1. The Classical scholar Nicholas Carr [1522 - 1568], the second Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge (he was the successor of John Cheke), is perhaps best remembered for his translation of the speeches of Demosthenes, printed posthumously in 1571. In his own lifetime he published Epistola de morte Buceri ad Johannem Checum (1551). The text of present item, De scriptorum Britannicorum paucitate, an address delivered on some unknown occasion at Cambridge, was only published in 1576. The first paragraph suggests that this oration was made soon after the accession of Elizabeth to the throne. Although he expresses himself in guarded circumlocutions, it is clear that his main theme is not that suggested by the title, the paucity of English writers, but rather the necessity of restoring the University to its old self after the disruptions of the Marian persecutions, together with his diagnosis of what was wrong and his formula for repairing it.
2. In the course of this oration, Carr makes a number of key points:
- That teachers and students are currently alienated from each other by mutual disdain, and that this produces idleness and indifference. Students need to cultivate more devotion for their masters, and their masters more concern for students’ welfare.
- A major reason for this prevalent disdain, which also serves to explain the prevalent scarcity of books written by Englishmen, is the current craze for things foreign, so that native scholarship and literature is held in low esteem.
- Students, who are not naturally disposed to hard work, need to be given special encouragement by making them aware that academic success is a way of garnering glory and prestige.
- There is a group within the University who believe that theology is the only subject worthy of study. Quite the contrary, theology needs to be supported by other disciplines (e. g., rhetoric, necessary for preaching the Gospel), which also have their own intrinsic contributions to make to the welfare of the commonwealth.
- Of these other subjects, civil law requires particular attention because of its vital importance for maintaining social order; indeed, in its absence no studies at all are possible.
3. Carr makes every effort to avoid giving offense. Indeed, this is true almost to excess, because it leads to a pervasive failure to provide illustrative examples that would have served to clarify what precisely he had in mind, especially in his section on the current craze for foreign writers and concomitant disdain for native ones (one assumes he is thinking at least primarily of academic literature). Then too, surely the primary cause for disaffection and discord within the University was religious sectarianism, but with the possible exception of the words superstitiose fallacem in the final paragraph (conceivably a covert hit against Catholicism), he steered clear of this subject.
4. One final point. Presumably like many readers, I first became aware of Carr’s oration thanks to a remark by Robert Burton in “Democritus Junior to the Reader” prefacing The Anatomy of Melancholy:
One or two things yet I was desirous to have amended if I could, concerning the manner of handling this my subject, for which I must apologise, deprecari, and upon better advice give the friendly reader notice: it was not mine intent to prostitute my muse in English, or to divulge secreta Minervae, but to have exposed this more contract in Latin, if I could have got it printed. Any scurrile pamphlet is welcome to our mercenary stationers in English; they print all,
In quorum foliis vix simia nuda cacaret;
But in Latin they will not deal; which is one of the reasons Nicholas Car, in his oration of the paucity of English writers, gives, that so many flourishing wits are smothered in oblivion, lie dead and buried in this our nation.
It will be observed that Burton was wrong, and that Carr says no such thing (this statement is in any event unsupportable — even a casual glance through the Short Title Catalogue shows that London printers were quite willing to print works in Latin, and did so frequently).
5. I extend my thanks to Nina Green for suggesting various improvements in the translation.