Professorial poetry?

I was recently intrigued to come across manuscript drafts of two poems when looking at an 18th century copy of works by Demosthenes (Sp Coll Hunterian Cz.3.29-31). This book of Greek texts was produced by the University’s renowned publishers, the Foulis Press, in 1750. They were famous for their beautifully produced editions of classical works.

Start of draft of poem beginning ten thousand fold

Start of draft of poem

Written in an 18th century hand on a blank page is a poem of 10 lines beginning “The tainted stag, when singled by the hounds / Runs to his friends, amid his wonted grounds” with several crossings out and substituted words; a different draft of this verse is repeated later in the book. There is another 8 line poem that starts “Ten thousand fold damnation blast the wretch” (possibly referring to the 10,000 mercenaries under command of Demosthenes – so perhaps actually related to the content of the book). There is a word in Greek below the first two poems which loosely translates as “rejected” – so whoever was responsible for the verses was obviously not satisfied with them.

Greek word at end of verse


This book is from the Hunterian collection and is bound in 3 volumes. A manuscript note on the front flyleaf states that it is annotated with notes by James Moor (1712-1779), who was the Professor of Greek at the University of Glasgow at the time that the book was published. The text (which is incomplete – lacking  the Latin translations to some of the works) is marked up in line numbers throughout with corrections and notes added in the margins. Moor worked as a proof reader for the Foulis press, so it is possible that this is a proof copy with amendments for another edition of the book.

Why would Moor draft poems in the blank leaves of this book? As well as being the author of texts on the Greek language, he was also actively involved in the University literary society. He delivered lectures on historical composition (in Essays read to a literary society at their weekly meetings) and was clearly interested in the technical aspects of poetical form.  Although he was clearly unhappy with them, it is possible that these drafts were simply exercises in composition – possibly translations from Greek.  Here is a sample of one of the rejected verses (omitting the alternate readings and amendments):

Draft of a poem possibly by James Moor

Draft of poem possibly by James Moor

The tainted stag when singled by the hounds
Runs to his friends, amid his wonted grounds.
The sneaking herd, with careless eyes and cold
Their helpless mate with selfish fears behold
And find for pity neither eyes nor ears
Nay, at his face project their hostile horn,
And leave him helpless to his fate forlorn.
The most round pearl long shining in his eye
Drops on his cheeks; the signal then to die!

If this is indeed an exercise in translating from the Greek, and you recognise the original text from which the poem has been derived, I would love to hear from you.

Discovering  these verses made me curious about Moor. Delving further, I found a 19th century book of presscuttings and notes by Gabriel Neil in our Murray collection (Sp Coll Mu21-c.39) that contains an article that sheds some light on Moor’s poetical activities, suggesting that he regularly wrote verse. Entitled “The poetical remains of the late James Moor” and originally printed in the Glasgow Reformer Gazette of 1853, this long article describes Moor’s own interleaved copy of his textbook on Greek grammar in which he had composed a “variety of effusions”. Neil tactfully concludes that these were the “offpspring” of the Professor’s later years and that the literary attainments of this  “accomplished scholar, critic, and man of genius” should not be judged by them. He goes on to say that Moor was in the habit of jotting down his sentiments “wherever a corner of blank paper could be found” so perhaps the poems on the flyleaves of our Demosthenes volumes might have been a common feature in Moor’s books. I will now have to see if we have any other books from his library annotated with more verse …

It seems that Moor also utilised his literary powers to exert an eccentric form of classroom control, apparently improvising rhymes to his Greek class when they were being particularly noisy and unruly. Neil’s entertaining article gives many more fascinating insights into Moor’s life and work, including his complicated relationship with the Foulis brothers which resulted in a terrible quarrel. It seems appropropriate to end here, however, with an excerpt from his own epitaph, as cited by Neil:

Who weep the death of D(octor) M(oor),
Know that these verses, ye who see ’em,
Were by himself wrote – ante diem.
‘Himself too much he praises’ – Hush,
Or ye will make his ashes blush.
Had he himself not done it, Brother,
It ne’er had been done by another.

Quite right!!

Categories: Special Collections

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3 replies

  1. I am a student of education taking Geography and English language.I have appreciated much on programs given out in GLASSGOW UNIVERSITY,thanks GOD for all.From RUAHA UNIVERSITY COLLEGE the constituence ST.AUGUSTINE UNIVERSITY OF TANZANIA am BILEI ANDERSON CHAGOHA

  2. Thanks Eveline. Yes, think you are right that this could well have been inspired by the story of Actaeon. I have updated the original posting since your comment (after I found a volume of presscuttings that gives more information on Moor’s poetical activities). I have now discovered that Moor regularly wrote poetry, so that perhaps makes this less likely to be direct translation from Greek. But please let me know if you can prove me wrong!

  3. This seems to be the story of the hunter Actaeon, turned into a stag after he saw Artemis bathing and then devoured by his own hounds. The passage itself seems most appropriate for epic poetry, but I can’t think of the exact passage. I’ll come back to you if I know!
    Eveline (Postgrad Classics)

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