Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

to mingle in the business of real life; but from the accession of Tiberius a portentous and fatal revolution in the mode of education took place. Merit became the object of dread; and reputation either in eloquence or arms was regarded by the government with a fretful and uneasy feeling which commonly terminated in hatred and aversion. What therefore could only be followed with danger, naturally ceased to be an object of pursuit, and youth were no longer trained by publick men amidst publick concerns. In lieu of this, they were now exercised in the schools of the rhetoricians, and habituated to debate on topicks altogether remote from common life. Thus they became, like the theological dialecticians of the middle ages, nice and subtile disputants; but as the questions which they agitated seldom led to any practicable results, they could only be complimented after a course of the severest study, with being learned to little purpose, and wise to no profitable end.

In these disadvantages, Persius merely shared with the rest of the Roman youth ; but the infelicity was probably increased, in his particular case, by the debility of his constitution. He seems, indeed, to have been wholly educated within the paternal walls, till he had reached his twelfth year, when the necessity of better masters than Volaterra (the supposed place of his birth) was capable of supplying, apparently induced his friends to remove with him to Rome.

About six years before this took place, he had lost his father : so, at least, we are told in that desultory narrative of the poet's life, which goes under the name of Suetonius, but which seems to be patched up from scholia of different degrees of authority, long after his time. This part of the account, however, has been thought inconsistent with the poet's own declaration :

“ Sæpe oculos (memini) tangebam parvus olivo,

Grandia si nollem morituri verba Catonis
Dicere, non sano multum laudanda magistro,

Quæ pater adductis sudans audiret amicis.” What, saythe criticks, “could a child of six years old have occasioned his father a sweating because he could not repeat Cato's dying speech?"-But the real inconsistency rests with those who persist in bringing forward the author, on all occasions, in propria persona. It is one of years and gravity who opens the third Satire ; it is a preceptor who alternately seeks to shame, to alarm, and to encourage his pupil ; and who concludes bis admonition in a strain of indignant reproof which a youth could not with decency assume towards his fellows.* But this rage for taking the poet literally is almost universal. Britannicus affirms that he was

“ There are some dates (he says) given by the writers of his life ; but as they do not appear

also poor.

* The unus ait comitum, which has apparently misled the criticks, is ill rendered in this place, one of my companions says. It would be more correctly represented by our low and familiar phrase, here one of my gentlemen," (i. e. one of the party,) exclaims :" and this, in fact, is its meaning.

of sufficient authority, I have rejected them; but that he was in low circumstances, we know from his own confession_tenuum opum se fuisse declarat illic,

“ Quis expedivit psittaco suum xaipe ?

Magister artis, ingenîque largitor
Venter"!-

At Rome, Persius was placed under the care of the most eminent grainmarians; and he must have studied with diligence and success, for every part of his works manifests an intimate acquaintance with all the niceties of the art. The house of his mother, who had now taken a second, or, as some say, a third husband, appears to have been a little academy, and frequented by many persons eminent for learning and virtue: they were however mostly of studious habits, and of the Soick cast; and their conversation had its due effect on the youthful bard.

With such men and such studies he continued engaged, till (at the age of seventeen) he took the toga virilis, or manly gown. He was now become master of himself, and it may be suspected, from the account which he gives of his wanderings, and which, from the previous strictness and seclusion of his life, was no unnatural or uncommon circumstance, that he somewhat abused the first moments of his liberty. This, however, was not of long duration. Like one suddenly brought from darkness into the glare of day, he appears, when

the world first broke upon him, to have been dazzled, confused, and finally intimidated. In this state of uneasiness he had recourse to Cornutus, a celebrated Stoick professor, and one of those who frequented the house of his mother. This excel. lent person

took him under his especial care, and became the guide, philosopher, and friend of his future life. The poet felt his obligation; and antiquity affords few more pleasing pictures than that presented to us of the preceptor by the warm and affectionate gratitude of the youthful pupil.

It would therefore appear, that if Satire be taken in its largest and most legitimate sense, as a corrective of the besetting follies and crimes of society, Persius must necessarily have been deficient in many of the qualifications requisite to enter upon it with advantage. Educated in privacy, he was merely removed from one grammarian to another, till he finally fell into the hands of Cornutus, who brought him under the strictest discipline of the Stoick school. He seems,

for nature in his soul Put something of the raven,

to have found not a little congenial to his feelings in the austerity of the Porch; and to have imbibed the lessons of his preceptor with all the frankness of youth, and all the zeal of a determined proselyte.

Et premitur ratione animus, vincique laborat. Of publick affairs he scarcely appears to have heard. He has no references to the political events of his day; and the only transaction of the government, which he condescends to notice, is that of a triumph which must have taken place when he was a mere child. He never adverts to the great culprits of the time ; nor appears to take any interest in the state of degradation to which his fellow citizens had sunk. He dreams of no freedom but that enjoyed by the followers of Zeno: it is moral not political slavery which provokes his rage; and the tyrants with whom he delights to grapple are always those of the mind,

Thus we may, in some measure, account for the readiness with which he embraced all the dogmas of the sect. He evidently drew his ideas of mankind from the lessons of his preceptor, and looked upon human actions in the abstract; not modified and controlled by conventional circumstances, but (in the lofty language of his school) independent of all extrinsick influence; in a word, not as they are, but as his books informed him they ought to be. Hence his ardent mind takes fire at the slightest aberration from the line of duty which he somewhat too peremptorily traces : and it is occasionally amusing to mark the vehemence of this youthful censor, and the simplicity of his amazement, at not finding the oracles of his friend and instructor admitted as implicitly and as universally as those of Delphi or Dodona.

The education of Horace (for of Juvenal enough has been said elsewhere) was different.-His father, whom he remembers as gratefully, though not as

« PredošláPokračovať »