1. In 1618, the Paris printer Jacques Laquehay issued a small volume of poetry entitled Eroticon, by the Scottish poet John Leech. Unfortunately, the single known surviving copy of this work, owned by the Herzogin-Amalia-Bibliothek, Weimar, was destroyed by fire in 2004, and evidently no competent scholar had ever inspected it and published a description. All that we know of it is what can be ascertained from the Bibliothek catalogue entry, Eroticon: Lib. 4 ubi [misinterpreted by the entry’s author as an abbreviation V B I.] Panthea: Lib. 2. Anacreontica Lib. 1..., and, had the cataloguer continued with the rest of title, it would (as we know from an autograph letter discussed below) have been completed with Elegiae Lib. 1. And then, in 1620, there appeared at London a considerably larger volume of verse by Leech entitled Musae Priores, sive Poematum Pars Prior [“Early Muses, or the First Part of his Poems”]. The material contained in it was presented in three sections, Eroticon Libri Sex Editio Secunda, Epigrammata, and Eclogae (a second volume bearing the same title was printed in 1621; for it, the title page of the first edition was reemployed with the date unchanged, but a number of epigrams reflecting events of 1621 show that this was actually issued in the following year). In other words, the Eroticon poetry of the 1618 Paris edition was reprinted in this expanded form as the first section of the 1620 book, and one presumes it was substantially the same (although of course Leech may have tinkered with verbal details, as Neo-Latin poets were frequently wont to do), except that now a second Book of Anacreontica and a second Book of Elegies were added.
2. Leech had left home in October 1617, and there is evidence that at least some of an earlier version of Panthea was written prior to his departure from Scotland, since in the course of an earlier poem, Nemesis, printed at Edinburgh in 1617, he alludes to it. But there is good reason for thinking that he had not written the first Book of his Anacreontica prior to his arrival in France. In the sixth of his surviving letters to his friend and patron Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, written at Paris on 9 May 1618, he quotes snatches of Book I: 1.12 (in its entirety), 1.4 (likewise), and II.6.15f. At the letter’s beginning, he introduces I.12: Liberrimo animo per Anacreontica prata vagatus, Musis meis me oblectabam, carmenque hoc contexebam [“With the freest of spirit I roamed Anacreon’s meadows, taking delight in my Muses, and I contrived this poem.”] In a previous letter (from Paris, April 19) he had written Pantheam illam quae apud te est, precor des flammis, et Vulcano sacrum facias, aut Nicotio dedices. Pudet me sane (mihi crede), pudet (o Scote) illius. Quater a discessu meo, Scotia nostra in manus sumpsi; quater eam emendavi bona fide. et in quatuor libros digessi multis additis. plurimis omissis. omnibus mutatis. Libris his titulum talem feci. Joannis Leochaei Scoti, Eroticon, sive Amorum libri quatuor. ubi, Panthea libris 2. Anacreontica (de his nihil adhuc vidisti) lib. 1. Elegiae lib 1. [“I entreat you to consign the version of Panthea you possess to the flames, offering it up to Vulcan or dedicating it to the god Nicotine. Oh Scot, believe me, I am ashamed of it. When departing our Scotland I took along in my hand four items, I have rewritten them in good faith and arranged them in four Books, adding much, deleting even more, and changing everything. I have given these Books a title page such as this: The Eroticon of John Leech, a Scotsman, or four Boioks of Love, wherein are two Books of Panthea, one of Anacreontica, and one of Elegies.”] Clearly, therefore, since arriving in France he had been working hard on preparing the Eroticon volume: he had rewritten his Panthea poetry so drastically that he felt it necessary to ask Scot to destroy the earlier version in his possession, and expressly states that the Anacreontica is new. If it was not already in printer Laquehay’s hands, at least in his mind he had determined his book’s final shape. In the May 9 letter already mentioned, Leech tells Scotstarvet Sequenti nuntio Erotica mea exspecta. Iam enim de praelo meditor [“You may expect my Erotica in the next delivery of mail. For I am now focusing my attention on the press,”] and on September 21, writing from Thouars near Poitiers, he asked Scotstarvet certiorem praeterea prima arrepta occasione facies, quo oculo Scoti nostri Erotica mea adspexerint [“At the earliest opportunity tell me what reception the Scots are giving my Erotica.”]. And then, at some unknown time after its publication, he added a Book II which made its first appearance in 1620. More precisely, his ability to quote a pair of lines from II.6 the May 9 letter shows that he was already at work on at least some of the material that would eventually appear in Anacreontica Book II, which he did not yet deem ripe for the press.
