Page images

by the testimony given by Goethe of the stimulus which his genius derived from the encouragement of the Duke of Weimar1. Horace writes of Maecenas in the language not only of admiration and gratitude, but of warm and disinterested affection; and the favour shown to Propertius, a poet of a very opposite type, shows that his appreciation of genius was not limited by a narrow partisanship. His character seems to have left very different impressions on the minds of his contemporaries, according as they knew him intimately or merely from the outside. It is a proof of his capacity and his loyalty that he was the one man thoroughly trusted by Augustus in all affairs of state, as Agrippa was in war: and that his qualities of heart were no less admirable appears not only from the poetical eulogies in the Georgics, the Elegies of Propertius, and the Odes of Horace, but also from the more natural tribute to his worth as a man and his sincerity as a friend contained in Horace's Satires and Epistles. On the world outside his own immediate circle he produced the impression of an effeminate devotion to pleasure. His love of pleasure and his shrinking from death seem to be confirmed by the testimony of Horace :

Cur me querelis, etc.

The sketch of him by Velleius Paterculus presents the view of his character suggested by the contrast between his ability as a statesman and the apparent indolence of his private life: 'A man, who, while in all critical emergencies displaying sleepless vigilance, foresight, and capacity for action, yet, during intervals of relaxation, was in his indolent self-indulgence almost more effeminate than a woman"? It is remarkable that Tacitus ascribes a similar character to the man in whom, after the death of


Essays Literary and Theological, by R. H. Hutton.

2 Cf. Propert. El. iv. 9. 34:

Maecenatis erunt vera tropaea fides.

Do. ii. 1. 36:—


Et sumta et posita pace fidele caput. 3 Velleius ii. 88.

$ 3]



Maecenas, Augustus most confided-Sallustius Crispus1. Perhaps the position of Maecenas, as the trusted confidant of a jealous and imperious master, required him to begin his career by playing a part which afterwards became habitual to him. Among the traits of his character indicated by Horace are knowledge of men, reticence, and indifference to the outward distinctions of birth and rank. Whatever ambition he had was to exercise real power as the minister of Augustus, not to enjoy official titles. He certainly used his position to direct the genius both of Virgil and Horace to public objects. There is no reason to doubt the fact noticed in the Life of Virgil, that he influenced him in the choice of the subject of the Georgics with the view to revive the chief among the ancient arts, by which the Latin name and the strength of Italy had grown great.' But it was with Horace that he shared all his public interests and private feelings, and it is not a very hazardous conjecture to presume that many of the Odes and familiar writings of the latter poet reflect the tastes and sentiments of Maecenas, perhaps give back the very style and manner of his conversation. The alternation observable in the Odes of Horace between an apparent devotion to the lighter themes of lyrical poetry and the serious interest in great affairs, the irony disclaiming all lofty and austere pretension, the Epicurean taste for simplicity combined with the Epicurean love of pleasure, the indifference to outward state, and the urbanity and knowledge of the world, more conspicuous in Horace than in any other ancient poet, are suggestive of habitual contact with the worldly wisdom, the real power disguised under an appearance of carelessness, the refined enjoyment of life, the genial social nature, which were not only a great power in the State, a great charm in the life of a by-gone age, but have

1 Tac. Ann. iii. 30: Ille quamquam prompto ad capessendos honores aditu, Maecenatem aemulatus sine dignitate senatoria multos triumphalium consulariumque potentia anteiit, diversus a veterum instituto per cultum et munditias, copiaque et affluentia luxu propior: suberat tamen vigor animi ingentibus negotiis par, eo acrior quo somnum et inertiam magis ostentabat.'

through their action on the literature of the time become a permanent and beneficent influence on human culture.

Other names of men eminent among the lights and leaders' of the time are also intimately connected with its literature. The earliest patron by whom Virgil's genius was recognised was not Maecenas but Asinius Pollio, who in his early youth had lived in the gay circle of Catullus; who, as the lieutenant of Antony, had governed the province of Cisalpine Gaul; who had filled the office of Consul, commanded an army, and obtained a triumph; who is mentioned by Horace in one of his early Satires as among the few critics whose appreciation he valued; who in later life obtained great distinction as an orator; to whose talent as a writer of tragedy both Virgil and Horace bear witness; who undertook the composition of a work the loss of which is one of the most irreparable gaps in historical records a contemporary History of the Civil Wars 'ex Metello consule; and who performed the important service to literature of being the first to establish a public library at Rome, and the more questionable service of instituting the practice of public recitations.

