Latin Gets Things Done!

Interesting item from the Art Newspaper … some clipping along the way:

In 1937, the Warburg Institute, recently arrived in London from Hamburg, found itself homeless. Permission was given for it to move into the Imperial Institute, but there was no shelving, which made the library unusable. Month after month, the director Fritz Saxl sent letters to the senior civil servant at the Office of Works, Frederic Raby, asking him for shelves to be provided.

Now Raby was also a considerable scholar of Latin poetry of the Middle Ages; finally, Saxl asked Ernst Gombrich to write Raby a request in Latin poetry in case that might move him to action. Here is that poem, in the style of the “Wandering Scholars”.

The effect was instantaneous: Raby sent back a poem in the same rhyme-scheme saying that they could have their shelves. As Sir Ernst said in sending these opuscula to The Art Newspaper, “The whole stands as a nostalgic tribute to a vanished tradition of the Civil Service”.

The Gombrich Plea

Stella desperantium, miserorum lumen
Rerum primum mobile, nobis quasi numen
Audias propitie supplicantem sonum
De profundis clamitat studii patronum
Otium molestum est, et periculosum
Menses sine linea vexant studiosum.
Statum hunc chaoticum noli prolongare
Animam et domum nos fac aedificare
Libros nostros libera turri de seclusa
Quibus mus nunc fruitur gaudeat et Musa.
O, duc nos ad gratiae sempiternum fontem
Unde tibi lauri frons coronabit frontem.
Qui in Bibliotheca Warburgiana
studiis se dedere ardent
—Frederico Jacobo Edwardo Rabio

[…]

Raby’s reply (addressed to Fritz Saxl)

Doctor disertissime, rector venerande,
Omnibus amabilis semper et amande,
Congemiscens audio verba deprecantum
Imo corde vocibus tactus eiulantum.
Set nunc tibi nuncio gaudium suave,
Te et tuos liberans studiosos a ve.
EANT LIBRI LIBERE. Deus sit tutamen
Libris et legentibus in eternum. Amen.

… the original article includes translations … Both verses almost sound ‘Carmina Buranaish’ …

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