JOHN, LORD MARQUIS OF NORMANBY
EARL OF MULGRAVE, &C.
AND KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER
A 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 ’T is convey’d 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 underactions, 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 imagin’d 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 fill’d with rubbish, (which is of a perishable kind, destructive to the strength,) but with brick or stone, tho’ 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 design’d 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, laboring and hast’ning in every line; the other slackens his pace, diverts him from his way, and locks him up, like a knighterrant, in an enchanted castle, when he should be pursuing his first adventure. Statius, as Bossu has well observ’d, was ambitious 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 chang’d the sports. But both the Greek and Latin poet took their occasions from the subject; tho’ to confess the truth, they were both ornamental, or at best convenient parts of it, rather than of necessity arising from it. Statius, who, thro’ 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 rais’d, 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 honors which he intended for him. Now if this innocent had been of any relation to his Thebais; if he had either farther’d or hinder’d the taking of the town; the poet might have found some sorry excuse at least, for detaining the reader from the promis’d siege. On these terms, this Capaneus of a poet ingag’d his two immortal predecessors; and his success was answerable to his enterprise.
If this economy must be observ’d in the minutest parts of an epic poem, which, to a common reader, seem to be detach’d from the body, and almost independent of it; what soul, tho’ sent into the world with great advantages of nature, cultivated with the liberal arts and sciences, conversant with histories of the dead, and enrich’d with observations of 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 theater when it flourish’d under Æschylus, 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 form’d their bodies; what he had contracted, they enlarg’d; out of one Hercules were made infinite of pigmies, yet all endued with human souls; for from him, their great creator, they have each of them the divinæ particulam auræ. They flow’d from him at first, and are at last resolv’d 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 finish’d his orb within the year, it suffic’d to teach them, that their action being less, and being also less diversified with incidents, their orb, of consequence, must be circumscrib’d in a less compass, which they reduc’d within the limits either of a natural or an artificial day; so that, as he taught them to amplify what he had shorten’d, 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 draught 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 confin’d to twenty-four hours as never to exceed them, for which Aristotle contends, and the Grecian stage has practic’d. Some longer space, on some occasions, I think, may be allow’d, especially for the English theater, which requires more variety of incidents than the French. Corneille himself, after long practice, was inclin’d 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 stretch’d or broken, than a great beauty were omitted. To raise, and afterwards to calm the passions, to purge the souls 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 introduc’d at three hours’ warning? Are radical diseases so suddenly remov’d? 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 answer’d 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. Chymical medicines are observ’d to relieve oft’ner than to cure; for ’t 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 circumscrib’d within the space of four-and-twenty hours. He might prove as well that a mushroom is to be preferr’d 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 contain’d in an epic poem, where pride is humbled, virtue rewarded, and vice punish’d; 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 inform’d 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 propos’d 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 shews them, like rocks or quicksands, to be shunn’d.
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: tho’, where a character of perfect virtue is set before us, ’t is more lovely; for there the whole hero is to be imitated. This is the Æneas 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 describ’d him. Yet even thus he appears a perfect hero, tho’ 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 a heroic poem, or faults common to the drama. After all, on the whole merits of the cause, it must be acknowledg’d 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 cur’d by alteratives; wherein, tho’ 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 sow’d, increases, is ripen’d, and is reap’d 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 employ’d 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, ’t 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 theater. This is an uncontended excellence, and a chief branch of its prerogative; yet I may be allow’d 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 ask’d for in his shop. The poet who flourish’d in the scene is damn’d in the ruelle; nay more, he is not esteem’d 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, ’t 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 Læstrygons, which cannot be represented even in operas; but the prowess of Achilles or Æneas would appear ridiculous in our dwarf heroes of the theater. 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 turn’d against me, that I plead for the preëminence of epic poetry because I have taken some pains in translating Virgil, if this were the first time that I had deliver’d my opinion in this dispute. But I have more than once already maintain’d 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 publish’d without a name, and of which I was not honor’d 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 inform’d how an epic poem should be written, or how a tragedy should be contriv’d and manag’d, 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 ’t is a grudging kind of praise which he gives his benefactors. He is more oblig’d 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 counselor; but he does not willingly commend his brother sergeant 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 pleas’d 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 displeas’d with an unknown critic, as the ladies are with the lampooner, because we are bitten in the dark, and know not where to fasten our revenge. But great excellencies will work their way thro’ 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 honor 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 receiv’d 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 detain’d your Lordship longer than I intended in this dispute of preference betwixt the epic poem and the drama, and yet have not formally answer’d 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 touch’d 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 Cæsar, 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 resum’d as often as I pleas’d, the same subject; and this loose proceeding I shall use thro’ all this prefatory dedication. Yet all this while I have been sailing with some side wind or other toward the point I propos’d in the beginning, the greatness and excellency 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 ’t is concluded on all hands that they are both the masterpieces of human wit.
In the mean time, 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 assum’d that lofty title in ancient or modern ages, or have been so esteem’d by their partial and ignorant admirers.
There have been but one great Ilias, and one Æneis, 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 excellency. After these three are enter’d, 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. Mævius would be deaf’ning your Lordship’s ears with his
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 Scudéry with his Alaric: “for a godly king and a Gothic conqueror;” and Chapelain would take it ill that his Maid should be refus’d a place with Helen and Lavinia. Spenser has a better plea for his Fairy Queen, had his action been finish’d, or had been one; and Milton, if the Devil had not been his hero, instead of Adam; if the giant had not foil’d the knight, and driven him out of his stronghold, to wander thro’ 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 mention’d. I have that honor for them which I ought to have; but, if they are worthies, they are not to be rank’d amongst the three whom I have nam’d, and who are establish’d 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 Æneis, 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 urg’d; 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 ’t 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 remov’d.
