Addressed to the Most Honourable John, Lord Marquis of Normanby, Earl of Mulgrave, etc., and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
An heroic poem (truly such) is undoubtedly the greatest work which the soul of man is capable to perform. The design of it is to form the mind to heroic virtue by example; it is conveyed in verse that it may delight while it instructs. The action of it is always one, entire, and great. The least and most trivial episodes or under- actions which are interwoven in it are parts either necessary or convenient to carry on the main design--either so necessary that without them the poem must be imperfect, or so convenient that no others can be imagined more suitable to the place in which they are. There is nothing to be left void in a firm building; even the cavities ought not to be filled with rubbish which is of a perishable kind--destructive to the strength--but with brick or stone (though of less pieces, yet of the same nature), and fitted to the crannies. Even the least portions of them must be of the epic kind; all things must be grave, majestical, and sublime; nothing of a foreign nature, like the trifling novels which Ariosto and others have inserted in their poems, by which the reader is misled into another sort of pleasure, opposite to that which is designed in an epic poem. One raises the soul and hardens it to virtue; the other softens it again and unbends it into vice. One conduces to the poet's aim (the completing of his work), which he is driving on, labouring, and hastening in every line; the other slackens his pace, diverts him from his way, and locks him up like a knight-errant in an enchanted castle when he should be pursuing his first adventure. Statius (as Bossu has well observed) was ambitions of trying his strength with his master, Virgil, as Virgil had before tried his with Homer. The Grecian gave the two Romans an example in the games which were celebrated at the funerals of Patroclus. Virgil imitated the invention of Homer, but changed the sports. But both the Greek and Latin poet took their occasions from the subject, though (to confess the truth) they were both ornamental, or, at best, convenient parts of it, rather than of necessity arising from it. Statius (who through his whole poem is noted for want of conduct and judgment), instead of staying, as he might have done, for the death of Capaneus, Hippomedon, Tydeus, or some other of his Seven Champions (who are heroes all alike), or more properly for the tragical end of the two brothers whose exequies the next successor had leisure to perform when the siege was raised, and in the interval betwixt the poet's first action and his second, went out of his way--as it were, on prepense malice--to commit a fault; for he took his opportunity to kill a royal infant by the means of a serpent (that author of all evil) to make way for those funeral honours which he intended for him. Now if this innocent had been of any relation to his Thebais, if he had either farthered or hindered the taking of the town, the poet might have found some sorry excuse at least for detaining the reader from the promised siege. On these terms this Capaneus of a poet engaged his two immortal predecessors, and his success was answerable to his enterprise.
If this economy must be observed in the minutest parts of an epic poem, which to a common reader seem to be detached from the body, and almost independent of it, what soul, though sent into the world with great advantages of nature, cultivated with the liberal arts and sciences, conversant with histories of the dead, and enriched with observations on the living, can be sufficient to inform the whole body of so great a work? I touch here but transiently, without any strict method, on some few of those many rules of imitating nature which Aristotle drew from Homer's "Iliads" and "Odysses," and which he fitted to the drama--furnishing himself also with observations from the practice of the theatre when it flourished under AEschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles (for the original of the stage was from the epic poem). Narration, doubtless, preceded acting, and gave laws to it. What at first was told artfully was in process of time represented gracefully to the sight and hearing. Those episodes of Homer which were proper for the stage, the poets amplified each into an action. Out of his limbs they formed their bodies; what he had contracted, they enlarged; out of one Hercules were made infinity of pigmies, yet all endued with human souls; for from him, their great creator, they have each of them the divinae particulam aurae. They flowed from him at first, and are at last resolved into him. Nor were they only animated by him, but their measure and symmetry was owing to him. His one, entire, and great action was copied by them, according to the proportions of the drama. If he finished his orb within the year, it sufficed to teach them that their action being less, and being also less diversified with incidents, their orb, of consequence, must be circumscribed in a less compass, which they reduced within the limits either of a natural or an artificial day. So that, as he taught them to amplify what he had shortened, by the same rule applied the contrary way he taught them to shorten what he had amplified. Tragedy is the miniature of human life; an epic poem is the draft at length. Here, my lord, I must contract also, for before I was aware I was almost running into a long digression to prove that there is no such absolute necessity that the time of a stage-action should so strictly be confined to twenty-four hours as never to exceed them (for which Aristotle contends, and the Grecian stage has practised). Some longer space on some occasions, I think, may be allowed, especially for the English theatre, which requires more variety of incidents than the French. Corneille himself, after long practice, was inclined to think that the time allotted by the ancients was too short to raise and finish a great action; and better a mechanic rule were stretched or broken than a great beauty were omitted. To raise, and afterwards to calm, the passions; to purge the soul from pride by the examples of human miseries which befall the greatest; in few words, to expel arrogance and introduce compassion, are the great effects of tragedy--great, I must confess, if they were altogether as true as they are pompous. But are habits to be introduced at three hours' warning? Are radical diseases so suddenly removed? A mountebank may promise such a cure, but a skilful physician will not undertake it. An epic poem is not in so much haste; it works leisurely: the changes which it makes are slow, but the cure is likely to be more perfect. The effects of tragedy, as I said, are too violent to be lasting. If it be answered, that for this reason tragedies are often to be seen, and the dose to be repeated, this is tacitly to confess that there is more virtue in one heroic poem than in many tragedies. A man is humbled one day, and his pride returns the next. Chemical medicines are observed to relieve oftener than to cure; for it is the nature of spirits to make swift impressions, but not deep. Galenical decoctions, to which I may properly compare an epic poem, have more of body in them; they work by their substance and their weight.
It is one reason of Aristotle's to prove that tragedy is the more noble, because it turns in a shorter compass--the whole action being circumscribed within the space of four-and-twenty hours. He might prove as well that a mushroom is to be preferred before a peach, because it shoots up in the compass of a night. A chariot may be driven round the pillar in less space than a large machine, because the bulk is not so great. Is the moon a more noble planet than Saturn, because she makes her revolution in less than thirty days, and he in little less than thirty years? Both their orbs are in proportion to their several magnitudes; and consequently the quickness or slowness of their motion, and the time of their circumvolutions, is no argument of the greater or less perfection. And besides, what virtue is there in a tragedy which is not contained in an epic poem, where pride is humbled, virtue rewarded, and vice punished, and those more amply treated than the narrowness of the drama can admit? The shining quality of an epic hero, his magnanimity, his constancy, his patience, his piety, or whatever characteristical virtue his poet gives him, raises first our admiration; we are naturally prone to imitate what we admire, and frequent acts produce a habit. If the hero's chief quality be vicious--as, for example, the choler and obstinate desire of vengeance in Achilles--yet the moral is instructive; and besides, we are informed in the very proposition of the "Iliads" that this anger was pernicious, that it brought a thousand ills on the Grecian camp. The courage of Achilles is proposed to imitation, not his pride and disobedience to his general; nor his brutal cruelty to his dead enemy, nor the selling his body to his father. We abhor these actions while we read them, and what we abhor we never imitate; the poet only shows them, like rocks or quicksands to be shunned.
By this example the critics have concluded that it is not necessary the manners of the hero should be virtuous (they are poetically good if they are of a piece); though where a character of perfect virtue is set before us, it is more lovely; for there the whole hero is to be imitated. This is the AEneas of our author; this is that idea of perfection in an epic poem which painters and statuaries have only in their minds, and which no hands are able to express. These are the beauties of a God in a human body. When the picture of Achilles is drawn in tragedy, he is taken with those warts and moles and hard features by those who represent him on the stage, or he is no more Achilles; for his creator, Homer, has so described him. Yet even thus he appears a perfect hero, though an imperfect character of virtue. Horace paints him after Homer, and delivers him to be copied on the stage with all those imperfections. Therefore they are either not faults in an heroic poem, or faults common to the drama.
After all, on the whole merits of the cause, it must be acknowledged that the epic poem is more for the manners, and tragedy for the passions. The passions, as I have said, are violent; and acute distempers require medicines of a strong and speedy operation. Ill habits of the mind are, like chronical diseases, to be corrected by degrees, and cured by alteratives; wherein, though purges are sometimes necessary, yet diet, good air, and moderate exercise have the greatest part. The matter being thus stated, it will appear that both sorts of poetry are of use for their proper ends. The stage is more active, the epic poem works at greater leisure; yet is active too when need requires, for dialogue is imitated by the drama from the more active parts of it. One puts off a fit, like the quinquina, and relieves us only for a time; the other roots out the distemper, and gives a healthful habit. The sun enlightens and cheers us, dispels fogs, and warms the ground with his daily beams; but the corn is sowed, increases, is ripened, and is reaped for use in process of time and in its proper season.
I proceed from the greatness of the action to the dignity of the actors--I mean, to the persons employed in both poems. There likewise tragedy will be seen to borrow from the epopee; and that which borrows is always of less dignity, because it has not of its own. A subject, it is true, may lend to his sovereign; but the act of borrowing makes the king inferior, because he wants and the subject supplies. And suppose the persons of the drama wholly fabulous, or of the poet's invention, yet heroic poetry gave him the examples of that invention, because it was first, and Homer the common father of the stage. I know not of any one advantage which tragedy can boast above heroic poetry but that it is represented to the view as well as read, and instructs in the closet as well as on the theatre. This is an uncontended excellence, and a chief branch of its prerogative; yet I may be allowed to say without partiality that herein the actors share the poet's praise. Your lordship knows some modern tragedies which are beautiful on the stage, and yet I am confident you would not read them. Tryphon the stationer complains they are seldom asked for in his shop. The poet who flourished in the scene is damned in the ruelle; nay, more, he is not esteemed a good poet by those who see and hear his extravagances with delight. They are a sort of stately fustian and lofty childishness. Nothing but nature can give a sincere pleasure; where that is not imitated, it is grotesque painting; the fine woman ends in a fish's tail.
I might also add that many things which not only please, but are real beauties in the reading, would appear absurd upon the stage; and those not only the speciosa miracula, as Horace calls them, of transformations of Scylla, Antiphates, and the Laestrygons (which cannot be represented even in operas), but the prowess of Achilles or AEneas would appear ridiculous in our dwarf-heroes of the theatre. We can believe they routed armies in Homer or in Virgil, but ne Hercules contra duos in the drama. I forbear to instance in many things which the stage cannot or ought not to represent; for I have said already more than I intended on this subject, and should fear it might be turned against me that I plead for the pre-eminence of epic poetry because I have taken some pains in translating Virgil, if this were the first time that I had delivered my opinion in this dispute; but I have more than once already maintained the rights of my two masters against their rivals of the scene, even while I wrote tragedies myself and had no thoughts of this present undertaking. I submit my opinion to your judgment, who are better qualified than any man I know to decide this controversy. You come, my lord, instructed in the cause, and needed not that I should open it. Your "Essay of Poetry," which was published without a name, and of which I was not honoured with the confidence, I read over and over with much delight and as much instruction, and without flattering you, or making myself more moral than I am, not without some envy. I was loth to be informed how an epic poem should be written, or how a tragedy should be contrived and managed, in better verse and with more judgment than I could teach others. A native of Parnassus, and bred up in the studies of its fundamental laws, may receive new lights from his contemporaries, but it is a grudging kind of praise which he gives his benefactors. He is more obliged than he is willing to acknowledge; there is a tincture of malice in his commendations: for where I own I am taught, I confess my want of knowledge. A judge upon the bench may, out of good nature, or, at least, interest, encourage the pleadings of a puny counsellor, but he does not willingly commend his brother-serjeant at the bar, especially when he controls his law, and exposes that ignorance which is made sacred by his place. I gave the unknown author his due commendation, I must confess; but who can answer for me, and for the rest of the poets who heard me read the poem, whether we should not have been better pleased to have seen our own names at the bottom of the title-page? Perhaps we commended it the more that we might seem to be above the censure. We are naturally displeased with an unknown critic, as the ladies are with a lampooner, because we are bitten in the dark, and know not where to fasten our revenge; but great excellences will work their way through all sorts of opposition. I applauded rather out of decency than affection; and was ambitious, as some yet can witness, to be acquainted with a man with whom I had the honour to converse, and that almost daily, for so many years together. Heaven knows if I have heartily forgiven you this deceit. You extorted a praise, which I should willingly have given had I known you. Nothing had been more easy than to commend a patron of a long standing. The world would join with me if the encomiums were just, and if unjust would excuse a grateful flatterer. But to come anonymous upon me, and force me to commend you against my interest, was not altogether so fair, give me leave to say, as it was politic; for by concealing your quality you might clearly understand how your work succeeded, and that the general approbation was given to your merit, not your titles. Thus, like Apelles, you stood unseen behind your own Venus, and received the praises of the passing multitude. The work was commended, not the author; and, I doubt not, this was one of the most pleasing adventures of your life.
I have detained your lordship longer than I intended in this dispute of preference betwixt the epic poem and the drama, and yet have not formally answered any of the arguments which are brought by Aristotle on the other side, and set in the fairest light by Dacier. But I suppose without looking on the book, I may have touched on some of the objections; for in this address to your lordship I design not a treatise of heroic poetry, but write in a loose epistolary way somewhat tending to that subject, after the example of Horace in his first epistle of the second book to Augustus Caesar, and of that to the Pisos, which we call his "Art of Poetry," in both of which he observes no method that I can trace, whatever Scaliger the father, or Heinsius may have seen, or rather think they had seen. I have taken up, laid down, and resumed, as often as I pleased, the same subject, and this loose proceeding I shall use through all this prefatory dedication. Yet all this while I have been sailing with some side-wind or other toward the point I proposed in the beginning--the greatness and excellence of an heroic poem, with some of the difficulties which attend that work. The comparison therefore which I made betwixt the epopee and the tragedy was not altogether a digression, for it is concluded on all hands that they are both the masterpieces of human wit.
In the meantime I may be bold to draw this corollary from what has been already said--that the file of heroic poets is very short; all are not such who have assumed that lofty title in ancient or modern ages, or have been so esteemed by their partial and ignorant admirers.
There have been but one great "Ilias" and one "AEneis" in so many ages; the next (but the next with a long interval betwixt) was the "Jerusalem"--I mean, not so much in distance of time as in excellence. After these three are entered, some Lord Chamberlain should be appointed, some critic of authority should be set before the door to keep out a crowd of little poets who press for admission, and are not of quality. Maevius would be deafening your lordship's ears with his
"Fortunam Priami cantabo, et nobile bellum."
Mere fustian (as Horace would tell you from behind, without pressing forward), and more smoke than fire. Pulci, Boiardo, and Ariosto would cry out, "Make room for the Italian poets, the descendants of Virgil in a right line." Father Le Moine with his "Saint Louis," and Scudery with his "Alaric" (for a godly king and a Gothic conqueror); and Chapelain would take it ill that his "Maid" should be refused a place with Helen and Lavinia. Spenser has a better plea for his "Faerie Queen," had his action been finished, or had been one; and Milton, if the devil had not been his hero instead of Adam; if the giant had not foiled the knight, and driven him out of his stronghold to wander through the world with his lady-errant; and if there had not been more machining persons than human in his poem. After these the rest of our English poets shall not be mentioned; I have that honour for them which I ought to have; but if they are worthies, they are not to be ranked amongst the three whom I have named, and who are established in their reputation.
