Satire is of the nature of moral philosophy, as being instructive. It is undoubtedly a species of heroic poetry itself, finely mixing the majesty of the heroic with the venom, and raising the delight, which otherwise would be flat and vulgar, by the sublimity of the expression.
Editor’s Note: John Dryden’s A Discourse on the Original and Progress of Satire was written in 1692 and served as a preface to a translation of the satires of Juvenal and Persius.
A Discourse on the Original and Progress of Satire
ADDRESSED TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
CHARLES, EARL OF DORSET AND MIDDLESEX,
LORD CHAMBERLAIN OF HIS MAJESTY’S HOUSEHOLD, KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER, ETC.
The wishes and desires of all good men, which have attended your lordship from your first appearance in the world, are at length accomplished, from your obtaining those honours and dignities which you have so long deserved. There are no factions, though irreconcilable to one another, that are not united in their affection to you, and the respect they pay you. They are equally pleased in your prosperity, and would be equally concerned in your afflictions. Titus Vespasian was not more the delight of human kind. The universal empire made him only more known and more powerful, but could not make him more beloved. He had greater ability of doing good, but your inclination to it is not less: and though you could not extend your beneficence to so many persons, yet you have lost as few days as that excellent emperor; and never had his complaint to make when you went to bed, that the sun had shone upon you in vain, when you had the opportunity of relieving some unhappy man. This, my lord, has justly acquired you as many friends as there are persons who have the honour to be known to you. Mere acquaintance you have none; you have drawn them all into a nearer line; and they who have conversed with you are for ever after inviolably yours. This is a truth so generally acknowledged that it needs no proof: it is of the nature of a first principle, which is received as soon as it is proposed; and needs not the reformation which Descartes used to his; for we doubt not, neither can we properly say, we think we admire and love you above all other men: there is a certainty in the proposition, and we know it. With the same assurance I can say, you neither have enemies, nor can scarce have any; for they who have never heard of you can neither love or hate you; and they who have, can have no other notion of you than that which they receive from the public, that you are the best of men. After this, my testimony can be of no farther use, than to declare it to be daylight at high noon: and all who have the benefit of sight can look up as well and see the sun.
It is true, I have one privilege which is almost particular to myself, that I saw you in the east at your first arising above the hemisphere: I was as soon sensible as any man of that light when it was but just shooting out and beginning to travel upwards to the meridian. I made my early addresses to your lordship in my “Essay of Dramatic Poetry,” and therein bespoke you to the world; wherein I have the right of a first discoverer. When I was myself in the rudiments of my poetry, without name or reputation in the world, having rather the ambition of a writer than the skill; when I was drawing the outlines of an art, without any living master to instruct me in it—an art which had been better praised than studied here in England; wherein Shakespeare, who created the stage among us, had rather written happily than knowingly and justly; and Jonson, who, by studying Horace, had been acquainted with the rules, yet seemed to envy to posterity that knowledge, and, like an inventor of some useful art, to make a monopoly of his learning—when thus, as I may say, before the use of the loadstone or knowledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean without other help than the pole-star of the ancients and the rules of the French stage amongst the moderns (which are extremely different from ours, by reason of their opposite taste), yet even then I had the presumption to dedicate to your lordship—a very unfinished piece, I must confess, and which only can be excused by the little experience of the author and the modesty of the title—“An Essay.” Yet I was stronger in prophecy than I was in criticism: I was inspired to foretell you to mankind as the restorer of poetry, the greatest genius, the truest judge, and the best patron.
Good sense and good nature are never separated, though the ignorant world has thought otherwise. Good nature, by which I mean beneficence and candour, is the product of right reason; which of necessity will give allowance to the failings of others by considering that there is nothing perfect in mankind; and by distinguishing that which comes nearest to excellency, though not absolutely free from faults, will certainly produce a candour in the judge. It is incident to an elevated understanding like your lordship’s to find out the errors of other men; but it is your prerogative to pardon them; to look with pleasure on those things which are somewhat congenial and of a remote kindred to your own conceptions; and to forgive the many failings of those who, with their wretched art, cannot arrive to those heights that you possess from a happy, abundant, and native genius which are as inborn to you as they were to Shakespeare, and, for aught I know, to Homer; in either of whom we find all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy, without knowing that they ever studied them.
There is not an English writer this day living who is not perfectly convinced that your lordship excels all others in all the several parts of poetry which you have undertaken to adorn. The most vain and the most ambitions of our age have not dared to assume so much as the competitors of Themistocles: they have yielded the first place without dispute; and have been arrogantly content to be esteemed as second to your lordship, and even that also with a longo, sed proximi intervallo. If there have been, or are, any who go farther in their self-conceit, they must be very singular in their opinion; they must be like the officer in a play who was called captain, lieutenant, and company. The world will easily conclude whether such unattended generals can ever be capable of making a revolution in Parnassus.
I will not attempt in this place to say anything particular of your lyric poems, though they are the delight and wonder of the age, and will be the envy of the next. The subject of this book confines me to satire; and in that an author of your own quality, whose ashes I will not disturb, has given you all the commendation which his self-sufficiency could afford to any man—“The best good man, with the worst-natured muse.” In that character, methinks, I am reading Jonson’s verses to the memory of Shakespeare; an insolent, sparing, and invidious panegyric: where good nature—the most godlike commendation of a man—is only attributed to your person, and denied to your writings; for they are everywhere so full of candour, that, like Horace, you only expose the follies of men without arraigning their vices; and in this excel him, that you add that pointedness of thought which is visibly wanting in our great Roman. There is more of salt in all your verses than I have seen in any of the moderns, or even of the ancients: but you have been sparing of the gall; by which means you have pleased all readers and offended none. Donne alone, of all our countrymen, had your talent, but was not happy enough to arrive at your versification; and were he translated into numbers and English, he would yet be wanting in the dignity of expression. That which is the prime virtue and chief ornament of Virgil, which distinguishes him from the rest of writers, is so conspicuous in your verses that it casts a shadow on all your contemporaries; we cannot be seen, or but obscurely, while you are present. You equal Donne in the variety, multiplicity, and choice of thoughts; you excel him in the manner and the words. I read you both with the same admiration, but not with the same delight. He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where Nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love. In this (if I may be pardoned for so bold a truth) Mr. Cowley has copied him to a fault: so great a one, in my opinion, that it throws his “Mistress” infinitely below his “Pindarics” and his later compositions, which are undoubtedly the best of his poems and the most correct. For my own part I must avow it freely to the world that I never attempted anything in satire wherein I have not studied your writings as the most perfect model. I have continually laid them before me; and the greatest commendation which my own partiality can give to my productions is that they are copies, and no farther to be allowed than as they have something more or less of the original. Some few touches of your lordship, some secret graces which I have endeavoured to express after your manner, have made whole poems of mine to pass with approbation: but take your verses all together, and they are inimitable. If, therefore, I have not written better, it is because you have not written more. You have not set me sufficient copy to transcribe; and I cannot add one letter of my own invention of which I have not the example there.
It is a general complaint against your lordship, and I must have leave to upbraid you with it, that, because you need not write, you will not. Mankind that wishes you so well in all things that relate to your prosperity, have their intervals of wishing for themselves, and are within a little of grudging you the fulness of your fortune: they would be more malicious if you used it not so well and with so much generosity.
Fame is in itself a real good, if we may believe Cicero, who was perhaps too fond of it; but even fame, as Virgil tells us, acquires strength by going forward. Let Epicurus give indolency as an attribute to his gods, and place in it the happiness of the blest: the Divinity which we worship has given us not only a precept against it, but His own example to the contrary. The world, my lord, would be content to allow you a seventh day for rest; or, if you thought that hard upon you, we would not refuse you half your time: if you came out, like some great monarch, to take a town but once a year, as it were for your diversion, though you had no need to extend your territories. In short, if you were a bad, or, which is worse, an indifferent poet, we would thank you for our own quiet, and not expose you to the want of yours. But when you are so great, and so successful, and when we have that necessity of your writing that we cannot subsist entirely without it, any more (I may almost say) than the world without the daily course of ordinary Providence, methinks this argument might prevail with you, my lord, to forego a little of your repose for the public benefit. It is not that you are under any force of working daily miracles to prove your being, but now and then somewhat of extraordinary—that is, anything of your production—is requisite to refresh your character.
This, I think, my lord, is a sufficient reproach to you, and should I carry it as far as mankind would authorise me, would be little less than satire. And indeed a provocation is almost necessary, in behalf of the world, that you might be induced sometimes to write; and in relation to a multitude of scribblers, who daily pester the world with their insufferable stuff, that they might be discouraged from writing any more. I complain not of their lampoons and libels, though I have been the public mark for many years. I am vindictive enough to have repelled force by force if I could imagine that any of them had ever reached me: but they either shot at rovers, and therefore missed; or their powder was so weak that I might safely stand them at the nearest distance. I answered not the “Rehearsal” because I knew the author sat to himself when he drew the picture, and was the very Bayes of his own farce; because also I knew that my betters were more concerned than I was in that satire; and, lastly, because Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson, the main pillars of it, were two such languishing gentlemen in their conversation that I could liken them to nothing but to their own relations, those noble characters of men of wit and pleasure about the town. The like considerations have hindered me from dealing with the lamentable companions of their prose and doggerel. I am so far from defending my poetry against them that I will not so much as expose theirs. And for my morals, if they are not proof against their attacks, let me be thought by posterity what those authors would be thought if any memory of them or of their writings could endure so long as to another age. But these dull makers of lampoons, as harmless as they have been to me, are yet of dangerous example to the public. Some witty men may perhaps succeed to their designs, and, mixing sense with malice, blast the reputation of the most innocent amongst men, and the most virtuous amongst women.
Heaven be praised, our common libellers are as free from the imputation of wit as of morality, and therefore whatever mischief they have designed they have performed but little of it. Yet these ill writers, in all justice, ought themselves to be exposed, as Persius has given us a fair example in his first Satire, which is levelled particularly at them; and none is so fit to correct their faults as he who is not only clear from any in his own writings, but is also so just that he will never defame the good, and is armed with the power of verse to punish and make examples of the bad. But of this I shall have occasion to speak further when I come to give the definition and character of true satires.
In the meantime, as a counsellor bred up in the knowledge of the municipal and statute laws may honestly inform a just prince how far his prerogative extends, so I may be allowed to tell your lordship, who by an undisputed title are the king of poets, what an extent of power you have, and how lawfully you may exercise it over the petulant scribblers of this age. As Lord Chamberlain, I know, you are absolute by your office in all that belongs to the decency and good manners of the stage. You can banish from thence scurrility and profaneness, and restrain the licentious insolence of poets and their actors in all things that shock the public quiet, or the reputation of private persons, under the notion of humour. But I mean not the authority which is annexed to your office, I speak of that only which is inborn and inherent to your person; what is produced in you by an excellent wit, a masterly and commanding genius over all writers: whereby you are empowered, when you please, to give the final decision of wit, to put your stamp on all that ought to pass for current and set a brand of reprobation on clipped poetry and false coin. A shilling dipped in the bath may go for gold amongst the ignorant, but the sceptres on the guineas show the difference. That your lordship is formed by nature for this supremacy I could easily prove (were it not already granted by the world) from the distinguishing character of your writing, which is so visible to me that I never could be imposed on to receive for yours what was written by any others, or to mistake your genuine poetry for their spurious productions. I can farther add with truth, though not without some vanity in saying it, that in the same paper written by divers hands, whereof your lordship’s was only part, I could separate your gold from their copper; and though I could not give back to every author his own brass (for there is not the same rule for distinguishing betwixt bad and bad as betwixt ill and excellently good), yet I never failed of knowing what was yours and what was not, and was absolutely certain that this or the other part was positively yours, and could not possibly be written by any other.
True it is that some bad poems, though not all, carry their owners’ marks about them. There is some peculiar awkwardness, false grammar, imperfect sense, or, at the least, obscurity; some brand or other on this buttock or that ear that it is notorious who are the owners of the cattle, though they should not sign it with their names. But your lordship, on the contrary, is distinguished not only by the excellency of your thoughts, but by your style and manner of expressing them. A painter judging of some admirable piece may affirm with certainty that it was of Holbein or Vandyck; but vulgar designs and common draughts are easily mistaken and misapplied. Thus, by my long study of your lordship, I am arrived at the knowledge of your particular manner. In the good poems of other men, like those artists, I can only say, “This is like the draught of such a one, or like the colouring of another;” in short, I can only be sure that it is the hand of a good master: but in your performances it is scarcely possible for me to be deceived. If you write in your strength, you stand revealed at the first view, and should you write under it, you cannot avoid some peculiar graces which only cost me a second consideration to discover you: for I may say it with all the severity of truth, that every line of yours is precious. Your lordship’s only fault is that you have not written more, unless I could add another, and that yet greater, but I fear for the public the accusation would not be true—that you have written, and out of a vicious modesty will not publish.
Virgil has confined his works within the compass of eighteen thousand lines, and has not treated many subjects, yet he ever had, and ever will have, the reputation of the best poet. Martial says of him that he could have excelled Varius in tragedy and Horace in lyric poetry, but out of deference to his friends he attempted neither.
The same prevalence of genius is in your lordship, but the world cannot pardon your concealing it on the same consideration, because we have neither a living Varius nor a Horace, in whose excellences both of poems, odes, and satires, you had equalled them, if our language had not yielded to the Roman majesty, and length of time had not added a reverence to the works of Horace. For good sense is the same in all or most ages, and course of time rather improves nature than impairs her. What has been, may be again; another Homer and another Virgil may possible arise from those very causes which produced the first, though it would be impudence to affirm that any such have yet appeared.
It is manifest that some particular ages have been more happy than others in the production of great men in all sorts of arts and sciences, as that of Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and the rest, for stage-poetry amongst the Greeks; that of Augustus for heroic, lyric, dramatic, elegiac, and indeed all sorts of poetry in the persons of Virgil, Horace, Varius, Ovid, and many others, especially if we take into that century the latter end of the commonwealth, wherein we find Varro, Lucretius, and Catullus; and at the same time lived Cicero and Sallust and Cæsar. A famous age in modern times for learning in every kind was that of Lorenzo de Medici and his son Leo the Tenth, wherein painting was revived, and poetry flourished, and the Greek language was restored.
Examples in all these are obvious, but what I would infer is this—that in such an age it is possible some great genius may arise to equal any of the ancients, abating only for the language; for great contemporaries whet and cultivate each other, and mutual borrowing and commerce makes the common riches of learning, as it does of the civil government.
But suppose that Homer and Virgil were the only of their species, and that nature was so much worn out in producing them that she is never able to hear the like again, yet the example only holds in heroic poetry; in tragedy and satire I offer myself to maintain, against some of our modern critics, that this age and the last, particularly in England, have excelled the ancients in both those kinds, and I would instance in Shakespeare of the former, of your lordship in the latter sort.
Thus I might safely confine myself to my native country. But if I would only cross the seas, I might find in France a living Horace and a Juvenal in the person of the admirable Boileau, whose numbers are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed and whose sense is close. What he borrows from the ancients, he repays with usury of his own in coin as good and almost as universally valuable: for, setting prejudice and partiality apart, though he is our enemy, the stamp of a Louis, the patron of all arts, is not much inferior to the medal of an Augustus Cæsar. Let this be said without entering into the interests of factions and parties, and relating only to the bounty of that king to men of learning and merit—a praise so just that even we, who are his enemies, cannot refuse it to him.
Now if it may be permitted me to go back again to the consideration of epic poetry, I have confessed that no man hitherto has reached or so much as approached to the excellences of Homer or of Virgil; I must farther add that Statius, the best versificator next to Virgil, knew not how to design after him, though he had the model in his eye; that Lucan is wanting both in design and subject, and is besides too full of heat and affectation; that amongst the moderns, Ariosto neither designed justly nor observed any unity of action, or compass of time, or moderation in the vastness of his draught: his style is luxurious without majesty or decency, and his adventures without the compass of nature and possibility. Tasso, whose design was regular, and who observed the roles of unity in time and place more closely than Virgil, yet was not so happy in his action: he confesses himself to have been too lyrical—that is, to have written beneath the dignity of heroic verse—in his episodes of Sophronia, Erminia, and Armida. His story is not so pleasing as Ariosto’s; he is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times unequal, and almost always forced; and, besides, is full of conceits, points of epigram, and witticisms; all which are not only below the dignity of heroic verse, but contrary to its nature: Virgil and Homer have not one of them. And those who are guilty of so boyish an ambition in so grave a subject are so far from being considered as heroic poets that they ought to be turned down from Homer to the “Anthologia,” from Virgil to Martial and Owen’s Epigrams, and from Spenser to Flecknoe—that is, from the top to the bottom of all poetry. But to return to Tasso: he borrows from the invention of Boiardo, and in his alteration of his poem, which is infinitely for the worse, imitates Homer so very servilely that (for example) he gives the King of Jerusalem fifty sons, only because Homer had bestowed the like number on King Priam; he kills the youngest in the same manner; and has provided his hero with a Patroclus, under another name, only to bring him back to the wars when his friend was killed. The French have performed nothing in this kind which is not far below those two Italians, and subject to a thousand more reflections, without examining their “St. Louis,” their “Pucelle,” or their “Alaric.” The English have only to boast of Spenser and Milton, who neither of them wanted either genius or learning to have been perfect poets; and yet both of them are liable to many censures. For there is no uniformity in the design of Spenser; he aims at the accomplishment of no one action; he raises up a hero for every one of his adventures, and endows each of them with some particular moral virtue, which renders them all equal, without subordination or preference: every one is most valiant in his own legend: only we must do him that justice to observe that magnanimity, which is the character of Prince Arthur, shines throughout the whole poem, and succours the rest when they are in distress. The original of every knight was then living in the court of Queen Elizabeth, and he attributed to each of them that virtue which he thought was most conspicuous in them—an ingenious piece of flattery, though it turned not much to his account. Had he lived to finish his poem in the six remaining legends, it had certainly been more of a piece; but could not have been perfect, because the model was not true. But Prince Arthur, or his chief patron Sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended to make happy by the marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, deprived the poet both of means and spirit to accomplish his design. For the rest, his obsolete language and the ill choice of his stanza are faults but of the second magnitude; for, notwithstanding the first, he is still intelligible—at least, after a little practice; and for the last, he is the more to be admired that, labouring under such a difficulty, his verses are so numerous, so various and so harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he professedly imitated, has surpassed him among the Romans, and only Mr. Waller among the English.
