Thursday, March 20, 2014

William Maclay Hall - errata Latina

Judge Hall died in 1899, a resident of Bedford Borough, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, leaving to survive him his wife, three daughters and three sons.  His remains are interred in the cemetery across the road and five hundred yards or so just up the hill from where I live.  From 1871 through January 1882, he presided over the 16th judicial district, which, when his term of office began, embraced Franklin, Fulton, Bedford and Somerset counties, and which was reduced to Bedford and Somerset counties in 1874.  [Bedford county was added to the 20th judicial district in 1901, which also included Huntingdon and Mifflin counties, and subsequently became its own judicial district, the 57th.] The writer of his obituary notes that after his term as judge he "devoted himself to literary pursuits," specifically mentioning "several books" and "many articles of historic interest."

The only book I've been able to find is something called Reminiscences and Sketches, Historical and Biographical, published by Meyers Printing House in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1890.  It is available online at more than one location, one of which is Barnes and Noble, here; however, the conversion into digital format at this location is execrable and in many passages the text is gobbledygook.  I also downloaded a pdf scan from the Internet Archive, here; however, the faded quality of the pages makes reading difficult and the other options for downloading (e.g., Kindle) seem to bring up the same defectively scanned and OCRed copy as the Barnes and Noble version.  I was recently able to borrow a copy of the real book and it does indeed offer a delightful display of late 19th century writing, thinking and attitudes.

The son of a Presbyterian minister who moved to Bedford in 1844, Judge Hall was educated at Marshall College, in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, class of 1846.  This college was where Mercersburg Academy is now.  Marshall College merged with Franklin College in Lancaster in 1853 to become Franklin and Marshall.  Some elements of the college continued to offer classes at Mercersbury and after spending a few decades as Mercersburg College, formally became Mercersburg Academy in 1893.  This schooling, which the Judge finished at the age of 17, concluded his formal education.  He "read law" with a practicing attorney in Bedford and was admitted to the bar in 1849.

In a series of biographical sketches of judges in Bedford one of his subjects is the honorable Jeremiah Black (who later achieved a certain renown – or notoriety – as a member of President Buchanan's cabinet).  In discussing Judge Black's time on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court during the 1850's, he notes the constitutional change in 1850 which made the judiciary elective.  "Under the constitution of 1790 judges were appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, and held office for life, if they so long behaved themselves well, dum bene gesseret, as the commission ran."  (page 202)  The translation he provides here, "if they so long behaved themselves well," is a perfectly acceptable one for dum bene se gesserit.  He has left out the reflexive pronoun (se) and erred in writing the form of the verb gerere, which should be in the future perfect tense indicative mood, instead of the imperfect tense subjunctive form of the third singular ending tacked onto the perfect stem.

A little later he offers an essay on Christian ethics, or more particularly, on the Sermon on the Mount.  He writes: "If individuals and nations governed their conduct by the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, men would beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, and would learn war no more.  The world is growing gray with age, and yet this nineteenth century of the Christian era is still sadly full of cruelty and wrong.  It must be possible that, in the ultimate progress of the human race, some tribunal can be established to settle human disputes without the horrible relic of barbarism, this cruel ultima ratio regium, which has so long desolated the earth." (page 216)  The proper genitive plural form of rex, regis, m. is regumApparently, Louis XIV preferred this plural form in the expression of the motto to be embossed on his cannon, while Frederick the Great of Prussia opted for the singular regis in the same motto on his heavy weaponry.  This motto, with the singular genitive form of rex, is on the cannon – I think it was a WWI era field piece – that sat on a corner of one of public squares in Bedford for several decades until replaced a few years ago by another less warlike memorial.  I always thought it a bit peculiar that whoever installed it had aimed it directly at the courthouse across the intersection.

These are the only two errata Latina I noted in Judge Hall's book, although he is generally rather free with the embellishment a reasonable familiarity with quotable Latin phrases and expressions makes possible. 

 Finally, just for fun, I append the shortest (I think) of his pieces in this book, entitled "Did You See Any Whales?"  It is more of an anecdote perhaps than anything else, but it gives a nice feel for the Judge's style and cast of mind.  From page 138:
It is wonderful how the traveler in distant lands feels drawn to anything that reminds him of home.  Meeting a citizen of his own town or county, or state even, with whom he had no previous acquaintance or intercourse, he is attracted as if he were an intimate friend.  The newspaper of his village, how interesting the dull sheet has become!  At home he hardly glances at it.  And so a letter from home, how it is longed for!  I remember with what desire and interest I looked for the first letter from Bedford when I was in Paris.  I had been going from place to place and no letter had reached me, until I was quite sick to hear of the dear ones at home, grown doubly dear by absence.  Finally I was handed one bearing the postmark of the ancient village, which I opened with trembling haste.  No pearl of great price nor sparkling diamond could have been seized with more avidity, or would have been half as welcome.  It proved to be from my eight-year-old son, whose developing mind was just then intensely occupied with the wonders of natural history.  Spelled out in letters made like printing, this was its entire contents:
                                                         Bedford, PA, June 1st, 1875.
                      "Dear Pa: Did you see any whales?
                                                  "Your affectionate son,

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