Discourses on Satire and Epic Poetry
John Dryden

Part 1 out of 4

This etext was prepared by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk
from the 1888 Cassell & Company edition.


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.

H. M.


My Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The people, says he, ran in crowds to these new entertainments of
Andronicus, as to pieces which were more noble in their kind, and
more perfect than their former satires, which for some time they
neglected and abandoned; but not long after they took them up again,
and then they joined them to their comedies, playing them at the end
of every drama, as the French continue at this day to act their
farces, in the nature of a separate entertainment from their
tragedies. But more particularly they were joined to the "Atellane"
fables, says Casaubon; which were plays invented by the Osci. Those
fables, says Valerius Maximus, out of Livy, were tempered with the
Italian severity, and free from any note of infamy or obsceneness;
and, as an old commentator on Juvenal affirms, the Exodiarii, which
were singers and dancers, entered to entertain the people with light
songs and mimical gestures, that they might not go away oppressed
with melancholy from those serious pieces of the theatre. So that
the ancient satire of the Romans was in extempore reproaches; the
next was farce, which was brought from Tuscany; to that succeeded
the plays of Andronicus, from the old comedy of the Grecians; and
out of all these sprang two several branches of new Roman satire,
like different scions from the same root, which I shall prove with
as much brevity as the subject will allow.

A year after Andronicus had opened the Roman stage with his new
dramas, Ennius was born; who, when he was grown to man's estate,
having seriously considered the genius of the people, and how
eagerly they followed the first satires, thought it would be worth
his pains to refine upon the project, and to write satires, not to
be acted on the theatre, but read. He preserved the groundwork of
their pleasantry, their venom, and their raillery on particular
persons and general vices; and by this means, avoiding the danger of
any ill success in a public representation, he hoped to be as well
received in the cabinet as Andronicus had been upon the stage. The
event was answerable to his expectation. He made discourses in
several sorts of verse, varied often in the same paper, retaining
still in the title their original name of satire. Both in relation
to the subjects, and the variety of matters contained in them, the
satires of Horace are entirely like them; only Ennius, as I said,
confines not himself to one sort of verse, as Horace does, but
taking example from the Greeks, and even from Homer himself in his
"Margites" (which is a kind of satire, as Scaliger observes), gives
himself the licence, when one sort of numbers comes not easily, to
run into another, as his fancy dictates; for he makes no difficulty
to mingle hexameters with iambic trimeters or with trochaic
tetrameters, as appears by those fragments which are yet remaining
of him. Horace has thought him worthy to be copied, inserting many
things of his into his own satires, as Virgil has done into his

Here we have Dacier making out that Ennius was the first satirist in
that way of writing, which was of his invention--that is, satire
abstracted from the stage and new modelled into papers of verses on
several subjects. But he will have Ennius take the groundwork of
satire from the first farces of the Romans rather than from the
formed plays of Livius Andronicus, which were copied from the
Grecian comedies. It may possibly be so; but Dacier knows no more
of it than I do. And it seems to me the more probable opinion that
he rather imitated the fine railleries of the Greeks, which he saw
in the pieces of Andronicus, than the coarseness of his own
countrymen in their clownish extemporary way of jeering.

But besides this, it is universally granted that Ennius, though an
Italian, was excellently learned in the Greek language. His verses
were stuffed with fragments of it, even to a fault; and he himself
believed, according to the Pythagorean opinion, that the soul of
Homer was transfused into him, which Persius observes in his sixth
satire--postquam destertuit esse Maeonides. But this being only the
private opinion of so inconsiderable a man as I am, I leave it to
the further disquisition of the critics, if they think it worth
their notice. Most evident it is that, whether he imitated the
Roman farce or the Greek comedies, he is to be acknowledged for the
first author of Roman satire, as it is properly so called, and
distinguished from any sort of stage-play.

Of Pacuvius, who succeeded him, there is little to be said, because
there is so little remaining of him; only that he is taken to be the
nephew of Ennius, his sister's son; that in probability he was
instructed by his uncle in his way of satire, which we are told he
has copied; but what advances he made, we know not.

