Part 2 out of 4
With oil, not such as filthy Natta skims
From lamps defrauded of their unctuous fare.
And when the sunbeams, grown too hot to bear,
Warn me to quit the field, and hand-ball play,
The bath takes all my weariness away.
Then, having lightly dined, just to appease
The sense of emptiness, I take mine ease,
Enjoying all home's simple luxury.
This is the life of bard unclogged, like me,
By stern ambition's miserable weight.
So placed, I own with gratitude, my state
Is sweeter, ay, than though a quaestor's power
From sire and grandsire's sires had been my dower."
It would not have been easy to bribe a man of these simple habits and
tastes, as some critics have contended that Horace was bribed, to
become the laureate of a party to which he had once been opposed, even
had Maecenas wished to do so. His very indifference to those favours
which were within the disposal of a great minister of state, placed
him on a vantage-ground in his relations with Maecenas which he could
in no other way have secured. Nor, we may well believe, would that
distinguished man have wished it otherwise. Surrounded as he was by
servility and selfish baseness, he must have felt himself irresistibly
drawn towards a nature so respectful, yet perfectly manly and
independent, as that of the poet. Nor can we doubt that intimacy had
grown into friendship, warm and sincere, before he gratified his own
feelings, while he made Horace happy for life, by presenting him with
a small estate in the Sabine country--a gift which, we may be sure, he
knew well would be of all gifts the most welcome. It is demonstrable
that it was not given earlier than B.C. 33, or after upwards of four
years of intimate acquaintance. That Horace had longed for such a
possession, he tells us himself (Satires, II. 6). He had probably
expressed his longing in the hearing of his friend, and to such a
friend the opportunity of turning the poet's dream into a reality must
have been especially delightful.
The gift was a slight one for Maecenas to bestow; but, with Horace's
fondness for the country, it had a value for him beyond all price. It
gave him a competency--_satis superque_--enough and more than he
wanted for his needs. It gave him leisure, health, amusement; and,
more precious than all, it secured him undisturbed freedom of thought,
and opportunities for that calm intercourse with nature which he
"needed for his spirit's health." Never was gift better bestowed, or
more worthily requited. To it we are indebted for much of that poetry
which has linked the name of Maecenas with that of the poet in
associations the most engaging, and has afforded, and will afford,
ever-new delight to successive generations. The Sabine farm was
situated in the Valley of Ustica, thirty miles from Rome, and twelve
miles from Tivoli. It possessed the attraction, no small one to
Horace, of being very secluded--Varia (Vico Varo), the nearest town,
being four miles off--yet, at the same time, within an easy distance
of Rome. When his spirits wanted the stimulus of society or the bustle
of the capital, which they often did, his ambling mule could speedily
convey him thither; and when jaded, on the other hand, by the noise
and racket and dissipations of Rome, he could, in the same homely way,
bury himself within a few hours among the hills, and there, under the
shadow of his favourite Lucretilis, or by the banks of the clear-
flowing and ice-cold Digentia, either stretch himself to dream upon
the grass, lulled by the murmurs of the stream, or do a little fanning
in the way of clearing his fields of stones, or turning over a furrow
here and there with the hoe. There was a rough wildness in the scenery
and a sharpness in the air, both of which Horace liked, although, as
years advanced and his health grew more delicate, he had to leave it
in the colder months for Tivoli or Baiae. He built a villa upon it, or
added to one already there, the traces of which still exist. The farm
gave employment to five families of free _coloni_, who were under
the superintendence of a bailiff; and the poet's domestic
establishment was composed of eight slaves. The site of the farm is at
the present day a favourite resort of travellers, of Englishmen
especially, who visit it in such numbers, and trace its features with
such enthusiasm, that the resident peasantry, "who cannot conceive of
any other source of interest in one so long dead and unsainted than
that of co-patriotism or consanguinity," believe Horace to have been
an Englishman [Footnote: Letter by Mr Dennis: Milman's 'Horace.'
London, 1849. P. 109.]. What aspect it presented in Horace's time we
gather from one of his Epistles (I. 16):--
"About my farm, dear Quinctius: You would know
What sort of produce for its lord 'twill grow;
Plough-land is it, or meadow-land, or soil
For apples, vine-clad elms, or olive-oil?
So (but you'll think me garrulous) I'll write
A full description of its form and site.
In long continuous lines the mountains run,
Cleft by a valley, which twice feels the sun--
Once on the right, when first he lifts his beams;
Once on the left, when he descends in steams.
You'd praise the climate; well, and what d'ye say
To sloes and cornels hanging from the spray?
What to the oak and ilex, that afford
Fruit to the cattle, shelter to their lord?
What, but that rich Tarentum must have been
Transplanted nearer Rome, with all its green?
Then there's a fountain, of sufficient size
To name the river that takes thence its rise--
Not Thracian Hebrus colder or more pure,
Of power the head's and stomach's ills to cure.
This sweet retirement--nay, 'tis more than sweet--
Insures my health even in September's heat." (C.)
Here is what a last year's tourist found it:--('Pall Mall Gazette,'
August 16, 1869.)
"Following a path along the brink of the torrent Digentia, we passed a
towering rock, on which once stood Vacuna's shrine, and entered a
pastoral region of well-watered meadow-lands, enamelled with flowers
and studded with chestnut and fruit trees. Beneath their sheltering
shade peasants were whiling away the noontide hours. Here sat Daphnis
piping sweet witching melodies on a reed to his rustic Phidyle, whilst
Lydia and she wove wreaths of wild-flowers, and Lyce sped down to the
edge of the stream and brought us cooling drink in a bulging conca
borne on her head. Its waters were as deliciously refreshing as they
could have been when the poet himself gratefully recorded how often
they revived his strength; and one longed to think, and hence half
believed, that our homely Hebe, like her fellows, was sprung from the
coloni who tilled his fields and dwelt in the five homesteads of which
he sings. ... Near the little village of Licenza, standing like its
loftier neighbour, Civitella, on a steep hill at the foot of
Lucretilis, we turned off the path, crossed a thickly-wooded knoll,
and came to an orchard, in which two young labourers were at work. We
asked where the remains of Horace's farm were. '_A pie tui!_'
answered the nearest of them, in a dialect more like Latin than
Italian. So saying, he began with a shovel to uncover a massive floor
in very fair preservation; a little farther on was another, crumbling
to pieces. Chaupy has luckily saved one all doubt as to the site of
the farm, establishing to our minds convincingly that it could
scarcely have stood on ground other than that on which at this moment
we were. As the shovel was clearing the floors, we thought how
applicable to Horace himself were the lines he addressed to Fuscus
Aristius, 'Naturam expelles,' &c.--
'Drive Nature forth by force, she'll turn and rout
The false refinements that would keep her out;' (C.)
For here was just enough of his home left to show how nature, creeping
on step by step, had overwhelmed his handiwork and reasserted her
sway. Again, pure and Augustan in design as was the pavement before
us, how little could it vie with the hues and odours of the grasses
that bloomed around it!--'Deterius Libycis' &c.--
'Is springing grass less sweet to nose and eyes
Than Libyan marble's tesselated dyes?' (C.)
"Indeed, so striking were these coincidences that we were as nearly as
possible going off on the wrong tack, and singing 'Io Paean' to Dame
Nature herself at the expense of the bard; but we were soon brought
back to our allegiance by a sense of the way in which all we saw
tallied with the description of him who sang of nature so surpassingly
well, who challenges posterity in charmed accents, and could shape the
sternest and most concise of tongues into those melodious cadences
that invest his undying verse with all the magic of music and all the
freshness of youth. For this was clearly the 'angulus iste,' the nook
which 'restored him to himself'--this the lovely spot which his
steward longed to exchange for the slums of Rome. Below lay the
greensward by the river, where it was sweet to recline in slumber.
Here grew the vines, still trained, like his own, on the trunks and
branches of trees. Yonder the brook which the rain would swell till it
overflowed its margin, and his lazy steward and slaves were fain to
bank it up; and above, among a wild jumble of hills, lay the woods
where, on the Calends of March, Faunus interposed to save him from the
falling tree, and where another miracle preserved him from the attack
of the wolf as he strolled along unarmed, singing of the soft voice
and sweet smiles of his Lalage! The brook is now nearly dammed up; a
wall of close-fitting rough-hewn stones gathers its waters into a
still, dark pool; its overflow gushes out in a tiny rill that rushed
down beside our path, mingling its murmur with the hum of myriads of
insects that swarmed in the air."
On this farm lovers of Horace have been fain to place the fountain of
Bandusia, which the poet loved so well, and to which he prophesied,
and truly, as the issue has proved, immortality from his song (Odes,
III. 13). Charming as the poem is, there could be no stronger proof of
the poet's hold upon the hearts of men of all ages than the enthusiasm
with which the very site of the spring has been contested.
"Bandusia's fount, in clearness crystalline,
O worthy of the wine, the flowers we vow!
To-morrow shall be thine
A kid, whose crescent brow
"Is sprouting, all for love and victory,
In vain; his warm red blood, so early stirred,
Thy gelid stream shall dye,
Child of the wanton herd.
"Thee the fierce Sirian star, to madness fired,
Forbears to touch; sweet cool thy waters yield
To ox with ploughing tired,
And flocks that range afield.
"Thou too one day shall win proud eminence
'Mid honoured founts, while I the ilex sing
Crowning the cavern, whence
Thy babbling wavelets spring." (C.)
Several commentators maintain, on what appears to be very inconclusive
grounds, that the fountain was at Palazzo, six miles from Venusia. But
the poem is obviously inspired by a fountain whose babble had often
soothed the ear of Horace, long after he had ceased to visit Venusia.
On his farm, therefore, let us believe it to exist, whichever of the
springs that are still there we may choose to identify with his
description. For there are several, and the local guides are by no
means dogmatic as to the "_vero fonte_." That known as the "Fonte
della Corte" seems to make out the strongest case for itself. It is
within a few hundred yards of the villa, most abundant, and in this
respect "fit" to name the river that there takes its rise, which the
others--at present, at least--certainly are not.
