Part 3 out of 4
Horace, the bachelor, revered the marriage-tie, and did his best, by
his verses, to forward the policy of Augustus in his effort to arrest
the decay of morals by enforcing the duty of marriage, which the well-
to-do Romans of that day were inclined to shirk whenever they could.
Nay, the charm of constancy and conjugal sympathy inspired a few of
his very finest lines (Odes, I. l3)--"_Felices ter et amplius, quos
irrupta tenet copula_," &c.,--the feeling of which is better
preserved in Moore's well-known paraphrase than is possible in mere
"There's a bliss beyond all that the minstrel has told,
When two that are linked in one heavenly tie,
With heart never changing, and brow never cold,
Love on through all ills, and love on till they die!
One hour of a passion so sacred is worth
Whole ages of heartless and wandering bliss;
And oh! if there be an Elysium on earth,
It is this, it is this!"
To leave the _placens uxor_--"the winsome wife"--behind, is one
of the saddest regrets, Horace tells his friend Posthumus (Odes, II.
14), which death can baring. Still Horace only sang the praises of
marriage, contenting himself with painting the Eden within which, for
reasons unknown to us, he never sought to enter. He was well up in
life, probably, before these sager views dawned upon him. Was it then
too late to reduce his precepts to practice, or was he unable to
overcome his dread of the _dotata conjux_, and thought his
comfort would be safer in the hands of some less exacting fair, such
as the Phyllis to whom the following Ode, one of his latest (IV. 11),
"I have laid in a cask of Albanian wine,
Which nine mellow summers have ripened and more;
In my garden, dear Phyllis, thy brows to entwine,
Grows the brightest of parsley in plentiful store.
There is ivy to gleam on thy dark glossy hair;
My plate, newly burnished, enlivens my rooms;
And the altar, athirst for its victim, is there,
Enwreathed with chaste vervain and choicest of blooms.
"Every hand in the household is busily toiling,
And hither and thither boys bustle and girls;
Whilst, up from the hearth-fires careering and coiling,
The smoke round the rafter-beams languidly curls.
Let the joys of the revel be parted between us!
'Tis the Ides of young April, the day which divides
The month, dearest Phyllis, of ocean-sprung Venus,
A day to me dearer than any besides.
"And well may I prize it, and hail its returning--
My own natal-day not more hallowed nor dear;
For Maecenas, my friend, dates from this happy morning
The life which has swelled to a lustrous career.
You sigh for young Telephus: better forget him!
His rank is not yours, and the gaudier charms
Of a girl that's both wealthy and wanton benet him,
And hold him the fondest of slaves in her arms.
"Remember fond Phaethon's fiery sequel,
And heavenward-aspiring Bellerophon's fate;
And pine not for one who would ne'er be your equal,
But level your hopes to a lowlier mate.
So, come, my own Phyllis, my heart's latest treasure--
For ne'er for another this bosom shall long--
And I'll teach, while your loved voice re-echoes the measure,
How to charm away care with the magic of song."
This is very pretty and picturesque; and Maecenas was sure to be
charmed with it as a birthday Ode, for such it certainly was, whether
there was any real Phyllis in the case or not. Most probably there was
not,--the allusion to Telephus, the lady-killer, is so very like many
other allusions of the same kind in other Odes, which are plainly mere
exercises of fancy, and the protestation that the lady is the very,
very last of his loves, so precisely what all middle-aged gentlemen
think it right to say, whose "_jeunesse_," like the poet's, has
teen notoriously "_orageuse_."
It was probably not within the circle of his city friends that Horace
saw the women for whom he entertained the deepest respect, but by the
hearth-fire in the farmhouse, "the homely house, that harbours quiet
rest," with which he was no less familiar, where people lived in a
simple and natural way, and where, if anywhere, good wives and mothers
were certain to be found. It was manifestly by some woman of this
class that the following poem (Odes, III. 23) was inspired:--
"If thou, at each new moon, thine upturned palms,
My rustic Phidyle, to heaven shalt lift,
The Lares soothe with steam of fragrant balms,
A sow, and fruits new-plucked, thy simple gift,
"Nor venomed blast shall nip thy fertile vine,
Nor mildew blight thy harvest in the ear;
Nor shall thy flocks, sweet nurslings, peak and pine,
When apple-bearing Autumn chills the year.
"The victim marked for sacrifice, that feeds
On snow-capped Algidus, in leafy lane
Of oak and ilex, or on Alba's meads,
With its rich blood the pontiff's axe may stain;
"Thy little gods for humbler tribute call
Than blood of many victims; twine for them
Of rosemary a simple coronal,
And the lush myrtle's frail and fragrant stem.
"The costliest sacrifice that wealth can make
From the incensed Penates less commands
A soft response, than doth the poorest cake,
If on the altar laid with spotless hands."
When this was written, Horace had got far beyond the Epicurean creed
of his youth. He had come to believe in the active intervention of a
Supreme Disposer of events in the government of the world,--
"_insignem attenuans, obscura promens_" (Odes, I. 34):--
"The mighty ones of earth o'erthrowing,
Advancing the obscure;"--
and to whose "pure eyes and perfect witness" a blameless life and a
conscience void of offence were not indifferent.
HORACE'S POEMS TO HIS FRIENDS.--HIS PRAISES OF CONTENTMENT.
If it be merely the poet, and not the lover, who speaks in most of
Horace's love verses, there can never be any doubt that the poems to
his friends come direct from his heart. They glow with feeling. To
whatever chord they are attuned, sad, or solemn, or joyous, they are
always delightful; consummate in their grace of expression, while they
have all the warmth and easy flow of spontaneous emotion. Take, for
example, the following (Odes, II. 7). Pompeius Varus, a fellow-student
with Horace at Athens, and a brother in arms under Brutus, who, after
the defeat of Philippi, had joined the party of the younger Pompey,
has returned to Rome, profiting probably by the general amnesty
granted by Octavius to his adversaries after the battle of Actium. How
his heart must have leapt at such a welcome from his poet-friend as
"Dear comrade in the days when thou and I
With Brutus took the field, his perils bore,
Who hath restored thee, freely as of yore,
To thy home gods, and loved Italian sky,
"Pompey, who wert the first my heart to share,
With whom full oft I've sped the lingering day,
Quaffing bright wine, as in our tents we lay,
With Syrian spikenard on our glistening hair?
"With thee I shared Philippi's headlong flight,
My shield behind me left, which was not well,
When all that brave array was broke, and fell
In the vile dust full many a towering wight.
"But me, poor trembler, swift Mercurius bore,
Wrapped in a cloud, through all the hostile din,
Whilst war's tumultuous eddies, closing in,
Swept thee away into the strife once more.
"Then pay to Jove the feasts that are his fee,
And stretch at ease these war-worn limbs of thine
Beneath my laurel's shade; nor spare the wine
Which I have treasured through long years for thee.
"Pour till it touch the shining goblet's rim,
Care-drowning Massic; let rich ointments flow
From amplest conchs! No measure we shall know!
What! shall we wreaths of oozy parsley trim,
"Or simple myrtle? Whom will Venus send
To rule our revel? Wild my draughts shall be
As Thracian Bacchanals', for 'tis sweet to me
To lose my wits, when I regain my friend."
Venus was the highest cast of the dice. The meaning here is, Who
shall be the master of our feast?--that office falling to the
member of the wine-party who threw sixes.
When Horace penned the playful allusion here made to having left his
shield on the field of battle (_parmula non bene relicta_), he
could never have thought that his commentators--professed admirers,
too--would extract from it an admission of personal cowardice. As if
any man, much more a Roman to Romans, would make such a confession!
Horace could obviously afford to put in this way the fact of his
having given up a desperate cause, for this very reason, that he had
done his duty on the field of Philippi, and that it was known he had
done it. Commentators will be so cruelly prosaic! The poet was quite
as serious in saying that Mercury carried him out of the _melee_
in a cloud, like one of Homer's heroes, as that he had left his shield
discreditably (_non bene_) on the battle-field. But it requires a
poetic sympathy, which in classical editors is rare, to understand
that, as Lessing and others have urged, the very way he speaks of his
own retreat was by implication a compliment, not ungraceful, to his
friend, who had continued the struggle against the triumvirate, and
come home at last, war-worn and weary, to find the more politic
comrade of his youth one of the celebrities of Rome, and on the best
of terms with the very men against whom they had once fought side by
Not less beautiful is the following Ode to Septimius, another of the
poet's old companions in arms (Odes, II. 6). His speaking of himself
in it as "with war and travel worn" has puzzled the commentators, as
it is plain from the rest of the poem that it must have been written
long after his campaigning days were past. But the fatigues of those
days may have left their traces for many years; and the difficulty is
at once got over if we suppose the poem to have been written under
some little depression from languid health due to this cause.
Tarentum, where his friend lived, and whose praises are so warmly
sung, was a favourite resort of the poet's. He used to ride there on his
mule, very possibly to visit Septimius, before he had his own Sabine
villa; and all his love for that villa never chilled his admiration for
Tibur, with its "silvan shades, and orchards moist with wimpling rills,"--
the "_Tiburni lucus, et uda mobilibus pomaria rivis_,"-and its milder
climate, so genial to his sun-loving temperament:--
"Septimius, thou who wouldst, I know,
With me to distant Gades go,
And visit the Cantabrian fell,
Whom all our triumphs cannot quell,
And even the sands barbarian brave,
Where ceaseless seethes the Moorish wave;
"May Tibur, that delightful haunt,
Reared by an Argive emigrant,
The tranquil haven be, I pray,
For my old age to wear away;
Oh, may it be the final bourne
To one with war and travel worn!
"But should the cruel fates decree
That this, my friend, shall never be,
Then to Galaesus, river sweet
To skin-clad flocks, will I retreat,
And those rich meads, where sway of yore
Laconian Phalanthus bore.
"In all the world no spot there is,
That wears for me a smile like this,
The honey of whose thymy fields
May vie with what Hymettus yields,
Where berries clustering every slope
May with Venafrum's greenest cope.