I must now come closer to my present business, and not think of making more invasive wars abroad, when, like Hannibal, I am call’d back to the defense of my own country. Virgil is attack’d by many enemies; he has a whole confederacy against him; and I must endeavor 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 answer’d what the ancients could urge against him; and some things I have lately read in Tanneguy le Fèvre, Valois, and another whom I name not, which are scarce worth answering. They begin with the moral of his poem, which I have elsewhere confess’d, 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 shew 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 suppos’d to have liv’d and flourish’d. Homer’s moral was to urge the necessity of union, and of a good understanding betwixt confederate states and princes engag’d 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, occasion’d 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 punish’d; the aggressor is forc’d to sue for peace to his inferior on dishonorable conditions; the deserter refuses the satisfaction offer’d, 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 preserv’d. In the mean time, the Grecian army receives loss on loss, and is half destroy’d by a pestilence into the bargain:
Quicquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi.
As the poet, in the first part of the example, had shewn 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 ’t is probable that Homer liv’d when the Median monarchy was grown formidable to the Grecians, and that the joint endeavors of his countrymen were little enough to preserve their common freedom from an encroaching enemy. Such was his moral, which all critics have allow’d to be more noble than that of Virgil, tho’ not adapted to the times in which the Roman poet liv’d. Had Virgil flourish’d in the age of Ennius, and address’d 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 establish’d by Octavius Cæsar, in effect by force of arms, but seemingly by the consent of the Roman people. The commonwealth had receiv’d a deadly wound in the former civil wars betwixt Marius and Sylla. The commons, while the first prevail’d, had almost shaken off the yoke of the nobility; and Marius and Cinna, like the captains of the mob, under the specious pretense of the public good, and of doing justice on the oppressors of their liberty, reveng’d themselves, without form of law, on their private enemies. Sylla, in his turn, proscrib’d 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 declar’d; but sacrific’d 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 destroy’d 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, lodg’d himself in a physician’s house, and was overpersuaded by his landlord to take physic, of which he 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 seem’d 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 Cæsar 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 look’d 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 Cæsar, broke with him, overpower’d him in the senate, and caus’d many unjust decrees to pass against him. Cæsar, thus injur’d, 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 prevail’d, and, Heav’n declaring for him, he became a providential monarch, under the title of perpetual dictator. He being murther’d by his own son, whom I neither dare commend, nor can justly blame, (tho’ Dante, in his Inferno, has put him and Cassius, and Judas Iscariot betwixt them, into the great devil’s mouth,) the commonwealth popp’d up its head for the third time, under Brutus and Cassius, and then sunk for ever.
Thus the Roman people were grossly gull’d, twice or thrice over, and as often enslav’d in one century, and under the same pretense of reformation. At last the two battles of Philippi gave the decisive stroke against liberty; and, not long after, the commonwealth was turn’d into a monarchy by the conduct and good fortune of Augustus. ’T is true that the despotic power could not have fallen into better hands than those of the first and second Cæsar. 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 destroy’d; the senate, new molded, grown degenerate, and either bought off, or thrusting their own necks into the yoke, out of fear of being forc’d. 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.
Secretisque piis, 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 Æneis. If he had not well studied his patron’s temper, it might have ruin’d him with another prince. But Augustus was not discontented, at least that we can find, that Cato was plac’d, by his own poet, in Elysium, and there giving laws to the holy souls who deserv’d 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 govern’d not without a senate; that Romulus was no hereditary prince; and tho’, after his death, he receiv’d divine honors for the good he did on earth, yet he was but a god of their own making; that the last Tarquin was expell’d justly, for overt acts of tyranny and maladministration, for such are the conditions of an elective kingdom: and I meddle not with others, being, for my own opinion, of Montaigne’s principles, that an honest man ought to be contented with that form of government, and with those fundamental constitutions of it, which he receiv’d from his ancestors, and under which himself was born; tho’ at the same time he confess’d 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 pleas’d to have been born an Englishman.
But, to return from my long rambling, I say that Virgil, having maturely weigh’d the condition of the times in which he liv’d; that an entire liberty was not to be retriev’d; 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 enrich’d, esteem’d, and cherish’d; that this conqueror, tho’ of a bad kind, was the very best of it; that the arts of peace flourish’d under him; that all men might be happy, if they would be quiet; that, now he was in possession of the whole, yet he shar’d a great part of his authority with the senate; that he would be chosen into the ancient offices of the commonwealth, and rul’d by the power which he deriv’d from them, and prorogued his government from time to time, still, as it were, threat’ning to dismiss himself from public cares, which he exercis’d more for the common good than for any delight he took in greatness—these things, I say, being consider’d by the poet, he concluded it to be the interest of his country to be so govern’d; 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; honorable to the emperor, whom he derives from a divine extraction; and reflecting part of that honor 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 receiv’d opinion that the Romans were descended from the Trojans, and Julius Cæsar from Julius the son of Æneas, was enough for Virgil; tho’ perhaps he thought not so himself, or that Æneas ever was in Italy; which Bochartus manifestly proves. And Homer, where he says that Jupiter hated the house of Priam, and was resolv’d to transfer the kingdom to the family of Æneas, 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 Cæsar, which we know to be antique, have the star of Venus over them, tho’ they were all graven after his death, as a note that he was deified. I doubt not but it was one reason why Augustus should be so passionately concern’d for the preservation of the Æneis, which its author had condemn’d 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 honor; that a work should not be lost where his divine original was celebrated in verse which had the character of immortality stamp’d upon it.
