Изображения страниц



lowing Manilius's poem to pass for what been gradually improving it for above it pretends to be, there is nothing remains two centuries; and in Augustus found a to us of the poetical works of this Augus- prince, whose own inclinations, the temtan age, besides what I have mentioned: per of whose reign, and whose very poliexcept the garden poem of Columella ; tics, led him to nurse all the arts; and pothe little hunting piece of Gratius; and, etry, in a more particular manner. The perhaps, an elegy or two of Gallus. wonder is, when they had got so far to

Spence. ward perfection, that they should fall as it

were all at once; and from their greatest § 53. Of the Poets whose Works have not

purity and simplicity, should degenerate come down to us.

so immediately into a lower and more afThese are but small remains for an age fected manner of writing, than had been in which poetry was so well cultivated and

ever known


Ibid. followed by very great numbers, taking the good and the bad together. It is probable, $ 54. Of the Fall of Poetry among the most of the best bave come down to us.

Romans. As for the others, we only hear of the elegies of Capella and Montanus : that Pro- There are some who assert, that the culus imitated Callimachus; and Rufus, great age of the Roman eloquence I have Pindar: that Fontanus wrote a sort of been speaking of, began to decline a little piscatory eclogues ; and Macer, a poem on even in the latter part of Augustus's reign. the nature of birds, beasts, and plants. It certainly fell very much under Tiberius; That the same Macer, and Rabirinus, and and grew every day weaker and weaker, Marsus, and Ponticus, and Pedo Albino- till it was wholly changed under Caligula. vanus, and several others, were epic wri- Hence therefore we may date the third ters in that time, (which, by the way, seems age, or the fall of the Roman poetry. to have signified little more, than that Augustus, whatever his natural temper they wrote in hexameter verse): that was, put on at least a mildness, that gave Fundanius was the best comic poet then, a calm to the state during his time : the and Melissus no bad one: that Varius was succeeding emperors flung off the mask ; the most esteemed for epic poetry, before and not only were, but openly appeared to the Æneid appeared; and one of the most be, rather monsters than men. We need esteemed for tragedy always: that Pollio not go to their historians for proofs of their (besides his other excellencies at the bar, prodigious vileness : it is enough

to menin the camp, and in affairs of state) is tion the bare names of Tiberius, Caligula, much commended for tragedy; and Va- Nero. Under such heads, every thing that rius, either for tragedy or epic poetry; for was good run to ruin. All discipline in it does not quite appear which of the two war, all domestic virtues, the very love of he wrote. These last are great names ; liberty, and all the taste for sound elobut there remain some of still higher dig- quence and good poetry, sunk gradually; nity, who are, or at least desired to be and faded away, as they had flourished, thought poets in that time. In the for- together. Instead of the sensible, chaste, mer part of Augustus's reign, his first and manly way of writing, that had been minister for home affairs, Mæcenas; and in use in the former age, there now rose in the latter part, his grandson Germani- up a desire of writing smartly, and an afcus, were of this number. Germanicus in fectation of shining in every thing they particular translated Aratus; and there said. A certain prettiness and glitter, are some (I do not well know on what and luxuriance of ornaments, was what grounds) who pretend to have met with a distinguished their most applauded writers considerable part of his translation. The in prose ; and their poetry was quite lost emperor himself seems to have been both in high flights and obscurity. Seneca, the a good critic, and a good author. He favourite prose writer of those times; and wrote chiefly in prose; but some things in Petronius Arbiter, so great a favourite verse too; and particularly good part of with many of our own; afford too many a tragedy, called Ajax.

proofs of this. As to the prose in Nero's It is no wonder, under such encourage time; and as to the poets, it is enough to ments, and so great examples, that poetry say, that they had then Lucan and Pershould arise to a higher pitch than it had sius, instead of Virgil and Horace. ever done among the Romans. They had



[ocr errors]

and the commonwealth. On this great $ 55. of Lucan.

occasion, the hills about them, according Persius and Lucan, who were the most to his account, seem to be more afraid than celebrated poets under the reign of Nero, the men ; for some of the mountains looked may very well serve for examples of the as if they would thrust their heads into the faults I just mentioned, one of the swell- clouds; and others, as if they wanted to hide ing, and the other of the obscure style, themselves under the vallies at their feet. then in fashion. Lucan's manner in ge- And these disturbances in nature were unineral runs too much into fustian and bom- versal: for that day, every single Roman, bast. His muse was a kind of Dropsy, in whatever part of the world he was, felt a and looks like the soldier described in his strange gloom spread all over his mind, on own Pharsalia, who jn passing the desert a sudden; and was ready to cry, though he sands of Africa, was bit by a serpent, and did not know why or wherefore. Spence. swelled to such an immoderate size, “that he was lost (as he expresses it) in the tu- $ 56. His Description of the Sea-fight mours of his own body.” Some critics have