"There Jove accords a lengthened spring,
And winters wanting winter's sting,
And sunny Aulon's broad incline
Such mettle puts into the vine,
Its clusters need not envy those
Which fiery Falernum grows.
"Thyself and me that spot invites,
Those pleasant fields, those sunny heights;
And there, to life's last moments true,
Wilt thou with some fond tears bedew--
The last sad tribute love can lend--
The ashes of thy poet-friend."
Galaesus (Galaso), a river; Aulon, a hill near Tarentum.
Septimius was himself a poet, or thought himself one, who,
"Holding vulgar ponds and runnels cheap,
At Pindar's fount drank valiantly and deep,"
as Horace says of him in an Epistle (I. 3) to Julius Florus; adding,
with a sly touch of humour, which throws more than a doubt on the
poetic powers of their common friend,--
"Thinks he of me? And does he still aspire
To marry Theban strains to Latium's lyre,
Thanks to the favouring muse? Or haply rage
And mouth in bombast for the tragic stage?"
When this was written Septimius was in Armenia along with Florus, on
the staff of Tiberius Claudius Nero, the future emperor. For this
appointment he was probably indebted to Horace, who applied for it, at
his request, in the following Epistle to Tiberius (I. 9), which
Addison ('Spectator,' 493) cites as a fine specimen of what a letter
of introduction should be. Horace was, on principle, wisely chary of
giving such introductions.
"Look round and round the man you recommend,
For yours will be the shame if he offend," (C.)
is his maxim on this subject (Epistles, I. 18, 76); and he was sure to
be especially scrupulous in writing to Tiberius, who, even in his
youth--and he was at this time about twenty-two--was so morose and
unpleasant in his manners, to say nothing of his ample share of the
hereditary pride of the Claudian family, that even Augustus felt under
constraint in his company:--
"Septimius only understands, 'twould seem,
How high I stand in, Claudius, your esteem:
For when he begs and prays me, day by day,
Before you his good qualities to lay,
As not unfit the heart and home to share
Of Nero, who selects his friends with care;
When he supposes you to me extend
The rights and place of a familiar friend,
Far better than myself he sees and knows,
How far with you my commendation goes.
Pleas without number I protest I've used,
In hope he'd hold me from the task excused,
Yet feared the while it might be thought I feigned
Too low the influence I perchance have gained,
Dissembling it as nothing with my friends,
To keep it for my own peculiar ends.
So, to escape such dread reproach, I put
My blushes by, and boldly urge my suit.
If then you hold it as a grace, though small,
To doff one's bashfulness at friendship's call,
Enrol him in your suite, assured you'll find
A man of heart in him, as well as mind."
We may be very sure that, among the many pleas urged by Horace for not
giving Septimius the introduction he desired, was the folly of leaving
his delightful retreat at Tarentum to go once more abroad in search of
wealth or promotion. Let others "cross, to plunder provinces, the
main," surely this was no ambition for an embryo Pindar or half-
developed Aeschylus. Horace had tried similar remonstrances before,
and with just as little success, upon Iccius, another of his scholarly
friends, who sold off his fine library and joined an expedition into
Arabia Felix, expecting to find it an El Dorado. He playfully asks
this studious friend (Odes, I. 29), from whom he expected better
things--"_pollicitus meliora_"--if it be true that he grudges the
Arabs their wealth, and is actually forging fetters for the hitherto
invincible Sabaean monarchs, and those terrible Medians? To which of
the royal damsels does he intend to throw the handkerchief, having
first cut down her princely betrothed in single combat? Or what young
"oiled and curled" Oriental prince is for the future to pour out his
wine for him? Iccius, like many another Raleigh, went out to gather
wool, and came back shorn. The expedition proved disastrous, and he
was lucky in being one of the few who survived it. Some years
afterwards we meet with him again as the steward of Agrippa's great
estates in Sicily. He has resumed his studies,--
"On themes sublime alone intent,--
What causes the wild ocean sway,
The seasons what from June to May,
If free the constellations roll,
Or moved by some supreme control;
What makes the moon obscure her light,
What pours her splendour on the night."
Absorbed in these and similar inquiries, and living happily on "herbs
and frugal fare," Iccius realises the noble promise of his youth; and
Horace, in writing to him (Epist., I. 12), encourages him in his
disregard of wealth by some of those hints for contentment which the
poet never tires of reproducing:--
"Let no care trouble you; for poor
That man is not, who can insure
Whate'er for life is needful found.
Let your digestion be but sound,
Your side unwrung by spasm or stitch,
Your foot unconscious of a twitch;
And could you be more truly blest,
Though of the wealth of kings possessed?"
It must have been pleasant to Horace to find even one among his
friends illustrating in his life this modest Socratic creed; for he is
so constantly enforcing it, in every variety of phrase and metaphor,
that while we must conclude that he regarded it as the one doctrine
most needful for his time, we must equally conclude that he found it
utterly disregarded. All round him wealth, wealth, wealth, was the
universal aim: wealth, to build fine houses in town, and villas at
Praeneste or Baiae; wealth, to stock them with statues, old bronzes
(mostly fabrications from the Wardour Streets of Athens or Rome),
ivories, pictures, gold plate, pottery, tapestry, stuffs from the
looms of Tyre, and other _articles de luxe_; wealth, to give
gorgeous dinners, and wash them down with the costliest wines; wealth,
to provide splendid equipages, to forestall the front seats in the
theatre, as we do opera-boxes on the grand tier, and so get a few
yards nearer to the Emperor's chair, or gain a closer view of the
favourite actor or dancer of the day; wealth, to secure a wife with a
fortune and a pedigree; wealth, to attract gadfly friends, who will
consume your time, eat your dinners, drink your wines, and then abuse
them, and who will with amiable candour regale their circle by
quizzing your foibles, or slandering your taste, if they are even so
kind as to spare your character. "A dowried wife," he says (Epistles,
"Friends, beauty, birth, fair fame,
These are the gifts of money, heavenly dame;
Be but a moneyed man, persuasion tips
Your tongue, and Venus settles on your lips." (C.)
And to achieve this wealth, no sacrifice was to be spared--time,
happiness, health, honour itself. "_Rem facias, rem! Si possis
recte, si non, quocunque modo rem:_"--
"Get money, money still,
And then let Virtue follow, if she will."
Wealth sought in this spirit, and for such ends, of course brought no
more enjoyment to the contemporaries of Horace than we see it doing to
our own. And not the least evil of the prevailing mania, then as now,
was, that it robbed life of its simplicity, and of the homely
friendliness on which so much of its pleasure depends. People lived
for show--to propitiate others, not to satisfy their own better
instincts or their genuine convictions; and straining after the shadow
of enjoyment, they let the reality slip from their grasp. They never
"were, but always to be, blest." It was the old story, which the world
is continually re-enacting, while the sage stands by, and marvels at
its folly, and preaches what we call commonplaces, in a vain endeavour
to modify or to prevent it. But the wisdom of life consists of
commonplaces, which we should all be much the better for working into
our practice, instead of complacently sneering at them as platitudes.
Horace abounds in commonplaces, and on no theme more than this. He has
no divine law of duty to appeal to, as we have--no assured hereafter
to which he may point the minds of men; but he presses strongly home
their folly, in so far as this world is concerned. To what good, he
asks, all this turmoil and disquiet? No man truly possesses more than
he is able thoroughly to enjoy. Grant that you roll in gold, or, by
accumulating land, become, in Hamlet's phrase, "spacious in the
possession of dirt." What pleasure will you extract from these, which
a moderate estate will not yield in equal, if not greater, measure?
You fret yourself to acquire your wealth--you fret yourself lest you
should lose it. It robs you of your health, your ease of mind, your
freedom of thought and action. Riches will not bribe inexorable death
to spare you. At any hour that great leveller may sweep you away into
darkness and dust, and what will it then avail you, that you have
wasted all your hours, and foregone all wholesome pleasure, in adding
ingot to ingot, or acre to acre, for your heirs to squander? Set a
bound, then, to your desires: think not of how much others have, but
of how much which they have you can do perfectly well without. Be not
the slave of show or circumstance, "but in yourself possess your own
desire." Do not lose the present in vain perplexities about the
future. If fortune lours to-day, she may smile to-morrow; and when she
lavishes her gifts upon you, cherish an humble heart, and so fortify
yourself against her caprice. Keep a rein upon all your passions--upon
covetousness, above all; for once that has you within its clutch,
farewell for ever to the light heart and the sleep that comes
unbidden, to the open eye that drinks in delight from the beauty and
freshness and infinite variety of nature, to the unclouded mind that
judges justly and serenely of men and things. Enjoy wisely, for then
only you enjoy thoroughly. Live each day as though it were your last.
Mar not your life by a hopeless quarrel with destiny. It will be only
too brief at the best, and the day is at hand when its inequalities
will be redressed, and king and peasant, pauper and millionaire, be
huddled, poor shivering phantoms, in one undistinguishable crowd,
across the melancholy Styx, to the judgment-hall of Minos. To this
theme many of Horace's finest Odes are strung. Of these, not the least
graceful is that addressed to Dellius (II. 3):--
"Let not the frowns of fate
Disquiet thee, my friend,
Nor, when she smiles on thee, do thou, elate
With vaunting thoughts, ascend
Beyond the limits of becoming mirth;
For, Dellius, thou must die, become a clod of earth!
"Whether thy days go down
In gloom, and dull regrets,
Or, shunning life's vain struggle for renown,
Its fever and its frets,
Stretch'd on the grass, with old Falernian wine,
Thou giv'st the thoughtless hours a rapture all divine.
"Where the tall spreading pine
And white-leaved poplar grow,
And, mingling their broad boughs in leafy twine,
A grateful shadow throw,
Where down its broken bed the wimpling stream
Writhes on its sinuous way with many a quivering gleam,
"There wine, there perfumes bring,
Bring garlands of the rose,
Fair and too shortlived daughter of the spring,
While youth's bright current flows
Within thy veins,--ere yet hath come the hour
When the dread Sisters Three shall clutch thee in their power.
"Thy woods, thy treasured pride,
Thy mansion's pleasant seat,
Thy lawns washed by the Tiber's yellow tide,
Each favourite retreat,
Thou must leave all--all, and thine heir shall run
In riot through the wealth thy years of toil have won.