Lucilius came into the world when Pacuvius flourished most. He also
made satires after the manner of Ennius; but he gave them a more
graceful turn, and endeavoured to imitate more closely the vetus
comaedia of the Greeks, of the which the old original Roman satire
had no idea till the time of Livius Andronicus. And though Horace
seems to have made Lucilius the first author of satire in verse
amongst the Romans in these words -

"Quid? cum est Lucilius auses
Primus in hunc operis componere carmina morem" -

he is only thus to be understood--that Lucilius had given a more
graceful turn to the satire of Ennius and Pacuvius, not that he
invented a new satire of his own; and Quintilian seems to explain
this passage of Horace in these words: Satira quidem tota nostra
est; in qua primus insignem laudem adeptus est Luciluis.

Thus both Horace and Quintilian give a kind of primacy of honour to
Lucilius amongst the Latin satirists; for as the Roman language grew
more refined, so much more capable it was of receiving the Grecian
beauties, in his time. Horace and Quintilian could mean no more
than that Lucilius writ better than Ennius and Pacuvius, and on the
same account we prefer Horace to Lucilius. Both of them imitated
the old Greek comedy; and so did Ennius and Pacuvius before them.
The polishing of the Latin tongue, in the succession of times, made
the only difference; and Horace himself in two of his satires,
written purposely on this subject, thinks the Romans of his age were
too partial in their commendations of Lucilius, who writ not only
loosely and muddily, with little art and much less care, but also in
a time when the Latin tongue was not yet sufficiently purged from
the dregs of barbarism; and many significant and sounding words
which the Romans wanted were not admitted even in the times of
Lucretius and Cicero, of which both complain.

But to proceed: Dacier justly taxes Casaubon for saying that the
satires of Lucilius were wholly different in species from those of
Ennius and Pacuvius, Casaubon was led into that mistake by Diomedes
the grammarian, who in effect says this:- "Satire amongst the Romans
but not amongst the Greeks, was a biting invective poem, made after
the model of the ancient comedy, for the reprehension of vices; such
as were the poems of Lucilius, of Horace, and of Persius. But in
former times the name of satire was given to poems which were
composed of several sorts of verses, such as were made by Ennius and
Pacuvius"--more fully expressing the etymology of the word satire
from satura, which we have observed. Here it is manifest that
Diomedes makes a specifical distinction betwixt the satires of
Ennius and those of Lucilius. But this, as we say in English, is
only a distinction without a difference; for the reason of it is
ridiculous and absolutely false. This was that which cozened honest
Casaubon, who, relying on Diomedes, had not sufficiently examined
the origin and nature of those two satires, which were entirely the
same both in the matter and the form; for all that Lucilius
performed beyond his predecessors, Ennius and Pacuvius, was only the
adding of more politeness and more salt, without any change in the
substance of the poem. And though Lucilius put not together in the
same satire several sorts of verses, as Ennius did, yet he composed
several satires of several sorts of verses, and mingled them with
Greek verses: one poem consisted only of hexameters, and another
was entirely of iambics; a third of trochaics; as is visible by the
fragments yet remaining of his works. In short, if the satires of
Lucilius are therefore said to be wholly different from those of
Ennius because he added much more of beauty and polishing to his own
poems than are to be found in those before him, it will follow from
hence that the satires of Horace are wholly different from those of
Lucilius, because Horace has not less surpassed Lucilius in the
elegancy of his writing than Lucilius surpassed Ennius in the turn
and ornament of his. This passage of Diomedes has also drawn Dousa
the son into the same error of Casaubon, which I say, not to expose
the little failings of those judicious men, but only to make it
appear with how much diffidence and caution we are to read their
works when they treat a subject of so much obscurity and so very
ancient as is this of satire.