As for Mr. Milton, whom we all admire with so much justice, his subject is not that of an heroic poem, properly so called. His design is the losing of our happiness; his event is not prosperous, like that of all other epic works; his heavenly machines are many, and his human persons are but two. But I will not take Mr. Rymer’s work out of his hands: he has promised the world a critique on that author wherein, though he will not allow his poem for heroic, I hope he will grant us that his thoughts are elevated, his words sounding, and that no man has so happily copied the manner of Homer, or so copiously translated his Grecisms and the Latin elegances of Virgil. It is true, he runs into a flat of thought, sometimes for a hundred lines together, but it is when he has got into a track of Scripture. His antiquated words were his choice, not his necessity; for therein he imitated Spenser, as Spencer did Chaucer. And though, perhaps, the love of their masters may have transported both too far in the frequent use of them, yet in my opinion obsolete words may then be laudably revived when either they are more sounding or more significant than those in practice, and when their obscurity is taken away by joining other words to them which clear the sense—according to the rule of Horace for the admission of new words. But in both cases a moderation is to be observed in the use of them; for unnecessary coinage, as well as unnecessary revival, runs into affectation—a fault to be avoided on either hand. Neither will I justify Milton for his blank verse, though I may excuse him by the example of Hannibal Caro and other Italians who have used it; for, whatever causes he alleges for the abolishing of rhyme (which I have not now the leisure to examine), his own particular reason is plainly this—that rhyme was not his talent; he had neither the ease of doing it, nor the graces of it: which is manifest in his “Juvenilia” or verses written in his youth, where his rhyme is always constrained and forced, and comes hardly from him, at an age when the soul is most pliant, and the passion of love makes almost every man a rhymer, though not a poet.
By this time, my lord, I doubt not but that you wonder why I have run off from my bias so long together, and made so tedious a digression from satire to heroic poetry; but if you will not excuse it by the tattling quality of age (which, as Sir William Davenant says, is always narrative), yet I hope the usefulness of what I have to say on this subject will qualify the remoteness of it; and this is the last time I will commit the crime of prefaces, or trouble the world with my notions of anything that relates to verse. I have then, as you see, observed the failings of many great wits amongst the moderns who have attempted to write an epic poem. Besides these, or the like animadversions of them by other men, there is yet a farther reason given why they cannot possibly succeed so well as the ancients, even though we could allow them not to be inferior either in genius or learning, or the tongue in which they write, or all those other wonderful qualifications which are necessary to the forming of a true accomplished heroic poet. The fault is laid on our religion; they say that Christianity is not capable of those embellishments which are afforded in the belief of those ancient heathens.
And it is true that in the severe notions of our faith the fortitude of a Christian consists in patience, and suffering for the love of God whatever hardships can befall in the world—not in any great attempt, or in performance of those enterprises which the poets call heroic, and which are commonly the effects of interest, ostentation, pride, and worldly honour; that humility and resignation are our prime virtues; and that these include no action but that of the soul, whereas, on the contrary, an heroic poem requires to its necessary design, and as its last perfection, some great action of war, the accomplishment of some extraordinary undertaking, which requires the strength and vigour of the body, the duty of a soldier, the capacity and prudence of a general, and, in short, as much or more of the active virtue than the suffering. But to this the answer is very obvious. God has placed us in our several stations; the virtues of a private Christian are patience, obedience, submission, and the like; but those of a magistrate or a general or a king are prudence, counsel, active fortitude, coercive power, awful command, and the exercise of magnanimity as well as justice. So that this objection hinders not but that an epic poem, or the heroic action of some great commander, enterprised for the common good and honour of the Christian cause, and executed happily, may be as well written now as it was of old by the heathens, provided the poet be endued with the same talents; and the language, though not of equal dignity, yet as near approaching to it as our modern barbarism will allow—which is all that can be expected from our own or any other now extant, though more refined; and therefore we are to rest contented with that only inferiority, which is not possibly to be remedied.
I wish I could as easily remove that other difficulty which yet remains. It is objected by a great French critic as well as an admirable poet, yet living, and whom I have mentioned with that honour which his merit exacts from me (I mean, Boileau), that the machines of our Christian religion in heroic poetry are much more feeble to support that weight than those of heathenism. Their doctrine, grounded as it was on ridiculous fables, was yet the belief of the two victorious monarchies, the Grecian and Roman. Their gods did not only interest themselves in the event of wars (which is the effect of a superior Providence), but also espoused the several parties in a visible corporeal descent, managed their intrigues and fought their battles, sometimes in opposition to each other; though Virgil (more discreet than Homer in that last particular) has contented himself with the partiality of his deities, their favours, their counsels or commands, to those whose cause they had espoused, without bringing them to the outrageousness of blows. Now our religion, says he, is deprived of the greatest part of those machines—at least, the most shining in epic poetry. Though St. Michael in Ariosto seeks out Discord to send her amongst the Pagans, and finds her in a convent of friars, where peace should reign (which indeed is fine satire); and Satan in Tasso excites Soliman to an attempt by night on the Christian camp, and brings a host of devils to his assistance; yet the Archangel in the former example, when Discord was restive and would not be drawn from her beloved monastery with fair words, has the whip-hand of her, drags her out with many stripes, sets her on God’s name about her business, and makes her know the difference of strength betwixt a nuncio of heaven and a minister of hell. The same angel in the latter instance from Tasso (as if God had never another messenger belonging to the court, but was confined, like Jupiter to Mercury, and Juno to Iris), when he sees his time—that is, when half of the Christians are already killed, and all the rest are in a fair way to be routed—stickles betwixt the remainders of God’s host and the race of fiends, pulls the devils backward by the tails, and drives them from their quarry; or otherwise the whole business had miscarried, and Jerusalem remained untaken. This, says Boileau, is a very unequal match for the poor devils, who are sure to come by the worst of it in the combat; for nothing is more easy than for an Almighty Power to bring His old rebels to reason when He pleases. Consequently what pleasure, what entertainment, can be raised from so pitiful a machine, where we see the success of the battle from the very beginning of it? unless that as we are Christians, we are glad that we have gotten God on our side to maul our enemies when we cannot do the work ourselves. For if the poet had given the faithful more courage, which had cost him nothing, or at least have made them exceed the Turks in number, he might have gained the victory for us Christians without interesting Heaven in the quarrel, and that with as much ease and as little credit to the conqueror as when a party of a hundred soldiers defeats another which consists only of fifty.
This, my lord, I confess is such an argument against our modern poetry as cannot be answered by those mediums which have been used. We cannot hitherto boast that our religion has furnished us with any such machines as have made the strength and beauty of the ancient buildings.
But what if I venture to advance an invention of my own to supply the manifest defect of our new writers? I am sufficiently sensible of my weakness, and it is not very probable that I should succeed in such a project, whereof I have not had the least hint from any of my predecessors the poets, or any of their seconds or coadjutors the critics. Yet we see the art of war is improved in sieges, and new instruments of death are invented daily. Something new in philosophy and the mechanics is discovered almost every year, and the science of former ages is improved by the succeeding. I will not detain you with a long preamble to that which better judges will, perhaps, conclude to be little worth.
It is this, in short—that Christian poets have not hitherto been acquainted with their own strength. If they had searched the Old Testament as they ought, they might there have found the machines which are proper for their work, and those more certain in their effect than it may be the New Testament is in the rules sufficient for salvation. The perusing of one chapter in the prophecy of Daniel, and accommodating what there they find with the principles of Platonic philosophy as it is now Christianised, would have made the ministry of angels as strong an engine for the working up heroic poetry in our religion as that of the ancients has been to raise theirs by all the fables of their gods, which were only received for truths by the most ignorant and weakest of the people.
It is a doctrine almost universally received by Christians, as well Protestants as Catholics, that there are guardian angels appointed by God Almighty as His vicegerents for the protection and government of cities, provinces, kingdoms, and monarchies; and those as well of heathens as of true believers. All this is so plainly proved from those texts of Daniel that it admits of no farther controversy. The prince of the Persians, and that other of the Grecians, are granted to be the guardians and protecting ministers of those empires. It cannot be denied that they were opposite and resisted one another. St. Michael is mentioned by his name as the patron of the Jews, and is now taken by the Christians as the protector-general of our religion. These tutelar genii, who presided over the several people and regions committed to their charge, were watchful over them for good, as far as their commissions could possibly extend. The general purpose and design of all was certainly the service of their great Creator. But it is an undoubted truth that, for ends best known to the Almighty Majesty of Heaven, His providential designs for the benefit of His creatures, for the debasing and punishing of some nations, and the exaltation and temporal reward of others, were not wholly known to these His ministers; else why those factious quarrels, controversies, and battles amongst themselves, when they were all united in the same design, the service and honour of their common master? But being instructed only in the general, and zealous of the main design, and as finite beings not admitted into the secrets of government, the last resorts of Providence, or capable of discovering the final purposes of God (who can work good out of evil as He pleases, and irresistibly sways all manner of events on earth, directing them finally for the best to His creation in general, and to the ultimate end of His own glory in particular), they must of necessity be sometimes ignorant of the means conducing to those ends, in which alone they can jar and oppose each other—one angel, as we may suppose (the Prince of Persia, as he is called), judging that it would be more for God’s honour and the benefit of His people that the Median and Persian monarchy, which delivered them from the Babylonish captivity, should still be uppermost; and the patron of the Grecians, to whom the will of God might be more particularly revealed, contending on the other side for the rise of Alexander and his successors, who were appointed to punish the backsliding Jews, and thereby to put them in mind of their offences, that they might repent and become more virtuous and more observant of the law revealed. But how far these controversies and appearing enmities of those glorious creatures may be carried; how these oppositions may be best managed, and by what means conducted, is not my business to show or determine: these things must be left to the invention and judgment of the poet, if any of so happy a genius be now living, or any future age can produce a man who, being conversant in the philosophy of Plato as it is now accommodated to Christian use (for, as Virgil gives us to understand by his example, that is the only proper, of all others, for an epic poem), who to his natural endowments of a large invention, a ripe judgment, and a strong memory, has joined the knowledge of the liberal arts and sciences (and particularly moral philosophy, the mathematics, geography, and history), and with all these qualifications is born a poet, knows, and can practise the variety of numbers, and is master of the language in which he writes—if such a man, I say, be now arisen, or shall arise, I am vain enough to think that I have proposed a model to him by which he may build a nobler, a more beautiful, and more perfect poem than any yet extant since the ancients.
There is another part of these machines yet wanting; but by what I have said, it would have been easily supplied by a judicious writer. He could not have failed to add the opposition of ill spirits to the good; they have also their design, ever opposite to that of Heaven; and this alone has hitherto been the practice of the moderns: but this imperfect system, if I may call it such, which I have given, will infinitely advance and carry farther that hypothesis of the evil spirits contending with the good. For being so much weaker since their fall than those blessed beings, they are yet supposed to have a permitted power from God of acting ill, as from their own depraved nature they have always the will of designing it—a great testimony of which we find in Holy Writ, when God Almighty suffered Satan to appear in the holy synod of the angels (a thing not hitherto drawn into example by any of the poets), and also gave him power over all things belonging to his servant Job, excepting only life.
Now what these wicked spirits cannot compass by the vast disproportion of their forces to those of the superior beings, they may by their fraud and cunning carry farther in a seeming league, confederacy, or subserviency to the designs of some good angel, as far as consists with his purity to suffer such an aid, the end of which may possibly be disguised and concealed from his finite knowledge. This is indeed to suppose a great error in such a being; yet since a devil can appear like an angel of light, since craft and malice may sometimes blind for a while a more perfect understanding; and lastly, since Milton has given us an example of the like nature, when Satan, appearing like a cherub to Uriel, the intelligence of the sun, circumvented him even in his own province, and passed only for a curious traveller through those new-created regions, that he might observe therein the workmanship of God and praise Him in His works—I know not why, upon the same supposition, or some other, a fiend may not deceive a creature of more excellency than himself, but yet a creature; at least, by the connivance or tacit permission of the Omniscient Being.
Thus, my lord, I have, as briefly as I could, given your lordship, and by you the world, a rude draught of what I have been long labouring in my imagination, and what I had intended to have put in practice (though far unable for the attempt of such a poem), and to have left the stage, to which my genius never much inclined me, for a work which would have taken up my life in the performance of it. This, too, I had intended chiefly for the honour of my native country, to which a poet is particularly obliged. Of two subjects, both relating to it, I was doubtful—whether I should choose that of King Arthur conquering the Saxons (which, being farther distant in time, gives the greater scope to my invention), or that of Edward the Black Prince in subduing Spain and restoring it to the lawful prince, though a great tyrant, Don Pedro the Cruel—which for the compass of time, including only the expedition of one year; for the greatness of the action, and its answerable event; for the magnanimity of the English hero, opposed to the ingratitude of the person whom he restored; and for the many beautiful episodes which I had interwoven with the principal design, together with the characters of the chiefest English persons (wherein, after Virgil and Spenser, I would have taken occasion to represent my living friends and patrons of the noblest families, and also shadowed the events of future ages in the succession of our imperial line)—with these helps, and those of the machines which I have mentioned, I might perhaps have done as well as some of my predecessors, or at least chalked out a way for others to amend my errors in a like design; but being encouraged only with fair words by King Charles the Second, my little salary ill paid, and no prospect of a future subsistence, I was then discouraged in the beginning of my attempt; and now age has overtaken me, and want (a more insufferable evil) through the change of the times has wholly disenabled me; though I must ever acknowledge, to the honour of your lordship, and the eternal memory of your charity, that since this Revolution, wherein I have patiently suffered the ruin of my small fortune, and the loss of that poor subsistence which I had from two kings, whom I had served more faithfully than profitably to myself—then your lordship was pleased, out of no other motive but your own nobleness, without any desert of mine, or the least solicitation from me, to make me a most bountiful present, which at that time, when I was most in want of it, came most seasonably and unexpectedly to my relief. That favour, my lord, is of itself sufficient to bind any grateful man to a perpetual acknowledgment, and to all the future service which one of my mean condition can be ever able to perform. May the Almighty God return it for me, both in blessing you here and rewarding you hereafter! I must not presume to defend the cause for which I now suffer, because your lordship is engaged against it; but the more you are so, the greater is my obligation to you for your laying aside all the considerations of factions and parties to do an action of pure disinterested charity. This is one amongst many of your shining qualities which distinguish you from others of your rank. But let me add a farther truth—that without these ties of gratitude, and abstracting from them all, I have a most particular inclination to honour you, and, if it were not too bold an expression, to say I love you. It is no shame to be a poet, though it is to be a bad one. Augustus Cæsar of old, and Cardinal Richelieu of late, would willingly have been such; and David and Solomon were such. You who, without flattery, are the best of the present age in England, and would have been so had you been born in any other country, will receive more honour in future ages by that one excellency than by all those honours to which your birth has entitled you, or your merits have acquired you.
“Ne fortè pudori
Sit tibi Musa lyræ solers, et cantor Apollo.”
I have formerly said in this epistle that I could distinguish your writings from those of any others; it is now time to clear myself from any imputation of self-conceit on that subject. I assume not to myself any particular lights in this discovery; they are such only as are obvious to every man of sense and judgment who loves poetry and understands it. Your thoughts are always so remote from the common way of thinking that they are, as I may say, of another species than the conceptions of other poets; yet you go not out of nature for any of them. Gold is never bred upon the surface of the ground, but lies so hidden and so deep that the mines of it are seldom found; but the force of waters casts it out from the bowels of mountains, and exposes it amongst the sands of rivers, giving us of her bounty what we could not hope for by our search. This success attends your lordship’s thoughts, which would look like chance if it were not perpetual and always of the same tenor. If I grant that there is care in it, it is such a care as would be ineffectual and fruitless in other men; it is the curiosa felicitas which Petronius ascribes to Horace in his odes. We have not wherewithal to imagine so strongly, so justly, and so pleasantly: in short, if we have the same knowledge, we cannot draw out of it the same quintessence; we cannot give it such a turn, such a propriety, and such a beauty. Something is deficient in the manner or the words, but more in the nobleness of our conception. Yet when you have finished all, and it appears in its full lustre; when the diamond is not only found, but the roughness smoothed; when it is cut into a form and set in gold, then we cannot but acknowledge that it is the perfect work of art and nature; and every one will be so vain to think he himself could have performed the like until he attempts it. It is just the description that Horace makes of such a finished piece; it appears so easy,
“Ut sibi quivis
Speret idem, sudet multum, frustraque laboret,
And besides all this, it is your lordship’s particular talent to lay your thoughts so chose together that, were they closer, they would be crowded, and even a due connection would be wanting. We are not kept in expectation of two good lines which are to come after a long parenthesis of twenty bad; which is the April poetry of other writers, a mixture of rain and sunshine by fits: you are always bright, even almost to a fault, by reason of the excess. There is continual abundance, a magazine of thought, and yet a perpetual variety of entertainment; which creates such an appetite in your reader that he is not cloyed with anything, but satisfied with all. It is that which the Romans call cæna dubia; where there is such plenty, yet withal so much diversity, and so good order, that the choice is difficult betwixt one excellency and another; and yet the conclusion, by a due climax, is evermore the best—that is, as a conclusion ought to be, ever the most proper for its place. See, my lord, whether I have not studied your lordship with some application: and since you are so modest that you will not be judge and party, I appeal to the whole world if I have not drawn your picture to a great degree of likeness, though it is but in miniature, and that some of the best features are yet wanting. Yet what I have done is enough to distinguish you from any other, which is the proposition that I took upon me to demonstrate.
