Imatges de pÓgina

that was, it is a point that seems generally allowed, that he and Pacuvius were the two best tragic poets the Romans ever had. Spence.


§ 45. Of the Rise of Satire: Of LUCILIUS, LUCRETIUS, and CATULLUS. All this while, that is, for above one hundred years, the stage, as you see, was almost solely in possession of the Roman poets. It was now time for the other kinds of poetry to have their turn; however, the first that sprung up and flourished to any degree, was still a scyon from the same root. What I mean, is Satire; the produce of the old comedy. This kind of poetry had been attempted in a different manner by some of the former writers, and in particular by Ennius: but it was so altered and so improved by Lucilius, that he was called the inventor of it. This was a kind of poetry wholly of the Roman growth; and the only one they had that was so; and even as to this, Lucilius improved a good deal by the side lights he borrowed from the old comedy at Athens. Not long after, Lucretius brought their poetry acquainted with philosophy Catullus began to shew the Romans something of the excellence of the Greek lyric poets. Lucretius discovers a great deal of spirit wherever his subject will give him leave; and the first moment he steps a little aside from it, in all his digressions he is fuller of life and fire, and appears to have been of a more poetical turn, than Virgil himself; which is partly acknowledged in the fine compliment the latter seems to pay him in his Georgics. His subject of ten obliges him to go on heavily for an hundred lines together; but wherever he breaks out, he breaks out like lightning from a dark cloud; all at once, with force and brightness. His character in this agrees with what is said of him: that a philtre he took had given him a frenzy, and that he wrote in his lucid intervals. He and Catullus wrote, when letters in general began to flourish at Rome much more than ever they had done. Catullus was too wise to rival him; and was the most admired of all his cotemporaries, in all the different ways of writing he at tempted. His odes perhaps are the least valuable part of his works. The strokes of satire in his epigrams are very severe; and the descriptions in his Idylliums, very 'full and picturesque. He paints strongly;

but all his paintings have more of force than elegance, and put one more in mind of Homer than Virgil.

With these I shall choose to close the first age of the Roman poetry: an age more remarkable for strength than for refinement in writing. I have dwelt longer on it perhaps than I ought; but the order and succession of these poets wanted much to be settled: and I was obliged to say something of each of them, because I may have recourse to each on some occasion or another, in shewing you my collection. All that remains to us of the poetical works of this age, are the miscellaneous poems of Catullus; the philosophical poem of Lucretius; six comedies by Terence; and twenty by Plautus. Of all the rest, there is nothing left us, except some passages from their works as happened to be quoted by the ancient writers, and particularly by Cicero and the old critics.


$46. Of the Criticisms of CICERO, HORACE, and QUINCTILIAN on the above Writers.

The best way to settle the characters and merits of these poets of the first age, where so little of their own works remains, is by considering what is said of them by the other Roman writers, who were well acquainted with their works. The best of the Roman critics we can consult now, and perhaps the best they ever had, are Cicero, Horace, and Quinctilian. If we compare their sentiments of these poets together, we shall find a disagreement in them; but a disagreement which I think may be accounted for, without any great difficulty. Cicero, (as he lived before the Roman Poetry was brought to perfection, and possibly as no very good judge of poetry himself) seems to think more highly of them than the others. He gives up Livius indeed; but then he makes it up in commending Nævius. All the other comic poets he quotes often with respect; and as to the tragic, he carries it so far as to seem strongly inclined to oppose old Ennius to Eschylus, Pacuvius to Sophocles, and Actius to Euripides.—This high notion of the old poets was probably the general fashion in his time; and it continued afterwards (especially among the more elderly sort of people) in the Augustan age; and indeed much longer. Horace, in his epistle to Augustus, combats it as a vulgar error in

rather too severe.