"It recks not whether thou
Be opulent, and trace
Thy birth from kings, or bear upon thy brow
Stamp of a beggar's race;
In rags or splendour, death at thee alike,
That no compassion hath for aught of earth, will strike.
"One road, and to one bourne
We all are goaded. Late
Or soon will issue from the urn
Of unrelenting Fate
The lot, that in yon bark exiles us all
To undiscovered shores, from which is no recall."
In a still higher strain he sings (Odes, III. 1) the ultimate equality
of all human souls, and the vanity of encumbering life with the
anxieties of ambition or wealth:--
"Whate'er our rank may be,
We all partake one common destiny!
In fair expanse of soil,
Teeming with rich returns of wine and oil,
His neighbour one outvies;
Another claims to rise
To civic dignities,
Because of ancestry and noble birth,
Or fame, or proved pre-eminence of worth,
Or troops of clients, clamorous in his cause;
Still Fate doth grimly stand,
And with impartial hand
The lots of lofty and of lowly draws
From that capacious urn
Whence every name that lives is shaken in its turn.
"To him, above whose guilty head,
Suspended by a thread,
The naked sword is hung for evermore,
Not feasts Sicilian shall
With all their cates recall
That zest the simplest fare could once inspire;
Nor song of birds, nor music of the lyre
Shall his lost sleep restore:
But gentle sleep shuns not
The rustic's lowly cot,
Nor mossy bank o'ercanopied with trees,
Nor Tempe's leafy vale stirred by the western breeze.
"The man who lives content with whatsoe'er
Sufficeth for his needs,
The storm-tossed ocean vexeth not with care,
Nor the fierce tempest which Arcturus breeds,
When in the sky he sets,
Nor that which Hoedus, at his rise, begets:
Nor will he grieve, although
His vines be all laid low
Beneath the driving hail,
Nor though, by reason of the drenching rain,
Or heat, that shrivels up his fields like fire,
Or fierce extremities of winter's ire,
Blight shall o'erwhelm his fruit-trees and his grain,
And all his farm's delusive promise fail.
"The fish are conscious that a narrower bound
Is drawn the seas around
By masses huge hurled down into the deep.
There, at the bidding of a lord, for whom
Not all the land he owns is ample room,
Do the contractor and his labourers heap
Vast piles of stone, the ocean back to sweep.
But let him climb in pride,
That lord of halls unblest,
Up to their topmost crest,
Yet ever by his side
Climb Terror and Unrest;
Within the brazen galley's sides
Care, ever wakeful, flits,
And at his back, when forth in state he rides.
Her withering shadow sits.
"If thus it fare with all,
If neither marbles from the Phrygian mine,
Nor star-bright robes of purple and of pall,
Nor the Falernian vine,
Nor costliest balsams, fetched from farthest Ind,
Can soothe the restless mind,
Why should I choose
To rear on high, as modern spendthrifts use,
A lofty hall, might be the home for kings,
With portals vast, for Malice to abuse,
Or Envy make her theme to point a tale;
Or why for wealth, which new-born trouble brings,
Exchange my Sabine vale?"
PREVAILING BELIEF IN ASTROLOGY.--HORACE'S VIEWS OF A HEREAFTER.--
RELATIONS WITH MAECENAS.--BELIEF IN THE PERMANENCE OF HIS OWN FAME.
"When all looks fair about," says Sir Thomas Browne, "and thou seest
not a cloud so big as a hand to threaten thee, forget not the wheel of
things; think of sudden, vicissitudes, but beat not thy brains to
foreknow them." It was characteristic of an age of luxury that it
should be one of superstition and mental disquietude, eager to
penetrate the future, and credulous in its belief of those who
pretended to unveil its secrets. In such an age astrology naturally
found many dupes. Rome was infested with professors of that so-called
science, who had flocked thither from the East, and were always ready,
like other oracles, to supply responses acceptable to their votaries.
In what contempt Horace held their prognostications the following Ode
(I. 11) very clearly indicates. The women of Rome, according to
Juvenal, were great believers in astrology, and carried manuals of it
on their persons, which they consulted before they took an airing or
broke their fast. Possibly on this account Horace addressed the ode to
a lady. But in such things, and not under the Roman Empire only, there
have always been, as La Fontaine says, "_bon nombre d'hommes qui
sont femmes_." If Augustus, and his great general and statesman
Agrippa, had a Theogenes to forecast their fortunes, so the first
Napoleon had his Madame Lenormand.
"Ask not--such lore's forbidden--
What destined term may be
Within the future hidden
For us, Leuconoe.
Both thou and I
Must quickly die!
Content thee, then, nor madly hope
To wrest a false assurance from Chaldean horoscope.
"Far nobler, better were it,
Whate'er may be in store,
With soul serene to bear it,
If winters many more
Jove spare for thee,
Or this shall be
The last, that now with sullen roar
Scatters the Tuscan surge in foam upon the rock-bound shore.
"Be wise, your spirit firing
With cups of tempered wine,
And hopes afar aspiring
In compass brief confine,
Use all life's powers;
The envious hours
Fly as we talk; then live to-day,
Nor fondly to to-morrow trust more than you must or may."
In the verses of Horace we are perpetually reminded that our life is
compassed round with darkness, but he will not suffer this darkness to
overshadow his cheerfulness. On the contrary, the beautiful world, and
the delights it offers, are made to stand out, as it were, in brighter
relief against the gloom of Orcus. Thus, for example, this very gloom
is made the background in the following Ode (I. 4) for the brilliant
pictures which crowd on the poet's fancy with the first burst of
Spring. Here, he says, oh Sestius, all is fresh and joyous, luxuriant
and lovely! Be happy, drink in "at every pore the spirit of the
season," while the roses are fresh within your hair, and the wine-cup
flashes ruby in your hand. Yonder lies Pluto's meagrely-appointed
mansion, and filmy shadows of the dead are waiting for you there, to
swell their joyless ranks. To that unlovely region you must go, alas!
too soon; but the golden present is yours, so drain it of its sweets.
"As biting Winter flies, lo! Spring with sunny skies,
And balmy airs; and barks long dry put out again from shore;
Now the ox forsakes his byre, and the husbandman his fire,
And daisy-dappled meadows bloom where winter frosts lay hoar.
"By Cytherea led, while the moon shines overhead,
The Nymphs and Graces, hand-in-hand, with alternating feet
Shake the ground, while swinking Vulcan strikes the sparkles fierce
From the forges of the Cyclops, with reiterated beat.
"'Tis the time with myrtle green to bind our glistening locks,
Or with flowers, wherein the loosened earth herself hath newly
And to sacrifice to Faunus in some glade amidst the rocks
A yearling lamb, or else a kid, if such delight him best.
"Death comes alike to all--to the monarch's lordly hall,
Or the hovel of the beggar, and his summons none shall stay.
Oh, Sestius, happy Sestius! use the moments as they pass;
Far-reaching hopes are not for us, the creatures of a day.
"Thee soon shall night enshroud; and the Manes' phantom crowd,
And the starveling house unbeautiful of Pluto shut thee in;
And thou shalt not banish care by the ruddy wine-cup there,
Nor woo the gentle Lycidas, whom all are mad to win."
A modern would no more think of using such images as those of the last
two verses to stimulate the festivity of his friends than he would of
placing, like the old Egyptians, a skull upon his dinner-table, or of
decorating his ball-room with Holbein's "Dance of Death." We rebuke
our pride or keep our vanities in check by the thought of death, and
our poets use it to remind us that
"The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things."
Horace does this too; but out of the sad certainty of mortality he
seems to extract a keener zest for the too brief enjoyment of the
flying hours. Why is this? Probably because by the pagan mind life on
this side the grave was regarded as a thing more precious, more noble,
than the life beyond. That there was a life beyond was undoubtedly the
general belief. _"Sunt aliquid Manes; letum non omnia finit,
Luridaque evictos effugit umbra rogos,_"--
"The Manes are no dream; death closes not
Our all of being, and the wan-visaged shade
Escapes unscathed from the funereal fires,"
says Propertius (Eleg. IV. 7); and unless this were so, there would be
no meaning whatever in the whole pagan idea of Hades--in the "_domus
exilis Plutonia_;" in the Hermes driving the spirits of the dead
across the Styx; in the "_judicantem Aeacum, sedesque, discretas
piorum_"--the "Aeacus dispensing doom, and the Elysian Fields
serene" (Odes, II. 13). But this after-life was a cold, sunless,
unsubstantial thing, lower in quality and degree than the full,
vigorous, passionate life of this world. The nobler spirits of
antiquity, it hardly need be said, had higher dreams of a future state
than this. For them, no more than for us, was it possible to rest in
the conviction that their brief and troubled career on earth was to be
the "be all and the end all" of existence, or that those whom they had
loved and lost in death became thenceforth as though they had never
been. It is idle to draw, as is often done, a different conclusion
from such phrases as that after death we are a shadow and mere dust,
"_pulvis et umbra sumus_!" or from Horace's bewildered cry (Odes,
I. 24), when a friend of signal nobleness and purity is suddenly
struck down--"_Ergo Quinctilium perpetuus sopor urget_?"--"And is
Quinctilius, then, weighed down by a sleep that knows no waking?" We
might as reasonably argue that Shakespeare did not believe in a life
after death because he makes Prospero say--
"We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
Horace and Shakespeare both believed in an immortality, but it was an
immortality different in its kind. Horace, indeed,--who, as a rule, is
wisely silent on a question which for him had no solution, however
much it may have engaged his speculations,--has gleams not unlike
those which irradiate our happier creed, as when he writes (Odes, III.
2) of "_Virtus, recludens immeritis mori coelum, negata tentat iter
"Worth, which heaven's gates to those unbars
Who never should have died,
A pathway cleaves among the stars,
To meaner souls denied."
But they are only gleams, impassioned hopes, yearnings of the
unsatisfied soul in its search for some solution of the great mystery
of life. To him, therefore, it was of more moment than it was to us,
to make the most of the present, and to stimulate his relish for what
it has to give by contrasting it with a phantasmal future, in which no
single faculty of enjoyment should be left.