Before I quitted the comparison betwixt epic poetry and tragedy I should have acquainted my judge with one advantage of the former over the latter, which I now casually remember out of the preface of Segrais before his translation of the "AEneis," or out of Bossu--no matter which: "The style of the heroic poem is, and ought to be, more lofty than that of the drama." The critic is certainly in the right, for the reason already urged--the work of tragedy is on the passions, and in dialogue; both of them abhor strong metaphors, in which the epopee delights. A poet cannot speak too plainly on the stage, for volat irrevocabile verbum (the sense is lost if it be not taken flying) but what we read alone we have leisure to digest. There an author may beautify his sense by the boldness of his expression, which if we understand not fully at the first we may dwell upon it till we find the secret force and excellence. That which cures the manners by alterative physic, as I said before, must proceed by insensible degrees; but that which purges the passions must do its business all at once, or wholly fail of its effect--at least, in the present operation--and without repeated doses. We must beat the iron while it is hot, but we may polish it at leisure. Thus, my lord, you pay the fine of my forgetfulness,; and yet the merits of both causes are where they were, and undecided, till you declare whether it be more for the benefit of mankind to have their manners in general corrected, or their pride and hard-heartedness removed.
I must now come closer to my present business, and not think of making more invasive wars abroad, when, like Hannibal, I am called back to the defence of my own country. Virgil is attacked by many enemies; he has a whole confederacy against him; and I must endeavour to defend him as well as I am able. But their principal objections being against his moral, the duration or length of time taken up in the action of the poem, and what they have to urge against the manners of his hero, I shall omit the rest as mere cavils of grammarians--at the worst but casual slips of a great man's pen, or inconsiderable faults of an admirable poem, which the author had not leisure to review before his death. Macrobius has answered what the ancients could urge against him, and some things I have lately read in Tannegui le Febvre, Valois, and another whom I name not, which are scarce worth answering. They begin with the moral of his poem, which I have elsewhere confessed, and still must own, not to be so noble as that of Homer. But let both be fairly stated, and without contradicting my first opinion I can show that Virgil's was as useful to the Romans of his age as Homer's was to the Grecians of his, in what time soever he may be supposed to have lived and flourished. Homer's moral was to urge the necessity of union, and of a good understanding betwixt confederate states and princes engaged in a war with a mighty monarch; as also of discipline in an army, and obedience in the several chiefs to the supreme commander of the joint forces. To inculcate this, he sets forth the ruinous effects of discord in the camp of those allies, occasioned by the quarrel betwixt the general and one of the next in office under him. Agamemnon gives the provocation, and Achilles resents the injury. Both parties are faulty in the quarrel, and accordingly they are both punished; the aggressor is forced to sue for peace to his inferior on dishonourable conditions; the deserter refuses the satisfaction offered, and his obstinacy costs him his best friend. This works the natural effect of choler, and turns his rage against him by whom he was last affronted, and most sensibly. The greater anger expels the less, but his character is still preserved. In the meantime the Grecian army receives loss on loss, and is half destroyed by a pestilence into the bargain:-
"Quicquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi."
As the poet in the first part of the example had shown the bad effects of discord, so after the reconcilement he gives the good effects of unity; for Hector is slain, and then Troy must fall. By this it is probable that Homer lived when the Median monarchy was grown formidable to the Grecians, and that the joint endeavours of his countrymen were little enough to preserve their common freedom from an encroaching enemy. Such was his moral, which all critics have allowed to be more noble than that of Virgil, though not adapted to the times in which the Roman poet lived. Had Virgil flourished in the age of Ennius and addressed to Scipio, he had probably taken the same moral, or some other not unlike it; for then the Romans were in as much danger from the Carthaginian commonwealth as the Grecians were from the Assyrian or Median monarchy. But we are to consider him as writing his poem in a time when the old form of government was subverted, and a new one just established by Octavius Caesar--in effect, by force of arms, but seemingly by the consent of the Roman people. The commonwealth had received a deadly wound in the former civil wars betwixt Marius and Sylla. The commons, while the first prevailed, had almost shaken off the yoke of the nobility; and Marius and Cinna (like the captains of the mob), under the specious pretence of the public good and of doing justice on the oppressors of their liberty, revenged themselves without form of law on their private enemies. Sylla, in his turn, proscribed the heads of the adverse party. He, too, had nothing but liberty and reformation in his mouth; for the cause of religion is but a modern motive to rebellion, invented by the Christian priesthood refining on the heathen. Sylla, to be sure, meant no more good to the Roman people than Marius before him, whatever he declared; but sacrificed the lives and took the estates of all his enemies to gratify those who brought him into power. Such was the reformation of the government by both parties. The senate and the commons were the two bases on which it stood, and the two champions of either faction each destroyed the foundations of the other side; so the fabric, of consequence, must fall betwixt them, and tyranny must be built upon their ruins. THIS COMES OF ALTERING FUNDAMENTAL LAWS AND CONSTITUTIONS; like him who, being in good health, lodged himself in a physician's house, and was over-persuaded by his landlord to take physic (of which be died) for the benefit of his doctor. "Stavo ben," was written on his monument, "ma, per star meglio, sto qui."
After the death of those two usurpers the commonwealth seemed to recover, and held up its head for a little time, but it was all the while in a deep consumption, which is a flattering disease. Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar had found the sweets of arbitrary power, and each being a check to the other's growth, struck up a false friendship amongst themselves and divided the government betwixt them, which none of them was able to assume alone. These were the public-spirited men of their age--that is, patriots for their own interest. The commonwealth looked with a florid countenance in their management; spread in bulk, and all the while was wasting in the vitals. Not to trouble your lordship with the repetition of what you know, after the death of Crassus Pompey found himself outwitted by Caesar, broke with him, overpowered him in the senate, and caused many unjust decrees to pass against him. Caesar thus injured, and unable to resist the faction of the nobles which was now uppermost (for he was a Marian), had recourse to arms, and his cause was just against Pompey, but not against his country, whose constitution ought to have been sacred to him, and never to have been violated on the account of any private wrong. But he prevailed, and Heaven declaring for him, he became a providential monarch under the title of Perpetual Dictator. He being murdered by his own son (whom I neither dare commend nor can justly blame, though Dante in his "Inferno" has put him and Cassius, and Judas Iscariot betwixt them, into the great devil's mouth), the commonwealth popped up its head for the third time under Brutus and Cassius, and then sank for ever.
Thus the Roman people were grossly gulled twice or thrice over, and as often enslaved, in one century, and under the same pretence of reformation. At last the two battles of Philippi gave the decisive stroke against liberty, and not long after the commonwealth was turned into a monarchy by the conduct and good fortune of Augustus. It is true that the despotic power could not have fallen into better hands than those of the first and second Caesar. Your lordship well knows what obligations Virgil had to the latter of them. He saw, beside, that the commonwealth was lost without resource; the heads of it destroyed; the senate, new moulded, grown degenerate, and either bought off or thrusting their own necks into the yoke out of fear of being forced. Yet I may safely affirm for our great author (as men of good sense are generally honest) that he was still of republican principles in heart.
"Secretosque pios; his dantem jura Catonem."
I think I need use no other argument to justify my opinion than that of this one line taken from the eighth book of the AEneis. If he had not well studied his patron's temper it might have ruined him with another prince. But Augustus was not discontented (at least, that we can find) that Cato was placed by his own poet in Elysium, and there giving laws to the holy souls who deserved to be separated from the vulgar sort of good spirits; for his conscience could not but whisper to the arbitrary monarch that the kings of Rome were at first elective, and governed not without a senate; that Romulus was no hereditary prince, and though after his death he received divine honours for the good he did on earth, yet he was but a god of their own making; that the last Tarquin was expelled justly for overt acts of tyranny and mal-administration (for such are the conditions of an elective kingdom, and I meddle not with others, being, for my own opinion, of Montange's principles--that an honest man ought to be contented with that form of government, and with those fundamental constitutions of it, which he received from his ancestors, and under which himself was born, though at the same time he confessed freely that if he could have chosen his place of birth it should have been at Venice, which for many reasons I dislike, and am better pleased to have been born an Englishman).
But to return from my long rambling; I say that Virgil having maturely weighed the condition of the times in which he lived; that an entire liberty was not to be retrieved; that the present settlement had the prospect of a long continuance in the same family or those adopted into it; that he held his paternal estate from the bounty of the conqueror, by whom he was likewise enriched, esteemed, and cherished; that this conqueror, though of a bad kind, was the very best of it; that the arts of peace flourished under him; that all men might be happy if they would be quiet; that now he was in possession of the whole, yet he shared a great part of his authority with the senate; that he would be chosen into the ancient offices of the commonwealth, and ruled by the power which he derived from them, and prorogued his government from time to time, still, as it were, threatening to dismiss himself from public cares, which he exercised more for the common good than for any delight he took in greatness-- these things, I say, being considered by the poet, he concluded it to be the interest of his country to be so governed, to infuse an awful respect into the people towards such a prince, by that respect to confirm their obedience to him, and by that obedience to make them happy. This was the moral of his divine poem; honest in the poet, honourable to the emperor (whom he derives from a divine extraction), and reflecting part of that honour on the Roman people (whom he derives also from the Trojans), and not only profitable, but necessary, to the present age, and likely to be such to their posterity. That it was the received opinion that the Romans were descended from the Trojans, and Julius Caesar from Iulus, the son of AEneas, was enough for Virgil, though perhaps he thought not so himself, or that AEneas ever was in Italy, which Bochartus manifestly proves. And Homer (where he says that Jupiter hated the house of Priam, and was resolved to transfer the kingdom to the family of AEneas) yet mentions nothing of his leading a colony into a foreign country and settling there. But that the Romans valued themselves on their Trojan ancestry is so undoubted a truth that I need not prove it. Even the seals which we have remaining of Julius Caesar (which we know to be antique) have the star of Venus over them--though they were all graven after his death--as a note that he was deified. I doubt not but one reason why Augustus should be so passionately concerned for the preservation of the "AEneis," which its author had condemned to be burnt as an imperfect poem by his last will and testament, was because it did him a real service as well as an honour; that a work should not be lost where his divine original was celebrated in verse which had the character of immortality stamped upon it.
Neither were the great Roman families which flourished in his time less obliged by him than the emperor. Your lordship knows with what address he makes mention of them as captains of ships or leaders in the war; and even some of Italian extraction are not forgotten. These are the single stars which are sprinkled through the "AEneis," but there are whole constellations of them in the fifth book; and I could not but take notice, when I translated it, of some favourite families to which he gives the victory and awards the prizes, in the person of his hero, at the funeral games which were celebrated in honour of Anchises. I insist not on their names, but am pleased to find the Memmii amongst them, derived from Mnestheus, because Lucretius dedicates to one of that family, a branch of which destroyed Corinth. I likewise either found or formed an image to myself of the contrary kind--that those who lost the prizes were such as had disobliged the poet, or were in disgrace with Augustus, or enemies to Maecenas; and this was the poetical revenge he took, for genus irritabile vatum, as Horace says. When a poet is thoroughly provoked, he will do himself justice, how ever dear it cost him, animamque in vulnere ponit. I think these are not bare imaginations of my own, though I find no trace of them in the commentators; but one poet may judge of another by himself. The vengeance we defer is not forgotten. I hinted before that the whole Roman people were obliged by Virgil in deriving them from Troy, an ancestry which they affected. We and the French are of the same humour: they would be thought to descend from a son, I think, of Hector; and we would have our Britain both named and planted by a descendant of AEneas. Spenser favours this opinion what he can. His Prince Arthur, or whoever he intends by him, is a Trojan. Thus the hero of Homer was a Grecian; of Virgil, a Roman; of Tasso, an Italian.
I have transgressed my bounds and gone farther than the moral led me; but if your lordship is not tired, I am safe enough.
Thus far, I think, my author is defended. But as Augustus is still shadowed in the person of AEneas (of which I shall say more when I come to the manners which the poet gives his hero), I must prepare that subject by showing how dexterously he managed both the prince and people, so as to displease neither, and to do good to both-- which is the part of a wise and an honest man, and proves that it is possible for a courtier not to be a knave. I shall continue still to speak my thoughts like a free-born subject, as I am, though such things perhaps as no Dutch commentator could, and I am sure no Frenchman durst. I have already told your lordship my opinion of Virgil--that he was no arbitrary man. Obliged he was to his master for his bounty, and he repays him with good counsel how to behave himself in his new monarchy so as to gain the affections of his subjects, and deserve to be called the "Father of His Country." From this consideration it is that he chose for the groundwork of his poem one empire destroyed, and another raised from the ruins of it. This was just the parallel. AEneas could not pretend to be Priam's heir in a lineal succession, for Anchises, the hero's father, was only of the second branch of the royal family, and Helenus, a son of Priam, was yet surviving, and might lawfully claim before him. It may be, Virgil mentions him on that account. Neither has he forgotten Priamus, in the fifth of his "AEneis," the son of Polites, youngest son to Priam, who was slain by Pyrrhus in the second book. AEneas had only married Creusa, Priam's daughter, and by her could have no title while any of the male issue were remaining. In this case the poet gave him the next title, which is that of an Elective King. The remaining Trojans chose him to lead them forth and settle them in some foreign country. Ilioneus in his speech to Dido calls him expressly by the name of king. Our poet, who all this while had Augustus in his eye, had no desire he should seem to succeed by any right of inheritance derived from Julius Caesar, such a title being but one degree removed from conquest: for what was introduced by force, by force may be removed. It was better for the people that they should give than he should take, since that gift was indeed no more at bottom than a trust. Virgil gives us an example of this in the person of Mezentius. He governed arbitrarily; he was expelled and came to the deserved end of all tyrants. Our author shows us another sort of kingship in the person of Latinus. He was descended from Saturn, and, as I remember, in the third degree. He is described a just and a gracious prince, solicitous for the welfare of his people, always consulting with his senate to promote the common good. We find him at the head of them when he enters into the council-hall--speaking first, but still demanding their advice, and steering by it, as far as the iniquity of the times would suffer him. And this is the proper character of a king by inheritance, who is born a father of his country. AEneas, though he married the heiress of the crown, yet claimed no title to it during the life of his father-in-law. Socer arma Latinus hebeto, &c., are Virgil's words. As for himself, he was contented to take care of his country gods, who were not those of Latium; wherein our divine author seems to relate to the after-practice of the Romans, which was to adopt the gods of those they conquered or received as members of their commonwealth. Yet, withal, he plainly touches at the office of the high-priesthood, with which Augustus was invested and which made his person more sacred and inviolable than even the tribunitial power. It was not therefore for nothing that the most judicious of all poets made that office vacant by the death of Pantheus, in the second book of the "AEneis," for his hero to succeed in it, and consequently for Augustus to enjoy. I know not that any of the commentators have taken notice of that passage. If they have not, I am sure they ought; and if they have, I am not indebted to them for the observation. The words of Virgil are very plain:-
"Sacra suosque tibi commendat Troja Penates."