off Marseilles. been in too great haste to make Quinctilian The sea-fight of Marseilles, is a thing say some good things of Lucan, which he that might divert one, full as well as Erasnever meant to do. What this poet has mus's Naufragium Joculare; and what is been admired for, and what he will ever still stranger, the poet chooses to be most dideserve to be admired for, are the several verting in the wounds be gives the poor solphilosophical passages that abound in his dier. The first person killed in it is pierced works; and his generous sentiments, par- at the same instant by two spears; one in ticularly on the love of liberty and the his back, and the other in his breast; so contempt of death. In his calm hours, nicely, that both their points meet together he is very wise; but he is often in bis in the middle of his body. They each, I rants, and never more so than when he is suppose, had a right to kill him; and his got into a battle, or a storm at sea; but it soul was for some time doubtful which it is remarkable, that even on those occasions, should obey. At last, it compounds the it is not so much a violence of rage, as matter; drives out each of the spears bea madness of affectation, that appears most fore it, at the same instant; and whips out strongly in him. To give a few instances of his body, half at one wound, and half of it, out of many: In the very beginning at the other.— A little after this, there is an of Lucan's storm, when Cæsar ventured to honest Greek, who has bis right hand cut cross the sea in so small a vessel : "the off, and fights on with his left, till he can fixt stars themselves seem to be put in mo- leap into the sea to recover the former; tion.” Then “the waves rise over the but there (as misfortunes seldom come mountains, and carry away the tops of single) he has his left arm chopt off too: them." Their next step is to heaven; after which, like the hero in one of our where they catch the rain" ju the clouds:" ancient ballads, he fights on with the I suppose to increase their force. The trunk of his body, and performs actions sea opens in several places, and leaves its greater than any Witherington that ever bottom dry land. All the foundations of was. When the battle grows warmer, the universe are shaken; and nature is there are many who have the same misforafraid of a second chaos. His little skiff, tune with this Greek. In endeavouring to in the mean time, sometimes cuts along climb up the enemies' ships, several have the clouds with her sails; and sometimes their arms struck off; fall into the sea; leave seems in danger of being stranded on the their hands behind them! Some of these sands at the bottom of the sea; and must swimming combatants encounter their eneinevitably have been lost, had not the mies in the water; some supply their storm (by good fortune) been so strong friends' ships with arms; some that had no from every quarter, that she did not know arms, entangle themselves with their eneon which side to bulge first.

mies; cling to them, and sink together to When the two armies are going to join the bottom of the sea; others stick their bo. battle in the plains of Pharsalia, we are dies against the beaks of their enemies' ships, told, that all the soldiers were incapable and scarce a man of them flung away the use of any fear for themselves, because they of his carcass, even when he should be dead. were wholly taken up with their concern But among all the contrivances of these for the danger which threatened Pompey posthumous warriors, the thing most to



be admired, is the sagacity of the great writer, in any other than the moral sense of Tyrrhenus. Tyrrhenus was standing at the word: for his writings are very virtuous; the head of one of the vessels, when a ball but not very poetical. His great fault is of lead funz by an artful slinger, struck obscurity. Several have endeavoured to out both his eyes. The violent dash of the excuse or palliate this fault with him, from blow, and the deep darkness that was spread the danger of the times he lived in; and over him all at once, wade him at first con- the necessity a satirist then lay under, of clude that he was dead: but when he had writing so, for his own security. This recovered his genses a little, and found he may hold as to some passages in him; but could advance one foot before the other, he to say the truth he seems to have a tendesired his fellow-soldiers to plant him just dency and love to obscurity in bimself: as they plant their Balistæ : he hopes he for it is not only to be found where he can still fight as well as a machine: and may speak of the emperor or the state ; seems mightily pleased to think how he but in the general course of his satires. Só shall cheat the enemy, who will fing away that in my conscience, I must give him up darts at him, that might have killed people for an obscure writer ; as I should Lucan who were alive.

for a tumid and swelling one. Such strange things as these, make me Such was the Roman poetry under Nero. always wonder the more, how Lucan can The three emperors after him were made be so wise as heisin some parts of his poem. in an hurry, and had short tumultuous Indeed his sentences are more solid than reigns. Then the Flavian family came in. one could otherwise expect from so young Vespasian, the first emperor of that line, a writer, had he wanted such an uncle as endeavoured to recover something of the Seneca, and such a master as Cornutus. good taste that had formerly flourished in The swellings in the other parts of his Rome; his son Titus, the delight of manpoem may be partly accounted for, perhaps, kind, in his short reign, encouraged poetry from his being born in Spain, and in that by his example, as well as by his liberalipart of it which was the farthest removed ties; and even Domitian loved to be from Greece and Rome; nay, of that very thought a patron of the muses. After him, city, which is marked by Cicero as particu, there was a succession of good emperors, larly overrun with a bad taste. After all, from Nerva to the Antonines. And this what I most dislike him for, is a blot in his extraordinary good fortune (for indeed, if moral character. He was at first pretty high one considers the general run of the Roin the favour of Nero. On the discovery of man emperors, it would have been such, his being concerned in a plot against him, to have had any two good ones only togethis philosopher (who had written so much ther) gave a new spirit to the arts, that and so gallantly, about the pleasure of dy- had long been in so languishing a condiing) behaved himself in the most despica- tion, and made poetry revive, and raise up ble manner. He named his own mother as its head again, once more among them. guilty of the conspiracy, in hopes of saving Not that there were very good poets even himself. After this, he added several of now: but they were better, at least, than his friends to his former confession; and they had been under the reign of Nero. thus continued labouring for a pardon,