Having thus brought down the history of satire from its original to
the times of Horace, and shown the several changes of it, I should
here discover some of those graces which Horace added to it, but
that I think it will be more proper to defer that undertaking till I
make the comparison betwixt him and Juvenal. In the meanwhile,
following the order of time, it will be necessary to say somewhat of
another kind of satire which also was descended from the ancient; it
is that which we call the Varronian satire (but which Varro himself
calls the Menippean) because Varro, the most learned of the Romans,
was the first author of it, who imitated in his works the manners of
Menippus the Gadarenian, who professed the philosophy of the Cynics.

This sort of satire was not only composed of several sorts of verse,
like those of Ennius, but was also mixed with prose, and Greek was
sprinkled amongst the Latin. Quintilian, after he had spoken of the
satire of Lucilius, adds what follows:- "There is another and former
kind of satire, composed by Terentius Varro, the most learned of the
Romans, in which he was not satisfied alone with mingling in it
several sorts of verse." The only difficulty of this passage is
that Quintilian tells us that this satire of Varro was of a former
kind; for how can we possibly imagine this to be, since Varro, who
was contemporary to Cicero, must consequently be after Lucilius?
But Quintilian meant not that the satire of Varro was in order of
time before Lucilius; he would only give us to understand that the
Varronian satire, with mixture of several sorts of verses, was more
after the manner of Ennius and Pacuvius than that of Lucilius, who
was more severe and more correct, and gave himself less liberty in
the mixture of his verses in the same poem.

We have nothing remaining of those Varronian satires excepting some
inconsiderable fragments, and those for the most part much
corrupted. The tithes of many of them are indeed preserved, and
they are generally double; from whence, at least, we may understand
how many various subjects were treated by that author. Tully in his
"Academics" introduces Varro himself giving us some light concerning
the scope and design of those works; wherein, after he had shown his
reasons why he did not ex professo write of philosophy, he adds what
follows:- "Notwithstanding," says he, "that those pieces of mine
wherein I have imitated Menippus, though I have not translated him,
are sprinkled with a kind of mirth and gaiety, yet many things are
there inserted which are drawn from the very entrails of philosophy,
and many things severely argued which I have mingled with
pleasantries on purpose that they may more easily go down with the
common sort of unlearned readers." The rest of the sentence is so
lame that we can only make thus much out of it--that in the
composition of his satires he so tempered philology with philosophy
that his work was a mixture of them both. And Tully himself
confirms us in this opinion when a little after he addresses himself
to Varro in these words:- "And you yourself have composed a most
elegant and complete poem; you have begun philosophy in many places;
sufficient to incite us, though too little to instruct us." Thus it
appears that Varro was one of those writers whom they called [Greek
text which cannot be reproduced] (studious of laughter); and that,
as learned as he was, his business was more to divert his reader
than to teach him. And he entitled his own satires Menippean; not
that Menippus had written any satires (for his were either dialogues
or epistles), but that Varro imitated his style, his manner, and his
facetiousness. All that we know further of Menippus and his
writings, which are wholly lost, is that by some he is esteemed, as,
amongst the rest, by Varro; by others he is noted of cynical
impudence and obscenity; that he was much given to those parodies
which I have already mentioned (that is, he often quoted the verses
of Homer and the tragic poets, and turned their serious meaning into
something that was ridiculous); whereas Varro's satires are by Tully
called absolute, and most elegant and various poems. Lucian, who
was emulous of this Menippus, seems to have imitated both his
manners and his style in many of his dialogues, where Menippus
himself is often introduced as a speaker in them and as a perpetual
buffoon; particularly his character is expressed in the beginning of
that dialogue which is called [Greek text which cannot be
reproduced]. But Varro in imitating him avoids his impudence and
filthiness, and only expresses his witty pleasantry.