As for Augustus or his uncle Julius claiming by descent from AEneas, that title is already out of doors. AEneas succeeded not, but was elected. Troy was fore-doomed to fall for ever:-
"Postquam res Asiae, Priamique evertere gentem, Immeritam visum superis."--AENEIS, I. iii., line 1.
Augustus, it is true, had once resolved to rebuild that city, and there to make the seat of the Empire; but Horace writes an ode on purpose to deter him from that thought, declaring the place to be accursed, and that the gods would as often destroy it as it should be raised. Hereupon the emperor laid aside a project so ungrateful to the Roman people. But by this, my lord, we may conclude that he had still his pedigree in his head, and had an itch of being thought a divine king if his poets had not given him better counsel.
I will pass by many less material objections for want of room to answer them. What follows next is of great importance, if the critics can make out their charge, for it is levelled at the manners which our poet gives his hero, and which are the same which were eminently seen in his Augustus. Those manners were piety to the gods and a dutiful affection to his father, love to his relations, care of his people, courage and conduct in the wars, gratitude to those who had obliged him, and justice in general to mankind.
Piety, as your lordship sees, takes place of all as the chief part of his character; and the word in Latin is more full than it can possibly be expressed in any modern language, for there it comprehends not only devotion to the gods, but filial love and tender affection to relations of all sorts. As instances of this the deities of Troy and his own Penates are made the companions of his flight; they appear to him in his voyage and advise him, and at last he replaces them in Italy, their native country. For his father, he takes him on his back. He leads his little son, his wife follows him; but losing his footsteps through fear or ignorance he goes back into the midst of his enemies to find her, and leaves not his pursuit till her ghost appears to forbid his farther search. I will say nothing of his duty to his father while he lived, his sorrow for his death, of the games instituted in honour of his memory, or seeking him by his command even after death in the Elysian fields. I will not mention his tenderness for his son, which everywhere is visible; of his raising a tomb for Polydorus; the obsequies for Misenus; his pious remembrance of Deiphobus; the funerals of his nurse; his grief for Pallas, and his revenge taken on his murderer, whom otherwise, by his natural compassion, he had forgiven: and then the poem had been left imperfect, for we could have had no certain prospect of his happiness while the last obstacle to it was unremoved.
Of the other parts which compose his character as a king or as a general I need say nothing; the whole "AEneis" is one continued instance of some one or other of them; and where I find anything of them taxed, it shall suffice me (as briefly as I can) to vindicate my divine master to your lordship, and by you to the reader. But herein Segrais, in his admirable preface to his translation of the "AEneis," as the author of the Dauphin's "Virgil" justly calls it, has prevented me. Him I follow, and what I borrow from him am ready to acknowledge to him, for, impartially speaking, the French are as much better critics than the English as they are worse poets. Thus we generally allow that they better understand the management of a war than our islanders, but we know we are superior to them in the day of battle; they value themselves on their generals, we on our soldiers. But this is not the proper place to decide that question, if they make it one. I shall say perhaps as much of other nations and their poets (excepting only Tasso), and hope to make my assertion good, which is but doing justice to my country--part of which honour will reflect on your lordship, whose thoughts are always just, your numbers harmonious, your words chosen, your expressions strong and manly, your verse flowing, and your turns as happy as they are easy. If you would set us more copies, your example would make all precepts needless. In the meantime that little you have written is owned, and that particularly by the poets (who are a nation not over-lavish of praise to their contemporaries), as a principal ornament of our language; but the sweetest essences are always confined in the smallest glasses.
When I speak of your lordship, it is never a digression, and therefore I need beg no pardon for it, but take up Segrais where I left him, and shall use him less often than I have occasion for him. For his preface is a perfect piece of criticism, full and clear, and digested into an exact method; mine is loose and, as I intended it, epistolary. Yet I dwell on many things which he durst not touch, for it is dangerous to offend an arbitrary master, and every patron who has the power of Augustus has not his clemency. In short, my lord, I would not translate him because I would bring you somewhat of my own. His notes and observations on every book are of the same excellency, and for the same reason I omit the greater part.
He takes no notice that Virgil is arraigned for placing piety before valour, and making that piety the chief character of his hero. I have said already from Bossu, that a poet is not obliged to make his hero a virtuous man; therefore neither Homer nor Tasso are to be blamed for giving what predominant quality they pleased to their first character. But Virgil, who designed to form a perfect prince, and would insinuate that Augustus (whom he calls AEneas in his poem) was truly such, found himself obliged to make him without blemish-- thoroughly virtuous; and a thorough virtue both begins and ends in piety. Tasso without question observed this before me, and therefore split his hero in two; he gave Godfrey piety, and Rinaldo fortitude, for their chief qualities or manners. Homer, who had chosen another moral, makes both Agamemnon and Achilles vicious; for his design was to instruct in virtue by showing the deformity of vice. I avoid repetition of that I have said above. What follows is translated literally from Segrais:-
"Virgil had considered that the greatest virtues of Augustus consisted in the perfect art of governing his people, which caused him to reign for more than forty years in great felicity. He considered that his emperor was valiant, civil, popular, eloquent, politic, and religious; he has given all these qualities to AEneas. But knowing that piety alone comprehends the whole duty of man towards the gods, towards his country, and towards his relations, he judged that this ought to be his first character whom he would set for a pattern of perfection. In reality, they who believe that the praises which arise from valour are superior to those which proceed from any other virtues, have not considered, as they ought, that valour, destitute of other virtues, cannot render a man worthy of any true esteem. That quality, which signifies no more than an intrepid courage, may he separated from many others which are good, and accompanied with many which are ill. A man may be very valiant, and yet impious and vicious; but the same cannot be said of piety, which excludes all ill qualities, and comprehends even valour itself, with all other qualities which are good. Can we, for example, give the praise of valour to a man who should see his gods profaned, and should want the courage to defend them? to a man who should abandon his father, or desert his king, in his last necessity?"
Thus far Segrais, in giving the preference to piety before valour; I will now follow him where he considers this valour or intrepid courage singly in itself; and this also Virgil gives to his AEneas, and that in a heroical degree.
Having first concluded that our poet did for the best in taking the first character of his hero from that essential virtue on which the rest depend, he proceeds to tell us that in the ten years' war of Troy he was considered as the second champion of his country, allowing Hector the first place; and this even by the confession of Homer, who took all occasions of setting up his own countrymen the Grecians, and of undervaluing the Trojan chiefs. But Virgil (whom Segrais forgot to cite) makes Diomede give him a higher character for strength and courage. His testimony is this, in the eleventh book:-
"Stetimus tela aspera contra, Contulimusque manus: experto credite, quantus In clypeum adsurgat, quo turbine torqueat hastam. Si duo praeterea tales Inachias venisset ad urbes Dardanus, et versis lugeret Graecia fatis. Quicquid apud durae cessatum est maenia Trojae, Hectoris AEneaeque manu victoria Grajum Haesit, et in decumum vestigia retulit annum. Ambo animis, ambo insignes praestantibus armis: Hic pietate prior."
I give not here my translation of these verses, though I think I have not ill succeeded in them, because your lordship is so great a master of the original that I have no reason to desire you should see Virgil and me so near together. But you may please, my lord, to take notice that the Latin author refines upon the Greek, and insinuates that Homer had done his hero wrong in giving the advantage of the duel to his own countryman, though Diomedes was manifestly the second champion of the Grecians; and Ulysses preferred him before Ajax when he chose him for the companion of his nightly expedition, for he had a headpiece of his own, and wanted only the fortitude of another to bring him off with safety, and that he might compass his design with honour.
The French translator thus proceeds:- "They who accuse AEneas for want of courage, either understand not Virgil or have read him slightly; otherwise they would not raise an objection so easy to be answered." Hereupon he gives so many instances of the hero's valour that to repeat them after him would tire your lordship, and put me to the unnecessary trouble of transcribing the greatest part of the three last AEneids. In short, more could not be expected from an Amadis, a Sir Lancelot, or the whole Round Table than he performs. Proxima quaeque metit galdio is the perfect account of a knight- errant. If it be replied, continues Segrais, that it was not difficult for him to undertake and achieve such hardy enterprises because he wore enchanted arms, that accusation in the first place must fall on Homer ere it can reach Virgil. Achilles was as well provided with them as AEneas, though he was invulnerable without them; and Ariosto, the two Tassos (Bernardo and Torquato), even our own Spenser--in a word, all modern poets--have copied Homer, as well as Virgil; he is neither the first nor last, but in the midst of them, and therefore is safe if they are so. Who knows, says Segrais, but that his fated armour was only an allegorical defence, and signified no more than that he was under the peculiar protection of the gods? born, as the astrologers will tell us out of Virgil (who was well versed in the Chaldean mysteries), under the favourable influence of Jupiter, Venus, and the Sun? But I insist not on this because I know you believe not there is such an art; though not only Horace and Persius, but Augustus himself, thought otherwise. But in defence of Virgil, I dare positively say that he has been more cautious in this particular than either his predecessor or his descendants; for AEneas was actually wounded in the twelfth of the "AEneis," though he had the same godsmith to forge his arms as had Achilles. It seems he was no "war-luck," as the Scots commonly call such men, who, they say, are iron-free or lead-free. Yet after this experiment that his arms were not impenetrable (when he was cured indeed by his mother's help, because he was that day to conclude the war by the death of Turnus), the poet durst not carry the miracle too far and restore him wholly to his former vigour; he was still too weak to overtake his enemy, yet we see with what courage he attacks Turnus when he faces and renews the combat. I need say no more, for Virgil defends himself without needing my assistance, and proves his hero truly to deserve that name. He was not, then, a second-rate champion, as they would have him who think fortitude the first virtue in a hero.
But being beaten from this hold, they will not yet allow him to be valiant, because he wept more often, as they think, than well becomes a man of courage.
In the first place, if tears are arguments of cowardice, what shall I say of Homer's hero? Shall Achilles pass for timorous because he wept, and wept on less occasions than AEneas? Herein Virgil must be granted to have excelled his master; for once both heroes are described lamenting their lost loves: Briseis was taken away by force from the Grecians, Creusa was lost for ever to her husband. But Achilles went roaring along the salt sea-shore, and, like a booby, was complaining to his mother when he should have revenged his injury by arms: AEneas took a nobler course; for, having secured his father and his son, he repeated all his former dangers to have found his wife, if she had been above ground. And here your lordship may observe the address of Virgil; it was not for nothing that this passage was related, with all these tender circumstances. AEneas told it, Dido heard it. That he had been so affectionate a husband was no ill argument to the coming dowager that he might prove as kind to her. Virgil has a thousand secret beauties, though I have not leisure to remark them.
Segrais, on this subject of a hero's shedding tears, observes that historians commend Alexander for weeping when he read the mighty actions of Achilles; and Julius Caesar is likewise praised when out of the same noble envy, he wept at the victories of Alexander. But if we observe more closely, we shall find that the tears of AEneas were always on a laudable occasion. Thus he weeps out of compassion and tenderness of nature when in the temple of Carthage he beholds the pictures of his friends who sacrificed their lives in defence of their country. He deplores the lamentable end of his pilot Palinurus, the untimely death of young Pallas his confederate, and the rest which I omit. Yet even for these tears his wretched critics dare condemn him; they make AEneas little better than a kind of St. Swithin hero, always raining. One of these censors was bold enough to argue him of cowardice, when in the beginning of the first book he not only weeps, but trembles, at an approaching storm:-
"Extemplo AEneae solvuntur frigore membra: Ingemit, et duplices tendens ad sidera palmas," &c.
But to this I have answered formerly that his fear was not for himself, but for his people. And who can give a sovereign a better commendation, or recommend a hero more to the affection of the reader? They were threatened with a tempest, and he wept; he was promised Italy, and therefore he prayed for the accomplishment of that promise;--all this in the beginning of a storm; therefore he showed the more early piety and the quicker sense of compassion. Thus much I have urged elsewhere in the defence of Virgil: and since, I have been informed by Mr. Moyle, a young gentleman whom I can never sufficiently commend, that the ancients accounted drowning an accursed death. So that if we grant him to have been afraid, he had just occasion for that fear, both in relation to himself and to his subjects. I think our adversaries can carry this argument no farther, unless they tell us that he ought to have had more confidence in the promise of the gods. But how was he assured that he had understood their oracles aright? Helenus might be mistaken; Phoebus might speak doubtfully; even his mother might flatter him that he might prosecute his voyage, which if it succeeded happily he should be the founder of an empire: for that she herself was doubtful of his fortune is apparent by the address she made to Jupiter on his behalf; to which the god makes answer in these words:-
"Parce metu, Cytherea, manent immota tuorum Fata tibi," &c.
Notwithstanding which the goddess, though comforted, was not assured; for even after this, through the course of the whole "AEneis," she still apprehends the interest which Juno might make with Jupiter against her son. For it was a moot point in heaven whether he could alter fate or not; and indeed some passages in Virgil would make us suspect that he was of opinion Jupiter might defer fate, though he could not alter it; for in the latter end of the tenth book he introduces Juno begging for the life of Turnus, and flattering her husband with the power of changing destiny, tua, qui potes, orsa reflectas! To which he graciously answers--
"Si mora praesentis leti, tempusque caduco Oratur juveni, meque hoc ita ponere sentis, Tolle fuga Turnum, atquc instantibus eripe fatis. Hactenus indulsisse vacat. Sin altior istis Sub precibus venia ulla latet, totumque moveri Mutarive putas bellum, spes pascis inanis."
But that he could not alter those decrees the king of gods himself confesses in the book above cited, when he comforts Hercules for the death of Pallas, who had invoked his aid before he threw his lance at Turnus:-
"Trojae sub maenibus altis Tot nati cecidere deum; quin occidit una Sarpedon, mea progenies; etiam sua Turnum Fata vocant, metasque dati pervenit ad aevi."
Where he plainly acknowledges that he could not save his own son, or prevent the death which he foresaw. Of his power to defer the blow, I once occasionally discoursed with that excellent person Sir Robert Howard, who is better conversant than any man that I know in the doctrine of the Stoics, and he set me right, from the concurrent testimony of philosophers and poets, that Jupiter could not retard the effects of fate, even for a moment; for when I cited Virgil as favouring the contrary opinion in that verse -
"Tolle fuga Turnum, atque instantibus eripe fatis" -
he replied, and I think with exact judgment, that when Jupiter gave Juno leave to withdraw Turnus from the present danger, it was because he certainly foreknew that his fatal hour was not come, that it was in destiny for Juno at that time to save him, and that himself obeyed destiny in giving her that leave.
