Vivat Germania latina, Vivat Latinitas teutonica!

John M. McMahon

"Ein guter Lateinischer Poët":

A Latin Lyricist on the Colonial Pennsylvania Frontier



On the second of April, 1740 the renowned Danish classicist Christian Falster addressed a gathering of academics and students at the cathedral school of Rippen in Jutland, Denmark. In perfect Classical Latin idiom and with reference to and citation of classical authors such as Cicero and Terence, the venerable rector spoke the Testimonium Scholasticum, a formalized and public attestation to scholarly achievement, in honor of nineteen year old Christian Wedsted. This young man, said Falster, had come from a poor country village like some of the great intellectual lights of Antiquity: Aristotle, Zeno, Anacharsis, for example. [1] Furthermore, he had developed his intellectual skills rather than his physical abilities and in doing so made his way in the world orationibus quam arationibus :"at the speaker's platform rather than behind a plow." [2] Little did anyone present on that early Spring day realize that the very Testimonium, carefully recorded by Wedsted himself along with those of many other students from the Rippen Cathedral School, and the very manuscript textbooks into which he had dutifully copied both his geometry lessons and the geography lectures of his teachers dictated in the scholastic Latin of the day would, thousands of miles to the west and some two and half centuries later, form part of a truly unique collection of Neo-Latin writings from Colonial America. The collection itself presently lies scattered among the holdings of the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (USA). [3]

Biographical information about Christian Wedsted may be drawn from a variety of primary sources, including the poet's own works and contemporary Colonial American documents such as the Bethlehem Diary, the daily record of the early Moravian settlement. Born on April 12, 1720, [4] little is known of his early years; but as Falster's Testimonium indicates, because of his rural origins he was destined for a life of agricultural labor. [5] Yet his scholastic talents must have been early recognized, since as a student he was supported by a public stipend to study in Rippen, then a major academic center. [6] He seems to have taken an early liking to Latin, and his manuscript schoolbooks are filled with citations from classical authors like Virgil and Ovid. Moreover, his bilingual Liber Stilorum, a Latin composition book with instructor-dictated Danish passages for translation and Wedsted's own Latin versions, shows early evidence for his linguistic talents. Some of these efforts are variations on familiar Latin authors like Phaedrus and Horace, [7] and Wedsted even penned his own lines on Aeneas' speech at Aeneid 1.202-212. [8] After leaving the school at Rippen Wedsted travelled to Copenhagen and became affiliated with the University there as a tutor and educator.

It was in Copenhagen in 1744 that he came into contact with members of the Unitas Fratrum (Die Brüder, better known today as the Moravian Church), who were preaching there. With them he eventually returned to Germany to study and to undertake religious training, first at the Moravian seminary at Herrenhaag near Frankfurt in May of 1747. Herrenhaag was the epicenter of the pietistic movement in the Moravian Church, and, because of the excessive zeal of the younger brethren there, became in time a source of deep concern to those at very highest levels of the church hierarchy, including Bishop Spangenberg and the Moravians' leading benefactor and champion, Count von Zinzendorf himself. [9] Later Wedsted entered the Moravian seminary at Barby, where he was part of its first class in 1748. Immersed in the pietistic leanings of his colleagues and influenced no doubt by Zinzendorf's theories of self-expression through hymns, Wedsted became thoroughly captivated by emotionally charged religious feeling. [10] It was also during this period that he wrote personal poetry both in Latin and in German to some of his close associates in seminary training and to other familiars in the Moravian community.

Wedsted's stay in Germany lasted until late spring of 1753 when he departed for the British colony of Pennsylvania with a number of Danish and German colleagues bound for Bethlehem. Founded with the financial help of Zinzendorf in 1741, the growing community on the Lehigh River north of Philadelphia was one of the numerous German religious settlements in the region. Wedsted arrived in September, announced by the organizer of the journey in a letter to religious officials in his new home as ein guter Lateinischer Poët. [11] His longest extant work (W40) details in elegiac couplets his crossing of the Atlantic and eventual arrival in his new home in Pennsylvania. [12] Contemporary records in Bethlehem indicate that Wedsted's position was that of a scribe, a member of the Schreibcollegium, who recorded routine daily events and as well as the official activities of the settlement community. Beyond his official duties he continued to write verse in both Latin and German.

