Arcadius Avellanus: Neo-Latin works of the Early 20th Century
Delivered at American Philological Association, AANLS panel on January 5, 2014 by Patrick M. Owens
“This is a fighting book, fighting for the restoration of honest, spoken Latin, and consequently not at all popular with our teachers and schools,” That is how Arcadius Avellanus described Palaestra, his new textbook for teaching Latin in 1919. This comment may go a long way toward explaining why this tireless promoter of Latin, who devoted all of his life to the work, whom Josef Ijsewijn commemorates in half a sentence in his Companion to Neo-Latin Studies, was not remembered by classicists 70 years after his death. But in the past eight or ten years interest in Avellanus’ works has been resurrected, which have found a new audience of teachers, students, and devotees throughout the world. In his works Avellanus described his ambitious goals, including a pedagogical revolution within the classics, the reformation of Latin orthography, the re-publication of the texts of all the Latin classics, the organization of an international Latin society, and the adoption of Latin as a universal and international language. He was exceedingly well-known in his day. He debated the merits of Latin over Esperanto and Volapuk on the pages of The New York Times. He ran a Latin summer intensive program in Philadelphia and New York City. His publications and methods were both criticized and defended in several of the most-prestigious professional journals and reviewed by well known classicists such as Basil L. Gildersleeve, Edward Chickering and WHD Rouse. His texts were used in a number of institutions both in the U.S. and abroad—he had book representatives in England, France, and Germany. He published a monthly Latin-language newspaper. And he even claimed to have influenced the pope to commission a new translation of the Bible into “intelligible” Latin.
Avellanus wrote and published numerous works both in Latin and in the vernacular, including pedagogical texts, translations into Latin of well-known English stories and novels, and treatises on philogical theory and the use of Latin as an international language. Although his stories excited other Latinists, such as Alexander Lenard and WHD Rouse to translations of children’s literature, he reached a professional audience through his Latin-language periodical, Praeco Latinus, which appeared monthly from October 1894 to September 1902. In the inaugural edition, Avellanus announced his purpose: to provide for Latin scholars—“the only profession without an organ of its own, inaccessible to the ‘profanumvulgus,’”— an “opportunity to read, in Latin, matter pertaining to modern affairs.” Over its eight-year life, Praeco carried articles about current affairs, biographies, letters to the editor, book reviews, advertisements, excerpts from Latin authors both ancient and modern, and neo-Latin translations of a variety of literary works, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to poems by Tennyson. You may be surprised to learn that Praeco was neither the first nor the last Latin-language periodical in the US; but it was and remains the longest running and most successful of its kind outside of Europe.
Praeco functioned among other things as a herald of Avellanus’ pedagogical philophy. As early as 1894 Avellanus advocated the so-called “direct method”. He claimed that no method of language teaching is natural, “excepting the unconscious acquisition of a language, as is the case with a child, or an adult learning to speak a tongue passively, by the ears, without individual effort”. He cautions that unless a teacher of Latin can and does speak it, “he does not teach the language, he preaches and lectures about the language”. Avellanus wasn’t content with the use of excerpts from ancient authors to facilitate the learning of Latin, especially for younger students: “Languages are learned by use” he wrote, “by much reading, much writing, if possible by hearing and speaking. And since modern stories interest modern youth I have tried to provide Latin reading which will invite the attention of the young”. Between about 1914 and 1918, an eight-volume set of Avellanus’ translations into Latin of modern novels and stories, entitled The Mount Hope Classics Series, was privately published by E. Parmalee Prentice. Prentice, a lawyer from Chicago, was married to Alta Rockefeller, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, whose grandchildren Avellanus tutored in Latin to such an extent that in 1910 the Classical Weekly reported that the Prentice children spoke fluent Latin as young as 8 years old. The Mount Hope series was apparently named after the Prentice-Rockefeller country estate, Mount Hope Farm, near Williamstown, MA. In fact, translations of two stories attributed to Prentice appear in Volume II of that series. Avellanus translated, and Prentice published, not only familiar fairytales such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin’s Lamp, and Hans’ Christian Anderson’s Wild Swans, but also the novels Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.