I need say no more in justification of our hero's courage, and am much deceived if he ever be attacked on this side of his character again. But he is arraigned with more show of reason by the ladies, who will make a numerous party against him, for being false to love in forsaking Dido; and I cannot much blame them, for, to say the truth, it is an ill precedent for their gallants to follow. Yet if I can bring him off with flying colours, they may learn experience at her cost; and for her sake avoid a cave as the worse shelter they can choose from a shower of rain, especially when they have a lover in their company.
In the first place, Segrais observes with much acuteness that they who blame AEneas for his insensibility of love when he left Carthage, contradict their former accusation of him for being always crying, compassionate, and effeminately sensible of those misfortunes which befell others. They give him two contrary characters; but Virgil makes him of a piece, always grateful, always tender-hearted. But they are impudent enough to discharge themselves of this blunder by haying the contradiction at Virgil's door. He, they say, has shown his hero with these inconsistent characters--acknowledging and ungrateful, compassionate and hard- hearted, but at the bottom fickle and self-interested; for Dido had not only received his weather-beaten troops before she saw him, and given them her protection, but had also offered them an equal share in her dominion:-
"Vultis et his mecum pariter considere regnis? Urbem quam statuo, vesra est."
This was an obligement never to be forgotten, and the more to be considered because antecedent to her love. That passion, it is true, produced the usual effects of generosity, gallantry, and care to please, and thither we refer them; but when she had made all these advances, it was still in his power to have refused them. After the intrigue of the cave--call it marriage, or enjoyment only- -he was no longer free to take or leave; he had accepted the favour, and was obliged to be constant, if he would be grateful.
My lord, I have set this argument in the best light I can, that the ladies may not think I write booty; and perhaps it may happen to me, as it did to Doctor Cudworth, who has raised such strong objections against the being of a God and Providence, that many think he has not answered them. You may please at least to hear the adverse party. Segrais pleads for Virgil that no less than an absolute command from Jupiter could excuse this insensibility of the hero, and this abrupt departure, which looks so like extreme ingratitude; but at the same time he does wisely to remember you that Virgil had made piety the first character of AEneas; and this being allowed, as I am afraid it must, he was obliged, antecedent to all other considerations, to search an asylum for his gods in Italy--for those very gods, I say, who had promised to his race the universal empire. Could a pious man dispense with the commands of Jupiter to satisfy his passion, or--take it in the strongest sense--to comply with the obligations of his gratitude? Religion, it is true, must have moral honesty for its groundwork, or we shall be apt to suspect its truth; but an immediate revelation dispenses with all duties of morality. All casuists agree that theft is a breach of the moral law; yet if I might presume to mingle things sacred with profane, the Israelites only spoiled the Egyptians, not robbed them, because the propriety was transferred by a revelation to their lawgiver. I confess Dido was a very infidel in this point; for she would not believe, as Virgil makes her say, that ever Jupiter would send Mercury on such an immoral errand. But this needs no answer--at least, no more than Virgil gives it:-
"Fata obstant, placidasque viri Deus obstruit aures."
This notwithstanding, as Segrais confesses, he might have shown a little more sensibility when he left her, for that had been according to his character.
But let Virgil answer for himself. He still loved her, and struggled with his inclinations to obey the gods:-
"Curam sub corde premebat, Multa gemens, magnoque animum labefactus amore."
Upon the whole matter, and humanly speaking, I doubt there was a fault somewhere, and Jupiter is better able to bear the blame than either Virgil or AEneas. The poet, it seems, had found it out, and therefore brings the deserting hero and the forsaken lady to meet together in the lower regions, where he excuses himself when it is too late, and accordingly she will take no satisfaction, nor so much as hear him. Now Segrais is forced to abandon his defence, and excuses his author by saying that the "AEneis" is an imperfect work, and that death prevented the divine poet from reviewing it, and for that reason he had condemned it to the fire, though at the same time his two translators must acknowledge that the sixth book is the most correct of the whole "AEneis." Oh, how convenient is a machine sometimes in a heroic poem! This of Mercury is plainly one; and Virgil was constrained to use it here, or the honesty of his hero would be ill defended; and the fair sex, however, if they had the deserter in their power, would certainly have shown him no more mercy than the Bacchanals did Orpheus: for if too much constancy may be a fault sometimes, then want of constancy, and ingratitude after the last favour, is a crime that never will be forgiven. But of machines, more in their proper place, where I shall show with how much judgment they have been used by Virgil; and in the meantime pass to another article of his defence on the present subject, where, if I cannot clear the hero, I hope at least to bring off the poet, for here I must divide their causes. Let AEneas trust to his machine, which will only help to break his fall; but the address is incomparable. Plato, who borrowed so much from Homer, and yet concluded for the banishment of all poets, would at least have rewarded Virgil before he sent him into exile; but I go farther, and say that he ought to be acquitted, and deserved, beside, the bounty of Augustus and the gratitude of the Roman people. If after this the ladies will stand out, let them remember that the jury is not all agreed; for Octavia was of his party, and was of the first quality in Rome: she was also present at the reading of the sixth AEneid, and we know not that she condemned AEneas, but we are sure she presented the poet for his admirable elegy on her son Marcellus.
But let us consider the secret reasons which Virgil had for thus framing this noble episode, wherein the whole passion of love is more exactly described than in any other poet. Love was the theme of his fourth book; and though it is the shortest of the whole "AEneis," yet there he has given its beginning, its progress, its traverses, and its conclusion; and had exhausted so entirely this subject that he could resume it but very slightly in the eight ensuing books.
She was warmed with the graceful appearance of the hero; she smothered those sparkles out of decency, but conversation blew them up into a flame. Then she was forced to make a confidante of her whom she best might trust, her own sister, who approves the passion, and thereby augments it; then succeeds her public owning it; and after that the consummation. Of Venus and Juno, Jupiter and Mercury, I say nothing (for they were all machining work); but possession having cooled his love, as it increased hers, she soon perceived the change, or at least grew suspicious of a change. This suspicion soon turned to jealousy, and jealousy to rage; then she disdains and threatens, and again is humble and entreats: and, nothing availing, despairs, curses, and at last becomes her own executioner. See here the whole process of that passion, to which nothing can be added. I dare go no farther, lest I should lose the connection of my discourse.
To love our native country, and to study its benefit and its glory; to be interested in its concerns, is natural to all men, and is indeed our common duty. A poet makes a farther step for endeavouring to do honour to it. It is allowable in him even to be partial in its cause; for he is not tied to truth, or fettered by the laws of history. Homer and Tasso are justly praised for choosing their heroes out of Greece and Italy; Virgil, indeed, made his a Trojan, but it was to derive the Romans and his own Augustus from him; but all the three poets are manifestly partial to their heroes in favour of their country. For Dares Phrygius reports of Hector that he was slain cowardly; AEneas, according to the best account, slew not Mezentius, but was slain by him; and the chronicles of Italy tell us little of that Rinaldo d'Este who conquers Jerusalem in Tasso. He might be a champion of the Church, but we know not that he was so much as present at the siege. To apply this to Virgil, he thought himself engaged in honour to espouse the cause and quarrel of his country against Carthage. He knew he could not please the Romans better, or oblige them more to patronise his poem, than by disgracing the foundress of that city. He shows her ungrateful to the memory of her first husband, doting on a stranger, enjoyed and afterwards forsaken by him. This was the original, says he, of the immortal hatred betwixt the two rival nations. It is true, he colours the falsehood of AEneas by an express command from Jupiter to forsake the queen who had obliged him; but he knew the Romans were to be his readers, and them he bribed--perhaps at the expense of his hero's honesty; but he gained his cause, however, as pleading before corrupt judges. They were content to see their founder false to love, for still he had the advantage of the amour. It was their enemy whom he forsook, and she might have forsaken him if he had not got the start of her. She had already forgotten her vows to her Sichaeus, and varium et nutabile semper femina is the sharpest satire in the fewest words that ever was made on womankind; for both the adjectives are neuter, and animal must be understood to make them grammar. Virgil does well to put those words into the mouth of Mercury. If a god had not spoken them, neither durst he have written them, nor I translated them. Yet the deity was forced to come twice on the same errand; and the second time, as much a hero as AEneas was, he frighted him. It seems he feared not Jupiter so much as Dido; for your lordship may observe that, as much intent as he was upon his voyage, yet he still delayed it, till the messenger was obliged to tell him plainly that if he weighed not anchor in the night the queen would be with him in the morning, notumque furens quid femina possit: she was injured, she was revengeful, she was powerful. The poet had likewise before hinted that the people were naturally perfidious, for he gives their character in the queen, and makes a proverb of Punica fides many ages before it was invented.
Thus I hope, my lord, that I have made good my promise, and justified the poet, whatever becomes of the false knight. And, sure, a poet is as much privileged to lie as an ambassador for the honour and interest of his country--at least, as Sir Henry Wotton has defined.
This naturally leads me to the defence of the famous anachronism in making AEneas and Dido contemporaries, for it is certain that the hero lived almost two hundred years before the building of Carthage. One who imitates Boccalini says that Virgil was accused before Apollo for this error. The god soon found that he was not able to defend his favourite by reason, for the case was clear; he therefore gave this middle sentence: that anything might be allowed to his son Virgil on the account of his other merits; that, being a monarch, he had a dispensing power, and pardoned him. But that this special act of grace might never be drawn into example, or pleaded by his puny successors in justification of their ignorance, he decreed for the future--no poet should presume to make a lady die for love two hundred years before her birth. To moralise this story, Virgil is the Apollo who has this dispensing power. His great judgment made the laws of poetry, but he never made himself a slave to them; chronology at best is but a cobweb law, and he broke through it with his weight. They who will imitate him wisely must choose, as he did, an obscure and a remote era, where they may invent at pleasure, and not be easily contradicted. Neither he nor the Romans had ever read the Bible, by which only his false computation of times can be made out against him. This Segrais says in his defence, and proves it from his learned friend Bochartus, whose letter on this subject he has printed at the end of the fourth AEneid, to which I refer your lordship and the reader. Yet the credit of Virgil was so great that he made this fable of his own invention pass for an authentic history, or at least as credible as anything in Homer. Ovid takes it up after him even in the same age, and makes an ancient heroine of Virgil's new-created Dido; dictates a letter for her, just before her death, to the ingrateful fugitive; and, very unluckily for himself, is for measuring a sword with a man so much superior in force to him on the same subject. I think I may be judge of this, because I have translated both. The famous author of "The Art of Love" has nothing of his own; he borrows all from a greater master in his own profession, and, which is worse, improves nothing which he finds. Nature fails him; and, being forced to his old shift, he has recourse to witticism. This passes, indeed, with his soft admirers, and gives him the preference to Virgil in their esteem; but let them like for themselves, and not prescribe to others, for our author needs not their admiration.
The motive that induced Virgil to coin this fable I have showed already, and have also begun to show that he might make this anachronism, by superseding the mechanic rules of poetry, for the same reason that a monarch may dispense with or suspend his own laws when he finds it necessary so to do, especially if those laws are not altogether fundamental. Nothing is to be called a fault in poetry, says Aristotle, but what is against the art; therefore a man may be an admirable poet without being an exact chronologer. Shall we dare, continues Segrais, to condemn Virgil for having made a fiction against the order of time, when we commend Ovid and other poets who have made many of their fictions against the order of nature? For what else are the splendid miracles of the "Metamorphoses?" Yet these are beautiful as they are related, and have also deep learning and instructive mythologies couched under them. But to give, as Virgil does in this episode, the original cause of the long wars betwixt Rome and Carthage; to draw truth out of fiction after so probable a manner, with so much beauty, and so much for the honour of his country, was proper only to the divine wit of Maro; and Tasso, in one of his discourses, admires him for this particularly. It is not lawful indeed to contradict a point of history which is known to all the world--as, for example, to make Hannibal and Scipio contemporaries with Alexander--but in the dark recesses of antiquity a great poet may and ought to feign such things as he finds not there, if they can be brought to embellish that subject which he treats. On the other side, the pains and diligence of ill poets is but thrown away when they want the genius to invent and feign agreeably. But if the fictions be delightful (which they always are if they be natural) if they be of a piece; if the beginning, the middle, and the end be in their due places, and artfully united to each other, such works can never fail of their deserved success. And such is Virgil's episode of Dido and AEneas, where the sourest critic must acknowledge that if he had deprived his "AEneis" of so great an ornament, because he found no traces of it in antiquity, he had avoided their unjust censure, but had wanted one of the greatest beauties of his poem.
I shall say more of this in the next article of their charge against him, which is--want of invention. In the meantime I may affirm, in honour of this episode, that it is not only now esteemed the most pleasing entertainment of the "AEneis," but was so accounted in his own age, and before it was mellowed into that reputation which time has given it; for which I need produce no other testimony than that of Ovid, his contemporary:-
"Nec pars ulla magis legitur de corpore toto, Quam non legitimo faedere junctus amor."
Where, by the way, you may observe, my lord, that Ovid in those words, non legitimo faedere junctus amor, will by no means allow it to be a lawful marriage betwixt Dido and AEneas. He was in banishment when he wrote those verses, which I cite from his letter to Augustus. "You, sir," saith he, "have sent me into exile for writing my 'Art of Love' and my wanton elegies; yet your own poet was happy in your good graces, though he brought Dido and AEneas into a cave, and left them there not over-honestly together: may I be so bold to ask your majesty is it a greater fault to teach the art of unlawful love than to show it in the action?" But was Ovid the court-poet so bad a courtier as to find no other plea to excuse himself than by a plain accusation of his master? Virgil confessed it was a lawful marriage betwixt the lovers; that Juno, the goddess of matrimony, had ratified it by her presence (for it was her business to bring matters to that issue): that the ceremonies were short we may believe, for Dido was not only amorous, but a widow. Mercury himself, though employed on a quite contrary errand, yet owns it a marriage by an innuendo--pulchramque uxorius urbem extruis. He calls AEneas not only a husband, but upbraids him for being a fond husband, as the word uxorius implies. Now mark a little, if your lordship pleases, why Virgil is so much concerned to make this marriage (for he seems to be the father of the bride himself, and to give her to the bridegroom); it was to make way for the divorce which he intended afterwards, for he was a finer flatterer than Ovid, and I more than conjecture that he had in his eye the divorce which not long before had passed betwixt the emperor and Scribonia. He drew this dimple in the cheek of AEneas to prove Augustus of the same family by so remarkable a feature in the same place. Thus, as we say in our home-spun English proverb, he killed two birds with one stone--pleased the emperor by giving him the resemblance of his ancestor, and gave him such a resemblance as was not scandalous in that age (for to leave one wife and take another was but a matter of gallantry at that time of day among the Romans). Neque haec in faedera veni is the very excuse which AEneas makes when he leaves his lady. "I made no such bargain with you at our marriage to live always drudging on at Carthage; my business was Italy, and I never made a secret of it. If I took my pleasure, had not you your share of it? I leave you free at my departure to comfort yourself with the next stranger who happens to be shipwrecked on your coast; be as kind an hostess as you have been to me, and you can never fail of another husband. In the meantime I call the gods to witness that I leave your shore unwillingly; for though Juno made the marriage, yet Jupiter commands me to forsake you." This is the effect of what he saith when it is dishonoured out of Latin verse into English prose. If the poet argued not aright, we must pardon him for a poor blind heathen, who knew no better morals.
