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omissis usitatioribus loquendi formulis, materiæ tam incultæ locutionem poeticam accommodaret; quomodo ignobiliori depressus argumento nunquam ad stylum plebeium orationem demiserat: sed tanta undique apparet locutionum vis, ut multi (quamvis temere) Georgicos etiam Æneidi prætulisse non dubitarint; sed in hoc opere, per argumentum, non licuit alias poeseus partes præstitisse, quam styli et descriptionum elegantiam. Quod ad utrumque attinet, illud sibi proprium semper vendicat Maronis pagina, ut, quicquid exprimat, mirâ quâdam dulcedine animum ingrediatur, et quod describat, melius quam si oculis subjiciatur, tanquam præsens intueamur.
In styli puritate proxime accedit Lucretius, cujus dictio, si obsoletæ aliquando verborum antiquitati, et numeris pene solutis agnoscas, illorum palato, qui Romane sapiunt, persuavis videatur. In descriptionibus tamen Claudiano secundus debeter honos, qui amœnas rerum imagines ubique venustissimâ contexuit oratione, in hoc solummodo vitiosus, quod fusius, quam par est, semper expatietur, eosdemque versus diversis exponat loquendi modis. In hac arte sese maxime profecisse satis noverat Claudianus; de quacunque enim re satagit, assidue semper quærit quæ describenda sunt, imo plurima sumpsit argumenta, quæ tota in descriptionibus oc
(waiving the common forms of speech,) he suits his poetic diction to so unpolite a theme; how, seemingly depressed with the meanness of his subject, he never sinks into a plebeian style; but the force and energy of his expression are so conspicuous, that many, too rashly indeed, have not scrupled to prefer the Georgics to the Eneid: but, in a work of this nature, no other parts of poetry could be displayed, except an elegance of style and description: in both these ways Virgil has this peculiar to himself, that he captivates the soul with his wonderful sweetness, and his descriptions are as lively as if we had the object placed before our eyes.
In the purity of his style next follows Lucretius, whose diction, allowing for his obsoleteness, and numbers almost prosaic, may challenge a share of praise in those who have any taste of the Roman eloquence. For descriptions, however, the second post of honour is due to Claudian, who has throughout, in a most beautiful style, interwoven his agreeable images; faulty in this alone, that he expatiates upon his subjects beyond all decency, and frequently gives us the same thoughts, diversified only in expression. Claudian well knew what a master he was in this art, for, on whatsoever topic he is engaged, he diligently searches out matter for
cupantur, ut videre est in præfationibus, in Idylliis, in libris de raptu Proserpinæ, de Phoenice, Histrice, Torpedine, et plerisque epigrammatum.
Ovidius (ut erat aulici ingenii homo) terso quidem et polito carmine res exhibuit amatorias, in cæteris tamen operibus istiusmodi occurrit sermo, quali in triviis uti solent. Ille enim ingenio suo confisus de operosiori dictione elaborandâ parum erat satis solicitus. In libro tamen Metamorphoses varias optime depinxit animalium mutationes, dum prior paulatim exuitur forma et nova superinducitur.
Utrumque hoc, quod jam tractamus, poetis officium non raro optime præstitit Papinius; Lucanus neutrum, cujus dictio, quanquam multum sonat inflata, nullâ tamen phraseorum aut epithetorum venustate animatur, sed orationi magis solutæ convenit, quam poetica; imo certe tali plerumque utitur verborum delectû, qualem vel liber dedignetur sermo. Et quanquam in descriptionibus sæpissime versatur, et in hujusmodi diverticula nunquam non excurrit, raro tamen, ut debet, opus absolvit,
Jam vero, quod ad Statium attinet, plurima certe composuit summis poetarum invidenda, sed, inter magnas virtutes, maxima occurrunt vitia. In dictione enim verba nimis
description; nay, most of the subjects he has wrote upon are wholly such as may be seen in his Prefaces, his Eclogues, his Books of the Rape of Proserpine, his Phoenix, his Porcupine, his Cramp-fish, and most of his Epigrams.