Neither were the great Roman families which flourish’d in his time less oblig’d 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 thro’ the Æneis; but there are whole constellations of them in the Fifth Book. And I could not but take notice, when I translated it, of some favorite 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 honor of Anchises I insist not on their names; but am pleas’d to find the Memmii amongst them, deriv’d from Mnestheus, because Lucretius dedicates to one of that family, a branch of which destroy’d Corinth. I likewise either found or form’d an image to myself of the contrary kind, that those who lost the prizes were such as had disoblig’d the poet, or were in disgrace with Augustus, or enemies to Mæcenas; and this was the poetical revenge he took. For genus irritabile vatum, as Horace says. When a poet is throughly provok’d, he will do himself justice, however dear it cost him; animamque in vulnere ponit I think these are not bare imaginations of my own, tho’ 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 oblig’d by Virgil, in deriving them from Troy; an ancestry which they affected. We and the French are of the same humor: they would be thought to descend from a son, I think, of Hector; and we would have our Britain both nam’d and planted by a descendant of Æneas. Spenser favors 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 transgress’d my bounds, and gone farther than the moral led me. But, if your Lordship is not tir’d, I am safe enough.
Thus far, I think, my author is defended. But, as Augustus is still shadow’d in the person of Æneas, (of which I shall say more when I come to the manners which the poet gives his hero,) I must prepare that subject by shewing how dext’rously he manag’d 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; tho’ 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. Oblig’d 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 call’d the father of his country. From this consideration it is that he chose, for the groundwork of his poem, one empire destroy’d, and another rais’d from the ruins of it. This was just the parallel Æneas 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 Æneis, the son of Polites, youngest son of Priam, who was slain by Pyrrhus, in the Second Book. Æneas 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 deriv’d from Julius Cæsar, (such a title being but one degree remov’d from conquest,) for what was introduc’d by force, by force may be remov’d. ’T 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 govern’d arbitrarily; he was expell’d, and came to the deserv’d end of all tyrants. Our author shews 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 describ’d a just and 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. Æneas, tho’ he married the heiress of the crown, yet claim’d no title to it during the life of his father-in-law. Pater arma Latinus habeto, &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 conquer’d, or receiv’d 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 Panthus in the Second Book of the Æneis, 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 Æneas, that title is already out of doors. Æneas succeeded not, but was elected. Troy was foredoom’d to fall for ever:
Postquam res Asiæ Priamique evertere regnum
—Æneis, lib in, lin. 1.
Augustus, ’t is true, had once resolv’d to rebuild that city, and there to make the seat of empire; but Horace writes an ode on purpose to deter him from that thought, declaring the place to be accurst, and that the gods would as often destroy it as it should be rais’d. 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 ’t is level’d 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 oblig’d 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 express’d 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 thro’ 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 liv’d, his sorrows for his death, of the games instituted in honor 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 murtherer, 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 unremov’d. Of the other parts which compose his character, as a king or as a general, I need say nothing; the whole Æneis is one continued instance of some one or other of them; and where I find anything of them tax’d, 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 Æneis, 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 honor 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 mean time, that little you have written is own’d, 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 confin’d in the smallest glasses.
When I speak of your Lordship, ’t 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 ’t 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 notice that Virgil is arraign’d for placing piety before valor, and making that piety the chief character of his hero. I have said already from Bossu, that a poet is not oblig’d to make his hero a virtuous man; therefore, neither Homer nor Tasso are to be blam’d for giving what predominant quality they pleas’d to their first character. But Virgil, who design’d to form a perfect prince, and would insinuate that Augustus, whom he calls Æneas in his poem, was truly such, found himself oblig’d to make him without blemish, thoroughly virtuous; and a thorough virtue both begins and ends in piety Tasso, without question, observ’d 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 shewing the deformity of vice. I avoid repetition of that I have said above. What follows is translated literally from Segrais:
“Virgil had consider’d that the greatest virtues of Augustus consisted in the perfect art of governing his people; which caus’d him to reign for more than forty years in great felicity. He consider’d that his emperor was valiant, civil, popular, eloquent, politic, and religious, he has given all these qualities to Æneas. But, knowing that piety alone comprehends the whole duty of man towards the gods, towards his country, and towards his relations, he judg’d 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 valor are superior to those which proceed from any other virtues, have not consider’d (as they ought) that valor, destitute of other virtues, cannot render a man worthy of any true esteem. That quality, which signifies no more than an intrepid courage, may be 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 valor itself, with all other qualities which are good. Can we, for example, give the praise of valor to a man who should see his gods profan’d, 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 valor. I will now follow him, where he considers this valor, or intrepid courage, singly in itself; and this also Virgil gives to his Æneas, 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 consider’d 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 assurgat quo turbine torqueat hastam.
Si duo præterea tales Idæa tulisset
Terra viros, ultro Inachias venisset ad urbes
Dardanus, et versis lugeret Græcia fatis.
Quicquid apud duræ cessatum est mœnia Trojæ,
Hectoris Æneæque manu victoria Graium
Hæsit, et in decumum vestigia retulit annum.
Ambo animis, ambo insignes præstantibus armis:
Hic pietate prior.——
I give not here my translation of these verses, (tho’ 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; tho’ Diomedes was manifestly the second champion of the Grecians; and Ulysses preferr’d 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 honor.
