« PreviousContinue »
they have formerly received ; let us not immediately determine, that they owed their reputation to dulness or bigotry; but/suspect, at least, that our ancestors had some reasons for their opinions, and that our ignorance of those reasons make us differ from them.
It often happens, that an author's reputation is endangered in succeeding times, by that which raised the loudest applause among his contemporaries : nothing is read with greater pleasure than allusions to recent facts, reigning opinions, or present controversies; but when facts are forgotten, and controversies extinguished, these favourite touches lose all their graces; and the author in his descent to posterity must be left to the mercy of chance, without any power of ascertaining the memory of those things to which he owed his luckiest thoughts and his kindest reception.
On such occasions, every reader should remember the diffidence of Socrates, and repair by his candour the injuries of time; he should impute the seeming defects of his author to some chasm of intelligence, and suppose, that the sense, which is now weak, was once forcible, and the expression which is now dubious, formerly determinate.
How much the mutilation of ancient history has taken away from the beauty of poetical performances, may be conjectured from the light which a lucky commentator sometimes effuses, by the recovery of an incident that had long been forgotten : thus, in the third book of Horace, Juno's denunciations against those that should presume to raise again the walls of Troy, could for many ages please only by splendid images and swelling language, of which no man discovered the use or propriety, till Le Fevre, by showing on what occasion the ode was written, changed wonder to rational delight. Many pas
sages yet undoubtedly remain in the same author, which an exacter knowledge of the incidents of his time would clear from objections. Among these, I hnve always numbered the following lines :
Aurum per medios ire satellites,
Argivi domus ob lucrum
Sævos illaqueant duces.
FRANCIS. The close of this passage, by which every reader is now disappointed and offended, was probably the delight of the Roman court: it cannot be imagined that Horace, after having given to gold the force of thunder, and told of its power to storm cities and to conquer kings, would have concluded his account of its efficacy with its influence over naval commanders, had he not alluded to some fact then current in the mouths of men, and therefore more interesting for a time than the conquests of Philip. Of the like kind may be reckoned another stanza in the same book :
-Jussa coram non sine conscio
Seu navis Hispanæ magister
The conscious husband bids her rise,
Profusely buys the costly shame. FRANCIS. He has little knowledge of Horace who imagines that the factor or the Spanish merchant are mentioned by chance: there was undoubtedly some popular story of an intrigue which those names recalled to the memory of his reader.
The flame of his genius in other parts, though somewhat dimmed by time, is not totally eclipsed; his address and judgment yet appear, though much of the spirit and vigour of his sentiment is lost: this has happened to the twentieth ode of the first book.
Vile potabis modicis Sabinum
Cùm tibi plausus,
(Should great Mæcenas be my guest)
But yet in sober cups, shall crown the feast :
Its rougher juice to melt away;
With annual joy to mark the glorious day,
Spread from the theatre around,
FRANCES, We here easily remark the intertexture of a happy compliment with a humble invitation; but certainly are less delighted than those to whom the mention of the applause bestowed upon Mæcenas, gave oc
casion to recount the actions or words that produced it.
Two lines, which have exercised the ingenuity of modern critics, may, I think, be reconciled to the judgment by an easy supposition: Horace thus addresses Agrippa :
Scriberis Vario fortis, et hostium
Shall brave Agrippa's conquests sing: FRANCIS. That Varius should be called “ a bird of Homeric song," appears so harsh to modern ears that an emendation of the text has been proposed: but surely the learning of the ancients had been long'ago obliterated, had every man thought himself at liberty to corrupt the lines which he did not understand. If we imagine that Varius had been by any of his contemporaries celebrated under the appellation of Musarum Ales, the Swan of the Muses, the language of Horace becomes graceful and familiar; and that such a compliment was at least possible, we know from the transformation feigned by Horace of himself.
The most elegant compliment that was paid to Addison is of this obscure and perishable kind.
When panting Virtue her last efforts made,
You brought your Clio to the virgin's aid. These lines must please as long are they are understood; but can be understood only by those that have observed Addison's signatures in the Spectator.
The nicety of these minute allusions I shall exemplify by another instance, which I take this occasion to inention, because, as I am told, the commentators have omitted it. Tibullus addresses Cynthia in this manner :
Te spectem, suprema mihi cùm venerit hora,
Te teneam moriens deficiente manu.
Held weakly by my fainting trembling hand. To these lines Ovid thus refers in his elegy on the death of Tibullus :
Cynthia decedens, felicius, inquit, amata
Sum tibi; vixisti dum tuus ignis eram,
Me tenuit moriens deficiente manu.
The fainting trembling hand was mine alone. The beauty of this passage, which consists in the appropriation made by Nemesis of the line originally directed to Cynthia, had been wholly imperceptible to succeeding ages, had chance, which has detroyed so many greater volumes, deprived us likewise of the poems
of Tibullus. T.
No. 59. TUESDAY, MAY 29, 1753.
-Si Pieria Quadrans tibi nullus in Arca
The indigence of authors, and particularly of poets, has long been the object of lamentation and ridicule, of compassion and contempt.