And now, my lord, to apply what I have said to my present business: the satires of Juvenal and Persius, appearing in this new English dress, cannot so properly be inscribed to any man as to your lordship, who are the first of the age in that way of writing. Your lordship, amongst many other favours, has given me your permission for this address; and you have particularly encouraged me by your perusal and approbation of the sixth and tenth satires of Juvenal as I have translated them. My fellow-labourers have likewise commissioned me to perform in their behalf this office of a dedication to you, and will acknowledge, with all possible respect and gratitude, your acceptance of their work. Some of them have the honour to be known to your lordship already; and they who have not yet that happiness, desire it now. Be pleased to receive our common endeavours with your wonted candour, without entitling you to the protection of our common failings in so difficult an undertaking. And allow me your patience, if it be not already tired with this long epistle, to give you from the best authors the origin, the antiquity, the growth, the change, and the completement of satire among the Romans; to describe, if not define, the nature of that poem, with its several qualifications and virtues, together with the several sorts of it; to compare the excellencies of Horace, Persius, and Juvenal, and show the particular manners of their satires; and, lastly, to give an account of this new way of version which is attempted in our performance: all which, according to the weakness of my ability, and the best lights which I can get from others, shall be the subject of my following discourse.
The most perfect work of poetry, says our master Aristotle, is tragedy. His reason is because it is the most united; being more severely confined within the rules of action, time, and place. The action is entire of a piece, and one without episodes; the time limited to a natural day; and the place circumscribed at least within the compass of one town or city. Being exactly proportioned thus, and uniform in all its parts, the mind is more capable of comprehending the whole beauty of it without distraction.
But after all these advantages an heroic poem is certainly the greatest work of human nature. The beauties and perfections of the other are but mechanical; those of the epic are more noble. Though Homer has limited his place to Troy and the fields about it; his actions to forty-eight natural days, whereof twelve are holidays, or cessation from business during the funeral of Patroclus. To proceed: the action of the epic is greater; the extension of time enlarges the pleasure of the reader, and the episodes give it more ornament and more variety. The instruction is equal; but the first is only instructive, the latter forms a hero and a prince.
If it signifies anything which of them is of the more ancient family, the best and most absolute heroic poem was written by Homer long before tragedy was invented. But if we consider the natural endowments and acquired parts which are necessary to make an accomplished writer in either kind, tragedy requires a less and more confined knowledge; moderate learning and observation of the rules is sufficient if a genius be not wanting. But in an epic poet, one who is worthy of that name, besides an universal genius is required universal learning, together with all those qualities and acquisitions which I have named above, and as many more as I have through haste or negligence omitted. And, after all, he must have exactly studied Homer and Virgil as his patterns, Aristotle and Horace as his guides, and Vida and Bossu as their commentators, with many others (both Italian and French critics) which I want leisure here to recommend.
In a word, what I have to say in relation to this subject, which does not particularly concern satire, is that the greatness of an heroic poem beyond that of a tragedy may easily be discovered by observing how few have attempted that work, in comparison to those who have written dramas; and of those few, how small a number have succeeded. But leaving the critics on either side to contend about the preference due to this or that sort of poetry, I will hasten to my present business, which is the antiquity and origin of satire, according to those informations which I have received from the learned Casaubon, Heinsius, Rigaltius, Dacier, and the Dauphin’s Juvenal, to which I shall add some observations of my own.
There has been a long dispute among the modern critics whether the Romans derived their satire from the Grecians or first invented it themselves. Julius Scaliger and Heinsius are of the first opinion; Casaubon, Rigaltius, Dacier, and the publisher of Dauphin’s Juvenal maintain the latter. If we take satire in the general signification of the word, as it is used in all modern languages, for an invective, it is certain that it is almost as old as verse; and though hymns, which are praises of God, may be allowed to have been before it, yet the defamation of others was not long after it. After God had cursed Adam and Eve in Paradise, the husband and wife excused themselves by laying the blame on one another, and gave a beginning to those conjugal dialogues in prose which the poets have perfected in verse. The third chapter of Job is one of the first instances of this poem in Holy Scripture, unless we will take it higher, from the latter end of the second, where his wife advises him to curse his Maker.
This original, I confess, is not much to the honour of satire; but here it was nature, and that depraved: when it became an art, it bore better fruit. Only we have learnt thus much already—that scoffs and revilings are of the growth of all nations; and consequently that neither the Greek poets borrowed from other people their art of railing, neither needed the Romans to take it from them. But considering satire as a species of poetry, here the war begins amongst the critics. Scaliger, the father, will have it descend from Greece to Rome; and derives the word “satire” from Satyrus, that mixed kind of animal (or, as the ancients thought him, rural god) made up betwixt a man and a goat, with a human head, hooked nose, pouting lips, a bunch or struma under the chin, pricked ears, and upright horns; the body shagged with hair, especially from the waist, and ending in a goat, with the legs and feet of that creature. But Casaubon and his followers, with reason, condemn this derivation, and prove that from Satyrus the word satira, as it signifies a poem, cannot possibly descend. For satira is not properly a substantive, but an adjective; to which the word lanx (in English a “charger” or “large platter”) is understood: so that the Greek poem made according to the manners of a Satyr, and expressing his qualities, must properly be called satirical, and not satire. And thus far it is allowed that the Grecians had such poems, but that they were wholly different in species from that to which the Romans gave the name of satire.
Aristotle divides all poetry, in relation to the progress of it, into nature without art, art begun, and art completed. Mankind, even the most barbarous, have the seeds of poetry implanted in them. The first specimen of it was certainly shown in the praises of the Deity and prayers to Him; and as they are of natural obligation, so they are likewise of divine institution: which Milton observing, introduces Adam and Eve every morning adoring God in hymns and prayers. The first poetry was thus begun in the wild notes of natural poetry before the invention of feet and measures. The Grecians and Romans had no other original of their poetry. Festivals and holidays soon succeeded to private worship, and we need not doubt but they were enjoined by the true God to His own people, as they were afterwards imitated by the heathens; who by the light of reason knew they were to invoke some superior being in their necessities, and to thank him for his benefits. Thus the Grecian holidays were celebrated with offerings to Bacchus and Ceres and other deities, to whose bounty they supposed they were owing for their corn and wine and other helps of life. And the ancient Romans, as Horace tells us, paid their thanks to Mother Earth or Vesta, to Silvanus, and their Genius in the same manner. But as all festivals have a double reason of their institution—the first of religion, the other of recreation for the unbending of our minds—so both the Grecians and Romans agreed (after their sacrifices were performed) to spend the remainder of the day in sports and merriments; amongst which songs and dances, and that which they called wit (for want of knowing better), were the chiefest entertainments. The Grecians had a notion of Satyrs, whom I have already described; and taking them and the Sileni—that is, the young Satyrs and the old—for the tutors, attendants, and humble companions of their Bacchus, habited themselves like those rural deities, and imitated them in their rustic dances, to which they joined songs with some sort of rude harmony, but without certain numbers; and to these they added a kind of chorus.
The Romans also, as nature is the same in all places, though they knew nothing of those Grecian demi-gods, nor had any communication with Greece, yet had certain young men who at their festivals danced and sang after their uncouth manner to a certain kind of verse which they called Saturnian. What it was we have no certain light from antiquity to discover; but we may conclude that, like the Grecian, it was void of art, or, at least, with very feeble beginnings of it. Those ancient Romans at these holy days, which were a mixture of devotion and debauchery, had a custom of reproaching each other with their faults in a sort of extempore poetry, or rather of tunable hobbling verse, and they answered in the same kind of gross raillery—their wit and their music being of a piece. The Grecians, says Casaubon, had formerly done the same in the persons of their petulant Satyrs; but I am afraid he mistakes the matter, and confounds the singing and dancing of the Satyrs with the rustical entertainments of the first Romans. The reason of my opinion is this: that Casaubon finding little light from antiquity of these beginnings of poetry amongst the Grecians, but only these representations of Satyrs who carried canisters and cornucopias full of several fruits in their hands, and danced with them at their public feasts, and afterwards reading Horace, who makes mention of his homely Romans jesting at one another in the same kind of solemnities, might suppose those wanton Satyrs did the same; and especially because Horace possibly might seem to him to have shown the original of all poetry in general (including the Grecians as well as Romans), though it is plainly otherwise that he only described the beginning and first rudiments of poetry in his own country. The verses are these, which he cites from the First Epistle of the Second Book, which was written to Augustus:—
“Agricolæ prisci, fortes, parvoque beati,
Condita post frumenta, levantes tempore festo
Corpus, et ipsum animum spe finis dura ferentem,
Cum sociis operum, et pueris, et conjuge fidâ,
Tellurem porco, Silvanum lacte piabant;
Floribus et vino Genium memorem brevis ævi.
Fescennina per hunc inventa licentia morem
Versibus alternis opprobria rustica fudit.”
“Our brawny clowns of old, who turned the soil,
Content with little, and inured to toil,
At harvest-home, with mirth and country cheer,
Restored their bodies for another year,
Refreshed their spirits, and renewed their hope
Of such a future feast and future crop.
Then with their fellow-joggers of the ploughs,
Their little children, and their faithful spouse,
A sow they slew to Vesta’s deity,
And kindly milk, Silvanus, poured to thee.
With flowers and wine their Genius they adored;
A short life and a merry was the word.
From flowing cups defaming rhymes ensue,
And at each other homely taunts they threw.”
Yet since it is a hard conjecture that so great a man as Casaubon should misapply what Horace writ concerning ancient Rome to the ceremonies and manners of ancient Greece, I will not insist on this opinion, but rather judge in general that since all poetry had its original from religion, that of the Grecians and Rome had the same beginning. Both were invented at festivals of thanksgiving, and both were prosecuted with mirth and raillery and rudiments of verses; amongst the Greeks by those who represented Satyrs, and amongst the Romans by real clowns.
For, indeed, when I am reading Casaubon on these two subjects methinks I hear the same story told twice over with very little alteration. Of which Dacier, taking notice in his interpretation of the Latin verses which I have translated, says plainly that the beginning of poetry was the same, with a small variety, in both countries, and that the mother of it in all nations was devotion. But what is yet more wonderful, that most learned critic takes notice also, in his illustrations on the First Epistle of the Second Book, that as the poetry of the Romans and that of the Grecians had the same beginning at feasts and thanksgiving (as it has been observed), and the old comedy of the Greeks (which was invective) and the satire of the Romans (which was of the same nature) were begun on the very same occasion, so the fortune of both in process of time was just the same—the old comedy of the Grecians was forbidden for its too much licence in exposing of particular persons, and the rude satire of the Romans was also punished by a law of the Decemviri, as Horace tells us in these words:—
“Libertasque recurrentes accepta per annos
Lusit amabiliter; donec jam sævus apertam
In rabiem verti cæpit jocus, et per honestas
Ire domos impune minax: doluere cruento
Dente lacessiti; fuit intactis quoque cura
Conditione super communi: quinetiam lex,
Pænaque lata, malo quæ nollet carmine quenquam
Describi: vertere modum, formidine fustis
Ad benedicendum delectandumque redacti.”
The law of the Decemviri was this: Siquis occentassit malum carmen, sive condidissit, quod infamiam faxit, flagitiumve alteri, capital esto. A strange likeness, and barely possible; but the critics being all of the same opinion, it becomes me to be silent and to submit to better judgments than my own.
But to return to the Grecians, from whose satiric dramas the elder Scaliger and Heinsius will have the Roman satire to proceed; I am to take a view of them first, and see if there be any such descent from them as those authors have pretended.
Thespis, or whoever he were that invented tragedy (for authors differ), mingled with them a chorus and dances of Satyrs which had before been used in the celebration of their festivals, and there they were ever afterwards retained. The character of them was also kept, which was mirth and wantonness; and this was given, I suppose, to the folly of the common audience, who soon grow weary of good sense, and, as we daily see in our own age and country, are apt to forsake poetry, and still ready to return to buffoonery and farce. From hence it came that in the Olympic Games, where the poets contended for four prizes, the satiric tragedy was the last of them, for in the rest the Satyrs were excluded from the chorus. Amongst the plays of Euripides which are yet remaining, there is one of these satirics, which is called The Cyclops, in which we may see the nature of those poems, and from thence conclude what likeness they have to the Roman satire.
The story of this Cyclops, whose name was Polyphemus (so famous in the Grecian fables), was that Ulysses, who with his company was driven on the coast of Sicily, where those Cyclops inhabited, coming to ask relief from Silenus and the Satyrs, who were herdsmen to that one-eyed giant, was kindly received by them, and entertained till, being perceived by Polyphemus, they were made prisoners against the rites of hospitality (for which Ulysses eloquently pleaded), were afterwards put down into the den, and some of them devoured; after which Ulysses (having made him drunk when he was asleep) thrust a great fire-brand into his eye, and so revenging his dead followers escaped with the remaining party of the living, and Silenus and the Satyrs were freed from their servitude under Polyphemus and remitted to their first liberty of attending and accompanying their patron Bacchus.
This was the subject of the tragedy, which, being one of those that end with a happy event, is therefore by Aristotle judged below the other sort, whose success is unfortunate; notwithstanding which, the Satyrs (who were part of the dramatis personæ, as well as the whole chorus) were properly introduced into the nature of the poem, which is mixed of farce and tragedy. The adventure of Ulysses was to entertain the judging part of the audience, and the uncouth persons of Silenus and the Satyrs to divert the common people with their gross railleries.
Your lordship has perceived by this time that this satiric tragedy and the Roman satire have little resemblance in any of their features. The very kinds are different; for what has a pastoral tragedy to do with a paper of verses satirically written? The character and raillery of the Satyrs is the only thing that could pretend to a likeness, were Scaliger and Heinsius alive to maintain their opinion. And the first farces of the Romans, which were the rudiments of their poetry, were written before they had any communication with the Greeks, or indeed any knowledge of that people.
And here it will be proper to give the definition of the Greek satiric poem from Casaubon before I leave this subject. “The ‘satiric,’” says he, “is a dramatic poem annexed to a tragedy having a chorus which consists of Satyrs. The persons represented in it are illustrious men, the action of it is great, the style is partly serious and partly jocular, and the event of the action most commonly is happy.”
The Grecians, besides these satiric tragedies, had another kind of poem, which they called “silli,” which were more of kin to the Roman satire. Those “silli” were indeed invective poems, but of a different species from the Roman poems of Ennius, Pacuvius, Lucilius, Horace, and the rest of their successors. “They were so called,” says Casaubon in one place, “from Silenus, the foster-father of Bacchus;” but in another place, bethinking himself better, he derives their name ὰπὸ τοῦ σιλλαίνειν, from their scoffing and petulancy. From some fragments of the “silli” written by Timon we may find that they were satiric poems, full of parodies; that is, of verses patched up from great poets, and turned into another sense than their author intended them. Such amongst the Romans is the famous Cento of Ausonius, where the words are Virgil’s, but by applying them to another sense they are made a relation of a wedding-night, and the act of consummation fulsomely described in the very words of the most modest amongst all poets. Of the same manner are our songs which are turned into burlesque, and the serious words of the author perverted into a ridiculous meaning. Thus in Timon’s “silli” the words are generally those of Homer and the tragic poets, but he applies them satirically to some customs and kinds of philosophy which he arraigns. But the Romans not using any of these parodies in their satires—sometimes indeed repeating verses of other men, as Persius cites some of Nero’s, but not turning them into another meaning—the “silli” cannot be supposed to be the original of Roman satire. To these “silli,” consisting of parodies, we may properly add the satires which were written against particular persons, such as were the iambics of Archilochus against Lycambes, which Horace undoubtedly imitated in some of his odes and epodes, whose titles bear sufficient witness of it: I might also name the invective of Ovid against Ibis, and many others. But these are the underwood of satire rather than the timber-trees; they are not of general extension, as reaching only to some individual person. And Horace seems to have purged himself from those splenetic reflections in those odes and epodes before he undertook the noble work of satires, which were properly so called.
Thus, my lord, I have at length disengaged myself from those antiquities of Greece, and have proved, I hope, from the best critics, that the Roman satire was not borrowed from thence, but of their own manufacture. I am now almost gotten into my depth; at least, by the help of Dacier, I am swimming towards it. Not that I will promise always to follow him, any more than he follows Casaubon; but to keep him in my eye as my best and truest guide; and where I think he may possibly mislead me, there to have recourse to my own lights, as I expect that others should do by me.