The French translator thus proceeds: “They who accuse Æneas for want of courage, either understand not Virgil, or have read him slightly; otherwise they would not raise an objection so easy to be answer’d.” Hereupon he gives so many instances of the hero’s valor, 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 Æneids. In short, more could not be expected from an Amadis, a Sir Lancelot, or the whole Round Table, than he performs. Proxima quœque metit gladio, 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 Æneas, tho’ 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 armor was only an allegorical defense, 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 vers’d in the Chaldæan mysteries,) under the favorable inflence of Jupiter, Venus, and the Sun.” But I insist not on this, because I know you believe not in such an art; tho’ not only Horace and Persius, but Augustus himself, thought otherwise. But, in defense of Virgil, I dare positively say that he has been more cautious in this particular than either his predecessor or his descendants; for Æneas was actually wounded in the Twelfth of the Æneis, tho’ he had the same godsmith to forge his arms as had Achilles. It seems he was no warluck, 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 cur’d 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 vigor; 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 Æneas? Herem Virgil must be granted to have excell’d his master. For once both heroes are describ’d lamenting their lost loves: Briseis was taken away by force from the Grecian; 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 reveng’d his injury by arms. Æneas took a nobler course; for, having secur’d 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. Æneas 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, tho’ 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 Cæsar is likewise prais’d, 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 Æneas 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 sacrific’d their lives in defense 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 Æneas little better than a kind of St. Swithen hero, always raining. One of these censors is 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 Æneæ solvuntur frigore membra:
But to this I have answer’d 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 threaten’d with a tempest, and he wept; he was promis’d Italy, and therefore he pray’d for the accomplishment of that promise. All this in the beginning of a storm; therefore he shew’d the more early piety, and the quicker sense of compassion. Thus much I have urg’d elsewhere in the defense of Virgil; and, since, I have been inform’d 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 assur’d that he had understood their oracles aright? Helenus might be mistaken; Phœbus 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
Si mora præsentis lethi, tempusque caduco
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 invok’d his aid before he threw his lance at Turnus:
——Trojæ sub mœnibus altis
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 discours’d 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 favoring the contrary opinion in that verse,
Tolle fuga Turnum, atque instantibus eripe fatis, &c.
I need say no more in justification of our hero’s courage, and am much deceiv’d if he be ever attack’d on this side of his character again. But he is arraign’d with more shew 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, ’t is an ill precedent for their gallants to follow. Yet, if I can bring him off with flying colors, they may learn experience at her cost, and, for her sake, avoid a cave, as the worst 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 Æneas 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 laying the contradiction at Virgil’s door. He, they say, has shewn 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 receiv’d his weather-beaten troops before she saw him, and given them her protection, but had also offer’d them an equal share in her dominion:
Vultus et his mecum pariter considere regnis?
This was an obligement never to be forgotten; and the more to be consider’d, because antecedent to her love. That passion, ’t is true, produc’d 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 refus’d 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 favor, and was oblig’d 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 rais’d such strong objections against the being of a God, and Providence, that many think he has not answer’d 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 Æneas; and, this being allow’d, (as I am afraid it must,) he was oblig’d, antecedent to all other considerations, to search an asylum for his gods in Italy—for those very gods, I say, who had promis’d 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, ’t 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 spoil’d the Egyptians, not robb’d them, because the propriety was transferr’d 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 shewn a little more sensibility when he left her; for that had been according to his character.
But let Virgil answer for himself. He still lov’d her, and struggled with his inclinations to obey the gods:
——Curam sub corde premebat,
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 Æneas. 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 ’t is too late; and accordingly she will take no satisfaction, nor so much as hear him. Now Segrais is forc’d to abandon his defense, and excuses his author by saying that the Æneis is an imperfect work, and that death prevented the divine poet from reviewing it; and for that reason he had condemn’d it to the fire; tho’, at the same time, his two translators must acknowledge that the Sixth Book is the most correct of the whole Æneis. O, how convenient is a machine sometimes in a heroic poem! This of Mercury is plainly one; and Virgil was constrain’d 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 shewn 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 favor, is a crime that never will be forgiven. But of machines, more in their proper place; where I shall shew with how much judgment they have been us’d by Virgil; and, in the mean time, pass to another article of his defense 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 Æneas trust to his machine, which will only help to break his fall; but the address is incomparable. Plato, who borrow’d 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 deserv’d, 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 Æneid, and we know not that she condemn’d Æneas; 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 describ’d than in any other poet. Love was the theme of his Fourth Book: and, tho’ it is the shortest of the whole Æneis, 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 warm’d with the graceful appearance of the hero; she smother’d those sparkles out of decency; but conversation blew them up into a flame. Then she was forc’d to make a confident 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 cool’d his love, as it increas’d hers, she soon perceiv’d the change, or at least grew suspicious of a change; this suspicion soon turn’d to jealousy, and jealousy to rage; then she disdains and threatens, and again is humble, and intreats, 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, endeavoring to do honor to it, ’t is allowable in him even to be partial in its cause; for he is not tied to truth, or fetter’d by the laws of history. Homer and Tasso are justly prais’d 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 favor of their country; for Dares Phrygius reports of Hector that he was slain cowardly: Æneas, 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 engag’d in honor 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 patronize his poem, than by disgracing the foundress of that city. He shews her ungrateful to the memory of her first husband, doting on a stranger; enjoy’d, and afterwards forsaken by him. This was the original, says he, of the immortal hatred betwixt the two rival nations. ’T is true, he colors the falsehood of Æneas by an express command from Jupiter, to forsake the queen who had oblig’d him; but he knew the Romans were to be his readers, and them he brib’d, perhaps at the expense of his hero’s honesty; but he gain’d 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 Sichæus; and varium et mutabile 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 forc’d to come twice on the same errand; and the second time, as much a hero as Æneas was, he frighted him. It seems he fear’d not Jupiter so much as Dido; for your Lordship may observe that, as much intent as he was upon his voyage, yet he still delay’d it, till the messenger was oblig’d to tell him plainly, that, if he weigh’d not anchor in the night, the queen would be with him in the morning. Notumque furens quid femina possit—she was injur’d; she was revengeful; she was powerful. The poet had likewise before hinted that her people were naturally perfidious; for he gives their character in their 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 privileg’d to lie as an ambassador, for the honor and interests of his country; at least as Sir Henry Wotton has defin’d.
