OLD POLISH ON-LINE
E Y E
T H E
Laurentius Grimalius Goslicius
(Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki)
and His Treatise of the Ideal Senator
In 1568, during a period of study at the Italian universities, the Polish jurist (later diplomat and bishop) Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki (Laurentius Grimalius Goslicius) published a Latin treatise on political issues entitled
De Optimo Senatore
(On the Ideal Senator). Goslicius is one of the few writers of the Polish Renaissance to have enjoyed a protracted if somewhat intermittent presence in the history of political discourse in the English-speaking countries, lasting virtually from the date of its
until the twentieth century and continuing to be of scholarly interest to researchers of constitutional history in Early Modern Europe.
Goslicius' book, which was issued by the well-known Venetian publisher Giordano Ziletti, addressed current issues in contemporary Polish political and public affairs, but was also intended for an international audience and indeed elicited an international response, obtaining a second edition in Basel (1593). It must have reached England pretty soon after its original publication, no doubt brought over by English travellers to Italy. At least two of its English translations done before 1585 are extant in manuscripts, and one of them (a bowdlerised version) was published in London in 1598 as
. Key passages on Goslicius' Counter-Reformation religious stance and on elective monarchy were removed. In the 17
century the book continued to interest English readers in the constitutional debate between Royalists and Roundheads. In 1660 large passages from the 1598 edition reappeared, with the original ideas severely mutilated, in a pamphlet attacking the Cromwellian republic. Another English translation was published in 1733, by William Oldisworth, one-time editor of the Tory newspaper
and veteran of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. Following the defeat of the uprising Oldisworth fled to France, where he probably met another French protégé, Stanisław Leszczyński, the exiled king of Poland. Oldisworth's Accomplished Senator is the most professional of the English translations of
De Optimo Senatore
(it includes all of the previously suppressed religious material, with only one significant interference), but is supplemented with the translator's lengthy commentary full of false assertions and misrepresentations, which earmark it as another instance of manipulation. Finally in the 20
century an unfounded claim was put forward alleging that Goslicius served the drafters of the American Declaration of Independence as a model for ideas on democracy (whereas in fact he was extremely critical of the Polish "noblemen's democracy").
To present his political message and prescription for "the felicitie of Common-weales" Goslicius employed a traditional literary formula, the speculum or mirror, the origins of which went back to ancient times and which was still highly popular in the 15th and 16
centuries as a convenient instrument for political statements made in writing. Initially specula had been mirrors of princes – treatises in which an author invited the king or prince he wanted to praise and promote – to "look into the mirror of the princely virtues and see himself reflected therein". By the Renaissance the
speculum regis or de institutione principis
(on the education of the prince) had developed derivatives, mirrors of the king's ministers or counsellors. In his mirror of the Ideal Senator Goslicius extolled the political distinction and prerogatives of the Senate in a tripartite Mixed Republic composed of King, Senate (the Upper House), and People (the Lower House of the Parliament), at a time when in his own country a controversy between the latter two component parts of the
was rearing towards, then passing through its apogee, bringing defeat for the august Senate and the ceding of rights to a victorious Lower House of Sejm, representing the People, in other words the enfranchised
or Polish gentry. In the aftermath of the turbulent sessions of Sejm of the early and mid-1560s marking the definitive ascendancy of the
at the expense of the aristocratic Senate, which he must have observed from outside Poland during his Italian sojourn, Goslicius was championing, diplomatically but certainly not apologetically, the cause of the losing party. Moreover, in the years following the close of the Council of Trent when the Counter-Reformation was only starting out and Poland was still a profoundly multi-denominational society, Goslicius resorted to the ideas and language of the Tridentine resolutions, overtly identifying with the principal senators of Poland, the Roman Catholic bishops, whose status in the secular affairs of the state had been seriously challenged by a preponderantly Protestant lower house. While not denying the political rights of the People (as represented by their deputies in the lower house), he called for the containment of what he considered the dangerously inordinate demands of the "democratic element" in the Mixed State. In anticipation of the extinction of the Jagiellon dynasty (which actually happened four years later) he advocated an elective monarchy limited by the law and governing in close co-operation with the Senate and People. All this, couched in an elegant Latin full of references to Cicero, the historians, philosophers and "most excellent" lawgivers of Antiquity, found a ready response in Europe, particularly in England, where it circulated in the legal profession, which was attuned to the notion of a mixed state as propounded in Sir Thomas Smith's
De Republica Anglorum
By the mid-1580s Goslicius' treatise appears to have reached the hands of law students at Cambridge. A volume containing a translation of Book One of
De Optimo Senatore
, by one Robert Chester, is preserved in the manuscript section of the British Library. It carries a letter of dedication to Justice Thomas Meade of the Court of Common Pleas (who died in 1585), suggesting that the translator was a Robert Chester of Royston in Cambridgeshire, not far away from Justice Meade's home at Elmdon in Essex. If this identification is right, then the translator was a student of nineteen at the time and probably translated Goslicius' work as a gift for Justice Meade, in the hope of patronage for a start in a career in the legal profession in London. The translation, redolent of the type of shortcomings one may expect of a novice in the art of translation, stops at the end of Book One. Presumably the translator lost his incentive after the Judge's death. Robert Chester did not establish himself in the London legal milieu until much later; he became a member of the Middle Temple in 1599, at the age of 36. The fact that Goslicius' work was available to a nineteen-year-old Cambridge undergraduate by 1584/85 says a lot for its circulation in England.