3. It is worth noting that Leech’s description of the volume also shows that Panthea, Anacreontica, and Elegiae were in essence independent compositions lumped together for the sake of making up a decent-sized volume (according to the Bibliothek catalogue description it ran to 103 pages in octavo). This is my justification for presenting an independent edition of the Anacreontica here.
4. While still back in Scotland, Leech had suffered a rift with a former patron, John Spottiwoode, Archbishop of St. Andrews and primate of Scotland. The reason why Spottiswoode had withdrawn his support and turned a deaf ear to a short book of New Year’s poetry (strena) Leech had dedicated to him earlier in 1617 is unknown, but Leech had been sufficiently surprised, hurt and angered by this rejection that later in the year he published a lengthy and embittered poem Nemesis, in which he lampooned Spottiswoode under the transparent names Sylvius (“Mr. Wood”) and Varus (“Mr. Spot”). After he had done so, it would obviously have been imprudent to stay in Scotland exposed to the prelate’s retaliation, and so in October he briefly withdrew to London, and then crossed over to France. First he stayed at Paris, then studied law at Poitiers (as signalled in the May 9 1618 letter and attested by the dedicatory epistle to the Eclogue section of Musae Priores). After his 21 September letter from Thouars, there is a gap in his correspondence with Scotstarvet until 9 June 1619, when he wrote the first of three letters from La Mothe-en-Bassigny, a now-vanished military citadel in Lorraine. In May 1620 Leech’s Paris-based fellow-Scot George Chalmers published a poem bidding farewell to Leech as he left France. He returned to London, presumably intending to return to Scotland, but a rather salacious poem (published as epigram I.7 in the 1620 edition, suppressed in later ones) landed him in a further scrape (discussed in his final letter to Scotstarvet, dated London June 16 1621) this time with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and earned him a spell in prison, thus beginning a new chapter in his life.
5. His two Books of Anacreontica demonstrate how thoroughly Leech adapted to the changed conditions of living in France. The Greek poet Anacreon was a rare model for Renaissance imitatio, for a very obvious reason: his unvarnished and enthusiastic celebration of hedonism, and his message that we should eat, drink and be merry since we shall soon die, was flatly contrary to Christian morality. This is true on at least three scores having to do with the things of the world, death, and the status of women. Christianity teaches that the things of this world either do not matter or are Satan’s contrivances for entrapping our souls, Anacreon taught that they are the only thing that matters. For a Christian, Man’s true and authentic existence only begins at death, and what transpires in this life is only a preparation for that existence, that affects how we will fare in the afterlife, whereas Anacreon regarded death as final, utter oblivion.