Take from life the time spent in hopes or fears or regrets, and how
small the residue! For the same reason, therefore, that he prized life
intensely, Horace seems to have resolved to keep these consumers of
its hours as much at bay as possible. He would not look too far
forward even for a pleasure; for Hope, he knew, comes never
unaccompanied by her twin sister Fear. Like the Persian poet, Omar
Khayyam, this is ever in his thoughts--
"What boots it to repeat,
How Time is slipping underneath our feet?
Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them if To-day be sweet?".
To-day--that alone is ours. Let us welcome and note what it brings,
and, if good, enjoy it; if evil, endure. Let us, in any case, keep our
eyes and senses open, and not lose their impressions in dreaming of an
irretrievable past or of an impenetrable future. "Write it on your
heart," says Emerson ('Society and Solitude'), "that every day is the
best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly until he
knows that every day is Doomsday.... Ah, poor dupe! will you never
learn that as soon as the irrecoverable years have woven their blue
glories between To-day and us, these passing hours shall glitter, and
draw us, as the wildest romance and the homes of beauty and poetry?"
Horace would have hailed a brother in the philosopher of New England.
Even in inviting Maecenas to his Sabine farm (Odes, III. 29), he does
not think it out of place to remind the minister of state, worn with
the cares of government, and looking restlessly ahead to anticipate
its difficulties, that it may, after all, be wiser not to look so far
ahead, or to trouble himself about contingencies which may never
arise. We must not think that Horace undervalued that essential
quality of true statesmanship, the "_animus rerum prudens_"
(Odes, IV. 9), the forecasting spirit that "looks into the seeds of
Time," and reads the issues of events while they are still far off. He
saw and prized the splendid fruits of the exercise of this very power
in the growing tranquillity and strength of the Roman empire. But the
wisest may over-study a subject. Maecenas may have been working too
hard, and losing under the pressure something of his usual calmness;
and Horace, while urging him to escape from town for a few days, may
have had it in view to insinuate the suggestion, that Jove smiles, not
at the common mortal merely, but even at the sagacious statesman, who
is over-anxious about the future--"_ultra fas trepidat_"--and to
remind him that, after all,
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we may."
Dryden's splendid paraphrase of this Ode is one of the glories of our
literature, but it is a paraphrase, and a version closer to the
original may be more appropriate here:--
"Scion of Tuscan kings, in store
I've laid a cask of mellow wine,
That never has been broached before.
I've roses, too, for wreaths to twine,
And Nubian nut, that for thy hair
An oil shall yield of fragrance rare.
* * * * *
"The plenty quit, that only palls,
And, turning from the cloud-capped pile
That towers above thy palace halls,
Forget to worship for a while
The privileges Rome enjoys,
Her smoke, her splendour, and her noise.
"It is the rich who relish best
To dwell at times from state aloof;
And simple suppers, neatly dressed,
Beneath a poor man's humble roof,
With neither pall nor purple there,
Have smoothed ere now the brow of care.
* * * * *
"Now with his spent and languid flocks
The wearied shepherd seeks the shade,
The river cool, the shaggy rocks,
That overhang the tangled glade,
And by the stream no breeze's gush
Disturbs the universal hush.
"Thou dost devise with sleepless zeal
What course may best the state beseem,
And, fearful for the City's weal,
Weigh'st anxiously each hostile scheme
That may be hatching far away
In Scythia, India, or Cathay.
"Most wisely Jove in thickest night
The issues of the future veils,
And laughs at the self-torturing wight
Who with imagined terrors quails.
The present only is thine own,
Then use it well, ere it has flown.
"All else which may by time be bred
Is like a river of the plain,
Now gliding gently o'er its bed
Along to the Etruscan main,
Now whirling onwards, fierce and fast,
Uprooted trees, and boulders vast,
"And flocks, and houses, all in drear
Confusion tossed from shore to shore,
While mountains far, and forests near
Reverberate the rising roar,
When lashing rains among the hills
To fury wake the quiet rills.
"Lord of himself that man will be,
And happy in his life alway,
Who still at eve can say with free
Contented soul, 'I've lived to-day!
Let Jove to-morrow, if he will,
With blackest clouds the welkin fill,
"'Or flood it all with sunlight pure,
Yet from the past he cannot take
Its influence, for that is sure,
Nor can he mar or bootless make
Whate'er of rapture and delight
The hours have borne us in their flight.'"
The poet here passes, by one of those sudden transitions for which he
is remarkable, into the topic of the fickleness of fortune, which
seems to have no immediate connection with what has gone before,--but
only seems, for this very fickleness is but a fresh reason for making
ourselves, by self-possession and a just estimate of what is essential
to happiness, independent of the accidents of time or chance.
"Fortune, who with malicious glee
Her merciless vocation plies,
Benignly smiling now on me,
Now on another, bids him rise,
And in mere wantonness of whim
Her favours shifts from me to him.
"I laud her whilst by me she holds,
But if she spread her pinions swift,
I wrap me in my virtue's folds,
And, yielding back her every gift,
Take refuge in the life so free
Of bare but honest poverty.
"You will not find me, when the mast
Groans 'neath the stress of southern gales,
To wretched prayers rush off, nor cast
Vows to the great gods, lest my bales
From Tyre or Cyprus sink, to be
Fresh booty for the hungry sea.
"When others then in wild despair
To save their cumbrous wealth essay,
I to the vessel's skiff repair,
And, whilst the Twin Stars light my way,
Safely the breeze my little craft
Shall o'er the Aegean billows waft."
Maecenas was of a melancholy temperament, and liable to great
depression of spirits. Not only was his health at no time robust, but
he was constitutionally prone to fever, which more than once proved
nearly fatal to him. On his first appearance in the theatre after one
of these dangerous attacks, he was received with vehement cheers, and
Horace alludes twice to this incident in his Odes, as if he knew that
it had given especial pleasure to his friend. To mark the event the
poet laid up in his cellar a jar of Sabine wine, and some years
afterwards he invites Maecenas to come and partake of it in this
charming lyric (Odes, I. 20):--
"Our common Sabine wine shall be
The only drink I'll give to thee,
In modest goblets, too;
'Twas stored in crock of Grecian delf,
Dear knight Maecenas, by myself,
That very day when through
The theatre thy plaudits rang,
And sportive echo caught the clang,
And answered from the banks
Of thine own dear paternal stream,
Whilst Vatican renewed the theme
Of homage and of thanks!
Old Caecuban, the very best,
And juice in vats Calenian pressed,
You drink at home, I know:
My cups no choice Falernian fills,
Nor unto them do Formiae's hills
Impart a tempered glow."
About the same time that Maecenas recovered from this fever, Horace
made a narrow escape from being killed by the fall of a tree, and,
what to him was a great aggravation of the disaster, upon his own
beloved farm (Odes, II. 13). He links the two events together as a
marked coincidence in the following Ode (II. 17). His friend had
obviously been a prey to one of his fits of low spirits, and vexing
the kindly soul of the poet by gloomy anticipations of an early death.
Suffering, as Maecenas did, from those terrible attacks of
sleeplessness to which he was subject, and which he tried
ineffectually to soothe by the plash of falling water and the sound of
distant music, [Footnote: Had Horace this in his mind when he wrote
_"Non avium citharoeque cantus somnum reducent_?"--(Odes, III.
1.) "Nor song of birds, nor music of the lyre / Shall his lost sleep
restore."] such misgivings were only too natural. The case was too
serious this time for Horace to think of rallying his friend into a
brighter humour. He may have even seen good cause to share his fears;
for his heart is obviously moved to its very depths, and his sympathy
and affection well out in words, the pathos of which is still as fresh
as the day they first came with comfort to the saddened spirits of
"Why wilt thou kill me with thy boding fears?
Why, oh Maecenas, why?
Before thee lies a train of happy years:
Yes, nor the gods nor I
Could brook that thou shouldst first be laid in dust,
Who art my stay, my glory, and my trust!
"Ah, if untimely Fate should snatch thee hence,
Thee, of my soul a part,
Why should I linger on, with deadened sense,
And ever-aching heart,
A worthless fragment of a fallen shrine?
No, no, one day shall see thy death and mine!
"Think not that I have sworn a bootless oath;
Yes, we shall go, shall go,
Hand link'd in hand, whene'er thou leadest, both
The last sad road below!
Me neither the Chimaera's fiery breath,
Nor Gyges, even could Gyges rise from death,
"With all his hundred hands from thee shall sever;
For in such sort it hath
Pleased the dread Fates, and Justice potent ever,
To interweave our path. 
Beneath whatever aspect thou wert born,
Libra, or Scorpion fierce, or Capricorn,
"The blustering tyrant of the western deep,
This well I know, my friend,
Our stars in wondrous wise one orbit keep,
And in one radiance blend.
From thee were Saturn's baleful rays afar
Averted by great Jove's refulgent star,
"And His hand stayed Fate's downward-swooping wing,
When thrice with glad acclaim
The teeming theatre was heard to ring,
And thine the honoured name:
So had the falling timber laid me low,
But Pan in mercy warded off the blow,
"Pan who keeps watch o'er easy souls like mine.
Remember, then, to rear
In gratitude to Jove a votive shrine,
And slaughter many a steer,
Whilst I, as fits, an humbler tribute pay,
And a meek lamb upon his altar lay."
So Cowley, in his poem on the death of Mr William Harvey:--
"He was my friend, the truest friend on earth;
A strong and mighty influence joined our birth."
What the poet, in this burst of loving sympathy, said would happen,
did happen almost as he foretold it. Maecenas "first deceased;" and
Horace, like the wife in the quaint, tender, old epitaph,
"For a little tried
To live without him, liked it not, and died."
But this was not till many years after this Ode was written, which
must have been about the year B.C. 36, when Horace was thirty-nine.
Maecenas lived for seventeen years afterwards, and often and often, we
may believe, turned to read the Ode, and be refreshed by it, when his
pulse was low, and his heart sick and weary.
