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General and abstract reasoning upon virtue and morality, may delight the wise and the good; but it rarely corrects the foolish, or reforms the profligate.
As the moralist treats generally of virtue and of wisdom, of the influence of reason, and of the subordination of the passions; so the satirist remarks and censures those private and individual deviations from good sense or good conduct, which it does not fall within the province of the moralist to observe. The moralist displays the variety of the human character, as it exists in all ages and nations; the satirist marks its shades and its defects in particular instances.
While, therefore, I fully admit the charge of obscurity, which has been brought against Persius, I cannot allow to it that weight, which it would have in most other cases. Indeed, we may as well complain of the rust on an ancient coin, as of the obscurity of an ancient satire. Nature, it is true, always holds the same mirror, but prejudice,
habit, and education, are continually changing the appearance of the objects seen in it.
The objections which have been made to my Author in some other respects, are more difficult His unpolished verses, his coarse comparisons, and his ungraceful transitions from one subject to another, manifest, it is said, either his contempt or his ignorance of elegant composition.
It cannot, indeed, be contended, that Persius displays the politeness of Horace, or that in the composition either of his words, his sentences, or his satires, he shows himself an adept in the callida junctura. His poetry is a strong and rapid torrent, which pours in its infracted course over rocks and precipices, and which occasionally, like the waters of the Rhone, disappears from the view, and loses itself under ground.
Among the defects of this Author in point of style, must be remarked the too evident labour,
with which he wrote, or rather corrected what he had written. In poetry, as well as in painting and in sculpture, the most perfect are generally the most laboured productions. The imagination, however, is seldom pleased with what suggests ideas of difficulty and toil-with what has been produced by an unusual effort, and is continued by a painful and unremitting exertion. In order to be graceful, it is necessary to be easy; and the poet, who aims at elegance, must conceal the pains which it costs him, to write with freedom, and yet with accuracy.
When we read fine verses, which flow easily, of which the sound is harmonious, the sentiments are just, the images natural, and the ideas connected; we can scarcely at first sight persuade ourselves, that they were probably composed with difficulty, and corrected with care. On the contrary, we are almost willing to give credit to the fiction of the poet, and to believe, that he is inspired by Muses, and writes, as they dictate. As the eye frequently wanders over a beautiful
garden, without perceiving the skill which has placed the groves, or spread the waters; so the mind does not always remark the art, which in a poem has polished the numbers, or adorned the language. Every reader of taste is charmed with the grace, the beauty, the elegance, the harmony, the majesty of Virgil's poetry; but the attentive critic alone will know how to appreciate the incessant labour, the unwearied vigilance, the scrupulous accuracy, and the patient industry, which must have been employed in the composition of the Æneis, and of the Georgics, the most sublime productions of the Roman Muse.
It may indeed be considered as a proof of no common excellence in a poet, when his works have all the merits, which are produced by care and attention, without the appearance of stiffness, or pedantry. Who, upon a first perusal of the charming verses of Guarini, would suspect, that they had been extremely laboured? yet the graces of Guarini's style have an air of negligence, which the poet never indulged. It is well
known, that Pope corrected his works with the most scrupulous solicitude; nevertheless the precision of the critic seems seldom to constrain the facility of the master, or to cramp the genius of the poet.
In the writings of Persius we have continually to lament his studied compression, his elaborate brevity, his painful energy. Not satisfied with pruning the too luxuriant shoots, he lops off the branches, which make the ornaments of the tree. He seems perpetually to forget that a satirist does not write only for the wise, to whom a word is enough; and he is constantly guilty of the rare, though fatal error, of having said too little.
But although some critics have been thus far justly severe upon Persius, is it possible that they should be so much prejudiced against him, by the imperfections of his style, as to deny that this excellent satirist possessed energy, acuteness, and spirit? Because his language is rude, is not