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SATIRE I. ...
After this, he exposes the wretched taste which then prevailed in
Rome, both in verse and prose, and shews what sad stuf the nobles wrote themselves, and encouraged in others. He laments that he dares not speak out, as Lucilius and Horace did but it is no very difficult matter to perceive that he frequently aims at
the emperor Nero. He concludes, with a contempt of all blockheads, and says, that the :: only readers, whose applause he courts, must be men of virtue
things ! M. Who will read these? P. Do you say that to me? M. No
body, truly. P. Nobody? M. Perhaps two, perhaps nobody; it is a shameful and lamentable
thing. P. Wherefore ? Lest Polydamus and the Troiads should prefer Labeo To me ?-trifles !~do not, if turbid Rome should disparage 5
shameful thing, not to have my writings read? Are you afraid that I should be uneasy, at seeing my performances thrown aside, and those of a vile scribbler preferred ?
4. Polydamus and the Troiads, &c.] The poet dares not speak out, therefore designsNero and the Romans, under the feigned name of Polydamas and the Trojans, in allusion to Hector's fearing the reproaches of Polydamas (the son-in-law of Priam, and who is said to have betrayed Troy to the Greeks) and of the Tro.. jan men and women, if he retired within the walls of Troy. See Il. %. 1. 100–5.
-- Labeo.] A wretched poet, who made a miserable translation of Homer's Iliad. He was a court poet, and a minion of Nero.
5. Trifles.] So far from its being the miserable thing which you imagine, T. look on it as ridiculous and trifling, nor do I trouble my head about it.
- If turbid Rome, &c.] Metaph. from waters, which, by be. ing disturbed, are muddy, thick, turbid, as we say..
Elevet, accedas : examenve improbum in istâ
If the people of Rome, says the poet, turbid, i. c. muddy, not clear in their judgment, having their minds vexed and disturbed too with what is written against them, disparage any work, and speak lightly of it, through anger and prejudice, I desire you will not agree with them in what they say, or accede to their opinion. The word elevet is metaphorical, and alludes to scales, where that which is lightest is raised up, and signifies undervaluing, disparaging, or, as we say, making light of any thing.
6. Nor correct, &C.] Examen properly signifies the tongue, nee.. dle, or beam of a balance, which always inclines toward the side where the weight preponderates—where this does not act truly, and in due proportion, it shews that the balance is false : how false it is, and, of course, how it may be properly judged of and corrected, may be seen, by weighing the same thing in a true scale, or by a true balance ; this will exactly discover the deficiency.
The poet, alluding to this, advises his friend not to attempt correcting one false balance by another: he means, that, if any thing should be amiss, which the people in general find fault with, yet it is not to be weighed or considered according to their opinion, which, like a false balance, is erroneous; much less to be corrected by their standard of judgment.
7. Seek not thyself, &c.] i. e. Judge for yourself, by your own conscience and opinion, not by what other people say. The more exact meaning of this Stoical maxim seems to be You can judge of yourself better by what passes within you, than by the opinions of others; so, go not out of yourself, in order to draw just and true conclusions concerning yourself. The Stoics maintained, that a wise man should not make other people's opinions, but his own reason, his rule of action.
The conscience is the test of ev'ry mind;.
Seek not thyself, without thyself,' to find. Dryden. The poet seems to urge this sentiment upon his friend, in order to guard him against such an attention to popular opinion, as might lead him to assent to it, contrary to his own opinion, judgment, and conscience. In this view it answers to what he has before said :
Non, si quid turbida Roma
L. 5, 6. 8. Who does notm?] i. e. Who does not leave his own judg. ment and conscience out of the question, and suffer himself to be led away by popular opinion? This is an aposiopesis : but I think the nam refers us to the preceding sentence to make out the sense.
Any thing, agree with it, nor correct a false balance
10 When we have the relish of uncles--then, then forgive. M. I
• will not
This view of it furnishes a farther argument against trusting the opinions of others, since even they don't judge for themselves.
8. Ah! if I might say!] i. e. Alas! if I were but at liberty to speak out plainly.
But I may, &c.] Persius lived in the reign of Nero, a dan. gerous period for the writers of satire ; he was therefore, as he hints in the preceding line, afraid to speak out : but yet he will not quite refrain ; the objects of satire were too many, and too gross, for him to be silent, and therefore he determines to attack them.
9. When I have beheld greyness.] When I have turned my eyes on the grey hairs of old age.
Our grave way of life.] Vivere, here, for vita, a Græcism - these often occur in Persius. "
When I behold, says the poet, the gravity and austerity with which we appear to live.
10. Whatever we do, &c.] The manner in which people employ themselves, as soon as they have left their playthings, and are bé. come men.
Nuces, lit. nuts and tali, little square stones, or bones with four sides were the usual playthings of children. The nuces were little balls of ivory, or round stones. See FRANCIS' Hor. lib. ij. sat. iii. l. 172.--Hence nucibus relictis, significs ceasing to be children. See Hor. lib. ii. sat. iii. 1. 171, 2.
11. Relish of uncles, &c.] Patruus is a father's brother, on whom sometimes the care of children devolved on the loss of their father. The father's brother, thus having the authority of a father, without the tenderness anu affection of a father, was apt to be very rigid and severe : this was so mucli the case, as almost to become proverbial; hence patruus signified a severe, rigid reprover, See AinsW... -Hence Hor. lib. ii. sat. iii. 1. 87, 8.
