Obrázky na stránke

Which, again, gives no countenance to the supposition of Menander's excelling in comic humour. For he does not say, that with the addition of this talent he had equalled Menander, but in general, the GREEKS-æquato virtus polleret honore cum GRÆCIS. And this was what occasioned Cæsar's regret. He wished to see him unite all the merits of the Greek comedy. As far as the Latin tongue would permit, he had shewn himself a master of the elegance of the new. What he further required in him was the strong wit and satyr of the old. His favourite had then rivalled, in every praise, the Greek writers.

And, if this be admitted, nothing hinders but that by vis comica Cæsar may be understood to mean (how consistently with the admired urbanity of Terence is not the question) the comic pleasantry of the middle or old comedy.

The thing indeed could hardly be otherwise. For Plautus, who chiefly copied from the middle 'comedy, had, by the drollery of his wit, and the buffoon pleasantry of his scenes, so enchanted the people as to continue the reigning favourite of the stage, even long after Afranius and Terence had appeared on it. Nay the humour continued through the Augustan age°, when, as we learn from Horace, in many parts of his writings, the public applause still followed Plautus; in whom though himself

o And no wonder, when, as Suetonius tells us, the emperor himself was so delighted with the old comedy. [c. 89.]

could see many faults, yet he does not appear to have gone so far, as, upon the whole, to give the preference to Terence. Afterwards indeed the case altered. Paterculus admires; and Plutarch and Quintilian are perfectly charmed: ita omnem vitæ imaginem expressit, ita est omnibus rebus, personis, affectibus accommodatus. This character, one would think, should have fitted him also for a complete model to the orator. And this, as might be expected, was Quintilian's opinion. For, though he saw, as appears from the passage already quoted, that the writers of the old comedy were, in fact, the likest to orators, and the most proper to form them to the practice of the Forum, yet, in admiration of the absolute perfection of Menander's manner, and criticising him by the rules of a just and accurate rhetoric, and not at all in the views of a practical orator, he pronounces him to be a complete pattern of oratorial excellence: vel unus, diligenter lectus, ad cuncta efficienda sufficiat, 1. x. c. 1. Yet Cicero, it seems, thought otherwise; for he scarcely, as I remember, mentions the name of Menander in his rhetorical books, though he is very large in commending the authors of the old Greek comedy. The reason was unquestionably that we have been explaining: The delicate observance of decorum, for which this poet was so famous, in omnibus mire custoditur ab hoc poeta decorum, rendered him an unfit. model for a popular speaker, especially in Rome, where an orator was much more likely to

carry his point by the vis comica, the broader mirth of Aristophanes, or Plautus, than by the delicate railleries, and exquisite paintings of Menander, or Terence.

273. SI MODO EGO ET VOS SCIMUS INURBANUM LEPIDO SEPONERE DICTO.] It was very late ere the ancients became acquainted with this distinction. Indeed it does not appear, they ever possessed it in that supreme degree, which might have been expected from their exquisite discernment in other instances. Even Horace himself, though his pictures of life are commonly the most delicate, and wrought up in the highest beauty of humour, yet, when he affects the plaisant, and purposely aims at the comic style and manner, is observed to sink beneath himself extremely. The truth is, there is something low, and what the French call grossier, in the whole cast of ancient wit; which is rather a kind of rude, illiberal satire, than a just and temperate ridicule, restrained by the exact rules of civility and good sense. This a celebrated writer, who seems willing to think the most favourably of the ancient wits, in effect owns, when, after quoting certain instances of their raillery, he says, Ces exemples, quoique vifs et bons en leur genre, ont quelque chose de trop dur, qui ne s'accommoderoit à notre maniere de vivre; et ce seroit ce que nous appellons rompre en visiers, que de dire en face des veritez aussi forts que celles-là. [Rec. de bons


Contes et de bons Mots, p. 89.] This rudeness, complained of, appears in nothing more evident, than in their perpetual banter on corporal infirmities, which runs through all the wits both of Greece and Rome. And to shew us, that this was not a practice, they allowed themselves in against rule, Cicero mentions corporal infirmities [De Or. 1. ii. c. 59.] as one of the most legitimate sources of the RIDICULOUS. Est deformitatis et corporis vitiorum satis bella materies. And in another place, Valde ridentur. etiam imagines, quæ fere in deformitatem, aut in aliquod vitium corporis ducuntur cum similitudine turpioris, &c. [ib. c. 66.] And this, which is very remarkable, though they saw the absurdity of it, as appears from the answer of Lamia, recorded by Cicero, to a joke of this kind, Non potui mihi formam ipse fingere, [ib. c. 65.] The universal prevalence of a practice so absurd in itself, and seen by themselves to be so, in the two politest states of the old world, must needs have sprung from some very general, and powerful cause; which, because it hath not, that I know of, been considered by any writer, I shall here attempt to open and explane. The subject is curious, and would require a volume to do it justice. I can only hint at the principal reasons, which appear to me to have been these.

I. The free and popular government of those states. This, preserving an equality of condition, and thereby spreading a fearlessness and independency through all ranks and orders of men, of course pro

duced and indulged the utmost freedom of expression, uninfluenced by hopes of favour, and unawed by fear of personal offence; the two sources, from whence the civility of a more cautious ridicule is derived. Now of all the species of raillery, the most natural and obvious to a people unrestrained by these causes, is ever the coarsest, such as that on corporal deformities; as appears from its prevailing every where, in all forms of government, among the lowest of the people, betwixt whom those causes never subsist. But this reason involves in it some particulars, which deserve to be considered. 1. The orators, who catched it from the constitution themselves, contributed in their turn to forward and help on this disposition to uncivilized mirth. For, the form of their government requiring immediate, and almost continual, applications to the people; and the nature of such applications giving frequent exercise to their wit, it was natural for them to suit it to the capacities of their auditory; if indeed they had seen better themselves. Thus we find the orators in the Forum, even in the later times of the Roman republic, exposing their adversary to the broad mirth of the populace, by enlarging on his low stature, ugly face, or distorted chin. Instances of which may be met with in Cicero's treatise De oratore; and even, as hath been observed, in some orations and other pieces of Cicero himself. 2. From the Forum the humour insensibly spread amongst all orders, and particularly, amongst the writers for the stage, where it was

« PredošláPokračovať »