Richard Stanihurst (1547–1618) was born in Dublin of what began to be called in his day Old English stock (“the descendants of the settlers who came to Ireland from Wales, Normandy, and England after the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169–71”), and as Andrew Hadfield writes in his TLS review of Great Deeds in Ireland: Richard Stanihurst’s De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis, edited by John Barry and Hiram Morgan, “he poured scorn on both the – as he saw them – barbarous native Irish, and the vulgar and rapacious New English who were replacing the Old English descendants of the Anglo-Normans as rulers of Ireland loyal to the English Crown.” I had to laugh when I got to this section of the review:
In a striking aside, Stanihurst repeats his judgements about English identity in Holinshed, accentuating the gap between Irish and English – “Those who live in the English province differ from the Irish in their way of life, their customs and their speech: they deviate not one finger’s breadth from the ancient ways of the English” – before turning on the mores of the English today. The English in Ireland speak the language of Chaucer, “beyond doubt the Homer of the English”, so that they use “English in such a way that you would not believe that England itself was more English”. Chaucer is the right model because “Nothing in his writings will strike the reader as being redolent of disgusting newness”, a nice dig at the moderns.
(If you want to see the passage in Latin, go to p. 28 of the Google Books version, or search on “Homerus.”) Peevers today look back on Shakespeare as the exemplar of English at its peak, but in Shakespeare’s time they looked back to Chaucer.
I was also struck by this description of the book under review, De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis: “Written in chatty, familiar Latin, and peppered with anecdotes and asides, De Rebus was designed to provide its author with an entrance to the republic of letters dominated by Erasmus and harking back to Cicero.” It chimed with this, from Richard Jenkyns’s review, earlier in the same issue of TLS, of Sarah Ruden’s new translation of The Golden Ass: “Apuleius … liked loosely hanging clauses, symmetries, echoing phrases, rocking rhythms and hints of rhyme. At the start of The Golden Ass, the narrator claims to be a Greek who has learned Latin only in adulthood: that is why his lingo may seem eccentric. And indeed it is a unique farrago of archaisms, colloquialisms, coinages and sheer fantastication, combining a driving energy with elusive beauty.” And both those descriptions reminded me of the early-nineteenth-century Russian novelists I’ve been reading, more concerned with having fun with language and storytelling than satisfying anyone’s idea of classical form.