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EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No XXXIV.

JANUARY 1820.

VOL. VI.

ON THE PROGRESSIVE CHANGE OF POETICAL STYLE.

Ut unus ab illis numeretur Annus, omnes annos suos conterent.

SENECA.

The progressive change of poetical exaggerate their defects. The Augustan style, as connected with the reputation age has been too exclusively talked of the poets of different ages, is a deli- about. We have been too bigotted cate theme. It involves the develope- adorers of the poetic spirit, the simment of some niceties; the examination plicity, and the subdued beauty of of some prejudices; and, what is worst, Virgil, Horace, and the other emithe contradiction of some assertions. nent poets their contemporaries. It The importance of the subject may cannot, certainly, be denied, that the perhaps hardly appear commensurate poetry of their period, presents an agwith its minuteness of detail. It can- gregate of excellence which it may be not however be unimportant to have difficult to parallel. For this, howsomething like clear ideas on a matter ever, it is more or less indebted to the which has affected, and will affect, the favourable circumstances under which polite literature of this, and every it was written; nor does it by any other European country.

means follow that these poets were In commencing the present sketch, possessed of genius eminently suit would seem to be needless to go perior to those, either of their own or further back than the Augustan age, of other countries, who have succeedas including the earliest and the best ed them. The commencement of the of what we know of the Roman poetry. poetical literature of all nations, proThe progress of the Greek literature bably exhibits something like this. was early interrupted by political chan- That it has been the case with English ges. From the age of Æschylus to the poetry, is attempted to be shewn in battle of Chæronæa, is comprehended the course of these remarks. It is only the short interval of ninety-eight indeed natural to expect that the years. In about double that time after- earlier efforts of poetry should be upon wards, the Romans began those aggres- the whole the most happy; and for sions, which ended in the second subju- this plain reason, that in poetry as in gation of Greece. To Rome the bestfruit every thing else, originality is much of this conquest was the cultivation of easier when there has been no one to Greek literature, of which the Roman anticipate its sources. The earlier is indeed a sort of continuation. The poets, Terence, Lucretius, Virgil, and Latin authors condescended to imitate Horace, stood upon the most advanthose models which they could not hope tageous ground. The Latin language to surpass; and such was the begin. had just attained to a polished reguning of the Augustan age, the splendourlarity-the rude and comparatively of which has diminished that of all antiquated versification of Ennius, and after literature, and in a great measure of one or two others whose names are blinded posterity to the excellencies now scarcely known, was all with of succeeding authors; whilst, as sha- which they had to contend. The fields dows are strongest in an imperfect of poetry were open to them, and they light, it has at the same time led us to culled the flowers which grew at their VOL. VI.

? Z

the poet.

feet. Originality and simplicity then virtue of Italy. From this time the went hand in hand.

writers are few, and scattered at long This, it is quite obvious, could not intervals over a dreary and neglected last long. In proportion as simple tract. The reigns of succeeding emimagery and sentiment were pre- perors, down to Vespasian and Titus, occupied, artificial combinations be- exhibit little else than the annals of came necessary. The change in the 'cruelty and sensuality; and a poet appoetical style is apparent, accordingly, pears like an oasis of the desert green even in the younger writers of the age in the midst of a scorched and sandy of Augustus. Ovid and Propertius waste. That tendency to the artificial exhibit many marks of what Quin- style, which began with Ovid, attaintilian has described as the depravity of ed, in the hands of Seneca, to all the the Latin style. That quaintness of madness of metaphor and antithesis. expression, pointedness of sentence, Examples of these figures are indeed and elaborate metaphor, in which this to be found in almost every sentence depravily is thought to consist, are of his prose writings, and of the few best known from a selection of passages verses he has left. It is perhaps superwhich contain them. In the few ex- fluous to remark, that the heavy and ampies here given, such are attempted tasteless tragedies under the name of to be selected as embody the peculiari- Seneca are generally thought to be ties of the style of the age, at the same falsely attributed to the tutor of Nero. time that they illustrate the genius of In his poetical lamentations on his

banishment, he quaintly alludes to the Propertius was one of the latest solitude of Corsica. writers of the Augustan age.