M. Valerius Messala, the next in importance among the patrons of letters, unlike Maecenas and Pollio, who, though of old provincial families, were 'novi homines' at Rome, was a representative of one of the oldest and most illustrious patrician houses. He had held high command in the Republican army at Philippi, and was distinguished as an orator, an author, and patron of literature. He became the centre of a literary circle the most brilliant member of which was Tibullus; which, though living in friendly relations with the circle of Maecenas, did not share with it the enthusiasm for the new régime. Men like Pollio and Messala are important as elements contributing to the general taste and culture of the age, but not as determining the political or ethical character stamped upon the literature.

No direct literary influence was exercised by Agrippa, who is described by the elder Pliny as 'A man, whose manners more

§ 3]


nearly approached rustic plainness than refinement of taste;' but his military and naval successes, and still more the great works of utility and beauty erected under his superintendence, contributed to the same end as the poetry of Virgil and Horace, that of perpetuating the spell of the name of Caesar upon the imagination of the world.


Cornelius Gallus, like Pollio, was eminent both in action and in poetry, but his brilliant and erratic career was cut short too soon to enable him to obtain a foremost place either among poets or among literary patrons. Yet an undying interest. attaches to his name from the evidence afforded in the Eclogues of his being the first and apparently the only one who inspired in Virgil that affection, partly of the heart, partly of the imagination, which fascinates and attaches the finer nature of the poet to the stronger or bolder nature of one in whom it recognises some ideal of heroism, combined with the qualities which unite men in friendship with one another. It is of Gallus alone that Virgil writes in such a strain as this:

Gallo cuius amor tantum mihi crescit in horas
Quantum vere novo viridis se subicit alnus 1;

and it is to Gallus that he assigns the pre-eminence in his own especial province of poetry, -as he represents the shepherdpoet Linus presenting him with the reeds which the Muses had of old given to 'the sage of Ascra 2.'

The Odes of Horace, addressed to men of high official station and ancient family, such as Sestius, Munatius Plancus, Sallustius Crispus, Aelius Lamia, Manlius Torquatus, still further illustrate the close connexion between the great world and the world of letters. His later Epistles, many of which are addressed to young men of rank devoting themselves to literary studies and pursuits, attest the continuance of the same tendency as time went on. And in the following generation Ovid and

'Gallus for whom my love grows from hour to hour even as the green alder-tree shoots up in the early spring.'

2 Eclog. vi. 70, etc.

his contemporaries enjoyed the favour and friendship of the sons of these men and of other illustrious patrons. Juvenal, in the Satire in which he complains of the absence of a liberal patronage in his own age, unites the names of Fabius and Cotta Messalinus (son of Messala), whose protection and encouragement Ovid had enjoyed, with that of Maecenas'. The chief cause of this close bond of union between social rank and literary genius was the fact that the men who in a former age would, from their birth and education, have had a great political career before them, were now debarred from the highest sphere of active life; while they were not yet, what they became under the systematic corruption of the later Caesars, too enervated and demoralised to continue susceptible of the nobler kinds of intellectual pleasure.

Probably in no other aristocratic or courtly society has there been so large a number of men possessing the ability and knowledge, the accomplishments and leisure, required for the appreciative enjoyment of a literature based on so fine and elaborate a culture. There are some circumstances which made the patronage of the earlier half of the Augustan Age more favourable to letters than that of other periods in which the same influence has been exercised. The chief literary patrons then were men who had played a prominent part in a revolutionary era,--men indeed of ancient birth or hereditary distinction, yet owing their pre-eminence to their talent, energy, and aptitude for the time, and thus open to new influences, and free from the prejudices of an old-established nobility. They had the culture and careful education of an aristocratic class, combined with the liberal tendencies of revolutionary leaders. The distance which in the preceding age would have kept apart men born into a high social and political position from men of genius of humble origin was easily passed in a time immediately succeeding that in which the great C. Julius had practically proclaimed the doctrine of an open career to every

Sat. vii. 93, 94.

« PreviousContinue »