Avellanus’ work, however, received mixed reviews which often lead to entertaining, if vitriolic, exchanges in the pages of classical journals and newspapers. There is, indeed, plenty to say about his Latin style, diction, and pedagogical wisdom, but due to our time constraints today, it is enough to say that, for better or worse, Avellanus was not deterred by criticism. He believed the ends—learning Latin, which “brings the student into relation with original sources of history”—justify the means, and warns of the dangers of losing Latin programs in schools: “I believe that if Latin is to be saved in our Schools it must be treated as a language. Before a Latin style can be learned, the language must first be learned.”.
Avellanus was, as his writings betray, clearly a pugnacious man and he vociferously attacked all teachers of the classics who lacked perfect proficiency - which for Avellanus contained an ability to speak and write extemporaneously in the classical languages. His loquacity about any given question of philology knew no bounds; he was unable to respond to detractors or letters to the editor within the space allotted for such submissions, which led his replies to go unpublished or heavily edited. Avellanus rarely wrote about himself, and apparently was equally secretive in person. Two lengthy articles, one in The New Yorker on the occasion of his 80th birthday, and the other, his obituary four years later, in The New York Times testify that even his closest friends were uncertain about his background. Goodwin B. Beach’s delightful essay published in the Classical Journal in 1947 about the life and work of Avellanus, entitled Erasmus Redivivus heaps praise on his learning - but contains little more than a few anecdotes and an extensive encomium of his character. Avellanus’ origin was a mystery to his contemporaries.
Until recently details about his life were sparse. That he was born Arkád Mogyoróssy in Esztergom, Hungary, in 1851, immigrated to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1881 is all that was known. Arkád Mogyorossy claimed to have been raised from birth speaking Latin - a claim, which may seem risible to some today, but perhaps would not have been seen as quite so eccentric in early 19th century Hungry. In fact, until 1840’s the official language of the Hungarian government was Latin and all speeches and debate in the Hungarian parliment were had in Latin. Moreover, Avellanus’ hometown of Esztergom, was a wealthy archdiocesis and home to many Hungarian nobles; both the Catholic Church and the artistocracy encouraged the continued use of Latin in its official capacity. And so it is no wonder that young Avellanus would be encouraged to develop Latin fluency early in life. Furthermore, there is little reason to doubt Avellanus’ claim that he learned to speak Latin at his father’s ankles, given some of the colloquialisms which are scattered throughout his works.
Census records record his parents’ names as Janus and Julia. Perhaps the family had a history of Latinizing their surname; (Mogyorossy in Hungarian means hazelnut, as does Avellanus in Latin) nor would they be the first, there is a neo-Latin author Petrus Avellanus in the 16th century. Our Avellanus’ Christian name Arcade is, in fact, derived from the Latin Arcadius like the 4th century Roman Emperor Flavius Arcadius Augustus.
At home Avellanus, after Latin, learned several modern languages, and astronomy and maths in Greek. It is unclear whether he had a private tutor or his parents taught him alone. At the age of 13 he entered the Franciscan gymnasium. Five years later, Avellanus joined the Franciscan order under the religious name Frater Hermannus, made perpetual vows and was ordained to the priesthood in due course.
In 1877 the Franciscan order decided to open a new college in American: The new school, St. Bonaventure’s College (which would become St. Bonaventure’s University) in New York state needed young and hearty intellectual priests who could both help with the building project and teach. Franciscans were sent from throughout Europe at the behest of the Minister General of the order. Avellanus arrived in 1878 and was tasked with the creation of St. Bonaventure’s library, which occupied his time until 1882, when, due to the sudden death of the rector of the community, he was created the superior.