Quintilian says in plain words, Satira quidem tota nostra est; and Horace had said the same thing before him, speaking of his predecessor in that sort of poetry, et Græcis intacti carminis auctor. Nothing can be clearer than the opinion of the poet and the orator (both the best critics of the two best ages of the Roman empire), that satire was wholly of Latin growth, and not transplanted to Rome from Athens. Yet, as I have said, Scaliger the father, according to his custom (that is, insolently enough), contradicts them both, and gives no better reason than the derivation of satyrus from σάθυ, salacitas; and so, from the lechery of those fauns, thinks he has sufficiently proved that satire is derived from them: as if wantonness and lubricity were essential to that sort of poem, which ought to be avoided in it. His other allegation, which I have already mentioned, is as pitiful—that the Satyrs carried platters and canisters full of fruit in their hands. If they had entered empty-handed, had they been ever the less Satyrs? Or were the fruits and flowers which they offered anything of kin to satire? or any argument that this poem was originally Grecian? Casaubon judged better, and his opinion is grounded on sure authority: that satire was derived from satura, a Roman word which signifies full and abundant, and full also of variety, in which nothing is wanting to its due perfection. It is thus, says Denier, that we say a full colour, when the wool has taken the whole tincture and drunk in as much of the dye as it can receive. According to this derivation, from setur comes satura or satira, according to the new spelling, as optumus and maxumus are now spelled optimus and maximus. Satura, as I have formerly noted, is an adjective, and relates to the word lanx, which is understood; and this lanx (in English a “charger” or “large platter”) was yearly filled with all sorts of fruits, which were offered to the gods at their festivals as the premices or first gatherings. These offerings of several sorts thus mingled, it is true, were not unknown to the Grecians, who called them πανκαρπιὸν θυσίαν, a sacrifice of all sorts of fruits; and πανπερμίαν, when they offered all kinds of grain. Virgil has mentioned these sacrifices in his “Georgics”:—
“Lancibus et pandis fumantia reddimus exta;”
and in another place, lancesque et liba feremus—that is, “We offer the smoking entrails in great platters; and we will offer the chargers and the cakes.”
This word satura has been afterward applied to many other sorts of mixtures; as Festus calls it, a kind of olla or hotch-potch made of several sorts of meats. Laws were also called leges saturæ when they were of several heads and titles, like our tacked Bills of Parliament; and per saturam legem ferre in the Roman senate was to carry a law without telling the senators, or counting voices, when they were in haste. Sallust uses the word, per saturam sententias exquirere, when the majority was visibly on one side. From hence it might probably be conjectured that the Discourses or Satires of Ennius, Lucilius, and Horace, as we now call them, took their name, because they are full of various matters, and are also written on various subjects—as Porphyrius says. But Dacier affirms that it is not immediately from thence that these satires are so called, for that name had been used formerly for other things which bore a nearer resemblance to those discourses of Horace; in explaining of which, continues Dacier, a method is to be pursued of which Casaubon himself has never thought, and which will put all things into so clear a light that no further room will be left for the least dispute.
During the space of almost four hundred years since the building of their city the Romans had never known any entertainments of the stage. Chance and jollity first found out those verses which they called Saturnian and Fescennine; or rather human nature, which is inclined to poetry, first produced them rude and barbarous and unpolished, as all other operations of the soul are in their beginnings before they are cultivated with art and study. However, in occasions of merriment, they were first practised; and this rough-cast, unhewn poetry was instead of stage-plays for the space of a hundred and twenty years together. They were made extempore, and were, as the French call them, impromptus; for which the Tarsians of old were much renowned, and we see the daily examples of them in the Italian farces of Harlequin and Scaramucha. Such was the poetry of that savage people before it was tuned into numbers and the harmony of verse. Little of the Saturnian verses is now remaining; we only know from authors that they were nearer prose than poetry, without feet or measure. They were ἔυρυθμοι, but not ἔμμετροι. Perhaps they might be used in the solemn part of their ceremonies; and the Fescennine, which were invented after them, in their afternoons’ debauchery, because they were scoffing and obscene.
The Fescennine and Saturnian were the same; for as they were called Saturnian from their ancientness, when Saturn reigned in Italy, they were also called Fescennine, from Fescennia, a town in the same country where they were first practised. The actors, with a gross and rustic kind of raillery, reproached each other with their failings, and at the same time were nothing sparing of it to their audience. Somewhat of this custom was afterwards retained in their Saturnalia, or Feasts of Saturn, celebrated in December; at least, all kind of freedom in speech was then allowed to slaves, even against their masters; and we are not without some imitation of it in our Christmas gambols. Soldiers also used those Fescennine verses, after measure and numbers had been added to them, at the triumph of their generals; of which we have an example in the triumph of Julius Cæsar over Gaul in these expressions: Cæsar Gallias subegit, Nicomedes Cæsarem. Ecce Cæsar nunc triumphat, qui subegit Gallias; Nicomedes non triumphat, qui subegit Cæsarem. The vapours of wine made those first satirical poets amongst the Romans, which, says Dacier, we cannot better represent than by imagining a company of clowns on a holiday dancing lubberly and upbraiding one another in extempore doggerel with their defects and vices, and the stories that were told of them in bake-houses and barbers’ shops.
When they began to be somewhat better bred, and were entering, as I may say, into the first rudiments of civil conversation, they left these hedge-notes for another sort of poem, somewhat polished, which was also full of pleasant raillery, but without any mixture of obscenity. This sort of poetry appeared under the name of “satire” because of its variety; and this satire was adorned with compositions of music, and with dances; but lascivious postures were banished from it. In the Tuscan language, says Livy, the word hister signifies a player; and therefore those actors which were first brought from Etruria to Rome on occasion of a pestilence, when the Romans were admonished to avert the anger of the gods by plays (in the year ab urbe conditâ CCCXC.)—those actors, I say, were therefore called histriones: and that name has since remained, not only to actors Roman born, but to all others of every nation. They played, not the former extempore stuff of Fescennine verses or clownish jests, but what they acted was a kind of civil cleanly farce, with music and dances, and motions that were proper to the subject.
In this condition Livius Andronicus found the stage when he attempted first, instead of farces, to supply it with a nobler entertainment of tragedies and comedies. This man was a Grecian born, and being made a slave by Livius Salinator, and brought to Rome, had the education of his patron’s children committed to him, which trust he discharged so much to the satisfaction of his master that he gave him his liberty.
Andronicus, thus become a freeman of Rome, added to his own name that of Livius, his master; and, as I observed, was the first author of a regular play in that commonwealth. Being already instructed in his native country in the manners and decencies of the Athenian theatre, and conversant in the archæa comædia or old comedy of Aristophanes and the rest of the Grecian poets, he took from that model his own designing of plays for the Roman stage, the first of which was represented in the year CCCCCXIV. since the building of Rome, as Tully, from the Commentaries of Atticus, has assured us; it was after the end of the first Punic War, the year before Atticus was born. Dacier has not carried the matter altogether thus far; he only says that one Livius Andronicus was the first stage-poet at Rome. But I will adventure on this hint to advance another proposition, which I hope the learned will approve; and though we have not anything of Andronicus remaining to justify my conjecture, yet it is exceeding probable that, having read the works of those Grecian wits, his countrymen, he imitated not only the groundwork, but also the manner of their writing; and how grave soever his tragedies might be, yet in his comedies he expressed the way of Aristophanes, Eupolis, and the rest, which was to call some persons by their own names, and to expose their defects to the laughter of the people (the examples of which we have in the fore-mentioned Aristophanes, who turned the wise Socrates into ridicule, and is also very free with the management of Cleon, Alcibiades, and other ministers of the Athenian government). Now if this be granted, we may easily suppose that the first hint of satirical plays on the Roman stage was given by the Greeks—not from the satirica, for that has been reasonably exploded in the former part of this discourse—but from their old comedy, which was imitated first by Livius Andronicus. And then Quintilian and Horace must be cautiously interpreted, where they affirm that satire is wholly Roman, and a sort of verse which was not touched on by the Grecians. The reconcilement of my opinion to the standard of their judgment is not, however, very difficult, since they spoke of satire, not as in its first elements, but as it was formed into a separate work—begun by Ennius, pursued by Lucilius, and completed afterwards by Horace. The proof depends only on this postalatum—that the comedies of Andronicus, which were imitations of the Greek, were also imitations of their railleries and reflections on particular persons. For if this be granted me, which is a most probable supposition, it is easy to infer that the first light which was given to the Roman theatrical satire was from the plays of Livius Andronicus, which will be more manifestly discovered when I come to speak of Ennius. In the meantime I will return to Dacier.
The people, says he, ran in crowds to these new entertainments of Andronicus, as to pieces which were more noble in their kind, and more perfect than their former satires, which for some time they neglected and abandoned; but not long after they took them up again, and then they joined them to their comedies, playing them at the end of every drama, as the French continue at this day to act their farces, in the nature of a separate entertainment from their tragedies. But more particularly they were joined to the “Atellane” fables, says Casaubon; which were plays invented by the Osci. Those fables, says Valerius Maximus, out of Livy, were tempered with the Italian severity, and free from any note of infamy or obsceneness; and, as an old commentator on Juvenal affirms, the Exodiarii, which were singers and dancers, entered to entertain the people with light songs and mimical gestures, that they might not go away oppressed with melancholy from those serious pieces of the theatre. So that the ancient satire of the Romans was in extempore reproaches; the next was farce, which was brought from Tuscany; to that succeeded the plays of Andronicus, from the old comedy of the Grecians; and out of all these sprang two several branches of new Roman satire, like different scions from the same root, which I shall prove with as much brevity as the subject will allow.
A year after Andronicus had opened the Roman stage with his new dramas, Ennius was born; who, when he was grown to man’s estate, having seriously considered the genius of the people, and how eagerly they followed the first satires, thought it would be worth his pains to refine upon the project, and to write satires, not to be acted on the theatre, but read. He preserved the groundwork of their pleasantry, their venom, and their raillery on particular persons and general vices; and by this means, avoiding the danger of any ill success in a public representation, he hoped to be as well received in the cabinet as Andronicus had been upon the stage. The event was answerable to his expectation. He made discourses in several sorts of verse, varied often in the same paper, retaining still in the title their original name of satire. Both in relation to the subjects, and the variety of matters contained in them, the satires of Horace are entirely like them; only Ennius, as I said, confines not himself to one sort of verse, as Horace does, but taking example from the Greeks, and even from Homer himself in his “Margites” (which is a kind of satire, as Scaliger observes), gives himself the licence, when one sort of numbers comes not easily, to run into another, as his fancy dictates; for he makes no difficulty to mingle hexameters with iambic trimeters or with trochaic tetrameters, as appears by those fragments which are yet remaining of him. Horace has thought him worthy to be copied, inserting many things of his into his own satires, as Virgil has done into his “Æneids.”
Here we have Dacier making out that Ennius was the first satirist in that way of writing, which was of his invention—that is, satire abstracted from the stage and new modelled into papers of verses on several subjects. But he will have Ennius take the groundwork of satire from the first farces of the Romans rather than from the formed plays of Livius Andronicus, which were copied from the Grecian comedies. It may possibly be so; but Dacier knows no more of it than I do. And it seems to me the more probable opinion that he rather imitated the fine railleries of the Greeks, which he saw in the pieces of Andronicus, than the coarseness of his own countrymen in their clownish extemporary way of jeering.
But besides this, it is universally granted that Ennius, though an Italian, was excellently learned in the Greek language. His verses were stuffed with fragments of it, even to a fault; and he himself believed, according to the Pythagorean opinion, that the soul of Homer was transfused into him, which Persius observes in his sixth satire—postquam destertuit esse Mæonides. But this being only the private opinion of so inconsiderable a man as I am, I leave it to the further disquisition of the critics, if they think it worth their notice. Most evident it is that, whether he imitated the Roman farce or the Greek comedies, he is to be acknowledged for the first author of Roman satire, as it is properly so called, and distinguished from any sort of stage-play.
Of Pacuvius, who succeeded him, there is little to be said, because there is so little remaining of him; only that he is taken to be the nephew of Ennius, his sister’s son; that in probability he was instructed by his uncle in his way of satire, which we are told he has copied; but what advances he made, we know not.
Lucilius came into the world when Pacuvius flourished most. He also made satires after the manner of Ennius; but he gave them a more graceful turn, and endeavoured to imitate more closely the vetus comædia of the Greeks, of the which the old original Roman satire had no idea till the time of Livius Andronicus. And though Horace seems to have made Lucilius the first author of satire in verse amongst the Romans in these words—
“Quid? cum est Lucilius auses
Primus in hunc operis componere carmina morem”—
he is only thus to be understood—that Lucilius had given a more graceful turn to the satire of Ennius and Pacuvius, not that he invented a new satire of his own; and Quintilian seems to explain this passage of Horace in these words: Satira quidem tota nostra est; in quâ primus insignem laudem adeptus est Luciluis.
Thus both Horace and Quintilian give a kind of primacy of honour to Lucilius amongst the Latin satirists; for as the Roman language grew more refined, so much more capable it was of receiving the Grecian beauties, in his time. Horace and Quintilian could mean no more than that Lucilius writ better than Ennius and Pacuvius, and on the same account we prefer Horace to Lucilius. Both of them imitated the old Greek comedy; and so did Ennius and Pacuvius before them. The polishing of the Latin tongue, in the succession of times, made the only difference; and Horace himself in two of his satires, written purposely on this subject, thinks the Romans of his age were too partial in their commendations of Lucilius, who writ not only loosely and muddily, with little art and much less care, but also in a time when the Latin tongue was not yet sufficiently purged from the dregs of barbarism; and many significant and sounding words which the Romans wanted were not admitted even in the times of Lucretius and Cicero, of which both complain.
But to proceed: Dacier justly taxes Casaubon for saying that the satires of Lucilius were wholly different in species from those of Ennius and Pacuvius, Casaubon was led into that mistake by Diomedes the grammarian, who in effect says this:—“Satire amongst the Romans but not amongst the Greeks, was a biting invective poem, made after the model of the ancient comedy, for the reprehension of vices; such as were the poems of Lucilius, of Horace, and of Persius. But in former times the name of satire was given to poems which were composed of several sorts of verses, such as were made by Ennius and Pacuvius”—more fully expressing the etymology of the word satire from satura, which we have observed. Here it is manifest that Diomedes makes a specifical distinction betwixt the satires of Ennius and those of Lucilius. But this, as we say in English, is only a distinction without a difference; for the reason of it is ridiculous and absolutely false. This was that which cozened honest Casaubon, who, relying on Diomedes, had not sufficiently examined the origin and nature of those two satires, which were entirely the same both in the matter and the form; for all that Lucilius performed beyond his predecessors, Ennius and Pacuvius, was only the adding of more politeness and more salt, without any change in the substance of the poem. And though Lucilius put not together in the same satire several sorts of verses, as Ennius did, yet he composed several satires of several sorts of verses, and mingled them with Greek verses: one poem consisted only of hexameters, and another was entirely of iambics; a third of trochaics; as is visible by the fragments yet remaining of his works. In short, if the satires of Lucilius are therefore said to be wholly different from those of Ennius because he added much more of beauty and polishing to his own poems than are to be found in those before him, it will follow from hence that the satires of Horace are wholly different from those of Lucilius, because Horace has not less surpassed Lucilius in the elegancy of his writing than Lucilius surpassed Ennius in the turn and ornament of his. This passage of Diomedes has also drawn Dousa the son into the same error of Casaubon, which I say, not to expose the little failings of those judicious men, but only to make it appear with how much diffidence and caution we are to read their works when they treat a subject of so much obscurity and so very ancient as is this of satire.
Having thus brought down the history of satire from its original to the times of Horace, and shown the several changes of it, I should here discover some of those graces which Horace added to it, but that I think it will be more proper to defer that undertaking till I make the comparison betwixt him and Juvenal. In the meanwhile, following the order of time, it will be necessary to say somewhat of another kind of satire which also was descended from the ancient; it is that which we call the Varronian satire (but which Varro himself calls the Menippean) because Varro, the most learned of the Romans, was the first author of it, who imitated in his works the manners of Menippus the Gadarenian, who professed the philosophy of the Cynics.
This sort of satire was not only composed of several sorts of verse, like those of Ennius, but was also mixed with prose, and Greek was sprinkled amongst the Latin. Quintilian, after he had spoken of the satire of Lucilius, adds what follows:—“There is another and former kind of satire, composed by Terentius Varro, the most learned of the Romans, in which he was not satisfied alone with mingling in it several sorts of verse.” The only difficulty of this passage is that Quintilian tells us that this satire of Varro was of a former kind; for how can we possibly imagine this to be, since Varro, who was contemporary to Cicero, must consequently be after Lucilius? But Quintilian meant not that the satire of Varro was in order of time before Lucilius; he would only give us to understand that the Varronian satire, with mixture of several sorts of verses, was more after the manner of Ennius and Pacuvius than that of Lucilius, who was more severe and more correct, and gave himself less liberty in the mixture of his verses in the same poem.
