Men of Letters: The Epistolary Ode in British Neo-Latin Poetry
By the 18th century Latin verse letters in a lyric (rather than hexameter) form had emerged as a specific phenomenon among British neo-Latin poets, but this form has not been studied, or even defined, as a distinct lyric sub-genre. Horace was a major landmark in culture and education, and the composition of original Latin verse in his style was considered the highest mark of distinction. The Anglo-Latin ‘epistolary ode’ was a generic blend of lyric form and hexameter subject matter, derived in particular from Horace’s Odes and Epistles. I aim to demonstrate that British neo-Latin poets of this period developed the Latin Horatian ode almost as a language of their own: a personal and social genre to communicate about their lives, context, and experience in a medium viewed with affection and esteem. Work on this material, which has received little critical attention, will enhance our understanding of the social and cultural role of neo-Latin literature in the British context, and offer the first overview and informed definition of a significant genre. I intend to chart the development of the ‘epistolary ode’, considering both the evolution of the Latin verse letter from Petrarch onwards, and the popularisation of the Horatian ode on the continent and in Britain. I hope to draw conclusions about the place of the genre in British Latin poetry, focusing on 18th century lyric epistle writers and their generic predecessors of the 16th and 17th centuries, and basing my research on material found in manuscripts, printed anthologies and periodicals.