Under Avellanus’ rectorship the situation at St. Bonaventure’s spun out of control. The friars, again all very young men and all from diverse backgrounds, began to waver from their usual Spartan life-style. Some of them took up private residence, another ran away with a younger girlfriend, others got rid of their brown habits. At this time, classes were already being taught at St. Bonaventure’s College and scandal spread very quickly. A local newspaper ran a story about the disorder of the community, which prompted a canonical visitation from a province in Europe. I have found the handwritten notes of that visitation and summaries of conversations with Frater Hermannus (our Avellanus) in which he says, “Horreo pietatem, nec possum nec volo orare nec bonum monachum [esse]. Mortificatio corporis est stulta et contra naturam; athleta est melior imago dei quam monachus se flagellans.” And in place of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Frater Hermannus says, “[...]Scriptores mei sunt: Fichte, Higel, Schoppenhauer, Voltaire.” Avellanus and the Franciscans part ways in the spring of 1886; and he apparently never spoke of them again or shared his past as a monk with friends. In the fall of the same year Avellanus contracted a marriage with Miss Edith E. Clare in Newark, NJ. Little or nothing is known about this Edith Clare, which was a common full name at that time in NJ.
Sometime between 1886 and 1891 this marriage was dissolved and Avellanus moved to Hazleton, PA where he wrote for a Hungarian-American republican newspaper. In 1893 he began his first Latin pedagogical work Palaestra Latina with a friend at the Rugby Academy for boys in Philadelphia, PA. At the same time Avellanus begins his Latin periodical, Praeco Latinus, which is published bi-weekly, and eventually, monthly. From 1893 to 1902 Avellanus worked full-time on Praeco Latinus and part-time as a freelance newspaper journalist for a variety of Hungarian-American newspapers. Praeco reached a certain level of success with subscribers, many of which were libraries, seminaries, and religious communities (both Catholic and Swedenborg), on account of which Avellanus generously estimated his readership to be upwards of 100,000. There are a number of subscribers from Europe, as attested in the letters to the editor, but it is impossible to estimate how many subscriptions there were either in the US or in Europe. As soon as Avellanus was able, he expanded Praeco to new premises and new printing machinary, but despite investment from advertisers such as the famous hatter John B. Stetsoneven and Columbia Records, and the financial backing of Parmalee Prentice, the mismanagement of the expansion left Avellanus bankrupt and brought about the demise of Praeco Latinus.
In 1908 Avellanus identifies himself to journalists as a professor of classics at the University of Pennsylvania, but no documents at U. Penn today can confirm that. Avellanus departs Pennsylvania to move-in with the Prentice-Rockefeller family where he lives for months at a time as the general tutor to the children. In 1910 an article in Classical Weekly remarks that these grandchildren of John D. Rockefeller speak fluent Latin. In the intervening years, when Avellanus was not tutoring he wrote and revised his two pedagogical works Palaestra and the TusculanSystem which were approaches to Latin through the direct or natural method. These works were initially well received and Harpers reportedly agreed to publish the textbook series, but Avellanus could not reach an agreeable contract with the publishing giant. And so, he continued to publish out of newspaper presses, which Avellanus would utilize outside of normal printing hours. Both of these works bare a very strong resemblance to the Ørberg series Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. There is little doubt at all that Hans H. Ørberg saw and was influenced by Avellanus’ work; but the quality greatly differs.
In everything that Avellanus did, he lacked an editor. There are routinely typos and ridiculous uncited claims regarding philological matters; for the sake of an illustrative example: On page 40 of Palaestra Avellanus says about the number 80: “In books [it is] usually octoginta; so claimed by controversial writers; in speech however the above form [octuoginta] prevails traditionally, and it is the right form, as it is the contraction of octava and ginta.” A editor might have suggested a citation here. Any Latin editor could have saved him from some very embarrassing sins against the sequence of tenses in his novels. Lastly, he freely appropriated vocabulary and coined words whenever he didn’t have a term immediately at hand and did so without regard to ancient or Neo-Latin tradition. It is possible that Avellanus’ appropriations represent a common usage among Latin speakers in Hungary. For example, Avellanus employs diga for car, when other Latin speaking communities used r(h)aeda (or in Saarbrücken autocinetum); similarly, Avellanus says herus when we might expect domimus. Most of his coinages, such as canneus for rum are not found elsewhere and sometimes contain solecistic elements. At times he appears to prefer terms from the Digesta Corporis Juris Civilis and Plautus even when equivalents frequently appear in Cicero and Caesar.