This naturally leads me to the defense of the famous anachronism, in making Æneas and Dido contemporaries; for ’t is certain that the hero liv’d almost two hundred years before the building of Carthage. One who imitates Bocaline says that Virgil was accus’d before Apollo for this error. The god soon found that he was not able to defend his favorite by reason, for the case was clear: he therefore gave this middle sentence, that anything might be allow’d to his son Virgil, on the account of his other merits; that, being a monarch, he had a dispensing power, and pardon’d 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 moralize 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 thro’ it with his weight. They who will imitate him wisely must choose, as he did, an obscure and a remote æra, 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 defense, and proves it from his learned friend Bochartus, whose letter on this subject he has printed at the end of the Fourth Æneid, 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 forc’d 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 motives that induc’d Virgil to coin this fable I have shew’d already; and have also begun to shew 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 call’d 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 couch’d 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 honor of his country, was proper only to the divine wit of Maro; and Tasso, in one of his discourses, admires him for this particularly ’T 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 deserv’d success. And such is Virgil’s episode of Dido and Æneas; where the sourest critic must acknowledge that, if he had depriv’d his Æneis 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 mean time I may affirm, in honor of this episode, that it is not only now esteem’d the most pleasing entertainment of the Æneis, but was so accounted in his own age, and before it was mellow’d 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,
Where, by the way, you may observe, my Lord, that Ovid, in those words, non legitimo fœdere junctus amor, will by no means allow it to be a lawful marriage betwixt Dido and Æneas. 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, tho’ he brought Dido and Æneas 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 shew 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 confess’d 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, tho’ employ’d on a quite contrary errand, yet owns it a marriage by an innuendo: pulchramque uxorius urben Exstrusis. He calls Æneas 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 concern’d 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 away 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 pass’d betwixt the emperor and Scribonia. He drew this dimple in the cheek of Æneas, to prove Augustus of the same family, by so remarkable a feature in the same place. Thus, as we say in our homespun English proverb, he kill’d two birds with one stone; pleas’d 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 hœc in fœdera veni is the very excuse which Æneas 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 shipwreck’d on your coast. Be as kind a hostess as you have been to me, and you can never fail of another husband. In the mean time, I call the gods to witness that I leave your shore unwillingly; for tho’ Juno made the marriage, yet Jupiter commands me to forsake you.” This is the effect of what he saith, when it is dishonor’d 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 detain’d 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, tho’ 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 crime, 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 strange at the first sight, is, that he has borrow’d 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 depriv’d 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, furnish’d 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 disposltion 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 Æneis which resemble some parts both of the Ilias and of the Odysses; as, for example, Æneas descended into hell, and Ulysses had been there before him; Æneas lov’d Dido, and Ulysses lov’d 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 Æneis? The disposition of so many various matters, is not that his own? From what book of Homer had Virgil his episode of Nisus and Euryalus, of Mezentius and Lausus? From whence did he borrow his design of bringing Æneas into Italy? of establishing the Roman empire on the foundations of a Trojan colony? to say nothing of the honor he did his patron, not only in his descent from Venus, but in making him so like him 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. Æneadum genetrix was no more unknown to Lucretius than to him. But Lucretius taught him not to form his hero, to give him piety or valor 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 forc’d 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 witness’d to his devotion, by putting themselves under his protection, to be replac’d by him in their promis’d Italy. Neither the invention nor the conduct of this great action were owing to Homer or any other poet. ’T 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. Raphael imitated nature; they who copy one of Raphael’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 Raphael; for, tho’ the thing was in nature, yet the idea of it was his own. Ulysses travel’d; so did Æneas: but neither of them were the first travelers; 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 kill’d at Troy, yet Æneas must have gone to sea, or he could never have arriv’d 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 Raphael had each of them painted a burning Troy, might not the modern painter have succeeded as well as the ancient, tho’ neither of them had seen the town on fire? for the draughts of both were taken from the ideas which they had of nature. Cities had been burnt before either of them were in being. But, to close the simile as I began it, they would not have design’d it after the same manner: Apelles would have distinguish’d Pyrrhus from the rest of all the Grecians, and shew’d 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 honor to his country. Raphael, who was an Italian, and descended from the Trojans, would have made Æneas 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 Androgeos, 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 urg’d that I have granted a resemblance in some parts, yet therein Virgil has excell’d 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 shew us the same disposition, features, or coloring, in their original. The like may be said of the descent to hell, which was not of Homer’s invention neither; he had it from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. But to what end did Ulysses make that journey? Æneas undertook it by the express commandment of his father’s ghost: there he was to shew him all the succeeding heroes of his race, and, next to Romulus (mark, if you please, the address of Virgil,) his own patron, Augustus Cæsar. Anchises was likewise to instruct him how to manage the Italian war, and how to conclude it with his honor; 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 ’t 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 Raphael, 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 endeavor 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 dext’rously performing on the high.”
I will trouble your Lordship but with one objection more, which I know not whether I found in Le Fèvre, 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 endeavoring 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 ’t is employ’d 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 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 blam’d for both; and I doubt not but he would have contracted them, had he liv’d to have review’d his work; but faults are no precedents. This I have observ’d of his similitudes in general, that they are not plac’d, as our unobserving critics tell us, in the heat of any action, but commonly in its declining When he has warm’d 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 Æneis in the original, unblemish’d by my rude translation. ’T is in the First Book, where the poet describes Neptune composing the ocean, on which Æolus had rais’d a tempest without his permission. He had already chidden the rebellious winds for obeying the commands of their usurping master; he had warn’d them from the seas; he had beaten down the billows with his mace, dispell’d the clouds, restor’d 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 sæpe coorta est
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 compar’d 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 hisce locus; and therefore he deferr’d it to its proper place.