This we may believe for certain--that as his subjects were various,
so most of them were tales or stories of his own invention; which is
also manifest from antiquity by those authors who are acknowledged
to have written Varronian satires in imitation of his--of whom the
chief is Petronius Arbiter, whose satire, they say, is now printing
in Holland, wholly recovered, and made complete; when it is made
public, it will easily be seen by any one sentence whether it be
supposititious or genuine. Many of Lucian's dialogues may also
properly be called Varronian satires, particularly his true history;
and consequently the "Golden Ass" of Apuleius, which is taken from
him. Of the same stamp is the mock deification of Claudius by
Seneca, and the Symposium or "Caesars" of Julian the Emperor.
Amongst the moderns we may reckon the "Encomium Moriae" of Erasmus,
Barclay's "Euphormio," and a volume of German authors which my
ingenious friend Mr. Charles Killigrew once lent me. In the English
I remember none which are mixed with prose as Varro's were; but of
the same kind is "Mother Hubbard's Tale" in Spenser, and (if it be
not too vain to mention anything of my own) the poems of "Absalom"
and "MacFlecnoe."

This is what I have to say in general of satire: only, as Dacier
has observed before me, we may take notice that the word satire is
of a more general signification in Latin than in French or English;
for amongst the Romans it was not only used for those discourses
which decried vice or exposed folly, but for others also, where
virtue was recommended. But in our modern languages we apply it
only to invective poems, where the very name of satire is formidable
to those persons who would appear to the world what they are not in
themselves; for in English, to say satire is to mean reflection, as
we use that word in the worst sense; or as the French call it, more
properly, medisance. In the criticism of spelling, it ought to be
with i, and not with y, to distinguish its true derivation from
satura, not from Satyrus; and if this be so, then it is false
spelled throughout this book, for here it is written "satyr," which
having not considered at the first, I thought it not worth
correcting afterwards. But the French are more nice, and never
spell it any otherwise than "satire."

I am now arrived at the most difficult part of my undertaking, which
is to compare Horace with Juvenal and Persius. It is observed by
Rigaltius in his preface before Juvenal, written to Thuanus, that
these three poets have all their particular partisans and favourers.
Every commentator, as he has taken pains with any of them, thinks
himself obliged to prefer his author to the other two; to find out
their failings, and decry them, that he may make room for his own
darling. Such is the partiality of mankind, to set up that interest
which they have once espoused, though it be to the prejudice of
truth, morality, and common justice, and especially in the
productions of the brain. As authors generally think themselves the
best poets, because they cannot go out of themselves to judge
sincerely of their betters, so it is with critics, who, having first
taken a liking to one of these poets, proceed to comment on him and
to illustrate him; after which they fall in love with their own
labours to that degree of blind fondness that at length they defend
and exalt their author, not so much for his sake as for their own.
It is a folly of the same nature with that of the Romans themselves
in their games of the circus. The spectators were divided in their
factions betwixt the Veneti and the Prasini; some were for the
charioteer in blue, and some for him in green. The colours
themselves were but a fancy; but when once a man had taken pains to
set out those of his party, and had been at the trouble of procuring
voices for them, the case was altered: he was concerned for his own
labour, and that so earnestly that disputes and quarrels,
animosities, commotions, and bloodshed often happened; and in the
declension of the Grecian empire, the very sovereigns themselves
engaged in it, even when the barbarians were at their doors, and
stickled for the preference of colours when the safety of their
people was in question. I am now myself on the brink of the same
precipice; I have spent some time on the translation of Juvenal and
Persius, and it behoves me to be wary, lest for that reason I should
be partial to them, or take a prejudice against Horace. Yet on the
other side I would not be like some of our judges, who would give
the cause for a poor man right or wrong; for though that be an error
on the better hand, yet it is still a partiality, and a rich man
unheard cannot be concluded an oppressor. I remember a saying of
King Charles II. on Sir Matthew Hale (who was doubtless an uncorrupt
and upright man), that his servants were sure to be cast on any
trial which was heard before him; not that he thought the judge was
possibly to be bribed, but that his integrity might be too
scrupulous, and that the causes of the Crown were always suspicious
when the privileges of subjects were concerned.