In 1918 Avellanus joined the Classics faculty at St. John’s College in Brooklyn where he taught for seven years until 1925. According to the student newsletter, he was hired at St. John’s to reinvigorate the classics program there. He is listed as “Arcadius Avellanus, Ph.D.” in the course catalog and introduces himself as Dr. Avellanus in other writings from c. 1918 on. Curiously, though, there is no record of Avellanus earning a doctorate; in fact, Ernest Pulgram in an article published in the journal Arion thirty years after Avellanus’ death, parenthetically suggests that Avellanus never held a doctorate - but due to Pulgrams distain for Avellanus’ work and the direct method and because he does not provide any source for this information, his claim might be more calumny than truth.
It is not at all clear what Avellanus did after leaving St. John’s in 1925. But on Feb. 6th 1931 friends and notables gathered together to celebrate Avellanus’ 80th birthday. As reported by The New Yorker, the party was thrown at a Hungarian restuartant on Manhattan’s westside, where Avellanus spoke English to journalists, Hungarian to the waiters, and Latin with his friends. Only four years later Avellanus was diagnosed with nephritis and, shortly thereafter, died in his room in a boarding-house apparently destitute. He is buried in Hartsdale, NY in an unmarked grave.
But what of Avellanus’ claim that he persuaded the Holy See and the pope to retranslate the bible into intelligible Latin? It is a strange claim, given that no new translation or even edition of the bible was published by the Catholic Church in Avellanus’ lifetime. Of course, the so called, Neo-Vulgata, was published and promulgated by John Paul II in 1979. The commision in charge of producing the Neo-Vulgata according to more modern textual criticism was created by Paul VI in response to the Second Vatican Council’s document Sacrosanctum Concilium. The origin of the Pontifical Commision, however, in fact preceeded even the Ecumenical council of 1962; it began at the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm which was tasked with collating variant readings and producing bibliographies for modern biblical scholarship under Pope Leo XIII; it is around this time, between 1899 and 1902 when Avellanus claims to have prevailed upon some authorities in Rome that a new edition of the Vulgate ought to be produced. Pope Leo XIII’s personal notes have not yet been released by the Vatican archivists-- but when they are, it will be interesting to see whether any trace of Arcadius Avellanus can be found.
Palaestra; being the primer of the Tusculan system of learning, and of teaching Latin to speak; for class use and for self-instruction. Avellanus, Arcadius; New York, 1908. p.415  “For curiousity’s sake I may add here that in the early twentieth century a Hungarian emigrant in Philadelphia, A. Mogyorossy or Avellanus, translated into Latin such classics as Stevenson’s Treasure Island and short novels by Guy de Maupassant, while Alexander Lenard...” Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Jsewijn, Joseph and Dirk Sacré; Amsterdam, Elsevier. 1977. p.150  The errors which he hopes to remedy with his pedagogical system are results of what he calls the Deutsche Kultur Latin. In a 12-page diatribe included in the mailing of Nos. 27-34 of the serial text Palaestra, in 1920, Avellanus bemoans the fact that all the texts used for the teaching of Latin and Greek in America—and most other places as well—come from Germany, that “what our teachers call Latin and Greek is the creation and product of Germany” and that “if they mean to preserve Latin and Greek in any school they will preserve a German supremacy in our schools” (3.i). It isn‟t clear how much of this anti-German bias should be attributed to Avellanus‟ own political