We have nothing remaining of those Varronian satires excepting some inconsiderable fragments, and those for the most part much corrupted. The tithes of many of them are indeed preserved, and they are generally double; from whence, at least, we may understand how many various subjects were treated by that author. Tully in his “Academics” introduces Varro himself giving us some light concerning the scope and design of those works; wherein, after he had shown his reasons why he did not ex professo write of philosophy, he adds what follows:—“Notwithstanding,” says he, “that those pieces of mine wherein I have imitated Menippus, though I have not translated him, are sprinkled with a kind of mirth and gaiety, yet many things are there inserted which are drawn from the very entrails of philosophy, and many things severely argued which I have mingled with pleasantries on purpose that they may more easily go down with the common sort of unlearned readers.” The rest of the sentence is so lame that we can only make thus much out of it—that in the composition of his satires he so tempered philology with philosophy that his work was a mixture of them both. And Tully himself confirms us in this opinion when a little after he addresses himself to Varro in these words:—“And you yourself have composed a most elegant and complete poem; you have begun philosophy in many places; sufficient to incite us, though too little to instruct us.” Thus it appears that Varro was one of those writers whom they called σπουδογελοῖοι (studious of laughter); and that, as learned as he was, his business was more to divert his reader than to teach him. And he entitled his own satires Menippean; not that Menippus had written any satires (for his were either dialogues or epistles), but that Varro imitated his style, his manner, and his facetiousness. All that we know further of Menippus and his writings, which are wholly lost, is that by some he is esteemed, as, amongst the rest, by Varro; by others he is noted of cynical impudence and obscenity; that he was much given to those parodies which I have already mentioned (that is, he often quoted the verses of Homer and the tragic poets, and turned their serious meaning into something that was ridiculous); whereas Varro’s satires are by Tully called absolute, and most elegant and various poems. Lucian, who was emulous of this Menippus, seems to have imitated both his manners and his style in many of his dialogues, where Menippus himself is often introduced as a speaker in them and as a perpetual buffoon; particularly his character is expressed in the beginning of that dialogue which is called Νεκυομαντία. But Varro in imitating him avoids his impudence and filthiness, and only expresses his witty pleasantry.
This we may believe for certain—that as his subjects were various, so most of them were tales or stories of his own invention; which is also manifest from antiquity by those authors who are acknowledged to have written Varronian satires in imitation of his—of whom the chief is Petronius Arbiter, whose satire, they say, is now printing in Holland, wholly recovered, and made complete; when it is made public, it will easily be seen by any one sentence whether it be supposititious or genuine. Many of Lucian’s dialogues may also properly be called Varronian satires, particularly his true history; and consequently the “Golden Ass” of Apuleius, which is taken from him. Of the same stamp is the mock deification of Claudius by Seneca, and the Symposium or “Cæsars” of Julian the Emperor. Amongst the moderns we may reckon the “Encomium Moriæ” of Erasmus, Barclay’s “Euphormio,” and a volume of German authors which my ingenious friend Mr. Charles Killigrew once lent me. In the English I remember none which are mixed with prose as Varro’s were; but of the same kind is “Mother Hubbard’s Tale” in Spenser, and (if it be not too vain to mention anything of my own) the poems of “Absalom” and “MacFlecnoe.”
This is what I have to say in general of satire: only, as Dacier has observed before me, we may take notice that the word satire is of a more general signification in Latin than in French or English; for amongst the Romans it was not only used for those discourses which decried vice or exposed folly, but for others also, where virtue was recommended. But in our modern languages we apply it only to invective poems, where the very name of satire is formidable to those persons who would appear to the world what they are not in themselves; for in English, to say satire is to mean reflection, as we use that word in the worst sense; or as the French call it, more properly, médisance. In the criticism of spelling, it ought to be with i, and not with y, to distinguish its true derivation from satura, not from Satyrus; and if this be so, then it is false spelled throughout this book, for here it is written “satyr,” which having not considered at the first, I thought it not worth correcting afterwards. But the French are more nice, and never spell it any otherwise than “satire.”
I am now arrived at the most difficult part of my undertaking, which is to compare Horace with Juvenal and Persius. It is observed by Rigaltius in his preface before Juvenal, written to Thuanus, that these three poets have all their particular partisans and favourers. Every commentator, as he has taken pains with any of them, thinks himself obliged to prefer his author to the other two; to find out their failings, and decry them, that he may make room for his own darling. Such is the partiality of mankind, to set up that interest which they have once espoused, though it be to the prejudice of truth, morality, and common justice, and especially in the productions of the brain. As authors generally think themselves the best poets, because they cannot go out of themselves to judge sincerely of their betters, so it is with critics, who, having first taken a liking to one of these poets, proceed to comment on him and to illustrate him; after which they fall in love with their own labours to that degree of blind fondness that at length they defend and exalt their author, not so much for his sake as for their own. It is a folly of the same nature with that of the Romans themselves in their games of the circus. The spectators were divided in their factions betwixt the Veneti and the Prasini; some were for the charioteer in blue, and some for him in green. The colours themselves were but a fancy; but when once a man had taken pains to set out those of his party, and had been at the trouble of procuring voices for them, the case was altered: he was concerned for his own labour, and that so earnestly that disputes and quarrels, animosities, commotions, and bloodshed often happened; and in the declension of the Grecian empire, the very sovereigns themselves engaged in it, even when the barbarians were at their doors, and stickled for the preference of colours when the safety of their people was in question. I am now myself on the brink of the same precipice; I have spent some time on the translation of Juvenal and Persius, and it behoves me to be wary, lest for that reason I should be partial to them, or take a prejudice against Horace. Yet on the other side I would not be like some of our judges, who would give the cause for a poor man right or wrong; for though that be an error on the better hand, yet it is still a partiality, and a rich man unheard cannot be concluded an oppressor. I remember a saying of King Charles II. on Sir Matthew Hale (who was doubtless an uncorrupt and upright man), that his servants were sure to be cast on any trial which was heard before him; not that he thought the judge was possibly to be bribed, but that his integrity might be too scrupulous, and that the causes of the Crown were always suspicious when the privileges of subjects were concerned.
It had been much fairer if the modern critics who have embarked in the quarrels of their favourite authors had rather given to each his proper due without taking from another’s heap to raise their own. There is praise enough for each of them in particular, without encroaching on his fellows, and detracting from them or enriching themselves with the spoils of others. But to come to particulars: Heinsius and Dacier are the most principal of those who raise Horace above Juvenal and Persius. Scaliger the father, Rigaltius, and many others debase Horace that they may set up Juvenal; and Casaubon, who is almost single, throws dirt on Juvenal and Horace that he may exalt Persius, whom he understood particularly well, and better than any of his former commentators, even Stelluti, who succeeded him. I will begin with him who, in my opinion, defends the weakest cause, which is that of Persius; and labouring, as Tacitus professes of his own writing, to divest myself of partiality or prejudice, consider Persius, not as a poet whom I have wholly translated, and who has cost me more labour and time than Juvenal, but according to what I judge to be his own merit, which I think not equal in the main to that of Juvenal or Horace, and yet in some things to be preferred to both of them.
First, then, for the verse; neither Casaubon himself, nor any for him, can defend either his numbers or the purity of his Latin. Casaubon gives this point for lost, and pretends not to justify either the measures or the words of Persius; he is evidently beneath Horace and Juvenal in both.
Then, as his verse is scabrous and hobbling, and his words not everywhere well chosen (the purity of Latin being more corrupted than in the time of Juvenal, and consequently of Horace, who wrote when the language was in the height of its perfection), so his diction is hard, his figures are generally too bold and daring, and his tropes, particularly his metaphors, insufferably strained.
In the third place, notwithstanding all the diligence of Casaubon, Stelluti, and a Scotch gentleman whom I have heard extremely commended for his illustrations of him, yet he is still obscure; whether he affected not to be understood but with difficulty; or whether the fear of his safety under Nero compelled him to this darkness in some places, or that it was occasioned by his close way of thinking, and the brevity of his style and crowding of his figures; or lastly, whether after so long a time many of his words have been corrupted, and many customs and stories relating to them lost to us; whether some of these reasons, or all, concurred to render him so cloudy, we may be bold to affirm that the best of commentators can but guess at his meaning in many passages, and none can be certain that he has divined rightly.
After all he was a young man, like his friend and contemporary Lucan—both of them men of extraordinary parts and great acquired knowledge, considering their youth; but neither of them had arrived to that maturity of judgment which is necessary to the accomplishing of a formed poet. And this consideration, as on the one hand it lays some imperfections to their charge, so on the other side it is a candid excuse for those failings which are incident to youth and inexperience; and we have more reason to wonder how they, who died before the thirtieth year of their age, could write so well and think so strongly, than to accuse them of those faults from which human nature (and more especially in youth) can never possibly be exempted.
To consider Persius yet more closely: he rather insulted over vice and folly than exposed them like Juvenal and Horace; and as chaste and modest as he is esteemed, it cannot be denied but that in some places he is broad and fulsome, as the latter verses of the fourth satire and of the sixth sufficiently witness. And it is to be believed that he who commits the same crime often and without necessity cannot but do it with some kind of pleasure.
To come to a conclusion: he is manifestly below Horace because he borrows most of his greatest beauties from him; and Casaubon is so far from denying this that he has written a treatise purposely concerning it, wherein he shows a multitude of his translations from Horace, and his imitations of him, for the credit of his author, which he calls “Imitatio Horatiana.”
To these defects (which I casually observed while I was translating this author) Scaliger has added others; he calls him in plain terms a silly writer and a trifler, full of ostentation of his learning, and, after all, unworthy to come into competition with Juvenal and Horace.
After such terrible accusations, it is time to hear what his patron Casaubon can allege in his defence. Instead of answering, he excuses for the most part; and when he cannot, accuses others of the same crimes. He deals with Scaliger as a modest scholar with a master. He compliments him with so much reverence that one would swear he feared him as much at least as he respected him. Scaliger will not allow Persius to have any wit; Casaubon interprets this in the mildest sense, and confesses his author was not good at turning things into a pleasant ridicule, or, in other words, that he was not a laughable writer. That he was ineptus, indeed, but that was non aptissimus ad jocandum; but that he was ostentatious of his learning, that by Scaliger’s good favour he denies. Persius showed his learning, but was no boaster of it; he did ostendere, but not ostentare; and so, he says, did Scaliger (where, methinks, Casaubon turns it handsomely upon that supercilious critic, and silently insinuates that he himself was sufficiently vain-glorious and a boaster of his own knowledge). All the writings of this venerable censor, continues Casaubon, which are χρυσοῦ χρυσότερα (more golden than gold itself), are everywhere smelling of that thyme which, like a bee, he has gathered from ancient authors; but far be ostentation and vain-glory from a gentleman so well born and so nobly educated as Scaliger. But, says Scaliger, he is so obscure that he has got himself the name of Scotinus—a dark writer. “Now,” says Casaubon, “it is a wonder to me that anything could be obscure to the divine wit of Scaliger, from which nothing could be hidden.” This is, indeed, a strong compliment, but no defence; and Casaubon, who could not but be sensible of his author’s blind side, thinks it time to abandon a post that was untenable. He acknowledges that Persius is obscure in some places; but so is Plato, so is Thucydides; so are Pindar, Theocritus, and Aristophanes amongst the Greek poets; and even Horace and Juvenal, he might have added, amongst the Romans. The truth is, Persius is not sometimes, but generally obscure; and therefore Casaubon at last is forced to excuse him by alleging that it was se defendendo, for fear of Nero, and that he was commanded to write so cloudily by Cornutus, in virtue of holy obedience to his master. I cannot help my own opinion; I think Cornutus needed not to have read many lectures to him on that subject. Persius was an apt scholar, and when he was bidden to be obscure in some places where his life and safety were in question, took the same counsel for all his book, and never afterwards wrote ten lines together clearly. Casaubon, being upon this chapter, has not failed, we may be sure, of making a compliment to his own dear comment. “If Persius,” says he, “be in himself obscure, yet my interpretation has made him intelligible.” There is no question but he deserves that praise which he has given to himself; but the nature of the thing, as Lucretius says, will not admit of a perfect explanation. Besides many examples which I could urge, the very last verse of his last satire (upon which he particularly values himself in his preface) is not yet sufficiently explicated. It is true, Holyday has endeavoured to justify his construction; but Stelluti is against it: and, for my part, I can have but a very dark notion of it. As for the chastity of his thoughts, Casaubon denies not but that one particular passage in the fourth satire (At, si unctus cesses, &c.) is not only the most obscure, but the most obscene, of all his works. I understood it, but for that reason turned it over. In defence of his boisterous metaphors he quotes Longinus, who accounts them as instruments of the sublime, fit to move and stir up the affections, particularly in narration; to which it may be replied that where the trope is far-fetched and hard, it is fit for nothing but to puzzle the understanding, and may be reckoned amongst those things of Demosthenes which Æschines called θαύματα, not ῥήματα—that is, prodigies, not words. It must be granted to Casaubon that the knowledge of many things is lost in our modern ages which were of familiar notice to the ancients, and that satire is a poem of a difficult nature in itself, and is not written to vulgar readers; and (through the relation which it has to comedy) the frequent change of persons makes the sense perplexed, when we can but divine who it is that speaks—whether Persius himself, or his friend and monitor, or, in some places, a third person. But Casaubon comes back always to himself, and concludes that if Persius had not been obscure, there had been no need of him for an interpreter. Yet when he had once enjoined himself so hard a task, he then considered the Greek proverb, that he must χελώνης φαγεῖν, ἢ μὴ φαγεῖν (either eat the whole snail or let it quite alone); and so he went through with his laborious task, as I have done with my difficult translation.
Thus far, my lord, you see it has gone very hard with Persius. I think he cannot be allowed to stand in competition either with Juvenal or Horace. Yet, for once, I will venture to be so vain as to affirm that none of his hard metaphors or forced expressions are in my translation. But more of this in its proper place, where I shall say somewhat in particular of our general performance in making these two authors English. In the meantime I think myself obliged to give Persius his undoubted due, and to acquaint the world, with Casaubon, in what he has equalled and in what excelled his two competitors.
A man who is resolved to praise an author with any appearance of justice must be sure to take him on the strongest side, and where he is least liable to exceptions; he is therefore obliged to choose his mediums accordingly. Casaubon (who saw that Persius could not laugh with a becoming grace, that he was not made for jesting, and that a merry conceit was not his talent) turned his feather, like an Indian, to another light, that he might give it the better gloss. “Moral doctrine,” says he, “and urbanity or well-mannered wit are the two things which constitute the Roman satire; but of the two, that which is most essential to this poem, and is, as it were, the very soul which animates it, is the scourging of vice and exhortation to virtue.” Thus wit, for a good reason, is already almost out of doors, and allowed only for an instrument—a kind of tool or a weapon, as he calls it—of which the satirist makes use in the compassing of his design. The end and aim of our three rivals is consequently the same; but by what methods they have prosecuted their intention is further to be considered. Satire is of the nature of moral philosophy, as being instructive; he therefore who instructs most usefully will carry the palm from his two antagonists. The philosophy in which Persius was educated, and which he professes through his whole book, is the Stoic—the most noble, most generous, most beneficial to humankind amongst all the sects who have given us the rules of ethics, thereby to form a severe virtue in the soul, to raise in us an undaunted courage against the assaults of fortune, to esteem as nothing the things that are without us, because they are not in our power; not to value riches, beauty, honours, fame, or health any farther than as conveniences and so many helps to living as we ought, and doing good in our generation. In short, to be always happy while we possess our minds with a good conscience, are free from the slavery of vices, and conform our actions and conversation to the rules of right reason. See here, my lord, an epitome of Epictetus, the doctrine of Zeno, and the education of our Persius; and this he expressed, not only in all his satires, but in the manner of his life. I will not lessen this commendation of the Stoic philosophy by giving you an account of some absurdities in their doctrine, and some perhaps impieties (if we consider them by the standard of Christian faith). Persius has fallen into none of them, and therefore is free from those imputations. What he teaches might be taught from pulpits with more profit to the audience than all the nice speculations of divinity and controversies concerning faith, which are more for the profit of the shepherd than for the edification of the flock. Passion, interest, ambition, and all their bloody consequences of discord and of war are banished from this doctrine. Here is nothing proposed but the quiet and tranquillity of the mind; virtue lodged at home, and afterwards diffused in her general effects to the improvement and good of humankind. And therefore I wonder not that the present Bishop of Salisbury has recommended this our author and the tenth satire of Juvenal (in his pastoral letter) to the serious perusal and practice of the divines in his diocese as the best commonplaces for their sermons, as the storehouses and magazines of moral virtues, from whence they may draw out, as they have occasion, all manner of assistance for the accomplishment of a virtuous life, which the Stoics have assigned for the great end and perfection of mankind. Herein, then, it is that Persius has excelled both Juvenal and Horace. He sticks to his own philosophy; he shifts not sides, like Horace (who is sometimes an Epicurean, sometimes a Stoic, sometimes an Eclectic, as his present humour leads him), nor declaims, like Juvenal, against vices more like an orator than a philosopher. Persius is everywhere the same—true to the dogmas of his master. What he has learnt, he teaches vehemently; and what he teaches, that he practises himself. There is a spirit of sincerity in all he says; you may easily discern that he is in earnest, and is persuaded of that truth which he inculcates. In this I am of opinion that he excels Horace, who is commonly in jest, and laughs while he instructs; and is equal to Juvenal, who was as honest and serious as Persius, and more he could not be.
Hitherto I have followed Casaubon, and enlarged upon him, because I am satisfied that he says no more than truth; the rest is almost all frivolous. For he says that Horace, being the son of a tax-gatherer (or a collector, as we call it) smells everywhere of the meanness of his birth and education; his conceits are vulgar, like the subjects of his satires; that he does plebeium sepere, and writes not with that elevation which becomes a satirist; that Persius, being nobly born and of an opulent family, had likewise the advantage of a better master (Cornutus being the most learned of his time, a man of a most holy life, the chief of the Stoic sect at Rome, and not only a great philosopher, but a poet himself, and in probability a coadjutor of Persius): that as for Juvenal, he was long a declaimer, came late to poetry, and had not been much conversant in philosophy.
