BMCR 1998.05.19

98.5.19, Juvenal’s Mayor: the Professor who lived on 2d. a Day

, , Studies in Heliodorus. Supplementary volume ; no. 21. Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 1998. 232 pages : illustrations, facsimiles ; 22 cm.. ISBN 9780906014196.

The title, though frivolous, summarises much of this book’s contents. The author treats, explicitly or implicitly, Mayor the commentator on Juvenal and Mayor the proponent of abstemiousness. In addition, he seeks to deal with classical scholarship at Mayor’s Cambridge.

The book’s organisation is not so clear as one might like and suggests that the author is animated by two independent plans. In the preface, the author declares his book to be a “study of the life and times of a nineteenth-century Methusaleh within the academic and socio-political environment of Cambridge, and the intellectual and cultural history of Classical Studies” (p. [v]). One expects him therefore to turn to business and detail the academic and socio-political environment of Cambridge from 1844 to 1910. Instead, we immediately come on an “Advertisement” in which the author expresses his intention to treat two of Mayor’s statements (“All my work has been thrown off at white heat” and “If each of us adopted some one Cambridge worthy, and collected his works and investigated his history for preservation in our libraries, we should add a new interest to our lives and new glories to our annals”: p. 1). These, he declares, “will be the subject of this book”, followed soon after by the information that the subject of the volume will be postponed until chapter 13.

The main body of the book consists of twelve chapters of greatly differing lengths. Excluding plates, these comprise variously some sixteen pages (“Quit you like men of 1882 : Mayor’s Philological Society”), three pages (“Mayor’s friend, the publisher. And Juvenal“), two (“Some fell among thieves: How did Blackwell’s get it? | Not that I’d give it back“), nineteen (“The lectures of Father Time: Not every boy can hope to become a Prof. Mayor“), eight (“Which Journal? Whose Classics?”), three (“Becoming a back number”), eleven (“Der beste Commentar“), three (“Yesterday’s radical”), five (“Water babies and history men”), twelve (“Musical chairs: Kennedy’s Latin prima donnas”), four (“Rui/nning the Library: the man from UCL”) and two (“Feed the world”). As noted, the second plan is announced in the “Advertisement” (pp. 1-2) and briefly addressed in the “Add end a” (sic; three pages). What perhaps is not apparent is that the logic connecting these various chapters is thin. I recognise, but doubt, the possibility that the author meant the structure of his book to reflect the structure of some of Mayor’s introductory writings.

With regard to Mayor’s Juvenal, to select one of the briefest chapters for evaluation, the author surveyed “150 senior Latinists, mostly gleaned from … Classicists in British Universities” to determine whether “JOHN MAYOR’S JUVENAL 1 commentary is now a dead book; or whether the profession in this country keeps it alive” (ch. 3: pp. 36, 37). One hundred responded—an interesting number: “31 refer to or cite Mayor’s Juvenal in their publications … 9 include Mayor’s Juvenal in coursework bibliographies or reading lists … 86 have access to a copy of Mayor’s Juvenal… 65 use Mayor’s Juvenal in their research … 52 own their own copy of Mayor’s Juvenal…” (p. 38). Analysis is not profound. “As always with such investigations, there is plenty of room for dispute about these ‘findings’… [A]ttempts to assess the attention that Mayor’s Juvenal had and has can’t tell us how much respect or interest the commentary has won: is it, is it just, is it paradigmatically, a data-base?” (p. 38). That is, the survey was ill designed. Further, one of the basic variables, not discussed by the author, was long ago recognised by Mayor himself. “Philology is a science, not a fine art; and it is the fate of science that the books, in which it is consigned, are in a constant state of supersession. A work of literature may be surpassed but not superseded. The interpreter of the classics works for his age only… The books of the scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have therefore for us little more than an historical interest. They will be visited only by those curious enquirers who may wish to acquaint themselves with the history of learning. The biographical data will be of more interest than the philological matter. Yet as history makes itself from age to age, the oldest names must tend to recede from view. We cannot afford to know all about everybody” ( Bibliographical Clue to Latin Literature, London 1875, pp. vii sq.). To what degree Mayor’s utility was revived by Olms’ 1966 reprint of the Juvenal, a reprint unmentioned in the present book, is not known; the author neglected to ask about editions and reprints. The author of course also treats other elements in Mayor’s commentary to Juvenal (see the first of the author’s six indexes).

