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IN almost all States, poetical composition has been em
ployed and considerably improved before prose. First, because the imagination expands sooner than reason or judgment; and, secondly, because the early language of nations is best adapted to the purposes of poetry, and to the expression of those feelings and sentiments with which it is conversant
Thus, in the first ages of Greece, verse was the ordinary written language, and prose was subsequently introduced as an art and invention. In like manner, at Rome, during the early advances of poetry, the progress of which has been detailed in the preceding volume, prose composition continued in a state of neglect and barbarism.
The most ancient prose writer, at least of those whose works have descended to us, was a man of little feeling or imagination, but of sound judgment and inflexible character, who exercised his pen on the subject of Agriculture, which, of all the peaceful arts, was most highly esteemed by his country
The long winding coast of Greece, abounding in havens, and the innumerable isles with which its seas were studded, rendered the Greeks, from the earliest days, a trafficking, seafaring, piratic people: And many of the productions of their oldest poets, are, in a great measure, addressed to what may be called the maritime taste or feeling which prevailed among their countrymen. This sentiment continued to be cherished as long as the chief literary state in Greece preserved
the sovereignty of the seas-compelled its allies to furnish vessels of war, and trusted to its naval armaments for the supremacy it maintained during the brightest ages of Greece. In none either of the Doric or Ionian states, was agriculture of such importance as to exercise much influence on manners or literature. Their territories were so limited, that the inhabitants were never removed to such a distance from the capital as to imbibe the ideas of husbandmen. In Thessaly and Lacedæmon, agriculture was accounted degrading, and its cares were committed to slaves. The vales of Boeotia were fruitful, but were desolated by floods. Farms of any considerable extent could scarcely be laid down on the limited, though lovely isles of the Ægean and Ionian seas. The barren soil and mountains of the centre of Peloponnesus confined the Arcadians to pasturage-an employment bearing some analogy to agriculture, but totally different in its mental effects, leading to a life of indolence, contemplation, and wandering, instead of the industrious, practical, and settled habits of husbandmen. Though the Athenians breathed the purest air beneath the clearest skies, and their long summer was gilded by the brightest beams of Apollo, the soil of Attica was sterile and metallic; while, from the excessive inequalities in its surface, all the operations of agriculture were of the most difficult and hazardous description. The streams were overflowing torrents, which stripped the soil, leaving nothing but a light sand, on which grain would scarcely grow. But it was with the commencement of the Peloponnesian war that the exercise of agriculture terminated in Attica. The country being left unprotected, owing to the injudicious policy of Pericles, was annually ravaged by the Spartans, and the husbandmen were forced to seek refuge, within the walls of Athens. In the early part of the age of Pericles, the Athenians possessed ornamented villas in the country; but they always returned to the city in the evening*. We do not hear that the great men in the early periods of the republic, as Themistocles and Aristides, were farmers; and the heroes of its latter ages, as Iphicrates and Timotheus, chose their retreats in Thrace, the islands of the Archipelago, or coast of Ionia.
A picture, in every point of view the reverse of this, is presented to us by the Agreste Latium. The ancient Italian mode of life was almost entirely agricultural and rural; and with exception, perhaps, of the Etruscans, none of the Italian states were in any degree maritime or commercial. Italy was well adapted for every species of agriculture, and was
* Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis, T. II. c. 20.