It is granted that the father of Horace was libertinus—that is, one degree removed from his grandfather, who had been once a slave. But Horace, speaking of him, gives him the best character of a father which I ever read in history; and I wish a witty friend of mine, now living, had such another. He bred him in the best school, and with the best company of young noblemen; and Horace, by his gratitude to his memory, gives a certain testimony that his education was ingenuous. After this he formed himself abroad by the conversation of great men. Brutus found him at Athens, and was so pleased with him that he took him thence into the army, and made him Tribunus Militum (a colonel in a legion), which was the preferment of an old soldier. All this was before his acquaintance with Mæcenas, and his introduction into the court of Augustus, and the familiarity of that great emperor; which, had he not been well bred before, had been enough to civilise his conversation, and render him accomplished and knowing in all the arts of complacency and good behaviour; and, in short, an agreeable companion for the retired hours and privacies of a favourite who was first minister. So that upon the whole matter Persius may be acknowledged to be equal with him in those respects, though better born, and Juvenal inferior to both. If the advantage be anywhere, it is on the side of Horace, as much as the court of Augustus Cæsar was superior to that of Nero. As for the subjects which they treated, it will appear hereafter that Horace wrote not vulgarly on vulgar subjects, nor always chose them. His style is constantly accommodated to his subject, either high or low. If his fault be too much lowness, that of Persius is the fault of the hardness of his metaphors and obscurity; and so they are equal in the failings of their style, where Juvenal manifestly triumphs over both of them.
The comparison betwixt Horace and Juvenal is more difficult, because their forces were more equal. A dispute has always been, and ever will continue, betwixt the favourers of the two poets. Non nostrum est tantas componere lites. I shall only venture to give my own opinion, and leave it for better judges to determine. If it be only argued in general which of them was the better poet, the victory is already gained on the side of Horace. Virgil himself must yield to him in the delicacy of his turns, his choice of words, and perhaps the purity of his Latin. He who says that Pindar is inimitable, is himself inimitable in his odes; but the contention betwixt these two great masters is for the prize of satire, in which controversy all the odes and epodes of Horace are to stand excluded. I say this because Horace has written many of them satirically against his private enemies; yet these, if justly considered, are somewhat of the nature of the Greek silli, which were invectives against particular sects and persons. But Horace had purged himself of this choler before he entered on those discourses which are more properly called the Roman satire. He has not now to do with a Lyce, a Canidia, a Cassius Severus, or a Menas; but is to correct the vices and the follies of his time, and to give the rules of a happy and virtuous life. In a word, that former sort of satire which is known in England by the name of lampoon is a dangerous sort of weapon, and for the most part unlawful. We have no moral right on the reputation of other men; it is taking from them what we cannot restore to them. There are only two reasons for which we may be permitted to write lampoons, and I will not promise that they can always justify us. The first is revenge, when we have been affronted in the same nature, or have been anywise notoriously abused, and can make ourselves no other reparation. And yet we know that in Christian charity all offences are to be forgiven, as we expect the like pardon for those which we daily commit against Almighty God. And this consideration has often made me tremble when I was saying our Saviour’s prayer, for the plain condition of the forgiveness which we beg is the pardoning of others the offences which they have done to us; for which reason I have many times avoided the commission of that fault, even when I have been notoriously provoked. Let not this, my lord, pass for vanity in me; for it is truth. More libels have been written against me than almost any man now living; and I had reason on my side to have defended my own innocence. I speak not of my poetry, which I have wholly given up to the critics—let them use it as they please—posterity, perhaps, may be more favourable to me; for interest and passion will lie buried in another age, and partiality and prejudice be forgotten. I speak of my morals, which have been sufficiently aspersed—that only sort of reputation ought to be dear to every honest man, and is to me. But let the world witness for me that I have been often wanting to myself in that particular; I have seldom answered any scurrilous lampoon when it was in my power to have exposed my enemies; and, being naturally vindicative, have suffered in silence, and possessed my soul in quiet.
Anything, though never so little, which a man speaks of himself, in my opinion, is still too much; and therefore I will waive this subject, and proceed to give the second reason which may justify a poet when he writes against a particular person, and that is when he is become a public nuisance. All those whom Horace in his satires, and Persius and Juvenal have mentioned in theirs with a brand of infamy, are wholly such. It is an action of virtue to make examples of vicious men. They may and ought to be upbraided with their crimes and follies, both for their own amendment (if they are not yet incorrigible), and for the terror of others, to hinder them from falling into those enormities, which they see are so severely punished in the persons of others. The first reason was only an excuse for revenge; but this second is absolutely of a poet’s office to perform. But how few lampooners are there now living who are capable of this duty! When they come in my way, it is impossible sometimes to avoid reading them. But, good God! how remote they are in common justice from the choice of such persons as are the proper subject of satire, and how little wit they bring for the support of their injustice! The weaker sex is their most ordinary theme; and the best and fairest are sure to be the most severely handled. Amongst men, those who are prosperously unjust are entitled to a panegyric, but afflicted virtue is insolently stabbed with all manner of reproaches; no decency is considered, no fulsomeness omitted; no venom is wanting, as far as dulness can supply it, for there is a perpetual dearth of wit, a barrenness of good sense and entertainment. The neglect of the readers will soon put an end to this sort of scribbling. There can be no pleasantry where there is no wit, no impression can be made where there is no truth for the foundation. To conclude: they are like the fruits of the earth in this unnatural season; the corn which held up its head is spoiled with rankness, but the greater part of the harvest is laid along, and little of good income and wholesome nourishment is received into the barns. This is almost a digression, I confess to your lordship; but a just indignation forced it from me. Now I have removed this rubbish I will return to the comparison of Juvenal and Horace.
I would willingly divide the palm betwixt them upon the two heads of profit and delight, which are the two ends of poetry in general. It must be granted by the favourers of Juvenal that Horace is the more copious and more profitable in his instructions of human life; but in my particular opinion, which I set not up for a standard to better judgments, Juvenal is the more delightful author. I am profited by both, I am pleased with both; but I owe more to Horace for my instruction, and more to Juvenal for my pleasure. This, as I said, is my particular taste of these two authors. They who will have either of them to excel the other in both qualities, can scarce give better reasons for their opinion than I for mine. But all unbiassed readers will conclude that my moderation is not to be condemned; to such impartial men I must appeal, for they who have already formed their judgment may justly stand suspected of prejudice; and though all who are my readers will set up to be my judges, I enter my caveat against them, that they ought not so much as to be of my jury; or; if they be admitted, it is but reason that they should first hear what I have to urge in the defence of my opinion.
That Horace is somewhat the better instructor of the two is proved from hence—that his instructions are more general, Juvenal’s more limited. So that, granting that the counsels which they give are equally good for moral use, Horace, who gives the most various advice, and most applicable to all occasions which can occur to us in the course of our lives—as including in his discourses not only all the rules of morality, but also of civil conversation—is undoubtedly to be preferred to him, who is more circumscribed in his instructions, makes them to fewer people, and on fewer occasions, than the other. I may be pardoned for using an old saying, since it is true and to the purpose: Bonum quò communius, eò melius. Juvenal, excepting only his first satire, is in all the rest confined to the exposing of some particular vice; that he lashes, and there he sticks. His sentences are truly shining and instructive; but they are sprinkled here and there. Horace is teaching us in every line, and is perpetually moral; he had found out the skill of Virgil to hide his sentences, to give you the virtue of them without showing them in their full extent, which is the ostentation of a poet, and not his art. And this Petronius charges on the authors of his time as a vice of writing, which was then growing on the age: ne sententiæ extra corpus orationis emineant; he would have them weaved into the body of the work, and not appear embossed upon it, and striking directly on the reader’s view. Folly was the proper quarry of Horace, and not vice; and as there are but few notoriously wicked men in comparison with a shoal of fools and fops, so it is a harder thing to make a man wise than to make him honest; for the will is only to be reclaimed in the one, but the understanding is to be informed in the other. There are blind sides and follies even in the professors of moral philosophy, and there is not any one sect of them that Horace has not exposed; which, as it was not the design of Juvenal, who was wholly employed in lashing vices (some of them the most enormous that can be imagined), so perhaps it was not so much his talent.
“Omne vafer vitium ridenti Flaccus amico
Tangit, et admissus circum præcordia ludit.”
This was the commendation which Persius gave him; where by vitium he means those little vices which we call follies, the defects of human understanding, or at most the peccadilloes of life, rather than the tragical vices to which men are hurried by their unruly passions and exorbitant desires. But in the word omne, which is universal, he concludes with me that the divine wit of Horace left nothing untouched; that he entered into the inmost recesses of nature; found out the imperfections even of the most wise and grave, as well as of the common people; discovering even in the great Trebatius (to whom he addresses the first satire) his hunting after business and following the court, as well as in the prosecutor Crispinus, his impertinence and importunity. It is true, he exposes Crispinus openly as a common nuisance; but he rallies the other, as a friend, more finely. The exhortations of Persius are confined to noblemen, and the Stoic philosophy is that alone which he recommends to them; Juvenal exhorts to particular virtues, as they are opposed to those vices against which he declaims; but Horace laughs to shame all follies, and insinuates virtue rather by familiar examples than by the severity of precepts.
This last consideration seems to incline the balance on the side of Horace, and to give him the preference to Juvenal, not only in profit, but in pleasure. But, after all, I must confess that the delight which Horace gives me is but languishing (be pleased still to understand that I speak of my own taste only); he may ravish other men, but I am too stupid and insensible to be tickled. Where he barely grins himself, and, as Scaliger says, only shows his white teeth, he cannot provoke me to any laughter. His urbanity—that is, his good manners—are to be commended; but his wit is faint, and his salt (if I may dare to say so) almost insipid. Juvenal is of a more vigorous and masculine wit; he gives me as much pleasure as I can bear; he fully satisfies my expectation; he treats his subject home; his spleen is raised, and he raises mine. I have the pleasure of concernment in all he says; he drives his reader along with him, and when he is at the end of his way, I willingly stop with him. If he went another stage, it would be too far; it would make a journey of a progress, and turn delight into fatigue. When he gives over, it is a sign the subject is exhausted, and the wit of man can carry it no farther. If a fault can be justly found in him, it is that he is sometimes too luxuriant, too redundant; says more than he needs, like my friend “the Plain Dealer,” but never more than pleases. Add to this that his thoughts are as just as those of Horace, and much more elevated; his expressions are sonorous and more noble; his verse more numerous; and his words are suitable to his thoughts, sublime and lofty. All these contribute to the pleasure of the reader; and the greater the soul of him who reads, his transports are the greater. Horace is always on the amble, Juvenal on the gallop, but his way is perpetually on carpet-ground. He goes with more impetuosity than Horace, but as securely; and the swiftness adds a more lively agitation to the spirits. The low style of Horace is according to his subject—that is, generally grovelling. I question not but he could have raised it, for the first epistle of the second book, which he writes to Augustus (a most instructive satire concerning poetry), is of so much dignity in the words, and of so much elegancy in the numbers, that the author plainly shows the sermo pedestris in his other satires was rather his choice than his necessity. He was a rival to Lucilius, his predecessor, and was resolved to surpass him in his own manner. Lucilius, as we see by his remaining fragments, minded neither his style, nor his numbers, nor his purity of words, nor his run of verse. Horace therefore copes with him in that humble way of satire, writes under his own force, and carries a dead weight, that he may match his competitor in the race. This, I imagine, was the chief reason why he minded only the clearness of his satire, and the cleanness of expression, without ascending to those heights to which his own vigour might have carried him. But limiting his desires only to the conquest of Lucilius, he had his ends of his rival, who lived before him, but made way for a new conquest over himself by Juvenal his successor. He could not give an equal pleasure to his reader, because he used not equal instruments. The fault was in the tools, and not in the workman. But versification and numbers are the greatest pleasures of poetry. Virgil knew it, and practised both so happily that, for aught I know, his greatest excellency is in his diction. In all other parts of poetry he is faultless, but in this he placed his chief perfection. And give me leave, my lord, since I have here an apt occasion, to say that Virgil could have written sharper satires than either Horace or Juvenal if he would have employed his talent that way. I will produce a verse and half of his, in one of his Eclogues, to justify my opinion, and with commas after every word, to show that he has given almost as many lashes as he has written syllables. It is against a bad poet, whose ill verses he describes:—
“Non tu, in triviis indocte, solebas
Stridenti, miserum, stipulâ, disperdere carmen?”
But to return to my purpose. When there is anything deficient in numbers and sound, the reader is uneasy and unsatisfied; he wants something of his complement, desires somewhat which he finds not: and this being the manifest defect of Horace, it is no wonder that, finding it supplied in Juvenal, we are more delighted with him. And besides this, the sauce of Juvenal is more poignant, to create in us an appetite of reading him. The meat of Horace is more nourishing, but the cookery of Juvenal more exquisite; so that, granting Horace to be the more general philosopher, we cannot deny that Juvenal was the greater poet—I mean, in satire. His thoughts are sharper, his indignation against vice is more vehement, his spirit has more of the commonwealth genius; he treats tyranny, and all the vices attending it, as they deserve, with the utmost rigour; and consequently a noble soul is better pleased with a zealous vindicator of Roman liberty than with a temporising poet, a well-mannered court slave, and a man who is often afraid of laughing in the right place—who is ever decent, because he is naturally servile.
After all, Horace had the disadvantage of the times in which he lived; they were better for the man, but worse for the satirist. It is generally said that those enormous vices which were practised under the reign of Domitian were unknown in the time of Augustus Cæsar; that therefore Juvenal had a larger field than Horace. Little follies were out of doors when oppression was to be scourged instead of avarice; it was no longer time to turn into ridicule the false opinions of philosophers when the Roman liberty was to be asserted. There was more need of a Brutus in Domitian’s days to redeem or mend, than of a Horace, if he had then been living, to laugh at a fly-catcher. This reflection at the same time excuses Horace, but exalts Juvenal. I have ended, before I was aware, the comparison of Horace and Juvenal upon the topics of instruction and delight; and indeed I may safely here conclude that commonplace: for if we make Horace our minister of state in satire, and Juvenal of our private pleasures, I think the latter has no ill bargain of it. Let profit have the pre-eminence of honour in the end of poetry; pleasure, though but the second in degree, is the first in favour. And who would not choose to be loved better rather than to be more esteemed! But I am entered already upon another topic, which concerns the particular merits of these two satirists. However, I will pursue my business where I left it, and carry it farther than that common observation of the several ages in which these authors flourished.
When Horace writ his satires, the monarchy of his Cæsar was in its newness, and the government but just made easy to the conquered people. They could not possibly have forgotten the usurpation of that prince upon their freedom, nor the violent methods which he had used in the compassing of that vast design; they yet remembered his proscriptions, and the slaughter of so many noble Romans their defenders—amongst the rest, that horrible action of his when he forced Livia from the arms of her husband (who was constrained to see her married, as Dion relates the story), and, big with child as she was, conveyed to the bed of his insulting rival. The same Dion Cassius gives us another instance of the crime before mentioned—that Cornelius Sisenna, being reproached in full senate with the licentious conduct of his wife, returned this answer: that he had married her by the counsel of Augustus (intimating, says my author, that Augustus had obliged him to that marriage, that he might under that covert have the more free access to her). His adulteries were still before their eyes, but they must be patient where they had not power. In other things that emperor was moderate enough; propriety was generally secured, and the people entertained with public shows and donatives, to make them more easily digest their lost liberty. But Augustus, who was conscious to himself of so many crimes which he had committed, thought in the first place to provide for his own reputation by making an edict against lampoons and satires, and the authors of those defamatory writings, which my author Tacitus, from the law-term, calls famosos libellos.
In the first book of his Annals he gives the following account of it in these words:—Primus Augustus cognitionem de famosis libellis, specie legis ejus, tractavit; commotus Cassii Severi libidine, quâ viros fæminasque illustres procacibus scriptis diffamaverat. Thus in English:—“Augustus was the first who, under the colour of that law, took cognisance of lampoons, being provoked to it by the petulancy of Cassius Severus, who had defamed many illustrious persons of both sexes in his writings.” The law to which Tacitus refers was Lex læsæ majestatis; commonly called, for the sake of brevity, majestas; or, as we say, high-treason. He means not that this law had not been enacted formerly (for it had been made by the Decemviri, and was inscribed amongst the rest in the Twelve Tables, to prevent the aspersion of the Roman majesty, either of the people themselves, or their religion, or their magistrates; and the infringement of it was capital—that is, the offender was whipped to death with the fasces which were borne before their chief officers of Rome), but Augustus was the first who restored that intermitted law. By the words “under colour of that law” he insinuates that Augustus caused it to be executed on pretence of those libels which were written by Cassius Severus against the nobility, but in truth to save himself from such defamatory verses. Suetonius likewise makes mention of it thus:—Sparsos de se in curiâ famosos libellos, nec exparit, et magnâ curâ redarguit. Ac ne requisitis quidem auctoribus, id modo censuit, cognoscendum posthac de iis qui libellos aut carmina ad infamiam cujuspiam sub alieno nomine edant. “Augustus was not afraid of libels,” says that author, “yet he took all care imaginable to have them answered, and then decreed that for the time to come the authors of them should be punished.” But Aurelius makes it yet more clear, according to my sense, that this emperor for his own sake durst not permit them:—Fecit id Augustus in speciem, et quasi gratificaretur populo Romano, et primoribus urbis; sed revera ut sibi consuleret: nam habuit in animo comprimere nimiam quorundam procacitatem in loquendo, à quâ nec ipse exemptus fuit. Nam suo nomine compescere erat invidiosum, sub alieno facile et utile. Ergo specie legis tractavit, quasi populi Romani majestas infamaretur. This, I think, is a sufficient comment on that passage of Tacitus. I will add only by the way that the whole family of the Cæsars and all their relations were included in the law, because the majesty of the Romans in the time of the Empire was wholly in that house: Omnia Cæsar erat; they were all accounted sacred who belonged to him. As for Cassius Severus, he was contemporary with Horace, and was the same poet against whom he writes in his epodes under this title, In Cassium Severum, maledicum poctam—perhaps intending to kill two crows, according to our proverb, with one stone, and revenge both himself and his emperor together.