Horace is never weary of singing the praises of his mountain home--
"_Satis beatus unicis Sabinis_,"
"With what I have completely blest,
My happy little Sabine nest"--
Odes, II. 18.
are the words in which he contrasts his own entire happiness with the
restless misery of a millionaire in the midst of his splendour. Again,
in one of his Odes to Maecenas (III. 16) he takes up and expands the
"In my crystal stream, my woodland, though its acres are but few,
And the trust that I shall gather home my crops in season due,
Lies a joy, which he may never grasp, who rules in gorgeous state
Fertile Africa's dominions. Happier, happier far my fate!
Though for me no bees Calabrian store their honey, nor doth wine
Sickening in the Laestrygonian amphora for me refine;
Though for me no flocks unnumbered, browsing Gallia's pastures fair,
Pant beneath their swelling fleeces, I at least am free from care;
Haggard want with direful clamour ravins never at my door,
Nor wouldst thou, if more I wanted, oh my friend, deny me more.
Appetites subdued will make me richer with my scanty gains,
Than the realms of Alyattes wedded to Mygdonia's plains.
Much will evermore be wanting unto those who much demand;
Blest, whom Jove with what sufficeth dowers, but dowers with sparing
It is the nook of earth which, beyond all others, has a charm for
him,--the one spot where he is all his own. Here, as Wordsworth
beautifully says, he
"Exults in freedom, can with rapture vouch
For the dear blessings of a lowly couch,
A natural meal, days, months from Nature's hand,
Time, place, and business all at his command,"
It is in this delightful retreat that, in one of his most graceful
Odes, he thus invites the fair Tyndaris to pay him a visit (I. 17):--
"My own sweet Lucretilis ofttime can lure
From his native Lycaeus kind Faunus the fleet,
To watch o'er my flocks, and to keep them secure
From summer's fierce winds, and its rains, and its heat.
"There the mates of a lord of too pungent a fragrance
Securely through brake and o'er precipice climb,
And crop, as they wander in happiest vagrance,
The arbutus green, and the sweet-scented thyme.
"Nor murderous wolf nor green snake may assail
My innocent kidlings, dear Tyndaris, when
His pipings resound through Ustica's low vale,
Till each mossed rock in music makes answer again.
"The muse is still dear to the gods, and they shield
Me, their dutiful bard; with a bounty divine
They have blessed me with all that the country can yield;
Then come, and whatever I have shall be thine!
"Here screened from the dog-star, in valley retired,
Shalt thou sing that old song thou canst warble so well,
Which tells how one passion Penelope fired,
And charmed fickle Circe herself by its spell.
"Here cups shalt thou sip, 'neath the broad-spreading shade
Of the innocent vintage of Lesbos at ease;
No fumes of hot ire shall our banquet invade,
Or mar that sweet festival under the trees.
"And fear not, lest Cyrus, that jealous young bear,
On thy poor little self his rude fingers should set--
Should pluck from thy bright locks the chaplet, and tear
Thy dress, that ne'er harmed him nor any one yet."
Had Milton this Ode in his thought, when he invited his friend Lawes
to a repast,
"Light and choice,
Of Attic taste with wine, whence we may rise,
To hear the lute well touched, and artful voice
Warble immortal notes, and Tuscan air"?
The reference in the last verse to the violence of the lady's lover--a
violence of which ladies of her class were constantly the victims--
rather suggests that this Ode, if addressed to a real personage at
all, was meant less as an invitation to the Sabine farm than as a balm
to the lady's wounded spirit.
In none of his poems is the poet's deep delight in the country life of
his Sabine home more apparent than in the following (Satires, II. 6),
which, both for its biographical interest and as a specimen of his
best manner in his Satires, we give entire:--
"My prayers with this I used to charge,--
A piece of land not very large,
Wherein there should a garden be,
A clear spring flowing ceaselessly,
And where, to crown the whole, there should
A patch be found of growing wood.
All this, and more, the gods have sent,
And I am heartily content.
Oh son of Maia, that I may
These bounties keep is all I pray.
If ne'er by craft or base design
I've swelled what little store is mine,
Nor mean, it ever shall be wrecked
By profligacy or neglect;
If never from my lips a word
Shall drop of wishes so absurd
As,--'Had I but that little nook
Next to my land, that spoils its look!
Or--'Would some lucky chance unfold
A crock to me of hidden gold,
As to the man whom Hercules
Enriched and settled at his ease,
Who,--with, the treasure he had found,
Bought for himself the very ground
Which he before for hire had tilled!'
If I with gratitude am filled
For what I have--by this I dare
Adjure you to fulfil my prayer,
That you with fatness will endow
My little herd of cattle now,
And all things else their lord may own,
Except his sorry wits alone,
And be, as heretofore, my chief
Protector, guardian, and relief!
So, when from town and all its ills
I to my perch among the hills
Retreat, what better theme to choose
Than satire for my homely Muse?
No fell ambition wastes me there,
No, nor the south wind's leaden air,
Nor Autumn's pestilential breath,
With victims feeding hungry death.
Sire of the morn, or if more dear
The name of Janus to thine ear,
Through whom whate'er by man is done,
From life's first dawning, is begun
(So willed the gods for man's estate),
Do thou my verse initiate!
At Rome you hurry me away
To bail my friend; 'Quick, no delay,
Or some one--could worse luck befall you?--
Will in the kindly task forestall you.'
So go I must, although the wind
Is north and killingly unkind,
Or snow, in thickly-falling flakes,
The wintry day more wintry makes.
And when, articulate and clear,
I've spoken what may cost me dear,
Elbowing the crowd that round me close,
I'm sure to crush somebody's toes.
'I say, where are you pushing to?
What would you have, you madman, you?'
So flies he at poor me, 'tis odds,
And curses me by all his gods.
'You think that you, now, I daresay,
May push whatever stops your way,
When you are to Maecenas bound!'
Sweet, sweet, as honey is the sound,
I won't deny, of that last speech,
But then no sooner do I reach
The dusky Esquiline, than straight
Buzz, buzz around me runs the prate
Of people pestering me with cares,
All about other men's affairs.
'To-morrow, Roscius bade me state,
He trusts you'll be in court by eight!'
'The scriveners, worthy Quintus, pray,
You'll not forget they meet to-day,
Upon a point both grave and new,
One touching the whole body, too.'
'Do get Maecenas, do, to sign
This application here of mine!'
'Well, well, I'll try.' 'You can with ease
Arrange it, if you only please.'
Close on eight years it now must be,
Since first Maecenas numbered me
Among his friends, as one to take
Out driving with him, and to make
The confidant of trifles, say,
Like this, 'What is the time of day?'
'The Thracian gladiator, can
One match him with the Syrian?'
'These chilly mornings will do harm,
If one don't mind to wrap up warm;'
Such nothings as without a fear
One drops into the chinkiest ear.
Yet all this tune hath envy's glance
On me looked more and more askance.
From mouth to mouth such comments run:
'Our friend indeed is Fortune's son.
Why, there he was, the other day,
Beside Maecenas at the play;
And at the Campus, just before,
They had a bout at battledore.'
Some chilling news through lane and street
Spreads from the Forum. All I meet
Accost me thus--'Dear friend, you're so
Close to the gods, that you must know:
About the Dacians, have you heard
Any fresh tidings? Not a word!'
'You're always jesting!' 'Now may all
The gods confound me, great and small,
If I have heard one word!' 'Well, well,
But you at any rate can tell,
If Caesar means the lands, which he
Has promised to his troops, shall be
Selected from Italian ground,
Or in Trinacria be found?'
And when I swear, as well I can,
That I know nothing, for a man
Of silence rare and most discreet
They cry me up to all the street.
Thus do my wasted days slip by,
Not without many a wish and sigh,
When, when shall I the country see,
Its woodlands green,--oh, when be free,
With books of great old men, and sleep,
And hours of dreamy ease, to creep
Into oblivion sweet of life,
Its agitations and its strife? 
When on my table shall be seen
Pythagoras's kinsman bean,
And bacon, not too fat, embellish
My dish of greens, and give it relish!
Oh happy nights, oh feasts divine,
When, with the friends I love, I dine
At mine own hearth-fire, and the meat
We leave gives my bluff hinds a treat!
No stupid laws our feasts control,
But each guest drains or leaves the bowl,
Precisely as he feels inclined.
If he be strong, and have a mind
For bumpers, good! if not, he's free
To sip his liquor leisurely.
And then the talk our banquet rouses!
But not about our neighbours' houses,
Or if 'tis generally thought
That Lepos dances well or not?
But what concerns us nearer, and
Is harmful not to understand,
By what we're led to choose our friends,--
Regard for them, or our own ends?
In what does good consist, and what
Is the supremest form of that?
And then friend Cervius will strike in
With some old grandam's tale, akin
To what we are discussing. Thus,
If some one have cried up to us
Arellius' wealth, forgetting how
Much care it costs him, 'Look you now,
Once on a time,' he will begin,
'A country mouse received within
His rugged cave a city brother,
As one old comrade would another.
"A frugal mouse upon the whole,
But loved his friend, and had a soul,"
And could be free and open-handed,
When hospitality demanded.
In brief, he did not spare his hoard
Of corn and pease, long coyly stored;
Raisins he brought, and scraps, to boot,
Half-gnawed, of bacon, which he put
With his own mouth before his guest,
In hopes, by offering his best
In such variety, he might
Persuade him to an appetite.
But still the cit, with languid eye,
Just picked a bit, then put it by;
Which with dismay the rustic saw,
As, stretched upon some stubbly straw,
He munched at bran and common grits,
Not venturing on the dainty bits.
At length the town mouse; "What," says he,
"My good friend, can the pleasure be,
Of grubbing here, on the backbone
Of a great crag with trees o'ergrown?
Who'd not to these wild woods prefer
The city, with its crowds and stir?
Then come with me to town; you'll ne'er
Regret the hour that took you there.
All earthly things draw mortal breath;
Nor great nor little can from death
Escape, and therefore, friend, be gay,
Enjoy life's good things while you may,
Remembering how brief the space
Allowed to you in any case."
His words strike home; and, light of heart,
Behold with him our rustic start,
Timing their journey so, they might
Reach town beneath the cloud of night,
Which was at its high noon, when they
To a rich mansion found their way,
Where shining ivory couches vied
With coverlets in purple dyed,
And where in baskets were amassed
The wrecks of a superb repast,
Which some few hours before had closed.