Wedsted must have been considered a valuable asset to the settlement and to the Moravian mission work in Pennsylvania. His linguisitic training made him a natural to study the languages of the native tribes, and in June of 1754 along with several others, including his fellow Dane and close friend Fabricius, he departed for Gnadenhütten, a Moravian mission outpost on the northeastern Pennsylvania frontier. Public records show that in July he was commissioned to study the Shawnee language but that he returned home on several occasions during the remainder of the year, including his participation in the Agape, or "Love Feast" celebrated on July 13. Several more trips to Gnadenhütten ensued by December, and Wedsted was still studying Native American languages late in January of 1755. Nevertheless, an entry in the Gnadenhütten Diary of February 17 of that year finds him again working with the Schreibcollegium in Bethlehem, permanently now, it would seem. Mission life and the rigors of the Pennsylvania frontier apparently did not suit his constitution, his intellectual abilities, and his personality.

Little more is known of Wedsted's activities until late in 1755 when he wrote a moving Latin poem in elegiac couplets to the memory of his fellow missionaries killed on November 24 in an attack by hostile Native American tribes. [13] A poem written a month later at Christmas is filled with religious fervor; [14] while two personal poems in February of 1757 seem to have been his final efforts at Latin versification. One last official notice places Wedsted at a religious synod in March of 1757. The contemporary records of his death from an unknown illness on June 14, 1757 make mention of his melancholy disposition. [15] His close friend Jacob Friis composed a poem in German upon his death, and those lines are appended to his memorial Lebenslauf recorded in the Bethlehem Diary for that year. He lies buried in the Moravian cemetery in Bethlehem. The inscription on his unassuming grave marker is now barely recognizable, and the fervent poet of Latin and German verse is today almost completely unknown.

The actual autograph manuscripts that contain the Wedsted material consist of a total of thirty-eight poems of varying length, meter, and content along with two short pieces of epistolary prose. [16] Similarly, included in the collection as a whole are several verse compositions and one prose piece addressed to Wedsted. Information from his manuscript textbooks and his Liber Stilorum also sheds valuable light on the poems themselves. Preliminary contact with archives and libraries in Germany and Denmark, moreover, indicates that so far no copies of this material nor of any other original material by Christian Wedsted have been noticed. While this is no guarantee that other examples of his works do not exist, for the moment, at least, it may be presumed that what has so far been located in Bethlehem is all there is. Indeed, except for Falster's Testimonium Scholasticum and two poems written to him for his birthday in 1753, [17] Wedsted seems to have left no readily available record of himself anywhere in Europe. It is clear that what material as does exist in Bethlehem Wedsted himself carried with him from Denmark to Germany and thence to America. Thus, the history of the collection itself up to the death of its author is intimately entwined with the poems themselves, with a few isolated pieces of personal poetry and prose correspondence addressed to him, and from contemporary records from the German settlements in colonial Pennsylvania. These public documents written in German by municipal record keepers and religious leaders exhibit a wide variation in legibility because of individual hands. [18]

Other aspects of the Latin works in particular are more problematic. First and foremost is their present organizational state. It would appear that some time after Wedsted's death some separation of the material occurred; and by the time it was eventually archived in the rough fashion that it is in at present, a number of poems had found their way into other collections of poetry. Initially, the most exciting task in approaching the collection, then, was to sort through numerous boxes of material simply looking first for Latin and then for documents in the smooth hand of Wedsted himself. By this method several poems emerged from among the Latin and German documents in the collected papers of other individuals.

Once surveyed, the actual collection is not particularly easy to work with. For example, most of the verse material is written on single sheets, both recto and verso, sometimes folded, and often in old and crumbling folders of paper secured with string. The handwriting, while for the most part neat, is nonetheless in many cases very small; and the ink has leaked through -- or is at least disconcertingly visible -- in a number of places. This compounds the legibility problem significantly. In addition, several poems are often included together on one sheet, and in some cases both Latin and German poems appear together. [19]

This latter arrangement prompts further questions. Since several poems on one sheet may be addressed to different individuals, it can be assumed that polished, formal copies were sent to the individuals named in them. Two poems already cited (OP1, OP2) may serve as a model for this since they are Latin birthday poems addressed to Wedsted by his fellow seminarians in Germany. [20] On the other hand, the prosopography of the collection is somewhat less difficult; and many (but not all) of the individuals addressed can be identified -- if only superficially, in some cases. Some are of these figures are well known both within the select religious community and beyond: Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the benefactor of the Moravian Church both in Europe and in America; [21] and Bishop Spangenberg, the highly influential churchman, [22] to name just two. Their identification presents little difficulty because of their frequent appearance in public records. Others' names are encountered only once or twice in those same records or in the poems only. Lastly, some addressees represent a close coterie of Wedsted's friends, with some of whom Wedsted traveled to Bethlehem. [23] Conversely, the identities of other individuals mentioned may well remain a mystery forever.