These are the criticisms of most moment which have been made against the Æneis by the ancients or moderns. As for the particular exceptions against this or that passage, Macrobius and Pontanus have answer’d them already. If I desir’d 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 nam’d the authors from whence I had them; for so Ruæus, otherwise a most judicious commentator on Virgil’s works, has us’d 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 summers and, if I examin’d him, perhaps he might be reduc’d 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 plowman, whether February this year had 28 or 29 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 Æneis 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 calculations thus. Anchises died in Sicily at the end of winter, or beginning of the spring. Æneas, immediately after the interment of his father, puts to sea for Italy. He is surpris’d by the tempest describ’d 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 Afric; 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 succors 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 contain’d in a much less compass than a year and half.
Segrais reckons another way; and his computation is not condemn’d by the learned Ruæus, who compil’d and publish’d 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 Æneas is first seen at sea afterwards, and is driven by the tempest on the coast of Afric, is the time when the action is naturally to begin: he confesses, farther, that Æneas left Carthage in the latter end of winter; for Dido tells him in express terms, as an argument for his longer stay:
Quinetiam hiberno moliris sidere classem.
But, whereas Ronsard’s followers suppose that when Æneas had buried his father, he set sail immediately for Italy, (tho’ 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 remain’d 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 suppos’d 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 judg’d 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 perform’d, what remain’d 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 refitting 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 entertain’d Æneas 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 follow’d properly, when the heats of that scorching country were declining; the winter was pass’d in jollity, as the season and their love requir’d; and he left her in the latter end of winter, as is already prov’d. This opinion is fortified by the arrival of Æneas at the mouth of Tiber, which marks the season of the spring; that season being perfectly describ’d 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 Æneid:
Aurora in roseis fulgebat lutea bigis,
The remainder of the action requir’d but three months more: for, when Æneas went for succor to the Tuscans, he found their army in a readiness to march, and wanting only a commander; so that, according to this calculation, the Æneis 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 caus’d the tempest describ’d 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 sixth of July; and about that time it is that he either causes or presages tempests on the seas.
Segrais has observ’d farther, that, when Anna counsels Dido to stay Æneas during the winter, she speaks also of Orion:
Dum pelago desævit 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 establish’d 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, worship’d 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 borrow’d them from Homer, any more than 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 gain’d Neptune entirely to her party; therefore we find him busy in the beginning of the Æneis, to calm the tempest rais’d by Æolus, 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, employ’d 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, tho’ half the winds had not been there which Æolus employ’d? Might not Palinurus, without a miracle, fall asleep, and drop into the sea, having been overwearied with watching, and secure of a quiet passage, by his observation of the skies? At least Æneas, who knew nothing of the machine of Somnus, takes it plainly in this sense:
O nimium cœlo et pelago confise sereno
But machines sometimes are specious things, to amuse the reader and give a color of probability to things otherwise incredible. And, besides, it sooth’d the vanity of the Romans, to find the gods so visibly concern’d 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 Æneas, to behold the gods who combated against Troy in that fatal night when it was surpris’d, 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, tho’ 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 Æneid, where Venus cures her son Æneas. But in the last of these the poet was driven to a necessity; for Turnus was to be slain that very day; and Æneas, wounded as he was, could not have engag’d him in single combat, unless his hurt had been miraculously heal’d. And the poet had consider’d 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 skinn’d, but the strength of his thigh was not restor’d. But what reason had our author to wound Æneas at so critical a time? And how came the cuisses to be worse temper’d than the rest of his armor, which was all wrought by Vulcan and his journeymen? These difficulties are not easily to be solv’d, without confessing that Virgil had not life enough to correct his work; tho’ he had review’d it, and found those errors which he resolv’d to mend: but, being prevented by death, and not willing to leave an imperfect work behind him, he ordain’d, by his last testament, that his Æneis should be burn’d. 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 εἴχωρ which they shed was so very like our common blood, that it was not to be distinguish’d from it, but only by the name and color. As for what Horace says in his Art of Poetry, that no machines are to be us’d, unless on some extraordinary occasion:
Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus—
that rule is to be applied to the theater, 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 us’d 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, dishearten’d him in the duel, and presag’d to him his approaching death, I might have plac’d 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 secur’d 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 forg’d by Vulcan for his father, but a weapon which he had snatch’d 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, tho’ 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
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 Dinæ, or the setting of the balance which our Milton has borrow’d from him, but employ’d to a different end: for, first, he makes God Almighty set the scale 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 æquato examine lances
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 Æneas and Turnus stood fronting each other before the altar, Turnus look’d dejected, and his color 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 judg’d by the proportion of their limbs, concluded it was impar pugna, and that their chief was overmatch’d: 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
Imparabus fatis, nec diis viribus æquis;
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 serv’d 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
I doubt not but the adverb solum is to be understood: “’T is not your valor 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 Æneas kept him at a distance with his spear. I wonder Ruæus 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 suffer’d 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 Æneas 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 declin’d the combat, and suffer’d his sister to convey him as far from the reach of his enemy as she could. I say, not only suffer’d her, but consented to it; for ’t is plain he knew her, by these words:
O soror, et dudum agnovi, cum prima per artem
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 flourish’d 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 endeavor to excel; and they seem to have pitch’d on propriety of thought, elegance of words, and harmony of numbers. According to this model, Horace writ his Odes and Epodes: for his Satires and Epistles, being intended wholly for instruction, requir’d another style:
Ornari res ipsa negat, contenta doceri—