There, having first his friend disposed
Upon a purple tissue, straight
The city mouse begins to wait
With scraps upon his country brother,
Each scrap more dainty than another,
And all a servant's duty proffers,
First tasting everything he offers.
The guest, reclining there in state,
Rejoices in his altered fate,
O'er each fresh tidbit smacks his lips,
And breaks into the merriest quips,
When suddenly a banging door
Shakes host and guest into the floor.
Prom room to room they rush aghast,
And almost drop down dead at last,
When loud through all the house resounds
The deep bay of Molossian hounds.
"Ho!" cries the country mouse, "this kind
Of life is not for me, I find.
Give me my woods and cavern! There
At least I'm safe! And though both spare
And poor my food may be, rebel
I never will; so, fare ye well!"'"
Many have imitated this passage--none better than Cowley.
"Oh fountains! when in you shall I
Myself, eased of unpeaceful thoughts, espy?
Oh fields! oh woods! when, when shall I be made
The happy tenant of your shade?
Here's the spring-head of pleasure's flood,
Where all the riches be, that she
Has coined and stamped for good."
How like is this to Tennyson's--
"You'll have no scandal while you dine,
But honest talk and wholesome wine,
And only hear the magpie gossip
Garrulous, under a roof of pine."
It is characteristic of Horace that in the very next satire he makes
his own servant Davus tell him that his rhapsodies about the country
and its charms are mere humbug, and that, for all his ridicule of the
shortcomings of his neighbours, he is just as inconstant as they are
in his likings and dislikings. The poet in this way lets us see into
his own little vanities, and secures the right by doing so to rally
his friends for theirs. To his valet, at all events, by his own
showing, he is no hero.
"You're praising up incessantly
The habits, manners, likings, ways,
Of people hi the good old days;
Yet should some god this moment give
To you the power, like them to live,
You're just the man to say,' I won't!'
Because in them you either don't
Believe, or else the courage lack,
The truth through thick and thin to back,
And, rather than its heights aspire,
Will go on sticking in the mire.
At Rome you for the country sigh;
When in the country to the sky
You, flighty as the thistle's down,
Are always crying up the town.
If no one asks you out to dine,
Oh, then the _pot-au-feu's_ divine!
'You go out on compulsion only--
'Tis so delightful to be lonely;
And drinking bumpers is a bore
You shrink from daily more and more.'
But only let Maecenas send
Command for you to meet a friend;
Although the message comes so late,
The lamps are being lighted, straight,
'Where's my pommade? Look sharp!' you shout,
'Heavens! is there nobody about?
Are you all deaf?' and, storming high
At all the household, off you fly.
When Milvius, and that set, anon
Arrive to dine, and find you gone,
With vigorous curses they retreat,
Which I had rather not repeat."
Who could take amiss the rebuke of the kindly satirist, who was so
ready to show up his own weaknesses? In this respect our own great
satirist Thackeray is very like him. Nor is this strange. They had
many points in common--the same keen eye for human folly, the same
tolerance for the human weaknesses of which they were so conscious in
themselves, the same genuine kindness of heart. Thackeray's terse and
vivid style, too, is probably in some measure due to this, that to
him, as to Malherbe, Horace was a kind of breviary.
LIFE IN ROME.--HORACE'S BORE.--EXTRAVAGANCE OF THE ROMAN DINNERS.
It is one of the many charms of Horace's didactic writings, that he
takes us into the very heart of the life of Rome. We lounge with its
loungers along the Via Sacra; we stroll into the Campus Martius, where
young Hebrus with his noble horsemanship is witching the blushing
Neobule, already too much enamoured of the handsome Liparian; and the
men of the old school are getting up an appetite by games of tennis,
bowls, or quoits; while the young Grecianised fops--lisping feeble
jokes--saunter by with a listless contempt for such vulgar gymnastics.
We are in the Via Appia. Barine sweeps along in her chariot in superb
toilette, shooting glances from her sleepy cruel eyes. The young
fellows are all agaze. What is this? Young Pompilius, not three months
married, bows to her, with a visible spasm at the heart, as she
hurries by, full in view of his young wife, who hides her
mortification within the curtains of her litter, and hastens home to
solitude and tears. Here comes Barrus--as ugly a dog as any in Rome--
dressed to death; and smiling Malvolio--smiles of self-complacency.
The girls titter and exchange glances as he passes; Barrus swaggers
on, feeling himself an inch taller in the conviction that he is
slaughtering the hearts of the dear creatures by the score. A mule,
with a dead boar thrown across it, now winds its way among the
chariots and litters. A little ahead of it stalks Gargilius, attended
by a strong force of retainers armed with spears and nets, enough to
thin the game of the Hercynian forest. Little does the mighty hunter
dream, that all his friends, who congratulate him on his success, are
asking themselves and each other, where he bought the boar, and for
how much? Have we never encountered a piscatory Gargilius near the
Spey or the Tweed? We wander back into the city and its narrow
streets. In one we are jammed into a doorway by a train of builders'
waggons laden with huge blocks of stone, or massive logs of timber.
Escaping these, we run against a line of undertakers' men,
"performing" a voluminous and expensive funeral, to the discomfort of
everybody and the impoverishment of the dead man's kindred. In the
next street we run the risk of being crushed by some huge piece of
masonry in the act of being swung by a crane into its place; and while
calculating the chances of its fall with upturned eye, we find
ourselves landed in the gutter by an unclean pig, which has darted
between our legs at some attractive garbage beyond. This peril over,
we encounter at the next turning a mad dog, who makes a passing snap
at our toga as he darts into a neighbouring blind alley, whither we do
not care to follow his vagaries among a covey of young Roman street
Arabs. Before we reach home a mumping beggar drops before us as we
turn the corner, in a well-simulated fit of epilepsy or of helpless
lameness. _'Quoere peregrinum'_--"Try that game on country
cousins,"--we mutter in our beard, and retreat to our lodgings on the
third floor, encountering probably on the stair some half-tipsy
artisan or slave, who is descending from the attics for another cup of
fiery wine at the nearest wine-shop. We go to the theatre. The play is
"Ilione," by Pacuvius; the scene a highly sensational one, where the
ghost of Deiphobus, her son, appearing to Ilione, beseeches her to
give his body burial. "Oh mother, mother," he cries, in tones most
raucously tragic, "hear me call!" But the Kynaston of the day who
plays Ilione has been soothing his maternal sorrow with too potent
Falernian. He slumbers on. The populace, like the gods of our gallery,
surmise the truth, and, "Oh! mother, mother, hear me call!" is
bellowed from a thousand lungs. We are enjoying a comedy, when our
friends the people, "the many-headed monster of the pit," begin to
think it slow, and stop the performance with shouts for a show of
bears or boxers. Or, hoping to hear a good play, we find the
entertainment offered consists of pure spectacle, "inexplicable
dumbshow and noise"--
"Whole fleets of ships in long procession pass,
And captive ivory follows captive brass." (C.)
A milk-white elephant or a camelopard is considered more than a
substitute for character, incident, or wit. And if an actor presents
himself in a dress of unusual splendour, the house is in ecstasies,
and a roar of applause, loud as a tempest in the Garganian forest, or
as the surges on the Tuscan strand, makes the velarium vibrate above
their heads. Human nature is perpetually repeating itself. So when
Pope is paraphrasing Horace, he has no occasion to alter the facts,
which were the same in his pseudo, as in the real, Augustan age, but
only to modernise the names:--
"Loud as the waves on Orcas' stormy steep
Howl to the roarings of the Northern deep,
Such is the shout, the long-applauding note,
At Quin's high plume, or Oldfield's petticoat.
Booth enters--hark! the universal peal.
'But has he spoken?' Not a syllable.
'What shook the stage, and made the people stare?'
'Cato's long wig, flowered gown, and lackered chair.'"
We dine out. Maecenas is of the party, and comes in leaning heavily on
the two umbrae (guests of his own inviting) whom he has brought with
him,--habitues of what Augustus called his "parasitical table," who
make talk and find buffoonery for him. He is out of spirits to-day,
and more reserved than usual, for a messenger has just come in with
bad news from Spain, or he has heard of a conspiracy against Augustus,
which must be crushed before it grows more dangerous. Varius is there,
and being a writer of tragedies, keeps up, as your tragic author is
sure to do, a ceaseless fire of puns and pleasantry. At these young
Sybaris smiles faintly, for his thoughts are away with his ladylove,
the too fascinating Lydia. Horace--who, from the other side of the
table, with an amused smile in his eyes, watches him, as he "sighs
like furnace," while Neaera, to the accompaniment of her lyre, sings
one of Sappho's most passionate odes--whispers something in the ear of
the brilliant vocalist, which visibly provokes a witty repartee, with
a special sting in it for Horace himself, at which the little man
winces--for have there not been certain love-passages of old between
Neaera and himself? The wine circulates freely. Maecenas warms, and
drops, with the deliberation of a rich sonorous voice, now some sharp
sarcasm, now some aphorism heavy with meaning, which sticks to the
memory, like a saying of Talleyrand's. His _umbrae_, who have put
but little of allaying Tiber in their cups, grow boisterous and
abusive, and having insulted nearly everybody at the table by coarse
personal banter, the party breaks up, and we are glad to get out with
flushed cheeks and dizzy head into the cool air of an early summer
night--all the more, that for the last half-hour young Piso at our
elbow has been importuning us with whispered specimens of his very
rickety elegiacs, and trying to settle an early appointment for us to
hear him read the first six books of the great Epic with which he
means to electrify the literary circles. We reach the Fabrician
bridge, meditating as we go the repartees with which we might have
turned the tables on those scurrilous followers of the great man, but
did not. Suddenly we run up against a gentleman, who, raising his
cloak over his head, is on the point of jumping into the Tiber. We
seize him by his mantle, and discover in the intended suicide an old
acquaintance, equally well known to the Jews and the bric-a-brac
shops, whose tastes for speculation and articles of _vertu_ have
first brought him to the money-lenders, next to the dogs, and finally
to the brink of the yellow Tiber. We give him all the sesterces we
have about us, along with a few sustaining aphorisms from our
commonplace book upon the folly, if not the wickedness, of suicide,
and see him safely home. When we next encounter the decayed
_virtuoso_, he has grown a beard (very badly kept), and set up as
a philosopher of the hyper-virtuous Jaques school. Of course he
lectures us upon every vice which we have not, and every little
frailty which we have, with a pointed asperity that upsets our temper
for the day, and causes us long afterwards to bewail the evil hour in
which we rescued such an ill-conditioned grumbler from the kindly
waters of the river.
