Dubbed ‘the English Horace’ by David Money in his book of that title, Alsop was ‘looked upon to be the best Writer of Lyric Verses in the World’ according to the assessment of at least one of his contemporaries. After attending Westminster School like Vincent Bourne and so many other Anglo-Latin poets of the time, Alsop went up to Oxford then led a largely uneventful life as a country parson. He did rather unwisely champion Boyle (Oxford) against Bentley (Cambridge) when the latter exposed Boyle’s Epistles of Phalaris as spurious. He was also once forced to flee the country when a woman whom he had apparently engaged to marry sued him for breach of promise after he married someone else.
Alsop wrote a great deal of excellent Latin poetry in a variety of metres and on a variety of subjects, but his favourite verse form was the Sapphic stanza and he is at his best when celebrating the convivial delights of ‘wine, women and song’ in Horatian-style odes of considerable wit and charm. Many of these odes were addressed to friends, among whom was the lawyer Joseph Taylor, who received this witty invitation to spend some time at Alsop’s house.
Est mihi Octobres cadus ad calendas
Natus, et pernae satis, et farinae;
Nec foco aut mensae locus, aut cubili
Siquid haec ultra petis, est in anno
Forte fortuna semel et secundo
Vasculum Bacchi, quod amica, clam quaes-
tore, ratis fert.
Quare age, his mecum fruere, et relicta
Paululum lauta dape, ferculisque
Arte conditis, tenui salino as-
suesce, et inempto
Luxui. Hic vitae bona multa disces
Rusticae: hic purae data nox quieti,
Et dies transit sine lite; nulli
Somnia abrumpent, hilarisve lusum
Vesperae; hic curis potes expeditus
Vivere; et, ni quod tua Philis absit,
[Odes Book 2.19]
I have a cask born on the first of October, and enough of a leg of ham and flour; nor does my hearth or table or bed lack a suitable place. If you seek anything more than these, as luck would have it from time to time in the year I have a little bottle of wine, which a friendly ship, without the knowledge of the customs officer, brings. Wherefore come, enjoy these with me, and with the luxurious feast having been abandoned for a little while, become accustomed to a plain salt cellar and luxury bought for nothing. Here you will learn the many good things of a rustic life: here night is given to pure quiet, and the day passes without a lawsuit; in the morning no clients will disturb your sleep, or the cheerful entertainment of evening; here you will be able to live free from worries; and, but for the fact that your Phylis would be absent, happy in other things.
Chosen and translated by Mark Walker (www.pineapplepubs.co.uk).