Horace included it in the first series of the Odes, containing Books
I. and II., which he gave to the world (B.C. 24). The first of these
Odes, like the first of the Satires, is addressed to Maecenas. They
had for the most part been written, and were, no doubt, separately in
circulation several years before. That they should have met with
success was certain; for the accomplished men who led society in Rome
must have felt their beauty even more keenly than the scholars of a
more recent time. These lyrics brought the music of Greece, which was
their ideal, into their native verse; and a feeling of national pride
must have helped to augment their admiration. Horace had tuned his ear
upon the lyres of Sappho and Alcaeus. He had even in his youth essayed
to imitate them in their own tongue,--a mistake as great as for Goethe
or Heine to have tried to put their lyrical inspiration into the
language of Herrick or of Burns. But Horace was preserved from
perseverance in this mistake by his natural good sense, or, as he puts
it himself, with a fair poetic licence (Satires, I. 10), by Rome's
great founder Quirinus warning him in a dream, that
"To think of adding to the mighty throng
Of the great paragons of Grecian song,
Were no less mad an act than his who should
Into a forest carry logs of wood."
These exercises may not, however, have been without their value in
enabling him to transfuse the melodic rhythm of the Greeks into his
native verse. And as he was the first to do this successfully, if we
except Catullus in some slight but exquisite poems, so he was the
last. "Of lyrists," says Quintilian, "Horace is alone, one might say,
worthy to be read. For he has bursts of inspiration, and is full of
playful delicacy and grace; and in the variety of his images, as well
as in expression, shows a most happy daring." Time has confirmed the
verdict; and it has recently found eloquent expression in the words of
one of our greatest scholars:--
"Horace's style," says Mr H. A. J. Munro, in the introduction to his
edition of the poet, "is throughout his own, borrowed from none who
preceded him, successfully imitated by none who came after him. The
Virgilian heroic was appropriated by subsequent generations of poets,
and adapted to their purposes with signal success. The hendecasyllable
and scazon of Catullus became part and parcel of the poetic heritage
of Rome, and Martial employs them only less happily than their
matchless creator. But the moulds in which Horace cast his lyrical and
his satirical thoughts were broken at his death. The style neither of
Persius nor of Juvenal has the faintest resemblance to that of their
common master. Statius, whose hendecasyllables are passable enough,
has given us one Alcaic and one Sapphic ode, which recall the bald and
constrained efforts of a modern schoolboy. I am sure he could not have
written any two consecutive stanzas of Horace; and if he could not,
Before he published the first two books of his Odes, Horace had fairly
felt his wings, and knew they could carry him gracefully and well. He
no longer hesitates, as he had done while a writer of Satires only (p.
55), to claim the title of poet; but at the same time he throws
himself, in his introductory Ode, with a graceful deference, upon the
judgment of Maecenas. Let that only seal his lyrics with approval, and
he will feel assured of his title to rank with the great sons of
"Do thou but rank me 'mong
The sacred bards of lyric song,
I'll soar beyond the lists of time,
And strike the stars with head sublime."
In the last Ode, also addressed to Maecenas, of the Second Book, the
poet gives way to a burst of joyous anticipation of future fame,
figuring himself as a swan soaring majestically across all the then
known regions of the world. When he puts forth the Third Book several
years afterwards, he closes it with a similar paean of triumph, which,
unlike most prophecies of the kind, has been completely fulfilled. In
both he alludes to the lowliness of his birth, speaking of himself in
the former as a child of poor parents--"_pauperum sanguis
parentum_;" in the latter as having risen to eminence from a mean
estate-"_ex humili potens_." These touches of egotism, the
sallies of some brighter hour, are not merely venial; they are
delightful in a man so habitually modest.
"I've reared a monument, my own,
More durable than brass;
Yea, kingly pyramids of stone
In height it doth surpass.
"Rain shall not sap, nor driving blast
Disturb its settled base,
Nor countless ages rolling past
Its symmetry deface.
"I shall not wholly die. Some part,
Nor that a little, shall
Escape the dark Destroyer's dart,
And his grim festival.
"For long as with his Vestals mute
Rome's Pontifex shall climb
The Capitol, my fame shall shoot
Fresh buds through future time.
"Where brawls loud Aufidus, and came
Parch'd Daunus erst, a horde
Of rustic boors to sway, my name
Shall be a household word;
"As one who rose from mean estate,
The first with poet fire
Aeolic song to modulate
To the Italian lyre.
"Then grant, Melpomene, thy son
Thy guerdon proud to wear,
And Delphic laurels, duly won.
Bind thou upon my hair!"
HORACE'S RELATIONS WITH AUGUSTUS.--HIS LOVE OF INDEPENDENCE.
No intimate friend of Maecenas was likely to be long a stranger to
Augustus; and it is most improbable that Augustus, who kept up his
love of good literature amid all the distractions of conquest and
empire, should not have early sought the acquaintance of a man of such
conspicuous ability as Horace. But when they first became known to
each other is uncertain. In more than one of the Epodes Horace speaks
of him, but not in terms to imply personal acquaintance. Some years
further on it is different. When Trebatius (Satires, II. 1) is urging
the poet, if write he must, to renounce satire, and to sing of
Caesar's triumphs, from which he would reap gain as well as glory,
"Most worthy sir, that's just the thing
I'd like especially to sing;
But at the task my spirits faint,
For 'tis not every one can paint
Battalions, with their bristling wall
Of pikes, and make you see the Gaul,
With, shivered spear, in death-throe bleed,
Or Parthian stricken from his steed."
Then why not sing, rejoins Trebatius, his justice and his fortitude,
"Like sage Lucilius, in his lays
To Scipio Africanus' praise?"
The reply is that of a man who had obviously been admitted to personal
contact with the Caesar, and, with instinctive good taste, recoiled
from doing what he knew would be unacceptable to him, unless called
for by some very special occasion:--
"When time and circumstance suggest,
I shall not fail to do my best;
But never words of mine shall touch
Great Caesar's ear, but only such
As are to the occasion due,
And spring from my conviction, too;
For stroke him with an awkward hand,
And he kicks out--you understand?"
an allusion, no doubt, to the impatience entertained by Augustus, to
which Suetonius alludes, of the indiscreet panegyrics of poetasters by
which he was persecuted. The gossips of Rome clearly believed
(Satires, II. 6) that the poet was intimate with Caesar; for he is "so
close to the gods"--that is, on such a footing with Augustus and his
chief advisers--that they assume, as a matter of course, he must have
early tidings of all the most recent political news at first hand.
However this may be, by the time the Odes were published Horace had
overcome any previous scruples, and sang in no measured terms the
praises of him, the back-stroke of whose rebuke he had professed
himself so fearful of provoking.
All Horace's prepossessions must have been against one of the leaders
before whose opposition Brutus, the ideal hero of his youthful
enthusiasm, had succumbed. Neither were the sanguinary proscriptions
and ruthless spoliations by which the triumvirate asserted its power,
and from a large share of the guilt of which Augustus could not shake
himself free, calculated to conciliate his regards. He had much to
forget and to forgive before he could look without aversion upon the
blood-stained avenger of the great Caesar. But in times like those in
which Horace's lot was cast, we do not judge of men or things as we do
when social order is unbroken, when political crime is never condoned,
and the usual standards of moral judgment are rigidly enforced. Horace
probably soon came to see, what is now very apparent, that when Brutus
and his friends struck down Caesar, they dealt a deathblow to what,
but for this event, might have proved to be a well-ordered government.
Liberty was dead long before Caesar aimed at supremacy. It was dead
when individuals like Sulla and Marius had become stronger than the
laws; and the death of Caesar was, therefore, but the prelude to fresh
disasters, and to the ultimate investiture with absolute power of
whoever, among the competitors for it, should come triumphantly out of
what was sure to be a protracted and a sanguinary struggle. In what
state did Horace find Italy after his return from Philippi? Drenched
in the blood of its citizens, desolated by pillage, harassed by daily
fears of internecine conflict at home and of invasion from abroad, its
sovereignty a stake played for by political gamblers. In such a state
of things it was no longer the question, how the old Roman
constitution was to be restored, but how the country itself was to be
saved from ruin. Prestige was with the nephew of the Caesar whose
memory the Roman populace had almost from his death worshipped as
divine; and whose conspicuous ability and address, as well as those of
his friends, naturally attracted to his side the ablest survivors of
the party of Brutus. The very course of events pointed to him as the
future chief of the state. Lepidus, by the sheer weakness and
indecision of his character, soon went to the wall; and the power of
Antony was weakened by his continued absence from Rome, and ultimately
destroyed by the malign influence exerted upon his character by the
fascinations of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. The disastrous failure
of his Parthian expedition (B.C. 36), and the tidings that reached
Rome from time to time of the mad extravagance of his private life, of
his abandonment of the character of a Roman citizen, and his
assumption of the barbaric pomp and habits of an oriental despot, made
men look to his great rival as the future head of the state,
especially as they saw that rival devoting all his powers to the task
of reconciling divisions and restoring peace to a country exhausted by
a long series of civil broils, of giving security to life and property
at home, and making Rome once more a name of awe throughout the world.
Was it, then, otherwise than natural that Horace, in common with many
of his friends, should have been not only content to forget the past,
with its bloody and painful records, but should even have attached
himself cordially to the party of Augustus? Whatever the private aims
of the Caesar may have been, his public life showed that he had the
welfare of his country strongly at heart, and the current of events
had made it clear that he at least was alone able to end the strife of
faction by assuming the virtual supremacy of the state.
Pollio, Messalla, Varus, and others of the Brutus party, have not been
denounced as renegades because they arrived at a similar conclusion,
and lent the whole influence of their abilities and their names to the
cause of Augustus. Horace has not been so fortunate; and because he
has expressed,--what was no doubt the prevailing feeling of his
countrymen,--gratitude to Augustus for quelling civil strife, for
bringing glory to the empire, and giving peace, security, and
happiness to his country by the power of his arms and the wisdom of
his administration, the poet has been called a traitor to the nobler
principles of his youth--an obsequious flatterer of a man whom he
ought to have denounced to posterity as a tyrant. _Adroit
esclave_ is the epithet applied to him in this respect by Voltaire,
who idolises him as a moralist and poet. But it carries little weight
in the mouth of the cynic who could fawn with more than courtierly
complaisance on a Frederick or a Catherine, and weave graceful
flatteries for the Pompadour, and who "dearly loved a lord" in his
practice, however he may have sneered at aristocracy in his writings.