These hints of life and manners, all drawn from the pages of Horace,
might be infinitely extended, and a ramble in the streets of Rome in
the present day is consequently fuller of vivid interest to a man who
has these pages at his fingers' ends than it can possibly be to any
other person. Horace is so associated with all the localities, that
one would think it the most natural thing in the world to come upon
him at any turning. His old familiar haunts rise up about us out of
the dust of centuries. We see a short thick-set man come sauntering
along, "more fat than bard beseems." As he passes, lost in reverie,
many turn round and look at him. Some point him out to their
companions, and by what they say, we learn that this is Horace, the
favourite of Maecenas, the frequent visitor at the unpretending palace
of Augustus, the self-made man and famous poet. He is still within
sight, when his progress is arrested. He is in the hands of a bore of
the first magnitude. But what ensued, let us hear from his own lips
(Satires, I. 9):--
It chanced that I, the other day,
Was sauntering up the Sacred Way,
And musing, as my habit is,
Some trivial random fantasies,
That for the time absorbed me quite,
When there comes running up a wight,
Whom only by his name I knew;
"Ha! my dear fellow, how d'ye do?"
Grasping my hand, he shouted. "Why,
As times go, pretty well," said I;
"And you, I trust, can say the same."
But after me as still he came,
"Sir, is there anything," I cried,
"You want of me?" "Oh," he replied,
"I'm just the man you ought to know;--
A scholar, author!" "Is it so?
For this I'll like you all the more!"
Then, writhing to evade the bore,
I quicken now my pace, now stop,
And in my servant's ear let drop
Some words, and all the while I feel
Bathed in cold sweat from head to heel.
"Oh, for a touch," I moaned, in pain,
"Bolanus, of thy madcap vein,
To put this incubus to rout!"
As he went chattering on about
Whatever he descries or meets,
The crowds, the beauty of the streets,
The city's growth, its splendour, size,
"You're dying to be off," he cries;
For all the while I'd been stock dumb.
"I've seen it this half-hour. But come,
Let's clearly understand each other;
It's no use making all this pother.
My mind's made up, to stick by you;
So where you go, there I go, too."
"Don't put yourself," I answered, "pray,
So very far out of your way.
I'm on the road to see a friend,
Whom you don't know, that's near his end,
Away beyond the Tiber far,
Close by where Caesar's gardens are."
"I've nothing in the world to do,
And what's a paltry mile or two?
I like it, so I'll follow you!"
Down dropped my ears on hearing this,
Just like a vicious jackass's,
That's loaded heavier than he likes;
But off anew my torment strikes.
"If well I know myself, you'll end
With making of me more a friend
Than Viscus, ay, or Varius; for
Of verses who can run off more,
Or run them off at such a pace?
Who dance with such distinguished grace?
And as for singing, zounds!" said he,
"Hermogenes might envy me!"
Here was an opening to break in.
"Have you a mother, father, kin,
To whom your life is precious?" "None;--
I've closed the eyes of every one."
Oh, happy they, I inly groan.
Now I am left, and I alone.
Quick, quick, despatch me where I stand;
Now is the direful doom at hand,
Which erst the Sabine beldam old,
Shaking her magic urn, foretold
In days when I was yet a boy:
"Him shall no poisons fell destroy,
Nor hostile sword in shock of war,
Nor gout, nor colic, nor catarrh.
In fulness of the time his thread
Shall by a prate-apace be shred;
So let him, when he's twenty-one,
If he be wise, all babblers shun."
Now we were close to Vesta's fane,
'Twas hard on ten, and he, my bane,
Was bound to answer to his bail,
Or lose his cause if he should fail.
"Do, if you love me, step aside
One moment with me here!" he cried.
"Upon my life, indeed, I can't,
Of law I'm wholly ignorant;
And you know where I'm hurrying to."
"I'm fairly puzzled what to do.
Give you up, or my cause?" "Oh, me,
Me, by all means!" "I won't!" quoth he;
And stalks on, holding by me tight.
As with your conqueror to fight
Is hard, I follow. "How,"--anon
He rambles off,--"how get you on,
You and Maecenas? To so few
He keeps himself. So clever, too!
No man more dexterous to seize
And use his opportunities.
Just introduce me, and you'll see,
We'd pull together famously;
And, hang me then, if, with my backing,
You don't send all your rivals packing!"
"Things in that quarter, sir, proceed
In very different style, indeed.
No house more free from all that's base;
In none cabals more out of place.
It hurts me not if others be
More rich, or better read than me.
Each has his place!" "Amazing tact!
Scarce credible!" "But 'tis the fact."
"You quicken my desire to get
An introduction to his set."
"With merit such as yours, you need
But wish it, and you must succeed.
He's to be won, and that is why
Of strangers he's so very shy."
"I'll spare no pains, no arts, no shifts!
His servants I'll corrupt with gifts.
To-day though driven from his gate,
What matter? I will lie in wait,
To catch some lucky chance; I'll meet
Or overtake him in the street;
I'll haunt him like his shadow. Nought
In life without much toil is bought."
Just at this moment who but my
Dear friend Aristius should come by?
My rattlebrain right well he knew.
We stop. "Whence, friends, and whither to?"
He asks and answers. Whilst we ran
The usual courtesies, I began
To pluck him by the sleeve, to pinch
His arms, that feel but will not flinch,
By nods and winks most plain to see
Imploring him to rescue me.
He, wickedly obtuse the while,
Meets all my signals with a smile.
I, choked with rage, said, "Was there not
Some business, I've forgotten what,
You mentioned, that you wished with me
To talk about, and privately?"
"Oh, I remember! Never mind!
Some more convenient time I'll find.
The Thirtieth Sabbath this! Would you
Affront the circumcised Jew?"
"Religious scruples I have none."
"Ah, but I have. I am but one
Of the _canaille_--a feeble brother.
Your pardon. Some fine day or other
I'll tell you what it was." Oh, day
Of woeful doom to me! Away
The rascal bolted like an arrow,
And left me underneath the harrow;
When, by the rarest luck, we ran
At the next turn against the man,
Who had the lawsuit with my bore.
"Ha, knave!" he cried with loud uproar,
"Where are you off to? Will you here
Stand witness?" I present my ear.
To court he hustles him along;
High words are bandied, high and strong.
A mob collects, the fray to see:
So did Apollo rescue me.
The Satires appear to have been completed when Horace was about
thirty-five years old, and published collectively, B.C. 29. By this
time his position in society was well assured. He numbered among his
friends, as we have seen, the most eminent men in Rome,--
"Chiefs out of war, and statesmen out of place"--
men who were not merely ripe scholars, but who had borne and were
bearing a leading part in the great actions of that memorable epoch.
Among such men he would be most at home, for there his wit, his
shrewdness, his genial spirits, and high breeding would be best
appreciated. But his own keen relish of life, and his delight in
watching the lights and shades of human character, took him into that
wider circle where witty and notable men are always eagerly sought
after to grace the feasts or enliven the heavy splendour of the rich
and the unlettered. He was still young, and happy in the animal
spirits which make the exhausting life of a luxurious capital
endurable even in spite of its pleasures. What Victor Hugo calls
"Le banquet des amis, et quelquefois les soirs,
Le baiser jeune et frais d'une blanche aux yeux noirs,"
never quite lost their charm for him; but during this period they must
often have tempted him into the elaborate dinners, the late hours, and
the high-strung excitement, which made a retreat to the keen air and
plain diet of his Sabine home scarcely less necessary for his body's
than it was for his spirit's health. For, much as he prized moderation
in all things, and extolled "the mirth that after no repenting draws,"
good wine, good company, and fair and witty women would be sure to
work their spell on a temperament so bright and sympathetic, and to
quicken his spirits into a brilliancy and force, dazzling for the
hour, but to be paid for next day in headache and depression.
He was all the more likely to suffer in this way from the very fact
that, as a rule, he was simple and frugal in his tastes and habits. We
have seen him (p. 66), in the early days of his stay in Rome, at his
"plain meal of pancakes, pulse, and pease," served on homely
earthenware. At his farm, again, beans and bacon (p. 80) form his
staple dish. True to the old Roman taste, he was a great vegetarian,
and in his charming ode, written for the opening of the temple of
Apollo erected by Augustus on Mount Palatine (B.C. 28), he thinks it
not out of place to mingle with his prayer for poetic power an
entreaty that he may never be without wholesome vegetables and fruit.
"Let olives, endive, mallows light,
Be all my fare; and health
Give thou, Apollo, so I might
Enjoy my present wealth!
Give me but these, I ask no more,
These, and a mind entire--
An old age, not unhonoured, nor
Unsolaced by the lyre!"
Maecenas himself is promised (Odes, III. 28), if he will visit the
poet at the Sabine farm, "simple dinners neatly dressed;" and when
Horace invites down his friend Torquatus (Epistles, II. 5), he does it
on the footing that this wealthy lawyer shall be content to put up
with plain vegetables and homely crockery (_modica olus omne
patella_). The wine, he promises, shall be good, though not of any
of the crack growths. If Torquatus wants better, he must send it down
himself. The appointments of the table, too, though of the simplest
kind, shall be admirably kept--
"The coverlets of faultless sheen,
The napkins scrupulously clean,
Your cup and salver such that they
Unto yourself yourself display."
Table-service neat to a nicety was obviously a great point with
Horace. "What plate he had was made to look its best." "_Ridet
argento domus_"--"My plate, newly-burnished, enlivens my rooms"--is
one of the attractions held out in his invitation to the fair Phyllis
to grace his table on Maecenas's birthday (Odes, IV. 11). And we may
be very sure that his little dinners were served and waited on with
the studied care and quiet finish of a refined simplicity. His rule on
these matters is indicated by himself (Satires, II. 2):--
"The proper thing is to be cleanly and nice,
And yet so as not to be over precise;
To neither be constantly scolding your slaves,
Like that old prig Albutus, as losels and knaves,
Nor, like Naevius, in such things who's rather too easy,
To the guests at your board present water that's greasy."