Ibid. by making sacrifices to the tyrant of such

§ 58, Of Silius, STATIUS, and VAlives, as any one, much less of a philosopher than he seems to have been, ought to

LERIUS Flaccus, think dearer than tbeir own. All this base

This period produced three epic poets, ness was of no use to him: for in the end, whose works remain to us ; Silius, Statius, Nero ordered him to execution too. His and Valerius Flaccus, Silius, as if he had veins were opened : and the last words be been frightened at the high flight of Luspoke, were some verses of his own. can, keeps almost always on the ground,

Spence. and scarce once attempts to soar through

out his whole work. It is plain, however, 57. Of PERSIUS.

though it is low; and if he has but little Persius is said to have been Lucan's of the spirit of poetry, he is free at least school-fellow under Cornutus; and, like from the affectation, and obscurity, and him, was bred up more a philosopher than bombast, which prevailed so much among a poet. He has the character of a good his immediate predecessors. Silius was man : but scarce deserves that of a good honoured with the consulate ; and lived to



[ocr errors]

see his son in the same high office. He for he seems to me to have more fire than was a great lover and collector of pictures Silius, and to be more correct than Statius; and statues; some of which he worshipped; and as for Lucan, I cannot help looking especially one he had of Virgil. He used upon bim as quite out of the question. He to offer sacrifices too at his tomb pear Na- imitates Virgil's language much better ples. It is a pity that he could not get 'than Silius, or even Statius ; and his plan, more of bis spirit in his writings : for he or rather his story, is certainly less embarhad scarce enough to make his offerings rassed and confused than the Thebaid. acceptable to the genius of that great poet. Some of the ancients themselves speak of -Statius had more of spirit, with a less Flaccus with a great deal of respect;

and share of prudence : for his Thebaid is cer- particularly Quinctilian; who says nothing

; tainly ill-conducted, and scarcely, well at all of Silius or Statius; unless the latter written. By the little we have of his Achil- is to be included in that general expression leid, that would probably have been a much of several others,' whom he leaves to be better poem, at least as to the writing part, celebrated by posterity. had he lived to finish it. As it is, his de- As to the dramatic writers of this time, scription of Achilles's behaviour atthe feast

we have not any one comedy, and only ten which Lycomedes makes for the Grecian tragedies, all published under the name of ambassadors, and some other parts of it, Lucius Annæus Seneca. They are probaread more pleasingly to me than any part bly the work of different hands; and might of the Thebaid. I cannot help thinking, be a collection of favourite plays, put tothat the passage quoted so often from Juve- gether by some bad grammarian; for einal, as an encomium on Statius, was meant ther the Roman tragedies of this

age were as a satire on him. Martial seems to strike very indifferent, or these are not their best. at him too, under the borrowed name of They have been attributed to authors as Sabellus. As he did not finish his Achil- far distant as the reigns of Augustus and leid, he may deserve more reputation per- Trajan. It is true, the person who is so haps as a miscellaneous than as an epic- positive that one of them in particular writer; for though the odes and the other must be of the Augustan age, says this of a copies of veres in his Sylvæ are not with- piece that he seems resolved to cry up at all out their faults, they are not so faulty as rates: and I believe one should do no inbis Thebaid. The chief faults of Statius, jury to any one of them, in supposing them in his Sylva and Thebaid, are said to have all to have been written in this third age, proceeded from very different causes: the under the decline of the Roman poetry. former, from their having been written in- Of all the other poets under this period correctly and in a great deal of haste; and there are none whose works remain to us, the other, from its being over corrected except Martial and Juvenal. The former and hard. Perhaps his greatest fault of all flourished under Domitian; and the latter or rather the greatest sign of his bad judg- under Nerva, Trajan, and Adrian. Spence. ment, is his admiring Lucan so extravagantly as he does. It is remarkable, that