He died “ Hic, sola hæc duo sunt, Exul et exilium," young, and his remains have been less And in conclusion of a deprecatory esteemed than they deserve to be, pro- address to the rugged genius of the bably because they are somewhat more place, thus singstinctured with the peculiarities of the Parce religatis, hoc est jam parce sepultis,

" Vivorum cineri sit tua terra levis-," artificial style than those of his contemporaries. He certainly has not the

This taste in the usual course of genius of Ovid, to excuse his want of things soon became subject to a reacsimplicity, to those who make it the tion. It was a permanent one, and first criterion of excellence. Neither the writers from that time downwards has he the equable and plaintive flow

are comparatively moderate in the apa of Tibullus : but his elegies exhibit plication of artificial embellishment, occasional bursts of poetry, superior only using it in proportion as they are perhaps to any thing in those of his compelled to do so by the increasing rival. The following passage may necessities of originality. afford some idea of the capabilities of

Lucan was about twenty five years the poet, as well as of the turn of his younger than Seneca. It is needless style.

to dilate upon the well-known char

acteristics of this admirable poet. He Quicumque ille fuit Puerum qui pinxit Amorem, Nonne putas miras hunc habuisse manus ?

has been, perhaps justly, accused of a Hic primum vidit sine sensu vivere amantes tendency to bombast. The Pharsalia, Et levibus curis magna perire bona. Idem non frustra ventosas addidit alas,

however, as a whole, has a well-susFecit et humano corde volare deum ;

tained tone of lofty stoicism, and conScilicet alterna quoniam jactamur in unda, Nostraque non ullis permanet aura locis ;

tains many passages of a force and Et merito hamatis manus est armata sagittis energy which have not often been Et pharetra exhumero Gnossia utroque jacet; Anteferit quoniam, tuti quam cernimus hostem surpassed. It may perhaps be but a Nec quisquam, ex illo vulnere, sanus abit. doubtful compliment, that the sceptiIn me tela manent, manet et puerilis imago, Sed certe pennas perdidit ille suas ;

cal Pere Hardouin, who has disputed Evolat heu ! nostro quoniam de pectore nunquam the guthenticity of most of the classics, Assiduusque meo sanguine bella gerit.

Lib. ii. Eleg. xii. concedes that of Lucan. His language Though generally elegant, however, is much more artificial, and includes and occasionally tender, he is haunted more apparent effort than that of the with a sort of pedantry, which some

best poets of the Augustan period. times weighs down his genius.

His complimentary line to Cato is During the latter portion of the celebrated, reign of Tiberius, began that course Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.” of tyranny and debauchery, which This, however, is not the only comoverlaid and poisoned the genius and pliment he has paid to the Patriot. The following fine panegyrical ex

The character is well kept up ;clamations are put into the mouth of his persuasion that he was fated to Brutus.

conquer Rome,-his joy at the omens " Quid, tot durasse per annos, in his favour, and his disregard of Profuit, immunem corrupti moribus ævi ? Hoc solum longæ pretium virtutis habebis,

them when against him,-his intense Accipient alios, facient te bella nocentem." love of Fame and loathing of peaceful

Lib. ii. He thus eulogizes the customary obscuritysuicides of a certain tribe, auxiliaries

“Quantum, enim, distant a morte silentia Vitæ?" of Pompey.

The passage of the Alps is, in some ** Proh? quanta est gloria Genti places, highly wrought. Indeed it Injecisse manum Fatis, vitaque repletos,

seems to be one of the peculiarities of Quod superest donasse Deis!

Lib. iii. Having related the rout of Pom- this poet to give a sort of dramatic, or pey's army, he breaks into these ex- even theatrical effect to some of his clamations; the change of tense from descriptions of natural scenery. the third to the first person plural is

The following passage is remarkastriking, and the concluding thought ble, not only as being a proc i of th strong, and perhaps a little too daring. strong and pointed metaphorical ex “ Vincimur his gladiis omnis, quæ serviet, ætas;

pression of which Silius Italicus was Proxima quid Soboles, aut quid meruere nepotes capable, but also as affording a strikIn regnum nasci ? pavidi num gessimus arma? Teximus aut jugulos ? -— Alieni poena timoris ing example of that change of style In nostra cervice sedlet: post proelia natis, which the necessity of originality forces Si dominum, Fortuna, dabas, et bella dedisses.

Silius Italicus has of all the Latin upon poets. The Alpine solitudes are poets met with the worst usage and referred to. the greatest neglect.

" Has observatis Valles enavimus astris ; The injudicious

Namque dies confundit iter, peditemque profundo plan of his poem, on the second Punic Errantem Campo, et semper media arva videntem, war, has in part been the cause. A

Sidoniis Cynosura regit fidissima nautis.” Lib. iii. work of seventeen books, and consist

Lucan, in his account of Cato's ing of no great single action, but a

march through the Lybian Desert, mounting to something very like what, had already said, “ sideribus novere upon a smaller scale, had been called viam.” Silius strengthens this passage

a Gazette in rhyme,” has dreariness by the “ enavimus,” which is « in the very outset. Added to this has bold word,” and by additional circumbeen the operation of that criticism

stances. which, to the occasional boldness of The brave obstinacy of Flaminius, Silius, prefers the exaggerated charac- who fights at lake Thrasimene, against ters and feebler style of Statius. Si- all augury, and under the most unlius Italicus has too easily indulged in favourable circumstances, is pourtraythe pleasure of composition. He was

ed in lively colours. Describing the a man of wealth and leisure; and disorder of the Roman troops, hurrywhen a great man chooses to relax him- ing to the onset, he says, self in verse, few critics are ill-bred Implere, et pugnan, fugientum more petebant."

-Præsago cuncta tumultu enough to hint the possibility of prolixity. Had he concentrated the and the audacious Consul, in defiance powers, which he has lavished upon

of dissuading Omens, exclaims his voluminous Epic, into a poem of Augur adest, Ensis .

-Sat magnus in hostem the fourth of the length, he would The rout at Canne, which, though have stood high as a poet. A very few infinitely more disastrous, includes extracts will amply prove this. His less picturesque circumstance, is expressions are sometimes very bold, less successfully treated. The diffi though his force, upon the whole, is culty of transferring the interest from much less than that of Lucan. The Hannibal to Fabius, Scipio, and othopening presents a forcible description ers, who, after the decline of his for. of Hannibal, the Hector of the poem. tunes, became “ lords of the ascend“ Ingenio motus avidus fideique sinister

ant," takes much of thcir attraction Is fuit, exuberans astu, sed devius æqui; Armato nullus Divum pudor; improba virtus

from the latter books of the poem. Et pacis despect us honos ; penitusque medullis

The following lines may be quoted, as Sanguinis humani tiagrat sitis : insuper ævi Flore virens, avet Egales abolere parentům having that sort of theatrical effect Dedecus, ac Siculo demergere foedera ponto.

which has been already adverted to :Jamque, aut nocturno penetrat Capitolia visu, Aut, rapidus, fertur per summas passibus Alpes,

“Hinc rupti reboare poli, atque hinc crebra micare Sæpe etiam famuli, turbato ad lumina somno,

Fulmina, et in classem ruere impacabile coelum." Expavere trucem, per vasta silentia, vocem; Ac largo sudore virum invenere, futuras

The poems of Statius have been alMiscentem pugnas, et inania bella gerentem.

Lib. i. ready mentioned. Pope has conde.

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Lib. V.

Lib. v.

Lib. XVII.

scended to translate the first book of " Dic mihi, Calliope, tanto cur tempore differs

Pierio meritam serto redimire Serenam? his Thebais, and to give an English Vile putas donum, solitam consurgere gemmis version of the melodious mediocrity of

Et rubro radiare mari, si floribus ornes

Reginæ regina comarn ?--sed floribus illis his original. All Latin verse, how.

Quos neque frigoribus Boreas, nec Sirius urit ever, is melodious; and to this excel- Aestibus, eterno sed veris honore rubentes

Fons Aganippeå Permessius educat unda lence, which he possesses in common Unde piæ pascuntur apes, et prata legentes with the rest of his poetical country

Transmittunt sæclis Héliconia mella futuris." men, Statius has added little of his

On the nuptials of Honorius, the own,

gay poet informs the young brideFrom this period down to Claudian, groom, « all is void," poetically speaking, for, "Non quisquam fruitur veris honoribus

Hyblæos latebris nec spoliat favos, excepting by scholars, Ausonius is not

Si fronte caveat, si timeat rubos: resorted to, and Prudentius scarcely Armat spina rosas ; mella tegunt apes ;

Crescunt difficili guadia jurgio;. ranks as a classic that poet being a Ascendit

que magis quæ refugit Venus; Christian. In annals which are filled Quod flenti tuleris, plus sapit esculum.” with wars abroad and brutality at home,

Fescennina. there is no room for literature. The

In the poem on the enterprise of leaf coloured red is, in the eye of rea

Rufinus, the half-suppressed inquieson, as much a blank as that which is tude of the people is described in a left untouched. Whilst every thing simile, of which the exquisite lanestimable was retrograde, corruption of guage is fully equal to the evident manners advanced with accelerated justice of the comparison :

" Ceu murmurat alti progress. Juvenal had said, in his Impacata quies pelagi, cum, flamino fracto, strong way,

Durat adhuc sævitque tumor, dubiumque per estun “Occurrunt multæ tibi Belides, atque Eriphylæ :

Lassa recedentis fluitant vestigia ventiMane' Clytemnestram nullus non vicus habebit"

In Ruf. Lib. I. and Silius Italicus elegantly and feel. Rufinus is slain and hacked in pieces, ingly alludes to the same deterioration. and his limbs scattered about,

“ Pulvere raro, He is describing the conduct of the

Per partes tegitur, nusquam totiesque sepultus." Romans after the defeat at Cannæ,

Lib. II. “ Hæc tum Roma fuit; post te, cui vertere mores The next passage is singular, as beSi stabat fatis, potius, Carthago, maneres !"

ing in anticipation of the Linnean The poetry of Claudian is like the last lamp which, after a long interval, ed a hint to Darwin.

System. It may possibly have affordseems to bid us adieu, in our egress

“ Vivunt in Venerem frondes; omnisque vicissim from some city where we are leaving Felix arbor amat : nutant ad mutua Palme

Foedera; Populeo suspirat Populus ictu ; the brilliancy of palaces, and the illu

Et Platani Platanis, Alnoque assibilat Alnus." minated haunts of elegant civilization.

Epithal. de nupt. Hon. & Mar. He is one of the most polished of The following description of the inpoets ; nor does his polish detract any fant Sun is pushed, though elegantly, thing from his strength. His satirical to an extreme of quaintness. It is passages are as free from coarseness as one of his few faulty passages : his gayest strains: and, as the finest “* Invalidum dextro portat Titana lacerto,

Nondum luce gravem, nec pubescentibus alte scymitars are said to be tempered with

Cristatum radiisperfume, they, perhaps, cut deeper

Rapt, Pros. Lib. I. from the delicacy employed in their After Claudian there is no Roman formation. The obscurity of the poet of note. The intellect and learnevents which constitute the subjects ing of the times were rapidly absorbed of most of his pieces, is a great disad- by. theological poleinics of a descripvantage. We are with difficulty in- tion which, in their operation, seem terested by that of which we know to have darkened rather than enlightlittle. The Trojan war, and the for- ened the minds of the disputants. tunes of the first Cæsars, are familiar Such was the twilight which preceded to all; but who knows or cares about the night of the middle ages. the virtues of Stilicho, or the defeat of The foregoing extracts have gone so Rufinus ?

far in shewing that, after the AugusThis poet abounds, above all the tan age, the paucity of poets is probaLatin poets, in point and antithesis. bly to be attributed to the noxious inHis points, however, are always ele- fluence of a corrupted and distracted gant; although perhaps pushed, in a empire; and that the efforts which few instances, to absolute quaintness. were actually made, exhibit proofs of

The opening of the Panegyric on genius and taste, which, had they Serena, is a beautiful effort:

been reserved for a happier period,

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