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seems quite consonant with that curiosa felicitas in Horace, enabling him to make single words do the office of whole sentences, and to deliver a criticism or a sarcasm, as it were in a nut-shell. These opposite habits of composing evidently did not arise from the fluctuations of taste in the audience, because the plays of each kept possession of the stage, and divided the sentiments of its frequenters, long after the respective periods of their natural lives; but from the different turn of mind and dissimilar talents in the individuals.
Plautus was a perfect master of the Roman language; so much so, that Varro is stated by Quinctilian to have quoted a saying of Ælius Stilo : “ Musas Plautino sermone locuturas fuisse, si Latinè loqui vellent.” He was besides gifted with a vein of forcible raillery, and a happy union of that buffoonery which always delights a mixed audience, with the higher qualities of real genius; there was in him a combination of strong, caustic, genuine humour, with a spirit of lively repartee, and a facetious turn of expression, always at command. He, therefore, had the means of securing to himself the goodwill of his audience, independently of curiosity, or the complex interest of a fable.
Terence, on the other hand, confined himself strictly and sometimes timidly, within the limits of nature and every-day life, even in his most 'lumorous characters: he did not range the bound. less field of what might have been done or said, but transcribed what he had seen and heard in his intercourse with mankind, or what he could justify on the authority of his Grecian master. The fabric of his plots, and the situations in which he places the persons of his drama, are often at variance
with modern notions of propriety; but he carefully abstains from that licence and coarseness of particularising, from the adoption of that most blunt and strongest language, (and we are told the Muses would have been somewhat broad, ladies though they be,) in which the admirer of the old, and the master of the middle comedy indulged. The consequence was, that Terence felt it necessary to guard against the charge of insipidity, by variety of action and accumulation of incident.
In accounting for the different modes in which these two great writers conducted their fables, we have been led partly to anticipate some remarks on their habits of expression, which were rough and unbridled in Plautus, but smooth, regular, and polished in Terence. Now it might be supposed that delicacy was not much more natural to a Carthaginian slave, than to a hanger-on of the theatre, who had spent his substance on stage dresses, and had reduced himself to the necessity of becoming a baker's servant, to gain a livelihood by working at a hand-mill. But the condition of slaves was not always disadvantageous, as we know by the example of more than one eminent writer born in that condition, as well as by the instance of Cicero's Freed-Man, who was the associate of his literary occupations. The slave in question was so fortunate as to fall into the hands of Terentius Lucanus, a man of family, and a member of the senate, who not only gave him a good education, as was the custom with the Roman gentlemen when they picked up boys of promise, but at a manly age presented him with his freedom, and introduced him into the very best society. It was through this kind conduct of his master, that the future poet became acquainted with Scipio and Lælius. * On this part of the subject, we have a letter of Cicero to Atticus, in which the former says, “Se. cutus sum, non dico Cæcilium ;
malus enim Latinitatis auctor est : sed Terentium, cujus Fabellæ propter elegantiam sermonis, putabantur a Lælio scribi, &c.”+ This passage will enable us to appreciate the style of both without disparagement to either. Plautus was said, in the language of a preceding quotation, to have spoken the very Latin in which the Muses must have expressed themselves, had they been born and bred at Romè. Cicero, without giving any opinion of it, repeats the gossip of Terence's inability to write in so polite a style, and the consequent transfer of his laurels to the brow of a man of fashion. Erasmus, one of the best judges of classical literature at the revival of learning, says, that there is no author from whom we can better learn the
pure Roman style than from the poet Terence. It has been further remarked on him, that the Romans thought themselves in conversation when they heard his comedies. When the respective productions of these authors are examined on the principles of common sense and modern taste, as. sisted and checked by the authorities above-quoted, the result of the comparison as to style will probably be found as follows. Plautus had the raciness of early language, the pith of original genius, and the various resources of a man who had mixed with human life in all its forms, and had kept company with Nature in her working dress as well as in her best clothes. Terence was the associate of gentlemen : and though the ascription of his plays to Lælius must be considered as a mere suspicion, arising from the superior elegance and courtly polish of their language; it is both probable in itself, and appears to have been credited as fact by the ancients, that he was assisted in his compositions both by him and Scipio, as amateur critics. The consequence of Terence's access to such high society was, that while the diction of Plautus was more poetical, more pointed, more blunt, and more rich in natural touches, he himself maintained a decided superiority in the tone of gentlemanly conversation ; that his copy of the Greek model he had adopted was in the best taste of scholarship ; that his vivacity excited a smile rather than a laugh ; his morals were those of urbanity, not of severity; his satire tickled without stinging. Few authors have furnished a larger number of maxims for the government or illustration of common life. Goldsmith's opinion of him is expressed in his complimentary line on Cumberland :
* This intimacy, stated by so many ancient writers, and alluded to by himself, renders Bonnell Thornton's conjecture unnecessary, that he was employed about the stage like Shake speare, and an actor.
+ On this, hear Terence himself, in the Prologue to the Adelphi:
Nam quod isti dicunt malevoli, homines nobiles
The Terence of England, the mender of hearts.
Plautus, therefore, it should appear from his writings and his habits, resembled Shakspeare, as his biographers, right or wrong, have represented him ; the hero of the deer-park, of the street before the theatre, or the stage within it. Terence was more like the Congreve or the Sheridan of the court of Queen Anne or George the Third.
The palm of wit remains to be won, or to be divided. With respect to the positive claims of Plautus, Cicero and Horace take opposite sides. Cicero classes him with the Attic writers of the old comedy, with the Socratic philosophers, and with the elder Cato. August company for the spendthrift and the droll! He says in his first book De Officiis : “Duplex omnino est jocandi genus : unum illiberale, petulans, flagitiosum, obscoenum ; alterum, elegans, urbanum, ingeniosum, facetum. Quo genere non modo Plautus noster, et Atticorum antiqua comedia, sed etiam philosophorum Socraticorum libri referti sunt: multaque multorum facete dicta ; ut ea quæ a sene Catone collecta sunt, quæ vocant åródleyuara." The epithets applied to the second genus are strictly and abundantly applicable to Plautus and to the Attic writers of the old comedy ; but I fear neither can be exempted from some of those assigned to the first. Dr. Hurd ascribes the cause of this strong predilection in favour of Plautus, to the conformity of the old-comedy wit with the genius of popular eloquence; but I think we trace it also, in part, to a similar conformity of natural taste. Cicero's own wit and humour were, in many instances, neither refined, nor decent, nor genuine. His genius in his Orations appears with as much dignity and elevation as brilliancy: and his Trea. tise De Oratore, (with the exception I am going to state, probably the most perfect of his works,) is not