his time; and perhaps it was an error from which that prince himself was not wholly free. However that be, Horace, on this occasion, enters into the question very fully, and with a good deal of warmth. The character he gives of the old dramatic poets (which indeed includes all the poets I have been speaking of, except Lucilius, Lucretius, and Catullus), is perhaps He says, "That their language was in a great degree superannuated, even in his time; that they are often negligent and incorrect; and that there is generally a stiffness in their compositions: that people indeed might pardon these things in them, as the fault of the times they lived in; but that it was provoking they should think of commend ing them for those very faults." In another piece of his, which turns pretty much on the same subject, he gives Lucilius's character much in the same manner. He owns, "that he had a good deal of wit; but then it is rather of the farce kind, than true genteel wit. He is a rapid writer, and has a great many good things in him; but is often very superfluous and incorrect; his language is dashed affectedly with Greek; and his verses are hard and unharmonious."-Quinctilian steers the middle way between both. Cicero perhaps was a little misled by his nearness to their times; and Horace by his subject, which was professedly to speak against the old writers. Quinctilian, therefore, does not commend them so generally as Cicero, nor speak against them so strongly as Horace; and is perhaps more to be depended upon, in this case, than either of them. He compares the works of Ennius to some sacred grove, in which the old oaks look rather venerable than pleasing. He commends Pacuvius and Actius, for the strength of their language and the force of their sentiments; but says, "they wanted that polish which was set on the Roman poetry afterwards." He speaks of Plautus and Cæcilius, as applauded writers: of Terence, as a most elegant, and of Afranius, as an excellent one; but they all, says he, fall infinitely short of the grace and beauty which is to be found in the Attic writers of comedy, and which is perhaps peculiar to the dialect they wrote


To conclude: According to him, Lucilius is too much cried up by many, and too much run down by Horace; Lucretius is more to be read for his matter than for his style; and Catullus is remark

[blocks in formation]

The first age was only as the dawning of the Roman poetry, in comparison of the clear full light that opened all at once afterwards, under Augustus Cæsar. The state which had been so long tending towards a monarchy, was quite settled down to that form by this prince. When he had no longer any dangerous opponents, he grew mild, or at least concealed the cruelty of his temper. He gave peaco and quiet to the people that were fallen into his hands; and looked kindly on the improvement of all the arts and elegancies of life among them. He had a minister, too, under him, who (though a very bad writer himself) knew how to encourage the best; and who admitted the best poets, in particular, into a very great share of friendship and intimacy with him. Virgil was one of the foremost in his list; who, at his first setting out, grew soon their most applauded writer for genteel pastorals; then gave them the most beautiful and most correct poem that ever was wrote in the Roman language, in his rules of agriculture (so beautiful, that some of the ancients seem to accuse Virgil of having studied beauty too much in that piece); and last of all, undertook a political poem, in support of the new establishment. I have thought this to be the intent of the Eneid, ever since I first read Bossu; and the more one considers it, the more I think one is confirmed in that opinion. Virgil is said to have begun this poem the very year that Augustus was freed from his great rival Antony: the government of the Roman empire was to be wholly in him: and though he chose to be called their father, he was, in every thing but the name, their king. This monarchical form of government must naturally be apt to displease the people. Virgil seems to have laid the plan of his poem to reconcile them to it. He takes advantage of their religious turn; and of some old prophecies that must have been very flattering to the Roman people, as promising them the empire of the whole world: he weaves this in with the most probable account of their origin, that of their being descended from the Trojans. To be a little more particular: Virgil, in his Eneid, shews that

Eneas was called into their country by the express order of the gods; that he was made a king of it, by the will of heaven, and by all the human rights that could be; that there was an uninterrupted succession of kings from him to Romulus; that his heirs were to reign there for ever; and that the Romans, under them, were to obtain the monarchy of the world. It appears from Virgil, and the other Roman writers, that Julius Cæsar was of the royal race, and that Augustus was his sole heir. The natural result of all this is, that the promises made to the Roman people, in and through this race, terminating in Augustus, the Romans, if they would obey the gods, and be masters of the world, were to yield obedience to the new establishment under that prince. As odd a scheme as this may seem now, it is scarce so odd as that of some people among us, who persuaded themselves, that an absolute obedience was Owing to our kings, on their supposed descent from some unknown patriarch: and yet that had its effects with many, about a century ago; and seems not to have quite lost all its influence, even in our remembrance. However that be, I think it appears plain enough, that the two great points aimed at by Virgil in his Eneid, were to maintain their old religious tenets, and to support the new form of govern ment in the family of the Cæsars. That poem therefore may very well be considered as a religious and political work, or rather (as the vulgar religion with them was scarce any thing more than an engine of state) it may fairly enough be consider ed as a work merely political. If this was the case, Virgil was not so highly encouraged by Augustus and Mæcenas for nothing. To speak a little more plainly: He wrote in the service of the new usurpation on the state: and all that can be offered in vindication of him in this light is, that the usurper he wrote for, was grown a tame one; and that the temper and bent of their constitution, at that time, was such, that the reins of government must have fallen into the hands of some one person or another; and might probably, on any new revolution, have fallen into the hands of some one less mild and indulgent than Augustus was, at the time when Virgil wrote this poem in his serBut whatever may be said of his reasons for writing it, the poem itself has been highly applauded in all ages, from its first appearance to this day; and though


left unfinished by its author, has been always reckoned as much superior to all the other epic poems among the Romans, as Homer's is among the Greeks. Spence.