Another feature of the collection is the general lack of chronological correlation within the individual groupings of poems as they are now found; and while many individual poems are dated and do have indications of where they were written, others offer no information whatsoever. It will take closer examination of the content and language of these individual poems to formulate a definitive chronology of the collection. There are, nevertheless, some initial observations that can be made concerning the dating of he poems. Thus, discounting his early efforts in Latin composition dating from his Liber Stilorum (1737), all of the individual poems Wedsted wrote in Europe before his arrival in Pennsylvania date from after 1749, sixteen in all. There are five undated poems, and the remaining seventeen can be placed with certainty in Pennsylvania, although in a number of these exact dates and even years remain undetermined.

In general, in addition to purely accentual and rhyming verses, poems in the collection are also written in classical meters, chiefly the Sapphic strophe and the elegiac couplet. Wedsted was a very careful metrician indeed; but he was no Horace or Ovid, and the sense of a poem is sometimes lost in his attempts to be metrically faithful to classical models. Thematically and in content, the collection is marked by a number of clearly identifiable groups. One type is made up of poems of a purely personal nature, including in some cases birthday wishes full with honest expressions of affection. In one such poem Wedsted plays on the name of his German friend Russmeyer associating it with the Latin word rus ("country"). [24] Other personal pieces celebrate festive occasions and common pleasures such as tobacco, [25] while at least one is patterned directly upon a Classical model, the famous "Odi et amo" poem by the Roman lyric poet Catullus. [26] As might be expected -- and considering the religious environment in which Wedsted and his colleagues were immersed -- many of these personal poems are often marked by frequent religious references. Another type represents a much more specifically religiously-oriented composition, written with a entirely spiritual motive in mind. Such verses are written with an obvious debt to the highly expressive and emotional language of contemporary German Pietism, with much emphasis on the suffering of Christ and the lowly and unworthy condition of humankind. [27] As might be expected, the addressees of these pieces are often the religious leaders of the community like Spangenberg or, in this short piece, Zinzendorf (W1): [28]

Mi Parens quam amabilissimi Ludovice!

Sanguinis plena en facies Jesu!

en pedum sanguis manuumque!

Tergum en flagellatum!

Latus ecce! memet solor eisdem

Elsewhere there is frequent use of Latin words that evoke the sufferings of the crucified Christ: Pleura ("the Side") and Vulnus ("the Wound"), for example. These correspond to a similar vocabulary in both extant German and English poetry of the period, and the Latinized diction imparts the same emotionally charged religious aura to Wedsted's verses. [29]

The longest of Wedsted's works (W40), addressed to his fellow seminarians in Germany and describing his journey to New York, through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, combines elements of the personal and religious with a more historical and eyewitness-style account. It is written in elegiac couplets and, interestingly, contains material already found in Wedsted's Liber Stilorum of his school days some sixteen years earlier, most notably the opening phrase: Navigat in portu. [30] Among the engagingly descriptive passages is this portrait of a dead whale, introducing as it does a comparison with the corpse of Caesar (31-8):

Ni color ejusdem nos olfactusve fefellit,

magna balaena fuit, quae lacerata jacet.

Impune insultat morienti quaeque leoni

bestia, naturae dedecus atque probrum.

Nec melius Caesar marium defunctus habetur,

namque suis lucus jam foret atque cibus!

Quem fugiunt pisces viventem, dente maligno

illum quisque prior jam capit atque rapit.

and one of dolphins swimming in the sea (43-8):

Tres horum fratres spatiantes cernimus una,

evolvunt undas, terque quaterque spuunt.

Purposium ludunt plures cum murmure reddunt

sese volvendo, sunt mariumque sues.

Unus navigium prope praeterit atque salutat,

Majorem haud vidi; corpore quantus erat!

Wedsted's mention of Long Island (near New York City) is also noteworthy:

Denique conspiciunt nautae, terramque probabunt

cernere, nec fallunt, terra propinqua jacet.

Incerti, quamnam videant, mox Insula Vitis

mox alia apparet; nox at adire vetat.

Umbram mane dedit prope nobis Insula Longa:

Aspectus toto nobilis illa die.

The poem draws to a close with Wedsted's heartfelt joy at having reached his Pennsylvania goal (183-6):

Nazareth ille locus dictus, sese millia (sic) agrorum

continet, et sese dividit in quatuor.

Nazareth hic proprie dictus puerisque dicatus,

qui discunt fari, nobilis ecce locus!

