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EPISTLE TO AUGUSTUS.
EPISTOLA AD AUGUSTUM.] The epistle to AuGUSTUS is an apology for the Roman poets. The epistle to the Pisos, a criticism on their poetry. This to Augustus may be therefore considered as a sequel of that to the Pisos; and which could not well be omitted; for the author's design of forwarding the study and improvement of the art of poetry required him to bespeak the public favour to its professors.
But as, there, in correcting the abuses of their poetry, he mixes, occasionally, some encomiums on poets; so, here, in pleading the cause of the poets, we find him interweaving instructions on poetry. Which was but according to the writer's occasions in each work. For the freedom of his censure on the art of poetry was to be softened by some expressions of his good-will towards the poets; and this apology for their fame had been too direct and unmanaged, but for the qualifying appearance
of its intending the further benefit of the art. The coincidence, then, of the same general method, as well as design, in the two epistles, made it not improper to give them together, and on the same footing, to the public. Though both the subject and method of this last are so clear as to make a continued commentary upon it much less wanted.
4. SI LONGO SERMONE MORER TUA TEMPORA, CAESAR.] The poet is thought to begin with apologizing for the shortness of this epistle. And yet 'tis one of the longest he ever wrote. How is this inconsistency to be reconciled? "Horace parle pêutêtre ainsi pour ne pas rebuter Auguste, et pour lui faire connôitre, qu'il auroit fait une lettre, beaucoup plus longue, s'il avoit suivi son inclina"tion." This is the best account of the matter we have, hitherto, been able to come at. But the familiar civility of such a compliment, as M. Dacier supposes, though it might be well enough to an equal, or, if dressed up in spruce phrases, might make a figure in the lettres familieres et galantes of his own nation; yet is surely of a cast, entirely foreign to the Roman gravity, more especially in an address to the emperor of the world. Mr. Pope, perceiving the absurdity of the common interpretation, seems to have read the lines interrogatively; which though it saves the sense, and suits the purpose of the English poet very well, yet neither agrees with the language nor serious air of the ori
ginal. The case, I believe, was this. The genius of epistolary writing demands, that the subjectmatter be not abruptly delivered, or hastily obtruded on the person addressed; but, as the law of decorum prescribes (for the rule holds in writing, as in conversation) be gradually and respectfully-introduced to him. This obtains more particularly in applications to the great, and on important subjects. But, now, the poet, being to address his prince on a point of no small delicacy, and on which he foresaw he should have occasion to hold him pretty long, prudently contrives to get, as soon as possible, into his subject; and, to that end, hath the art to convert the very transgression of this rule into the justest and most beautiful compliment.
That cautious preparation, which is ordinarily requisite in our approaches to greatness, had been, the poet observes, in the present case, highly unseasonable, as the business and interests of the empire must, in the mean time, have stood still and been suspended. By sermone then we are to understand, not the body of the epistle, but the proeme or introduction only. The body, as of public concern, might be allowed to engage, at full length, the emperor's attention. But the introduction, consisting of ceremonial only, the common good required him to shorten as much as possible. It was no time for using an insignificant preamble, or, in our English phrase, of making long speeches. The reason, too, is founded, not merely in the