This etext was prepared by David Price, email email@example.com from the 1888 Cassell & Company edition.
DISCOURSES ON SATIRE AND ON EPIC POETRY
by John Dryden
Dryden's discourses upon Satire and Epic Poetry belong to the latter years of his life, and represent maturer thought than is to be found in his "Essay of Dramatic Poesie." That essay, published in 1667, draws its chief interest from the time when it was written. A Dutch fleet was at the mouth of the Thames. Dryden represents himself taking a boat down the river with three friends, one of them his brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard, another Sir Charles Sedley, and another Charles Sackville Lord Buckhurst to whom, as Earl of Dorset, the "Discourse of Satire" is inscribed. They go down the river to hear the guns at sea, and judge by the sound whether the Dutch fleet be advancing or retreating. On the way they talk of the plague of Odes that will follow an English victory; their talk of verse proceeds to plays, with particular attention to a question that had been specially argued before the public between Dryden and his brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard. The question touched the use of blank verse in the drama. Dryden had decided against it as a worthless measure, and the chief feature of the Essay, which was written in dialogue, was its support of Dryden's argument. But in that year (1667) "Paradise Lost" was published, and Milton's blank verse was the death of Dryden's theories. After a few years Dryden recanted his error. The "Essay of Dramatic Poesie" is interesting as a setting forth in 1667 of mistaken critical opinions which were at that time in the ascendant, but had not very long to live. Dryden always wrote good masculine prose, and all his critical essays are good reading as pieces of English. His "Essay of Dramatic Poesie" is good reading as illustrative of the weakness of our literature in the days of the influence of France after the Restoration. The essays on Satire and on Epic Poetry represent also the influence of the French critical school, but represent it in a larger way, with indications of its strength as well as of its weakness. They represent also Dryden himself with a riper mind covering a larger field of thought, and showing abundantly the strength and independence of his own critical judgment, while he cites familiarly and frequently the critics, little remembered and less cared for now, who then passed for the arbiters of taste.
If English literature were really taught in schools, and the eldest boys had received training that brought them in their last school- year to a knowledge of the changes of intellectual fashion that set their outward mark upon successive periods, there is no prose writing of Dryden that could be used by a teacher more instructively than these Discourses on Satire and on Epic Poetry. They illustrate abundantly both Dryden and his time, and give continuous occasion for discussion of first principles, whether in disagreement or agreement with the text. Dryden was on his own ground as a critic of satire; and the ideal of an epic that the times, and perhaps also the different bent of his own genius, would not allow him to work out, at least finds such expression as might be expected from a man who had high aspirations, and whose place, in times unfavourable to his highest aims, was still among the master-poets of the world.
The Discourse on Satire was prefixed to a translation of the satires of Juvenal and Persius, and is dated the 18th of August, 1692, when the poet's age was sixty-one. In translating Juvenal, Dryden was helped by his sons Charles and John. William Congreve translated one satire; other translations were by Nahum Tate and George Stepney. Time modern reader of the introductory discourse has first to pass through the unmeasured compliments to the Earl of Dorset, which represent a real esteem and gratitude in the extravagant terms then proper to the art of dedication. We get to the free sea over a slimy shore. We must remember that Charles the Second upon his death was praised by Charles Montague, who knew his faults, as "the best good man that ever filled a throne," and compared to God Himself at the end of the first paragraph of Montague's poem. But when we are clear of the conventional unmeasured flatteries, and Dryden lingers among epic poets on his way to the satirists, there is equal interest in the mistaken criticisms, in the aspirations that are blended with them, and in the occasional touches of the poet's personality in quiet references to his critics. The comparisons between Horace and Juvenal in this discourse, and much of the criticism on Virgil in the discourse on epic poetry, are the utterances of a poet upon poets, and full of right suggestions from an artist's mind. The second discourse was prefixed in 1697—three years before Dryden's death—to his translation of the AEneid.
A DISCOURSE ON THE ORIGINAL AND PROGRESS OF SATIRE: ADDRESSED TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE CHARLES, EARL OF DORSET AND MIDDLESEX, LORD CHAMBERLAIN OF HIS MAJESTY'S HOUSEHOLD, KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER, ETC.
The wishes and desires of all good men, which have attended your lordship from your first appearance in the world, are at length accomplished, from your obtaining those honours and dignities which you have so long deserved. There are no factions, though irreconcilable to one another, that are not united in their affection to you, and the respect they pay you. They are equally pleased in your prosperity, and would be equally concerned in your afflictions. Titus Vespasian was not more the delight of human kind. The universal empire made him only more known and more powerful, but could not make him more beloved. He had greater ability of doing good, but your inclination to it is not less: and though you could not extend your beneficence to so many persons, yet you have lost as few days as that excellent emperor; and never had his complaint to make when you went to bed, that the sun had shone upon you in vain, when you had the opportunity of relieving some unhappy man. This, my lord, has justly acquired you as many friends as there are persons who have the honour to be known to you. Mere acquaintance you have none; you have drawn them all into a nearer line; and they who have conversed with you are for ever after inviolably yours. This is a truth so generally acknowledged that it needs no proof: it is of the nature of a first principle, which is received as soon as it is proposed; and needs not the reformation which Descartes used to his; for we doubt not, neither can we properly say, we think we admire and love you above all other men: there is a certainty in the proposition, and we know it. With the same assurance I can say, you neither have enemies, nor can scarce have any; for they who have never heard of you can neither love or hate you; and they who have, can have no other notion of you than that which they receive from the public, that you are the best of men. After this, my testimony can be of no farther use, than to declare it to be daylight at high noon: and all who have the benefit of sight can look up as well and see the sun.
It is true, I have one privilege which is almost particular to myself, that I saw you in the east at your first arising above the hemisphere: I was as soon sensible as any man of that light when it was but just shooting out and beginning to travel upwards to the meridian. I made my early addresses to your lordship in my "Essay of Dramatic Poetry," and therein bespoke you to the world; wherein I have the right of a first discoverer. When I was myself in the rudiments of my poetry, without name or reputation in the world, having rather the ambition of a writer than the skill; when I was drawing the outlines of an art, without any living master to instruct me in it—an art which had been better praised than studied here in England; wherein Shakespeare, who created the stage among us, had rather written happily than knowingly and justly; and Jonson, who, by studying Horace, had been acquainted with the rules, yet seemed to envy to posterity that knowledge, and, like an inventor of some useful art, to make a monopoly of his learning— when thus, as I may say, before the use of the loadstone or knowledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean without other help than the pole-star of the ancients and the rules of the French stage amongst the moderns (which are extremely different from ours, by reason of their opposite taste), yet even then I had the presumption to dedicate to your lordship—a very unfinished piece, I must confess, and which only can be excused by the little experience of the author and the modesty of the title—"An Essay." Yet I was stronger in prophecy than I was in criticism: I was inspired to foretell you to mankind as the restorer of poetry, the greatest genius, the truest judge, and the best patron.
Good sense and good nature are never separated, though the ignorant world has thought otherwise. Good nature, by which I mean beneficence and candour, is the product of right reason; which of necessity will give allowance to the failings of others by considering that there is nothing perfect in mankind; and by distinguishing that which comes nearest to excellency, though not absolutely free from faults, will certainly produce a candour in the judge. It is incident to an elevated understanding like your lordship's to find out the errors of other men; but it is your prerogative to pardon them; to look with pleasure on those things which are somewhat congenial and of a remote kindred to your own conceptions; and to forgive the many failings of those who, with their wretched art, cannot arrive to those heights that you possess from a happy, abundant, and native genius which are as inborn to you as they were to Shakespeare, and, for aught I know, to Homer; in either of whom we find all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy, without knowing that they ever studied them.
There is not an English writer this day living who is not perfectly convinced that your lordship excels all others in all the several parts of poetry which you have undertaken to adorn. The most vain and the most ambitions of our age have not dared to assume so much as the competitors of Themistocles: they have yielded the first place without dispute; and have been arrogantly content to be esteemed as second to your lordship, and even that also with a longo, sed proximi intervallo. If there have been, or are, any who go farther in their self-conceit, they must be very singular in their opinion; they must be like the officer in a play who was called captain, lieutenant, and company. The world will easily conclude whether such unattended generals can ever be capable of making a revolution in Parnassus.