I have detained your lordship longer than I intended on this objection, which would indeed weigh something in a Spiritual Court;- -but I am not to defend our poet there. The next, I think, is but a cavil, though the cry is great against him, and hath continued from the time of Macrobius to this present age; I hinted it before. They lay no less than want of invention to his charge--a capital charge, I must acknowledge; for a poet is a maker, as the word signifies; and who cannot make--that is, invent--hath his name for nothing. That which makes this accusation look so strong at the first sight is that he has borrowed so many things from Homer, Apollonius Rhodius, and others who preceded him. But in the first place, if invention is to be taken in so strict a sense that the matter of a poem must be wholly new, and that in all its parts, then Scaliger hath made out, saith Segrais, that the history of Troy was no more the invention of Homer than of Virgil. There was not an old woman or almost a child, but had it in their mouths before the Greek poet or his friends digested it into this admirable order in which we read it. At this rate, as Solomon hath told us, there is nothing new beneath the sun. Who, then, can pass for an inventor if Homer as well as Virgil must be deprived of that glory! Is Versailles the less a new building because the architect of that palace hath imitated others which were built before it? Walls, doors and windows, apartments, offices, rooms of convenience and magnificence, are in all great houses. So descriptions, figures, fables, and the rest, must be in all heroic poems; they are the common materials of poetry, furnished from the magazine of nature: every poet hath as much right to them as every man hath to air or water
"Quid prohibetis aquas? Usus communis aquarum est."
But the argument of the work (that is to say, its principal action), the economy and disposition of it--these are the things which distinguish copies from originals. The Poet who borrows nothing from others is yet to be born; he and the Jews' Messias will come together. There are parts of the "AEneis" which resemble some parts both of the "Ilias" and of the "Odysses;" as, for example, AEneas descended into hell, and Ulysses had been there before him; AEneas loved Dido, and Ulysses loved Calypso: in few words, Virgil hath imitated Homer's "Odysses" in his first six books, and in his six last the "Ilias." But from hence can we infer that the two poets write the same history? Is there no invention in some other parts of Virgil's "AEneis?" The disposition of so many various matters, is not that his own? From what book of Homer had Virgil his episode of Nysus and Euryalus, of Mezentius and Lausus? From whence did he borrow his design of bringing AEneas into Italy? of establishing the Roman Empire on the foundations of a Trojan colony? to say nothing of the honour he did his patron, not only in his descent from Venus, but in making him so like her in his best features that the goddess might have mistaken Augustus for her son. He had indeed the story from common fame, as Homer had his from the Egyptian priestess. AEneadum genetrix was no more unknown to Lucretius than to him; but Lucretius taught him not to form his hero, to give him piety or valour for his manners--and both in so eminent a degree that, having done what was possible for man to save his king and country, his mother was forced to appear to him and restrain his fury, which hurried him to death in their revenge. But the poet made his piety more successful; he brought off his father and his son; and his gods witnessed to his devotion by putting themselves under his protection, to be replaced by him in their promised Italy. Neither the invention nor the conduct of this great action were owing to Homer or any other poet; it is one thing to copy, and another thing to imitate from nature. The copier is that servile imitator to whom Horace gives no better a name than that of animal; he will not so much as allow him to be a man. Raffaelle imitated nature; they who copy one of Raffaelle's pieces, imitate but him, for his work is their original. They translate him, as I do Virgil; and fall as short of him as I of Virgil. There is a kind of invention in the imitation of Raffaelle; for though the thing was in nature, yet the idea of it was his own. Ulysses travelled, so did AEneas; but neither of them were the first travellers: for Cain went into the land of Nod before they were born, and neither of the poets ever heard of such a man. If Ulysses had been killed at Troy, yet AEneas must have gone to sea, or he could never have arrived in Italy; but the designs of the two poets were as different as the courses of their heroes--one went home, and the other sought a home.
To return to my first similitude. Suppose Apelles and Raffaelle had each of them painted a burning Troy, might not the modern painter have succeeded as well as the ancient, though neither of them had seen the town on fire? For the drafts of both were taken from the ideas which they had of nature. Cities have been burnt before either of them were in being. But to close the simile as I began it: they would not have designed it after the same manner; Apelles would have distinguished Pyrrhus from the rest of all the Grecians, and showed him forcing his entrance into Priam's palace; there he had set him in the fairest light, and given him the chief place of all his figures, because he was a Grecian and he would do honour to his country. Raffaelle, who was an Italian, and descended from the Trojans, would have made AEneas the hero of his piece, and perhaps not with his father on his back, his son in one hand, his bundle of gods in the other, and his wife following (for an act of piety is not half so graceful in a picture as an act of courage); he would rather have drawn him killing Androgeus or some other hand to hand, and the blaze of the fires should have darted full upon his face, to make him conspicuous amongst his Trojans. This, I think, is a just comparison betwixt the two poets in the conduct of their several designs. Virgil cannot be said to copy Homer; the Grecian had only the advantage of writing first. If it be urged that I have granted a resemblance in some parts, yet therein Virgil has excelled him; for what are the tears of Calypso for being left, to the fury and death of Dido? Where is there the whole process of her passion and all its violent effects to be found in the languishing episode of the "Odysses"? If this be to copy, let the critics show us the same disposition, features, or colouring in their original. The like may be said of the descent to hell, which was not of Homer's invention either; he had it from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. But to what end did Ulysses make that journey? AEneas undertook it by the express commandment of his father's ghost. There he was to show him all the succeeding heroes of his race, and next to Romulus (mark, if you please the address of Virgil) his own patron, Augustus Caesar. Anchises was likewise to instruct him how to manage the Italian war, and how to conclude it with his honour--that is, in other words, to lay the foundations of that empire which Augustus was to govern. This is the noble invention of our author, but it hath been copied by so many sign-post daubers that now it is grown fulsome, rather by their want of skill than by the commonness.
In the last place. I may safely grant that by reading Homer, Virgil was taught to imitate his invention--that is to imitate like him (which is no more than if a painter studied Raffaelle that he might learn to design after his manner). And thus I might imitate Virgil if I were capable of writing an heroic poem, and yet the invention be my own; but I should endeavour to avoid a servile copying. I would not give the same story under other names, with the same characters, in the same order, and with the same sequel, for every common reader to find me out at the first sight for a plagiary, and cry, "This I read before in Virgil in a better language and in better verse." This is like Merry-Andrew on the low rope copying lubberly the same tricks which his master is so dexterously performing on the high.
I will trouble your lordship but with one objection more, which I know not whether I found in Le Febvre or Valois, but I am sure I have read it in another French critic, whom I will not name because I think it is not much for his reputation. Virgil in the heat of action--suppose, for example, in describing the fury of his hero in a battle (when he is endeavouring to raise our concernments to the highest pitch)--turns short on the sudden into some similitude which diverts, say they, your attention from the main subject, and misspends it on some trivial image. He pours cold water into the caldron when his business is to make it boil.
This accusation is general against all who would be thought heroic poets, but I think it touches Virgil less than any; he is too great a master of his art to make a blot which may so easily be hit. Similitudes (as I have said) are not for tragedy, which is all violent, and where the passions are in a perpetual ferment; for there they deaden, where they should animate; they are not of the nature of dialogue unless in comedy. A metaphor is almost all the stage can suffer, which is a kind of similitude comprehended in a word. But this figure has a contrary effect in heroic poetry; there it is employed to raise the admiration, which is its proper business; and admiration is not of so violent a nature as fear or hope, compassion or horror, or any concernment we can have for such or such a person on the stage. Not but I confess that similitudes and descriptions when drawn into an unreasonable length must needs nauseate the reader. Once I remember (and but once) Virgil makes a similitude of fourteen lines, and his description of Fame is about the same number. He is blamed for both, and I doubt not but he would have contracted them had be lived to have reviewed his work; but faults are no precedents. This I have observed of his similitudes in general--that they are not placed (as our unobserving critics tell us) in the heat of any action, but commonly in its declining; when he has warmed us in his description as much as possibly he can, then (lest that warmth should languish) he renews it by some apt similitude which illustrates his subject and yet palls not his audience. I need give your lordship but one example of this kind, and leave the rest to your observation when next you review the whole "AEneis" in the original, unblemished by my rude translation; it is in the first hook, where the poet describes Neptune composing the ocean, on which AEolus had raised a tempest without his permission. He had already chidden the rebellious winds for obeying the commands of their usurping master; he had warned them from the seas; he had beaten down the billows with his mace; dispelled the clouds, restored the sunshine, while Triton and Cymothoe were heaving the ships from off the quicksands, before the poet would offer at a similitude for illustration
"Ac, veluti magno in populo cum saepe coorta est Seditio, saevitque animis ignobile vulgus; Jamque faces, et saxa volant; furor arma ministrat; Tum, pietate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem Conspexere, silent, arrectisque auribus adstant: Ille regit dictis animos, et pectora mulcet: Sic cunctus pelagi cecidit fragor, aequora postquam Prospiciens genitor, coeloque invectus aperto Flectit equos, curruque volans dat lora secundo."
This is the first similitude which Virgil makes in this poem, and one of the longest in the whole, for which reason I the rather cite it. While the storm was in its fury, any allusion had been improper; for the poet could have compared it to nothing more impetuous than itself; consequently he could have made no illustration. If he could have illustrated, it had been an ambitious ornament out of season, and would have diverted our concernment (nunc non erat his locus), and therefore he deferred it to its proper place.
These are the criticisms of most moment which have been made against the "AEneis" by the ancients or moderns. As for the particular exceptions against this or that passage, Macrobius and Pontanus have answered them already. If I desired to appear more learned than I am, it had been as easy for me to have taken their objections and solutions as it is for a country parson to take the expositions of the Fathers out of Junius and Tremellius, or not to have named the authors from whence I had them; for so Ruaeus (otherwise a most judicious commentator on Virgil's works) has used Pontanus, his greatest benefactor, of whom he is very silent, and I do not remember that he once cites him.
What follows next is no objection; for that implies a fault, and it had been none in Virgil if he had extended the time of his action beyond a year--at least, Aristotle has set no precise limits to it. Homer's, we know, was within two months; Tasso; I am sure, exceeds not a summer, and if I examined him perhaps he might be reduced into a much less compass. Bossu leaves it doubtful whether Virgil's action were within the year, or took up some months beyond it. Indeed, the whole dispute is of no more concernment to the common reader than it is to a ploughman whether February this year had twenty-eight or twenty-nine days in it; but for the satisfaction of the more curious (of which number I am sure your lordship is one) I will translate what I think convenient out of Segrais, whom perhaps you have not read, for he has made it highly probable that the action of the "AEneis" began in the spring, and was not extended beyond the autumn; and we have known campaigns that have begun sooner and have ended later.
Ronsard and the rest whom Segrais names, who are of opinion that the action of this poem takes up almost a year and half, ground their calculation thus:- Anchises died in Sicily at the end of winter or beginning of the spring. AEneas, immediately after the interment of his father, puts to sea for Italy; he is surprised by the tempest described in the beginning of the first book; and there it is that the scene of the poem opens, and where the action must commence. He is driven by this storm on the coasts of Africa; he stays at Carthage all that summer, and almost all the winter following; sets sail again for Italy just before the beginning of the spring; meets with contrary winds, and makes Sicily the second time. This part of the action completes the year. Then he celebrates the anniversary of his father's funerals, and shortly after arrives at Cumes. And from thence his time is taken up in his first treaty with Latinus; the overture of the war; the siege of his camp by Turnus; his going for succours to relieve it; his return; the raising of the siege by the first battle; the twelve days' truce; the second battle; the assault of Laurentum, and the single fight with Turnus--all which, they say, cannot take up less than four or five months more, by which account we cannot suppose the entire action to be contained in a much less compass than a year and half.
Segrais reckons another way, and his computation is not condemned by the learned Ruaeus, who compiled and published the commentaries on our poet which we call the "Dauphin's Virgil." He allows the time of year when Anchises died to be in the latter end of winter or the beginning of the spring; he acknowledges that when AEneas is first seen at sea afterwards, and is driven by the tempest on the coast of Africa, is the time when the action is naturally to begin; he confesses farther, that AEneas left Carthage in the latter end of winter, for Dido tells him in express terms, as an argument for his longer stay -
"Quin etiam hiberno moliris sidere classem."
But whereas Ronsard's followers suppose that when AEneas had buried his father he set sail immediately for Italy (though the tempest drove him on the coast of Carthage), Segrais will by no means allow that supposition, but thinks it much more probable that he remained in Sicily till the midst of July or the beginning of August, at which time he places the first appearance of his hero on the sea, and there opens the action of the poem. From which beginning, to the death of Turnus, which concludes the action, there need not be supposed above ten months of intermediate time; for arriving at Carthage in the latter end of summer, staying there the winter following, departing thence in the very beginning of the spring, making a short abode in Sicily the second time, landing in Italy, and making the war, may be reasonably judged the business but of ten months. To this the Ronsardians reply that, having been for seven years before in quest of Italy, and having no more to do in Sicily than to inter his father--after that office was performed, what remained for him but without delay to pursue his first adventure? To which Segrais answers that the obsequies of his father, according to the rites of the Greeks and Romans, would detain him for many days; that a longer time must be taken up in the re-fitting of his ships after so tedious a voyage, and in refreshing his weather- beaten soldiers on a friendly coast. These indeed are but suppositions on both sides, yet those of Segrais seem better grounded; for the feast of Dido, when she entertained AEneas first, has the appearance of a summer's night, which seems already almost ended, when he begins his story. Therefore the love was made in autumn; the hunting followed properly, when the heats of that scorching country were declining. The winter was passed in jollity, as the season and their love required; and he left her in the latter end of winter, as is already proved. This opinion is fortified by the arrival of AEneas at the mouth of Tiber, which marks the season of the spring, that season being perfectly described by the singing of the birds saluting the dawn, and by the beauty of the place, which the poet seems to have painted expressly in the seventh AEneid:-
"Aurora in roseis fulgebat lutea bigis, Cum venti posuere . . . . . . variae circumque supraque Assuetae ripis volucres, et fluminis alveo, AEthera mulcebant cantu."
The remainder of the action required but three months more; for when AEneas went for succour to the Tuscans, he found their army in a readiness to march and wanting only a commander: so that, according to this calculation, the "AEneas" takes not up above a year complete, and may be comprehended in less compass.
This, amongst other circumstances treated more at large by Segrais, agrees with the rising of Orion, which caused the tempest described in the beginning of the first book. By some passages in the "Pastorals," but more particularly in the "Georgics," our poet is found to be an exact astronomer, according to the knowledge of that age. Now Ilioneus, whom Virgil twice employs in embassies as the best speaker of the Trojans, attributes that tempest to Orion in his speech to Dido:-
"Cum subito assurgens fluctu nimbosus Orion."