It had been much fairer if the modern critics who have embarked in
the quarrels of their favourite authors had rather given to each his
proper due without taking from another's heap to raise their own.
There is praise enough for each of them in particular, without
encroaching on his fellows, and detracting from them or enriching
themselves with the spoils of others. But to come to particulars:
Heinsius and Dacier are the most principal of those who raise Horace
above Juvenal and Persius. Scaliger the father, Rigaltius, and many
others debase Horace that they may set up Juvenal; and Casaubon, who
is almost single, throws dirt on Juvenal and Horace that he may
exalt Persius, whom he understood particularly well, and better than
any of his former commentators, even Stelluti, who succeeded him. I
will begin with him who, in my opinion, defends the weakest cause,
which is that of Persius; and labouring, as Tacitus professes of his
own writing, to divest myself of partiality or prejudice, consider
Persius, not as a poet whom I have wholly translated, and who has
cost me more labour and time than Juvenal, but according to what I
judge to be his own merit, which I think not equal in the main to
that of Juvenal or Horace, and yet in some things to be preferred to
both of them.

First, then, for the verse; neither Casaubon himself, nor any for
him, can defend either his numbers or the purity of his Latin.
Casaubon gives this point for lost, and pretends not to justify
either the measures or the words of Persius; he is evidently beneath
Horace and Juvenal in both.

Then, as his verse is scabrous and hobbling, and his words not
everywhere well chosen (the purity of Latin being more corrupted
than in the time of Juvenal, and consequently of Horace, who wrote
when the language was in the height of its perfection), so his
diction is hard, his figures are generally too bold and daring, and
his tropes, particularly his metaphors, insufferably strained.

In the third place, notwithstanding all the diligence of Casaubon,
Stelluti, and a Scotch gentleman whom I have heard extremely
commended for his illustrations of him, yet he is still obscure;
whether he affected not to be understood but with difficulty; or
whether the fear of his safety under Nero compelled him to this
darkness in some places, or that it was occasioned by his close way
of thinking, and the brevity of his style and crowding of his
figures; or lastly, whether after so long a time many of his words
have been corrupted, and many customs and stories relating to them
lost to us; whether some of these reasons, or all, concurred to
render him so cloudy, we may be bold to affirm that the best of
commentators can but guess at his meaning in many passages, and none
can be certain that he has divined rightly.

After all he was a young man, like his friend and contemporary
Lucan--both of them men of extraordinary parts and great acquired
knowledge, considering their youth; but neither of them had arrived
to that maturity of judgment which is necessary to the accomplishing
of a formed poet. And this consideration, as on the one hand it
lays some imperfections to their charge, so on the other side it is
a candid excuse for those failings which are incident to youth and
inexperience; and we have more reason to wonder how they, who died
before the thirtieth year of their age, could write so well and
think so strongly, than to accuse them of those faults from which
human nature (and more especially in youth) can never possibly be

To consider Persius yet more closely: he rather insulted over vice
and folly than exposed them like Juvenal and Horace; and as chaste
and modest as he is esteemed, it cannot be denied but that in some
places he is broad and fulsome, as the latter verses of the fourth
satire and of the sixth sufficiently witness. And it is to be
believed that he who commits the same crime often and without
necessity cannot but do it with some kind of pleasure.

To come to a conclusion: he is manifestly below Horace because he
borrows most of his greatest beauties from him; and Casaubon is so
far from denying this that he has written a treatise purposely
concerning it, wherein he shows a multitude of his translations from
Horace, and his imitations of him, for the credit of his author,
which he calls "Imitatio Horatiana."

To these defects (which I casually observed while I was translating
this author) Scaliger has added others; he calls him in plain terms
a silly writer and a trifler, full of ostentation of his learning,
and, after all, unworthy to come into competition with Juvenal and

After such terrible accusations, it is time to hear what his patron
Casaubon can allege in his defence. Instead of answering, he
excuses for the most part; and when he cannot, accuses others of the
same crimes. He deals with Scaliger as a modest scholar with a
master. He compliments him with so much reverence that one would
swear he feared him as much at least as he respected him. Scaliger
will not allow Persius to have any wit; Casaubon interprets this in
the mildest sense, and confesses his author was not good at turning
things into a pleasant ridicule, or, in other words, that he was not
a laughable writer. That he was ineptus, indeed, but that was non
aptissimus ad jocandum; but that he was ostentatious of his
learning, that by Scaliger's good favour he denies. Persius showed
his learning, but was no boaster of it; he did ostendere, but not
ostentare; and so, he says, did Scaliger (where, methinks, Casaubon
turns it handsomely upon that supercilious critic, and silently
insinuates that he himself was sufficiently vain-glorious and a
boaster of his own knowledge). All the writings of this venerable
censor, continues Casaubon, which are [Greek text which cannot be
reproduced] (more golden than gold itself), are everywhere smelling
of that thyme which, like a bee, he has gathered from ancient
authors; but far be ostentation and vain-glory from a gentleman so
well born and so nobly educated as Scaliger. But, says Scaliger, he
is so obscure that he has got himself the name of Scotinus--a dark
writer. "Now," says Casaubon, "it is a wonder to me that anything
could be obscure to the divine wit of Scaliger, from which nothing
could be hidden." This is, indeed, a strong compliment, but no
defence; and Casaubon, who could not but be sensible of his author's
blind side, thinks it time to abandon a post that was untenable. He
acknowledges that Persius is obscure in some places; but so is
Plato, so is Thucydides; so are Pindar, Theocritus, and Aristophanes
amongst the Greek poets; and even Horace and Juvenal, he might have
added, amongst the Romans. The truth is, Persius is not sometimes,
but generally obscure; and therefore Casaubon at last is forced to
excuse him by alleging that it was se defendendo, for fear of Nero,
and that he was commanded to write so cloudily by Cornutus, in
virtue of holy obedience to his master. I cannot help my own
opinion; I think Cornutus needed not to have read many lectures to
him on that subject. Persius was an apt scholar, and when he was
bidden to be obscure in some places where his life and safety were
in question, took the same counsel for all his book, and never
afterwards wrote ten lines together clearly. Casaubon, being upon
this chapter, has not failed, we may be sure, of making a compliment
to his own dear comment. "If Persius," says he, "be in himself
obscure, yet my interpretation has made him intelligible." There is
no question but he deserves that praise which he has given to
himself; but the nature of the thing, as Lucretius says, will not
admit of a perfect explanation. Besides many examples which I could
urge, the very last verse of his last satire (upon which he
particularly values himself in his preface) is not yet sufficiently
explicated. It is true, Holyday has endeavoured to justify his
construction; but Stelluti is against it: and, for my part, I can
have but a very dark notion of it. As for the chastity of his
thoughts, Casaubon denies not but that one particular passage in the
fourth satire (At, si unctus cesses, &c.) is not only the most
obscure, but the most obscene, of all his works. I understood it,
but for that reason turned it over. In defence of his boisterous
metaphors he quotes Longinus, who accounts them as instruments of
the sublime, fit to move and stir up the affections, particularly in
narration; to which it may be replied that where the trope is far-
fetched and hard, it is fit for nothing but to puzzle the
understanding, and may be reckoned amongst those things of
Demosthenes which AEschines called [Greek text which cannot be
reproduced] not [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]--that is,
prodigies, not words. It must be granted to Casaubon that the
knowledge of many things is lost in our modern ages which were of
familiar notice to the ancients, and that satire is a poem of a
difficult nature in itself, and is not written to vulgar readers;
and (through the relation which it has to comedy) the frequent
change of persons makes the sense perplexed, when we can but divine
who it is that speaks--whether Persius himself, or his friend and
monitor, or, in some places, a third person. But Casaubon comes
back always to himself, and concludes that if Persius had not been
obscure, there had been no need of him for an interpreter. Yet when
he had once enjoined himself so hard a task, he then considered the
Greek proverb, that he must [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]
(either eat the whole snail or let it quite alone); and so he went
through with his laborious task, as I have done with my difficult

Thus far, my lord, you see it has gone very hard with Persius. I
think he cannot be allowed to stand in competition either with
Juvenal or Horace. Yet, for once, I will venture to be so vain as
to affirm that none of his hard metaphors or forced expressions are
in my translation. But more of this in its proper place, where I
shall say somewhat in particular of our general performance in
making these two authors English. In the meantime I think myself
obliged to give Persius his undoubted due, and to acquaint the
world, with Casaubon, in what he has equalled and in what excelled
his two competitors.