Other poems of a much more public nature, for example the elegy for the murdered missionaries (W38) and the Christmas poem of 1755 (W37), were added as Beilage to the Bethelehem Diary and indicate that they played a wider role in the life of the community. The former is a particularly moving composition, lamenting as it does the loss of eleven Moravian missionaries. The work is dedicated to the dead missionaries themselves:

In Fratres Sororesque

beatae memoriae,

quos ut sacrifcium pro nobis

Salvator noster Deusque J. O. M [31]

sibi Mahoniae offerri passus est

die XXIV. Nov. MDCCLV

In its address to the river near whose once serene banks Wedsted himself spent quiet days and nights, the poem is reminiscent of classical models (1-12):

Quot tibi quamque diu vixere, Mahonia cara,

Fratres, te fruiti, ac si Paradisus ibi!

Saepe quiescebam tutus noctesque diesque

multas, Indorum nulla pericla timens.

Quis mihi praediscit tua tot tua tanta pericla,

quae tandem nostris Fratribus hicce forent?

Quae vos eripuit nobis rabiosa potestas?

Quis furor e medio tollere vos cupiit?

Vos omnes editis coenam simul, Indus adesse

auditur, nemo credit, adestque tamen.

Quid faciat vobis, lacrymae proferre recusant,

quas, propter factum hoc, angulus omnis habet.

Wedsted's impassioned address to his close friend Jonathan Fabricius is also truly representative of the elegiac spirit (34-47):

Ah mi Fabrici, Jonathan mi, fide sodalis,

tamque diu mihimet cognite, care, bone!

Audio cum lacrymis multis magnoque dolore

vulnere cumque gravi vulnera magna tua.

Vulneribus mortis tantis affecte recurris

in mentem cuivis, qui tibi carus erat.

Non moreris; quid enim? tua vulnera vivere nomen

quaeque jubent nobis, Frater amande, tuum.

Carus eras nobis, seu multo carior esse

debes, qui Christo sanguine testis eras

Oblitusque tui, jam gaudes Sanguine Sponsi

qui amplexabatur, junctus amore tibi.

Osculor, et tibimet jam terque quaterque beato

gratulor in Pleura. Commemor esto tui

Chr. Wedstedii

On the other hand, despite the sadness experienced in the community as a whole as a result of the tragedy at Gnadenhütten, Wedsted's Christmas poem, written only a month later, expresses the joy of the season (1-8):

O Jesule suavissime,

mi infans dilectissime!

amplexor meis brachiis

Te involutum pannulis.

Exosculor, collacrymans,

Te lacrymantem, peramans

tam pauperem Puerulum

Te in praesepi positum.

Drafts of these two poems are included among the collection of the poems as well, and comparisons of these preliminary efforts with the final public versions provide a valuable indication of the ways that Wedsted worked. Indeed, many of the draft pieces have words crossed out and corrections inserted.

At present, research work on the collection continues. Despite the progress made so far, then, the project is still very much a "work in progress." In addition to editorial matters germane to the manuscripts themselves, the task of translation into English is complete -- although much remains to be done in terms of producing truly polished versions of Wedsted's Latin. More complicated will be the process of fitting the collection into the classical tradition and into its own cultural matrix. Linguistic considerations are primary, of course, as the influence of classical authors on Wedsted's poetry may be traced through echoes and borrowings from Latin authors. [32] Additionally, Wedsted must have had some lexicographical help, including both dictionary and a gradus to assist with metrics, and further research will be necessary to determine what resources were at his disposal and what happened to them upon his death. For example, did he have a copy of the Aeneid? Of Horace? Of Ovid? A second approach to analyzing the material is also linguistic, but in this case it is the religious diction of the poems and the link to their contemporary vernacular counterparts so popular and widespread in European and New World German Pietism that will serve as the foundation for further research. Taken together these will help the modern world better understand in some small way the personal, intellectual, and spiritual environment among the German settlers of the Moravian faith in Colonial America.



[1] W(edsted)TS, 9-10. Citation of manuscript material is based on the author's own organizational system.

[2] WTS, 22. Cf. Terence, Andria 1.1.48.

[3] Preliminary investigation, organization, and transcription of the Wedsted manuscripts were undertaken by the author in 1995.

[4] Bethlehem Diary of 1757 (vol. 17, Personalia no. 4, 127). However, the date is given as April 18 in the BD of 1753 (vol. 12, Catalogue of Passengers, Sept. 14, 1753, 46-47).

[5] WTS, 9: in minimo quodam viculo ; 11: pauperrimis parentibus.