and therefore, as he himself professes, are sermoni propiora, 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 endeavor’d 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 shunn’d the cæsura as much as possibly I could: for, wherever that is us’d, it gives a roughness to the verse; of which we can have little need in a language which is overstock’d with consonants. Such is not the Latin, where the vowels and consonants are mix’d in proportion to each other; yet Virgil judg’d the vowels to have somewhat of an overbalance, and therefore tempers their sweetness with cæsuras. 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 call’d sweet, as luscious The Italians are forc’d 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 nam’d, ’t 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 requir’d; 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 resolv’d 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 employ’d eleven years upon his Æneis; 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 allow’d 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 labors 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 candor of your Lordship, and your often experienc’d 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
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 cæsura, 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 call’d 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 license 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 practic’d them. As for the pauses, Malherbe first brought them into France, within this last century; and we see how they adorn their Alexandrins. But, as Virgil propounds a riddle, which he leaves unsolv’d:
Dic quibus in terris, inscripti nomina regum
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 observ’d the sweetness of these two lines in Cooper’s Hill:
Tho’ deep, yet clear; tho’ gentle, yet not dull;
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 allow’d the criticism to be just. But, since the evil of false quantities is difficult to be cur’d in any modern language; since the French and the Italians, as well as we, are yet ignorant what feet are to be us’d in heroic poetry; since I have not strictly observ’d 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 advis’d 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 mean time, 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 Alexandrin line, which we call, tho’ improperly, the Pindaric, because Mr. Cowley has often employ’d it in his Odes. It adds a certain majesty to the verse, when ’t is us’d 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 trimeter; but it runs with more activity than strength: their language is not strung 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 vigor 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 reserv’d for queens and goddesses. Virgil is never frequent in those turns, like Ovid, but much more sparing of them in his Æneis 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 us’d that license in his Æneis sometimes, but I own it as my fault. ’T was given to those who understand no better. ’T 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 accus’d the French, is laid to their charge by one of their own great authors, tho’ 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 banish’d; and who knows but his crime was capital, and then his exile was a favor? Ariosto, who, with all his faults, must be acknowledg’d 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,
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, tho’ his version is much better than that of the two brothers, or any of the rest who have attempted Virgil. Hannibal Caro is a great name amongst the Italians; yet his translation of the Æneis is most scandalously mean, tho’ 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 unfetter’d, ’t is a sign she has but little speed I will not make a digression here, tho’ 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; tho’ perhaps I have as little reason to complain 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 call’d a gainer. It often makes us swerve from an author’s meaning; as, if a mark be 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 Æneis. He is a footpoet, 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 presum’d to be a better in his own language, has confirm’d 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 Ruæus (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 Æneid:
—Sorti pater æquus utrique.
Pallas says it to Turnus, just before they fight. Ruæus thinks that the word pater is to be referr’d 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 hop’d, would stand an impartial spectator of the combat, and not be more favorable 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, (tho’ the young hero had address’d 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 Ruæus 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 turn’d 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 confess’d that he could not alter fate, and being griev’d 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, tho’ I think I have follow’d Virgil’s sense.
What I have said, tho’ it has the face of arrogance, yet is intended for the honor 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 Roscommon cannot be too much commended. I say nothing of Sir John Denham, Mr. Waller, and Mr. Cowley; ’t 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 ’t 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 burthen light, let them attempt the Fourth, Sixth, or Eighth Pastoral; the First or Fourth Georgic; and, amongst the Æneids, 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 colors are in painting. If the design be good, and the draught be true, the coloring 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 endeavor’d 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 desir’d to please, such would I choose for my judges, and would stand or fall by them alone. Segrais has distinguish’d 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 pleas’d.) 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 stood for Parliamentmen, we know already who would carry it. But, tho’ they make the greatest appearance in the field, and cry the loudest, the best on’t is, they are but a sort of French Huguenots, or Dutch boors, brought over in herds, but not naturaliz’d; who have not land of two pounds per annum in Parnassus, and therefore are not privileg’d 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 reduc’d into his shallow bed, like the Mançanares at Madrid, with scarce water to moisten his own pebbles. There are a middle sort of readers, (as we hold 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 brib’d by a party, and know better, if they were not corrupted; but I mean a company of warm young men, who are not yet arriv’d so far as to discern the difference betwixt fustian, or ostentatious 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 ’t is a bladder’d greatness, like that of the vain man whom Seneca describes; an ill habit of body, full of humors and swell’d with dropsy. Even these too desert their authors, as their judgment ripens. The young gentlemen themselves are commonly misled by their pœdagogue at school, their tutor at the university, or their governor in their travels. And many of those three sorts are the most positive blockheads in the world. How many of those 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 nam’d 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-weigh’d judicious poem, which at its first appearance gains no more upon the world than to be just receiv’d, and rather not blam’d 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 produc’d by the vigor 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 polish’d, the more luster they receive. Such is the difference betwixt Virgil’s Æneis and Marini’s Adone. And, if I may be allow’d 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, tho’ in a far inferior degree, according to my motto in the title-page: Sequiturque patrem non passibus œquis: 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 extinguish’d 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 honor: nec dona moror. For Dampier has inform’d us, in his Voyages, that the air of the country which produces gold is never wholesome.
I had long since consider’d 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 the 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 those clogg’d with consonants, which are the dead weight of our mother tongue. ’T is possible, I confess, tho’ it rarely happens, that a verse of monosyllables may sound harmoniously; and some examples of it I have seen. My first line of the Æneis is not harsh:
Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d 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 plac’d so artfully that they give a pleasing sound to the words, tho’ they are all of one syllable.