6. The third difference has to do with the attitude taken towards women. Consider, for example, Renaissance comedy. In them, the traditional requirement that comedies must end happily has been modified, so that, very often, they conclude with a marriage. Since Christianity regards marriage as a union of equal souls, this requires that the girl must play an important part and, in some sense, be the boy’s equal. A typical situation in a Plautine comedy is that a young man falls in love with, or at least lusts after, some girl, and, in order to gain her, has to enter into some kind of duel of wits with his obstructive father. Usually the young man is so obviously unequal to the task that he requires the assistance of a brainy and dynamic slave who engineers a series of deceptions and practical jokes designed to undermine the father’s authority within his household, so that the son may have his way, not without hilarious disruption of the normal social order. The essence of the plot lies in the father-son struggle and the defeat of the father is a necessary feature of the play’s happy ending, NOTE 1 and, considered in her own right, the girl herself is a distinctly secondary character. Sometimes she does not even appear onstage. But when a Plautine plot was adapted in the Renaissance, the Christian idea of marriage demanded that the girl’s characterization be developed and particularized, with the result that these female roles are bright, energetic, and articulate girls with forceful personalities and minds of their own (the most spectacular early exemplification of such changes is the 1531 Siennese comedy Gl’Ingannati, NOTE 2 the ultimate source both of Twelfth Night and the 1595 Cambridge comedy Laelia, and such changes can be observed, not only in Shakespeare, but in such academic comedies as Edward Forsett’s 1581 Pedantius, George Ruggle’s 1615 Ignoramus, and Abraham Cowley’s 1638 Naufragium Ioculare). If the representation of the girl in Roman comedy can sometimes be rather shadowy and sketchy, and hence in need of improvement in an adaptation intended for a Christian audience, the way girls function in Anacreon’s world is vastly more so: they are nameless, faceless, and given no particularizing qualities, functioning merely as momentary partners in casual sexual transactions or as companions to be dandled on a knee during drinking-bouts. So this objectification of women is just as thoroughly un-Christian as the unrelenting insistence on worldliness in the Anacreontic program. It is a further feature of the poet’s insistence on the pursuit of momentary pleasure in the context of a universe so spiritually poverty-stricken that its only presiding deities are Bacchus, Venus and Cupid
7. There seems to be only one widely known Neo-Latin poem that might be called “Anacreontic” for its contents as well as its meter, the seventh one in Janus Secundus’ cycle Basia, but upon close inspection Secundus’ dependence on his Greek original turns out to be largely illusory. He uses Basia to monumentalize his relationship with his girl friend Neaera, a relationship which, in comparison with what we find in Anacreon, seems comparatively stable and enduring, at least in the limited sense that Neaera figures in many of the poems in his cycle. Leech was obviously familiar with Basia: he expressly mentions Secundus and his Neaera at II.8.17f., borrows a rare vocabulary item from him at I.1.81 (see the commentary note ad loc.), and addresses a girl friend of his own named Neaera in I.9, but she appears in only this one poem and his relation with her is just as passing as the one with Melissa mentioned in I.13. Other than these two instances, his girls are as anonymous as Anacreon’s.
8. There must have been something in Leech’s psychological makeup which made this Anacreontic program attractive to him. Conceivably he could have said, wrote or did something which revealed this trait to Archbishop Spottiswoode, which is why the primate abruptly withdrew his support. But in general he managed to keep his hedonistic streak under wraps: there is nothing to suggest it in any of his surviving poetry prior to his emigration to France. And then life in the more relaxed moral atmosphere of France seems to have encouraged him to give it freer rein than he ever could back in the restrained if not downright repressive society of Scotland. And at the same time that Leech started writing poetry with very different contents, he also found an equally new and different poetic voice. The Anacreontic meter with its short seven-syllable lines tended to enforce a straightforward and terse manner of expression very different from the standard fare of Neo-Latin poetry, which could (and, in Leech’s case, not infrequently did) 7 become academic, precious, alembicated. So, on both the levels of contents and style, is not difficult to imagine that Leech reveled in the novel freedom granted by his French sojourn, and did so (as he described it to Scotstarvet) liberrimo animo.
9. But this sudden enthusiasm for Anacreontic hedonism was no mere flight of literary fantasy, for we have evidence that at least at one point during his stay in France Leech became involved in a real-life episode of sexual adventurism. At the beginning of epigram IV.32, he wrote from within his London cell,
Poeta, iuvenis, atque dives ut satis,
Musas, priores animos, et peculium
Prope perdidi, remisi, et ah deglutii.
Huic causa, Galla, Scotus, Anglus est malo,
Regina, rufus Zoilus, pastor gravis,
Mutone, morsu livido, superbia.