I will not attempt in this place to say anything particular of your lyric poems, though they are the delight and wonder of the age, and will be the envy of the next. The subject of this book confines me to satire; and in that an author of your own quality, whose ashes I will not disturb, has given you all the commendation which his self- sufficiency could afford to any man—"The best good man, with the worst-natured muse." In that character, methinks, I am reading Jonson's verses to the memory of Shakespeare; an insolent, sparing, and invidious panegyric: where good nature—the most godlike commendation of a man—is only attributed to your person, and denied to your writings; for they are everywhere so full of candour, that, like Horace, you only expose the follies of men without arraigning their vices; and in this excel him, that you add that pointedness of thought which is visibly wanting in our great Roman. There is more of salt in all your verses than I have seen in any of the moderns, or even of the ancients: but you have been sparing of the gall; by which means you have pleased all readers and offended none. Donne alone, of all our countrymen, had your talent, but was not happy enough to arrive at your versification; and were he translated into numbers and English, he would yet be wanting in the dignity of expression. That which is the prime virtue and chief ornament of Virgil, which distinguishes him from the rest of writers, is so conspicuous in your verses that it casts a shadow on all your contemporaries; we cannot be seen, or but obscurely, while you are present. You equal Donne in the variety, multiplicity, and choice of thoughts; you excel him in the manner and the words. I read you both with the same admiration, but not with the same delight. He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where Nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love. In this (if I may be pardoned for so bold a truth) Mr. Cowley has copied him to a fault: so great a one, in my opinion, that it throws his "Mistress" infinitely below his "Pindarics" and his later compositions, which are undoubtedly the best of his poems and the most correct. For my own part I must avow it freely to the world that I never attempted anything in satire wherein I have not studied your writings as the most perfect model. I have continually laid them before me; and the greatest commendation which my own partiality can give to my productions is that they are copies, and no farther to be allowed than as they have something more or less of the original. Some few touches of your lordship, some secret graces which I have endeavoured to express after your manner, have made whole poems of mine to pass with approbation: but take your verses all together, and they are inimitable. If, therefore, I have not written better, it is because you have not written more. You have not set me sufficient copy to transcribe; and I cannot add one letter of my own invention of which I have not the example there.
It is a general complaint against your lordship, and I must have leave to upbraid you with it, that, because you need not write, you will not. Mankind that wishes you so well in all things that relate to your prosperity, have their intervals of wishing for themselves, and are within a little of grudging you the fulness of your fortune: they would be more malicious if you used it not so well and with so much generosity.
Fame is in itself a real good, if we may believe Cicero, who was perhaps too fond of it; but even fame, as Virgil tells us, acquires strength by going forward. Let Epicurus give indolency as an attribute to his gods, and place in it the happiness of the blest: the Divinity which we worship has given us not only a precept against it, but His own example to the contrary. The world, my lord, would be content to allow you a seventh day for rest; or, if you thought that hard upon you, we would not refuse you half your time: if you came out, like some great monarch, to take a town but once a year, as it were for your diversion, though you had no need to extend your territories. In short, if you were a bad, or, which is worse, an indifferent poet, we would thank you for our own quiet, and not expose you to the want of yours. But when you are so great, and so successful, and when we have that necessity of your writing that we cannot subsist entirely without it, any more (I may almost say) than the world without the daily course of ordinary Providence, methinks this argument might prevail with you, my lord, to forego a little of your repose for the public benefit. It is not that you are under any force of working daily miracles to prove your being, but now and then somewhat of extraordinary—that is, anything of your production—is requisite to refresh your character.
This, I think, my lord, is a sufficient reproach to you, and should I carry it as far as mankind would authorise me, would be little less than satire. And indeed a provocation is almost necessary, in behalf of the world, that you might be induced sometimes to write; and in relation to a multitude of scribblers, who daily pester the world with their insufferable stuff, that they might be discouraged from writing any more. I complain not of their lampoons and libels, though I have been the public mark for many years. I am vindictive enough to have repelled force by force if I could imagine that any of them had ever reached me: but they either shot at rovers, and therefore missed; or their powder was so weak that I might safely stand them at the nearest distance. I answered not the "Rehearsal" because I knew the author sat to himself when he drew the picture, and was the very Bayes of his own farce; because also I knew that my betters were more concerned than I was in that satire; and, lastly, because Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson, the main pillars of it, were two such languishing gentlemen in their conversation that I could liken them to nothing but to their own relations, those noble characters of men of wit and pleasure about the town. The like considerations have hindered me from dealing with the lamentable companions of their prose and doggerel. I am so far from defending my poetry against them that I will not so much as expose theirs. And for my morals, if they are not proof against their attacks, let me be thought by posterity what those authors would be thought if any memory of them or of their writings could endure so long as to another age. But these dull makers of lampoons, as harmless as they have been to me, are yet of dangerous example to the public. Some witty men may perhaps succeed to their designs, and, mixing sense with malice, blast the reputation of the most innocent amongst men, and the most virtuous amongst women.
Heaven be praised, our common libellers are as free from the imputation of wit as of morality, and therefore whatever mischief they have designed they have performed but little of it. Yet these ill writers, in all justice, ought themselves to be exposed, as Persius has given us a fair example in his first Satire, which is levelled particularly at them; and none is so fit to correct their faults as he who is not only clear from any in his own writings, but is also so just that he will never defame the good, and is armed with the power of verse to punish and make examples of the bad. But of this I shall have occasion to speak further when I come to give the definition and character of true satires.
In the meantime, as a counsellor bred up in the knowledge of the municipal and statute laws may honestly inform a just prince how far his prerogative extends, so I may be allowed to tell your lordship, who by an undisputed title are the king of poets, what an extent of power you have, and how lawfully you may exercise it over the petulant scribblers of this age. As Lord Chamberlain, I know, you are absolute by your office in all that belongs to the decency and good manners of the stage. You can banish from thence scurrility and profaneness, and restrain the licentious insolence of poets and their actors in all things that shock the public quiet, or the reputation of private persons, under the notion of humour. But I mean not the authority which is annexed to your office, I speak of that only which is inborn and inherent to your person; what is produced in you by an excellent wit, a masterly and commanding genius over all writers: whereby you are empowered, when you please, to give the final decision of wit, to put your stamp on all that ought to pass for current and set a brand of reprobation on clipped poetry and false coin. A shilling dipped in the bath may go for gold amongst the ignorant, but the sceptres on the guineas show the difference. That your lordship is formed by nature for this supremacy I could easily prove (were it not already granted by the world) from the distinguishing character of your writing, which is so visible to me that I never could be imposed on to receive for yours what was written by any others, or to mistake your genuine poetry for their spurious productions. I can farther add with truth, though not without some vanity in saying it, that in the same paper written by divers hands, whereof your lordship's was only part, I could separate your gold from their copper; and though I could not give back to every author his own brass (for there is not the same rule for distinguishing betwixt bad and bad as betwixt ill and excellently good), yet I never failed of knowing what was yours and what was not, and was absolutely certain that this or the other part was positively yours, and could not possibly be written by any other.
True it is that some bad poems, though not all, carry their owners' marks about them. There is some peculiar awkwardness, false grammar, imperfect sense, or, at the least, obscurity; some brand or other on this buttock or that ear that it is notorious who are the owners of the cattle, though they should not sign it with their names. But your lordship, on the contrary, is distinguished not only by the excellency of your thoughts, but by your style and manner of expressing them. A painter judging of some admirable piece may affirm with certainty that it was of Holbein or Vandyck; but vulgar designs and common draughts are easily mistaken and misapplied. Thus, by my long study of your lordship, I am arrived at the knowledge of your particular manner. In the good poems of other men, like those artists, I can only say, "This is like the draught of such a one, or like the colouring of another;" in short, I can only be sure that it is the hand of a good master: but in your performances it is scarcely possible for me to be deceived. If you write in your strength, you stand revealed at the first view, and should you write under it, you cannot avoid some peculiar graces which only cost me a second consideration to discover you: for I may say it with all the severity of truth, that every line of yours is precious. Your lordship's only fault is that you have not written more, unless I could add another, and that yet greater, but I fear for the public the accusation would not be true—that you have written, and out of a vicious modesty will not publish.
Virgil has confined his works within the compass of eighteen thousand lines, and has not treated many subjects, yet he ever had, and ever will have, the reputation of the best poet. Martial says of him that he could have excelled Varius in tragedy and Horace in lyric poetry, but out of deference to his friends he attempted neither.
The same prevalence of genius is in your lordship, but the world cannot pardon your concealing it on the same consideration, because we have neither a living Varius nor a Horace, in whose excellences both of poems, odes, and satires, you had equalled them, if our language had not yielded to the Roman majesty, and length of time had not added a reverence to the works of Horace. For good sense is the same in all or most ages, and course of time rather improves nature than impairs her. What has been, may be again; another Homer and another Virgil may possible arise from those very causes which produced the first, though it would be impudence to affirm that any such have yet appeared.
It is manifest that some particular ages have been more happy than others in the production of great men in all sorts of arts and sciences, as that of Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and the rest, for stage-poetry amongst the Greeks; that of Augustus for heroic, lyric, dramatic, elegiac, and indeed all sorts of poetry in the persons of Virgil, Horace, Varius, Ovid, and many others, especially if we take into that century the latter end of the commonwealth, wherein we find Varro, Lucretius, and Catullus; and at the same time lived Cicero and Sallust and Caesar. A famous age in modern times for learning in every kind was that of Lorenzo de Medici and his son Leo the Tenth, wherein painting was revived, and poetry flourished, and the Greek language was restored.
Examples in all these are obvious, but what I would infer is this— that in such an age it is possible some great genius may arise to equal any of the ancients, abating only for the language; for great contemporaries whet and cultivate each other, and mutual borrowing and commerce makes the common riches of learning, as it does of the civil government.
But suppose that Homer and Virgil were the only of their species, and that nature was so much worn out in producing them that she is never able to hear the like again, yet the example only holds in heroic poetry; in tragedy and satire I offer myself to maintain, against some of our modern critics, that this age and the last, particularly in England, have excelled the ancients in both those kinds, and I would instance in Shakespeare of the former, of your lordship in the latter sort.
Thus I might safely confine myself to my native country. But if I would only cross the seas, I might find in France a living Horace and a Juvenal in the person of the admirable Boileau, whose numbers are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed and whose sense is close. What he borrows from the ancients, he repays with usury of his own in coin as good and almost as universally valuable: for, setting prejudice and partiality apart, though he is our enemy, the stamp of a Louis, the patron of all arts, is not much inferior to the medal of an Augustus Caesar. Let this be said without entering into the interests of factions and parties, and relating only to the bounty of that king to men of learning and merit—a praise so just that even we, who are his enemies, cannot refuse it to him.
Now if it may be permitted me to go back again to the consideration of epic poetry, I have confessed that no man hitherto has reached or so much as approached to the excellences of Homer or of Virgil; I must farther add that Statius, the best versificator next to Virgil, knew not how to design after him, though he had the model in his eye; that Lucan is wanting both in design and subject, and is besides too full of heat and affectation; that amongst the moderns, Ariosto neither designed justly nor observed any unity of action, or compass of time, or moderation in the vastness of his draught: his style is luxurious without majesty or decency, and his adventures without the compass of nature and possibility. Tasso, whose design was regular, and who observed the roles of unity in time and place more closely than Virgil, yet was not so happy in his action: he confesses himself to have been too lyrical—that is, to have written beneath the dignity of heroic verse—in his episodes of Sophronia, Erminia, and Armida. His story is not so pleasing as Ariosto's; he is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times unequal, and almost always forced; and, besides, is full of conceits, points of epigram, and witticisms; all which are not only below the dignity of heroic verse, but contrary to its nature: Virgil and Homer have not one of them. And those who are guilty of so boyish an ambition in so grave a subject are so far from being considered as heroic poets that they ought to be turned down from Homer to the "Anthologia," from Virgil to Martial and Owen's Epigrams, and from Spenser to Flecknoe—that is, from the top to the bottom of all poetry. But to return to Tasso: he borrows from the invention of Boiardo, and in his alteration of his poem, which is infinitely for the worse, imitates Homer so very servilely that (for example) he gives the King of Jerusalem fifty sons, only because Homer had bestowed the like number on King Priam; he kills the youngest in the same manner; and has provided his hero with a Patroclus, under another name, only to bring him back to the wars when his friend was killed. The French have performed nothing in this kind which is not far below those two Italians, and subject to a thousand more reflections, without examining their "St. Louis," their "Pucelle," or their "Alaric." The English have only to boast of Spenser and Milton, who neither of them wanted either genius or learning to have been perfect poets; and yet both of them are liable to many censures. For there is no uniformity in the design of Spenser; he aims at the accomplishment of no one action; he raises up a hero for every one of his adventures, and endows each of them with some particular moral virtue, which renders them all equal, without subordination or preference: every one is most valiant in his own legend: only we must do him that justice to observe that magnanimity, which is the character of Prince Arthur, shines throughout the whole poem, and succours the rest when they are in distress. The original of every knight was then living in the court of Queen Elizabeth, and he attributed to each of them that virtue which he thought was most conspicuous in them—an ingenious piece of flattery, though it turned not much to his account. Had he lived to finish his poem in the six remaining legends, it had certainly been more of a piece; but could not have been perfect, because the model was not true. But Prince Arthur, or his chief patron Sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended to make happy by the marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, deprived the poet both of means and spirit to accomplish his design. For the rest, his obsolete language and the ill choice of his stanza are faults but of the second magnitude; for, notwithstanding the first, he is still intelligible—at least, after a little practice; and for the last, he is the more to be admired that, labouring under such a difficulty, his verses are so numerous, so various and so harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he professedly imitated, has surpassed him among the Romans, and only Mr. Waller among the English.
As for Mr. Milton, whom we all admire with so much justice, his subject is not that of an heroic poem, properly so called. His design is the losing of our happiness; his event is not prosperous, like that of all other epic works; his heavenly machines are many, and his human persons are but two. But I will not take Mr. Rymer's work out of his hands: he has promised the world a critique on that author wherein, though he will not allow his poem for heroic, I hope he will grant us that his thoughts are elevated, his words sounding, and that no man has so happily copied the manner of Homer, or so copiously translated his Grecisms and the Latin elegances of Virgil. It is true, he runs into a flat of thought, sometimes for a hundred lines together, but it is when he has got into a track of Scripture. His antiquated words were his choice, not his necessity; for therein he imitated Spenser, as Spencer did Chaucer. And though, perhaps, the love of their masters may have transported both too far in the frequent use of them, yet in my opinion obsolete words may then be laudably revived when either they are more sounding or more significant than those in practice, and when their obscurity is taken away by joining other words to them which clear the sense— according to the rule of Horace for the admission of new words. But in both cases a moderation is to be observed in the use of them; for unnecessary coinage, as well as unnecessary revival, runs into affectation—a fault to be avoided on either hand. Neither will I justify Milton for his blank verse, though I may excuse him by the example of Hannibal Caro and other Italians who have used it; for, whatever causes he alleges for the abolishing of rhyme (which I have not now the leisure to examine), his own particular reason is plainly this—that rhyme was not his talent; he had neither the ease of doing it, nor the graces of it: which is manifest in his "Juvenilia" or verses written in his youth, where his rhyme is always constrained and forced, and comes hardly from him, at an age when the soul is most pliant, and the passion of love makes almost every man a rhymer, though not a poet.
By this time, my lord, I doubt not but that you wonder why I have run off from my bias so long together, and made so tedious a digression from satire to heroic poetry; but if you will not excuse it by the tattling quality of age (which, as Sir William Davenant says, is always narrative), yet I hope the usefulness of what I have to say on this subject will qualify the remoteness of it; and this is the last time I will commit the crime of prefaces, or trouble the world with my notions of anything that relates to verse. I have then, as you see, observed the failings of many great wits amongst the moderns who have attempted to write an epic poem. Besides these, or the like animadversions of them by other men, there is yet a farther reason given why they cannot possibly succeed so well as the ancients, even though we could allow them not to be inferior either in genius or learning, or the tongue in which they write, or all those other wonderful qualifications which are necessary to the forming of a true accomplished heroic poet. The fault is laid on our religion; they say that Christianity is not capable of those embellishments which are afforded in the belief of those ancient heathens.
And it is true that in the severe notions of our faith the fortitude of a Christian consists in patience, and suffering for the love of God whatever hardships can befall in the world—not in any great attempt, or in performance of those enterprises which the poets call heroic, and which are commonly the effects of interest, ostentation, pride, and worldly honour; that humility and resignation are our prime virtues; and that these include no action but that of the soul, whereas, on the contrary, an heroic poem requires to its necessary design, and as its last perfection, some great action of war, the accomplishment of some extraordinary undertaking, which requires the strength and vigour of the body, the duty of a soldier, the capacity and prudence of a general, and, in short, as much or more of the active virtue than the suffering. But to this the answer is very obvious. God has placed us in our several stations; the virtues of a private Christian are patience, obedience, submission, and the like; but those of a magistrate or a general or a king are prudence, counsel, active fortitude, coercive power, awful command, and the exercise of magnanimity as well as justice. So that this objection hinders not but that an epic poem, or the heroic action of some great commander, enterprised for the common good and honour of the Christian cause, and executed happily, may be as well written now as it was of old by the heathens, provided the poet be endued with the same talents; and the language, though not of equal dignity, yet as near approaching to it as our modern barbarism will allow—which is all that can be expected from our own or any other now extant, though more refined; and therefore we are to rest contented with that only inferiority, which is not possibly to be remedied.
I wish I could as easily remove that other difficulty which yet remains. It is objected by a great French critic as well as an admirable poet, yet living, and whom I have mentioned with that honour which his merit exacts from me (I mean, Boileau), that the machines of our Christian religion in heroic poetry are much more feeble to support that weight than those of heathenism. Their doctrine, grounded as it was on ridiculous fables, was yet the belief of the two victorious monarchies, the Grecian and Roman. Their gods did not only interest themselves in the event of wars (which is the effect of a superior Providence), but also espoused the several parties in a visible corporeal descent, managed their intrigues and fought their battles, sometimes in opposition to each other; though Virgil (more discreet than Homer in that last particular) has contented himself with the partiality of his deities, their favours, their counsels or commands, to those whose cause they had espoused, without bringing them to the outrageousness of blows. Now our religion, says he, is deprived of the greatest part of those machines—at least, the most shining in epic poetry. Though St. Michael in Ariosto seeks out Discord to send her amongst the Pagans, and finds her in a convent of friars, where peace should reign (which indeed is fine satire); and Satan in Tasso excites Soliman to an attempt by night on the Christian camp, and brings a host of devils to his assistance; yet the Archangel in the former example, when Discord was restive and would not be drawn from her beloved monastery with fair words, has the whip-hand of her, drags her out with many stripes, sets her on God's name about her business, and makes her know the difference of strength betwixt a nuncio of heaven and a minister of hell. The same angel in the latter instance from Tasso (as if God had never another messenger belonging to the court, but was confined, like Jupiter to Mercury, and Juno to Iris), when he sees his time—that is, when half of the Christians are already killed, and all the rest are in a fair way to be routed—stickles betwixt the remainders of God's host and the race of fiends, pulls the devils backward by the tails, and drives them from their quarry; or otherwise the whole business had miscarried, and Jerusalem remained untaken. This, says Boileau, is a very unequal match for the poor devils, who are sure to come by the worst of it in the combat; for nothing is more easy than for an Almighty Power to bring His old rebels to reason when He pleases. Consequently what pleasure, what entertainment, can be raised from so pitiful a machine, where we see the success of the battle from the very beginning of it? unless that as we are Christians, we are glad that we have gotten God on our side to maul our enemies when we cannot do the work ourselves. For if the poet had given the faithful more courage, which had cost him nothing, or at least have made them exceed the Turks in number, he might have gained the victory for us Christians without interesting Heaven in the quarrel, and that with as much ease and as little credit to the conqueror as when a party of a hundred soldiers defeats another which consists only of fifty.
This, my lord, I confess is such an argument against our modern poetry as cannot be answered by those mediums which have been used. We cannot hitherto boast that our religion has furnished us with any such machines as have made the strength and beauty of the ancient buildings.
But what if I venture to advance an invention of my own to supply the manifest defect of our new writers? I am sufficiently sensible of my weakness, and it is not very probable that I should succeed in such a project, whereof I have not had the least hint from any of my predecessors the poets, or any of their seconds or coadjutors the critics. Yet we see the art of war is improved in sieges, and new instruments of death are invented daily. Something new in philosophy and the mechanics is discovered almost every year, and the science of former ages is improved by the succeeding. I will not detain you with a long preamble to that which better judges will, perhaps, conclude to be little worth.
It is this, in short—that Christian poets have not hitherto been acquainted with their own strength. If they had searched the Old Testament as they ought, they might there have found the machines which are proper for their work, and those more certain in their effect than it may be the New Testament is in the rules sufficient for salvation. The perusing of one chapter in the prophecy of Daniel, and accommodating what there they find with the principles of Platonic philosophy as it is now Christianised, would have made the ministry of angels as strong an engine for the working up heroic poetry in our religion as that of the ancients has been to raise theirs by all the fables of their gods, which were only received for truths by the most ignorant and weakest of the people.
It is a doctrine almost universally received by Christians, as well Protestants as Catholics, that there are guardian angels appointed by God Almighty as His vicegerents for the protection and government of cities, provinces, kingdoms, and monarchies; and those as well of heathens as of true believers. All this is so plainly proved from those texts of Daniel that it admits of no farther controversy. The prince of the Persians, and that other of the Grecians, are granted to be the guardians and protecting ministers of those empires. It cannot be denied that they were opposite and resisted one another. St. Michael is mentioned by his name as the patron of the Jews, and is now taken by the Christians as the protector-general of our religion. These tutelar genii, who presided over the several people and regions committed to their charge, were watchful over them for good, as far as their commissions could possibly extend. The general purpose and design of all was certainly the service of their great Creator. But it is an undoubted truth that, for ends best known to the Almighty Majesty of Heaven, His providential designs for the benefit of His creatures, for the debasing and punishing of some nations, and the exaltation and temporal reward of others, were not wholly known to these His ministers; else why those factious quarrels, controversies, and battles amongst themselves, when they were all united in the same design, the service and honour of their common master? But being instructed only in the general, and zealous of the main design, and as finite beings not admitted into the secrets of government, the last resorts of Providence, or capable of discovering the final purposes of God (who can work good out of evil as He pleases, and irresistibly sways all manner of events on earth, directing them finally for the best to His creation in general, and to the ultimate end of His own glory in particular), they must of necessity be sometimes ignorant of the means conducing to those ends, in which alone they can jar and oppose each other— one angel, as we may suppose (the Prince of Persia, as he is called), judging that it would be more for God's honour and the benefit of His people that the Median and Persian monarchy, which delivered them from the Babylonish captivity, should still be uppermost; and the patron of the Grecians, to whom the will of God might be more particularly revealed, contending on the other side for the rise of Alexander and his successors, who were appointed to punish the backsliding Jews, and thereby to put them in mind of their offences, that they might repent and become more virtuous and more observant of the law revealed. But how far these controversies and appearing enmities of those glorious creatures may be carried; how these oppositions may be best managed, and by what means conducted, is not my business to show or determine: these things must be left to the invention and judgment of the poet, if any of so happy a genius be now living, or any future age can produce a man who, being conversant in the philosophy of Plato as it is now accommodated to Christian use (for, as Virgil gives us to understand by his example, that is the only proper, of all others, for an epic poem), who to his natural endowments of a large invention, a ripe judgment, and a strong memory, has joined the knowledge of the liberal arts and sciences (and particularly moral philosophy, the mathematics, geography, and history), and with all these qualifications is born a poet, knows, and can practise the variety of numbers, and is master of the language in which he writes—if such a man, I say, be now arisen, or shall arise, I am vain enough to think that I have proposed a model to him by which he may build a nobler, a more beautiful, and more perfect poem than any yet extant since the ancients.
