« PredošláPokračovať »
only to be full of fruit, but was to contain all kinds.
Et sermone opus est, modo tristi sæpe jocoso,
But even if it should appear that satire was of Greek, or rather of Sicilian origin, still the earliest of the Roman satirists seem to have thought, that unity of subject was by no means consistent with the nature of the poetry which they wrote. Had not this been the case, they would not have preferred the old Greek comedy to the new. Menander would have been their model, and not Aristo. phanes.
It is partly from considering with attention the ancient satires which still remain; and partly from investigating with accuracy the history of satiric poetry, that we shall be best enabled to form a just judgment with respect to it. If I were to offer my opinion, I should say, that I believe satire admits not less variety in style, than in subject. Sometimes dramatic, sometimes epistolary, it is confined neither in manner nor in matter. Now it is familiar, now it is dictatorial; now it speaks the easy language of elegant comedy, now it assumes the more serious tone of tragic declamation. With Horace, it is witty, instructive, ironical; with Persius, it is concise, learned, and ardent; with Juvenal, it is diffuse, eloquent, and unrelent. ingly severe.
In the comparison which Dryden has drawn between these masters, I cannot think he has shewn his judgment to be very accurate, or his taste to be very correct. The whole, indeed, of his admi. rable preface to Juvenal, displays his fine bold genius, but is not remarkable for depth, or for accuracy of knowledge. I cannot think that Horace is a less pleasing satirist than Juvenal. On the contrary, the delight which I receive from the latter is generally mixed with a considerable portion of pain,--that pain too not excited by ideal miseries, not created by imaginary woes--but resulting from the contemplation of real horrors, of existing crimes, and of practiced atrocities. Juvenal conducts his reader through no illusory scenes. It is to human life that he directs the attention. It is there he points out a thousand causes for mournful reflection—it is there he exhibits enough, more than enough, to rouse the indignation of the moralist, and to excite the spleen of the satirist. Every vice that can blacken, and every weakness that can degrade our nature, are held forth to execration in his terrible page. But the philanthropist looks in vain for some extenuating word, some relenting expression, some exculpatory clause, which might indicate that mankind in general are not the slaves of vile passions, the perpetrators of detestable vices, the dupes or the agents of villainy. The pictures drawn by the vigorous and masterly hand of Juvenal may justly claim our admiration; but surely little delight can be felt in learning, even from him, the monstrous depravity of which humanity has been but too often found susceptible.
Horace seems to have studied the effects of light and shade in his pictures, with more attention than his rival; and he has happily combined the broad humour of the old Greek comedy with the elegance of the new. I think, in comparing him even with Juvenal, we may say, multo est tersior, ac purus magis Horatius, et ad notanda bominum mores præcipuus.
The defect of Juvenal seems to be, that his tone is too generally, I had almost said invariably, grave. The Romans understood by satire a more mixed kind of composition than this poet (excellent as he certainly is), seems to have attempted. We are surprised at the high strain of invective, at the magnificent verses, at the sounding eloquence, which we find in almost every page of a book, denominated by its author, a farrago libelli.
It will scarcely be urged in favour of Juvenal, that when he does not soar upon his eagle pinions, his flight is often directed where the eye of taste cannot wish to follow it. In his sixth, the wittiest of all his satires, his scurrility, and his obscenity, have little-perhaps no pretensions to humour.
In comparing the three great satirists of antiquity, I am inclined to give the first place to Horace, the second to Juvenal, and the third to Persius. Horace is the most agreeable and the most instructive writer; Juvenal the most splendid declaimer; and Persius the most inflexible moralist. The first is like a skilful gladiator, who vanquishes without destroying his antagonist ;-the second exerts gigantic strength in the contest ;and the third enters the lists with all the ardour of a youthful combatant. If the style of Horace be chaster, if his Latinity be purer, if his manner be gayer and more agreeable than either of the two satirists who follow him, he does not write finer verses than Juvenal, nor has he nobler thoughts than Persius. The poetry of the first resembles a beautiful river, which glides along through pleasant scenes, sunny fields, and smiling valleys: that of the second is like the majestic stream, whose waters, in flowing by the largest city in Europe, are polluted with no small portion of its filth and ordure: that of the third may be compared to a deep and angry torrent, which loves to roll its sullen waves under the dark shadow of the mountain, or amidst the silent gloom of the forest.