1. Christopher Anstey [1724 - 1805] is best remembered for his poems poking fun at the polite folk who came flocking to Bath, frequently with marriage on their minds, which collectively provide a satirical look at the same society anatomized in the novels of Jane Austen. Most of these poems were written in the vernacular, but one, the 1777 Epistola Poetica Familiaris, was composed in Latin. In 1808, as a fine gesture of filial piety, Anstey’s son John edited a volume entitled The Poetical Works of the Late Christopher Anstey, Esq., NOTE 1 prefaced by a lengthy biography of the poet. In the course of this biography, son John quotes some snatches of precocious youthful exercises in Latin versification, and at the end of the volume collects his Latin work, including, most memorably, a fine translations of Thomas Gray’s 1750 Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and a selection of John Gay’s 1727 Fables — a work that, one presumes, gained Anstey’s attention because some of these contain observations patently applicable to the mores of contemporary English society — followed by an ode written in praise of Dr. Edward Jenner. The artistry displayed in these, as well as Epistola Poetica Familiaris, serves to show that Anstey deserves to be taken seriously as an Anglo-Latin poet of his times. With considerable justice, Anstey is commemorated by a white marble tablet in Poets’ Corner in the Abbey.
2. The ode is addressed to Dr. Edward Jenner, and gives him fulsome praise for his invention of vaccination against smallpox. NOTE 2 Then, as if to give dramatic expression to the poet’s anxiety on the subject, his train of thought quite incongruously veers off to reflections about the possibility of a French invasion of England, NOTE 3 which shows that the ode was written no earlier than 1798, when such a scheme was first mooted. Its date can be pinpointed more exactly. At lines 30f. Anstey “predicts” that Parliament will repay Jenner for his efforts, surely an allusion to the Parliamentary grant of £10,000 he received in 1802 as compensation for having made his discoveries available to the public free of charge. And a reference to Napoleon Bonaparte as Consul at line 83 shows that it was written prior to Napoleon’s assumption of the title of Emperor in May 1804. Therefore this ode must have been composed sometime between these two dates, which makes this ode the last surviving item of Anstey’s body of work.
NOTE 1 “London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies in the Strand, by W. Bulmer and Co., Cleveland-Row, St. James’s.” John Anstey [d. 1819] was a Lincoln’s Inn barrister who himself wrote verse satirizing his own profession under the pseudonym “John Surrebutter.”
NOTE 2 One may compare the numerous poems (some of them odes) on modern scientific and technological advances included in the 1699 anthology Musarum Anglicanarum Analecta edited by Joseph Addison.
NOTE 3 At about the same time, we can observe another Anglo-Latin poet trying to cope with the same anxieties: see Walter Savage Landor’s ode Bellum Hortatur, first printed in his 1806 Simonidea (D. F. Sutton, The Complete Latin Poetry of Walter Savage Landor, Lewiston N. Y., 1999, I.96ff.), and his poem Ad Fratrem from the same collection (ib. I.106ff.).