’T is true, I have been sometimes forc’d 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 deduc’d 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 laboring 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 constrain’d 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 observ’d that Virgil endeavors 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 open’d 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 endeavor’d to graff on it; but most of them are of necessity to be lost, because they will not shine in any way 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 endeavor’d 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 allow’d 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 mention’d the Pindaric line, I should have added that I take another license 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 licenses 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 lengthen’d into four. Spenser is my example for both these privileges of English verses; and Chapman has follow’d 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 gain’d 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 unsinew’d 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, thro’ the iniquity of the times, he was forc’d 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 lopp’d off, and return’d, 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 presum’d 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 Fairy Queen; and even those few might be occasion’d by his unhappy choice of so long a stanza. Mr. Cowley had found out that no kind of staff is proper for a heroic poem, as being all too lyrical; yet, tho’ 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 license. 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 Æneis he left so uncorrect, at least so short of that perfection at which he aim’d, that we know how hard a sentence he pass’d upon it. And, in the second place, I reasonably presume that he intended to have fill’d up all those hemistichs, because in one of them we find the sense imperfect:
Quem tibi jam Troja—
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 fill’d up one line in the Sixth Æneid, the enthusiasm seizing him while he was reading to Augustus:
Misenum Æolidem, quo non præstantior alter
to which he added, in that transport, Martemque accendere cantu: and never was any line more nobly finish’d; for the reasons which I have given in the Book of Painting. On these considerations I have shunn’d 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 unform’d 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, return’d 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 defense, that, from the beginning of the First Georgic to the end of the last Æneid, 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 express’d the same thing in the same words, and often repeated two or three whole verses which he had us’d before. Words are not so easily coin’d 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 call’d 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 burdensome than the beginning or the middle; and, consequently, the Twelfth Æneid cost me double the time of the First and Second. What had become of me, if Virgil had tax’d me with another book? I had certainly been reduc’d to pay the public in hammer’d money, for want of mill’d; that is, in the same old words which I had us’d before; and the receivers must have been forc’d 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 over) there is one remaining, which is insuperable to all translators. We are bound to our author’s sense, tho’ with the latitudes already mention’d; for I think it not so sacred, as that one iota must not be added or diminish’d, on pain of an anathema. But slaves we are, and labor on another’s man plantation; we dress the vineyard, but the wine is the owner’s: if the soil be sometimes barren, then we are sure of being scourg’d; if it be fruitful, and our care succeeds, we are not thank’d; for the proud reader will only say the poor drudge has done his duty. But this is nothing to what follows; for, being oblig’d to make his sense intelligible, we are forc’d 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 observ’d, 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 Æneid. If I should translate it sweet marjoram, as the word signifies, the reader would think I had mistaken Virgil. For those 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 goddessIf I cannot copy his harmonious numbers, how shall I imitate his noble flights, where his thoughts and words are equally sublime?
Quem quisquis studet æmulari,
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
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 charg’d by false critics, not only in this translation, but in many of my original poems—that I Latinize too much. ’T is true that, when I find an English word significant and sounding, I neither borrow from the Latin or 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 splendor, 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 naturaliz’d, 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 license very sparingly; for, if too many foreign words are pour’d in upon us, it looks as if they were design’d 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 Æneis, which he had ended before I ingag’d in the same design. Neither did I then intend it; but, some proposals being afterwards made me by my bookseller, I desir’d his Lordship’s leave that I might accept them, which he freely granted; and I have his letter to shew for that permission. He resolv’d to have printed his work; which he might have done two years before I could publish mine; and had perform’d 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 pleas’d to have given the public, the judges must have been convinc’d that I have not flatter’d him. Besides this help, which was not inconsiderable, Mr. Congreve has done me the favor to review the Æneis, and compare my version with the original. I shall never be asham’d to own that this excellent young man has shew’d me many faults, which I have endeavor’d to correct. ’T 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 conceal’d, seeing me straiten’d 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 caus’d 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 farther’d the opinion that Scipio and Lælius join’d with me. But the same style being continued thro’ the whole, and the same laws of versification observ’d, 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 promis’d 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 those proprieties, because he writ not to mariners, soldiers, astronomers, gard’ners, 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, ’t 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 learn’d in all things.
I have omitted the four preliminary lines of the First Æneid, 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 avidis
is too ambitious an ornament to be his; and
Gratum opus agricolis
are all words unnecessary, and independent of what he 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. ’T 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 clangor of a trumpet:
Arma virumque cano, Trojæ 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 constrain’d 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 deceiv’d, tho’ the French translator thinks otherwise. For my own part, I am rather of the opinion that they were added by Tucca and Varius, than retrench’d.
I know it may be answer’d by such as think Virgil the author of the four lines, that he asserts his title to the Æneis 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,
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 return’d 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 libelers.
What they call’d his picture had been drawn at length, so many times, by the daubers of almost all nations, and still so unlike him, that I snatch’d up the pencil with disdain, being satisfied beforehand that I could make some small resemblance of him, tho’ 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 shew’d us what they could have done, if they would have taken pains to perform the whole.
Be pleas’d, 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, tho’ some part of them are cover’d in the verse, (as Erichthonius rode always in a chariot, to hide his lameness,) such of them as cannot be conceal’d, you will please to connive at, tho’, in the strictness of your judgment, you cannot pardon. If Homer was allow’d to nod sometimes in so long a work, it will be no wonder if I often fall asleep. You took my Aureng-Zebe 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 ’t is good for a criminal to plead before a favorable 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 oblig’d to your bounty since the Revolution? Tho’ I never was reduc’d 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 remember’d 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 oblig’d, I have appear’d so seldom to return my thanks, and where I was also so sure of being well receiv’d. 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 encourag’d me to this presumption, lest, if my labors meet with no success in public, I may expose your judgment to be censur’d. 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. ’T was on this consideration that I have drawn out my preface to so great a length. Had I not address’d to a poet, and a critic of the first magnitude, I had myself been tax’d for want of judgment, and sham’d my patron for want of understanding. But neither will you, my Lord, so soon be tir’d 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: