CHAPTER VII. ROMAN LITERATURE.
In lyrical poetry, the Romans can boast of one of the greatest masters of any age or nation. The Odes of Horace have never been transcended, and will probably remain through all the ages, the delight of scholars. They may not have the deep religious sentiment, and the unity of imagination and passion which belong to the Greek lyrical poets, but as works of art, of exquisite felicity of expression, of agreeable images, they are unrivaled. Even in the time of Juvenal, his poems were the common school books of Roman youth. Horace, like Virgil, was a favored man, enjoying the friendship of the great with ease, fame, and fortune. But his longings for retirement, and his disgust at the frivolities around him, are a sad commentary on satisfied desires. [Footnote: Born B.C. 65. The best translation of his works is by Francis; but Horace is untranslatable.] His odes compose but a small part of his writings. His epistles are the most perfect of his productions, and rank with the Georgics of Virgil and the satires of Juvenal, as the most perfect form of Roman verse. His satires are also admirable, but without the fierce vehemence and lofty indignation that characterized Juvenal. It is the folly rather than the wickedness of vice which he describes with such playful skill and such keenness of observation. He was the first to mould the Latin tongue to the Greek lyric measures. Quintilian's criticism is indorsed by all scholars. " Lyricorum Horatius fere solus legi dignus, in verbis felicissime audax." No poetry was ever more severely elaborated than that of Horace, and the melody of the language imparts to it a peculiar fascination. If inferior to Pindar in passion and loftiness, it glows with a more genial humanity, and with purer wit. It cannot be enjoyed fully, except by those versed in the experiences of life. Such perceive a calm wisdom, a penetrating sagacity, a sober enthusiasm, and a refined taste, which are unusual even among the masters of human thought. It is the fashion to depreciate the original merits of this poet, as well as those of Virgil and Plautus and Terence, because they derived so much assistance from the Greeks. But the Greeks borrowed from each other. Pure originality is impossible. It is the mission of art to add to its stores, without hoping to monopolize the whole realm. Even Shakespeare, the most original of modern poets, was vastly indebted to those who went before him, and even he has not escaped the hypercriticism of minute observers.
In this allusion to lyrical poetry, I have not spoken of Catullus, unrivaled in tender lyric, and the greatest poet before the Augustan era. He was born B.C. 87, and enjoyed the friendship of the most celebrated characters. One hundred and sixteen of his poems have come down to us, most of which are short, and many of them defiled by great coarseness and sensuality. Critics say, however, that whatever he touched he adorned; that his vigorous simplicity, pungent wit, startling invective, and felicity of expression, make him one of the great poets of the Latin language.
In didactic poetry, Lucretius was preeminent, and is regarded by Schlegel as the first of Roman poets in native genius. [Footnote: Born B.C. 95, died B.C. 52. Smith's Dict.] He lived before the Augustan era, and died at the age of forty-two by his own hand. His great poem "De Rerum Natura," is a delineation of the epicurean philosophy, and treats of all the great subjects of thought with which his age is conversant. It somewhat resembles Pope's "Essay on Man," in style and subject, but immeasurably superior in poetical genius. It is a lengthened disquisition, in seven thousand four hundred lines, of the great phenomena of the outward world. As a painter and worshiper of nature, he was superior to all the poets of antiquity. His skill in presenting abstruse speculations is marvelous, and his outbursts of poetic genius are matchless in power and beauty. Into all subjects he casts a fearless eye, and writes with sustained enthusiasm. But he was not fully appreciated by his countrymen, although no other poet has so fully brought out the power of the Latin language. Professor Ramsay, [Footnote: The translation of Lucretius into English was made by I. M. Goode, Evelyn, and Drummond.] while alluding to the melancholy tenderness of Tibullus, the exquisite ingenuity of Ovid, the inimitable felicity and taste of Horace, the gentleness and splendor of Virgil, and the vehement declamation of Juvenal, thinks that, had the verses of Lucretius perished, we should never have known that it could give utterance to the grandest conceptions with all that self-sustained majesty and harmonious swell, in which the Grecian muse rolls forth her loftiest outpourings. The eulogium of Ovid is -
"Carmina sublimis tune sunt peritura Lucreti,
Exitio terras quum dabit una dies."