To a man of these simple tastes the elaborate banquets, borrowed from
the Asiatic Greeks, which were then in fashion, must have been
intolerable. He has introduced us to one of them in describing a
dinner-party of nine given by one Nasidienus, a wealthy snob, to
Maecenas and others of Horace's friends. The dinner breaks down in a
very amusing way, between the giver's love of display and his
parsimony, which prompted him, on the one hand, to present his guests
with, the fashionable dainties, but, on the other, would not let him
pay a price sufficient to secure their being good. The first course
consists of a Lucanian wild boar, served with a garnish of turnips,
radishes, and lettuce, in a sauce of anchovy-brine and wine-lees. Next
comes an incongruous medley of dishes, including one
"Of sparrows' gall and turbots' liver,
At the mere thought of which I shiver."
A lamprey succeeds, "floating vast and free, by shrimps surrounded in
a sea of sauce," and this is followed up by a crane soused in salt and
flour, the liver of a snow-white goose fattened on figs, leverets'
shoulders, and roasted blackbirds. This _menu_ is clearly meant
for a caricature, but it was a caricature of a prevailing folly, which
had probably cost the poet many an indigestion.
Against this folly, and the ruin to health and purse which it
entailed, some of his most vigorous satire is directed. It furnishes
the themes of the second and fourth Satires of the Second Book, both
of which, with slight modifications, might with equal truth be
addressed to the dinner-givers and diners-out of our own day. In the
former of these the speaker is the Apulian yeoman Ofellus, who
undertakes to show
"What the virtue consists in, and why it is great,
To live on a little, whatever your state."
Before entering on his task, however, he insists that his hearers
shall cut themselves adrift from their luxuries, and come to him
fasting, and with appetites whetted by a sharp run with the hounds, a
stiff bout at tennis, or some other vigorous gymnastics;--
"And when the hard work has your squeamishness routed,
When you're parched up with thirst, and your hunger's undoubted,
Then spurn simple food if you can, or plain wine,
Which no honied gums from Hymettus refine."
His homily then proceeds in terms which would not be out of place if
addressed to a _gourmet_ of modern London or Paris:--
"When your butler's away, and the weather's so bad
That there is not a morsel of fish to be had,
A crust with some salt will soothe not amiss
The ravening stomach. You ask, how is this?
Because for delight, at the best, you must look
To yourself, and not to your wealth or your cook 
Work till you perspire. Of all sauces 'tis best.
The man that's with over-indulgence oppressed,
White-livered and pursy, can relish no dish,
Be it ortolans, oysters, or finest of fish.
Still I scarcely can hope, if before you there were
A peacock and capon, you would not prefer
With the peacock to tickle your palate, you're so
Completely the dupes of mere semblance and show.
For to buy the rare bird only gold will avail,
And he makes a grand show with his fine painted tail.
As if this had to do with the matter the least!
Can you make of the feathers you prize so a feast?
And, when the bird's cooked, what becomes of its splendour?
Is his flesh than the capon's more juicy or tender?
Mere appearance, not substance, then, clearly it is,
Which bamboozles your judgment. So much, then, for this."
"Pour l'amour de Dieu, un sou pour acheter un petit pain. J'ai si
faim!" "Comment!" responded the cloyed sensualist, in search of an
appetite, who was thus accosted; "tu as faim, petit drole! Tu es
bien heureux!" The readers of Pope will also remember his lines on
the man who
"Called 'happy dog' the beggar at his door,
And envied thirst and hunger to the poor."
Don't talk to me of taste, Ofellus continues--
"Will it give you a notion
If this pike in the Tiber was caught, or the ocean?
If it used 'twixt the bridges to glide and to quiver,
Or was tossed to and fro at the mouth of the river?"
Just as our epicures profess to distinguish, by flavour a salmon
fresh, run from the sea from one that has been degenerating for four-
and-twenty hours in the fresh water of the river--with this
difference, however, that, unlike the salmon with us, the above-bridge
pike was considered at Rome to be more delicate than his sea-bred and
Ofellus next proceeds to ridicule the taste which prizes what is set
before it for mere size or rarity or cost. It is this, he contends,
and not any excellence in the things themselves, which makes people
load their tables with the sturgeon or the stork. Fashion, not
flavour, prescribes the rule; indeed, the more perverted her ways, the
more sure they are to be followed.
"So were any one now to assure us a treat
In cormorants roasted, as tender and sweet,
The young men of Rome are so prone to what's wrong,
They'd eat cormorants all to a man, before long."
But, continues Ofellus, though I would have you frugal, I would not
have you mean--
"One vicious extreme it is idle to shun,
If into its opposite straightway you run;"
illustrating his proposition by one of those graphic sketches which
give a distinctive life to Horace's Satires.
"There is Avidienus, to whom, like a burr,
Sticks the name he was righteously dubbed by, of 'Cur,'
Eats beechmast and olives five years old, at least,
And even when he's robed all in white for a feast
On his marriage or birth day, or some other very
High festival day, when one likes to be merry,
What wine from the chill of his cellar emerges--
'Tis a drop at the best--has the flavour of verjuice;
While from a huge cruet his own sparing hand
On his coleworts drops oil which no mortal can stand,
So utterly loathsome and rancid in smell, it
Defies his stale vinegar even to quell it."
Let what you have he simple, the best of its kind, whatever that may
be, and served in the best style. And now learn, continues the rustic
"In what way and how greatly you'll gain
By using a diet both sparing and plain.
First, your health will be good; for you readily can
Believe how much mischief is done to a man
By a great mass of dishes,--remembering that
Plain fare of old times, and how lightly it sat.
But the moment you mingle up boiled with roast meat,
And shellfish with thrushes, what tasted so sweet
Will be turned into bile, and ferment, not digest, in
Your stomach exciting a tumult intestine.
Mark, from a bewildering dinner how pale
Every man rises up! Nor is this all they ail,
For the body, weighed down by its last night's excesses,
To its own wretched level the mind, too, depresses,
And to earth chains that spark of the essence divine;
While he, that's content on plain viands to dine,
Sleeps off his fatigues without effort, then gay
As a lark rises up to the tasks of the day.
Yet he on occasion will find himself able
To enjoy without hurt a more liberal table,
Say, on festival days, that come round with the year,
Or when his strength's low, and cries out for good cheer,
Or when, as years gather, his age must be nursed
With more delicate care than he wanted at first.
But for you, when ill health or old age shall befall,
Where's the luxury left, the relief within call,
Which has not been forestalled in the days of your prime,
When you scoffed, in your strength, at the inroads of time?
"'Keep your boar till it's rank!' said our sires; which arose,
I am confident, not from their having no nose,
But more from the notion that some of their best
Should be kept in reserve for the chance of a guest:
And though, ere he came, it grew stale on the shelf,
This was better than eating all up by one's self.
Oh, would I had only on earth found a place
In the days of that noble heroic old race!"
So much as a question of mere health and good feeling. But now our
moralist appeals to higher considerations:--
"Do you set any store by good name, which we find
Is more welcome than song to the ears of mankind?
Magnificent turbot, plate richly embossed,
Will bring infinite shame with an infinite cost.
Add kinsmen and neighbours all furious, your own
Disgust with yourself, when you find yourself groan
For death, which has shut itself off from your hope,
With not even a sou left to buy you a rope.
"'Most excellent doctrine!' you answer, 'and would,
For people like Trausius, be all very good;
But I have great wealth, and an income that brings
In enough to provide for the wants of three kings.'
But is this any reason you should not apply
Your superfluous wealth to ends nobler, more high?
You so rich, why should any good honest man lack?
Our temples, why should they be tumbling to wrack?
Wretch, of all this great heap have you nothing to spare
For our dear native land? Or why should you dare
To think that misfortune will never o'ertake you?
Oh, then, what a butt would your enemies make you!
Who will best meet reverses? The man who, you find,
Has by luxuries pampered both body and mind?
Or he who, contented with little, and still
Looking on to the future, and fearful of ill,
Long, long ere a murmur is heard from afar,
In peace has laid up the munitions of war?"
Alas for the wisdom, of Ofellus the sage! Nineteen centuries have come
and gone, and the spectacle is still before us of the same
selfishness, extravagance, and folly, which he rebuked so well and so
vainly, but pushed to even greater excess, and more widely diffused,
enervating the frames and ruining the fortunes of one great section of
society, and helping to inspire another section, and that a dangerous
one, with angry disgust at the hideous contrast between the opposite
extremes of wretchedness and luxury which everywhere meets the eye in
the great cities of the civilised world.
In the fourth Satire of the Second Book, Horace ridicules, in a vein
of exquisite irony, the _gourmets_ of his day, who made a
philosophy of flavours, with whom sauces were a science, and who had
condensed into aphorisms the merits of the poultry, game, or fish of
the different and often distant regions from which they were brought
to Rome. Catius has been listening to a dissertation by some Brillat-
Savarin of this class, and is hurrying home to commit to his tablets
the precepts by which he professes himself to have been immensely
struck, when he is met by Horace, and prevailed upon to repeat some of
them in the very words of this philosopher of the dinner-table.
Exceedingly curious they are, throwing no small light both upon the
materials of the Roman cuisine and upon the treatment by the Romans of
their wines. Being delivered, moreover, with the epigrammatic
precision of philosophical axioms, their effect is infinitely amusing.
"Honey Aufidius mixed with strong
Falernian; he was very wrong."
"The flesh of kid is rarely fine,
That has been chiefly fed on vine."
"To meadow mushrooms give the prize,
And trust no others, if you're wise."
"Till I had the example shown,
The art was utterly unknown
Of telling, when you taste a dish,
The age and kind of bird or fish."
Horace professes to be enraptured at the depth of sagacity and beauty
of expression in what he hears, and exclaims,--
"Oh, learned Catius, prithee, by
Our friendship, by the gods on high,
Take me along with you, to hear
Such wisdom, be it far or near!
For though you tell me all--in fact,
Your memory is most exact--
Still there must be some grace of speech,
Which no interpreter can reach.
The look, too, of the man, the mien!
Which you, what fortune! having seen,
May for that very reason deem
Of no account; but to the stream,
Even at its very fountain-head,
I fain would have my footsteps led,
That, stooping, I may drink my fill,
Where such life-giving saws distil."