There is another part of these machines yet wanting; but by what I have said, it would have been easily supplied by a judicious writer. He could not have failed to add the opposition of ill spirits to the good; they have also their design, ever opposite to that of Heaven; and this alone has hitherto been the practice of the moderns: but this imperfect system, if I may call it such, which I have given, will infinitely advance and carry farther that hypothesis of the evil spirits contending with the good. For being so much weaker since their fall than those blessed beings, they are yet supposed to have a permitted power from God of acting ill, as from their own depraved nature they have always the will of designing it—a great testimony of which we find in Holy Writ, when God Almighty suffered Satan to appear in the holy synod of the angels (a thing not hitherto drawn into example by any of the poets), and also gave him power over all things belonging to his servant Job, excepting only life.
Now what these wicked spirits cannot compass by the vast disproportion of their forces to those of the superior beings, they may by their fraud and cunning carry farther in a seeming league, confederacy, or subserviency to the designs of some good angel, as far as consists with his purity to suffer such an aid, the end of which may possibly be disguised and concealed from his finite knowledge. This is indeed to suppose a great error in such a being; yet since a devil can appear like an angel of light, since craft and malice may sometimes blind for a while a more perfect understanding; and lastly, since Milton has given us an example of the like nature, when Satan, appearing like a cherub to Uriel, the intelligence of the sun, circumvented him even in his own province, and passed only for a curious traveller through those new-created regions, that he might observe therein the workmanship of God and praise Him in His works—I know not why, upon the same supposition, or some other, a fiend may not deceive a creature of more excellency than himself, but yet a creature; at least, by the connivance or tacit permission of the Omniscient Being.
Thus, my lord, I have, as briefly as I could, given your lordship, and by you the world, a rude draught of what I have been long labouring in my imagination, and what I had intended to have put in practice (though far unable for the attempt of such a poem), and to have left the stage, to which my genius never much inclined me, for a work which would have taken up my life in the performance of it. This, too, I had intended chiefly for the honour of my native country, to which a poet is particularly obliged. Of two subjects, both relating to it, I was doubtful—whether I should choose that of King Arthur conquering the Saxons (which, being farther distant in time, gives the greater scope to my invention), or that of Edward the Black Prince in subduing Spain and restoring it to the lawful prince, though a great tyrant, Don Pedro the Cruel—which for the compass of time, including only the expedition of one year; for the greatness of the action, and its answerable event; for the magnanimity of the English hero, opposed to the ingratitude of the person whom he restored; and for the many beautiful episodes which I had interwoven with the principal design, together with the characters of the chiefest English persons (wherein, after Virgil and Spenser, I would have taken occasion to represent my living friends and patrons of the noblest families, and also shadowed the events of future ages in the succession of our imperial line)—with these helps, and those of the machines which I have mentioned, I might perhaps have done as well as some of my predecessors, or at least chalked out a way for others to amend my errors in a like design; but being encouraged only with fair words by King Charles the Second, my little salary ill paid, and no prospect of a future subsistence, I was then discouraged in the beginning of my attempt; and now age has overtaken me, and want (a more insufferable evil) through the change of the times has wholly disenabled me; though I must ever acknowledge, to the honour of your lordship, and the eternal memory of your charity, that since this Revolution, wherein I have patiently suffered the ruin of my small fortune, and the loss of that poor subsistence which I had from two kings, whom I had served more faithfully than profitably to myself—then your lordship was pleased, out of no other motive but your own nobleness, without any desert of mine, or the least solicitation from me, to make me a most bountiful present, which at that time, when I was most in want of it, came most seasonably and unexpectedly to my relief. That favour, my lord, is of itself sufficient to bind any grateful man to a perpetual acknowledgment, and to all the future service which one of my mean condition can be ever able to perform. May the Almighty God return it for me, both in blessing you here and rewarding you hereafter! I must not presume to defend the cause for which I now suffer, because your lordship is engaged against it; but the more you are so, the greater is my obligation to you for your laying aside all the considerations of factions and parties to do an action of pure disinterested charity. This is one amongst many of your shining qualities which distinguish you from others of your rank. But let me add a farther truth—that without these ties of gratitude, and abstracting from them all, I have a most particular inclination to honour you, and, if it were not too bold an expression, to say I love you. It is no shame to be a poet, though it is to be a bad one. Augustus Caesar of old, and Cardinal Richelieu of late, would willingly have been such; and David and Solomon were such. You who, without flattery, are the best of the present age in England, and would have been so had you been born in any other country, will receive more honour in future ages by that one excellency than by all those honours to which your birth has entitled you, or your merits have acquired you.
"Ne forte pudori Sit tibi Musa lyrae solers, et cantor Apollo."
I have formerly said in this epistle that I could distinguish your writings from those of any others; it is now time to clear myself from any imputation of self-conceit on that subject. I assume not to myself any particular lights in this discovery; they are such only as are obvious to every man of sense and judgment who loves poetry and understands it. Your thoughts are always so remote from the common way of thinking that they are, as I may say, of another species than the conceptions of other poets; yet you go not out of nature for any of them. Gold is never bred upon the surface of the ground, but lies so hidden and so deep that the mines of it are seldom found; but the force of waters casts it out from the bowels of mountains, and exposes it amongst the sands of rivers, giving us of her bounty what we could not hope for by our search. This success attends your lordship's thoughts, which would look like chance if it were not perpetual and always of the same tenor. If I grant that there is care in it, it is such a care as would be ineffectual and fruitless in other men; it is the curiosa felicitas which Petronius ascribes to Horace in his odes. We have not wherewithal to imagine so strongly, so justly, and so pleasantly: in short, if we have the same knowledge, we cannot draw out of it the same quintessence; we cannot give it such a turn, such a propriety, and such a beauty. Something is deficient in the manner or the words, but more in the nobleness of our conception. Yet when you have finished all, and it appears in its full lustre; when the diamond is not only found, but the roughness smoothed; when it is cut into a form and set in gold, then we cannot but acknowledge that it is the perfect work of art and nature; and every one will be so vain to think he himself could have performed the like until he attempts it. It is just the description that Horace makes of such a finished piece; it appears so easy,
"Ut sibi quivis Speret idem, sudet multum, frustraque laboret, Ausus idem."
And besides all this, it is your lordship's particular talent to lay your thoughts so chose together that, were they closer, they would be crowded, and even a due connection would be wanting. We are not kept in expectation of two good lines which are to come after a long parenthesis of twenty bad; which is the April poetry of other writers, a mixture of rain and sunshine by fits: you are always bright, even almost to a fault, by reason of the excess. There is continual abundance, a magazine of thought, and yet a perpetual variety of entertainment; which creates such an appetite in your reader that he is not cloyed with anything, but satisfied with all. It is that which the Romans call caena dubia; where there is such plenty, yet withal so much diversity, and so good order, that the choice is difficult betwixt one excellency and another; and yet the conclusion, by a due climax, is evermore the best—that is, as a conclusion ought to be, ever the most proper for its place. See, my lord, whether I have not studied your lordship with some application: and since you are so modest that you will not be judge and party, I appeal to the whole world if I have not drawn your picture to a great degree of likeness, though it is but in miniature, and that some of the best features are yet wanting. Yet what I have done is enough to distinguish you from any other, which is the proposition that I took upon me to demonstrate.
And now, my lord, to apply what I have said to my present business: the satires of Juvenal and Persius, appearing in this new English dress, cannot so properly be inscribed to any man as to your lordship, who are the first of the age in that way of writing. Your lordship, amongst many other favours, has given me your permission for this address; and you have particularly encouraged me by your perusal and approbation of the sixth and tenth satires of Juvenal as I have translated them. My fellow-labourers have likewise commissioned me to perform in their behalf this office of a dedication to you, and will acknowledge, with all possible respect and gratitude, your acceptance of their work. Some of them have the honour to be known to your lordship already; and they who have not yet that happiness, desire it now. Be pleased to receive our common endeavours with your wonted candour, without entitling you to the protection of our common failings in so difficult an undertaking. And allow me your patience, if it be not already tired with this long epistle, to give you from the best authors the origin, the antiquity, the growth, the change, and the completement of satire among the Romans; to describe, if not define, the nature of that poem, with its several qualifications and virtues, together with the several sorts of it; to compare the excellencies of Horace, Persius, and Juvenal, and show the particular manners of their satires; and, lastly, to give an account of this new way of version which is attempted in our performance: all which, according to the weakness of my ability, and the best lights which I can get from others, shall be the subject of my following discourse.
The most perfect work of poetry, says our master Aristotle, is tragedy. His reason is because it is the most united; being more severely confined within the rules of action, time, and place. The action is entire of a piece, and one without episodes; the time limited to a natural day; and the place circumscribed at least within the compass of one town or city. Being exactly proportioned thus, and uniform in all its parts, the mind is more capable of comprehending the whole beauty of it without distraction.
But after all these advantages an heroic poem is certainly the greatest work of human nature. The beauties and perfections of the other are but mechanical; those of the epic are more noble. Though Homer has limited his place to Troy and the fields about it; his actions to forty-eight natural days, whereof twelve are holidays, or cessation from business during the funeral of Patroclus. To proceed: the action of the epic is greater; the extension of time enlarges the pleasure of the reader, and the episodes give it more ornament and more variety. The instruction is equal; but the first is only instructive, the latter forms a hero and a prince.
If it signifies anything which of them is of the more ancient family, the best and most absolute heroic poem was written by Homer long before tragedy was invented. But if we consider the natural endowments and acquired parts which are necessary to make an accomplished writer in either kind, tragedy requires a less and more confined knowledge; moderate learning and observation of the rules is sufficient if a genius be not wanting. But in an epic poet, one who is worthy of that name, besides an universal genius is required universal learning, together with all those qualities and acquisitions which I have named above, and as many more as I have through haste or negligence omitted. And, after all, he must have exactly studied Homer and Virgil as his patterns, Aristotle and Horace as his guides, and Vida and Bossu as their commentators, with many others (both Italian and French critics) which I want leisure here to recommend.
In a word, what I have to say in relation to this subject, which does not particularly concern satire, is that the greatness of an heroic poem beyond that of a tragedy may easily be discovered by observing how few have attempted that work, in comparison to those who have written dramas; and of those few, how small a number have succeeded. But leaving the critics on either side to contend about the preference due to this or that sort of poetry, I will hasten to my present business, which is the antiquity and origin of satire, according to those informations which I have received from the learned Casaubon, Heinsius, Rigaltius, Dacier, and the Dauphin's Juvenal, to which I shall add some observations of my own.
There has been a long dispute among the modern critics whether the Romans derived their satire from the Grecians or first invented it themselves. Julius Scaliger and Heinsius are of the first opinion; Casaubon, Rigaltius, Dacier, and the publisher of Dauphin's Juvenal maintain the latter. If we take satire in the general signification of the word, as it is used in all modern languages, for an invective, it is certain that it is almost as old as verse; and though hymns, which are praises of God, may be allowed to have been before it, yet the defamation of others was not long after it. After God had cursed Adam and Eve in Paradise, the husband and wife excused themselves by laying the blame on one another, and gave a beginning to those conjugal dialogues in prose which the poets have perfected in verse. The third chapter of Job is one of the first instances of this poem in Holy Scripture, unless we will take it higher, from the latter end of the second, where his wife advises him to curse his Maker.
This original, I confess, is not much to the honour of satire; but here it was nature, and that depraved: when it became an art, it bore better fruit. Only we have learnt thus much already—that scoffs and revilings are of the growth of all nations; and consequently that neither the Greek poets borrowed from other people their art of railing, neither needed the Romans to take it from them. But considering satire as a species of poetry, here the war begins amongst the critics. Scaliger, the father, will have it descend from Greece to Rome; and derives the word "satire" from Satyrus, that mixed kind of animal (or, as the ancients thought him, rural god) made up betwixt a man and a goat, with a human head, hooked nose, pouting lips, a bunch or struma under the chin, pricked ears, and upright horns; the body shagged with hair, especially from the waist, and ending in a goat, with the legs and feet of that creature. But Casaubon and his followers, with reason, condemn this derivation, and prove that from Satyrus the word satira, as it signifies a poem, cannot possibly descend. For satira is not properly a substantive, but an adjective; to which the word lanx (in English a "charger" or "large platter") is understood: so that the Greek poem made according to the manners of a Satyr, and expressing his qualities, must properly be called satirical, and not satire. And thus far it is allowed that the Grecians had such poems, but that they were wholly different in species from that to which the Romans gave the name of satire.
Aristotle divides all poetry, in relation to the progress of it, into nature without art, art begun, and art completed. Mankind, even the most barbarous, have the seeds of poetry implanted in them. The first specimen of it was certainly shown in the praises of the Deity and prayers to Him; and as they are of natural obligation, so they are likewise of divine institution: which Milton observing, introduces Adam and Eve every morning adoring God in hymns and prayers. The first poetry was thus begun in the wild notes of natural poetry before the invention of feet and measures. The Grecians and Romans had no other original of their poetry. Festivals and holidays soon succeeded to private worship, and we need not doubt but they were enjoined by the true God to His own people, as they were afterwards imitated by the heathens; who by the light of reason knew they were to invoke some superior being in their necessities, and to thank him for his benefits. Thus the Grecian holidays were celebrated with offerings to Bacchus and Ceres and other deities, to whose bounty they supposed they were owing for their corn and wine and other helps of life. And the ancient Romans, as Horace tells us, paid their thanks to Mother Earth or Vesta, to Silvanus, and their Genius in the same manner. But as all festivals have a double reason of their institution—the first of religion, the other of recreation for the unbending of our minds—so both the Grecians and Romans agreed (after their sacrifices were performed) to spend the remainder of the day in sports and merriments; amongst which songs and dances, and that which they called wit (for want of knowing better), were the chiefest entertainments. The Grecians had a notion of Satyrs, whom I have already described; and taking them and the Sileni—that is, the young Satyrs and the old—for the tutors, attendants, and humble companions of their Bacchus, habited themselves like those rural deities, and imitated them in their rustic dances, to which they joined songs with some sort of rude harmony, but without certain numbers; and to these they added a kind of chorus.
The Romans also, as nature is the same in all places, though they knew nothing of those Grecian demi-gods, nor had any communication with Greece, yet had certain young men who at their festivals danced and sang after their uncouth manner to a certain kind of verse which they called Saturnian. What it was we have no certain light from antiquity to discover; but we may conclude that, like the Grecian, it was void of art, or, at least, with very feeble beginnings of it. Those ancient Romans at these holy days, which were a mixture of devotion and debauchery, had a custom of reproaching each other with their faults in a sort of extempore poetry, or rather of tunable hobbling verse, and they answered in the same kind of gross raillery—their wit and their music being of a piece. The Grecians, says Casaubon, had formerly done the same in the persons of their petulant Satyrs; but I am afraid he mistakes the matter, and confounds the singing and dancing of the Satyrs with the rustical entertainments of the first Romans. The reason of my opinion is this: that Casaubon finding little light from antiquity of these beginnings of poetry amongst the Grecians, but only these representations of Satyrs who carried canisters and cornucopias full of several fruits in their hands, and danced with them at their public feasts, and afterwards reading Horace, who makes mention of his homely Romans jesting at one another in the same kind of solemnities, might suppose those wanton Satyrs did the same; and especially because Horace possibly might seem to him to have shown the original of all poetry in general (including the Grecians as well as Romans), though it is plainly otherwise that he only described the beginning and first rudiments of poetry in his own country. The verses are these, which he cites from the First Epistle of the Second Book, which was written to Augustus:-
"Agricolae prisci, fortes, parvoque beati, Condita post frumenta, levantes tempore festo Corpus, et ipsum animum spe finis dura ferentem, Cum sociis operum, et pueris, et conjuge fida, Tellurem porco, Silvanum lacte piabant; Floribus et vino Genium memorem brevis aevi. Fescennina per hunc inventa licentia morem Versibus alternis opprobria rustica fudit."