He must mean either the heliacal or achronical rising of that sign. The heliacal rising of a constellation is when it comes from under the rays of the sun, and begins to appear before daylight. The achronical rising, on the contrary, is when it appears at the close of day, and in opposition of the sun's diurnal course. The heliacal rising of Orion is at present computed to be about the 6th of July; and about that time it is that he either causes or presages tempests on the seas.
Segrais has observed farther, that when Anna counsels Dido to stay AEneas during the winter, she speaks also of Orion:-
"Dum pelago desaevit hiems, et aquosus Orion."
If therefore Ilioneus, according to our supposition, understand the heliacal rising of Orion, Anna must mean the achronical, which the different epithets given to that constellation seem to manifest. Ilioneus calls him nimbosus, Anna, aquosus. He is tempestuous in the summer, when he rises heliacally; and rainy in the winter, when he rises achronically. Your lordship will pardon me for the frequent repetition of these cant words, which I could not avoid in this abbreviation of Segrais, who, I think, deserves no little commendation in this new criticism.
I have yet a word or two to say of Virgil's machines, from my own observation of them. He has imitated those of Homer, but not copied them. It was established long before this time, in the Roman religion as well as in the Greek, that there were gods, and both nations for the most part worshipped the same deities, as did also the Trojans (from whom the Romans, I suppose, would rather be thought to derive the rites of their religion than from the Grecians, because they thought themselves descended from them). Each of those gods had his proper office, and the chief of them their particular attendants. Thus Jupiter had in propriety Ganymede and Mercury, and Juno had Iris. It was not for Virgil, then, to Create new ministers; he must take what he found in his religion. It cannot therefore be said that he borrowed them from Homer, any more than from Apollo, Diana, and the rest, whom he uses as he finds occasion for them, as the Grecian poet did; but he invents the occasions for which he uses them. Venus, after the destruction of Troy, had gained Neptune entirely to her party; therefore we find him busy in the beginning of the "AEneis" to calm the tempest raised by AEolus, and afterwards conducting the Trojan fleet to Cumes in safety, with the loss only of their pilot, for whom he bargains. I name those two examples--amongst a hundred which I omit--to prove that Virgil, generally speaking, employed his machines in performing those things which might possibly have been done without them. What more frequent than a storm at sea upon the rising of Orion? What wonder if amongst so many ships there should one be overset, which was commanded by Orontes, though half the winds had not been there which AEolus employed? Might not Palinurus, without a miracle, fall asleep and drop into the sea, having been over-wearied with watching, and secure of a quiet passage by his observation of the skies? At least AEneas, who knew nothing of the machine of Somnus, takes it plainly in this sense:-
"O nimium coelo et pelago confise sereno, Nudus in ignota, Palinure, jacebis arena."
But machines sometimes are specious things to amuse the reader, and give a colour of probability to things otherwise incredible; and, besides, it soothed the vanity of the Romans to find the gods so visibly concerned in all the actions of their predecessors. We who are better taught by our religion, yet own every wonderful accident which befalls us for the best, to be brought to pass by some special providence of Almighty God, and by the care of guardian angels; and from hence I might infer that no heroic poem can be writ on the Epicurean principles, which I could easily demonstrate if there were need to prove it or I had leisure.
When Venus opens the eyes of her son AEneas to behold the gods who combated against Troy in that fatal night when it was surprised, we share the pleasure of that glorious vision (which Tasso has not ill copied in the sacking of Jerusalem). But the Greeks had done their business though neither Neptune, Juno, or Pallas had given them their divine assistance. The most crude machine which Virgil uses is in the episode of Camilla, where Opis by the command of her mistress kills Aruns. The next is in the twelfth AEneid, where Venus cures her son AEneas. But in the last of these the poet was driven to a necessity, for Turnus was to be slain that very day; and AEneas, wounded as he was, could not have engaged him in single combat unless his hurt had been miraculously healed and the poet had considered that the dittany which she brought from Crete could not have wrought so speedy an effect without the juice of ambrosia which she mingled with it. After all, that his machine might not seem too violent, we see the hero limping after Turnus; the wound was skinned, but the strength of his thigh was not restored. But what reason had our author to wound AEneas at so critical a time? And how came the cuishes to be worse tempered than the rest of his armour, which was all wrought by Vulcan and his journeymen? These difficulties are not easily to be solved without confessing that Virgil had not life enough to correct his work, though he had reviewed it and found those errors, which he resolved to mend; but being prevented by death, and not willing to leave an imperfect work behind him, he ordained by his last testament that his "AEneis" should be burned. As for the death of Aruns, who was shot by a goddess, the machine was not altogether so outrageous as the wounding Mars and Venus by the sword of Diomede. Two divinities, one would have thought, might have pleaded their prerogative of impassibility, or at least not have been wounded by any mortal hand. Beside that, the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] which they shed was so very like our common blood that it was not to be distinguished from it but only by the name and colour. As for what Horace says in his "Art of Poetry," that no machines are to be used unless on some extraordinary occasion--
"Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus" -
that rule is to be applied to the theatre, of which he is then speaking, and means no more than this--that when the knot of the play is to be untied, and no other way is left for making the discovery, then, and not otherwise, let a god descend upon a rope, and clear the business to the audience. But this has no relation to the machines which are used in an epic poem.
In the last place, for the dira, or flying pest which, flapping on the shield of Turnus and fluttering about his head, disheartened him in the duel, and presaged to him his approaching death--I might have placed it more properly amongst the objections, for the critics who lay want of courage to the charge of Virgil's hero quote this passage as a main proof of their assertion. They say our author had not only secured him before the duel, but also in the beginning of it had given him the advantage in impenetrable arms and in his sword; for that of Turnus was not his own (which was forged by Vulcan for his father), but a weapon which he had snatched in haste, and by mistake, belonging to his charioteer Metiscus. That after all this Jupiter, who was partial to the Trojan, and distrustful of the event, though he had hung the balance and given it a jog of his hand to weigh down Turnus, thought convenient to give the Fates a collateral security by sending the screech-owl to discourage him; for which they quote these words of Virgil:-
"Non me tua turbida virtus Terret, ait; dii me terrent, et Jupiter hostis."
In answer to which, I say that this machine is one of those which the poet uses only for ornament, and not out of necessity. Nothing can be more beautiful or more poetical than his description of the three Dirae, or the setting of the balance, which our Milton has borrowed from him, but employed to a different end; for, first, he makes God Almighty set the scales for St. Gabriel and Satan, when he knew no combat was to follow; then he makes the good angel's scale descend, and the devil's mount--quite contrary to Virgil, if I have translated the three verses according to my author's sense:-
"Jupiter ipse duas aequota examine lances Sustinet, et fata imponit diversa duorum; Quem damnet labor, et quo vergat pondere letum."
For I have taken these words Quem damnet labor in the sense which Virgil gives them in another place (Damnabis tu quoque votis), to signify a prosperous event. Yet I dare not condemn so great a genius as Milton; for I am much mistaken if he alludes not to the text in Daniel where Belshazzar was put into the balance and found too light. This is digression, and I return to my subject. I said above that these two machines of the balance and the Dira were only ornamental, and that the success of the duel had been the same without them; for when AEneas and Turnus stood fronting each other before the altar, Turnus looked dejected, and his colour faded in his face, as if he desponded of the victory before the fight; and not only he, but all his party, when the strength of the two champions was judged by the proportion of their limbs, concluded it was impar pugna, and that their chief was overmatched. Whereupon Juturna, who was of the same opinion, took this opportunity to break the treaty and renew the war. Juno herself had plainly told the nymph beforehand that her brother was to fight
"Imparibus fatis; nec diis, nec viribus aequis;"
so that there was no need of an apparition to fright Turnus, he had the presage within himself of his impending destiny. The Dira only served to confirm him in his first opinion, that it was his destiny to die in the ensuing combat. And in this sense are those words of Virgil to be taken -
"Non me tua turbida virtus Terret, ait; dii me terrent, et Jupiter hostis."
I doubt not but the adverb solum is to be understood ("It is not your valour only that gives me this concernment, but I find also by this portent that Jupiter is my enemy"); for Turnus fled before, when his first sword was broken, till his sister supplied him with a better, which indeed he could not use because AEneas kept him at a distance with his spear. I wonder Ruaeus saw not this, where he charges his author so unjustly for giving Turnus a second sword to no purpose. How could he fasten a blow or make a thrust, when he was not suffered to approach? Besides, the chief errand of the Dira was to warn Juturna from the field, for she could have brought the chariot again when she saw her brother worsted in the duel. I might farther add that AEneas was so eager of the fight that he left the city, now almost in his possession, to decide his quarrel with Turnus by the sword; whereas Turnus had manifestly declined the combat, and suffered his sister to convey him as far from the reach of his enemy as she could. I say, not only suffered her, but consented to it; for it is plain he knew her by these words:-
"O soror, et dudum agnovi, cum prima per artem Faedera turbasti, teque haec in bella dedisti; Et tunc necquicquam fallis dea."
I have dwelt so long on this subject that I must contract what I have to say in reference to my translation, unless I would swell my preface into a volume, and make it formidable to your lordship, when you see so many pages yet behind. And, indeed, what I have already written, either in justification or praise of Virgil, is against myself for presuming to copy in my coarse English the thoughts and beautiful expressions of this inimitable poet, who flourished in an age when his language was brought to its last perfection, for which it was particularly owing to him and Horace. I will give your lordship my opinion that those two friends had consulted each other's judgment wherein they should endeavour to excel; and they seem to have pitched on propriety of thought, elegance of words, and harmony of numbers. According to this model, Horace wrote his odes and epodes; for his satires and epistles, being intended wholly for instruction, required another style -
"Ornari res ipsa negat, contenta doceri" -
and therefore, as he himself professes, are sermoni propriora (nearer prose than verse). But Virgil, who never attempted the lyric verse, is everywhere elegant, sweet, and flowing in his hexameters. His words are not only chosen, but the places in which he ranks them for the sound; he who removes them from the station wherein their master sets them spoils the harmony. What he says of the Sibyl's prophecies may be as properly applied to every word of his--they must be read in order as they lie; the least breath discomposes them, and somewhat of their divinity is lost. I cannot boast that I have been thus exact in my verses; but I have endeavoured to follow the example of my master, and am the first Englishman perhaps who made it his design to copy him in his numbers, his choice of words, and his placing them for the sweetness of the sound. On this last consideration I have shunned the caesura as much as possibly I could; for wherever that is used, it gives a roughness to the verse, of which we can have little need in a language which is overstocked with consonants. Such is not the Latin where the vowels and consonants are mixed in proportion to each other; yet Virgil judged the vowels to have somewhat of an over-balance, and therefore tempers their sweetness with caesuras. Such difference there is in tongues that the same figure which roughens one, gives majesty to another; and that was it which Virgil studied in his verses. Ovid uses it but rarely; and hence it is that his versification cannot so properly be called sweet as luscious. The Italians are forced upon it once or twice in every line, because they have a redundancy of vowels in their language; their metal is so soft that it will not coin without alloy to harden it. On the other side, for the reason already named, it is all we can do to give sufficient sweetness to our language; we must not only choose our words for elegance, but for sound--to perform which a mastery in the language is required; the poet must have a magazine of words, and have the art to manage his few vowels to the best advantage, that they may go the farther. He must also know the nature of the vowels--which are more sonorous, and which more soft and sweet--and so dispose them as his present occasions require; all which, and a thousand secrets of versification beside, he may learn from Virgil, if he will take him for his guide. If he be above Virgil, and is resolved to follow his own verve (as the French call it), the proverb will fall heavily upon him: "Who teaches himself has a fool for his master."
Virgil employed eleven years upon his "AEneis," yet he left it, as he thought himself, imperfect; which, when I seriously consider, I wish that, instead of three years which I have spent in the translation of his works, I had four years more allowed me to correct my errors, that I might make my version somewhat more tolerable than it is; for a poet cannot have too great a reverence for his readers if he expects his labours should survive him. Yet I will neither plead my age nor sickness in excuse of the faults which I have made. That I wanted time is all I have to say; for some of my subscribers grew so clamorous that I could no longer defer the publication. I hope, from the candour of your lordship, and your often-experienced goodness to me, that if the faults are not too many you will make allowances, with Horace:-
"Si plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis Offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit, Aut humana parum cavit natura."
You may please also to observe that there is not, to the best of my remembrance, one vowel gaping on another for want of a caesura in this whole poem. But where a vowel ends a word the next begins either with a consonant or what is its equivalent; for our w and h aspirate, and our diphthongs, are plainly such. The greatest latitude I take is in the letter y when it concludes a word and the first syllable of the next begins with a vowel. Neither need I have called this a latitude, which is only an explanation of this general rule--that no vowel can be cut off before another when we cannot sink the pronunciation of it, as he, she, me, I, &c. Virgil thinks it sometimes a beauty to imitate the licence of the Greeks, and leave two vowels opening on each other, as in that verse of the third pastoral--
"Et succus pecori, et lac subducitur agnis."
But nobis non licet esse tam disertis--at least, if we study to refine our numbers. I have long had by me the materials of an English "Prosodia," containing all the mechanical rules of versification, wherein I have treated with some exactness of the feet, the quantities, and the pauses. The French and Italians know nothing of the two first--at least, their best poets have not practised them. As for the pauses, Malherbe first brought them into France within this last century, and we see how they adorn their Alexandrines. But as Virgil propounds a riddle which he leaves unsolved -
"Dic quibus in terris, inscripti nomina regum Nascantur flores, et Phyllida solus habeto" -
so I will give your lordship another, and leave the exposition of it to your acute judgment. I am sure there are few who make verses have observed the sweetness of these two lines in "Cooper's Hill" -
"Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull; Strong without rage; without o'erflowing, full" -
and there are yet fewer who can find the reason of that sweetness. I have given it to some of my friends in conversation, and they have allowed the criticism to be just. But since the evil of false quantities is difficult to be cured in any modern language; since the French and the Italians, as well as we, are yet ignorant what feet are to be used in heroic poetry; since I have not strictly observed those rules myself which I can teach others; since I pretend to no dictatorship among my fellow-poets; since, if I should instruct some of them to make well-running verses, they want genius to give them strength as well as sweetness; and, above all, since your lordship has advised me not to publish that little which I know, I look on your counsel as your command, which I shall observe inviolably till you shall please to revoke it and leave me at liberty to make my thoughts public. In the meantime, that I may arrogate nothing to myself, I must acknowledge that Virgil in Latin and Spenser in English have been my masters. Spenser has also given me the boldness to make use sometimes of his Alexandrine line, which we call, though improperly, the Pindaric, because Mr. Cowley has often employed it in his odes. It adds a certain majesty to the verse when it is used with judgment, and stops the sense from overflowing into another line. Formerly the French, like us and the Italians, had but five feet or ten syllables in their heroic verse; but since Ronsard's time, as I suppose, they found their tongue too weak to support their epic poetry without the addition of another foot. That indeed has given it somewhat of the run and measure of a trimetre, but it runs with more activity than strength. Their language is not strong with sinews, like our English; it has the nimbleness of a greyhound, but not the bulk and body of a mastiff. Our men and our verses overbear them by their weight; and pondere, non numero is the British motto. The French have set up purity for the standard of their language; and a masculine vigour is that of ours. Like their tongue is the genius of their poets, light and trifling in comparison of the English--more proper for sonnets, madrigals, and elegies than heroic poetry. The turn on thoughts and words is their chief talent: but the epic poem is too stately to receive those little ornaments. The painters draw their nymphs in thin and airy habits, but the weight of gold and of embroideries is reserved for queens and goddesses. Virgil is never frequent in those turns, like Ovid, but much more sparing of them in his "AEneis" than in his Pastorals and Georgics.