Manifestly the poet was no gastronome, or he would not have dealt thus
sarcastically with matters so solemn and serious as the gusts, and
flavours, and "sacred rage" of a highly-educated appetite. At the same
time, there is no reason to suppose him to have been insensible to the
attractions of the "_haute cuisine_," as developed by the genius
of the Vattel or Francatelli of Maecenas, and others of his wealthy
friends. Indeed, he appears to have been prone, rather than otherwise,
to attack these with a relish, which his feeble digestion had frequent
reason to repent. His servant Davus more than hints as much in the
passage above quoted (p. 83); and the consciousness of his own frailty
may have given additional vigour to his assaults on the ever-
increasing indulgence in the pleasures of the table, which he saw
gaining ground so rapidly around him.
HORACE'S LOVE POETRY.
When young, Horace threw himself ardently into the pleasures of youth;
and his friends being, for the most part, young and rich, their
banquets were sure to be sumptuous, and carried far into the night.
Nor in these days did the "_blanche aux yeux noirs_," whose
beauty and accomplishments formed the crowning grace of most
bachelors' parties, fail to engage a liberal share of his attention.
He tells us as much himself (Epistles, I. 14), when contrasting to the
steward of his farm the tastes of his maturer years with the habits of
"He, whom fine clothes became, and glistering hair,
Whom Cinara welcomed, that rapacious fair,
As well you know, for his own simple sake,
Who on from noon would wine in bumpers take,
Now quits the table soon, and loves to dream
And drowse upon the grass beside a stream,"
adding, with a sententious brevity which it is hopeless to imitate,
"_Nec lusisse pudet, sed non incidere ludum_,"--
"Nor blushes that of sport he took his fill;
He'd blush, indeed, to be tomfooling still."
Again, when lamenting how little the rolling years have left him of
his past (Epistles, II. 2), his regrets are for the "_Venerem,
convivia, ludum_," to which he no longer finds himself equal--
"Years following years steal something every day,
Love, feasting, frolic, fun, they've swept away;"--
and to the first of these, life "in his hot youth" manifestly owed
much of its charm.
To beauty he would appear to have been always susceptible, but his was
the lightly-stirred susceptibility which is an affair of the senses
rather than of the soul. "There is in truth," says Rochefoucauld,
"only one kind of love; but there are a thousand different copies of
it." Horace, so far at least as we can judge from his poetry, was no
stranger to the spurious form of the passion, but his whole being had
never been penetrated by the genuine fire. The goddess of his worship
is not Venus Urania, pale, dreamy, spiritual, but _Erycina ridens,
quam Jocus circum volat et Cupido,_ who comes
"With laughter in her eyes, and Love
And Glee around her flying."
Accordingly, of all those infinitely varied chords of deep emotion and
imaginative tenderness, of which occasional traces are to be found in
the literature of antiquity, and with which modern poetry, from Dante
to Tennyson, is familiar, no hint is to be found in his pages. His
deepest feeling is at best but a ferment of the blood; it is never the
all-absorbing devotion of the heart. He had learned by his own
experience just enough of the tender passion to enable him to write
pretty verses about it, and to rally, not unsympathetically, such of
his friends as had not escaped so lightly from the flame. Therefore it
is that, as has been truly said, "his love-ditties are, as it were,
like flowers, beautiful in form and rich in hues, but without the
scent that breathes to the heart." We seek in them in vain for the
tenderness, the negation of self, the passion and the pathos, which
are the soul of all true love-poetry.
At the same time, Horace had a subtle appreciation of the beauty and
grace, the sweetness and the fascination, of womanhood. Poet as he
was, he must have delighted to contemplate the ideal elevation and
purity of woman, as occasionally depicted in the poetry of Greece, and
of which he could scarcely fail to have had some glimpses in real
life. Nay, he paints (Odes, III. 11) the devotion of Hypermnestra for
her husband's sake "magnificently false" (_splendide mendax_) to
the promise which, with her sister Danaids, she had given to her
father, in a way that proves he was not incapable of appreciating, and
even of depicting, the purer and higher forms of female worth. But
this exquisite portrait stands out in solitary splendour among the
Lydes and Lalages, the Myrtales, Phrynes, and Glyceras of his other
poems. These ladies were types of the class with which, probably, he
was most familiar, those brilliant and accomplished _hetairae_,
generally Greeks, who were trained up in slavery with every art and
accomplishment which could heighten their beauty or lend a charm to
their society. Always beautiful, and by force of their very position
framed to make themselves attractive, these "weeds of glorious
feature," naturally enough, took the chief place in the regards of men
of fortune, in a state of society where marriage was not an affair of
the heart but of money or connection, and where the wife so chosen
seems to have been at pains to make herself more attractive to
everybody rather than to her husband. Here and there these Aspasias
made themselves a distinguished position, and occupied a place with
their protector nearly akin to that of wife. But in the ordinary way
their reign over any one heart was shortlived, and their career,
though splendid, was brief,--a youth of folly, a premature old age of
squalor and neglect. Their habits were luxurious and extravagant. In
dress they outvied the splendour, not insignificant, of the Roman
matrons; and they might be seen courting the admiration of the wealthy
loungers of Rome by dashing along the Appian Way behind a team of
spirited ponies driven by themselves. These things were often paid for
out of the ruin of their admirers. Their society, while in the bloom
and freshness of their charms, was greatly sought after, for wit and
song came with them to the feast. Even Cicero, then well up in years,
finds a pleasant excuse (Familiar Letters, IX. 26) for enjoying till a
late hour the society of one Cytheris, a lady of the class, at the
house of Volumnius Eutrapelus, her protector. His friend Atticus was
with him; and although Cicero finds some excuse necessary, it is still
obvious that even grave and sober citizens might dine in such
equivocal company without any serious compromise of character.
It was perhaps little to be wondered at that Horace did not squander
his heart upon women of this class. His passions were too well
controlled, and his love of ease too strong, to admit of his being
carried away by the headlong impulses of a deeply-seated devotion.
This would probably have been the case even had the object of his
passion been worthy of an unalloyed regard. As it was,
"His loves were like most other loves,
A little glow, a little shiver;"
and if he sometimes had, like the rest of mankind, to pay his homage
to the universal passion by "sighing upon his midnight pillow" for the
regards of a mistress whom he could not win, or who had played him
false, he was never at a loss to find a balm for his wounds elsewhere.
He was not the man to nurse the bitter-sweet sorrows of the heart--to
write, and to feel, like Burns--
"'Tis sweeter for thee despairing,
Than aught in the world beside."
_Parabilem amo Venerem facilemque_, "Give me the beauty that is
not too coy," is the Alpha and Omega of his personal creed. How should
it have been otherwise? Knowing woman chiefly, as he obviously did,
only in the ranks of the _demi-monde_, he was not likely to
regard the fairest face, after the first heyday of his youth was past,
as worth the pain its owner's caprices could inflict. For, as seen
under that phase, woman was apt to be both mercenary and capricious;
and if the poet suffered, as he did, from the fickleness of more than
one mistress, the probability is--and this he was too honest not to
feel--that they had only forestalled him in inconstancy.
If Horace ever had a feeling which deserved the name of love, it was
for the Cinara mentioned in the lines above quoted. She belonged to
the class of hetairae, but seems to have preferred him, from a genuine
feeling of affection, to her wealthier lovers. Holding him as she did
completely under her thraldom, it was no more than natural that she
should have played with his emotions, keeping him between ecstasy and
torture, as such a woman, especially if her own heart were also
somewhat engaged, would delight to do with a man in whose love she
must have rejoiced as something to lean upon amid the sad frivolities
of her life. The exquisite pain to which her caprices occasionally
subjected him was more than he could bear in silence, and drove him,
despite his quick sense of the ridiculous, into lachrymose avowals to
Maecenas of his misery over his wine, which were, doubtless, no small
source of amusement to the easy-going statesman, before his wife
Terentia had taught him by experience what infinite torture a charming
and coquettish woman has it in her power to inflict. Long years
afterwards, when he is well on to fifty, Horace reminds his friend
(Epistles, I. 7) of
"The woes blabbed o'er our wine, when Cinara chose
To tease me, cruel flirt--ah, happy woes!"--
words in which lurks a subtle undercurrent of pathos, like that in
Sophie Arnould's exclamation in Le Brun's Epigram,--
"Oh, le bon temps! J'etais bien malheureuse!"
Twice also in his later odes (IV. 1 and 13), Horace recurs with
tenderness to the "gentle Cinara" as having held the paramount place
in his heart. She was his one bit of romance, and this all the more
that she died young. _Cinarae breves annos fata dederunt_--"Few
years the fates to Cinara allowed;" and in his meditative rambles by
the Digentia, the lonely poet, we may well believe, often found
himself sighing "for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a
voice that is still."
In none of his love-poems is the ring of personal feeling more
perceptible than in the following. It is one of his earliest, and if
we are to identify the Neaera to whom it is addressed with the Neaera
referred to in Ode 14, Book III., it must have been written _Consule
Planco_, that is, in the year of Horace's return to Rome after the
battle of Philippi.--
"'Twas night!--let me recall to thee that night!
The silver moon in the unclouded sky
Amid the lesser stars was shining bright,
When, in the words I did adjure thee by,
Thou with thy clinging arms, more tightly knit
Around me than the ivy clasps the oak,
Didst breathe a vow--mocking the gods with it--
A vow which, false one, thou hast foully broke;
That while the ravening wolf should hunt the flocks,
The shipman's foe, Orion, vex the sea,
And zephyrs waft the unshorn Apollo's locks,
So long wouldst thou be fond, be true to me!
"Yet shall thy heart, Neaera, bleed for this,
For if in Flaccus aught of man remain,
Give thou another joys that once were his,
Some other maid more true shall soothe his pain;
Nor think again to lure him to thy heart!
The pang once felt, his love is past recall;
And thou, more favoured youth, whoe'er thou art,
Who revell'st now in triumph o'er his fall,
Though thou be rich in land and golden store,
In lore a sage, with shape framed to beguile,
Thy heart shall ache when, this brief fancy o'er,
She seeks a new love, and I calmly smile."