background as a Hungarian, how much may be due to the anti-German sentiments caused by the war, or how much is sincere intellectual conviction. He details at great length the evolution of philological theory in Germany, and the result: Latin has become not a language, that is, a spoken form of communication, but an abstract philological exercise in which students are supposedly taught about the style of the classical authors by teachers who, since they do not know the language, can have nothing of value to say about the style. In the introductory matter of Insula Thesauriana under title "Orthographiae et Etymologiae" he says “Si haec lues philologiae Germanicae et iam in Italia grassatur, quin, quod longe plus est, in ipsa medulla Latinitatis, in Hierarchia Romana, conservatrice priscarum veritatum avitorumque morum bacchatur, iuvabit pestilentiae istius ab altioribus fontibus repetere originem.” New York Times Saturday Review of Books, 4 July 1908 and The Montreal Gazette, 22 Aug. 1896 p.11  cf. The Classical Weekly, Vol. 3, No. 17 (Feb. 19, 1910), p. 143; Rouse favourably reviewed A’s work, Pericla Navarchi Magonis in The Classical Review, Vol. 32, No. 1/2 (Feb. - Mar., 1918), pp. 40  Az élő latin - Filológiai közlöny, Budapest, 1972/1-2; also cf. Subacus, Melanie Et Incipiunt Fabulae given at CAAS 2010. Praeco Latinus, ed. Avellanus, Arcadius. Philadelphia, PA. Vol. 1 No.1, 1894; afterwards simply Praeco. Tusculan System, Avellanus, Arcadius. Philadelphia / New York City (publisher unstated) vol. 2 p. iv; afterwards simply Tusculan ibid. The Classical Weekly, Vol.4, No. 9 (Oct. 1916), p. 38 The Classical Weekly, Vol. 3, No. 19 (Mar. 12, 1910), p. 159  “Arcadius Avellanus Elaborates His Reasons for Considering Latin Eminently Fitted to be Used As a Universal Language” New York Times Saturday Review of Books 1 August 1908; and New York Times Saturday Review of Books, 4 July 1908, 381.b; a back and forth including more than five letters to the editor followed and continued through the summer of 1908.  cf. Dr. Avellanus’s Rejoinder, The Classical Weekly, Vol. 10, No. 5 (Oct. 30, 1916), pp. 37-38 Tusculan p. 38  e.g., The editors of the New York Times are forced to paraphrase A’s remarks; see footnote 12.  "Dr. Avellanus Dies; Latin Scholar, 84, Professor at St. John's Made Speeches and Wrote Books in Favorite Language". New York Times. 19 June 1935. p. 19. (as accessed 1/5/14); The New Yorker 5, No. 5 (Feb. 1, 1930)  “Arcadius Avellanus: Erasmus Redivivus.” The Classical Journal.Vol. 42, No. 8 (May, 1947), pp. 505-510  This is supported by evidence in the 1920 United States Federal Census Record for Arcadius Avellanus ibid. and Who Was Who in America, vol. 1, 1897-1942 and the Wikipedia article on Avellanus (as accessed on 1/5/2014)  For Avellanus claim, see footnote #17; also the editor’s notes to the entry of The New International Encyclopedia: The New International Year Book, ed. Vizetelly, Frank H. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co. 1937 The Classical Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Jan., 1968), pp. 163-165; also cf. Lav Subaric’s paper "The emotional value of Latin as spoken language in nineteenth-century nationalism and language conflicts" given at Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Neulateinische Studien (date unknown).  For a broad treatment of Esztergom and its history see Borovszky Samu: Esztergom vármegye (Magyarország vármegyéi és városai sorozat) Budapest : Dovin, 1989. The Mogyrossy/Avellanus family appears to have had an aristocratic background. cf. the entry in the Hungarian Encyclopedia, originally published Budapest, 1882 in electronic format at http://web.t-online.hu/gkissexternet/ (as accessed 1/5/14).  I intend to write a separate essay on Avellanus’ Latin style.  