§ 48. Observations on the ENEID, and the Author's Genius.

It preserves more to us of the religion of the Romans, than all the other Latin poets (excepting only Ovid) put together: and gives us the forms and appearances of their deities, as strongly as if we had so many pictures of them preserved to us, done by some of the best hands in the Augustan age. It is remarkable that he is commended by some of the ancients themselves, for the strength of his imagination as to this particular, though in general that is not his character, so much as exactness. He was certainly the most correct poet even of his time; in which all false thoughts and idle ornaments in writing were discouraged and it is as certain, that there is but little of invention in his Eneid; much less, I believe, than is generally imagined. Almost all the little facts in it are built on history; and even as to the particular lines, no one perhaps ever borrowed more from the poets that preceded him, than he did. He goes so far back as to old Ennius: and often inserts whole verses from him, and some other of their earliest writers. The obsoleteness of their style, did not hinder him much in this: for he was a particular lover of their old language; and no doubt inserted many more antiquated words in his poem than we can discover at present. Judgment is his distinguishing character; and his great excellence consisted in choosing and ranging things aright. Whatever he borrowed, he had the skill of making his own, by weaving it so well into his work, that it looks all of a piece; even those parts of his poems, where this may be most practised, resembling a fine piece of Mosaic, in which all the parts, though of such different marbles, unite together; and the various shades and colours are so artfully disposed as to melt off insensibly into one another.

One of the greatest beauties in Virgil's private characters was, his modesty and good-nature. He was apt to think humbly of himself, and handsomely of others: and was ready to shew his love of merit, even where it might seem to clash with

his own. He was the first who recommended Horace to Mæcenas. Spence.

$49. Of HORACE.

Horace was the fittest man in the world for a court where wit was so particularly encouraged. No man seems to have had more, and all of the genteelest sort; or to have been better acquainted with mankind. His gaiety, and even his debauchery, made him still the more agreeable to Mæcenas: so that it is no wonder that his acquaintance with that Minister grew up to so high a degree of friendship, as is very uncommon between a first Minister and a poet; and which had possibly such an effect on the latter, as one shall scarce ever hear of between any two friends the most on a level: for there is some room to conjecture, that he hastened himself out of this world to accompany his great friend in the next. Horace has been most generally celebrated for his lyric poems; in which he far excelled all the Roman poets, and perhaps was no unworthy rival of several of the Greek which seems to have been the height of his ambition. His next point of erit, as it has been usually reckoned, was his refining satire; and bringing it from the coarseness and harshness of Lucilius to that genteel, easy manner, which he, and perhaps nobody but he and one person more in all the ages since, has ever possess ed. I do not remember that any one of the ancients says any thing of his Epistles: and this has made me sometimes imagine, that his Epistles and Satires might originally have passed under one and the same name; perhaps that of Sermons. They are generally written in a style approaching to that of conversation; and are so much alike, that several of the satires might just as well be called epistles, as several of his epistles have the spirit of satire in them. This latter part of his works, by whatever name you please to call them (whether satires and epistles, or discourses in verse on moral and familiar subjects) is what, I must own, I love much better, even than the lyric part of his works. It is in these that he shews that talent for criticism, in which he so very much excelled; especially in his long epistle to Augustus; and that other to the Piso's, commonly called his Art of Poetry. They abound in strokes which shew his great knowledge of mankind, and in that pleasing way he had of teaching philosophy, of laughing away vice, and insinuating virtue,

into the minds of his readers. They may serve, as much as almost any writings can, to make men wiser and better: for he has the most agreeable way of preaching that ever was. He was, in general, an honest good man himself: at least he does not seem to have had any one ill-natured vice about him. Other poets we admire; but there is not any of the ancient poets that I could wish to have been acquainted with, so much as Horace. One cannot be very conversant with his writings, without having a friendship for the man; and longing to have just such another as he was, for one's friend. Ibid.