But if we put ourselves as far as we can into the poet's place, we
shall come to a much more lenient conclusion. He could no doubt
appreciate thoroughly the advantages of a free republic or of a purely
constitutional government, and would, of course, have preferred either
of these for his country. But while theory pointed in that direction,
facts were all pulling the opposite way. The materials for the
establishment of such a state of things did not exist in a strong
middle class or an equal balance of parties. The choice lay between
the anarchy of a continued strife of selfish factions, and the
concentration of power in the hands of some individual who should be
capable of enforcing law at home and commanding respect abroad. So at
least Horace obviously thought; and surely it is reasonable to suppose
that the man, whose integrity and judgment in all other matters are
indisputable, was more likely than the acutest critic or historian of
modern times can possibly be to form a just estimate of what was the
possible best for his country, under the actual circumstances of the
Had Horace at once become the panegyrist of the Caesar, the sincerity
of his convictions might have, been open to question. But thirteen
years at least had elapsed between the battle of Philippi and the
composition of the Second Ode of the First Book, which is the first
direct acknowledgment by Horace of Augustus as the chief of the state.
This Ode is directly inspired by gratitude for the cessation of civil
strife, and the skilful administration which had brought things to the
point when the whole fighting force of the kingdom, which had so long
been wasted in that strife, could be directed to spreading the glory
of the Roman name, and securing its supremacy throughout its conquered
provinces. The allusions to Augustus in this and others of the earlier
Odes are somewhat cold and formal in their tone. There is a visible
increase in glow and energy in those of a later date, when, as years
went on, the Caesar established fresh claims on the gratitude of Rome
by his firm, sagacious, and moderate policy, by the general prosperity
which grew up under his administration, by the success of his arms, by
the great public works which enhanced the splendour and convenience of
the capital, by the restoration of the laws, and by his zealous
endeavour to stem the tide of immorality which had set in during the
protracted disquietudes of the civil wars. It is true that during this
time Augustus was also establishing the system of Imperialism, which
contained in itself the germs of tyranny, with all its brutal excesses
on the one hand, and its debasing influence upon the subject nation on
the other. But we who have seen into what it developed must remember
that these baneful fruits of the system were of lengthened growth; and
Horace, who saw no farther into the future than the practical
politicians of his time, may be forgiven if he dwelt only upon the
immediate blessings which the government of Augustus effected, and the
peace and security which came with a tenfold welcome after the long
agonies of the civil wars.
The glow and sincerity of feeling of which we have spoken are
conspicuous in the following Ode (IV. 2), addressed to Iulus Antonius,
the son of the triumvir, of whose powers as a poet nothing is known
beyond the implied recognition of them contained in this Ode. The
Sicambri, with two other German tribes, had crossed the Rhine, laid
waste part of the Roman territory in Gaul, and inflicted so serious a
blow on Lollius, the Roman legate, that Augustus himself repaired to
Gaul to retrieve the defeat and resettle the province. This he
accomplished triumphantly (B.C. 17); and we may assume that the Ode
was written while the tidings of his success were still fresh, and the
Romans, who had been greatly agitated by the defeat of Lollius, were
looking eagerly forward to his return. Apart from, its other merits,
the Ode is interesting from the estimate Horace makes in it of his own
powers, and his avowal of the labour which his verses cost him.
"Iulus, he who'd rival Pindar's fame,
On waxen wings doth sweep
The Empyrean steep,
To fall like Icarus, and with his name
Endue the glassy deep.
"Like to a mountain stream, that roars
From bank to bank along,
When Autumn rains are strong,
So deep-mouthed Pindar lifts his voice, and pours
His fierce tumultuous song.
"Worthy Apollo's laurel wreath,
Whether he strike the lyre
To love and young desire,
While bold and lawless numbers grow beneath
His mastering touch of fire;
"Or sings of gods, and monarchs sprung
Of gods, that overthrew
The Centaurs, hideous crew,
And, fearless of the monster's fiery tongue,
The dread Chimaera slew;
"Or those the Elean palm doth lift
To heaven, for winged steed,
Or sturdy arm decreed,
Giving, than hundred statues nobler gift,
The poet's deathless meed;
"Or mourns the youth snatched from his bride,
Extols his manhood clear,
And to the starry sphere
Exalts his golden virtues, scattering wide
The gloom of Orcus drear.
"When the Dircean swan doth climb
Into the azure sky,
There poised in ether high,
He courts each gale, and floats on wing sublime,
Soaring with steadfast eye.
"I, like the tiny bee, that sips
The fragrant thyme, and strays
Humming through leafy ways,
By Tibur's sedgy banks, with trembling lips
Fashion my toilsome lays.
"But thou, when up the sacred steep
Caesar, with garlands crowned,
Leads the Sicambrians bound,
With bolder hand the echoing strings shalt sweep,
And bolder measures sound.
"Caesar, than whom a nobler son
The Fates and Heaven's kind powers
Ne'er gave this earth of ours,
Nor e'er will give though backward time should run
To its first golden hours.
"Thou too shalt sing the joyful days,
The city's festive throng,
When Caesar, absent long,
At length returns,--the Forum's silent ways,
Serene from strife and wrong.
"Then, though in statelier power it lack,
My voice shall swell the lay,
And sing, 'Oh, glorious day,
Oh, day thrice blest, that gives great Caesar back
To Rome, from hostile fray!'
"'Io Triumphe!' thrice the cry;
'Io Triumphe!' loud
Shall shout the echoing crowd
The city through, and to the gods on high
Raise incense like a cloud.
"Ten bulls shall pay thy sacrifice,
With whom ten kine shall bleed:
I to the fane will lead
A yearling of the herd, of modest size,
From the luxuriant mead,
"Horned like the moon, when her pale light
Which three brief days have fed,
She trimmeth, and dispread
On his broad brows a spot of snowy white,
All else a tawny red."
Augustus did not return from Gaul, as was expected when this Ode was
written, but remained there for about two years. That this protracted
absence caused no little disquietude in Rome is apparent from the
following Ode (IV. 5):--
"From gods benign descended, thou
Best guardian of the fates of Rome,
Too long already from thy home
Hast thou, dear chief, been absent now;
"Oh, then return, the pledge redeem,
Thou gav'st the Senate, and once more
Its light to all the land restore;
For when thy face, like spring-tide's gleam,
"Its brightness on the people sheds,
Then glides the day more sweetly by,
A brighter blue pervades the sky,
The sun a richer radiance spreads!
"As on her boy the mother calls,
Her boy, whom envious tempests keep
Beyond the vexed Carpathian deep,
From his dear home, till winter falls,
"And still with vow and prayer she cries,
Still gazes on the winding shore,
So yearns the country evermore
For Caesar, with fond, wistful eyes.
"For safe the herds range field and fen,
Full-headed stand the shocks of grain,
Our sailors sweep the peaceful main,
And man can trust his fellow-men.
"No more adulterers stain our beds,
Laws, morals, both that taint efface,
The husband in the child we trace,
And close on crime sure vengeance treads.
"The Parthian, under Caesar's reign,
Or icy Scythian, who can dread,
Or all the tribes barbarian bred
By Germany, or ruthless Spain?
"Now each man, basking on his slopes,
Weds to his widowed trees the vine,
Then, as he gaily quaffs his wine,
Salutes thee god of all his hopes;
"And prayers to thee devoutly sends,
With deep libations; and, as Greece
Ranks Castor and great Hercules,
Thy godship with his Lares blends.
"Oh, may'st thou on Hesperia shine,
Her chief, her joy, for many a day!
Thus, dry-lipped, thus at morn we pray,
Thus pray at eve, when flushed with wine."
"It was perhaps the policy of Augustus," says Macleane, "to make his
absence felt; and we may believe that the language of Horace, which
bears much more the impress of real feeling than of flattery,
represented the sentiments of great numbers at Rome, who felt the want
of that presiding genius which had brought the city through its long
troubles, and given it comparative peace. There could not be a more
comprehensive picture of security and rest obtained through the
influence of one mind than is represented in this Ode, if we except
that with which no merely mortal language can compare (Isaiah, xi. and
lxv.; Micah, iv.)"
We must not assume, from the reference in this and other Odes to the
divine origin of Augustus, that this was seriously Relieved in by
Horace, any more than it was by Augustus himself. Popular credulity
ascribed divine honours to great men; and this was the natural growth
of a religious system in which a variety of gods and demigods played
so large a part. Julius Caesar claimed-no doubt, for the purpose of
impressing the Roman populace-a direct descent from _Alma Venus
Genitrix_, as Antony did from Hercules. Altars and temples were
dedicated to great statesmen and generals; and the Romans, among the
other things which they borrowed from the East, borrowed also the
practice of conferring the honours of apotheosis upon their rulers,--
the visible agents, in their estimation, of the great invisible power
that governed the world. To speak of their divine descent and
attributes became part of the common forms of the poetical vocabulary,
not inappropriate to the exalted pitch of lyrical enthusiasm. Horace
only falls into the prevailing strain, and is not compromising himself
by servile flattery, as some have thought, when he speaks in this Ode
of Augustus as "from gods benign descended," and in others as "the
heaven-sent son of Maia" (I. 2), or as reclining among the gods and
quaffing nectar "with lip of deathless bloom" (III. 3). In lyrical
poetry all this was quite in place. But when the poet contracts his
wings, and drops from its empyrean to the level of the earth, he
speaks to Augustus and of him simply as he thought (Epistles, II. 1)--
as a man on whose shoulders the weight of empire rested, who protected
the commonwealth by the vigour of his armies, and strove to grace it
by "sweeter manners, purer laws." He adds, it is true,--
"You while in life are honoured as divine,
And vows and oaths are taken at your shrine;
So Rome pays honour to her man of men,
Ne'er seen on earth before, ne'er to be seen again "--(C.)
but this is no more than a statement of a fact. Altars were erected to
Augustus, much against his will, and at these men made their prayers
or plighted their oaths every day. There is not a word to imply either
that Augustus took these divine honours, or that Horace joined in
ascribing them, seriously.