Ovid (like a true courtier as he was) describes the affairs of love in neat and polite verse. In the rest of his works we meet with the more vulgar way of expression; for, trusting to a good genius, he was little solicitous about forming a more elaborate style; but yet, in his Metamorphoses, he has painted, in the greatest perfection, the various changes of all creatures, and the transformations proceed in a most easy and gradual manner.
Statius has frequently discharged both these requisites of a poet we just now observed; Lucan neither, whose diction, although very bombast, is not enlivened either by beautiful phrases or epithets, but comes nearer prose than poetry; nay, there is in him commonly such a mean choice of words, as is sometimes even beneath prose itself; and although he abounds in descriptions, and is always making excursions of that kind, yet he seldom finishes his work as he ought, or brings his thoughts to any justness of conclusion.
But now, as to Statius, he has given us compositions worthy of the envy of the best poets. But, with all his beauties he has greater
admittit sesquipedalia, nullâque de argumento habitâ ratione, vana numeris miscet tonitrua; nec minus in descriptionibus peccat; nimio enim calori indulgens, dum totis viribus excellere conatur, ultra finem tendit opus, et in tumorem excrescit. In utrumque hujusmodi vitium aliquando incidit Claudianus.
Jam vero, quoniam de Virgilii Æneidis argumento varii multa scripserunt et præclara, pauca solummodo de Statii et Lucani carminibus sunt advertenda; utpote, quæ Latinorum omnium sola Epica haberi debent. De Lucano id sæpe in disputationem venit, an historia, quâ constat Pharsalicum poema, idoneum sit heroici carminis argumentum.
Vera ideo heroica poeses natura inquirenda est, quam, apud librum, de Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum, his verbis, optime exhibuit Verulamius nostras.
"De poesi narrativâ, sive eam heroicam appellare placet, (modo hoc intelligas de materiâ, non de versu,) ea a fundamento prorsus nobili excitata videtur, quod ad dignitatem humanæ naturæ imprimis spectat. Cum enim mundus sensibilis sit, animâ rationali, dignitate inferior, videtur poesis hæc humanæ naturæ largiri, quæ historia denegat; atque ani
faults; for in his expression he makes too much use of gigantic words; and, not considering his subject, mingles useless thunder in his numbers: nor is he less faulty in his descriptions; for, encouraging too great a heat, while he attempts to excel, he shoots beyond his mark, and swells unnaturally. Of both which extremes Claudian is too often guilty.
And now, since there have been many pieces written, and those of note, on the subject of Virgil's Æneis, (and less notice is taken of the poetry of Statius and Lucan,) to whose productions only the Latins allow the title of Epic Poetry. As to Lucan, it has been often disputed whether history, of which the Pharsalia consists, be a proper subject for an Heroic Poem.
For the decision of this point we must inquire into the true nature of Heroic Poetry, which our countryman, the Lord Bacon, has admirably described in his treatise Of the Advancement of Learning.
"As for Narrative Poesie, or, if you please, Heroical, (so you understand it of the matter, not of the verse,) it seems to be raised altogether from a noble foundation, which makes much for the dignity of man's nature. For, seeing this sensible world is, in dignity, inferior to the soul of man, poesie seems to endow human nature with that which history denies, and to give satisfaction to the mind, with,
mo, umbris rerum, utcunque satisfacere, cum solida haberi non possint. Si quis enim rem acutius introspiciat, firmum ex poesi sumitur argumentum, magnitudinem rerum magis illustrem, ordinem magis perfectum, et varietatem magis pulchram, animæ humanæ complacere, quam, in naturâ ipsâ, post lapsum, reperire ullo modo possit. Quapropter, cum res gestæ, et eventus, qui veræ historiæ subjiciuntur, non sint ejus amplitudinis, in quâ anima humana sibi satisfaciat, præsto est poesis, quæ facta magis heroica confingat: Cum historia vera, successus rerum, minime pro meritis virtutum et scelerum, narret; corrigit eam poesis, et exitus, et fortunas, secundum merita, et ex lege nemeseos, exhibet: Cum historia vera, obviâ rerum satietate et similitudine, animæ humanæ fastidio sit; reficit eam poesis inexpectata et varia, et vicissitudinum plena canens. Adeo ut poesis ista, non solum ad delectationem, sed etiam ad animi magnitudinem, et ad mores conferat. Quare et meritò etiam divinitatis cujuspiam particeps videri possit; quia animum erigit, et in sublime rapit: rerum simulachra ad animi desideria accommodando, non animum rebus (quod ratio facit et historia) submittendo." Ex quo satis patet, veram historiam cum epico poemate male