- Sive ego prave, Seu recte hoc volui, ne sis patruus mihi, Comp. lib. iii. ode xii. I. 3, where we find :
Metuentes patruæ verbera linguæ. See also the note there, in edit. Delph.
The poet's meaning seems to be as follows :
“ When I consider the vanity and folly in which we Romans (he speaks in the first person, as if he meant to include himself, to avoid offence) are employed, from our first becoming men to our old age, and, at the same time, that pretended and assumed gravity and seve
P. Quid faciam? nam sum petulanti splene cachiano.
Scilicet hæc populo, pexusque togâque recenti,
rity which we put on, insomuch that we have the relish or savour of morose uncle-guardians in our reproofs of others, and in our care riage towards them, though we are in truth as vain and foolish as those whom we reprove, then, then I think I may be forgiven if I write and publish my Satires, when the times so evidently stand in need of reproof,"
11. I will not.] Says the friend-All you say does not convince me that you should publish your Satires.
12. What shall I do?] Says Persius-How can I contain myself? how can I control my natural temper and disposition ?
A great laugher.] Cachinno-onis, from cachinnus, a loud laughing, a laughter in derision or scorn. Ainsw.
- A petulant spleen.] The spleen, or milt, was looked upon by the ancients to be the organ of laughter. See CHAMBERS, tit. Spleen. Also the receptacle of the atrabilious, or melancholic humour. Hence when people are low-spirited or melancholy, they are said to be splenetic ; so when they are disgusted and out of humour. Thus Swift, in his City Shower :
“ Saunt'ring in coffee-house is Dulman seen,
" Rails on the climate and complains of spleen." Our poet gives his friend to understand, that he can't take his advice to suppress his Satires ; for that his spleen, which is of the petulant kind, and his natural disposition to laugh at the follies of men, make it impossible for him to resist the temptation of publishing.
13. We write shut up.] Persius having expressed his turn for satire, from his natural disposition, and having asked his friend what he should do, were he to be silent, and lay by his intention of writ. ing—the friend gives him to understand, that he may indulge his de. sire for writing, without writing satires— Do as others do, who " indulge their genius for writing on popular and inoffensive sub“ jects, some in verse, others in prose, shut up in their studies, for “ their greater quiet and privacy, where they compose something in “ a grand and lofty style.”- Aye,"_says Persius, interrupting him, “ so grand, as to require a very large portion of breath to last “ through their periods and sentences, which are too bombast and “ long-winded to be read by ordinary lungs." The speaker uses the first person plural --scribimus inclusi ---We--nous autres (as the French say). By this mode of speech, the pointedness and per. sonality of what is said are much lessened ; consequently the preju. dice and offence with which a more direct charge on the persons mcant would have been received. Hor. lib. ii. epist. i. l. 117.
Scribimus indocti, doctique poemata passim,
P. What shall I do? for I am a great laugher with a petulant spleen.
“ But ev'ry desperate blockhead dares to write,
FRANCIS 13. One numbers.] i. e. One pens verses.
--Another prose.] Pede liber—a periphrasis for prose-writing, which is free from the shackles of feet and numbers, by which writers in verse are confined.
14. Something grand-] The speaker is going on with his ad vice, and in his enforcing it from the examples of the writers of his day ; but at the words grande aliquid, Persius interrupts him, as though not able to bear such an epithet as grande, when applied to the bombast and fustian which were daily coming forth in order to catch the applause of the vulgar. In this Persius has, no doubt, a stroke at Nero's writings, some sainples of which we met with in a subsequent part of this Satire, l. 93-5, and I. 99–102. . - --Which lungs, &c.] See note on l. 14. The word anhelet is well applied here, -Anhelo signihes to breathe short and with difficulty—to pant, as if out of breath-also to labour in doing a thing -and well denotes the situation of one who has to read aloud the poems and performances in question,
---Large of air.] Capable of containing a very large portion of air, and greatly inflated.
15. Doubtless these to the people, &c.] Persius, as we shall find, by using the second person singular, i. 17, leges, and collueris, 1. 18, is not to be understood as confining what he says to the persoli with whom he is discoursing, but means covertly to attack and expose all the poetasters at Rome, who shut themselves up to compose turgid and bombast poems and declamations, to recite in pub. lic, in order to get the applause of their ignorant and tasteless hearers.
The Monitor had said-scribimus, l. 18: hence the poet addresses him particularly; but, no doubt, means to carry his satire to all the vain scribblers of the time, and especially to those who exposed themselves in the ridiculous manner after described ; not without a view to the emperor Nero, who was vain of his poetry, and used to recite his poems in public. See my note on l. 134, ad fin. and comp. Juv. viii. 220–30, and notes there.
I would observe, that in the arrangement of the dialogue, v. 13, 14. I have followed Mr. Brewster, whose ingenious version of Persius is well worthy the reader's attention.
According to the usual arrangement, whereby scribimus indocti, &c. is given to Persius, he receives no answer to his question, quid faciam, l. 12, but abruptly introduces a .new subject; whereas, ac. cording to the above method, the Monitor very naturally begins an