Alma Mater Oxonia celebrates each year, at Encaenia, in Wren's Sheldonian Theatre, the greatness of ... er ... herself. Mr Orator or the Professor of Poetry declaims the Creweian Oration, in Latin ...
O dear, I had better come clean ... sometime in the last generation the degenerate custom has arisen of the Orator first saying Insignissime Domine Cancellarie, licetne Anglice loqui? His lordship replies Licet. Thus do the b*****s get round it, and the Creweian is now delivered in English.
Shocking, yes. I remember Robert Graves delivering the Creweian with great aplomb in 1964, when he was Professor of Poetry. Every word in Latin, starting with a deft Horatian allusion (Ibam forte -- agnoscitis, Academici, sermonis potius quam orationis exordium -- ibam forte via Madisonis ...) and incorporating the New York cops, twerling their nightsticks (bacula nocturna minaciter vibrantes) ... whatever nightsticks are. Don't ask me why they have to twerl them; at the moment, having got quite brown-skinned in this summer's Oxford sun, I am prudently self-isolating from American Plods. Perhaps they twerled their nightsticks because Graves, foolish fellow, unaware that the Amazonian Rain Forests are Sacred Places, referred to his friend Alexander Lenard (translator into Latin of Willie Ille Pu) as nunc pestilentes Brasiliae silvas incolentem, unicum in tanta vastitate urbanitatis exemplum.
Today is Encaenia Day. But, because of Coronavirus, ENCAENIA is OFF. So, to give you some compensation ... you are entitled to some fun ... I offer you part of a rousing and fiery Latin speech made by Dr William King in April 1749, not at Encaenia but to celebrate the opening of the Radcliffe Library.
King's description (done memoriter) of the State of our Nation led up to an invitation to Prayer ... of sorts! King, and most of his audience, were Jacobites, and his notion of Prayer was a crashing and crushing climax of five paragraphs, five shattering onslaughts upon the Whig Ascendancy, implicit calls for the RETURN of Charles, Prince of Wales and Prince Regent, each paragraph beginning REDEAT, each repetition of that word met by deafening roars of loyal applause. I will append three of them below. I am able to do so because of the humanitas, more decades ago than I care to tot up, of the late John Sparrow, a great Oxonian, sometime Warden of All Souls, bon viveur and bibliophile. In those early days when each college possessed just one amazingly slow neolithic photocopier, he kindly photocopied (and gave me that photocopy) his own first edition, luxuriously produced, of King's Oratio. The entire text is on the Internet now (Oratio in Theatro Sheldoniano Habita Idibus Aprilibus, MDCCXLIX).
It is sometimes wickedly asserted that Sparrow was a mindless conservative who spent his entire time at All Souls resisting change. This may not be accurate; it was possibly during his time as a Fellow that the College, a very satisfactorily endowed institution, updated its Statutes and abolished its entire undergraduate body, in the persons of its four Bible Clerks. It was a swapping, swapping mallard. The port is with you. Floreat Oxonia! Are you swallowing those cherry stones? No Herrenhausen! Vivat Rex! Would you like to look inside the Codrington Library before the Visigoths have it demolished? Could be your last chance to admire Codrington's statue ...
.... ad ea [scilicet vota] confugiamus.
REDEAT (neque me fugit hoc verbum meum, quippe meum, ab inficetis et malevolis viris improbari; iterandum est tamen) REDEAT nobis Astraea nostra, aut quocunque nomine malit vocari ipsa Justitia; non quidem fabulosa illa, sed Christianissima virgo, si non genetrix, certe equidem custos virtutum omnium!
REDEAT simul magnus ille Genius Britanniae, (sive is sit nuncius, sive sit ipse spiritus dei) firmissimum libertatis et relligionis praesidium; amandetque procul (o procul!) a civibus nostris grassationes, caedes, rapinas, pestilentes annos, superbas dominationes, infames delatores, et mala omnia!
REDEAT, efficiatque, ut revirescat respublica, revocetur fides, firmetur pax, sanciantur leges justae, honestae salutares utiles, quae deterreant improbos, coerceant milites, faveant doctis, ignoscant imprudentibus, sublevent egenos, delectent omnes, omnes nunc demum a periculis litium ita liberando, ut nequis omnino unquam civis ingenuus, innocens, indemnatus vexetur, multetur, spolietur!
I fear I cannot translate these inflammatory words, because King specifically asked that "nequis, me invito, hanc orationem in sermonem patrium vertat". Less than four years after the '45, the Whigs, then as now such jolly fellows, were still hanging people. But in the years that followed, REDEAT was one of the commonest words to be engraved on Jacobite drinking glasses; and they often bore a portrait of the future King Charles III with the words REDEAT Magnus Ille Genius Britanniae.