This is the poetry of youth, the passion of wounded vanity; but it is
clearly the product of a strong personal feeling--a feeling which has
more often found expression in poetry than the higher emotions of
those with whom "love is love for evermore," and who have infinite
pity, but no rebuke, for faithlessness. The lines have been often
imitated; and in Sir Robert Aytoun's poem on "Woman's Inconstancy,"
the imitation has a charm not inferior to the original.
"Yet do thou glory in thy choice,
Thy choice of his good fortune boast;
I'll neither grieve nor yet rejoice
To see him gain what I have lost;
The height of my disdain shall be
To laugh at him, to blush for thee;
To love thee still, yet go no more
A-begging to a beggar's door."
Note how Horace deals with the same theme in his Ode to Pyrrha, famous
in Milton's overrated translation, and the difference between the
young man writing under the smart of wounded feeling and the poet,
calmly though intensely elaborating his subject as a work of art,
becomes at once apparent.
"Pyrrha, what slender boy, in perfume steeped,
Doth in the shade of some delightful grot
Caress thee now on couch with roses heaped?
For whom dost thou thine amber tresses knot
"With all thy seeming-artless grace? Ah me,
How oft will he thy perfidy bewail,
And joys all flown, and shudder at the sea
Rough with the chafing of the blust'rous gale,
"Who now, fond dreamer, revels in thy charms;
Who, all unweeting how the breezes veer,
Hopes still to find a welcome in thine arms
As warm as now, and thee as loving-dear!
"Ah, woe for those on whom thy spell is flung!
My votive tablet, in the temple set,
Proclaims that I to ocean's god have hung
The vestments in my shipwreck smirched and wet."
It may be that among Horace's odes some were directly inspired by the
ladies to whom they are addressed; but it is time that modern
criticism should brush away all the elaborate nonsense which has been
written to demonstrate that Pyrrha, Chloe, Lalage, Lydia, Lyde,
Leuconoe, Tyndaris, Glycera, and Barine, not to mention others, were
real personages to whom the poet was attached. At this rate his
occupations must have rather been those of a Don Giovanni than of a
man of studious habits and feeble health, who found it hard enough to
keep pace with the milder dissipations of the social circle. We are
absolutely without any information as to these ladies, whose liquid
and beautiful names are almost poems in themselves; nevertheless the
most wonderful romances have been spun about them out of the inner
consciousness of the commentators. Who would venture to deal in this
way with the Eleanore, and "rare pale Margaret," and Cousin Amy, of Mr
Tennyson? And yet to do so would be quite as reasonable as to
conclude, as some critics have done, that such a poem as the following
(Odes, I. 23) was not a graceful poetical exercise merely, but a
serious appeal to the object of a serious passion:--
"Nay, hear me, dearest Chloe, pray!
You shun me like a timid fawn,
That seeks its mother all the day
By forest brake and upland, lawn,
Of every passing breeze afraid,
And leaf that twitters in the glade.
"Let but the wind with sudden rush
The whispers of the wood awake,
Or lizard green disturb the hush,
Quick-darting through the grassy brake,
The foolish frightened thing will start,
With trembling knees and beating heart.
"But I am neither lion fell
Nor tiger grim to work you woe;
I love you, sweet one, much too well,
Then cling not to your mother so,
But to a lover's fonder arms
Confide your ripe and rosy charms."
The same idea has been beautifully worked out by Spenser, in whom,
and in Milton, the influence of Horace's poetry is perhaps more
frequently traceable than in any of our poets:--
"Like as an hynde forth singled from the herde,
That hath escaped from a ravenous beast,
Yet flies away, of her own feet afearde;
And every leaf, that shaketh with the least
Murmure of winde, her terror hath encreast;
So fled fayre Florimel from her vaine feare,
Long after she from perill was releast;
Each shade she saw, and each noyse she did heare,
Did seeme to be the same, which she escaypt whileare."
Fairy Queen, III. vii. 1.
Such a poem as this, one should have supposed, might have escaped the
imputation of being dictated by mere personal desire. But no; even so
acute a critic as Walckenaer will have it that Chloe was one of
Horace's many mistresses, to whom he fled for consolation when Lydia,
another of them, played him false, "et qu'il l'a recherchee avec
empressement." And his sole ground for this conclusion is the
circumstance that a Chloe is mentioned in this sense in the famous
Dialogue, in which Horace and Lydia have quite gratuitously been
assumed to be the speakers. That is to say, he first assumes that the
dialogue is not a mere exercise of fancy, but a serious fact, and,
having got so far, concludes as a matter of course that the Chloe of
the one ode is the Chloe of the other! "The ancients," as Buttmann has
well said, "had the skill to construct such poems so that each speech
tells us by whom it is spoken; but we let the editors treat us all our
lives as schoolboys, and interline such dialogues, as we do our plays,
with the names. Even in an English poem we should be offended at
seeing Collins by the side of Phyllis." Read without the prepossession
which the constant mention of it as a dialogue between Horace and
Lydia makes it difficult to avoid, the Ode commends itself merely as a
piece of graceful fancy. Real feeling is the last thing one looks for
in two such excessively well-bred and fickle personages as the
speakers. Their pouting and reconciliation make very pretty fooling,
such as might be appropriate in the wonderful beings who people the
garden landscapes of Watteau. But where are the fever and the strong
pulse of passion which, in less ethereal mortals, would be proper to
such a theme? Had there been a real lady in the case, the tone would
have been less measured, and the strophes less skilfully balanced.
"HE.--Whilst I was dear and thou wert kind,
And I, and I alone, might lie
Upon thy snowy breast reclined,
Not Persia's king so blest as I.
SHE.--Whilst I to thee was all in all,
Nor Chloe might with Lydia vie,
Renowned in ode or madrigal,
Not Roman Ilia famed as I.
HE.--I now am Thracian Chloe's slave,
With hand and voice that charms the air,
For whom even death itself I'd brave,
So fate the darling girl would spare!
SHE.--I dote on Calais--and I
Am all his passion, all his care,
For whom a double death I'd die,
So fate the darling boy would spare!
HE.--What, if our ancient love return,
And bind us with a closer tie,
If I the fair-haired Chloe spurn,
And as of old, for Lydia sigh?
SHE.--Though lovelier than yon star is he,
And lighter thou than cork--ah why?
More churlish, too, than Adria's sea,
With thee I'd live, with thee I'd die!"
In this graceful trifle Horace is simply dealing with one of the
commonplaces of poetry, most probably only transplanting a Greek
flower into the Latin soil. There is more of the vigour of originality
and of living truth in the following ode to Barine (II. 8), where he
gives us a cameo portrait, carved with exquisite finish, of that
_beaute de diable_, "dallying and dangerous," as Charles Lamb
called Peg Woffington's, and, what hers was not, heartless, which
never dies out of the world. A real person, Lord Lytton thinks, "was
certainly addressed, and in a tone which, to such a person, would have
been the most exquisite flattery; and as certainly the person is not
so addressed by a lover"--a criticism which, coming from such an
observer, outweighs the opposite conclusions of a score of pedantic
"If for thy perjuries and broken truth,
Barine, thou hadst ever come to harm,
Hadst lost, but in a nail or blackened tooth,
One single charm,
"I'd trust thee; but when thou art most forsworn,
Thou blazest forth with beauty most supreme,
And of our young men art, noon, night, and morn,
The thought, the dream.
"To thee 'tis gain thy mother's dust to mock,
To mock the silent watchfires of the night,
All heaven, the gods, on whom death's icy shock
Can never light.
"Smiles Venus' self, I vow, to see thy arts,
The guileless Nymphs and cruel Cupid smile,
And, smiling, whets on bloody stone his darts
Of fire the while.
"Nay more, our youth grow up to be thy prey,
New slaves throng round, and those who crouched at first,
Though oft they threaten, leave not for a day
Thy roof accurst.
"Thee mothers for their unfledged younglings dread;
Thee niggard old men dread, and brides new-made,
In misery, lest their lords neglect their bed,
By thee delayed."
Horace is more at home in playful raillery of the bewildering effects
of love upon others, than in giving expression to its emotions as felt
by himself. In the fourteenth Epode, it is true, he begs Maecenas to
excuse his failure to execute some promised poem, because he is so
completely upset by his love for a certain naughty Phryne that he
cannot put a couple of lines together. Again, he tells us (Odes, I.
19) into what a ferment his whole being has been thrown, long after he
had thought himself safe from such emotions, by the marble-like sheen
of Glycera's beauty--her _grata protervitas, et voltus nimium
"Her pretty, pert, provoking ways,
And face too fatal-fair to see."
The first Ode of the Fourth Book is a beautiful fantasia on a similar
theme. He paints, too, the tortures of jealousy with the vigour (Odes,
I. 13) of a man who knew something of them:--
"Then reels my brain, then on my cheek
The shifting colour comes and goes,
And tears, that flow unbidden, speak
The torture of my inward throes,
The fierce unrest, the deathless flame,
That slowly macerates my frame."
And when rallying his friend Tibullus (Odes, I. 23) about his doleful
ditties on the fickleness of his mistress Glycera, he owns to having
himself suffered terribly in the same way. But despite all this, it is
very obvious that if love has, in Rosalind's phrase, "clapped him on
the shoulder," the little god left him "heart-whole." Being, as it is,
the source of the deepest and strongest emotions, love presents many
aspects for the humorist, and perhaps to no one more than to him who
has felt it intensely. Horace may or may not have sounded the depths
of the passion in his own person; but, in any case, a fellow-feeling
for the lover's pleasures and pains served to infuse a tone of
kindliness into his ridicule. How charming in this way is the Ode to
Lydia (I. 8), of which the late Henry Luttrel's once popular and still
delightful 'Letters to Julia' is an elaborate paraphrase!--
"Why, Lydia, why,
I pray, by all the gods above,
Art so resolved that Sybaris should die,
And all for love?
"Why doth he shun
The Campus Martius' sultry glare?
He that once recked of neither dust nor sun,
Why rides he there,
"First of the brave,
Taming the Gallic steed no more?
Why doth he shrink from Tiber's yellow wave?
Why thus abhor
"The wrestlers' oil,
As 'twere from viper's tongue distilled?
Why do his arms no livid bruises soil,
He, once so skilled,
"The disc or dart
Far, far beyond the mark to hurl?