Another manuscript translation from the same period survives in the Ogden Collection of University College at London University. The translator (or translators) are unknown, but the text entails both books and has the dates April 9 and May 23, 1584, entered at the end of Books One and Two respectively. This translation, with only a slight amount of editorial amendment, was published in 1598 as
. In 1607 part of the edition was fitted out with a new title,
A Common-wealth of Good Counsaile
, and a new title-page. Both versions are curious already at first glance, because they reproduce Goslicius' original dedication to Sigismund Augustus, King of Poland, who by that time had been deceased for over a quarter-century. There is no trace in them of the customary local patronage that usually accompanied the publication of translations. Yet it is unlikely that the translation could have been published without an English sponsoring party to secure it financially. The other remarkable feature in this translation is the absence of a large section of the Tridentine material on the pre-eminent position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the secular state, and on the preferability of elective to hereditary monarchy. The translation was pre-censored already by the Ogden Manuscript stage – long before it was entered in the Stationers' Register on 6 March 1598. The 1598 publication of
was essentially a bowdlerised version of Goslicius' original, diametrically different on two key issues. With these two amputations, there was no need for any official proscription, as is sometimes alleged; the translation was perfectly fit to be passed by the Elizabethan censoring authority supervising the procedure for entry in the Stationers' Register. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the translation was published as part of a diplomatic campaign following a debacle in English-Polish relations in the summer of 1597, when Queen Elizabeth felt offended by a forthright speech delivered during a public audience by a Polish ambassador with a complaint from the King of Poland. It was feared that her impulsive retort could be taken by her Polish counterpart Sigismund III as an insult and thereby prompt him into an alliance with England's arch-enemy, Philip II of Spain. While congratulating her on her reply, Elizabeth's ministers took action to counteract any potential setbacks in relations with Poland. They instructed their diplomatic representative in Poland to effect a reconciliation. Surviving documents state overtly that even before he left England (August 1597), Ambassador Działyński was informed that steps would be taken to protect English interests (mainly commercial) in Poland by "procuring men among the Senators whose goodwill was already ensured." By this time Goslicius was already a bishop and senator with a reputation for diplomatic versatility, having successfully thwarted a Jesuit attempt to take over the University of Kraków and also as the only ecclesiastical senator to have signed a second instalment of the Warsaw Confederation (1587), a document guaranteeing religious toleration which newly elected monarchs were required to sign before ascending the Polish throne. All the indications are that
of 1598, with the manipulative devices behind it, was part and parcel of a diplomatic campaign, and that it was quietly sponsored by Elizabeth's government as an approved translation at home, and a complimentary token of apology in Poland. Corroboration for such a conclusion comes in an address made to Goslicius in a 1599/1600 publication by his countryman, the writer and diplomat Krzysztof Warszewicki (Varsevicius):
On receiving reliable information from someone that in England there is no other book more popular with readers but your own
De Optimo Senatore
, I think no-one will doubt how much glory
De Optimo Senatore
will bring not only you but also all of our nation.
Goslicius continued to be read in England during the pamphlet war between the Royalists and the Roundheads, who referred to Poland and the Scandinavian countries as viable examples of limited monarchy. In 1660, following the restoration of the monarchy, one J.G. Gent. (identified in the Wing Catalogue as John Grimefield) published a pamphlet entitled
The Sage Senator Delineated
, which was in fact a manipulative plagiarism of
, large extracts of which were reproduced in a rearranged order, supplemented by scurrilous invective against the regicides and a eulogy of the Divine Right of Kings. Goslicius' work had been parasitised to convey the very opposite meaning of its original message.