"Our brawny clowns of old, who turned the soil, Content with little, and inured to toil, At harvest-home, with mirth and country cheer, Restored their bodies for another year, Refreshed their spirits, and renewed their hope Of such a future feast and future crop. Then with their fellow-joggers of the ploughs, Their little children, and their faithful spouse, A sow they slew to Vesta's deity, And kindly milk, Silvanus, poured to thee. With flowers and wine their Genius they adored; A short life and a merry was the word. From flowing cups defaming rhymes ensue, And at each other homely taunts they threw."
Yet since it is a hard conjecture that so great a man as Casaubon should misapply what Horace writ concerning ancient Rome to the ceremonies and manners of ancient Greece, I will not insist on this opinion, but rather judge in general that since all poetry had its original from religion, that of the Grecians and Rome had the same beginning. Both were invented at festivals of thanksgiving, and both were prosecuted with mirth and raillery and rudiments of verses; amongst the Greeks by those who represented Satyrs, and amongst the Romans by real clowns.
For, indeed, when I am reading Casaubon on these two subjects methinks I hear the same story told twice over with very little alteration. Of which Dacier, taking notice in his interpretation of the Latin verses which I have translated, says plainly that the beginning of poetry was the same, with a small variety, in both countries, and that the mother of it in all nations was devotion. But what is yet more wonderful, that most learned critic takes notice also, in his illustrations on the First Epistle of the Second Book, that as the poetry of the Romans and that of the Grecians had the same beginning at feasts and thanksgiving (as it has been observed), and the old comedy of the Greeks (which was invective) and the satire of the Romans (which was of the same nature) were begun on the very same occasion, so the fortune of both in process of time was just the same—the old comedy of the Grecians was forbidden for its too much licence in exposing of particular persons, and the rude satire of the Romans was also punished by a law of the Decemviri, as Horace tells us in these words:-
"Libertasque recurrentes accepta per annos Lusit amabiliter; donec jam saevus apertam In rabiem verti caepit jocus, et per honestas Ire domos impune minax: doluere cruento Dente lacessiti; fuit intactis quoque cura Conditione super communi: quinetiam lex, Paenaque lata, malo quae nollet carmine quenquam Describi: vertere modum, formidine fustis Ad benedicendum delectandumque redacti."
The law of the Decemviri was this: Siquis occentassit malum carmen, sive condidissit, quod infamiam faxit, flagitiumve alteri, capital esto. A strange likeness, and barely possible; but the critics being all of the same opinion, it becomes me to be silent and to submit to better judgments than my own.
But to return to the Grecians, from whose satiric dramas the elder Scaliger and Heinsius will have the Roman satire to proceed; I am to take a view of them first, and see if there be any such descent from them as those authors have pretended.
Thespis, or whoever he were that invented tragedy (for authors differ), mingled with them a chorus and dances of Satyrs which had before been used in the celebration of their festivals, and there they were ever afterwards retained. The character of them was also kept, which was mirth and wantonness; and this was given, I suppose, to the folly of the common audience, who soon grow weary of good sense, and, as we daily see in our own age and country, are apt to forsake poetry, and still ready to return to buffoonery and farce. From hence it came that in the Olympic Games, where the poets contended for four prizes, the satiric tragedy was the last of them, for in the rest the Satyrs were excluded from the chorus. Amongst the plays of Euripides which are yet remaining, there is one of these satirics, which is called The Cyclops, in which we may see the nature of those poems, and from thence conclude what likeness they have to the Roman satire.
The story of this Cyclops, whose name was Polyphemus (so famous in the Grecian fables), was that Ulysses, who with his company was driven on the coast of Sicily, where those Cyclops inhabited, coming to ask relief from Silenus and the Satyrs, who were herdsmen to that one-eyed giant, was kindly received by them, and entertained till, being perceived by Polyphemus, they were made prisoners against the rites of hospitality (for which Ulysses eloquently pleaded), were afterwards put down into the den, and some of them devoured; after which Ulysses (having made him drunk when he was asleep) thrust a great fire-brand into his eye, and so revenging his dead followers escaped with the remaining party of the living, and Silenus and the Satyrs were freed from their servitude under Polyphemus and remitted to their first liberty of attending and accompanying their patron Bacchus.
This was the subject of the tragedy, which, being one of those that end with a happy event, is therefore by Aristotle judged below the other sort, whose success is unfortunate; notwithstanding which, the Satyrs (who were part of the dramatis personae, as well as the whole chorus) were properly introduced into the nature of the poem, which is mixed of farce and tragedy. The adventure of Ulysses was to entertain the judging part of the audience, and the uncouth persons of Silenus and the Satyrs to divert the common people with their gross railleries.
Your lordship has perceived by this time that this satiric tragedy and the Roman satire have little resemblance in any of their features. The very kinds are different; for what has a pastoral tragedy to do with a paper of verses satirically written? The character and raillery of the Satyrs is the only thing that could pretend to a likeness, were Scaliger and Heinsius alive to maintain their opinion. And the first farces of the Romans, which were the rudiments of their poetry, were written before they had any communication with the Greeks, or indeed any knowledge of that people.
And here it will be proper to give the definition of the Greek satiric poem from Casaubon before I leave this subject. "The 'satiric,'" says he, "is a dramatic poem annexed to a tragedy having a chorus which consists of Satyrs. The persons represented in it are illustrious men, the action of it is great, the style is partly serious and partly jocular, and the event of the action most commonly is happy."
The Grecians, besides these satiric tragedies, had another kind of poem, which they called "silli," which were more of kin to the Roman satire. Those "silli" were indeed invective poems, but of a different species from the Roman poems of Ennius, Pacuvius, Lucilius, Horace, and the rest of their successors. "They were so called," says Casaubon in one place, "from Silenus, the foster- father of Bacchus;" but in another place, bethinking himself better, he derives their name [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] from their scoffing and petulancy. From some fragments of the "silli" written by Timon we may find that they were satiric poems, full of parodies; that is, of verses patched up from great poets, and turned into another sense than their author intended them. Such amongst the Romans is the famous Cento of Ausonius, where the words are Virgil's, but by applying them to another sense they are made a relation of a wedding-night, and the act of consummation fulsomely described in the very words of the most modest amongst all poets. Of the same manner are our songs which are turned into burlesque, and the serious words of the author perverted into a ridiculous meaning. Thus in Timon's "silli" the words are generally those of Homer and the tragic poets, but he applies them satirically to some customs and kinds of philosophy which he arraigns. But the Romans not using any of these parodies in their satires—sometimes indeed repeating verses of other men, as Persius cites some of Nero's, but not turning them into another meaning—the "silli" cannot be supposed to be the original of Roman satire. To these "silli," consisting of parodies, we may properly add the satires which were written against particular persons, such as were the iambics of Archilochus against Lycambes, which Horace undoubtedly imitated in some of his odes and epodes, whose titles bear sufficient witness of it: I might also name the invective of Ovid against Ibis, and many others. But these are the underwood of satire rather than the timber-trees; they are not of general extension, as reaching only to some individual person. And Horace seems to have purged himself from those splenetic reflections in those odes and epodes before he undertook the noble work of satires, which were properly so called.
Thus, my lord, I have at length disengaged myself from those antiquities of Greece, and have proved, I hope, from the best critics, that the Roman satire was not borrowed from thence, but of their own manufacture. I am now almost gotten into my depth; at least, by the help of Dacier, I am swimming towards it. Not that I will promise always to follow him, any more than he follows Casaubon; but to keep him in my eye as my best and truest guide; and where I think he may possibly mislead me, there to have recourse to my own lights, as I expect that others should do by me.