From hence I may reasonably conclude that Augustus, who was not altogether so good as he was wise, had some by-respect in the enacting of this law; for to do anything for nothing was not his maxim. Horace, as he was a courtier, complied with the interest of his master; and, avoiding the lashing of greater crimes, confined himself to the ridiculing of petty vices and common follies, excepting only some reserved cases in his odes and epodes of his own particular quarrels (which either with permission of the magistrate or without it, every man will revenge, though I say not that he should; for prior læsit is a good excuse in the civil law if Christianity had not taught us to forgive). However, he was not the proper man to arraign great vices; at least, if the stories which we hear of him are true—that he practised some which I will not here mention, out of honour to him. It was not for a Clodius to accuse adulterers, especially when Augustus was of that number. So that, though his age was not exempted from the worst of villainies, there was no freedom left to reprehend them by reason of the edict; and our poet was not fit to represent them in an odious character, because himself was dipped in the same actions. Upon this account, without further insisting on the different tempers of Juvenal and Horace, I conclude that the subjects which Horace chose for satire are of a lower nature than those of which Juvenal has written.
Thus I have treated, in a new method, the comparison betwixt Horace, Juvenal, and Persius. Somewhat of their particular manner, belonging to all of them, is yet remaining to be considered. Persius was grave, and particularly opposed his gravity to lewdness, which was the predominant vice in Nero’s court at the time when he published his satires, which was before that emperor fell into the excess of cruelty. Horace was a mild admonisher, a court satirist, fit for the gentle times of Augustus, and more fit for the reasons which I have already given. Juvenal was as proper for his times as they for theirs; his was an age that deserved a more severe chastisement; vices were more gross and open, more flagitious, more encouraged by the example of a tyrant, and more protected by his authority. Therefore, wheresoever Juvenal mentions Nero, he means Domitian, whom he dares not attack in his own person, but scourges him by proxy. Heinsius urges in praise of Horace that, according to the ancient art and law of satire, it should be nearer to comedy than to tragedy; not declaiming against vice, but only laughing at it. Neither Persius nor Juvenal was ignorant of this, for they had both studied Horace. And the thing itself is plainly true. But as they had read Horace, they had likewise read Lucilius, of whom Persius says, Secuit urbem; . . . et genuinum fregit in illis; meaning Mutius and Lupus; and Juvenal also mentions him in these words:—
“Ense velut stricto, quoties Lucilius ardens
Infremuit, rubet auditor, cui frigida mens est
Criminibus, tacitá sulant præcordia culpâ.”
So that they thought the imitation of Lucilius was more proper to their purpose than that of Horace. “They changed satire,” says Holyday, “but they changed it for the better; for the business being to reform great vices, chastisement goes farther than admonition; whereas a perpetual grin, like that of Horace, does rather anger than amend a man.”
Thus far that learned critic Barten Holyday, whose interpretation and illustrations of Juvenal are as excellent as the verse of his translation and his English are lame and pitiful; for it is not enough to give us the meaning of a poet (which I acknowledge him to have performed most faithfully) but he must also imitate his genius and his numbers as far as the English will come up to the elegance of the original. In few words, it is only for a poet to translate a poet. Holyday and Stapleton had not enough considered this when they attempted Juvenal; but I forbear reflections: only I beg leave to take notice of this sentence, where Holyday says, “a perpetual grin, like that of Horace, rather angers than amends a man.” I cannot give him up the manner of Horace in low satire so easily. Let the chastisements of Juvenal be never so necessary for his new kind of satire, let him declaim as wittily and sharply as he pleases, yet still the nicest and most delicate touches of satire consist in fine raillery. This, my lord, is your particular talent, to which even Juvenal could not arrive. It is not reading, it is not imitation of, an author which can produce this fineness; it must be inborn; it must proceed from a genius, and particular way of thinking, which is not to be taught, and therefore not to be imitated by him who has it not from nature. How easy it is to call rogue and villain, and that wittily! but how hard to make a man appear a fool, a blockhead, or a knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms! To spare the grossness of the names, and to do the thing yet more severely, is to draw a full face and to make the nose and cheeks stand out, and yet not to employ any depth of shadowing. This is the mystery of that noble trade, which yet no master can teach to his apprentice; he may give the rules, but the scholar is never the nearer in his practice. Neither is it true that this fineness of raillery is offensive; a witty man is tickled, while he is hurt in this manner; and a fool feels it not. The occasion of an offence may possibly be given, but he cannot take it. If it be granted that in effect this way does more mischief; that a man is secretly wounded, and though he be not sensible himself, yet the malicious world will find it for him; yet there is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly butchering of a man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the head from the body and leaves it standing in its place. A man may be capable, as Jack Ketch’s wife said of his servant, of a plain piece of work, a bare hanging; but to make a malefactor die sweetly was only belonging to her husband. I wish I could apply it to myself, if the reader would be kind enough to think it belongs to me. The character of Zimri, in my “Absalom” is, in my opinion, worth the whole poem; it is not bloody, but it is ridiculous enough; and he for whom it was intended was too witty to resent it as an injury. If I had railed, I might have suffered for it justly; but I managed my own work more happily, perhaps more dexterously. I avoided the mention of great crimes, and applied myself to the representing of blind-sides and little extravagances; to which the wittier a man is, he is generally the more obnoxious. It succeeded as I wished; the jest went round, and he was laughed at in his turn who began the frolic.
And thus, my lord, you see I have preferred the manner of Horace and of your lordship in this kind of satire to that of Juvenal, and, I think, reasonably. Holyday ought not to have arraigned so great an author for that which was his excellency and his merit; or, if he did, on such a palpable mistake he might expect that some one might possibly arise (either in his own time, or after him) to rectify his error, and restore to Horace that commendation of which he has so unjustly robbed him. And let the manes of Juvenal forgive me if I say that this way of Horace was the best for amending manners, as it is the most difficult. His was an ense rescindendum; but that of Horace was a pleasant cure, with all the limbs preserved entire, and, as our mountebanks tell us in their bills, without keeping the patient within doors for a day. What they promise only, Horace has effectually performed. Yet I contradict not the proposition which I formerly advanced. Juvenal’s times required a more painful kind of operation; but if he had lived in the age of Horace, I must needs affirm that he had it not about him. He took the method which was prescribed him by his own genius, which was sharp and eager; he could not railly, but he could declaim: and as his provocations were great, he has revenged them tragically. This, notwithstanding I am to say another word which, as true as it is, will yet displease the partial admirers of our Horace; I have hinted it before, but it is time for me now to speak more plainly.
This manner of Horace is indeed the best; but Horace has not executed it altogether so happily—at least, not often. The manner of Juvenal is confessed to be inferior to the former; but Juvenal has excelled him in his performance. Juvenal has railed more wittily than Horace has rallied. Horace means to make his reader laugh, but he is not sure of his experiment. Juvenal always intends to move your indignation, and he always brings about his purpose. Horace, for aught I know, might have tickled the people of his age, but amongst the moderns he is not so successful. They who say he entertains so pleasantly, may perhaps value themselves on the quickness of their own understandings, that they can see a jest farther off than other men; they may find occasion of laughter in the wit-battle of the two buffoons Sarmentus and Cicerrus, and hold their sides for fear of bursting when Rupilius and Persius are scolding. For my own part, I can only like the characters of all four, which are judiciously given; but for my heart I cannot so much as smile at their insipid raillery. I see not why Persius should call upon Brutus to revenge him on his adversary; and that because he had killed Julius Cæsar for endeavouring to be a king, therefore he should be desired to murder Rupilius, only because his name was Mr. King. A miserable clench, in my opinion, for Horace to record; I have heard honest Mr. Swan make many a better, and yet have had the grace to hold my countenance. But it may be puns were then in fashion, as they were wit in the sermons of the last age, and in the court of King Charles the Second. I am sorry to say it, for the sake of Horace; but certain it is, he has no fine palate who can feed so heartily on garbage.
But I have already wearied myself, and doubt not but I have tired your lordship’s patience, with this long, rambling, and, I fear, trivial discourse. Upon the one-half of the merits, that is, pleasure, I cannot but conclude that Juvenal was the better satirist. They who will descend into his particular praises may find them at large in the dissertation of the learned Rigaltius to Thuanus. As for Persius, I have given the reasons why I think him inferior to both of them; yet I have one thing to add on that subject.
Barten Holyday, who translated both Juvenal and Persius, has made this distinction betwixt them, which is no less true than witty—that in Persius, the difficulty is to find a meaning; in Juvenal, to choose a meaning; so crabbed is Persius, and so copious is Juvenal; so much the understanding is employed in one, and so much the judgment in the other; so difficult is it to find any sense in the former, and the best sense of the latter.
If, on the other side, any one suppose I have commended Horace below his merit, when I have allowed him but the second place, I desire him to consider if Juvenal (a man of excellent natural endowments, besides the advantages of diligence and study, and coming after him and building upon his foundations) might not probably, with all these helps, surpass him; and whether it be any dishonour to Horace to be thus surpassed, since no art or science is at once begun and perfected but that it must pass first through many hands and even through several ages. If Lucilius could add to Ennius and Horace to Lucilius, why, without any diminution to the fame of Horace, might not Juvenal give the last perfection to that work? Or rather, what disreputation is it to Horace that Juvenal excels in the tragical satire, as Horace does in the comical? I have read over attentively both Heinsius and Dacier in their commendations of Horace, but I can find no more in either of them for the preference of him to Juvenal than the instructive part (the part of wisdom, and not that of pleasure), which therefore is here allowed him, notwithstanding what Scaliger and Rigaltius have pleaded to the contrary for Juvenal. And to show I am impartial I will here translate what Dacier has said on that subject:—
“I cannot give a more just idea of the two books of satires made by Horace than by comparing them to the statues of the Sileni, to which Alcibiades compares Socrates in the Symposium. They were figures which had nothing of agreeable, nothing of beauty on their outside; but when any one took the pains to open them and search into them, he there found the figures of all the deities. So in the shape that Horace presents himself to us in his satires we see nothing at the first view which deserves our attention; it seems that he is rather an amusement for children than for the serious consideration of men. But when we take away his crust, and that which hides him from our sight, when we discover him to the bottom, then we find all the divinities in a full assembly—that is to say, all the virtues which ought to be the continual exercise of those who seriously endeavour to correct their vices.”
It is easy to observe that Dacier, in this noble similitude, has confined the praise of his author wholly to the instructive part the commendation turns on this, and so does that which follows:—
“In these two books of satire it is the business of Horace to instruct us how to combat our vices, to regulate our passions, to follow nature, to give bounds to our desires, to distinguish betwixt truth and falsehood, and betwixt our conceptions of things and things themselves; to come back from our prejudicate opinions, to understand exactly the principles and motives of all our actions; and to avoid the ridicule into which all men necessarily fall who are intoxicated with those notions which they have received from their masters, and which they obstinately retain without examining whether or no they be founded on right reason.
“In a word, he labours to render us happy in relation to ourselves; agreeable and faithful to our friends; and discreet, serviceable, and well-bred in relation to those with whom we are obliged to live and to converse. To make his figures intelligible, to conduct his readers through the labyrinth of some perplexed sentence or obscure parenthesis, is no great matter; and, as Epictetus says, there is nothing of beauty in all this, or what is worthy of a prudent man. The principal business, and which is of most importance to us, is to show the use, the reason, and the proof of his precepts.
“They who endeavour not to correct themselves according to so exact a model are just like the patients who have open before them a book of admirable receipts for their diseases, and please themselves with reading it without comprehending the nature of the remedies or how to apply them to their cure.”
Let Horace go off with these encomiums, which he has so well deserved.
To conclude the contention betwixt our three poets I will use the words of Virgil in his fifth Æneid, where Æneas proposes the rewards of the foot-race to the three first who should reach the goal:—
“Tres præmia primi . . .
Accipient, flauâque caput nectentur olivâ.”
Let these three ancients be preferred to all the moderns as first arriving at the goal; let them all be crowned as victors with the wreath that properly belongs to satire. But after that, with this distinction amongst themselves:—
“Primus equum phaleris insignem victor habeto.”
Let Juvenal ride first in triumph.
“Alter Amazoniam pharetram, plenamque sagittis
Threiciis, lato quam circumplectitur auro
Balteus, et tereti subnectit fibula gemmâ.”
Let Horace, who is the second (and but just the second), carry off the quiver and the arrows as the badges of his satire, and the golden belt and the diamond button.
“Tertius Argolico hoc clypeo contentus abito.”
And let Persius, the last of the first three worthies, be contented with this Grecian shield, and with victory—not only over all the Grecians, who were ignorant of the Roman satire—but over all the moderns in succeeding ages, excepting Boileau and your lordship.
And thus I have given the history of satire, and derived it as far as from Ennius to your lordship—that is, from its first rudiments of barbarity to its last polishing and perfection; which is, with Virgil, in his address to Augustus—
“Nomen famâ tot ferre per annos, . . .
Tithoni primâ quot abest ab origine Cæsar.”
I said only from Ennius, but I may safely carry it higher, as far as Livius Andronicus, who, as I have said formerly, taught the first play at Rome in the year ab urbe conditâ CCCCCXIV. I have since desired my learned friend Mr. Maidwell to compute the difference of times betwixt Aristophanes and Livius Andronicus; and he assures me from the best chronologers that Plutus, the last of Aristophanes’ plays, was represented at Athens in the year of the 97th Olympiad, which agrees with the year urbis conditæ CCCLXIV. So that the difference of years betwixt Aristophanes and Andronicus is 150; from whence I have probably deduced that Livius Andronicus, who was a Grecian, had read the plays of the old comedy, which were satirical, and also of the new; for Menander was fifty years before him, which must needs be a great light to him in his own plays that were of the satirical nature. That the Romans had farces before this, it is true; but then they had no communication with Greece; so that Andronicus was the first who wrote after the manner of the old comedy, in his plays: he was imitated by Ennius about thirty years afterwards. Though the former writ fables, the latter, speaking properly, began the Roman satire, according to that description which Juvenal gives of it in his first:—
“Quicquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira voluptas,
Gaudia, discurses, nostri est farrago libelli.”
This is that in which I have made hold to differ from Casaubon, Rigaltius, Dacier, and indeed from all the modern critics—that not Ennius, but Andronicus, was the first who, by the archæa comedia of the Greeks, added many beauties to the first rude and barbarous Roman satire; which sort of poem, though we had not derived from Rome, yet nature teaches it mankind in all ages and in every country.
It is but necessary that, after so much has been said of satire, some definition of it should be given. Heinsius, in his Dissertations on Horace, makes it for me in these words:—“Satire is a kind of poetry, without a series of action, invented for the purging of our minds; in which human vices, ignorance, and errors, and all things besides which are produced from them in every man, are severely reprehended—partly dramatically, partly simply, and sometimes in both kinds of speaking, but for the most part figuratively and occultly; consisting, in a low familiar way, chiefly in a sharp and pungent manner of speech, but partly also in a facetious and civil way of jesting, by which either hatred or laughter or indignation is moved.” Where I cannot but observe that this obscure and perplexed definition, or rather description of satire, is wholly accommodated to the Horatian way, and excluding the works of Juvenal and Persius as foreign from that kind of poem. The clause in the beginning of it, “without a series of action,” distinguishes satire properly from stage-plays, which are all of one action and one continued series of action. The end or scope of satire is to purge the passions; so far it is common to the satires of Juvenal and Persius. The rest which follows is also generally belonging to all three, till he comes upon us with the excluding clause, “consisting, in a low familiar way of speech” which is the proper character of Horace, and from which the other two (for their honour be it spoken) are far distant. But how come lowness of style and the familiarity of words to be so much the propriety of satire that without them a poet can be no more a satirist than without risibility he can be a man? Is the fault of Horace to be made the virtue and standing rule of this poem? Is the grande sophos of Persius, and the sublimity of Juvenal, to be circumscribed with the meanness of words and vulgarity of expression? If Horace refused the pains of numbers and the loftiness of figures are they bound to follow so ill a precedent? Let him walk afoot with his pad in his hand for his own pleasure, but let not them be accounted no poets who choose to mount and show their horsemanship. Holyday is not afraid to say that there was never such a fall as from his odes to his satires, and that he, injuriously to himself, untuned his harp. The majestic way of Persius and Juvenal was new when they began it, but it is old to us; and what poems have not, with time, received an alteration in their fashion?—“which alteration,” says Holyday, “is to after-times as good a warrant as the first.” Has not Virgil changed the manners of Homer’s heroes in his Æneis? Certainly he has, and for the better; for Virgil’s age was more civilised and better bred, and he writ according to the politeness of Rome under the reign of Augustus Cæsar, not to the rudeness of Agamemnon’s age or the times of Homer. Why should we offer to confine free spirits to one form when we cannot so much as confine our bodies to one fashion of apparel? Would not Donne’s satires, which abound with so much wit, appear more charming if he had taken care of his words and of his numbers? But he followed Horace so very close that of necessity he must fall with him; and I may safely say it of this present age, that if we are not so great wits as Donne, yet certainly we are better poets.
But I have said enough, and it may be too much, on this subject. Will your lordship be pleased to prolong my audience only so far till I tell you my own trivial thoughts how a modern satire should be made? I will not deviate in the least from the precepts and examples of the ancients, who were always our best masters; I will only illustrate them, and discover some of the hidden beauties in their designs, that we thereby may form our own in imitation of them. Will you please but to observe that Persius, the least in dignity of all the three, has, notwithstanding, been the first who has discovered to us this important secret in the designing of a perfect satire—that it ought only to treat of one subject; to be confined to one particular theme, or, at least, to one principally? If other vices occur in the management of the chief, they should only be transiently lashed, and not be insisted on, so as to make the design double. As in a play of the English fashion which we call a tragicomedy, there is to be but one main design, and though there be an under-plot or second walk of comical characters and adventures, yet they are subservient to the chief fable, carried along under it and helping to it, so that the drama may not seem a monster with two heads. Thus the Copernican system of the planets makes the moon to be moved by the motion of the earth, and carried about her orb as a dependent of hers. Mascardi, in his discourse of the “Doppia Favola,” or double tale in plays, gives an instance of it in the famous pastoral of Guarini, called Il Pastor Fido, where Corisca and the Satyr are the under-parts; yet we may observe that Corisca is brought into the body of the plot and made subservient to it. It is certain that the divine wit of Horace was not ignorant of this rule—that a play, though it consists of many parts, must yet be one in the action, and must drive on the accomplishment of one design—for he gives this very precept, Sit quod vis simplex duntaxat, et unum; yet he seems not much to mind it in his satires, many of them consisting of more arguments than one, and the second without dependence on the first. Casaubon has observed this before me in his preference of Persius to Horace, and will have his own beloved author to be the first who found out and introduced this method of confining himself to one subject.
I know it may be urged in defence of Horace that this unity is not necessary, because the very word satura signifies a dish plentifully stored with all variety of fruits and grains. Yet Juvenal, who calls his poems a farrago (which is a word of the same signification with satura), has chosen to follow the same method of Persius and not of Horace; and Boileau, whose example alone is a sufficient authority, has wholly confined himself in all his satires to this unity of design. That variety which is not to be found in any one satire is at least in many, written on several occasions; and if variety be of absolute necessity in every one of them, according to the etymology of the word, yet it may arise naturally from one subject, as it is diversely treated in the several subordinate branches of it, all relating to the chief. It may be illustrated accordingly with variety of examples in the subdivisions of it, and with as many precepts as there are members of it, which all together may complete that olla or hotch-potch which is properly a satire.
Under this unity of theme or subject is comprehended another rule for perfecting the design of true satire. The poet is bound, and that ex officio, to give his reader some one precept of moral virtue, and to caution him against some one particular vice or folly. Other virtues, subordinate to the first, may be recommended under that chief head, and other vices or follies may be scourged, besides that which he principally intends; but he is chiefly to inculcate one virtue, and insist on that. Thus Juvenal, in every satire excepting the first, ties himself to one principal instructive point, or to the shunning of moral evil. Even in the sixth, which seems only an arraignment of the whole sex of womankind, there is a latent admonition to avoid ill women, by showing how very few who are virtuous and good are to be found amongst them. But this, though the wittiest of all his satires, has yet the least of truth or instruction in it; he has run himself into his old declamatory way, and almost forgotten that he was now setting up for a moral poet.
Persius is never wanting to us in some profitable doctrine, and in exposing the opposite vices to it. His kind of philosophy is one, which is the Stoic, and every satire is a comment on one particular dogma of that sect, unless we will except the first, which is against bad writers; and yet even there he forgets not the precepts of the “porch.” In general, all virtues are everywhere to be praised and recommended to practice, and all vices to be reprehended and made either odious or ridiculous, or else there is a fundamental error in the whole design.
I have already declared who are the only persons that are the adequate object of private satire, and who they are that may properly be exposed by name for public examples of vices and follies, and therefore I will trouble your lordship no further with them. Of the best and finest manner of satire, I have said enough in the comparison betwixt Juvenal and Horace; it is that sharp well-mannered way of laughing a folly out of countenance, of which your lordship is the best master in this age. I will proceed to the versification which is most proper for it, and add somewhat to what I have said already on that subject. The sort of verse which is called “burlesque,” consisting of eight syllables or four feet, is that which our excellent Hudibras has chosen. I ought to have mentioned him before when I spoke of Donne, but by a slip of an old man’s memory he was forgotten. The worth of his poem is too well known to need my commendation, and he is above my censure. His satire is of the Varronian kind, though unmixed with prose. The choice of his numbers is suitable enough to his design as he has managed it; but in any other hand the shortness of his verse, and the quick returns of rhyme, had debased the dignity of style. And besides, the double rhyme (a necessary companion of burlesque writing) is not so proper for manly satire, for it turns earnest too much to jest, and gives us a boyish kind of pleasure. It tickles awkwardly, with a kind of pain to the best sort of readers; we are pleased ungratefully, and, if I may say so, against our liking. We thank him not for giving us that unseasonable delight, when we know he could have given us a better and more solid. He might have left that task to others who, not being able to put in thought, can only makes us grin with the excrescence of a word of two or three syllables in the close. It is, indeed, below so great a master to make use of such a little instrument. But his good sense is perpetually shining through all he writes; it affords us not the time of finding faults: we pass through the levity of his rhyme, and are immediately carried into some admirable useful thought. After all, he has chosen this kind of verse, and has written the best in it, and had he taken another he would always have excelled; as we say of a court favourite, that whatsoever his office be, he still makes it uppermost and most beneficial to himself.
The quickness of your imagination, my lord, has already prevented me; and you know beforehand that I would prefer the verse of ten syllables, which we call the English heroic, to that of eight. This is truly my opinion, for this sort of number is more roomy; the thought can turn itself with greater ease in a larger compass. When the rhyme comes too thick upon us, it straitens the expression; we are thinking of the close when we should be employed in adorning the thought. It makes a poet giddy with turning in a space too narrow for his imagination; he loses many beauties without gaining one advantage. For a burlesque rhyme I have already concluded to be none; or, if it were, it is more easily purchased in ten syllables than in eight. In both occasions it is as in a tennis-court, when the strokes of greater force are given, when we strike out and play at length. Tassoni and Boileau have left us the best examples of this way in the “Seechia Rapita” and the “Lutrin,” and next them Merlin Cocaius in his “Baldus.” I will speak only of the two former, because the last is written in Latin verse. The “Secchia Rapita” is an Italian poem, a satire of the Varronian kind. It is written in the stanza of eight, which is their measure for heroic verse. The words are stately, the numbers smooth; the turn both of thoughts and words is happy. The first six lines of the stanza seem majestical and severe, but the two last turn them all into a pleasant ridicule. Boileau, if I am not much deceived, has modelled from hence his famous “Lutrin.” He had read the burlesque poetry of Scarron with some kind of indignation, as witty as it was, and found nothing in France that was worthy of his imitation; but he copied the Italian so well that his own may pass for an original. He writes it in the French heroic verse, and calls it an heroic poem; his subject is trivial, but his verse is noble. I doubt not but he had Virgil in his eye, for we find many admirable imitations of him, and some parodies, as particularly this passage in the fourth of the Æneids—
“Nec tibi diva parens, generis nec Dardanus auctor,
Perfide; sed duris genuit te cautibus horrens
Caucasus, Hyrrcanæque admôrunt ubera tigres:”
which he thus translates, keeping to the words, but altering the sense:—
“Non, ton père à Paris, ne fut point boulanger:
Et tu n’es point du sang de Gervais, l’horloger;
Ta mère ne fut point la maîtresse d’un coche;
Caucase dans ses flancs te forma d’une roché;
Une tigresse affreuse, en quelque antre écarté,
Te fit, avec son lait, succer sa cruauté.”
And as Virgil in his fourth Georgic of the bees, perpetually raises the lowness of his subject by the loftiness of his words, and ennobles it by comparisons drawn from empires and from monarchs—
“Admiranda tibi levium spectacula rerum,
Magnanimosque duces, totiusque ordine gentis
Mores et studia, et populos, et prælia dicam;”
“At genus immortale manet, multosque per annos
Stat fortuna domûs, et avi numerantur avorum;”
we see Boileau pursuing him in the same flights, and scarcely yielding to his master. This I think, my lord, to be the most beautiful and most noble kind of satire. Here is the majesty of the heroic finely mixed with the venom of the other, and raising the delight, which otherwise would be flat and vulgar, by the sublimity of the expression. I could say somewhat more of the delicacy of this and some other of his satires, but it might turn to his prejudice if it were carried back to France.
I have given your lordship but this bare hint—in what verse and in what manner this sort of satire may be best managed. Had I time I could enlarge on the beautiful turns of words and thoughts which are as requisite in this as in heroic poetry itself, of which the satire is undoubtedly a species. With these beautiful turns I confess myself to have been unacquainted till about twenty years ago. In a conversation which I had with that noble wit of Scotland, Sir George Mackenzie, he asked me why I did not imitate in my verses the turns of Mr. Waller and Sir John Denham, of which he repeated many to me. I had often read with pleasure, and with some profit, those two fathers of our English poetry, but had not seriously enough considered those beauties which give the last perfection to their works. Some sprinklings of this kind I had also formerly in my plays; but they were casual, and not designed. But this hint, thus seasonably given me, first made me sensible of my own wants, and brought me afterwards to seek for the supply of them in other English authors. I looked over the darling of my youth, the famous Cowley; there I found, instead of them, the points of wit and quirks of epigram, even in the “Davideis” (an heroic poem which is of an opposite nature to those puerilities), but no elegant turns, either on the word or on the thought. Then I consulted a greater genius (without offence to the manes of that noble author)—I mean Milton; but as he endeavours everywhere to express Homer, whose age had not arrived to that fineness, I found in him a true sublimity, lofty thoughts which were clothed with admirable Grecisms and ancient words, which he had been digging from the minds of Chaucer and Spenser, and which, with all their rusticity, had somewhat of venerable in them. But I found not there neither that for which I looked. At last I had recourse to his master, Spenser, the author of that immortal poem called the “Faerie Queen,” and there I met with that which I had been looking for so long in vain. Spenser had studied Virgil to as much advantage as Milton had done Homer, and amongst the rest of his excellences had copied that. Looking farther into the Italian, I found Tasso had done the same; nay, more, that all the sonnets in that language are on the turn of the first thought—which Mr. Walsh, in his late ingenious preface to his poems, has observed. In short, Virgil and Ovid are the two principal fountains of them in Latin poetry. And the French at this day are so fond of them that they judge them to be the first beauties; delicate, et bien tourné, are the highest commendations which they bestow on somewhat which they think a masterpiece.
An example of the turn of words, amongst a thousand others, is that in the last book of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”:—
“Heu! quantum scelus est, in viscera, viscera condi!
Congestoque avidum pinguescere corpore corpus;
Alteriusque animantem animantis vivere leto.”
An example on the turn both of thoughts and words is to be found in Catullus in the complaint of Ariadne when she was left by Theseus:—
“Tum jam nulla viro juranti fæmina credat;
Nulla viri speret sermones esse fideles;
Qui, dum aliquid cupiens animus prægestit apisci,
Nil metuunt jurare, nihil promittere parcunt:
Sed simul ac cupidæ mentis satiata libido est,
Dicta nihil metuere, nihil perjuria curant.”
An extraordinary turn upon the words is that in Ovid’s “Epistolæ Heroidum” of Sappho to Phaon:—
“Si, nisi quæ formâ poterit te digna videri,
Nulla futura tua est, nulla futura tua est.”
Lastly a turn, which I cannot say is absolutely on words—for the thought turns with them—is in the fourth Georgic of Virgil, where Orpheus is to receive his wife from hell on express condition not to look on her till she was come on earth:—
“Cum subita incautum dementia cepit amantem;
Ignoscenda quidem, scirent si ignoscere Manes.”
I will not burthen your lordship with more of them, for I write to a master who understands them better than myself; but I may safely conclude them to be great beauties. I might descend also to the mechanic beauties of heroic verse; but we have yet no English Prosodia, not so much as a tolerable dictionary or a grammar (so that our language is in a manner barbarous); and what Government will encourage any one, or more, who are capable of refining it, I know not: but nothing under a public expense can go through with it. And I rather fear a declination of the language than hope an advancement of it in the present age.
I am still speaking to you, my lord, though in all probability you are already out of hearing. Nothing which my meanness can produce is worthy of this long attention. But I am come to the last petition of Abraham: if there be ten righteous lines in this vast preface, spare it for their sake; and also spare the next city, because it is but a little one.
I would excuse the performance of this translation if it were all my own; but the better, though not the greater, part being the work of some gentlemen who have succeeded very happily in their undertaking, let their excellences atone for my imperfections and those of my sons. I have perused some of the Satires which are done by other hands, and they seem to me as perfect in their kind as anything I have seen in English verse. The common way which we have taken is not a literal translation, but a kind of paraphrase; or somewhat which is yet more loose, betwixt a paraphrase and imitation. It was not possible for us, or any men, to have made it pleasant any other way. If rendering the exact sense of these authors, almost line for line, had been our business, Barten Holyday had done it already to our hands; and by the help of his learned notes and illustrations, not only Juvenal and Persius, but, what yet is more obscure, his own verses might be understood.
But he wrote for fame, and wrote to scholars; we write only for the pleasure and entertainment of those gentlemen and ladies who, though they are not scholars, are not ignorant—persons of understanding and good sense, who, not having been conversant in the original (or, at least, not having made Latin verse so much their business as to be critics in it), would be glad to find if the wit of our two great authors be answerable to their fame and reputation in the world. We have therefore endeavoured to give the public all the satisfaction we are able in this kind.
And if we are not altogether so faithful to our author as our predecessors Holyday and Stapleton, yet we may challenge to ourselves this praise—that we shall be far more pleasing to our readers. We have followed our authors at greater distance, though not step by step as they have done; for oftentimes they have gone so close that they have trod on the heels of Juvenal and Persius, and hurt them by their too near approach. A noble author would not be pursued too close by a translator. We lose his spirit when we think to take his body. The grosser part remains with us, but the soul is flown away in some noble expression, or some delicate turn of words or thought. Thus Holyday, who made this way his choice, seized the meaning of Juvenal, but the poetry has always escaped him.
They who will not grant me that pleasure is one of the ends of poetry, but that it is only a means of compassing the only end (which is instruction), must yet allow that without the means of pleasure the instruction is but a bare and dry philosophy, a crude preparation of morals which we may have from Aristotle and Epictetus with more profit than from any poet. Neither Holyday nor Stapleton have imitated Juvenal in the poetical part of him, his diction, and his elocution. Nor, had they been poets (as neither of them were), yet in the way they took, it was impossible for them to have succeeded in the poetic part.
The English verse which we call heroic consists of no more than ten syllables; the Latin hexameter sometimes rises to seventeen; as, for example, this verse in Virgil:—
“Pulverulenta putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum.”
Here is the difference of no less than seven syllables in a line betwixt the English and the Latin. Now the medium of these is about fourteen syllables, because the dactyl is a more frequent foot in hexameters than the spondee. But Holyday (without considering that he writ with the disadvantage of four syllables less in every verse) endeavours to make one of his lines to comprehend the sense of one of Juvenal’s. According to the falsity of the proposition was the success. He was forced to crowd his verse with ill-sounding monosyllables (of which our barbarous language affords him a wild plenty), and by that means he arrived at his pedantic end, which was to make a literal translation. His verses have nothing of verse in them, but only the worst part of it—the rhyme; and that, into the bargain, is far from good. But, which is more intolerable, by cramming his ill-chosen and worse-sounding monosyllables so close together, the very sense which he endeavours to explain is become more obscure than that of his author; so that Holyday himself cannot be understood without as large a commentary as that which he makes on his two authors. For my own part, I can make a shift to find the meaning of Juvenal without his notes, but his translation is more difficult than his author. And I find beauties in the Latin to recompense my pains; but in Holyday and Stapleton my ears, in the first place, are mortally offended, and then their sense is so perplexed that I return to the original as the more pleasing task as well as the more easy.
This must be said for our translation—that if we give not the whole sense of Juvenal, yet we give the most considerable part of it; we give it, in general, so clearly that few notes are sufficient to make us intelligible. We make our author at least appear in a poetic dress. We have actually made him more sounding and more elegant than he was before in English, and have endeavoured to make him speak that kind of English which he would have spoken had he lived in England and had written to this age. If sometimes any of us (and it is but seldom) make him express the customs and manners of our native country rather than of Rome, it is either when there was some kind of analogy betwixt their customs and ours, or when (to make him more easy to vulgar understandings) we gave him those manners which are familiar to us. But I defend not this innovation; it is enough if I can excuse it. For (to speak sincerely) the manners of nations and ages are not to be confounded; we should either make them English or leave them Roman. If this can neither be defended nor excused, let it be pardoned at least, because it is acknowledged; and so much the more easily as being a fault which is never committed without some pleasure to the reader.
Thus, my lord, having troubled you with a tedious visit, the best manners will be shown in the least ceremony. I will slip away while your back is turned, and while you are otherwise employed; with great confusion for having entertained you so long with this discourse, and for having no other recompense to make you than the worthy labours of my fellow-undertakers in this work, and the thankful acknowledgments, prayers, and perpetual good wishes of,
Most obliged, most humble, and
Most obedient servant,
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