After another seven decades yet another English translation appeared, this time by a professional translator of the Classics and journalist, William Oldisworth. Again his motive was not exactly academic objectivity. Oldisworth had been a Tory controversialist, editor of
and a combatant in the Jacobite uprising of 1715. In the aftermath of defeat he fled to France, where he stayed many years and probably met another political exile and French protégé, Stanisław Leszczyński, pretender to the Polish throne. It was probably from Leszczyński's entourage that Oldisworth learned of Goslicius' treatise and translated it into a mellifluous English, by far the most elegant of all the translations.
The Accomplished Senator
, which he published in 1733 dedicating it to the victorious Whigs in a vain attempt to effect a rehabilitation in England, contains all the material excised in
and (except for a single detail on religious matters) is faithful to the spirit and letter of Goslicius' text. Yet it still manipulated the original, by supplying it with a lengthy preface full of erroneous information on Goslicius, e.g. by shifting his biography about thirty years back in order to conceal the fact that Goslicius was a Counter-Reformation ecclesiast. Despite his application of a subtle, more devious mode of manipulating Goslicius' original message, Oldisworth's translation failed to bring him the public comeback he wanted: a year later he died in a debtor's jail.
But that was not the end of Goslicius' long-lasting, though not exactly authentic representation in the history of political ideas in the English-speaking countries. From the late 16
century and throughout the conflict between the King and Parliament in 17
-century England, Goslicius had been considered an international author who advocated a republican form of government (as opposed to the rising tide of absolutism), and as such earned himself a place on the bookshelves of those English families who sympathised with republicanism and/or were interested in political curiosities. When members of these families settled in the Thirteen Colonies, they took their books and their ideas with them. In this way numerous copies of Goslicius' treatise and its translations crossed the Atlantic to find themselves in collections like Thomas Jefferson's private library. But we should be clear on one point: Goslicius could certainly be, and was, regarded as a proponent of republicanism of the "mixed state" type with a King, a Senate, and a Lower House representing the People. But he was definitely not in favour of "democracy" as we know it today – that is the concept of democracy as outlined in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal
, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
He did not subscribe to the notion of "all men being created equal" and made his standpoint plain in
De Optimo Senatore
as a defender of the senators in the upper house of the Polish parliament, beleaguered at the time by members of the lower house, who were claiming more political rights. Indeed, he was critical and apprehensive of the "democrats" of his age, the Polish
represented in the lower house of Sejm, and warned that their endeavours to acquire more political rights would upset the delicate balance in the mixed state Poland was considered to be, and lead to disaster. Yet in the early 20th century, soon after the restoration of Poland's independence after 123 years of subjection to foreign powers, Tytus Filipowicz, an associate of Piłsudski and later Polish Ambassador to the United States, presumably in a gesture of amity and gratitude to President Woodrow Wilson for promoting the Polish cause at the Treaty of Versailles, concocted a theory that Goslicius' book had "inspired the American Declaration of Independence." Filipowicz could not have read the book, or at least not devoted much attention to what he was reading. He presented his hypothesis in an after-dinner speech at the 1932 Annual Meeting of the American Society for International Law, and was introduced with subtle irony by the master of ceremonies: "It is almost unbelievable, but it is a fact that the ambassador who I am shortly to introduce is not merely familiar with the British Museum, having seen it from the top of a bus, or having the automobile in which he was riding pass it; he has actually entered the British Museum, he has fingered its treasures, and he is here tonight to show that an ambassador may be a scholar to his fingertips, and how lightly he may wear his learning." Nonetheless, Filipowicz's fantastic claim was soon to find employment in the propaganda campaigns of the Second World War and during the Cold War that followed. It was broadcast in
The Miracle of the Good Senator
, a private publication dated 3 May 1941 and issued by a New York lawyer and an academic from Alliance College, Pennsylvania, and later taken up by numerous other authors (some connected with the Hoover Institution), none of whom thought of actually reading the book to check whether Goslicius could justifiably be regarded as the harbinger of American democracy. The fabrication was finally challenged during the Polish Renaissance Conference held at the University of Indiana (Bloomington) in 1982, to the amazement of its hitherto advocates, who heard that there were no grounds to suppose that Goslicius, a 16
-century critic of the 16
-century Polish notion of democracy, could have "inspired" the pioneers of American democracy in the late 18
century. Many, especially in the American Polonia community, who had taken the claim
as a scientific truth, were no doubt disappointed, and some still cling on to it...