A man who is resolved to praise an author with any appearance of
justice must be sure to take him on the strongest side, and where he
is least liable to exceptions; he is therefore obliged to choose his
mediums accordingly. Casaubon (who saw that Persius could not laugh
with a becoming grace, that he was not made for jesting, and that a
merry conceit was not his talent) turned his feather, like an
Indian, to another light, that he might give it the better gloss.
"Moral doctrine," says he, "and urbanity or well-mannered wit are
the two things which constitute the Roman satire; but of the two,
that which is most essential to this poem, and is, as it were, the
very soul which animates it, is the scourging of vice and
exhortation to virtue." Thus wit, for a good reason, is already
almost out of doors, and allowed only for an instrument--a kind of
tool or a weapon, as he calls it--of which the satirist makes use in
the compassing of his design. The end and aim of our three rivals
is consequently the same; but by what methods they have prosecuted
their intention is further to be considered. Satire is of the
nature of moral philosophy, as being instructive; he therefore who
instructs most usefully will carry the palm from his two
antagonists. The philosophy in which Persius was educated, and
which he professes through his whole book, is the Stoic--the most
noble, most generous, most beneficial to humankind amongst all the
sects who have given us the rules of ethics, thereby to form a
severe virtue in the soul, to raise in us an undaunted courage
against the assaults of fortune, to esteem as nothing the things
that are without us, because they are not in our power; not to value
riches, beauty, honours, fame, or health any farther than as
conveniences and so many helps to living as we ought, and doing good
in our generation. In short, to be always happy while we possess
our minds with a good conscience, are free from the slavery of
vices, and conform our actions and conversation to the rules of
right reason. See here, my lord, an epitome of Epictetus, the
doctrine of Zeno, and the education of our Persius; and this he
expressed, not only in all his satires, but in the manner of his
life. I will not lessen this commendation of the Stoic philosophy
by giving you an account of some absurdities in their doctrine, and
some perhaps impieties (if we consider them by the standard of
Christian faith). Persius has fallen into none of them, and
therefore is free from those imputations. What he teaches might be
taught from pulpits with more profit to the audience than all the
nice speculations of divinity and controversies concerning faith,
which are more for the profit of the shepherd than for the
edification of the flock. Passion, interest, ambition, and all
their bloody consequences of discord and of war are banished from
this doctrine. Here is nothing proposed but the quiet and
tranquillity of the mind; virtue lodged at home, and afterwards
diffused in her general effects to the improvement and good of
humankind. And therefore I wonder not that the present Bishop of
Salisbury has recommended this our author and the tenth satire of
Juvenal (in his pastoral letter) to the serious perusal and practice
of the divines in his diocese as the best commonplaces for their
sermons, as the storehouses and magazines of moral virtues, from
whence they may draw out, as they have occasion, all manner of
assistance for the accomplishment of a virtuous life, which the
Stoics have assigned for the great end and perfection of mankind.
Herein, then, it is that Persius has excelled both Juvenal and
Horace. He sticks to his own philosophy; he shifts not sides, like
Horace (who is sometimes an Epicurean, sometimes a Stoic, sometimes
an Eclectic, as his present humour leads him), nor declaims, like
Juvenal, against vices more like an orator than a philosopher.
Persius is everywhere the same--true to the dogmas of his master.
What he has learnt, he teaches vehemently; and what he teaches, that
he practises himself. There is a spirit of sincerity in all he
says; you may easily discern that he is in earnest, and is persuaded
of that truth which he inculcates. In this I am of opinion that he
excels Horace, who is commonly in jest, and laughs while he
instructs; and is equal to Juvenal, who was as honest and serious as
Persius, and more he could not be.

Hitherto I have followed Casaubon, and enlarged upon him, because I


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