, happier than any emailer in their own personal hell or twitterer of witless brevity. Handwriting centres thought and lets it dash to the edge of the page. Handwriting is in no hurry but can gather pace, quicker than a keyboardist. Handwriting flexes its muscle, waving through silence as if the world had stood still. We can almost hear its music in isolation.
But on that day medieval took a turn towards modern: typeface commenced its sweeping replacement of the written word. Did handwriting take a wrong turn to end up excluded from its own natural home? Or has it simply traced the road more taken, wandering where it will at immense speed?
Trying to imagine the handwriting beneath an author’s published pages, the frantic scribble-de-hop that stands Times New Roman in their book, is an impossible ask. Publication has erased the hand that wrote the typeset finale. The moving finger’s letters are now a figment of the forgotten. Libraries are full of it.
That is to say, behind the print books with their shelf life of one year or a hundred, their pages of uniform types conveying every thought under the sun, lie ghostly the lost handwriting of their authors. The entire emotional import of handwriting itself has been phased out of the reading equation. We can only guess in what state they wrote down their ecstatic vision, their cool scientific theory, or rampaging historical knowledge fresh from eye witnesses. That the author fractured her writing hand and wrote her greatest work with the other is a diagnosis lost in a fog of Baskerville. The library is a great suburb of conformed versions, shelves of addresses all the same, with respectable presentation and eye-catching normality. Any idea with half a spine is found there.
Display cabinets of writers’ original manuscripts deepen this awareness of loss. The unforgiving novelist’s letter to her companion, written without aid of ruled lines, causes titters and knowing harumphs in the hallway of a great library. The enflamed poet’s unending flame rages across a romantic sheaf. The tremendous homilist enlists kindly if sadly the visitors’ stepping stone attention, who little think that all literature was once done like this.
This vast tabula rasa debacle deepened when, sometime in the twenty-first century, handwriting underwent conversion. ‘Under went’ is a way of saying it. A person’s handwriting on screen can, with a touch of the same moving finger, convert that screed into script, the very best font that computer compositors can muster. Remarkable is one dropdown way of putting it https://remarkable.com/ as our markings are remade with a flick of the switch. Simply by shaking the sandbox we can save our manic half-legible excitement or dedicated secretarial application to the power of the micro-batteries and magnetic accessories. Secretary is a word of the past.
This is by no means the end of handwriting, which continues to this day in quiet undetected corners of the room, far from the eyes of zoom and instagram. Converting notes into text will still have to develop ways of crossing troublesome t’s or dotting idiosyncratic i’s. Whether technology thus improves the lot of human existence, or just makes us lazier, is the topic of our next essay, due this Friday and remember to follow the authorised style layout. Handwriting belongs to its owner and explains more than simple grammar. Handwriting hurries along to the next engagement but blanks when the slideshow’s too fast. Handwriting is permanently available, jotting down the phone number, collecting the shopping list.
Yet backward in time there is still not the invention that converts type into handwriting. How remarkable would it be if our samey texts, our keyboard-written notes were converted back into one’s personal handwriting. Or there could be options. Victorian copperplate conversion at a trice, Elizabethan Bardic straggle conversion, Chinese ideogram conversion: possibilities flourish forth beyond the hard looks of Silicon Valley.
And what if, say, print books with their shelf lives and uniform types could be converted back into the original handwriting. Ranges of outward activity would meet the inward eye, the vibrant cursives of the lost novelist, smouldering rampage of the poet, and yet unknown revelations of the preacher. Emotional import would phase in fresh readerly understandings. Left and right would resume their dialogue. We could intuit anew their states of ecstatic vision, cold practical demand, raging historical fury, perhaps better than many of the eye witnesses. Instead, we must do with the conformist versions in predictable verticals, horizontals and bends, all of that same old eye-catching normality. For further insights, follow the footnotes.
Friday, 8 May 2020
A three-way battle of ethical opinions in descending order of seniority, or perhaps doctrinal certainty (Antwerp, 1665). Notes: At first glance we would conclude that Prospero Fagnani (1588-1678) is author of this book of retorts, then the Cistercian Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz (1606-1682). In fact, it is Francisco Bonae Spei, in tiny letters, better known as Brother Francis of Good Hope (1617-1677), a Carmelite who appears to be treading a middle path through the dangerous 17th-century territory known as Probabilism. Ethics exists at all because people hold different views about issues that matter, where conversation is better than bloodshed, or worse. Probabilism has been defined as providing “a way of answering the question about what to do when one does not know what to do.” While on the face of it this sounds amusing, it’s very often how we ourselves meet moral dilemmas. Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz was of the school that adopted more lenient positions on issues, even using mathematics to prove his arguments. For him, the answer was **more probably** not always one based on strict doctrine, which is why St Alphonsus Liguori named him ‘The Prince of the Laxists.’ Prospero and Francis cannot abide Laxism, which doesn’t mean they don’t continue to address Juan as ‘most illustrious and most reverend’. Decorum is maintained as they thrash out their differences in the very best Latin. The main challenge was a name authority for the author, who goes by his birth name of François Crespin in BNCF Florence and is, so far and rather curiously, unavailable on LCSH. In the end I adopted the name used in his wiki, which is corroborated by the Carmelite catalogue in the Netherlands, with a see reference from the English translation of the same. That is a high probability of accuracy, therefore of access.