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LIFE OF VIRGIL.
PUBLIUS VIRGILIUS Maro was born at the village of Andes a few miles distant from Mantua, about 70 B.C. His father was of low birth, having been, according to some authorities, a potter or brickmaker, and, according to others, the hireling of a travelling merchant named Maius, or Magus. He so ingratiated himself, however, with his master, that he received his daughter Maia in marriage, and was intrusted with the charge of a farm which his father-in-law had acquired in the vicinity of Mantua. Our poet was the offspring of these humble parents. The studies of Virgil commenced at Cremona, where he remained till he assumed the toga virilis. At the age of sixteen he removed to Mediolanum, and, shortly after, to Neapolis, where he laid the foundation of that multifarious learning which shines so conspicuously in the Æneid. During his residence in this city he perused the most celebrated Greek writers; and here he also studied the Epicurean system of philosophy, under Syro, a celebrated teacher of that sect. But medicine and mathematics were the sciences to which he was chiefly addicted; and to this early tincture of geometrical knowledge may, perhaps, in some degree, be ascribed his ideas of luminous order, and masterly arrangement, and that regularity of thought, as well as exactness of expression, by which all his writings were distinguished.
It does not seem certain, or even probable, that Virgil went at all to Rome from Naples. It rather appears that he returned to his native country, and to the charge of his paternal farm. While residing here, and turning his attention in part to poetic composition, he attracted the notice of Pollio, who had been appointed by Antony to the command of the district in which the farm of Virgil lay. Pollio, observing his poetic talents, and pleased with his amiable manners, became his patron and protector; and as long as this chief continued in command of thé Mantuan district, Virgil was relieved from all exaction, and protected in the peaceable possession of his property. This tranquillity, however, was destined to be rudely disturbed. Previously to the battle of Philippi, the triumvirs had promised to their soldiers the lands belonging to some of the richest towns of the empire. Augustus returned to Italy in A.U.C. 712, after his victory at Philippi, and found it necessary, in order to satisfy these claims, to commence a division of lands in Italy, on a more extensive scale even than he had intended. Cremona, unfortunately, having espoused the cause of Brutus, became peculiarly obnoxious to the victorious party, and its territory was accordingly divided among the veteran soldiers of the triumvir. This territory, however, not proving sufficient, the deficiency was supplied from the neighbouring district of Mantua, in which the farm of Virgil lay. The poet, no longer protected by Pollio (whose power, it would seem, had been diminished in consequence of his too close adherence to Antony), was dispossessed of his little property under circumstances of peculiar violence. His personal safety was even endangered; and he was compelled, on one occasion, to escape the fury of the centurion Arrius by swimming over the Mincius.
At this juncture, Virgil had the good fortune to obtain the favour of Alphenus Varus, with whom he had studied philosophy at Naples, under Syro the Epicurean, and who now either succeeded Pollio in the command of the district, or was appointed by Augustus to superintend in that quarter the division of the lands. Under his protection Virgil twice repaired to Rome, where he was received not only by Mæcenas, but by Augustus himself, from whom he procured the restoration of the patrimony of which he had been deprived. This happened in the commencement of the year 714 A:U.C.; and during the course of that season, in gratitude for the favours he had received, he composed his eclogue entitled Tityrus. The remaining eclogues, with the exception, perhaps, of the tenth, called Gallus, were produced in the course of this and the following year.
Virgil had now spent three years in the composition of pastoral poetry, and in constant residence on his farm, except during the two journeys to Rome which he was compelled to undertake for its preservation. The situation of his residence, however, being low and humid, and the climate chill at certain seasons of the year, his delicate constitution, and the pulmonary complaint with which he was affected, induced him, about the year 714 or 715 A.U.C., when he had reached the age of thirty, to seek a warmer sky. To this change, it may be conjectured, he was farther instigated by his increasing celebrity, and the extension of his poetic fame. On quitting his paternal fields, therefore, he first proceeded to the capital. Here his private fortune was considerably augmented by the liberality of Mæcenas; and such was the favour he possessed with his patron, that we find him, soon after his arrival at Rome, introducing Horace to the notice of this minister. It is said, moreover, that he never asked anything of Augustus that was refused ; and Donatus, his biographer, even affirms, though, it must be confessed, without the least probability, that Augustus consulted him with regard to his resignation of the government, as a sort of umpire between Mæcenas and Agrippa.
It was probably during this period of favour with the emperor and his minister, that Virgil contributed the verses in celebration of the deity who presided over the gardens of Mæcenas; and wrote, though without acknowledging it, that wellknown distich in honour of Augustus :
Nocte pluit totd; redeunt spectacula mane ;
Divisum imperium cum Jove Cæsar habet. The story goes on to relate, that Bathyllus, a contemptible poet of the day, claimed these verses as his own, and was liberally rewarded. 'Vexed at the imposture, Virgil again wrote the verses in question near the palace, and under them,
Hos ego versiculos feci, tulit alter honores; with the beginning of another line in these words,
Sic vos non vobis, four times repeated. Augustus wished the lines to be finished; Bathyllus seemed unable; and Virgil at last, by completing the stanza in the following order,
Sic vos non vobis nidificatis aves;
Sic vos non vobis fertis aratra boves, proved himself to be the author of the distich, and the poetical usurper became the sport and ridicule of Rome. During his residence at Rome, Virgil inhabited a house on the Esquiline Hill, which was furnished with an excellent library, and was pleasantly situated near the gardens of Mæcenas. The supposed site, and even ruins of this mansion, were long shown to modern travellers. Yet, however enviable was Virgil's present lot, the bustle and luxury of an immense capital were little suited to his taste, to his early habits, or to the delicacy of his constitution, while the observance and attention he met with were strongly repugnant to the retiring modesty of his disposition. Such was the popularity which he derived from his general character and talents, that on one occasion, when some of his verses were recited in the theatre, the whole audience rose to salute Virgil, who was present, with the same respect which they would have paid to the emperor. And so great was the annoyance which he felt on being gazed at and followed in the streets of Rome, that he sought shelter, it is said, in the nearest shops or alleys from public observation. At the period when Virgil enjoyed so much honour and popularity in the capital, Naples was a favourite retreat of illustrious and literary men. Thither he retired about A.U.C. 717, when in the thirty-third year of his age; and he continued, during the remainder of his life, to dwell chiefly in that city, or at a delightful villa which he possessed in the Campania Felix, in the neighbourhood of Nola, ten miles east of Naples. About the time when he first went to reside at Naples, he com. menced his Georgics by order of Mæcenas, and continued, for the seven following years, closely occupied with the composition of that inimitable poem.
The genius of Virgil, being attended with some degree of diffidence, seems to have gained, by slow steps, the measure of confidence which at length emboldened him to attempt epic poetry. He had begun his experience in verse with humble efforts in the pastoral line; though even there we behold his ardent muse frequently bursting the barriers by which she ought naturally to have been restrained. He next undertook the bolder and wider topic of husbandry; and it was not till he had finished this subject with unrivalled success, that he presumed to write the Æneid. This poem, which occupied him till his death, was commenced in A.U.C. 724, the same year in which he had completed his Georgics. After he had