And tell me, tell me, in what nook apart,
"Lurks the poor boy,
Veiling his manhood, as did Thetis' son,
To 'scape war's bloody clang, while fated Troy
Was yet undone?"
In the same class with this poem may be ranked the following ode (I.
27). Just as the poet has made us as familiar with the lovelorn
Sybaris as if we knew him, so does he here transport us into the
middle of a wine-party of young Romans, with that vivid dramatic force
which constitutes one great source of the excellence of his lyrics.
"Hold! hold! 'Tis for Thracian madmen to fight
With wine-cups, that only were made for delight.
'Tis barbarous-brutal! I beg of you all,
Disgrace not our banquet with bloodshed and brawl!
"Sure, Median scimitars strangely accord
With lamps and with wine at the festival board!
'Tis out of all rule! Friends, your places resume,
And let us have order once more in the room!
"If I am to join you in pledging a beaker
Of this stout Falernian, choicest of liquor,
Megilla's fair brother must say, from what eyes
Flew the shaft, sweetly fatal, that causes his sighs.
"How--dumb! Then I drink not a drop. Never blush,
Whoever the fair one may be, man! Tush, tush!
She'll do your taste credit, I'm certain--for yours
Was always select in its little amours.
"Don't be frightened! We're all upon honour, you know,
So out with your tale!--Gracious powers! Is it so?
Poor fellow! Your lot has gone sadly amiss,
When you fell into such a Charybdis as this!
"What witch, what magician, with drinks and with charms,
What god can effect your release from her harms?
So fettered, scarce Pegasus' self, were he near you,
From the fangs of this triple Chimaera would clear you."
In this poem, which has all the effect of an impromptu, we have a
_genre_ picture of Roman life, as vivid as though painted by the
pencil of Couture or Gerome.
Serenades were as common an expedient among the Roman gallants of the
days of Augustus as among their modern successors. In the fine climate
of Greece, Italy, and Spain, they were a natural growth, and involved
no great strain upon a wooer's endurance. They assume a very different
aspect under a northern sky, where young Absolute, found by his Lydia
Languish "in the garden, in the coldest night in January, stuck like a
dripping statue," presents a rather lugubrious spectacle. Horace
(Odes, III. 7) warns the fair Asterie, during the absence of her
husband abroad, to shut her ears against the musical nocturnes of a
"At nightfall shut your doors, nor then.
Look down into the street again,
When quavering fifes complain;"
using almost the words of Shylock to his daughter Jessica:--
"Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum
_And the vile squeaking of the wrynecked fife_,
Clamber not you up to the casement then,
Nor thrust your head into the public street."
The name given to such a serenade, adopted probably, with the
serenades themselves, from Greece, was _paraclausithyron_--
literally, an out-of-door lament. Here is a specimen of what they were
(Odes, III. 10), in which, under the guise of imitating their form,
Horace quietly makes a mock of the absurdity of the practice. His
serenader has none of the insensibility to the elements of the lover
in the Scotch song:--
"Wi' the sleet in my hair, I'd gang ten miles and mair,
For a word o' that sweet lip o' thine, o' thine,
For ae glance o' thy dark e'e divine."
Neither is there in his pleading the tone of earnest entreaty which
marks the wooer, in a similar plight, of Burns's "Let me in this ae
"Thou hear'st the winter wind and weet,
Nae star blinks through the driving sleet;
Tak pity on my weary feet,
And shield me frae the rain, jo."
There can be no mistake as to the seriousness of this appeal. Horace's
is a mere _jeu-d'esprit_:--
"Though your drink were Tanais, chillest of rivers,
And your lot with some conjugal savage were cast,
You would pity, sweet Lyce, the poor soul that shivers
Out here at your door in the merciless blast.
"Only hark how the doorway goes straining and creaking,
And the piercing wind pipes through the trees that surround
The court of your villa, while Hack frost is streaking
With ice the crisp snow that lies thick on the ground!
"In your pride--Venus hates it--no longer envelop ye,
Or haply you'll find yourself laid on the shelf;
You never were made for a prudish Penelope,
'Tis not in the blood of your sires or yourself.
"Though nor gifts nor entreaties can win a soft answer,
Nor the violet pale of my love-ravaged cheek,
To your husband's intrigue with a Greek ballet-dancer,
Though you still are blind, and forgiving and meek;
"Yet be not as cruel--forgive my upbraiding--
As snakes, nor as hard as the toughest of oak;
To stand out here, drenched to the skin, serenading
All night may in time prove too much of a joke."
It is not often that Horace's poetry is vitiated by bad taste.
Strangely enough, almost the only instances of it occur where he is
writing of women, as in the Ode to Lydia (Book I. 25) and to Lyce
(Book IV. 13). Both ladies seem to have been, former favourites of
his, and yet the burden of these poems is exultation in the decay of
their charms. The deadening influence of mere sensuality, and of the
prevalent low tone of morals, must indeed have been great, when a man
"so singularly susceptible," as Lord Lytton has truly described him,
"to amiable, graceful, gentle, and noble impressions of man and of
life," could write of a woman whom he had once loved in a strain like
"The gods have heard, the gods have heard my prayer;
Yes, Lyce! you are growing old, and still
You struggle to look fair;
You drink, and dance, and trill
Your songs to youthful love, in accents weak
With wine, and age, and passion. Youthful Love!
He dwells in Chia's cheek,
And hears her harp-strings move.
Rude boy, he flies like lightning o'er the heath
Past withered trees like you; you're wrinkled now;
The white has left your teeth,
And settled on your brow.
Your Coan silks, your jewels bright as stars--
Ah no! they bring not back the days of old,
In public calendars
By flying time enrolled.
Where now that beauty? Where those movements? Where
That colour? What of her, of her is left,
Who, breathing Love's own air,
Me of myself bereft,
Who reigned in Cinara's stead, a fair, fair face,
Queen of sweet arts? But Fate to Cinara gave
A life of little space;
And now she cheats the grave
Of Lyce, spared to raven's length of days,
That youth may see, with laughter and disgust,
A firebrand, once ablaze,
Now smouldering in grey dust."
What had this wretched Lyce done that Horace should have prayed the
gods to strip her of her charms, and to degrade her from a haughty
beauty into a maudlin hag, disgusting and ridiculous? Why cast such
very merciless stones at one who, by his own avowal, had erewhile
witched his very soul from him? Why rejoice to see this once beautiful
creature the scoff of all the heartless young fops of Rome? If she had
injured him, what of that? Was it so very strange that a woman
trained, like all the class to which she belonged, to be the plaything
of man's caprice, should have been fickle, mercenary, or even
heartless? Poor Lyce might at least have claimed his silence, if he
could not do, what Thackeray says every honest fellow should do,
"think well of the woman he has once thought well of, and remember her
with kindness and tenderness, as a man remembers a place where he has
been very happy."
Horace's better self comes out in his playful appeal to his friend
Xanthias (Odes, II. 4) not to be ashamed of having fallen in love with
his handmaiden Phyllis. That she is a slave is a matter of no account.
A girl of such admirable qualities must surely come of a good stock,
and is well worth any man's love. Did not Achilles succumb to Briseis,
Ajax to Tecmessa, Agamemnon himself to Cassandra? Moreover,
"For aught that you know, the fair Phyllis may be
The shoot of some highly respectable stem;
Nay, she counts, never doubt it, some kings in her tree,
And laments the lost acres once lorded by them.
Never think that a creature so exquisite grew
In the haunts where but vice and dishonour are known,
Nor deem that a girl so unselfish, so true,
Had a mother 'twould shame thee to take for thine own."
Here we have the true Horace; and after all these fascinating but
doubtful Lydes, Neaeras, and Pyrrhas, it is pleasant to come across a
young beauty like this Phyllis, _sic fidelem, sic lucro aversam_.
She, at least, is a fresh and fragrant violet among the languorous
hothouse splendours of the Horatian garden.
Domestic love, which plays so large a part in modern poetry, is a
theme rarely touched on in Roman verse. Hence we know but little of
the Romans in their homes--for such a topic used to be thought beneath
the dignity of history--and especially little of the women, who
presided over what have been called "the tender and temperate honours
of the hearth." The ladies who flourish in the poetry and also in the
history of those times, however conspicuous for beauty or attraction,
are not generally of the kind that make home happy. Such matrons as we
chiefly read of there would in the present day he apt to figure in the
divorce court. Nor is the explanation of this difficult. The
prevalence of marriage for mere wealth or connection, and the facility
of divorce, which made the marriage-tie almost a farce among the upper
classes, had resulted, as it could not fail to do, in a great
debasement of morals. A lady did not lose caste either by being
divorced, or by seeking divorce, from husband after husband. And as
wives in the higher ranks often held the purse-strings, they made
themselves pretty frequently more dreaded than beloved by their lords,
through being tyrannical, if not unchaste, or both. So at least Horace
plainly indicates (Odes, III. 24), when contrasting the vices of Rome
with the simpler virtues of some of the nations that were under its
sway. In those happier lands, he says, "_Nec dotata regit virum
conjux, nec nitido fidit adultero_"--
"No dowried dame her spouse
O'erbears, nor trusts the sleek seducer's vows."
But it would be as wrong to infer from this that the taint was
universal, as it would be to gauge our own social morality by the
erratic matrons and fast young ladies with whom satirical essayists
delight to point their periods. The human heart is stronger than the
corruptions of luxury, even among the luxurious and the rich; and the
life of struggle and privation which is the life of the mass of every
nation would have been intolerable but for the security and peace of
well-ordered and happy households. Sweet honest love, cemented by
years of sympathy and mutual endurance, was then, as ever, the salt of
human life. Many a monumental inscription, steeped in the tenderest
pathos, assures us of the fact. What, for example, must have been the
home of the man who wrote on his wife's tomb, "She never caused me a
pang but when she died!" And Catullus, mere man of pleasure as he was,
must have had strongly in his heart the thought of what a tender and
pure-souled woman had been in his friend's home, when he wrote his
exquisite lines to Calvus on the death of Quinctilia:--
"Calvus, if those now silent in the tomb
Can feel the touch of pleasure in our tears
For those we loved, that perished in their bloom,
And the departed friends of former years--
Oh, then, full surely thy Quinctilia's woe
For the untimely fate, that bids thee part,
Will fade before the bliss she feels to know
How very dear she is unto thy heart!"
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