But the impact Goslicius' treatise on the Ideal Senator has made on the intellectual heritage of the English-speaking cultures did not stop at the history of political ideas. In 1904 the eminent Shakespeare scholar Sir Israel Gollancz noticed a parallel between the character of Polonius ("the man from Poland") in Shakespeare's
Hamlet Prince of Denmark
De Optimo Senatore
, the 1598 English publication of which preceded by just a few years the issue of the first and second quarto editions of Shakespeare's play (1603 and 1604/5, viz. only a matter of months one after another).
must therefore have been more or less synchronous with the play's performance in either (or both) of its early Shakespearean forms. Curiously, one of the major differences between the texts of the first and second quartos of
is the name of the character: in the "Good Quarto", the version issued just somewhat later, the pompous old counsellor at the court of the king of Denmark is called "Polonius", but in the much shorter text of the "Bad Quarto" he is known as "Corambis". He appears under a similar name, "Corambus", in a German version of the play known to have been performed on the Continent in the 17th century. Gollancz observed that there were many striking similarities between some lines from the play known as Polonius' Precepts and numerous passages from
and conjectured that Shakespeare had modelled his character on ideas he found in Goslicius' book. He published his remarks in 1904 and 1916. In 1960 J.A. Teslar elaborated on them (in "Shakespeare's Worthy Counsellor",
Sacrum Poloniae Millennium
, 7: 9–144), adducing several long passages from
which he claimed were Shakespeare's models for each of Polonius' Precepts. Unfortunately he did not take into account the fact that the Precepts are a theatrical presentation of a string of Renaissance commonplaces repeated in diverse
, which were extremely popular in Elizabethan England, and as such have elicited a number of suggestions for potential sources of Polonius' speech, all of them with as good a claim as
In the 1920s Sir Edmund Chambers, another distinguished Shakespeare scholar, observed that the Polish ambassador's public audience with Queen Elizabeth in the summer of 1597 was followed within a matter of days by a notorious incident in one of the suburban theatres. The now lost play
The Isle of Dogs
was declared "lewd" and taken off the stage; warrants were issued for the arrest of its creators, Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson, the latter of whom was caught and imprisoned in the Tower; and all the playhouses were closed for the entire summer season. On the grounds of a reference to the incident made later by Nashe, Chambers speculated that the reason for the suppression might have been an impromptu satirical quip on the king of Poland – definitely not in the interest of Elizabeth's ministers and the municipal authorities of London, whose problems with the handling of public discontent following the ambassador's audience would only have been aggravated. The incident must certainly have haunted the memories of the entire community of actors and playwrights, since they all suffered financially as a result of it. It would therefore be quite reasonable to expect some sort of wary allusions, their reaction to the punitive measures, especially their resentment, to be expressed on the stage after a certain time when the immediate danger of more repressive measures had subsided. If, as historical documents and the blighted quality of translation in the text of
indicate, the book's publication was prompted by a need to use it in the diplomatic efforts I have described above, its contents would have provided ready fodder for the voracious satirist that Shakespeare undeniably was. And, sure enough, passages (apart from the commonplace maxims of Polonius' Precepts) can be found in
– especially the fuller Second Quarto version in which the name "Polonius" appears for the first time – which may be juxtaposed with extracts from
to produce a macabre, satirical effect, redolent of black humour. The name "Polonius" itself might well have been used on the stage interchangeably with the inoffensive "Corambis", whenever it was safe to make a sly reference to the incident with the ambassador which the authorities wanted to ban from the theatres. Some Shakespearean scholars have pointed out that the character of Polonius the dotard counsellor might have been perceived by contemporary audiences as a satire on Elizabeth's aged minister, William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Such an interpretation does not rule out the character's association with
; quite on the contrary, the Goslicius link is fully concordant with the picture of Polonius as a satirical depiction of Burghley, since Burghley and his son Robert Cecil were the ministers responsible for the reception of foreign ambassadors, and in the eyes of public opinion they were regarded as excessively open to foreign influence. Moreover, they ran an elaborate network of spies and informers, employed among other things for the control of theatre performances. And above all, they were also the key decision-makers in Elizabeth's diplomatic service – the most likely figures behind the anonymous government sponsorship of the publication of
All these circumstances bring Gollancz's observations first made in 1904, and Chambers' subsequent hypothesis linking the Polish ambassador's visit with the suppression of
The Isle of Dogs
, out of the realm of mere guesswork and closer to documented fact. Neither of these erudite Shakespeare connoisseurs had recourse to the Polish records of the embassy, indispensable to build up a fuller picture of the developments as reported by both parties; and neither of them scrutinised those lines from
which cannot be reduced to typical Renaissance adages for echoes of
. It seems that the English translation of Goslicius' treatise in its 1598 edition has been rightly accorded a place among Shakespeare's sources.
This essay was compiled on the basis of my monographic book,
Goslicius' Ideal Senator and His Cultural Impact Over the Centuries: Shakespearean Reflections
(The Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences & The Jagiellonian University, 2009). T.B-U.