[“A poet, a youth, and a wealthy enough man, I all but wasted, squandered, and consumed my Muse, my erstwhile spirits, and my money. A French girl, a Scotsman, and and an Englishman were the cause of this evil: a queen, a red-headed Zoilus, and a grave pastor, by means of my prick, envy’s bite, and arrogance.”]
In the course of another epigram (III.93), written in prison at about the same time, Leech added:
[sc. invenimus] Nulloque laesum dente virulentiae
Gallum benignum, et qui doleret unice
[“(I have discovered) that the kindly Frenchman (who, uniquely, could grieve over that innocent’s downfall and my protracted incarceration) is bitten by no tooth of offense.”]
It is attractive to imagine that “the innocent” was the previously-mentioned French girl, and that Leech bore the responsibility for her downfall. Evidently while in France he had ruined some girl or woman by compromising her or even making her pregnant, but some complaisant kinsman, probably her husband or father, elected to look the other way. If it is right to combine these two passages and extract from them a narrative of this kind (perhaps epigram III.47, addressed to “a jealously protective father”, might be brought into the picture too), then we can catch sight of Leech carrying the hedonistic program of his Anacreontica to its logical conclusion by translating it into action. His admission in epigram IV.32 that he had “squandered his Muse” suggests an awareness that his new-found fondness for Anacreon, the result of the relaxed French lifestyle having gone to his head, had been one of the factors that got him in trouble.
10. I have just suggested that in epigram IV.32 Leech is admitting that his brush with Anacreonism had led his Muse astray. He is far more explicit about this in the fifth and final of the elegies in the new second Book added for the 1620 Musae Priores, entitled Amatoriis valedicit (“He bids farewell to love-matters.”) It begins with an address to that goddess of chastity, Diana. He needs her guidance, since quisve modum statuat cui modus omnis abest? [“Who can impose limit on someone who lacks all limitation?”] Later he observes that his young talent has been devoted to Cupid, with a strong implication that it has been wasted:
Nunc puer ille meae carspit libamina Musae,
Lascivisque abiit prima iuventa modis.
[“Now that boy has plucked the fruit of my Muse, and my early youth has been spent in wanton ways.”}
But he manages to take a philosophically tolerant view of his past folly, end then concludes by announcing his intention to write serious poetry in future: he is going to emulate Salluste du Bartas, Tasso and Sir William Alexander and write a religious epic (in point of fact he never did).
Adde quod et viridem dominae natura iuventam
Addixitque tuis, parve Cupido, iocis.
Namque aliter de stirpe hominum genus omne periret,
Et quicquid tellus nutrit, et unda maris.
Verna decent flores, aestiva tempora spicae,
Autumnum fructus, frigus iners hyemem,
Blandus amor iuvenem...
Hactenus et pueri dubios evasimus aestus,
Et dominam longo vicimus obsequio.
Nunc lyra de numeris, et tu, chelys apta choreis:
Me iuvat inflata bella tonare tuba.
[“Then too, Nature has devoted my fresh youth to Mistress Venus and to your sports, little Cupid. For otherwise the entire human race would perish, and whatever the dry land and the water of the sea supports. Flowers befit the springtime, cornstalks the summer, fruits the autumn, numb chill the winter, and sweet love a youth...Thus far I have escaped the Boy’s questionable passions and conquered the Mistress thanks to my protracted self-discipline. Now, you lyre, and you lute fit for accompanying the dance, begone from my verses. I want to trumpet wars by sounding my bugle.”]
11. It was probably well that Leech’s infatuation with Anacreon was short-lived, for his attempt to translate the Greek poet’s philosophy into action could have landed him in far more serious trouble than it did. For us, the interest of his experiment is that we may observe him taking Neo-Latin poetry on a foray into territory where it it has rarely ventured.
NOTE 2 For discussion of an early Scottish example of a strong female comic protagonist orginating in Gl’Ingannati, ese Jamie Reid Baxter, “Philotus the transmission of a delectable treatise,” in T. van Heijnsbergen and N. Royan (eds)., Literature, Letters and the Canonical in Early Modern Scotland, (East Linton, 2002), pp. 52 - 68