In that happy age, and in the same court, flourished Tibullus. He enjoyed the acquaintance of Horace, who mentions him in a kind and friendly manner, both in his Odes and in his Epistles. Tibullus is evidently the most exact and most beautiful writer of love-verses among the Romans, and was esteemed so by their best judges; though there were some, it seems, even in their better ages of writing and judging, who prefered Propertius to him. Tibullus's talent seems to have been only for elegiac verse: at least his compliment on Messala (which is his only poem out of it) shews, I think, too plainly that he was neither designed for heroic verse, nor panegyric. Elegance is as much his distinguishing character, among the elegiac writers of this age, as it is Terence's among the comic writers of the former; and if his subject will never let him be sublime, his judgment at least always keeps him from being faulty. His rival and cotemporary, Propertius, seems to have set himself too many different models, to copy either of them so well as he might otherwise have done. In one place, he calls himself the Roman Callimachus; in another, he talks of rivalling Philetas: and he is said to have studied Mimnermus, and some other of the Greek lyric writers, with the same view. You may see by this, and the practice of all their poets in general, that it was the constant method of the Romans (whenever they endeavoured to excel) to set some great Greek pattern or other before them. Propertius, perhaps, might have succeeded better, had he fixed on any one of these; and not endeavoured to improve by all of them indifferently. Ovid makes up the triumvirate of the ele

giac writers of this age; and is more loose and incorrect than either of the other. As Propertius followed too many masters, Ovid endeavoured to shine in too many different kinds of writing at the same time. Besides, he had a redundant genius; and almost always chose rather to indulge, than to give any restraint to it. If one was to give any opinion of the different merits of his several works, one should not perhaps be much beside the truth, in saying, that he excels most in his Fasti; then perhaps in his love-verses; next in his heroic epistles; and lastly in his Metamorphoses. As for the verses he wrote after his misfortunes, he has quite lost his spirit in them; and though you may discover some difference in his manner after his banishment came to sit a little lighter on him, his genius never shines out fairly after that fatal stroke. His very love of being witty had forsaken him; though before it seems to have grown upon him when it was least becoming, towards his old age: for his Metamorphoses (which was the last poem he wrote at Rome, and which indeed was not quite finished when he was sent into banishment) has more instances of false wit in it, than perhaps all his former writings put together. One of the things I have heard him most cried up for, in that piece, is his transitions from one story to another. The ancients thought differently of this point; and Quinctilian, where he is speaking of them, endeavours rather to excuse than to commend him on that head. We have a considerable loss in the latter half of this Fasti; and in his Medea which is much commended. Dramatic poetry seems not to have flourished, in proportion to the other sorts of poetry, in the Au gustan age. We scarce hear any thing of the comic poets of that time; and if tragedy had been much cultivated then, the Roman writers would certainly produce some names from it, to oppose to the Greeks, without going so far back as to those of Actius and Pacuvius. Indeed their own critics, in speaking of the dramatic writings of this age, boast rather of single pieces, than of authors: and the two particular tragedies, which they talk of in the highest strain, are the Medea of Ovid, and Varius's Thyestes. However, if it was not the age for plays, it was certainly the age in which almost all the other kinds of poetry were in their greatest excellence at Rome. Spence.

§ 51. Of PHEDRUS.

Under this period of the best writing, I should be inclined to insert Phædrus. For though he published after the good manner of writing was in general on the decline, he flourished and formed his style under Augustus: and his book, though it did not appear until the reign of Tiberius, deserves, on all accounts, to be reckoned among the works of the Augustan age. Fabulæ Æsopa, was probably the title which he gave his fables. He professedly follows Esop in them: and declares, that he keeps to his own manner, even where the subject is of his own invention. By this it appears, that Esop's way of telling stories was very short and plain: for the distinguishing beauty of Phædrus's fables is, their conciseness and simplicity. The taste was so much fallen, at the time when he published them, that both these were objected to him as faults. He used those critics as they deserved. He tells a long, tedious story to those who objected against the conciseness of his style; and answers some others, who condemned the plainness of it, with a run of bombast verses, that have a great many noisy elevated words in them, without any sense Ibid. at the bottom.

§ 52. Of MANILIUS.

Manilius can scarce be allowed a place in this list of the Augustan poets; his poetry is inferior to a great many of the Latin poets, who have wrote in these lower ages, so long since Latin has ceased to be a living Language. There is at least, I believe, no instance in any one poet of the flourishing ages, of such language, of such versification, as we meet with in Manilius; and there is not any one ancient writer that speaks one word of any about such poet those times. I doubt not there were bad poets enough in the Augustan age; but I question whether Manilius may deserve the honour of being reckoned even among the bad poets of that time. What must be said, then, to the many passages in the poem, which relate to the times in which the author lived, and which all have a regard to the Augustan age? If the whole be not a modern forgery, I do not see how one can deny his being of that age; and if it be a modern forgery, it is very lucky that it should agree so exactly, in so many little particulars, with the ancient globe of the heavens, in the Farnese Palace. Al

« AnteriorContinua »