Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

epistle of the same book, he lays down rules for reading the poets in general with advantage :

Fabula, qua Paridis propter narratur amorem
Græcia Barbariæ lente collisa duello,
Stultorum regum et populorum continet æstus.

The fable is what the Greek critics call uúbos, or the disposition of the subject. Order and arrangement of parts are necessary to the composition of a poem.

We hear much of the probable and the improbable in a story. It matters not how absurd or improbable be the end, provided the means be natural and probable. Tasso and Ariosto please not only the lovers of the marvellous and the extravagant, but the very readers of taste and judgment who most affect the correctness and purity of Virgil. Were probability of story indispensible, Æsop's fables would never have penetrated beyond the nursery: yet they have been edited by those who were competent to comment on the Iliad. The difference between the fabulist and Homer, setting aside the graces and splendours of poetry, which have nothing to do with the present question, is that Æsop makes beasts, the poet makes men, his heroes. The mode of conducting the actions of the heroes is strictly analogous ; the moral of either apologue is rational.

The character of Horace's genius as a critic is principally to be drawn from his epistles to the Pisos and to Augustus. There are two kinds of the epistle; the elegiac and the didactic. The former, the characteristic of which is sensibility of nature and elegance of mind, or perhaps more properly tenderness of heart, is Ovid's province. The latter requires superiority of sound and common sense, an extensive knowledge of human life, and the polish of high breeding and courtly address. Here Horace reigned without a rival, in that deli. cate department of moral criticism, which partakes more of refined sentiment than of scholastic learning or precision. In the epistle to Augustus, he ridicules the unmeaning admiration of antiquity :

Nævius in manibus non est, et mentibus hæret
Pæne recens ? adeo sanctum est vetus omne poema.

But this is far from being uttered in contempt of the poets who preceded him. We admire the masculine understanding, the easy expression, the unsophisticated representation of life and manners in the old writers of our own country. Horace entertained no less candid and rational esteem for the early Roman poets, who formed themselves on the model of Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes :

Illi, scripta quibus comedia prisca viris est,
Hoc stabant, hoc sunt imitandi; quos neque pulcher
Hermogenes unquam legit, neque simius iste,
Nil præter Calvum et doctus cantare Catullum.

Lib. i. sat. 10.

This Hermogenes Tigellius was a literary as well as a personal dandy. He was the favourite musician of Augustus; insipid in his tastes, more barbarous in his delicacy, than the utmost bar. barism of unadulterated roughness. Yet this fellow thought it genteel to affect antiquarian literature; and professed himself the partisan of Lucilius, whom Horace swears he never read. Horace was the advocate, and the model of correctness; but it was only to counteract this egregious foppery, that he for a moment attempted to dam up the ancient spring of genuine poetry. His ear could not reconcile itself to the ruggedness of verse in Lucilius: but in a passage at the beginning of the last-quoted satire, he apologises for his presumption :

Quis tam. Lucilî fautor inepte est,
Ut non hoc fateatur ? at idem, quod sale multo
Urbem defricuit, charta laudatur eadem.

Horace repels the imputation of contradictory criticism. He admits the wit and pleasantry of the old bard's writings, which had animated the coarse merriment of a preceding generation; but finds himself bound to enter his protest against the harshness of his versification. The two positions, which the witlings of his day had endeavoured to represent as contradictory, are perfectly in unison with the true principles and consistency of criticism.

Horace's Lucilian satires are a curious part of his critical works. However ready to admit the general merit of Lucilius, the correctness of manners and taste in the Augustan age, his own station at court, as the arbiter elegantiarum, made it necessary for him to establish a Procrustes' bed of criticism, to which the dimensions of the old

poet were incommensurate. Yet the fashionable cry was at this time for the ancients : that of Hermogenes for Lucilius, that of Demetrius for Calvus and Catullus, and we have already seen that Plautus was more popular than Terence. The court therefore was divided into parties; and it was necessary for Horace, with whom popularity was as it were a stock in trade, to unite with one without giving mortal offence to the other. He had to parry as well as to thrust; and this consideration will enable us to reconcile the seeming incongruities of his critical opinions. In writing critically, he had objects ulterior to criticism.

The galled jades, who winced at his censures, thought to elude their point by crying up the broad blunt satire of a former poet : Horace, who had no malignity, and less vigour than his predecessor Lucilius, the satirist of a coarser age, or than his successor Juvenal, the satirist of a period still more corrupt than his own, was obliged to exercise the arts of pleading in behalf of that tender treatment, by which alone he could manage and regulate the loose and slippery morals of a luxurious court and people.

Dr. Hurd says, the epistle to Augustus is an apology for the Roman poets. His epistle to the Pisos is a criticism on the Roman drama, according to this critic, and not on the art of poetry in general. Baxter is of the same opinion. “Satira hæc est in sui sæculi poetas, præcipue vero in Romanum Drama.' We find indeed desultory remarks on all departments; but nothing like a principled system of criticism, an ars et institutio poetica. The most that can be made of it is a miscellaneous collection, if we consider poetry at large as the subject of the piece. Under the influence of this latter prejudice, says Dr. Hurd, “several writers of name took upon them to comment and explain it: and with the success which was to be expected from so fatal a mistake on setting out, as the not seeing that the proper and sole purpose of the author was, not to abridge the Greek critics, whom he probably never thought of; nor to amuse himself with composing a short critical system, for the general use of poets, which every line of it absolutely confutes; but, simply to criticise the Roman drama. For to this end, not the tenor of the work only, but, as will appear, every single precept of it, ultimately refers.” This eminent critic displays much ingenuity in remedying the mischief of so fundamental an error. Instead of considering it as an epitome of the Greek critics, according to which notion it would often be difficult to reconcile him with his supposed authorities, and often necessary to create conformities never thought of by the author, , Dr. Hurd establishes a unity in the subject, and a connection in the method. On his hypothesis, what as a maxim or remark on universal poetry would seem slight, unsatisfactory, or unconnected, appears in its proper place in the general order of the author's reflections, as illustrating the state of the Roman theatre at particular periods. The especial rules of composition are all directed to the formation of a Roman dramatist, whose business it is to derive instruction and assistance from the kindred families of the poetic art; and hence it is, that in a treatise on the stage, we gleán occasional information, but no consistent and regulated

« IndietroContinua »