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On the Progressive Change of Poetical
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WILLIAM BLACKWOOD, NO 17, PRINCE'S STREET, EDINBURGH ;
To whom Communications (post paid) may be addressed.
[OLIVER & Boyd, Printers, Edinburgh.]
ON THE PROGRESSIVE CHANGE OF POETICAL STYLE.
Ut unus ab illis numeretur Annus, omnes annos suos conterent. mense -SEXECA.
THE progressive change of poetical exaggerate their defects. The Augustan style, as connected with the reputation age has been too exclusively talked of the poets of different ages, is a deli- about. We have been too bigotted cate theme. It involves the develope- adorers of the poetic spirit, the simment of some niceties; the examination plicity, and the subdued beauty of of some prejudices; and, what is worst, Virgil, Horace, and the other emithe contradiction of some assertions. nent poets their contemporaries. It The importance of the subject may cannot, certainly, be denied, that the perhaps hardly appear commensurate poetry of their period, presents an agwith its minuteness of detail. It can- gregate of excellence which it may be not however be unimportant to have difficult to parallel. For this, howsomething like clear ideas on a matter ever, it is more or less indebted to the which has affected, and will affect, the favourable circumstances under which polite literature of this, and every it was written; nor does it by any other European country.
means follow that these poets were In commencing the present sketch, possessed of genius eminently suit would seem to be needless to go perior to those, either of their own or further back than the Augustan age, of other countries, who have succeedas including the earliest and the best ed them. The commencement of the of what we know of the Roman poetry. poetical literature of all nations, proThe progress of the Greek literature bably, exhibits something like this. was early interrupted by political chan- That it has been the case with English ges. From the age of Æschylus to the poetry, is attempted to be shewn in battle of Chæronæa, is comprehended the course of these remarks. It is only the short interval of ninety-eight indeed natural to expect that the years. In about double that time after earlier efforts of poetry should be upon wards, the Romans began those aggres- the whole the most happy; and for sions, which ended in the second subju- this plain reason, that in poetry as in gation of Greece. To Rome the bestfruit every thing else, originality is much of this conquest was the cultivation of easier when there has been no one to Greek literature, of which the Roman anticipate its sources.
The earlier is indeed a sort of continuation. The poets, Terence, Lucretius, Virgil, and Latin authors condescended to imitate Horace, stood upon the most advanthose models which they could not hope tageous ground. The Latin language to surpass ; and such was the begin- had just attained to a polished reguning of the Augustan age, thesplendour larity-the rude and comparatively of which has diminished that of all antiquated versification of Ennius, and after literature, and in a great measure
of one or two others whose names are blinded posterity to the excellencies now scarcely known, was all with of succeeding authors; whilst, as sham which they had to contend. The fields dows are strongest in an imperfect of poetry were open to them, and they light, it has at the same time led us to culled the flowers which grew at their VOL. VI.
feet. Originality and simplicity then virtue of Italy. From this time the went hand in hand.
writers are few, and scattered at long This, it is quite obvious, could not intervals over a dreary and neglected last long. In proportion as simple tract. The reigns of succeeding emimagery and sentiment were pre- perors, down to Vespasian and Titus, occupied, artificial combinations be- exhibit little else than the annals of came necessary. The change in the cruelty and sensuality; and a poet appoetical style is apparent, accordingly, pears like an oasis of the desert green even in the younger writers of the age in the midst of a scorched and sandy of Augustus. Ovid and Propertius waste. That tendency to the artificial exhibit many marks of what Quin- style, which began with Ovid, attaintilian has described as the depravity of ed, in the hands of Seneca, to all the the Latin style. That quaintness of madness of metaphor and antithesis. expression, pointedness of sentence, Examples of these figures are indeed and elaborate metaphor, in which this to be found in almost every sentence depravily is thought to consist, are of his prose writings, and of the few best known from a selection of passages verses he has left. It is perhaps super, which contain them. In the few ex fluous to remark, that the heavy and ampies here given, such are attempted tasteless tragedies under the name of to be selected as embody the peculiari- Seneca are generally thought to be ties of the style of the age, at the same falsely attributed to the tutor of Nero. time that they illustrate the genius of In his poetical lamentations on his
banishment, he quaintly alludes to the Propertius was one of the latest solitude of Corsica. writers of the Augustan age. He died “ Hic, sola hæc duo sunt, Exul et exilium," young, and his remains have been less And in conclusion of a deprecatory esteemed than they deserve to be, pro- address to the rugged genius of the bably because they are somewhat more place, thus singstinctured with the peculiarities of the Parce religatis, hoc est jam parce sepultis,
" Vivorum cineri sit tua tei ra levis" artificial style than those of his contemporaries. He certainly has not the This taste in the usual course of genius of Ovid, to excuse his want of things soon became subject to a reacsimplicity, to those who make it the tion. It was a permanent one, and first criterion of excellence. Neither the writers from that time downwards has he the equable and plaintive flow are comparatively moderate in the ape of Tibullus : but his elegies exhibit plication of artificial embellishment, occasional bursts of poetry, superior only using it in proportion as they are perhaps to any thing in those of his compelled to do so by the increasing rival. The following passage may necessities of originality. afford some idea of the capabilities of
Lucan was about twenty five years the poet, as well as of the turn of his younger than Seneca. It is needless style.
