Long S of the Sun

I was taken with the fluidity and eaſe with which I could accuſstom myſelf to the long s in the Scholar Press 1969 imprint of a facsimile edition of Jonathan Swift’s A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining The English Tongue (1712). Much to my delight I discovered that Unicode has made provision in its Latin characters for the long s.

Ascertaining — OED “to make (a thing) objectively certain, to fix”

The Proposal is addressed to the Lord Treasurer. I like the audacity of Swift in pressing his case.

However I muſt venture to affirm, that if Genius and Learning be not encouraged under your LORDSHIP’S Administration, you are the moſt inexuſable Perſon alive.

Swift quite judicious goes on by way of appeal to His Lordship’s other virtues which would be defective without his support for corrections and improvements. For Swift points out that not only the Arts and Letters are to share His Lordship’s influence and protection but that some future glory may emerge.

Beſides, who knows, but ſome true Genius may happen to ariſe under Your Miniſtry, exhortus ut aetherius Sol.

The Latin tag is culled from Lucretius (Book III of De Rerum Natura) and although it references the glory of the sun in surpassing the light of the stars it hints at mortality and so is befitting Swift’s theme that a man’s honour and reputation are entrusted to writing that must be deciphered in later ages which task of deciphering benefits from safeguarding language from the corruption induced by change and fashion and the passage of generations.

Even Epicurus went, his light of life
Run out, the man in genius who o’er-topped
The human race, extinguishing all others,
As sun, in ether arisen, all the stars

Lucretius. De Rerum Natura. William Ellery Leonard. E. P. Dutton. 1916

Or in the rendering by A.C. Stallings in the Penguin edition:

Even great Epicurus, once the light of life had run
Its course, perished, the very man whose brilliance outshone
The human race, eclipsing all, just as the burning sun,
Risen, snuffs out all the stars. So who are you to balk
And whine at death? […]

Swift proposed the establishment of an academy. To what end in this 21st century, in this day and age of the networked expertise where the long ſ is remembered in code and other marvels assist the hunter-gatherer scholar looking for references? Consider Miscellaneous extracts and fragments, on interesting and instructive subjects chiefly from works at present out of print: including some account of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and eminent men connected therewith [ed.] by M. (1839)

As identified by Google Books in its digitalization, “M.” is “Maria Baldwin”. This is the name associated with the Harvard copy which entered the library February 14, 1931 acquired under the Charles William Eliot Fund. The metadata associated with the Google digitalization of the Bodleian copy makes no attribution.

Whatever copy one consults, under the Trinity College (Cambridge) entry one finds a paragraph devoted to Sir Isaac Newton which reads in part

Never was there a motto more applicable than two lines of Lucretius, to this great man:—

“Qui genus humanum ingenio superavit, et omnes
Perstrinxit stellas, exortus ut aetherius sol.”

Neither in the sun nor in the stars, the mystery of M. remains. Who was Maria Baldwin?

Whatever M’s identity, all that can be ascertained is that M or Maria most likely had in mind both Lucretius and the inscription on the pedestal of the 1755 statue of Newton in the Ante-Chapel Trinity College, Cambridge. But the pedestal modestly claims on his behalf “Qui genus humanum ingenio superavit” – “Who surpassed the human race in genius”. Note no space for the long s in this single line … No stars. No sun.

And so for day 1266

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