1920 United States Federal Census Record for Arcadius Avellanus Praeco, vol. 1 no. 10, p. 8  “Arcadius Avellanus: Erasmus Redivivus.” The Classical Journal.Vol. 42, No. 8 (May, 1947), pp.506  Angelo, OFM, Mark V. History of St. Bonaventure University. St. Bonaventure: Franciscan Institute, 1961.p.149 (citing also Annales Franciscanorum NeoEboracensium); In the Annales Franciscanorum in Esztergom I found the following handwritten assertion, “Munere hominis a secretis Episcopi Barsiensis (vulgo Bars vármegye) functus est.” I cannot substantiate it further.  That he immigranted at this time is supported by obit, New York Times. Olean Democrat, Nov. 4th, 1886, v.7 no. 49 and Annales Bonaventure (and various archived cataloges at Bonaventure University); The Provincial Annals of the Holy Name Province of the Conventual Franciscans; Bonaventure: St. Bonaventure, vol. 16, Jan. 1938 Peace and God In America: A history of Holy Name Province. White, Joseph M. Holy Name Province O.F.M : NY, 2004. pp.46-47, p.472  Handwritten notes on microfisch, in the archive of Holy Name Province at St. Antony Frairy in Butler, NJ. Microfish rolls #445, #450, #451, #452  ibid. Daily Herald, October 29, 1886, and Olean Democrat, Nov. 4th 1886; New York Times Oct. 29th 1886  Titled Onállás published in Luzerne, PA; Hungarian Studies Review; Hungarian-American Mutual Aid Associations and their "Official" Newspapers: A Symbiotic Relationship by Bela Vassady vol. 29, nos 1-2 (1992); History of Luzerne County, PA by Bradsby 1893; See Joseph Darago (ed.), Verho-vay ak Lapja: Verhovay Segelyegylet 50 eves jubileumi kiadvanya [The Verhovay News: the Verhovay Aid Association's 50th Anniversary Publication] (Pitts-burgh, 1936), p.45.  An insert published with Palaestra, undated.  ibid. Onállás (vid. n.27); Magyar Hírmondó in Cleveland, OH; Praeco. v.1 n.7 Praeco, passim; but cf. Praeco, Vol. 7 No. 5 p. 121 where the contrary appears true (?). Praeco, passim. Praeco, Vol. 6 No. 1 p.3  See accompanying images for these advertisements and Praeco, Vol.3 No.7 p.4; Vol.5 No.2 p. 25 regarding its own demise. Newark Advocate, OH April 25, 1908; It is, however, possible that A. was an adjunct, in which case his name would not appear in catalogs. The Classical Weekly, Vol. 3, No. 17 (Feb. 19, 1910), p. 143 Tusculan, p. xvi  This claim is based both on an astonishing similarity of lay-out between the two textbooks and a personal account of Ørberg’s visit to Vivarium Novum in (or around) the year 2003 when he discussed the research that went into the composition of his own textbook.  “Arcadius Avellanus: Erasmus Redivivus.” The Classical Journal.Vol. 42, No. 8 (May, 1947), p.508; A reviewer remarks on this in The School Review, Vol. 12, No. 10 (Dec., 1904), pp. 825-826 Palaestra, p. 40  For a discussion of this see Forbes’ review in The Classical Weekly, Vol. 9, No. 19 (Mar. 11, 1916), pp. 149-151 Insula Thesauraria. Avellanus, Arcadius. Philadelphia: Mount Hope Series Prentice, 1922, pp. x The Radiant Light:a history of St. John’s presented in the Vicentian. Hueppe, Frederick Ernst. New York: C.H. Helmken, 1955. p. 89  St. John’s College, College Chronicle, March, 1918. and idem, February, 1919 and April, 1919.  Though a Hungarian Encyclopedia suggests that he attended (?) St. Joseph’s College (which one is uncertain) and Wooster College. Katolikus Lexikon Magyar, Budapest, 1888:136  “In Rebuttal of Nothing”, Pulgram. Arion, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Autumn, 1964), pp. 94-117 The New Yorker, no. 50 (Feb. 1 , I930); New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 7, I93I. New York Times, June 19, 1935, 19:5; His Will demonstrating his poverty and his death certificate giving his cause of death are on file at Ferncliff Cemetery, in Hartsdale, NY.  ibid.  Pontificiam Commissionem pro Nova Vulgata Bibliorum Editione