[6] WTS, 14-15: stipe scholastica ... adjutus fuit.

[7] For example, Wedsted reworks Horace, Carmina. 1.34 into elegiac couplets (WLS, 29-30) and retells Phaedrus, Fabulae 3.8 in prose (WLS, 48-49).

[8] WLS, 54-55. The material is here reworked into Sapphic stanzas.

[9] See Jörn Reichel, Dichtungstheorie und Sprache bei Zinzendorf: Der 12. Anhang zum Herrnhuter Gesangbuch. (Bad Homberg: Geheln, 1969), 14.

[10] For a comprehensive treatment of Zinzendorf's theories see Craig D. Atwood, Blood, Sex, and Death: Life and Liturgy in Zinzendorf's Bethlehem. (Ph. D. Diss. Princeton Theological Seminary: 1995).

[11] Listed as such (no. 6) among the passengers in a letter dated June 14, 1753 in the Single Brethren's Diary 1746-64.

[12] The work has been transliterated and translated into English prose with a commentary by Dennis Glew of Moravian College. See Unitas Fratrum: Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Gegenwartsfragen der Brüdergemein 10 (1981): 86-96. While the article is somewhat useful for background information and for a general overview of the poem, there remain serious problems in Glew's translation and interpretation. For example, the verb sequetur (l. 2) is future indicative and not, as Glew's rendering ("and may ... follow") suggests, present subjunctive. Caveat lector.

[13] W38. A final copy appears among the Beilage to the BD of November, 1755 (vol. 15, Personalia 119-121).

[14] W37. A copy of same is included among the Beilage to the BD of December, 1755 (vol. 15, no. 12, 113-114).

[15] BD 1757 (vol. 17, Personalia no. 4, 128).

[16] W34, W35.

[17] OP1 is an elegiac poem written by a certain Zygius; OP2 is a rhyming piece by Jonathan Briant. Both poems were composed at Barby, and both exhibit the highly emotive religious expressions common to contemporary Moravian Pietism. An additional poem to Wedsted by "L." appears among others (in German) in the Single Brethren's Diary 1746-64.

[18] That of Bishop Spangenberg is particularly difficult, for instance.

[19] This is the case with W10, a birthday poem to Tycho Brandt written in elegiac couplets and dated February 22, 1753. W26 consists of four lines of introductory verse preceding a German poem of sixteen lines and dated to March 12, 1751 at Barby; the addressee is unknown. A similar four line introductory Latin elegiac piece (W27) precedes another German poem, addressed perhaps to Otto Krogstrup and dated March 20, 1755.

[20] Inquiries directed to appropriate European archives such as Herrnhut have so far produced no evidence for such individualized poems, however.

[21] For Zinzendorf, for example, W12 is a birthday poem composed in elegiac couplets and penned in Chelsea, England on May 27, 1753, just prior to Wedsted's departure for America; two other birthday poems (W32, W33) date from May of 1755 and 1756, respectively. W1 is a brief, expressive poem in the pietistic style from September, 1755. W28 expresses thanks to Zinzendorf from the graduates of the Barby seminary, and W14 celebrates Wedsted's arrival in Bethlehem in Sapphic stanzas. One of Wedsted's last Latin pieces (February 24, 1757) is likewise addressed to Zinzendorf.

[22] For Spangenberg, W29 is written from the missionary outpost of Gnadenhütten in July of 1754, and W13 is a birthday poem to the bishop, dated November 24, 1755.

[23] These include Jacob Friis, Georg Fabricius, and Otto Krogstrup. See BD September, 1753 (vol. 12, Catalogue of Passengers for Sept 14, 1753, 46-7).

[24] W3, dated March 14, 1749.

[25] W17

[26] Catullus, Carmen 85; W36, dated August 11, 1752 and addressed to a "Wollinus."

[27] See Gary R. Sattler, Nobler than Angels, Lower than a Worm. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989), 93: "It is virtually impossible to understand the Pietist view of the person without understanding the concept of affliction."

[28] Dated September 15, 1755.

[29] On Zinzendorf's theories See, for example

[30] WLS, 35-6.

[31] For Jehova Optimus Maximus

[32] One prominent example of such resonances is the frequent appearance of the phrase terque quaterque, a phrase from Vergil's Aeneid 1.94 as at W40, 44 (above).



Autor (author): John M. McMahon
Dokument erstellt (document created): 2002-08-13
Dokument geändert (last update): 2002-08-19
WWW-Redaktion (conversion into HTML): Manuela Kahle & Stephan Halder
Schlussredaktion (final editing): Heinrich C. Kuhn