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only a master-piece of exact criticism, but carries the beau idéal of an art as high as it can be carried without extravagance : like Longinus, he gives a current exemplification of his principles and rules, in the march of his own eloquence. But I could have been well contented, looking only at Cicero's credit, (for the chapters in themselves are very curious, and eminently useful as a warning,) that the sections in the second book, from 240 to 289, had been in a great measure filled up with asterisks, and multa desunt; for nothing can be more coarse than much of the humour here, and still more in a most disgraceful letter in the collection Ad Familiares; nothing more frigid than most of the puns. Dr. Hurd seems to adopt Cicero's own apology, that “the main end of jesting at the bar is, not to acquire the credit of consummate humour, but to carry the cause, ut proficiamus aliquid : that is, to make an impression on the people ; which is generally, we know, better done by a coarser joke, than by the elegance of refined raillery.”-Notes on the Art of Poetry.
Now I condemn these classed laws, specimens, and models of joking; not solely on the ground of coarseness, but because many of the examples are cold and vapid, and because the excursions of wit seem to be properly a casual adjunct to parliamentary or forensic eloquence, rather than an integral part of it to be treated professorially. The Roman orator, it is true, had occasion proficere aliquid, translated by Dr. Hurd, to make an impression on the people; but the promiscuous audience should not enter into the thoughts of the modern advocate, who addresses judges and juries, supposed to be grave and enlightened. Ought then wit to be excluded from public speaking, whether at the bar or in parliament? Certainly not : and it is in fact more frequently and more successfully resorted to by modern than by ancient orators, although our speakers have little occasion to make an impression on the common people, unless on the hustings at elections. But the wit of Burke and Sheridan in our House of Commons, and of Erskine at our bar, was born with the occasion, sudden, vigorous, and natural ; not hammered and manufactured on the anvil of rhetorical system. The impromptu would be more insipid than even “ the pathos of a week old.”. Rules for the general conduct of a cause, for the selection and arrangement of topics and arguments, for almost every thing else with which the advocate has to deal, are strictly in place, and will be useful in proportion to their justness : but Rules for jesting at the bar! It is as if Mr. Butterworth, or any other eminent bookseller, were to insert into his catalogue of law books, The Barrister's Joe Miller.
But to return to Plautus :
At vestri proavi Plautinos et numeros et
De Arte Poet.
An attempt has been made to soften this judgment on the part of Horace, and to reconcile its apparent severity with the more favourable opinion of Cicero and other critics, by reading, and that on MS. authority, non for ne. The criticism would then stand thus. The word numeri, strictly taken, expresses measure and versification; which, in this
author, are often confessedly unequal and irregular. Some have supposed that the term is used with epistolary freedom, to comprehend language. But there seems no occasion to put Horace further beyond the pale of received opinion ; since this author's purity in that respect is universally allowed : his works are, indeed, a magazine of Latin idiom. His sales, we are told, were borne too patiently, though Cicero heartily admired them, as elegantes et urbanos. That praise must, however, be taken with as much allowance as Horace's censure; for his pleasantries are often indelicate, his wit low, and his jests as cold as Cicero's own. Indeed the lighter parts of Cicero's writings, as observed
upon in a preceding paragraph, seem to furnish a comment ad hominem, on his apparently unqualified approbation of Plautus. But Horace rather hinting than pronouncing a censure on Plautus's faults, if we read, non dicam stulte, the indulgence expressed by nimium patienter, is ascribed to the prejudice of the people in favour of his beauties, which is said not to be foolish, that is, without foundation or positively erroneous, but too indiscriminate. But this reading has obtained possession of few texts; and the reading generally received makes Horace say that the admiration was foolish as well as too tolerant, and that only delicacy prevents him from stating it so in plain terms. The truth seems to be, that Horace is rather fighting professionally for himself and his contemporaries, than giving his private and personal opinion. Poets and painters have in all ages been prone to exclaim against the superstitious veneration of old masters, as discouraging to the birth and expansion of modern genius. Horace, therefore, lays hold of a tendency in the old comedian, as a topic of censure, which the improved delicacy of the Augustan age had not chastised out of himself. Neither is his present squeamishness, as to Plautus, in unison with his approbation expressed elsewhere, of the still less delicate old comedy : nor is it very consistent to find fault with Plautus on this head, and yet to relish Aristophanes, who must be included, for more than his versification, in the general advice,
Vos exemplaria Græca
After all, Horace, while exhibiting the faults of preceding poets in a strong point of view, for the purpose of checking the extravagance of admiration, only attributes such to Plautus as are common to early dramatic writers in every age and country: in our own, not only to the Chapmans, the Lylys, and the Deckers, but to Shakspeare, Jonson, and Fletcher.
If Horace has censured the too coarse style of Plautus, Cæsar, on the supposition that the following lines are truly ascribed to him, characterises Terence's plays as devoid of comic spirit :
Tu quoque, tu in summis, ô dimidiate Menander,
By the expression, dimidiate Menander, it is obvious that the deficiency is not to be understood as confined to the comic drollery of the old and middle comedy, with which Plautus had so enchanted the dramatic world, as to continue the reigning favourite, not only after the appearance of Afranius and Terence, but throughout the Augustan age. Cæsar evidently represents him as defective also in that other species of comic heightening in which the Greek comedians of the new school excelled. When he calls Terence a Menander by halves, he pronounces him to be a beautiful, but faint shadow of his Grecian prototype. To account for this from the stubbornness of the Latin tongue, and to say with Dr. Hurd, that the two first lines are complimentary, and the censure confined to the following, may improve Terence's relative situation with Menander, about whom we know so little, but it leaves the lack of vis comica where it found it. Menander, very probably, possessed as little of it; but had Terence felt it in himself, he would have discovered precedents and models for its practical use, with the same ease and success with which he copied the urbanity of Menander. But in fact Terence, however Mr. Colman may plead against it, was, in some of his plays, little more than a translator of that author. With a fund of original humour, he might have effected a coalition of the old and new comedy from the materials before him, superior to any thing in the Greek in every respect, excepting that of language. But there, Quinctilian puts any approach to a rival grace entirely out of the question, by limiting that undefinable subtlety of expression to one dialect, even of the Greek. « Vix levem consequimur umbram, adeo ut mihi sermo ipse Romanus non recipere videatur illam solis