Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

Aroostook,” as a novel? The expression urbanitas always had a very clear meaning in the mouth of a Roman of the Republic and early Empire, to whom the City was as supreme as to a modern Parisian. Urbanitas was the essential condition of literary acceptability. But its meaning shifted with each generation, though quite definite in each. Lucilius is called perurbanus by Cicero and inurbanus by Horace, yet each of these critics knew, no doubt, exactly what urbanus meant, and applied the epithet correctly according to the conception of his age. But the consideration of the Latin Poetry of the decline is hardly at all impeded by either of these difficulties. First, the Rome of Horace was curiously similar to the Rome of Juvenal, and the state of life described by the poet of the early Empire remained practically unchanged under Emperors who had almost forgotten who Horace was. Secondly, after Virgil not a single poet arose to emulate his striking originality. To take the second consideration first. It seems startling to dwell on the originality of one who was in his technique so imitative as Virgil; yet among Latin poets his originality is his most distinctive feature. He succeeded in producing in an age no longer epical a brilliant reflexion of the poetry which characterizes the epoch of childish belief and insouciance. Virgil has borrowed much from Homer, but he has taken from him nothing that he has not made new. He is the cloud which receives the light of the Sun, and gives it back with all the colours of the rainbow, rather than the Moon of Homer, as he was called by Victor Hugo. His pious reproduction of the age of childish belief has suggested to some critics a comparison of Virgil with Tasso. Ovid was the Ariosto of the Augustan Age, and took mythology no more seriously than his successor took chivalry.” And, as we have said, the Silver Age, which failed to bring forth an artist of original genius, is marked also by the monotony with which, generation after generation, it reproduced a hardly altered routine of social life in the Imperial City. A sketch drawn from Horace of a day in Rome under the early Empire would not require much modification to suit the Rome of Martial and Juvenal, and yet the difference in time was greater than that which separates Shakspeare from Swift, or Fielding from Thackeray. The beau monde of Rome consisted mainly of professed libertines, professed gastronomes, and professional diners-out. Money was easily made, and was profusely thrown away on absurd building schemes, extravagant entertainments, and articles of virtu. Those who could not enrich themselves by the plunder of the public revenues spent their lives in pursuing with assiduities the childless millionaire, who often provided a contrast to the general extravagance by leading a life of sordid penury; and among all these the position of the man of letters was often little better than that of the professional parasite. In a society which depended entirely on slave labour, and in which commerce and manufacture were but feebly developed, industry was almost confined to those among the upper classes who were ambitious of place, power, and riches, and the great mass of the community found its chief occupation in providing itself with amusement. Add to this picture the greater development of the practice of declamation, and we have a description of a Roman day in the time of Martial or Juvenal. In referring to that strange product of the Empire, Petronius Arbiter, we shall have occasion to give a specimen of table-talk at a Roman entertainment, which will show how little the mental horizon of a Roman had widened since the age of Horace. Here it is sufficient to note that society in the time of Horace is rapidly tending towards the heartless profligacy which displays itself in the poems of Ovid. As Catullus marks the transition from republican poetry to Augustan, Ovid marks that from the

* “In non credendos corpora versa modos” (Trist. II. 64). and

[graphic][graphic]

Augustan to the Decline. Before entering on the poetry of the Decline, we may perhaps briefly characterise those poets who, in addition to Virgil and Horace (already treated at large in this Review), constitute for us the Augustan Age. The successive steps from republican poetry to the Decline are marked by Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid. The early Greek elegy was as opposite as possible in its spirit to the elegy of the Augustan Age, Callinus and Tyrtopus employed it to rouse their countrymen to patriotism and heroism; Solon made politics its theme; and Theognis and Phocylides enshrined in it their proverbial philosophy and shrewd moralisings on life. Mimmermus is the only early Greek elegiac poet whose muse is associated with love. It is the Alexandrine poets, Philetas, Callimachus, and Euphorion, to whom Cicero refers as the models of “the new school’ (ot veOtepsovres), and who really gave its tone and scope to the Latin elegy. With Propertius love is still ardent passion, but the characteristic reverence and seriousness, the gravitas of the Roman character, has deepened into gloom; in Tibullus love is tender affection mixed with melancholy, and there is still strong sympathy with the grandeur of the Roman character and state; in Ovid it is mere pleasure, intrigue, gallantry, and all gravitas has completely disappeared. Love is with him merely

merely physical desire, and the lover aspires to nothing better
than bonne fortune. The poet has forgotten how to suffer like
Catullus, and has learned how picturesque it is to souffrir like
Alfred de Musset. Ovid prepares us for the state of morals
which called forth the sarcasms of Tacitus and the execrations
of Juvenal.
The late Professor Sellar—in that valuable volume on
Horace and the elegiac poets which appeared after his lamented
death, fitly crowning a literary career to which British scholar-
ship may well point with pride as affording a bright example of
learning ever embellished by good taste, and brilliancy which
never overstepped the bounds of due discretion—has happily
remarked that readers of Propertius in the present day will be
disposed, according to their temperament, to apostrophize him
in one or other of two verses from his own poems. Those who
feel neither his own personality nor that which he has im-
parted to his Cynthia to be very congenial, and who think
that it is possible to have too much of lovers' quarrels and
reconciliations—that love is, after all, only the flower of life, not
its root or even its fruit—will shut up the book of his poems,
exclaiming in his own words,-

“Maxima de nilo nascitur historia.”