As for the “Add end a” (pp. 123-25), the author abandons, within five lines, his discussion of “white heat”, to which he has periodically referred throughout the book, in favour of a catalogue of references to Mayor’s “simplicity”. Likewise, “some one Cambridge worthy” is treated in a curious manner. Instead of Juvenal’s Mayor, we meet here very briefly with “Mayor the Victorian man of independent (family) means”; “Mayor the martyr to his poor feet”; “Mayor the distinct(ive)ly playful, even jolly, brother of ‘Dearest Kate'”. The author writes: “But these Mayors, and many more besides, neither motivate the hallowed Cambridge Professor desiderated for dignity, nor animate the daft-as-a-brush Nestor required for ridicule. So we plump for the patronized octogenarian Mayor, at the risk of mistaking “simplicity” in the course of History, which is to say, videl. at our risk” (p. 125). And the book then concludes with a student satire on Mayor, De mortuis, and then some.

Factual errors are not numerous and, given the nature of this book, not especially significant. “The Classical Museum… collapsed financially after a run of seven volumes (1843-9)” (p. 70): it was the loss of contributors that occasioned the periodical’s failure ( The Cambridge Ritualists Reconsidered, ed. W. M. Calder III, Atlanta 1991, p. 139 with note 48, now supported by a letter in the Mayor Papers at Trinity College, Cambridge, B15/2). Contributions to the Journal of Philology are misdated: 1888 should be 1887 (p. 90); 1875B should be 1876; the second part of 1876A, 1877; 1880A; 1883) (pp. 131 sq.). Some theses, e.g. those treating Munro’s resignation from the Latin chair and Mayor’s capacity for commenting on Juvenal II, VI, IX, seem to me dubious (pp. 103 sq., 109).

Despite these criticisms, Dr Henderson has a good many interesting and sometimes true and valuable observations. Under this heading I should include his comments on anecdotes (pp. 61 sq.); the idea that the restructuring of the Cambridge Philological Society “between 1879 and 1882 was … an involuntary lurch toward disciplinary specialization” (p. 73); his remarks on the ideals of the Philological Museum (1831-33) being “Mayor’s fantasy package (but before his time)” (p. 70); the analysis of the roles of England’s several philological societies in Victorian England (pp. 73-75); the interesting observation that Mayor “did not mean just to collect, or even to sift, illustrative material …; rather he was gleaning the wisdom from words” (p. 86); an intriguing, if brief, analysis of the relationship between Christianity and the study of ancient Greek in the universities (p. 98). It is asserted that Mayor’s roles “switched over the course of thirty years, until Juvenal’s tirades had lodged in his editor’s being and, virtually, took him over: mens sana in corpore sano made the Professor first President of the Vegetarian Society, then President of SJC (from 1902), but still, as always, the Chapel Reader: orandum est… (Juv. 10.356, “The prayer must be … for a Sound Mind | in | Body Sound). Hence and whence, Juvenal’s Mayor” (p. 89). This is intriguing, though I fail to see the connexion of the passage with Mayor’s Presidency of St John’s College; but the passage concludes the chapter and the idea never recurs. With rare exception, the author does not allow his insights actually to colour his views or preconceptions. He knows “[w]e must re-place the comic caricature Mayor in his surroundings. Then he need look no madder than those to left and right, their formality and preciosity, their self-importance and histrionics, prejudice and complacency, no less importunate and trying than any flood of verbal diarrhoea from him” (p. 43): I should not have phrased it so, but the essential idea is sound enough. What is remarkable is that, instead of standing as foundations for discussions, these observations are often mere asides, as if undervalued by their author.

The author has little sympathy for Mayor’s ideals. Thus, the basis of Mayor’s abstemiousness, since it is insufficiently discussed and almost entirely unappreciated, leaves the reader more amused at eccentricity than interested in moral courage. This is the high-table manner of biography, which the author means to combat; but the reader of the book is never led to feel the role that a vital and benevolent Christianity played in Mayor’s life. Like many of his generation, Mayor was first and foremost a Christian. It animated him; it controlled many, perhaps all, of his interests. A satisfactory biographical study would start from Mayor’s Christianity and show to what degree it stood behind his scholarship. Outside his scholarship, it is clear enough: Mayor interested himself in the poor; to a degree championed religious tolerance; celebrated Booker T. Washington; favoured women’s education; and, as we all know, was an advocate of vegetarianism and teetotalism. For all of these positions, Mayor had reasons which, initially at least, grew out of a benevolent and beneficient religion. Thus, he became a teetotaler because he could not see what right he had “to take the good wheat and barley from the starving people, to make beer and spirits of it” (H. F. Stewart in Twelve Cambridge Sermons of John E. B. Mayor, Cambridge 1911, p. liii).

The extent of the author’s research is at times praiseworthy. He has added to our knowledge of John E. B. Mayor and his times, and is, I think, the first to cite in print such materials as “Notes on reminiscences of Johnny Mayor gleaned in conversation from Prof. A. B. Cook”, April 10, 1951 (St John’s College, Cambridge, Library, Mayor box); K. Cunliffe’s An Index to the Archives of Macmillan & Co. 1854-1924; S. Leslie’s “Materials for a Life of Monty James” (King’s College, Cambridge, Modern Archive Centre, MISC. 49, 50, 51, 52); and J. E. Nixon’s “On the position of a lecturer in King’s College, Cambridge”, flysheet (ibid. MISC. 32.4). See also p. 24 n. 25. His bibliography includes a good many notable books and articles (pp. 131-38). It is to be observed, not in derogation of his discoveries, that some of the less ordinary of the works, as A. B. C(ook)’s charming “Criticism Criticised”Cambridge Review 13, 1892, p. 364, had been cited earlier (e.g., Shelley Arlen, The Cambridge Ritualists: an Annotated Bibliography, Metuchen 1990, no. 1944). But even here Dr Henderson has made a contribution by publishing this jeu d’esprit, and indeed certain other materials, in facsimile: pp. 19-21 (“Criticism Criticised”); Daniel Macmillan’s 1852 contract for Mayor’s Juvenal (pp. 29-30); Mayor’s letter to G. A. Macmillan on the price of the Juvenal in 1878 (pp. 31-33); the Vegetarian Society’s presentation to Mayor (p. 45); Mayor’s application for the Professorship of Latin in 1872 (p. 108); Mayor’s “Dinner Notes” for May 13, 1880 (p. 121); and several pictures of Mayor (cover, pp. 41, 42, 46; new, ii, 126-127). 2 Likewise, the author has consulted the Mayor and Stewart boxes at St John’s, the new Mayor papers at Trinity, and the archives and the Stewart papers in the University Library, Cambridge (pp. vii, vi). The title of the book comes from an unidentified “Cutting in Mayor box” at St John’s College, Cambridge (p. 67 n. 30); I note that the source seems to be the Daily Mail, Dec. 2, 1910, p. 5 column 2.

The author seems incapable of divorcing himself from himself, and appears to have no skill in repressing self-will. His late twentieth-century language and psychological remarks keep reminding us of his presence and his biasses: e.g. Mayor “would have been indignant if he could have seen this puss young gentleman get the opus maius so wrong as to read it through (whatever that can mean) from cover to cover” (p. 36; the parenthetical comment is the author’s, not mine), “Mayor brags to mother” (p. 64), “Of course Mayor the reciter was compulsive-obsessive” (p. 91), “a puss young Mayor” (p. 102), “Ambrose Bonwicke (a real sickie, be warned)” (p. 116), “Stewart … cutely adduces the longevity of Polycarp” (p. 128). Perhaps the author’s most questionable biographical inference, since its assertion is heavy-handed, is that Mayor desired to be studied as he studied others (1; cf. p. 100). Is it so? Probably, to some degree. The matter is a delicate one; and I, unlike the author, do not have access to Mayor’s subconscious. I note however that the Mayor box at St John’s, when I saw it, could hardly be called a major repository of biographical information.

The author’s flippant and slang-ridden language, often patronising in tone, will not attract everyone: “as I shall blurt, soon enough”, “For the record, all the blunders are mine, all mine” (both, p. [v]); “Why do academics say such silly things about their work?” (p. 1); “H. W. ‘Bum’ Moss” (p. 4); “the birthday boy” (p. 43, of Mayor at eighty); “H. F. Stewart … was nobbled to do all the graft” (p. 63); “This reads best, not as satire on booby Mayor’s cluttered mind, but as his valuation of the dictionary” (p. 76); “Postgate-shaped classical scholarship took over where the dinosaur Mayors left off” (p. 79), “the Vegetarian Society annual beanfest” (p. 85).

Stewart’s biographical introduction to the Twelve Cambridge Sermons remains a better, and better balanced, introduction to the life of John E. B. Mayor, Professor of Latin in the University of Cambridge from 1872 until 1910.

1. The author’s typographical pecularities, which put one more in mind of Dibdin than of Mayor, are said to be “gimmicks” to evoke Mayor’s era (p. v, n. 2). I only note that the author misrepresents nineteenth-century typographical conventions.

2. One had hoped that the photograph, ill-reproduced in Aspects of Nineteenth-Century British Classical Scholarship, ed. H. D. Jocelyn, Liverpool 1996, p. 27, would be included here, with a caption identifying it as no earlier than 1893.