Quintilian says in plain words, Satira quidem tota nostra est; and Horace had said the same thing before him, speaking of his predecessor in that sort of poetry, et Graecis intacti carminis auctor. Nothing can be clearer than the opinion of the poet and the orator (both the best critics of the two best ages of the Roman empire), that satire was wholly of Latin growth, and not transplanted to Rome from Athens. Yet, as I have said, Scaliger the father, according to his custom (that is, insolently enough), contradicts them both, and gives no better reason than the derivation of satyrus from [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] salacitas; and so, from the lechery of those fauns, thinks he has sufficiently proved that satire is derived from them: as if wantonness and lubricity were essential to that sort of poem, which ought to be avoided in it. His other allegation, which I have already mentioned, is as pitiful—that the Satyrs carried platters and canisters full of fruit in their hands. If they had entered empty-handed, had they been ever the less Satyrs? Or were the fruits and flowers which they offered anything of kin to satire? or any argument that this poem was originally Grecian? Casaubon judged better, and his opinion is grounded on sure authority: that satire was derived from satura, a Roman word which signifies full and abundant, and full also of variety, in which nothing is wanting to its due perfection. It is thus, says Denier, that we say a full colour, when the wool has taken the whole tincture and drunk in as much of the dye as it can receive. According to this derivation, from setur comes satura or satira, according to the new spelling, as optumus and maxumus are now spelled optimus and maximus. Satura, as I have formerly noted, is an adjective, and relates to the word lanx, which is understood; and this lanx (in English a "charger" or "large platter") was yearly filled with all sorts of fruits, which were offered to the gods at their festivals as the premices or first gatherings. These offerings of several sorts thus mingled, it is true, were not unknown to the Grecians, who called them [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] a sacrifice of all sorts of fruits; and [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], when they offered all kinds of grain. Virgil has mentioned these sacrifices in his "Georgics":-
"Lancibus et pandis fumantia reddimus exta;"
and in another place, lancesque et liba feremus—that is, "We offer the smoking entrails in great platters; and we will offer the chargers and the cakes."
This word satura has been afterward applied to many other sorts of mixtures; as Festus calls it, a kind of olla or hotch-potch made of several sorts of meats. Laws were also called leges saturae when they were of several heads and titles, like our tacked Bills of Parliament; and per saturam legem ferre in the Roman senate was to carry a law without telling the senators, or counting voices, when they were in haste. Sallust uses the word, per saturam sententias exquirere, when the majority was visibly on one side. From hence it might probably be conjectured that the Discourses or Satires of Ennius, Lucilius, and Horace, as we now call them, took their name, because they are full of various matters, and are also written on various subjects—as Porphyrius says. But Dacier affirms that it is not immediately from thence that these satires are so called, for that name had been used formerly for other things which bore a nearer resemblance to those discourses of Horace; in explaining of which, continues Dacier, a method is to be pursued of which Casaubon himself has never thought, and which will put all things into so clear a light that no further room will be left for the least dispute.
During the space of almost four hundred years since the building of their city the Romans had never known any entertainments of the stage. Chance and jollity first found out those verses which they called Saturnian and Fescennine; or rather human nature, which is inclined to poetry, first produced them rude and barbarous and unpolished, as all other operations of the soul are in their beginnings before they are cultivated with art and study. However, in occasions of merriment, they were first practised; and this rough-cast, unhewn poetry was instead of stage-plays for the space of a hundred and twenty years together. They were made extempore, and were, as the French call them, impromptus; for which the Tarsians of old were much renowned, and we see the daily examples of them in the Italian farces of Harlequin and Scaramucha. Such was the poetry of that savage people before it was tuned into numbers and the harmony of verse. Little of the Saturnian verses is now remaining; we only know from authors that they were nearer prose than poetry, without feet or measure. They were [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] but not [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]. Perhaps they might be used in the solemn part of their ceremonies; and the Fescennine, which were invented after them, in their afternoons' debauchery, because they were scoffing and obscene.
The Fescennine and Saturnian were the same; for as they were called Saturnian from their ancientness, when Saturn reigned in Italy, they were also called Fescennine, from Fescennia, a town in the same country where they were first practised. The actors, with a gross and rustic kind of raillery, reproached each other with their failings, and at the same time were nothing sparing of it to their audience. Somewhat of this custom was afterwards retained in their Saturnalia, or Feasts of Saturn, celebrated in December; at least, all kind of freedom in speech was then allowed to slaves, even against their masters; and we are not without some imitation of it in our Christmas gambols. Soldiers also used those Fescennine verses, after measure and numbers had been added to them, at the triumph of their generals; of which we have an example in the triumph of Julius Caesar over Gaul in these expressions: Caesar Gallias subegit, Nicomedes Caesarem. Ecce Caesar nunc triumphat, qui subegit Gallias; Nicomedes non triumphat, qui subegit Caesarem. The vapours of wine made those first satirical poets amongst the Romans, which, says Dacier, we cannot better represent than by imagining a company of clowns on a holiday dancing lubberly and upbraiding one another in extempore doggerel with their defects and vices, and the stories that were told of them in bake-houses and barbers' shops.
When they began to be somewhat better bred, and were entering, as I may say, into the first rudiments of civil conversation, they left these hedge-notes for another sort of poem, somewhat polished, which was also full of pleasant raillery, but without any mixture of obscenity. This sort of poetry appeared under the name of "satire" because of its variety; and this satire was adorned with compositions of music, and with dances; but lascivious postures were banished from it. In the Tuscan language, says Livy, the word hister signifies a player; and therefore those actors which were first brought from Etruria to Rome on occasion of a pestilence, when the Romans were admonished to avert the anger of the gods by plays (in the year ab urbe condita CCCXC.)—those actors, I say, were therefore called histriones: and that name has since remained, not only to actors Roman born, but to all others of every nation. They played, not the former extempore stuff of Fescennine verses or clownish jests, but what they acted was a kind of civil cleanly farce, with music and dances, and motions that were proper to the subject.
In this condition Livius Andronicus found the stage when he attempted first, instead of farces, to supply it with a nobler entertainment of tragedies and comedies. This man was a Grecian born, and being made a slave by Livius Salinator, and brought to Rome, had the education of his patron's children committed to him, which trust he discharged so much to the satisfaction of his master that he gave him his liberty.
Andronicus, thus become a freeman of Rome, added to his own name that of Livius, his master; and, as I observed, was the first author of a regular play in that commonwealth. Being already instructed in his native country in the manners and decencies of the Athenian theatre, and conversant in the archaea comaedia or old comedy of Aristophanes and the rest of the Grecian poets, he took from that model his own designing of plays for the Roman stage, the first of which was represented in the year CCCCCXIV. since the building of Rome, as Tully, from the Commentaries of Atticus, has assured us; it was after the end of the first Punic War, the year before Atticus was born. Dacier has not carried the matter altogether thus far; he only says that one Livius Andronicus was the first stage-poet at Rome. But I will adventure on this hint to advance another proposition, which I hope the learned will approve; and though we have not anything of Andronicus remaining to justify my conjecture, yet it is exceeding probable that, having read the works of those Grecian wits, his countrymen, he imitated not only the groundwork, but also the manner of their writing; and how grave soever his tragedies might be, yet in his comedies he expressed the way of Aristophanes, Eupolis, and the rest, which was to call some persons by their own names, and to expose their defects to the laughter of the people (the examples of which we have in the fore-mentioned Aristophanes, who turned the wise Socrates into ridicule, and is also very free with the management of Cleon, Alcibiades, and other ministers of the Athenian government). Now if this be granted, we may easily suppose that the first hint of satirical plays on the Roman stage was given by the Greeks—not from the satirica, for that has been reasonably exploded in the former part of this discourse— but from their old comedy, which was imitated first by Livius Andronicus. And then Quintilian and Horace must be cautiously interpreted, where they affirm that satire is wholly Roman, and a sort of verse which was not touched on by the Grecians. The reconcilement of my opinion to the standard of their judgment is not, however, very difficult, since they spoke of satire, not as in its first elements, but as it was formed into a separate work—begun by Ennius, pursued by Lucilius, and completed afterwards by Horace. The proof depends only on this postalatum—that the comedies of Andronicus, which were imitations of the Greek, were also imitations of their railleries and reflections on particular persons. For if this be granted me, which is a most probable supposition, it is easy to infer that the first light which was given to the Roman theatrical satire was from the plays of Livius Andronicus, which will be more manifestly discovered when I come to speak of Ennius. In the meantime I will return to Dacier.