A Brief to Princes

Not all of my readers are comfortable in Sanskrit, I would guess – I am not, for example – but to those who are, I have a newspaper to recommend. It is called Sudharma and has been published at Mysore, in Karnataka, daily, for the last forty years – more or less, whenever possible.

As a newspaper junkie, I first became aware of it during a visit to India, twenty years ago. It was struggling then. There were few advertisements, and there were distribution problems. Subscribers could get it by mail, but newsvendors were refusing to carry it, on the grounds that no one, or hardly anyone, asked for it. I gather it is still struggling.

The founder, Varadaraja Iyengar, was an impressive man: not only publisher but founder of schools and Hindu charities; Sanskrit revivalist to a generation of Indian boys and girls. His own children, and theirs, carry his torch and banner.

Fortunately, Sudharma’s editors remain fanatics, to this day.

Most days, they have a Sanskrit college behind them, and the income from their little printing house, which also does wedding invitations, banking forms, and the odd advertising flyer. Too, a few thousand loyal subscribers, mostly well-educated Brahmin priests. For years, they could also rely on All India Radio, whose daily news bulletin in Sanskrit was sure to mention them.

Too, they have a monopoly. No other Sanskrit daily has arisen to challenge it. If you want to read the news in Sanskrit, or obtain a regular supply of crossword puzzles in that language, you have nowhere else to turn. Sudharma can also claim to be India’s oldest Sanskrit daily.

These days, the New York Times has the same problems, along with every other newspaper of which I am aware. Like Sudharma, it is struggling with a world that has lost its respect for hard copy, thanks to the Internet and several other things. The Gutenberg revolution has been deflected.

In my humble but untiring opinion, this was a mistake. Readers are ill-served by media that won’t hold still. No one can argue with a mass market, but for a minority, the advantages of printing – as of copied script before it – remain unanswerable. Readers need no special devices, will not be distracted by messages popping up, and “as studies have shown,” reading comprehension and retention is far, far greater for the printed word.


Granted, the Internet has 1,001 household uses, but it is also an idiotizing force. And, the more interactive it becomes, the more it subverts writers, too, encouraging all of their worst habits, especially the lapse into non-linear thought. Journalists, I have found, now think mostly “outside the box,” and can’t seem to find their ways back in. Non-journalists begin to think like journalists – leaving nothing in their minds except ideological fixations.

We need newspapers again, and in particular, we need a newspaper in Latin. Sudharma might serve as an inspiration for that.

I imagine something daily, on a single folded broadsheet. In the likely absence of advertisements, it would hold a lot of words. Those, I suggest, ought to be well chosen.

Why Latin? a glib reader might ask. Surely a single intelligent paper, providing a comprehensive survey of current events in our present international language of English, would be a sufficiently shocking innovation?

But think again: anything that could be read by almost anyone would be too dangerous.

An honest and rational account of what is happening in the world would have to be politically incorrect, in the extreme. People would be outraged, and the ACLU would move to suppress it right away. There would be protests, and attacks by Antifa; racism, misogyny, homophobia, would be alleged. The staff would not be safe to come to work.

Anyone caught reading it near a university would immediately be surrounded by shrieking harpies, and their careers in academia or elsewhere would end. Something like the #MeToo movement would be launched on Twitter, to root these people out.

Whereas, a newspaper in Latin would pass right under the progressive radar. Only those who could read Latin would take it, and almost all of them are mentally stable. Others would be trying to learn Latin, so they could also find out what is going on. Their efforts would contribute to the Catholic underground, where Latin use is spreading.

Latin is crucial to the cause of mental order. Unlike English, it is a language that “privileges” reason and intellectual consistency. It is extremely difficult to write or talk nonsense in grammatical Latin, though easy enough in almost any modern language. “Literary theory,” for instance, will not work in Latin.

As Reggie Foster, OCD – everyone’s favorite Latin-teaching curmudgeon – would put it to his students: “I don’t care about your garbage literary theory! If you don’t know what time of day it is, or what your name is, or where you are, don’t try Latin because it will smear you on the wall like an oil spot.”

That’s exactly what we need, but don’t have in our world: a little elitist island of sanity and spiritual calm, with all the drollness of Cicero and of Horace revived. For the “modern” Latin of the 19th century and forward has little “evolved” from its medieval and classical antecedents, and only needs new coinages for a few proper nouns.

A daily newspaper in Latin would be a means to their discovery, and more generally to re-establish Latin in the commerce of everyday life. As an international language, it would facilitate exchange between persons of diverse linguistic backgrounds, and restore some of the genuine cosmopolitanism that was eliminated by 16th-century “Reforms.”

What title shall we give this brave enterprise? Let me suggest, Brevium ad Principes, the title over dispatches of the old Vatican dicastery, turned into a mere Latin translation bureau in the squalor of post-Vatican II. “Briefs to Princes.” A fine ring to it, don’t you think?


*Image: Mercurius Hungaricus, the first Hungarian newspaper published (in Latin) between 1705 and 1710 [OSZK, Elektronikus Periodika Archívum]

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.