The more sympathetic readers will say with a sigh,
‘Ardoris nostri magne poeta jaces.'

To the one the four books of elegies will be ‘much ado about nothing'; to the others Propertius will ever be “the bard that lent love's passion words.” We belong to the latter class, and that is the reason why we have put him before Tibullus, to whom chronologically he is somewhat posterior. When we leave Propertius, we abandon really ardent sincerity in the expression of the passion of love, never again to meet it in Latin poetry. The poetry of Tibullus is to his

‘As moonlight unto sunlight and as water unto wine.’
The characteristic of Tibullus is not ardour, but tenderness

and self-abnegation. He writes to Delia with apparent sincerity: “I am not worth a single tear of hers’;"

and after she has proved faithless to him, he can express a gratesul and affectionate remembrance of her mother.t. He

* “Non ego sum tanti ploret utilla semel.”
+ 1. G. 63: “Vive diu, mihi dulcis anus: proprios ego tecum,
Sit modo fas, annos contribuisse velim :
Te semper natamgue tuam te propter amabo:
Quidguid agit sanguisest tamen illa tuus.”

deprecates

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

deprecates the life of a soldier because he prefers the peaceful joys of the country, not for the reason of Propertius, that time is wasted which is not spent in love. Tibullus might have written sincerely:

“I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.’

To Propertius such a sentiment would have been a blasphemy against love, on whose shrine everything, even honour, ought to be sacrificed. Propertius does not seem to have been congenial to his contemporaries. Horace sneers at him more than once, and it has even been suggested that Propertius was the bore whom he met on the Sacred Way.” But whatever were the personal characteristics of Propertius, he was undoubtedly a great poet. If the critic had to select the two finest poems written in Latin elegiacs, perhaps he would not err in choosing that one in which Propertius describes the ghost of Cynthia appearing to him immediately after burial, f

‘Sunt aliquid Manes: letum non omnia finit,'

and the address f of Cornelia to her husband beginning

‘Desine, Paulle, meum lacrimis urgere sepulcrum.’

Facus, in an admirable passage in the ‘Ranae of Aristophanes, suggests that the question of superiority between Eschylus and Euripides might be decided by placing verses of each poet in a balance and trying them by butcher's weight.S Tried by this test, his pentameters would make those of Ovid kick the beam. In Ovid the pentameter always “falleth in melody back. In Propertius it often soars above the ‘silvery column” of the hexameter, and dominates the couplet. Ovid would probably have thrown into the scale the fine pentameter which is engraved over the cemetery in Richmond by the banks of the James River, the cemetery which contains all that is mortal of the Southern victims of the American civil war:

‘Qui bene pro patria cum patriaque jacent.’

But Propertius would have been able to choose one of half-adozen pentameters laden with weighty meaning to set against it; perhaps the pentameter admired so much by Dean Merivale, ‘Jura dare et statuas inter et arma Mari’;

* Mr. Bury, in his excellent history of the Roman Empire to the death of M. Aurelius, pointedly writes of him, He seems to have been a man of weak will, and this is reflected in his poety. It has been noticed by those who have *udied his language that he prefers to express feelings as possible rather than **al; his thoughts naturally run in the potential mood.’ * Iv. 7. IV. 11. § to 54; uelaywysosovost thv Tpayosav (Ran. 798).

or the proud boast of Cornelia when she pointed to the blameless life of Paullus and herself from their marriage to her death,

‘Wiximus insignes inter utramque facem’;

or the verse wherein the poet, thinking of the ‘vast and wandering grave’ which whelmed the young life of his friend Paetus, exclaims in that elegiac ode which Sellar aptly compares to the * Lycidas,'—

“Nunc tibi pro tumulo Carpathium omne mare est.’

Ovid never even attempts to deal seriously with love except when he describes the passion of a woman for a man, as in his ‘Heroides,’ and there we meet a quality in his style which at once marks him out as the herald of the Silver Age; the rhetorical tinge with which the letters from the heroines are imbued, strongly recalling to our minds the suasoriae of the schools of rhetoric. This defect is less seen in the poems in which Ovid was more sincere, as in the “Art of Love,' which was justly regarded by Macaulay as the greatest of Ovid's works, and which reminds Sellar of Byron's ‘Don Juan,’ as a poem in which a true vein of real poetry occasionally mingles with cynical worldliness and warm sensuousness. But the rhetorical strain is very present in the ‘Metamorphoses, for which the poet himself claims the palm, and to which he trusts for his immortality. The attractiveness of this work lies in its descriptions—another mark, as we shall see, of the Silver Age— but the attempt to divest it of the character of a Dictionary of Mythology by interweaving the stories after the fashion of the * Arabian Nights’ is only partially successful. Sellar points out how his gods are emptied of all dignity and grandeur, adding the just and acute remark, ‘Though in no ancient poem do the gods play a larger part, no work is more irreligious.' If any one desires to see how a dainty conceit may be made not only gross but grotesque by a foul imagination, let him compare the fifteenth poem in the second book of the “Amores' with the ‘foolish song' in ‘The Miller's Daughter, beginning—

‘It is the miller's daughter,
And she is grown so dear, so dear,
That I would be the jewel
That trembles at her ear;
For hid in ringlets day and night
I'd touch her neck so warm and white.” I
n

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »