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fault to most of the authors, who wrote imme. diately subsequent to the Augustan age.
A learned critic contends, that Persius brought satiric poetry to perfection, inasmuch as he was the first who treated only of one subject in each of his satires. Unity of subject, adds he, is as essential to satire, as unity of fable to tragedy.
I am doubtful if this be either true with respect to fact, or just with respect to criticism. Horace certainly does not violate the unity of subject, for example, in his first satire; and Persius can hardly be said to have preserved it in his sixth. In the fifth likewise, the most excellent of his satires, Persius cannot claim much praise for preserving the unity of subject, as he commences with some severe strictures upon bombast poets, and con. cludes with a dissertation upon liberty, as it was understood by the Stoics.
But is this critic right, in thinking that unity of subject is conformable to the nature, or consistent with the original plan of satire? Let us very briefly retrace the history of this species of poetry, and afterwards examine the justice of this opinion.
During the early ages of Rome the Fescennine verses, and the songs of the Salii, were probably the only poetical compositions known to the Romans. The Fescennine verses were generally sung, or recited, at the annual celebration of the feast of Saturn, and upon other occasions of public rejoicing.
But the Tuscans were at this time the most esteemed for their poetical productions of any people of Italy; and the Romans having instituted scenic representations, in order to appease the anger of the gods after a pestilence, hired some players from Tuscany, to assist at these exhibitions. As the language of the Tuscans was not understood at Rome, they confined themselves to pantomime, and by their looks and gestures, full of expression, spoke to the heart and to the passions, with the energy of a thousand tongues.
The Romans soon caught the art, which they admired. In the year 514 of Rome, Livius Andronicus performed several pieces of his own, and added the interest of dialogue to the graces of action. Previous to this æra, the poems recited in
public were known by the name of Satire. Many disputes have arisen on the derivation of this word. According to Diomedes the grammarian, it may be derived, either à Satyris, because it abounds with immodest and ridiculous things, such as might be said and done by those representing satyrs on the stage; or from satura lanx, a full dish, in which the various first fruits of the year were anciently offered to the gods.
If satire be entirely a Roman poem, as is asserted both by Horace and Quintilian; the latter is evidently the juster derivation. It is then perhaps only necessary to admit this fact, to be convinced that satire was originally considered as a mixed and motley kind of composition-an olla, in which subjects were introduced with little attention to order or method.
If, indeed, arrangement or regularity had been thought essential to this species of composition, Horace would not have shewn himself so deficient in that lucid order which he recommends in his Art of Poetry. But the truth was, that he considered variety as essential to satire. The dish was not
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 unrelentingly 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 admirable 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