to dilate upon the well-known char.
acteristics of this admirable poet. He Quicumque illc fuit Puerum qui pinxit Amorem, Nonne putas miras hune habuisse manus? has been, perhaps justly, accused of a Hic primum vidit sine sensu vivere amantes tendency to bombast. The Pharsalia, Idem non frustra ventosas adididit alas,
however, as a whole, has a well-suse Scilicet alterna quoniam jactamur in unda,
tained tone of lofty stoicism, and conNostraque non ullis permanet aura locis;
tains many passages of a force and Et merito hamatis manus est arinata sagittis Et pharetra exhumero Gnossia utroque jacet ;
energy which have not often been Anteferit quoniam, tuti quam cernimus hostem surpassed. It may perhaps be but a Nec quisquam, ex illo vulnere, sanus abit. In me tela mancnt, manet et puerilis imago,
doubtful compliment, that the sceptiSed certe pennas perdidit ille suas ;
cal Pere Hardouin, who has disputed Evolat heu ! nostro quoniam de pectore nunquam the cuthenticity of most of the classics, Assiduusque mco sanguine bella gerit.
Lib. ii. Eleg. rii.
concedes that of Lucan. His language Though generally elegant, however, is much more artificial, and includes and occasionally tender, he is haunted more apparent effort than that of the with a sort of pedantry, which some
best poets of the Augustan period. times weighs down his genius.
His complimentary line to Cato is During the latter portion of the celebrated, reign of Tiberius, began that course “ Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni." of tyranny and debauchery, which
This, however, is not the only comoverlaid and poisoned the genius and pliment he has paid to the Patriot.
Et levibus curis magna perire bona.
Fecit et humano corde volare deum ;
om this en scattered a
pasian and 1 an the y; and are
vrched and i y to the ani ith Ovid
The following fine panegyrical ex
The character is well kept up ;clamations are put into the mouth of his persuasion that he was fated to Brutus.
conquer Rome,-his joy at the omens " Quid, tot durasse per annos, in his favour, and his disregard of Profuit, immunem corrupti moribus ævi ? Hoc solum longæ pretium virtutis habebis,
them when against him,-his intense Accipient alios, facient te bella nocentem." love of Fame and loathing of peaceful
“Quantum, enim, distant a morte silentia Vitæ ?" of Pompey
The passage of the Alps is, in some ** Proh ! quanta est gloria Genti places, "highly wrought. Indeed it Injecisse manum Fatis, vitaque repletos,
seems to be one of the peculiarities of Quod superest donasse Deis!
Lib. iii. Having related the rout of Pom- this poet to give a sort of dramatic, or pey's army, he breaks into these ex
even theatrical effect to some of his clamations; the change of tense from descriptions of natural scenery. the third to the first person plural is
The following passage is remarkastriking, and the concluding thought ble, not only as being a proci
of th strong, and perhaps a little too daring.
strong and pointed metaphorical ex
capable, but also as affording a strik-
which the necessity of originality forces
" Has observatis Valles enavimus astris; plan of his poem, on the second Punic Errantem Campo, et semper media arva videntem, war, has in part been the cause. A
Sidoniis Cynosura regit fidissima nautis.” Lib. iii. work of seventeen books, and consist
Lucan, in his account of Cato's ing of no great single action, but a
march through the Lybian Desert, mounting to something very like what, had already said, “ sideribus novere upon a smaller scale, had been called viam.” Silius strengthens this passage
a Gazette in rhyme," has dreariness by the " enavimus,” which is 66 in the very outset.
Added to this has bold word,” and by additional circumbeen the operation of that criticism stances. which, to the occasional boldness of
The brave obstinacy of Flaminius, Silius, prefers the exaggerated charac- who fights at lake Thrasimene, against » ters and feebler style of Statius. Si- all augury, and under the most unlius Italicus has too easily indulged in favourable circumstances, is pourtraythe pleasure of composition. He was
ed in lively colours. Describing the a man of wealth and leisure; and disorder of the Roman troops, hurrywhen a great man chooses to relax him- ing to the onset, he saysself in verse, few critics are ill-bred Implere, et pugnan, fugientum more petebant: enough to hint the possibility of prolixity. Had he concentrated the and the audacious Consul, in defiance powers, which he has lavished
of dissuading Omens, exclaims his voluminous Epic, into a poem of Augur adest, Ensis."
Sat magnus in hostem the fourth of the length, he would The rout at Cannæ, which, though have stood high as a poet. A very few infinitely more disastrous, includes extracts will amply prove this. His less of picturesque circumstance, is expressions are sometimes very bold, less successfully treated. The diffithough his force, upon the whole, is culty of transferring the interest from much less than that of Lucan. The Hannibal to Fabius, Scipio, and othopening presents a forcible description ers, who, after the decline of his for. of Hannibal, the Hector of the poem. tunes, became “ lords of the ascendIngenio motus avidus fideique sinister
ant," takes much of their attraction
from the latter books of the poem.
“Hinc rupti reboare poli, atque hinc crebra micare Aut, rapidus, fertur per summas passibus Alpes,
Fulmina, et in classein ruere impacabile coelum."
The poems of Statius have been al-
Lib. i. ready mentioned.
Pope has conde.