at least, the shadow of things, where the substance cannot be had. For, if the matter be thoroughly considered, a strong argument may be drawn from poesie, that a more stately greatness of things, a more perfect order, and a more beautiful variety, delights the soul of man than any way can be found in nature since the fall. Wherefore, seeing the acts and events, which are the subject of true history, are not of that amplitude as to content the mind of man, poesie is ready at hand to feign acts more heroical: because true history reports the successes of business not proportionable to the merit of virtues and vices, poesie corrects it, and presents events and fortunes according to desert, and according to the law of providence: because true history, through the frequent satiety and similitude of things, works a distaste and misprision in the mind of man; poesie cheereth and refresheth the soul, chaunting things rare and various, and full of vicissitudes. So as poesie serveth and conferreth to delectation, magnanimity, and morality; and therefore it may seem deservedly to have some participation of divineness, because it accommodates its images and descriptions to the utmost desire and wish of the soul, not subjecting the mind to things or facts, as reason and history do." From whence it is sufficiently manifest, that history and epic poetry are by no means proper companions; and, therefore, that Lucan has very much failed in his principal subject: the five
convenire; et proinde, Lucanum, quoad argumentum, maxime defecisse. Quinque, in illius poemate, maxime emicant he⚫roes, Cæsar, Pompeius, Brutus, Cato, et Cicero. Omnes sane tam vitâ insignes, quam morte luctuosi; quorum virtutes (quantum licuit per humanam naturam) perfectioni isti heroicæ, quam reliqui poetæ ducibus suis falso tribuerunt, proxime accesserant. Lucanus Cæsari undique oblatrat, Pompeii partes ambitiose fovet, sed Bruti et Catonis encomia, ob stoicum (credo) illud ingenium, quod cum his habuit commune, maxime celebrat: et plurima certe, quæ Lucano objicias, philosophiæ hujuscemodi sunt referenda. Inde immodicus iste ingenii tumor, et ambitiosa sententiarum ostentatio, quam, cum illâ hominum turbâ, semper habet in deliciis; inde quæ magna sunt, quam quæ bona sunt, maluit præferre. Hinc etiam, in eximiâ illâ poeseus virtute, passionibus excitandis, ipse (qui omnes philosophiæ affectus tanquam illicitos existimavit) male successerat, cujus vitii unicum tantum (ut taceam cætera) argumentum proferam. Postquam in pugnâ Pharsalicâ Cæsar de Pompeio victoriam reportaverit, Lucanus maxime debuit, si aliquid ab ipsâ historiâ alienum protulisset,
heroes who make the greatest figure in his poem, are Cæsar, Pompey, Brutus, Cato, and Cicero; each of them indeed as distinguishable in their lives, as to be lamented in their deaths; men, whose virtues, allowing for the frailties of human nature, came nearest to that pitch of heroic perfection, which other poets have falsely attributed to their heroes. Lucan everywhere snarls at Cæsar, and passionately espouses Pompey's interest; but, most of all, celebrates the characters of Brutus and Cato, for that spirit of stoicism, which he had equally imbibed with them; and, indeed, most of the faults objected to Lucan are rather to be imputed to this kind of philosophy. From whence sprung that boundless vein of wit, and that peculiar affectation of a lofty style; which, like that sect of men, he always delighted in, and therefore gives the preference rather to great than good actions. And upon this account, in raising the passions (that most excellent part of poetry) he succeeded but ill; because, upon the principles of his philosophy, the passions themselves were accounted as absolutely unlawful. To confirm this (passing by many others) I will produce but one instance: after Cæsar had obtained the victory over Pompey, in the battle of Pharsalia, Lucan certainly (if he had enlarged on any circumstance foreign to history itself) should, upon so remarkable an occasion, have lamented the undeserved fate of Pompey, in the most mourn