"Ignoscenda quidem, scirent si ignoscere manes."
That turn is beautiful indeed; but he employs it in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, not in his great poem. I have used that licence in his "AEneis" sometimes, but I own it as my fault; it was given to those who understand no better. It is like Ovid's
"Semivirumque bovem, semibovemque virum."
The poet found it before his critics, but it was a darling sin which he would not be persuaded to reform.
The want of genius, of which I have accused the French, is laid to their charge by one of their own great authors, though I have forgotten his name, and where I read it. If rewards could make good poets, their great master has not been wanting on his part in his bountiful encouragements; for he is wise enough to imitate Augustus if he had a Maro. The Triumvir and Proscriber had descended to us in a more hideous form than they now appear, if the emperor had not taken care to make friends of him and Horace. I confess the banishment of Ovid was a blot in his escutcheon; yet he was only banished, and who knows but his crime was capital? And then his exile was a favour. Ariosto, who, with all his faults, must be acknowledged a great poet, has put these words into the mouth of an Evangelist; but whether they will pass for gospel now I cannot tell:-
"Non fu si santo ni benigno Augusto, Come la tuba di Virgilio suona; L'haver havuto in poesia buon gusto, La proscrittione iniqua gli pardona."
But heroic poetry is not of the growth of France, as it might be of England if it were cultivated. Spenser wanted only to have read the rules of Bossu, for no man was ever born with a greater genius or had more knowledge to support it. But the performance of the French is not equal to their skill; and hitherto we have wanted skill to perform better. Segrais, whose preface is so wonderfully good, yet is wholly destitute of elevation; though his version is much better than that of the two brothers, or any of the rest who have attempted Virgil. Annibale Caro is a great name amongst the Italians, yet his translation of the "AEneis" is most scandalously mean, though he has taken the advantage of writing in blank verse, and freed himself from the shackles of modern rhyme--if it be modern; for Le Clerc has told us lately, and I believe has made it out, that David's Psalms were written in as errant rhyme as they are translated. Now if a Muse cannot run when she is unfettered, it is a sign she has but little speed. I will not make a digression here, though I am strangely tempted to it, but will only say that he who can write well in rhyme may write better in blank verse. Rhyme is certainly a constraint even to the best poets, and those who make it with most ease; though perhaps I have as little reason to complain of that hardship as any man, excepting Quarles and Withers. What it adds to sweetness, it takes away from sense; and he who loses the least by it may be called a gainer; it often makes us swerve from an author's meaning. As if a mark he set up for an archer at a great distance, let him aim as exactly as he can, the least wind will take his arrow and divert it from the white.
I return to our Italian translator of the "AEneis;" he is a foot- poet; he lackeys by the side of Virgil at the best, but never mounts behind him. Doctor Morelli, who is no mean critic in our poetry, and therefore may be presumed to be a better in his own language, has confirmed me in this opinion by his judgment, and thinks withal that he has often mistaken his master's sense. I would say so if I durst, but am afraid I have committed the same fault more often and more grossly; for I have forsaken Ruaeus (whom generally I follow) in many places, and made expositions of my own in some, quite contrary to him, of which I will give but two examples, because they are so near each other in the tenth AEneid:-
"Sorti pater aequus utrique."
Pallas says it to Turnus just before they fight. Ruaeus thinks that the word pater is to be referred to Evander, the father of Pallas; but how could he imagine that it was the same thing to Evander if his son were slain, or if he overcame? The poet certainly intended Jupiter, the common father of mankind, who, as Pallas hoped, would stand an impartial spectator of the combat, and not be more favourable to Turnus than to him. The second is not long after it, and both before the duel is begun. They are the words of Jupiter, who comforts Hercules for the death of Pallas, which was immediately to ensue, and which Hercules could not hinder, though the young hero had addressed his prayers to him for his assistance, because the gods cannot control destiny. The verse follows -
"Sic ait; atque oculos Rutulorum rejicit arvis" -
which the same Ruaeus thus construes: "Jupiter, after he had said this, immediately turns his eyes to the Rutulian fields and beholds the duel." I have given this place another exposition--that he turned his eyes from the field of combat that he might not behold a sight so unpleasing to him. The word rejicit, I know, will admit of both senses; but Jupiter having confessed that he could not alter fate, and being grieved he could not in consideration of Hercules, it seems to me that he should avert his eyes rather than take pleasure in the spectacle. But of this I am not so confident as the other, though I think I have followed Virgil's sense.
What I have said, though it has the face of arrogance, yet is intended for the honour of my country, and therefore I will boldly own that this English translation has more of Virgil's spirit in it than either the French or the Italian. Some of our countrymen have translated episodes and other parts of Virgil with great success; as particularly your lordship, whose version of Orpheus and Eurydice is eminently good. Amongst the dead authors, the Silenus of my Lord Rescommon cannot be too much commended. I say nothing of Sir John Denham, Mr. Waller, and Mr. Cowley; it is the utmost of my ambition to be thought their equal, or not to be much inferior to them and some others of the living. But it is one thing to take pains on a fragment and translate it perfectly, and another thing to have the weight of a whole author on my shoulders. They who believe the burden light, let them attempt the fourth, sixth, or eighth Pastoral; the first or fourth Georgic; and, amongst the AEneids, the fourth, the fifth, the seventh, the ninth, the tenth, the eleventh, or the twelfth, for in these I think I have succeeded best.
Long before I undertook this work I was no stranger to the original. I had also studied Virgil's design, his disposition of it, his manners, his judicious management of the figures, the sober retrenchments of his sense, which always leaves somewhat to gratify our imagination, on which it may enlarge at pleasure; but, above all, the elegance of his expressions and the harmony of his numbers. For, as I have said in a former dissertation, the words are in poetry what the colours are in painting. If the design be good, and the draft be true, the colouring is the first beauty that strikes the eye. Spenser and Milton are the nearest in English to Virgil and Horace in the Latin, and I have endeavoured to form my style by imitating their masters. I will farther own to you, my lord, that my chief ambition is to please those readers who have discernment enough to prefer Virgil before any other poet in the Latin tongue. Such spirits as he desired to please, such would I choose for my judges, and would stand or fall by them alone. Segrais has distinguished the readers of poetry, according to their capacity of judging, into three classes (he might have said the same of writers, too, if he had pleased). In the lowest form he places those whom he calls les petits esprits--such things as are our upper-gallery audience in a playhouse, who like nothing but the husk and rind of wit; prefer a quibble, a conceit, an epigram, before solid sense and elegant expression. These are mob-readers. If Virgil and Martial steed for Parliament-men, we know already who would carry it. But though they make the greatest appearance in the field, and cry the loudest, the best of it is they are but a sort of French Huguenots, or Dutch boors, brought ever in herds, but not naturalised, who have not land of two pounds per annum in Parnassus, and therefore are not privileged to poll. Their authors are of the same level; fit to represent them on a mountebank's stage, or to be masters of the ceremonies in a bear-garden. Yet these are they who have the most admirers. But it often happens, to their mortification, that as their readers improve their stock of sense (as they may by reading better books, and by conversation with men of judgment), they soon forsake them; and when the torrent from the mountains falls no more, the swelling writer is reduced into his shallow bed, like the Mancanares at Madrid, with scarce water to moisten his own pebbles. There are a middle sort of readers (as we held there is a middle state of souls), such as have a farther insight than the former, yet have not the capacity of judging right; for I speak not of those who are bribed by a party, and knew better if they were not corrupted, but I mean a company of warm young men, who are not yet arrived so far as to discern the difference betwixt fustian or ostentations sentences and the true sublime. These are above liking Martial or Owen's epigrams, but they would certainly set Virgil below Statius or Lucan. I need not say their poets are of the same paste with their admirers. They affect greatness in all they write, but it is a bladdered greatness, like that of the vain man whom Seneca describes an ill habit of body, full of humours, and swelled with dropsy. Even these, too, desert their authors as their judgment ripens. The young gentlemen themselves are commonly misled by their pedagogue at school, their tutor at the university, or their governor in their travels, and many of these three sorts are the most positive blockheads in the world. How many of these flatulent writers have I known who have sunk in their reputation after seven or eight editions of their works! for indeed they are poets only for young men. They had great success at their first appearance, but not being of God, as a wit said formerly, they could not stand.
I have already named two sorts of judges, but Virgil wrote for neither of them, and by his example I am not ambitious of pleasing the lowest or the middle form of readers. He chose to please the most judicious souls, of the highest rank and truest understanding. These are few in number; but whoever is so happy as to gain their approbation can never lose it, because they never give it blindly. Then they have a certain magnetism in their judgment which attracts others to their sense. Every day they gain some new proselyte, and in time become the Church. For this reason a well-weighed judicious poem, which at its first appearance gains no more upon the world than to be just received, and rather not blamed than much applauded, insinuates itself by insensible degrees into the liking of the reader; the more he studies it, the more it grows upon him, every time he takes it up he discovers some new graces in it. And whereas poems which are produced by the vigour of imagination only have a gloss upon them at the first (which time wears off), the works of judgment are like the diamond, the more they are polished the more lustre they receive. Such is the difference betwixt Virgil's "AEneis" and Marini's "Adone." And if I may be allowed to change the metaphor, I would say that Virgil is like the Fame which he describes:-
"Mobilitate viget, viresque acquirit eundo."
Such a sort of reputation is my aim, though in a far inferior degree, according to my motto in the title-page--sequiturque patrem non passibus aequis--and therefore I appeal to the highest court of judicature, like that of the peers, of which your lordship is so great an ornament.
Without this ambition which I own, of desiring to please the judices natos, I could never have been able to have done anything at this age, when the fire of poetry is commonly extinguished in other men. Yet Virgil has given me the example of Entellus for my encouragement; when he was well heated, the younger champion could not stand before him. And we find the elder contended not for the gift, but for the honour (nec dona moror); for Dampier has informed us in his "Voyages" that the air of the country which produces gold is never wholesome.
I had long since considered that the way to please the best judges is not to translate a poet literally, and Virgil least of any other; for his peculiar beauty lying in his choice of words, I am excluded from it by the narrow compass of our heroic verse, unless I would make use of monosyllables only, and these clogged with consonants, which are the dead weight of our mother tongue. It is possible, I confess, though it rarely happens, that a verse of monosyllables may sound harmoniously; and some examples of it I have seen. My first line of the "AEneis" is not harsh -
"Arms, and the man I sing, who forced by Fate," &c. -
but a much better instance may be given from the last line of Manilius, made English by our learned and judicious Mr. Creech -
"Nor could the world have borne so fierce a flame" -
where the many liquid consonants are placed so artfully that they give a pleasing sound to the words, though they are all of one syllable. It is true, I have been sometimes forced upon it in other places of this work, but I never did it out of choice: I was either in haste, or Virgil gave me no occasion for the ornament of words; for it seldom happens but a monosyllable line turns verse to prose, and even that prose is rugged and unharmonious. Philarchus, I remember, taxes Balzac for placing twenty monosyllables in file without one dissyllable betwixt them.
The way I have taken is not so strait as metaphrase, nor so loose as paraphrase; some things, too, I have omitted, and sometimes have added of my own. Yet the omissions, I hope, are but of circumstances, and such as would have no grace in English; and the additions, I also hope, are easily deduced from Virgil's sense. They will seem (at least, I have the vanity to think so), not stuck into him, but growing out of him. He studies brevity more than any other poet; but he had the advantage of a language wherein much may be comprehended in a little space. We and all the modern tongues have more articles and pronouns, besides signs of tenses and cases, and other barbarities on which our speech is built, by the faults of our forefathers. The Romans founded theirs upon the Greek; and the Greeks, we know, were labouring many hundred years upon their language before they brought it to perfection. They rejected all those signs, and cut off as many articles as they could spare, comprehending in one word what we are constrained to express in two; which is one reason why we cannot write so concisely as they have done. The word pater, for example, signifies not only "a father," but "your father," "my father," "his or her father"--all included in a word.
This inconvenience is common to all modern tongues, and this alone constrains us to employ more words than the ancients needed. But having before observed that Virgil endeavours to be short, and at the same time elegant, I pursue the excellence and forsake the brevity. For there he is like ambergris, a rich perfume, but of so close and glutinous a body that it must be opened with inferior scents of musk or civet, or the sweetness will not be drawn out into another language.
On the whole matter I thought fit to steer betwixt the two extremes of paraphrase and literal translation; to keep as near my author as I could without losing all his graces, the most eminent of which are in the beauty of his words: and those words, I must add, are always figurative. Such of these as would retain their elegance in our tongue, I have endeavoured to graff on it; but most of them are of necessity to be lest, because they will not shine in any but their own. Virgil has sometimes two of them in a line; but the scantiness of our heroic verse is not capable of receiving more than one; and that, too, must expiate for many others which have none. Such is the difference of the languages, or such my want of skill in choosing words. Yet I may presume to say, and I hope with as much reason as the French translator, that, taking all the materials of this divine author, I have endeavoured to make Virgil speak such English as he would himself have spoken if he had been born in England and in this present age. I acknowledge, with Segrais, that I have not succeeded in this attempt according to my desire; yet I shall not be wholly without praise, if in some sort I may be allowed to have copied the clearness, the purity, the easiness, and the magnificence of his style. But I shall have occasion to speak farther on this subject before I end the preface.