§ 59. Of MARTIAL. poetry run more lineally in Statius's fa- Marlial is a dealer only in a little kind mily, than perhaps in any other. He re- of writing: for Epigram is certainly (what ceived it from his father; who had been it is called by Dryden) the lowest step of an eminent poet in his time, and lived to poetry. He is at the very bottom of the see his son obtain the laurel-crown at the hill; but he diverts himself there, in gaAlban games: as he had formerly done thering flowers and playing with insects, himself. Valerius Flaccus wrote a little prettily enough. If Martial made a new. before Statius. He died young, and left year's gift, he was sure to send a distich his poem unfinished. We have but seven with it: if a friend died, he made a few books of his Argonauts, and part of the verses to put on his tomb-stone: if a staeighth, in which the Argonauts are left on tue was set up, they came to him for an the sea, in their return homewards. Se- inscription. These were the common ofveral of the modern critics, who have been fices of his muse. If he struck a fault in some way or other concerned in publishing life, he marked it down in a few lines; Flaccus's works, make no scruple of pla- and if he had a mind to please a friend, or cing him next to Virgil, of all the Roman to get the favour of the great, his style epic poets ; and I own I am a good deal was turned to panegyric: and these were inclined to be seriously of their opinion : his highest employments. He was, how



ever, a good writer in his way; and there it pleasing, as it shewed that its natural are instances even of his writing with some complexion was faded and lost. Ibid. diguity on higher occasions.

§ 61. On the Literary Character of

Julius CÆSAR.
$ 60. Of JUVENAL .

Julius Cæsar, like the greater part of Juvenal began to write after all I have men distinguished by genius, began to mentioned; and, I do not know by what display his inventive powers in the pleagood fortune, writes with a greater spirit sant walks of poesy. In early youth he of poetry than any of them. He has scarce wrote a Tragedy called Edipus, and any thing of the gentility of Horace: yet the Praise of Hercules, which I imagine he is not without humour, and exceeds all was a kind of epic poem; but Augustus the satirists in severity. To say the truth, prohibited the publication of them both, he flashes too much like an angry execu- lest they should expose any marks of tioner; but the depravity of the times, and juvenile imperfection, and disgrace the the vices then in fashion, may often excuse imperial family. It should be mentioned some degree of rage in him. It is said he also, as an instance of Julius Cæsar's indid not write till he was elderly; and after dustry, that he compiled a volume, to he had been too much used to declaiming. which he


the name of Dicta collea However, his satires have a great deal of tanea, consisting of the remarkable apospirit in them; and shew a strong hatred phthegms of remarkable men, Augustus of vice, with some very fine and high sen- suppressed this also, from a scrupulous timents of virtue. They are indeed so regard for the honour of the house of animated, that I do not know any poem Cæsar. of this age, which one can read with near One cannot help wishing that the juveso much pleasure as his satires.

nile productions of so distinguishing a Juvenal may very well be called the last man, had been preserved as curiosities. of the Roman poets. After his time, po- Though they might not have been exempt etry continued decaying more and more, from the defects of immature judgment, quite down to the time of Constantine; there is every reason to conjecture that when all the arts were so far lost and ex- they abounded in elegance, tinguished among the Romans, that from At a later period, this great man wrote that time they themselves may very well a poem, entitled Iter, or the Itinerary. be called by the name they used to give It gave an account of his expeditious proto all the world, except the Greeks; for gress from Rome to Hispania ulterior; the Romans then had scarce any thing to and was probably

in the style and manner distinguish them from the Barbarians. of Horace's Iter Brundusium.

There are, therefore, but three ages of I am the rather induced to believe that the Roman poetry, that can carry any Cæsar wrote in the Horation manner serweight with them in an inquiry of this moni proprioru, because the little specinature. The first age, from the first Punic men which remains of Cæsar's poetry is war to the time of Augustus, is more re- in that style. It is the well-known fragmarkable for strength, than any great de- ment on Terence, preserved by Donatus. gree of beauty in writing. The second age, or the Augustan, is the time when Tu quoque, tu in summis, O dimidiate Menan

der, &c. they wrote with a due mixture of beauty and strength. And the third, from the be- In the dialogue of an admirable author ginning of Nero's reign to the end of on the causes of the corruption of eloAdrian's, when they endeavoured after quence, there is a passage which reflects beauty more than strength; when they but little honour on Cæsar as a poet. lost much of their vigour, and run too Cæsar and Brutus, says he, wrote verses much into affectation. Their poetry, in and deposited them in libraries; they did its youth, was strong and nervous ; in its not make better verses than Cicero, but middle age, it was manly and polite; in yet more happily, since fewer knew that its latter days it grew tawdry and feeble; they made them at all. Non melius quam and endeavoured to hide the decays of its Cicero, at felicius, quia illos fecisse pauformer beauty and strength, in false orna- ciores sciunt. ments of dress, and a borrowed flush on Cæsar's verses, it is probable, were not the face; which did not so much render very striking, as may be collected from an

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »