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20.1.Luggin

In the following paper I intend to introduce a Neo-Latin text which has so far not received the scholarly attention it deserves. Around the year 1627 a Latin poem of about 500 verses entitled De mirabilibus Pecci. Carmen was presented to William Cavendish, Second Earl of Devonshire, by his employee, the later philosopher Thomas Hobbes (Aubrey 360). It describes a trip through the Peak District and praises its ‘Seven Wonders’: Aedes, Mons, Barathrum, binus Fons, Antraque bina (vs. 79). The poem was printed around 1636, reprinted in 1666, 1675 and – with an English translation – in 1678 (Macdonald / Hargreaves 4–7) and was one of the three works by Thomas Hobbes in John Locke’s library and the only one in Isaac Newton’s (Skinner 241). It inspired Charles Cotton’s poem The Wonders of the Peake (London 1681; Hartle 420) and H.A.’s Mirabile Pecci (London 1669). Despite this obvious popularity in the 17th and 18th century, scarcely any academic research has been done on the text. Partly, this seems to be due to the language barrier, the few philosophical-historical studies on the subject mostly refer to the English translation of 1678. The poem even lacks a modern edition and translation, which I will provide. If scholars mention the text at all (not mentioned e.g. in Sorell 1996), they compare it with Hobbes’s later oeuvre and find it disappointing (Skinner 245; ‘aesthetically unsatisfactory’: Martinich 76).

In my paper, I intend to oppose this view and introduce a philological approach to the poem to reveal its extraordinary characteristic as a humanist, but also modern text: Praising his patron and Chatsworth, Hobbes joins contemporary English writers of estate poems in emulating classical examples such as Horace and Virgil (Rogers / Sorell 2000, 58–59; Rogow 68–72; Springborg 677). Hobbes’s description of the Peak District’s Seven Wonders reflects the motif of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but transfers it from man-made constructions to natural phenomena – even the praise for Chatsworth is based on the site’s natural advantages (vs. 1–64). Hobbes furthermore uses numer­ous classical traditions and motifs in his praise of the Peak District: The gardens around Chatsworth are compared with Virgilian landscape (vs. 16, 31), the chasm Eldon Hole reaches Pluto’s realm (vs. 245–347) etc.

Despite the classical references I argue that this is not the ‘most striking feature’ of the poem (Skinner 240). Instead, I propose that its modernity is. The work refers to several discourses of Hobbes’s time and connects them in an original way: (a) the poem represents an early touristic literary work. It recounts a journey through the Peak District, made by Hobbes and a few companions, describing both the difficulties and pleasures that a trip through such a remote region can bring. The examples of the arduous ascent to the Peak (vs. 90–101), the mention of a hired guide at Peak cavern (vs. 205–206), the cheerful swimming in the balnea at St. Anne’s well (vs. 442–471) speak of early tourism in the area. (b) At the same time, De mirabilibus Pecci describes a journey of scientific discovery. Hobbes and his comrades are constantly searching for the causes of the mirabilia (vs. 83), exploring the wonders using empirical investigation (cf. especially the experiments at Eldon Hole: vs. 245–347). (c) Finally, Hobbes’s poem also testifies to the rise of patriotism during the 17th century by describing a trip through a small local region instead of a transnational ‘Grand Tour’ (which Hobbes had already made around 1614; cf. Denis de S. Boissieu’s poem Septem Miracula Delphinatus, describing the ‘Seven Wonders of the Dauphiné’, Grenoble 1656).

With this new philological approach to De mirabilibus Pecci I hope to give a new perspective towards a better understanding of Hobbes’s early writings.

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