When I mentioned the Pindaric line, I should have added that I take another licence in my verses; for I frequently make use of triplet rhymes, and for the same reason--because they bound the sense. And therefore I generally join these two licences together, and make the last verse of the triplet a Pindaric; for besides the majesty which it gives, it confines the sense within the barriers of three lines, which would languish if it were lengthened into four. Spenser is my example for both these privileges of English verses; and Chapman has followed him in his translation of Homer. Mr. Cowley has given in to them after both; and all succeeding writers after him. I regard them now as the Magna Charta of heroic poetry; and am too much an Englishman to lose what my ancestors have gained for me. Let the French and Italians value themselves on their regularity; strength and elevation are our standard. I said before, and I repeat it, that the affected purity of the French has unsinewed their heroic verse. The language of an epic poem is almost wholly figurative; yet they are so fearful of a metaphor that no example of Virgil can encourage them to be bold with safety. Sure, they might warm themselves by that sprightly blaze, without approaching it so close as to singe their wings; they may come as near it as their master. Not that I would discourage that purity of diction in which he excels all other poets; but he knows how far to extend his franchises, and advances to the verge without venturing a foot beyond it. On the other side, without being injurious to the memory of our English Pindar, I will presume to say that his metaphors are sometimes too violent, and his language is not always pure. But at the same time I must excuse him, for through the iniquity of the times he was forced to travel at an age when, instead of learning foreign languages, he should have studied the beauties of his mother tongue, which, like all other speeches, is to be cultivated early, or we shall never write it with any kind of elegance. Thus by gaining abroad he lost at home, like the painter in the "Arcadia," who, going to see a skirmish, had his arms lopped off, and returned, says Sir Philip Sidney, well instructed how to draw a battle, but without a hand to perform his work.
There is another thing in which I have presumed to deviate from him and Spenser. They both make hemistichs, or half-verses, breaking off in the middle of a line. I confess there are not many such in the "Faerie Queen," and even those few might be occasioned by his unhappy choice of so long a stanza. Mr. Cowley had found out that no kind of staff is proper for an heroic poem, as being all too lyrical; yet though he wrote in couplets, where rhyme is freer from constraint, he frequently affects half-verses, of which we find not one in Homer, and I think not in any of the Greek poets or the Latin, excepting only Virgil: and there is no question but he thought he had Virgil's authority for that licence. But I am confident our poet never meant to leave him or any other such a precedent; and I ground my opinion on these two reasons: first, we find no example of a hemistich in any of his Pastorals or Georgics, for he had given the last finishing strokes to both these poems; but his "AEneis" he left so incorrect, at least so short of that perfection at which he aimed, that we know how hard a sentence he passed upon it. And, in the second place, I reasonably presume that he intended to have filled up all these hemistichs, because in one of them we find the sense imperfect:-
"Quem tibi jam Troja . . . " ("AEn." iii. 340.)
which some foolish grammarian has ended for him with a half-line of nonsense:-
"Peperit fumante Creusa."
For Ascanius must have been born some years before the burning of that city, which I need not prove. On the other side we find also that he himself filled up one line in the sixth AEneid, the enthusiasm seizing him while he was reading to Augustus:-
"Misenum AEolidem, quo non praestantior alter AEre ciere viros, . . . "
to which he added in that transport, Martemque accendare cantu, and never was any line more nobly finished, for the reasons which I have given in the "Book of Painting."
On these considerations I have shunned hemistichs, not being willing to imitate Virgil to a fault, like Alexander's courtiers, who affected to hold their necks awry because he could not help it. I am confident your lordship is by this time of my opinion, and that you will look on those half-lines hereafter as the imperfect products of a hasty muse, like the frogs and serpents in the Nile, part of them kindled into life, and part a lump of unformed, unanimated mud.
I am sensible that many of my whole verses are as imperfect as those halves, for want of time to digest them better. But give me leave to make the excuse of Boccace, who, when he was upbraided that some of his novels had not the spirit of the rest, returned this answer: that Charlemagne, who made the Paladins, was never able to raise an army of them. The leaders may be heroes, but the multitude must consist of common men.
I am also bound to tell your lordship, in my own defence, that from the beginning of the first Georgic to the end of the last AEneid, I found the difficulty of translation growing on me in every succeeding book. For Virgil, above all poets, had a stock which I may call almost inexhaustible, of figurative, elegant, and sounding words. I, who inherit but a small portion of his genius, and write in a language so much inferior to the Latin, have found it very painful to vary phrases when the same sense returns upon me. Even he himself, whether out of necessity or choice, has often expressed the same thing in the same words, and often repeated two or three whole verses which he had used before. Words are not so easily coined as money; and yet we see that the credit not only of banks, but of exchequers, cracks when little comes in and much goes out. Virgil called upon me in every line for some new word, and I paid so long that I was almost bankrupt; so that the latter end must needs be more burthensome than the beginning or the middle; and consequently the twelfth AEneid cost me double the time of the first and second. What had become of me, if Virgil had taxed me with another book? I had certainly been reduced to pay the public in hammered money for want of milled; that is, in the same old words which I had used before; and the receivers must have been forced to have taken anything, where there was so little to be had.
Besides this difficulty with which I have struggled and made a shift to pass it ever, there is one remaining, which is insuperable to all translators. We are bound to our author's sense, though with the latitudes already mentioned; for I think it not so sacred as that one iota must not be added or diminished, on pain of an anathema. But slaves we are, and labour on another man's plantation; we dress the vineyard, but the wine is the owner's. If the soil be sometimes barren, then we are sure of being scourged; if it be fruitful, and our care succeeds, we are not thanked; for the proud reader will only say--the poor drudge has done his duty. But this is nothing to what follows; for being obliged to make his sense intelligible, we are forced to untune our own verses that we may give his meaning to the reader. He who invents is master of his thoughts and words: he can turn and vary them as he pleases, till he renders them harmonious. But the wretched translator has no such privilege, for being tied to the thoughts, he must make what music he can in the expression; and for this reason it cannot always be so sweet as that of the original. There is a beauty of sound, as Segrais has observed, in some Latin words, which is wholly lost in any modern language. He instances in that mollis amaracus, on which Venus lays Cupid in the first AEneid. If I should translate it sweet-marjoram, as the word signifies, the reader would think I had mistaken Virgil; for these village-words, as I may call them, give us a mean idea of the thing; but the sound of the Latin is so much more pleasing, by the just mixture of the vowels with the consonants, that it raises our fancies to conceive somewhat more noble than a common herb, and to spread roses under him, and strew lilies over him--a bed not unworthy the grandson of the goddess.
If I cannot copy his harmonious numbers, how shall I imitate his noble flights, where his thoughts and words are equally sublime? Quem
" . . . quisquis studet aemulari, . . . caeratis ope Dedalea Nititur pennis, vitreo daturus Nomina ponto."
What modern language or what poet can express the majestic beauty of this one verse, amongst a thousand others?
"Aude, hospes, contemnere opes, et te quoque dignum Finge Deo . . . "
For my part, I am lost in the admiration of it. I contemn the world when I think on it, and myself when I translate it.
Lay by Virgil, I beseech your lordship and all my better sort of judges, when you take up my version, and it will appear a passable beauty when the original muse is absent; but like Spenser's false Florimel, made of snow, it melts and vanishes when the true one comes in sight.
I will not excuse, but justify, myself for one pretended crime with which I am liable to be charged by false critics, not only in this translation, but in many of my original poems--that I Latinise too much. It is true, that when I find an English word significant and sounding, I neither borrow from the Latin nor any other language; but when I want at home, I must seek abroad. If sounding words are not of our growth and manufacture, who shall hinder me to import them from a foreign country? I carry not out the treasure of the nation which is never to return, but what I bring from Italy I spend in England. Here it remains and here it circulates, for if the coin be good it will pass from one hand to another. I trade both with the living and the dead for the enrichment of our native language. We have enough in England to supply our necessity; but if we will have things of magnificence and splendour, we must get them by commerce. Poetry requires ornament, and that is not to be had from our old Teuton monosyllables; therefore, if I find any elegant word in a classic author, I propose it to be naturalised by using it myself; and if the public approves of it, the bill passes. But every man cannot distinguish betwixt pedantry and poetry; every man, therefore, is not fit to innovate.
Upon the whole matter, a poet must first be certain that the word he would introduce is beautiful in the Latin; and is to consider, in the next place, whether it will agree with the English idiom. After this he ought to take the opinion of judicious friends, such as are learned in both languages; and lastly, since no man is infallible, let him use this licence very sparingly; for if too many foreign words are poured in upon us, it looks as if they were designed not to assist the natives, but to conquer them.
I am now drawing towards a conclusion, and suspect your lordship is very glad of it. But permit me first to own what helps I have had in this undertaking. The late Earl of Lauderdale sent me over his new translation of the "AEneis," which he had ended before I engaged in the same design. Neither did I then intend it; but some proposals being afterwards made me by my bookseller, I desired his lordship's leave that I might accept them, which he freely granted, and I have his letter yet to show for that permission. He resolved to have printed his work, which he might have done two years before I could publish mine; and had performed it, if death had not prevented him. But having his manuscript in my hands, I consulted it as often as I doubted of my author's sense, for no man understood Virgil better than that learned nobleman. His friends, I hear, have yet another and more correct copy of that translation by them, which had they pleased to have given the public, the judges must have been convinced that I have not flattered him.
Besides this help, which was not inconsiderable, Mr. Congreve has done me the favour to review the "AEneis," and compare my version with the original. I shall never be ashamed to own that this excellent young man has shown me many faults, which I have endeavoured to correct. It is true he might have easily found more, and then my translation had been more perfect.
Two other worthy friends of mine, who desire to have their names concealed, seeing me straitened in my time, took pity on me and gave me the life of Virgil, the two prefaces--to the Pastorals and the Georgics--and all the arguments in prose to the whole translation; which perhaps has caused a report that the two first poems are not mine. If it had been true that I had taken their verses for my own, I might have gloried in their aid; and like Terence, have farthered the opinion that Scipio and Laelius joined with me. But the same style being continued through the whole, and the same laws of versification observed, are proofs sufficient that this is one man's work; and your lordship is too well acquainted with my manner to doubt that any part of it is another's.
That your lordship may see I was in earnest when I premised to hasten to an end, I will not give the reasons why I writ not always in the proper terms of navigation, land-service, or in the cant of any profession. I will only say that Virgil has avoided these proprieties, because he writ not to mariners, soldiers, astronomers, gardeners, peasants, &c., but to all in general, and in particular to men and ladies of the first quality, who have been better bred than to be too nicely knowing in the terms. In such cases, it is enough for a poet to write so plainly that he may be understood by his readers; to avoid impropriety, and not affect to be thought learned in all things.
I have emitted the four preliminary lines of the first AEneid, because I think them inferior to any four others in the whole poem; and consequently believe they are not Virgil's. There is too great a gap betwixt the adjective vicina in the second line, and the substantive arva in the latter end of the third; which keeps his meaning in obscurity too long, and is contrary to the clearness of his style. Ut quamvis avido is too ambitious an ornament to be his, and gratum opus agricolis are all words unnecessary, and independent of what he had said before. Horrentia Martis arma is worse than any of the rest. Horrentia is such a flat epithet as Tully would have given us in his verses. It is a mere filler to stop a vacancy in the hexameter, and connect the preface to the work of Virgil.
Our author seems to sound a charge, and begins like the clangour of a trumpet:-
"Arma, virumque cano, Trojae qui primus ab oris," -
Scarce a word without an r, and the vowels for the greater part sonorous. The prefacer began with Ille ego, which he was constrained to patch up in the fourth line with at nunc to make the sense cohere; and if both those words are not notorious botches I am much deceived, though the French translator thinks otherwise. For my own part, I am rather of the opinion that they were added by Tucca and Varius, than retrenched.
I know it may be answered by such as think Virgil the author of the four lines--that he asserts his title to the "AEneis" in the beginning of this work, as he did to the two former, in the last lines of the fourth Georgic. I will not reply otherwise to this, than by desiring them to compare these four lines with the four others, which we know are his, because no poet but he alone could write them. If they cannot distinguish creeping from flying, let them lay down Virgil, and take up Ovid de Ponto in his stead. My master needed not the assistance of that preliminary poet to prove his claim: his own majestic mien discovers him to be the king amidst a thousand courtiers. It was a superfluous office, and therefore I would not set those verses in the front of Virgil; but have rejected them to my own preface:
"I, who before, with shepherds in the groves, Sung to my oaten pipe their rural loves, And issuing thence, compelled the neighb'ring field A plenteous crop of rising corn to yield; Manured the glebe, and stocked the fruitful plain (A poem grateful to the greedy swain)," &c.
If there be not a tolerable line in all these six, the prefacer gave me no occasion to write better. This is a just apology in this place; but I have done great wrong to Virgil in the whole translation. Want of time, the inferiority of our language, the inconvenience of rhyme, and all the other excuses I have made, may alleviate my fault, but cannot justify the boldness of my undertaking. What avails it me to acknowledge freely that I have not been able to do him right in any line? For even my own confession makes against me; and it will always be returned upon me, "Why, then, did you attempt it?" To which no other answer can be made, than that I have done him less injury than any of his former libellers.
What they called his picture had been drawn at length so many times by the daubers of almost all nations, and still so unlike him, that I snatched up the pencil with disdain, being satisfied beforehand that I could make some small resemblance of him, though I must be content with a worse likeness. A sixth Pastoral, a Pharmaceutria, a single Orpheus, and some other features have been exactly taken. But those holiday authors writ for pleasure, and only showed us what they could have done if they would have taken pains to perform the whole.
Be pleased, my lord, to accept with your wonted goodness this unworthy present which I make you. I have taken off one trouble from you, of defending it, by acknowledging its imperfections; and though some part of them are covered in the verse (as Ericthonius rode always in a chariot to hide his lameness), such of them as cannot be concealed you will please to connive at, though in the strictness of your judgment you cannot pardon. If Homer was allowed to nod sometimes, in so long a work it will be no wonder if I often fall asleep. You took my "Aurengzebe" into your protection with all his faults; and I hope here cannot be so many, because I translate an author who gives me such examples of correctness. What my jury may be I know not; but it is good for a criminal to plead before a favourable judge: if I had said partial, would your lordship have forgiven me? Or will you give me leave to acquaint the world that I have many times been obliged to your bounty since the Revolution? Though I never was reduced to beg a charity, nor ever had the impudence to ask one, either of your lordship or your noble kinsman the Earl of Dorset, much less of any other, yet when I least expected it you have both remembered me, so inherent it is in your family not to forget an old servant. It looks rather like ingratitude on my part, that where I have been so often obliged, I have appeared so seldom to return my thanks, and where I was also so sure of being well received. Somewhat of laziness was in the case, and somewhat too of modesty; but nothing of disrespect or of unthankfulness. I will not say that your lordship has encouraged me to this presumption, lest, if my labours meet with no success in public, I may expose your judgment to be censured. As for my own enemies, I shall never think them worth an answer; and if your lordship has any, they will not dare to arraign you for want of knowledge in this art till they can produce somewhat better of their own than your "Essay on Poetry." It was on this consideration that I have drawn out my preface to so great a length. Had I not addressed to a poet and a critic of the first magnitude, I had myself been taxed for want of judgment, and shamed my patron for want of understanding. But neither will you, my lord, so soon be tired as any other, because the discourse is on your art; neither will the learned reader think it tedious, because it is ad Clerum: at least, when he begins to be weary, the church doors are open. That I may pursue the allegory with a short prayer after a long sermon.
May you live happily and long for the service of your country, the encouragement of good letters and the ornament of poetry, which cannot be wished more earnestly by any man than by
Your Lordship's most humble,
Most obliged and most