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characterise his writings. After Virgil had completed his studies at Naples he made a journey to Rome, where he was introduced to Augustus, who procured for him some appointment in the royal stables, in consequence of his skill in the cure of diseases incidental to horses.
It cannot be imagined that such a genius as Virgil's could remain long inactive, and he accordingly framed the bold and noble design of writing a poem on the Wars of Rome, but was in some measure discouraged, in consequence of the roughness of the old Roman names, which were discordant to an ear so delicately constituted. He however began his Eclogues about the year of Rome 713, and finished them in three years : they possess one remarkable characteristic, being allegories. We find a great difference between them and the Theocritean Idylls, as the allegorical veil is sometimes withdrawn, and the shepherds who represent the poet and his friends converse like scholars and philosophers.
The publication of the Eclogues created a very powerful sensation in Rome; and we have the high authority of Tacitus for the reality of those honors which were publicly lavished on the author. From him we learn that when some of his verses
were recited on the stage, and the poet happened to be present, all the spectators rose to pay him the same marks of respect which they would have shown to Augustus.
The poetical beauties of the Eclogues induced Mæcenas to request Virgil to undertake the Georgics, of the character of which it is unnecessary to speak, because no reader of this sketch can be ignorant that this poem is the most elaborate and extraordinary instance of the power of genius in embellishing the most barren subjects, which human wit has ever afforded.
The commonest precepts of farming are delivered with an elegance which could scarcely be attained by a poet, who should endeavor to clothe ju verse the sublimest maxims of philosophy. Indeed, one consideration alone is sufficient to show us the excellence of Virgil in this particular—the uniform failure of his imitators. It is however much to be regretted that he was not free to select his own subject, as in all probability he would have chosen a theme better suited to his muse. To the
following the battle of Actium, the completion of the Georgics is commonly assigned.
After the completion of the Georgics, Virgil, in his forty-fifth year, determined on composing the Æneid, a poem which portrays the wanderings of Æneas, and the Roman destinies, forming a continuation of the Iliad to the Roman times. The idea was extremely noble ; the poem has consequently obtained the highest reputation, and is styled the imperial poem. His design in writing it has been so excellently explained by Mr. Spence, (Polymetis, dial. iii. cap. 18.) that it would be unjust not to quote his own words : · Virgil is said to have begun this poem the very year that Augus. tus was freed from his great rival Antony : the government of the Roman empire was to be wholly in him : and though he chose to be called their father, he was in every thing but the name their king. This monarchical form of government must naturally be apt to displease the people. Virgil seems to have laid the plan of his poem to reconcile them to it. He takes advantage of their religious turn, and of some old prophecies that must have been very flattering to the Roman people, as promising them the empire of the whole world. He weaves this in with the most probable account of their origin ; that of their descent from the Trojans.
Augustus was eagerly desirous to peruse the poem as far as it had been carried; and intreated Virgil to communicate it to him by several letters in the warmest manner.*
Prevailed on at last by his importunities, Virgil recited (and it is remarkable that he read his verses with a wonderful sweetness and propriety) the sixth book to Augustus; and his sister Octavia, who had just lost her son Marcellus, the darling of Rome, and the adopted son of Augustus, made one of the audience, to alleviate and divert her sorrow.
Let us indulge a thought that is naturally pleasing, for a moment! Virgil, reading the finest part of the Æneid to the lord of the whole earth, attended by his sister, and perhaps Mæcenas, Horace, and other favorites! He had artfully inserted that beautiful lamentation for the death of young Marcellus, beginning with,
O nate, ingentem luctum ne quære tuorumbut suppressed his name till he came to the line,
Tu Marcellus eris;
on hearing which Octavia could bear no more ; but,
*.Macrobius, in the first book of his Saturnalia, has preserved to us one of Virgil's answers to the emperor: 'Ego vero frequentius a te literas accipio.- De Ænea quidem meo, si mehercule jam dignum auribus suddenly struck with surprise and sorrow, fainted away. When she recovered, she made the poet a present of ten sesterces for every line in praise of her son, which amounted in the whole to above two thousand pounds sterling ;-a reward equal to Octavia's generosity, and not above Virgil's merit.
An event at length occurred, which forms a prominent feature both in the biography of our poet, and in the poetical history of the time. Virgil, who had just revised and altered the Eclogues and Georgics, with a view to give the ultimate polish to the Æneid, which he had now completed, projected a tour in Greece and Asia. With a dread almost prophetic, and an ardor not disproportionate, Horace addresses the ship which bore his departing friend (see lib. i. ode 3.). At Athens Virgil met with Augustus, who was returning to Rome from Samos, where he had wintered after his Syrian expedition. Changing his former intention, Virgil determined to accompany his patron.
A circumstance happened about this time too remarkable to be omitted. Augustus, either cloyed
haberem tuis, libenter mitterem. Sed tanta inchoata res est, ut pæne vitio mentis tantum opus ingressus mihi videor; cum præsertim, ut scis, alia quoque studia ad id opus, multoque potiora impartiar.'