It is of some importance to the argument in favour of Horace's
sincerity and independence, that he had no selfish end to serve by
standing well with Augustus. We have seen that he was more than
content with the moderate fortune secured to him by Maecenas. Wealth
had no charms for him. His ambition was to make his mark as a poet.
His happiness lay in being his own master. There is no trace of his
having at any period been swayed by other views. What then had he to
gain by courting the favour of the head of the state? But the argument
goes further. When Augustus found the pressure of his private
correspondence too great, as his public duties increased, and his
health, never robust, began to fail, he offered Horace the post of his
private secretary. The poet declined on the ground of health. He
contrived to do so in such a way as to give no umbrage by the refusal;
nay, the letters which are quoted in the life of Horace ascribed to
Suetonius show that Augustus begged the poet to treat him on the same
footing as if he had accepted the office, and actually become a member
of his household. "Our friend Septimius," he says in another letter,
"will tell you how much you are in my thoughts; for something led to
my speaking of you before him. Neither, if you were too proud to
accept my friendship, do I mean to deal with you in the same spirit."
There could have been little of the courtier in the man who was thus
addressed. Horace apparently felt that Augustus and himself were
likely to be better friends at a distance. He had seen enough of court
life to know how perilous it is to that independence which was his
dearest possession. "_Dulcis inexpertis cultura potentis amici,-
Expertus metuit_," is his ultimate conviction on this head
(Epistles, I. 18)--
"Till time has made us wise,
'tis sweet to wait
Upon the smiles and favour of the great;
But he that once has ventured that career
Shrinks from its perils with instinctive fear."
In another place (Epistles, I. 10) he says, "_Fuge magna; licet sub
paupere tecto Reges et regum vita praecurrere amicos_"--
"Keep clear of courts; a homely life transcends
The vaunted bliss of monarchs and their friends._" (C.)
But apart from such considerations, life would have lost its charm for
Horace, had he put himself within the trammels of official service. At
no time would these have been tolerable to him; but as he advanced
into middle age, the freedom of entire independence, the refreshing
solitudes of the country, leisure for study and reflection, became
more and more precious to him. The excitements and gaieties and social
enjoyments of Rome were all very well, but a little of them went a
great way. They taxed his delicate health, and they interfered with
the graver studies, to which he became daily more inclined as the
years went by. Not all his regard for Maecenas himself, deep as it
was, could induce him to stay in town to enliven the leisure hours of
the statesman by his companionship at the expense of those calm
seasons of communion with nature and the books of the great men of
old, in which he could indulge his irresistible craving for some
solution of the great problems of life and philosophy. Men like
Maecenas, whose power and wealth are practically unbounded, are apt to
become importunate even in their friendships, and to think that
everything should give way to the gratification of their wishes.
Something of this spirit had obviously been shown towards Horace.
Maecenas may have expressed himself in a tone of complaint, either to
the poet himself, or in some way that had reached his ears, about his
prolonged absence in the country, which implied that he considered his
bounties had given him a claim upon the time of Horace which was not
sufficiently considered. This could only have been a burst of
momentary impatience, for the nature of Maecenas was too generous to
admit of any other supposition. But Horace felt it; and with the
utmost delicacy of tact, but with a decision that left no room for
mistake, he lost no time in letting Maecenas know, that rather than
brook control upon his movements, however slight, he will cheerfully
forego the gifts of his friend, dear as they are, and grateful for
them as he must always be. To this we owe the following Epistle (I.
7). That Maecenas loved his friend all the better for it--he could
scarcely respect him more than he seems to have done from the first--
we may be very sure.
Only five days, I said, I should be gone;
Yet August's past, and still I linger on.
'Tis true I've broke my promise. But if you
Would have me well, as I am sure you do,
Grant me the same indulgence, which, were I
Laid up with illness, you would not deny,
Although I claim it only for the fear
Of being ill, this deadly time of year,
When autumn's clammy heat and early fruits
Deck undertakers out, and inky mutes;
When young mammas, and fathers to a man,
With terrors for their sons and heirs are wan;
When stifling anteroom, or court, distils
Fevers wholesale, and breaks the seals of wills.
Should winter swathe the Alban fields in snow,
Down to the sea your poet means to go,
To nurse his ailments, and, in cosy nooks
Close huddled up, to loiter o'er his books.
But once let zephyrs blow, sweet friend, and then,
If then you'll have him, he will quit his den,
With the first swallow hailing you again.
When you bestowed on me what made me rich,
Not in the spirit was it done, in which
Your bluff Calabrian on a guest will thrust
His pears: "Come, eat, man, eat--you can, you must!"
"Indeed, indeed, my friend, I've had enough."
"Then take some home!" "You're too obliging." "Stuff!
If you have pockets full of them, I guess,
Your little lads will like you none the less."
"I really can't--thanks all the same!" "You won't?
Why then the pigs shall have them, if you don't."
'Tis fools and prodigals, whose gifts consist
Of what they spurn, or what is never missed:
Such tilth will never yield, and never could,
A harvest save of coarse ingratitude.
A wise good man is evermore alert,
When he encounters it, to own desert;
Nor is he one, on whom you'd try to pass
For sterling currency mere lackered brass.
For me, 'twill be my aim myself to raise
Even to the flattering level of your praise;
But if you'd have me always by your side,
Then give me back the chest deep-breathed and wide,
The low brow clustered with its locks of black,
The flow of talk, the ready laugh, give back,
The woes blabbed o'er our wine, when Cinara chose
To teaze me, cruel flirt--ah, happy woes!
Through a small hole a field-mouse, lank and thin,
Had squeezed his way into a barley bin,
And, having fed to fatness on the grain,
Tried to get out, but tried and squeezed in vain.
"Friend," cried a weasel, loitering thereabout,
"Lean you went in, and lean you must get out."
Now, at my head if folks this story throw,
Whate'er I have I'm ready to forego;
I am not one, with forced meats in my throat,
Fine saws on poor men's dreamless sleep to quote.
Unless in soul as very air I'm free,
Not all the wealth of Araby for me.
You've ofttimes praised the reverent, yet true
Devotion, which my heart has shown for you.
King, father, I have called you, nor been slack
In words of gratitude behind your back;
But even your bounties, if you care to try,
You'll find I can renounce without a sigh.
Not badly young Telemachus replied,
Ulysses' son, that man so sorely tried:
"No mettled steeds in Ithaca we want;
The ground is broken there, the herbage scant.
Let me, Atrides, then, thy gifts decline,
In thy hands they are better far than mine!"
Yes, little things fit little folks. In Rome
The Great I never feel myself at home.
Let me have Tibur, and its dreamful ease,
Or soft Tarentum's nerve-relaxing breeze.
Philip, the famous counsel, on a day--
A burly man, and wilful in his way--
From court returning, somewhere about two,
And grumbling, for his years were far from few,
That the Carinae  were so distant, though
But from the Forum half a mile or so,
Descried a fellow in a barber's booth,
All by himself, his chin fresh shaved and smooth,
Trimming his nails, and with the easy air
Of one uncumbered by a wish or care.
"Demetrius!"--'twas his page, a boy of tact,
In comprehension swift, and swift in act,
"Go, ascertain his rank, name, fortune; track
His father, patron!" In a trice he's back.
"An auction-crier, Volteius Mena, sir,
Means poor enough, no spot on character,
Good or to work or idle, get or spend,
Has his own house, delights to see a friend,
Fond of the play, and sure, when work is done,
Of those who crowd the Campus to make one."
"I'd like to hear all from himself. Away,
Bid him come dine with me--at once--to-day!"
Mena some trick in the request divines,
Turns it all ways, then civilly declines.
"What! Says me nay?" "'Tis even so, sir. Why?
Can't say. Dislikes you, or, more likely, shy."
Next morning Philip searches Mena out,
And finds him vending to a rabble rout
Old crazy lumber, frippery of the worst,
And with all courtesy salutes him first.
Mena pleads occupation, ties of trade,
His service else he would by dawn have paid,
At Philip's house,--was grieved to think, that how
He should have failed to notice him till now.
"On one condition I accept your plea.
You come this afternoon, and dine with me."
"Yours to command." "Be there, then, sharp at four!
Now go, work hard, and make your little more!"
At dinner Mena rattled on, expressed
Whate'er came uppermost, then home to rest.
The hook was baited craftily, and when
The fish came nibbling ever and again,
At morn a client, and, when asked to dine,
Not now at all in humour to decline,
Philip himself one holiday drove him down,
To see his villa some few miles from town.
Mena keeps praising up, the whole way there,
The Sabine country, and the Sabine air;
So Philip sees his fish is fairly caught,
And smiles with inward triumph at the thought.
Resolved at any price to have his whim,--
For that is best of all repose to him,--
Seven hundred pounds he gives him there and then,
Proffers on easy terms as much again,
And so persuades him, that, with tastes like his,
He ought to buy a farm;--so bought it is.
Not to detain you longer than enough,
The dapper cit becomes a farmer bluff,
Talks drains and subsoils, ever on the strain
Grows lean, and ages with the lust of gain.
But when his sheep are stolen, when murrains smite
His goats, and his best crops are killed with blight,
When at the plough his oxen drop down dead,
Stung with his losses, up one night from bed
He springs, and on a cart-horse makes his way,
All wrath, to Philip's house, by break of day.
"How's this?" cries Philip, seeing him unshorn
And shabby. "Why, Vulteius, you look worn.
You work, methinks, too long upon the stretch."
"Oh, that's not it, my patron. Call me wretch!
That is the only fitting name for me.
Oh, by thy Genius, by the gods that be
Thy hearth's protectors, I beseech, implore,
Give me, oh, give me back my life of yore!"
If for the worse you find you've changed your place,
Pause not to think, but straight your steps retrace.
In every state the maxim still is true,
On your own last take care to fit your shoe!
