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Revisiting Pia Desideria

Revisiting Pia Desideria

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Two years after the Pia Desideria Project, I have written this essay to commemorate its success.
Two years after the Pia Desideria Project, I have written this essay to commemorate its success.

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Published by: Sandra Elena Dermark Bufi on Jun 23, 2012
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12/21/2012

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REVISITING PIA DESIDERIABy Sandra Dermark Hermann Hugo, son of Willem and Katrine Hugo, studied Art at the University of Louvain after getting through Jesuit boarding school. To the Hugos, like many other clans in the HabsburgEmpire, the choice of the pen or the sword was presented to their sons. And the pen was pickedfor Hermann, born in 1588. He graduated the year that saw
Othello
’s world premiere and theGunpowder Plot (1604). In 1621, while the Thirty Years War was ravaging Europe, he accompanied his master the Dukeof Aarschot to Philip IV’s court in Castile. Whether he became acquainted with Velazquez and/or Quevedo is a mystery to me, but I do not discard the hypothesis that he met them.Pretty soon, he was on the battlefields of Saxony as a regimental chaplain, on the Catholicside with Descartes and Wallenstein. In winter quarters in 1624, he wrote the emblem book
Pia desideria
to instruct the Jesuit order: a nifty little book that combines the pictorial skill of the Flemish masters (van Dyck, van Eyck, Bosch and Brueghel) with Counter-Reformationpropaganda and lots of vivid baroque purple prose. In short, a forgotten pearl of illustratedliterature that displays the seventeenth century’s zeitgeist.  After the author’s death in 1629 (three years before the decisive battle of Lützen), the
Pia
waspublished for the first time. And the Peace of Westphalia (1648) saw it become a bestseller (though not toppling Don Quixote, that still ranked first), spread into the foremost nations of Catholic and Protestant Europe translated into said nations’ mother tongues, and VIPs likeChristina of Sweden and Charles II have one in their libraries. For you see, Hugo wrote in Latin, the official language of Catholic clergy.The Charles II-era Quarles translation is less literal than the Arwaker, that saw the light decadeslater in the wake of the Enlightenment. After Westphalia, religion is seen as destructive:fanaticism has laid waste to Central Europe in the guise of “holy war”. Reason should prevailover faith, science shall guarantee the truth through empirical evidence. Liberalism is born inthis context of new order.England and all of the UK are recovering from the sequels of a civil war that briefly revivedin 1688, after regimes that segued from parliamentary monarchy into absolutism (Charles I),republic (Cromwell), military dictatorship (Cromwell), absolutism (Charles II), for a final anddecisive return to parliamentary monarchy: the last ruling Stuarts. Empiricism develops withinboth the Cavalier (Hume) and Puritan (Locke) sides of the conflict, and so does liberalism, andemotivism, in stark contrast to the continent’s rational and logical thinkers (Descartes). 1702. Arwaker takes his
Pia
to a London printer. He is an important person and acquainted withnobility, perchance with Queen Anne herself. The poet has chosen to English the
Pia
and adaptits verses to a Protestant eighteenth-century audience.The English language is a rather musical one, as demonstrated by the works of Shakespeareand Carroll. A Saxon dialect peppered with Latin (
font 
), Old Norse (
thrust 
), French (
lieutenant 
),Urdu (
cummerbund 
), Italian (
 pasta
), Aborigine (
didgeridoo
), Spanish (
siesta
), Dutch (
deck 
),German (
schnitzelbank 
), and many other influences, as well as coined words minted bygeniuses the size of Shakespeare (
dauntless
). The musicality of the English language, and itseclecticism, have added to its universality. Edmund Arwaker, an Anglican clergyman of the late Stuart / early Georgian era, smittenwith the Enlightenment. He must have worn a Charles II wig, with long curls cascading downhis shoulders. Dressed in velvet and satin, and dazzling with baroque elegance (it was the

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