The street where he lived, or, as we should say, "Ship Street." The
name was due probably to the circumstance of models of ships being
set up in it.
DELICACY OF HORACE'S HEALTH.--HIS CHEERFULNESS.--LOVE OF BOOKS.--HIS
PHILOSOPHY PRACTICAL.--EPISTLE TO AUGUSTUS.--DEATH.
Horace had probably passed forty when the Epistle just quoted was
written. Describing himself at forty-four (Epistles, I. 20), he says
he was "prematurely grey,"--his hair, as we have just seen, having
been originally black,--adding that he is
"In person small, one to whom warmth is life,
In temper hasty, yet averse from strife."
His health demanded constant care; and we find him writing (Epistles,
I. 15) to a friend, to ask what sort of climate and people are to be
found at Velia and Salernum,--the one a town of Lucania, the other of
Campania,--as he has been ordered by his doctor to give up his
favourite watering-place, Baiae, as too relaxing. This doctor was
Antonius Musa, a great apostle of the cold-water cure, by which he had
saved the life of Augustus when in extreme danger. The remedy
instantly became fashionable, and continued so until the Emperor's
nephew, the young Marcellus, died under the treatment. Horace's
inquiries are just such as a valetudinarian fond of his comforts would
be likely to make:--
"Which place is best supplied with corn, d'ye think?
Have they rain-water or fresh springs to drink?
Their wines I care not for, when at my farm
I can drink any sort without much harm;
But at the sea I need a generous kind
To warm my veins, and pass into my mind,
Enrich me with new hopes, choice words supply,
And make me comely in a lady's eye.
Which tract is best for game? on which sea-coast
Urchins and other fish abound the most?
That so, when I return, my friends may see
A sleek Phaeacian  come to life in me:
These things you needs must tell me, Vala dear,
And I no less must act on what I hear." (C.)
The Phaeacians were proverbially fond of good living.
Valetudinarian though he was, Horace maintains, in his later as in his
early writings, a uniform cheerfulness. This never forsakes him; for
life is a boon for which he is ever grateful. The gods have allotted
him an ample share of the means of enjoyment, and it is his own fault
if he suffers self-created worries or desires to vex him. By the
questions he puts to a friend in one of the latest of his Epistles
(II. 2), we see what was the discipline he applied to himself--
"You're not a miser: has all other vice
Departed in the train of avarice?
Or do ambitious longings, angry fret,
The terror of the grave, torment you yet?
Can you make sport of portents, gipsy crones,
Hobgoblins, dreams, raw head and bloody bones?
Do you count up your birthdays year by year,
And thank the gods with gladness and blithe cheer,
O'erlook the failings of your friends, and grow
Gentler and better as your sand runs low?" (C.)
And to this beautiful catalogue of what should be a good man's aims,
let us add the picture of himself which Horace gives us in another and
earlier Epistle (I. 18):--
"For me, when freshened by my spring's pure cold,
Which makes my villagers look pinched and old,
What prayers are mine? 'O may I yet possess
The goods I have, or, if heaven pleases, less!
Let the few years that Fate may grant me still
Be all my own, not held at others' will!
Let me have books, and stores for one year hence,
Nor make my life one flutter of suspense!'
But I forbear; sufficient 'tis to pray
To Jove for what he gives and takes away;
Grant life, grant fortune, for myself I'll find
That best of blessings--a contented mind." (C.)
"Let me have books!" These play a great part in Horace's life. They
were not to him, what Montaigne calls them, "a languid pleasure," but
rather as they were to Wordsworth--
"A substantial world, both fresh and good,
Round which, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness may grow."
Next to a dear friend, they were Horace's most cherished companions.
Not for amusement merely, and the listless luxury of the self-wrapt
lounger, were they prized by him, but as teachers to correct his
faults, to subdue his evil propensities, to develop his higher nature,
to purify his life (Epistles, I. 1), and to help him towards attaining
"that best of blessings, a contented mind:"--
"Say, is your bosom fevered with the fire
Of sordid avarice or unchecked desire?
Know there are spells will help you to allay
The pain, and put good part of it away.
You're bloated by ambition? take advice;
Yon book will ease you, if you read it _thrice_.
Run through the list of faults; whate'er you be,
Coward, pickthank, spitfire, drunkard, debauchee,
Submit to culture patiently, you'll find
Her charms can humanise the rudest mind." (C.)
Horace's taste was as catholic in philosophy as in literature. He was
of no school, but sought in the teachings of them all such principles
as would make life easier, better, and happier: "_Condo et compono,
quae mox depromere possum_"--
"I search and search, and where I find I lay
The wisdom up against a rainy day." (C.)
He is evermore urging his friends to follow his example;--to resort
like himself to these "spells,"--the _verba et voces_, by which
he brought his own restless desires and disquieting aspirations into
subjection, and fortified himself in the bliss of contentment. He saw
they were letting the precious hours slip from their grasp,--hours
that might have been so happy, but were so weighted with disquiet and
weariness; and he loved his friends too well to keep silence on this
theme. We, like them, it has been admirably said, [Footnote: Etude
Morale et Litteraire sur les Epitres d'Horace; par J. A. Estienne.
Paris, 1851. P.212.] are "possessed by the ambitions, the desires, the
weariness, the disquietudes, which pursued the friends of Horace. If
he does not always succeed with us, any more than with them, in curing
us of these, he at all events soothes and tranquillises us in the
moments which we spend with him. He augments, on the other hand, the
happiness of those who are already happy; and there is not one of us
but feels under obligation to him for his gentle and salutary
lessons,--_verbaque et voces_,--for his soothing or invigorating
balsams, as much as though this gifted physician of soul and body had
compounded them specially for ourselves."
When he published the First Book of Epistles he seems to have thought
the time come for him to write no more lyrics (Epistles, I. 1):-
"So now I bid my idle songs adieu,
And turn my thoughts to what is just and true." (C.)
Graver habits, and a growing fastidiousness of taste, were likely to
give rise to this feeling. But a poet can no more renounce his lyre
than a painter his palette; and his fine "Secular Hymn," and many of
the Odes of the Fourth Book, which were written after this period,
prove that, so far from suffering any decay in poetical power, he had
even gained in force of conception, and in that _curiosa
felicitas_, that exquisite felicity of expression, which has been
justly ascribed to him by Petronius. Several years afterwards, when
writing of the mania for scribbling verse which had beset the Romans,
as if, like Dogberry's reading and writing, the faculty of writing
poetry came by nature, he alludes to his own sins in the same
direction with a touch of his old irony (Epistles, II. 1):-
"E'en I, who vow I never write a verse,
Am found as false as Parthia, maybe worse;
Before the dawn I rouse myself and call
For pens and parchment, writing-desk, and all.
None dares be pilot who ne'er steered a craft;
No untrained nurse administers a draught;
None but skilled workmen handle workmen's tools;
But verses all men scribble, wise or fools." (C.)
Or, as Pope with a finer emphasis translates his words--
"But those who cannot write, and those who can,
All rhyme, and scrawl, and scribble to a man."
It was very well for Horace to laugh at his own inability to abstain
from verse-making, but, had he been ever so much inclined to silence,
his friends would not have let him rest. Some wanted an Ode, some an
Epode, some a Satire (Epistles, II. 2)--
"Three hungry guests for different dishes call,
And how's one host to satisfy them all?" (C.)
And there was one friend, whose request it was not easy to deny. This
was Augustus. Ten years after the imperial power had been placed in
his hands (B.C. 17) he resolved to celebrate a great national festival
in honour of his own successful career. Horace was called on to write
an Ode, known in his works as "The Secular Hymn," to be sung upon the
occasion by twenty-seven boys and twenty-seven girls of noble birth.
"The Ode," says Macleane, "was sung at the most solemn part of the
festival, while the Emperor was in person offering sacrifice at the
second hour of the night, on the river side, upon three altars,
attended by the fifteen men who presided over religious affairs. The
effect must have been very beautiful, and no wonder if the impression
on Horace's feelings was strong and lasting." He was obviously pleased
at being chosen for the task, and not without pride,--a very just
one,--at the way it was performed. In the Ode (IV. 6), which seems to
have been a kind of prelude to the "Secular Hymn," he anticipates that
the virgins who chanted it will on their marriage-day be proud to
recall the fact that they had taken part in this oratorio under his
"When the cyclical year brought its festival days,
My voice led the hymn of thanksgiving and praise,
So sweet, the immortals to hear it were fain,
And 'twas HORACE THE POET who taught me the strain!"
It was probably at the suggestion of Augustus, also, that he wrote the
magnificent Fourth and Fourteenth Odes of the Fourth Book. These were
written, however, to celebrate great national victories, and were
pitched in the high key appropriate to the theme. But this was not
enough for Augustus. He wanted something more homely and human, and
was envious of the friends to whom Horace had addressed the charming
Epistles of the First Book, a copy of which the poet had sent to him
by the hands of a friend (Epistles, I. 13), but only to be given to
"If he be well, and in a happy mood,
And ask to have them,--be it understood."
And so he wrote to Horace--the letter is quoted by Suetonius--"Look
you, I take it much amiss that none of your writings of this class are
addressed to me. Are you afraid it will damage your reputation with
posterity to be thought to have been one of my intimates?" Such a
letter, had Horace been a vain man or an indiscreet, might have misled
him into approaching Augustus with the freedom he courted. But he fell
into no such error. There is perfect frankness throughout the whole of
the Epistle, with which he met the Emperor's request (II. 1), but the
social distance between them is maintained with an emphasis which it
is impossible not to feel. The Epistle opens by skilfully insinuating
that, if the poet has not before addressed the Emperor, it is that he
may not be suspected of encroaching on the hours which were due to the
higher cares of state:--
"Since you, great Caesar, singly wield the charge
Of Rome's concerns, so manifold and large,--
With sword and shield the commonwealth protect,
With morals grace it, and with laws correct,--
The bard, methinks, would do a public wrong,
Who, having gained your ear, should keep it long." (C.)
It is not while they live, he continues, that, in the ordinary case,
the worth of the great benefactors of mankind is recognised. Only
after they are dead, do misunderstanding and malice give way to
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