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BRIEF MEMOIR OF VIRGIL,

FROM THE MOST AUTHENTIC AND APPROVED SOURCES.

VIRGIL was born at Mantua, in the first Consulship of Pompey the Great, and Licinius Crassus, in the year of Rome 684, sixty-nine years before the birth of Christ, on the fifteenth of October, which the Latin Poets observed annually in commemoration of his birth. His father Maro was but a mean person of no extraction; but his mother, whose name was Maia, was nearly related to Quintilius Varus, who was of an illustrious family.

He passed the first seven years of his life at Mantua ; thence he went to Cremona, where he lived to his seventeenth year; at which age, as was usual among the Romans, he put on the Toga virilis, or the dress assumed in token of manhood, Pompey and Crassus happening that year to be, a second time, Consuls.

From Cremona he went to Naples, where he studied the Greek and Latin languages with the utmost application and assiduity ; after that, he applied himself closely to the study of Physic and the Mathematics, in which he made a very great proficiency.

After he had spent some years at Naples, he went thence to Rome, where he was soon taken notice of by some of the great men at court, who showed the high esteem they had for him by introducing him to Augustus. But whether Virgil did not like the hurry and bustle of a court life, or the air of Rome did not agree with his sickly constitution, is uncertain ; however, he retired again to Naples, where he set about writing his Bucolics, chiefly with a design to celebrate the praises of Pollio, Varius, and Gallus, who recommended him to Mæcænas, by whose interest he was particularly exempted from the common calamity of the poor Mantuans; whose lands, as a reward to the veterans for their bravery at the battle of Philippi, were divided among them, Virgil's only excepted; as appears by the first Eclogue, wherein he expresses the utmost gratitude for so singular a favor, in such a manner as ingratiated him more and more with Augustus. It is said he spent three years in writing his Eclogues; and had he spent as many more, the time would have been well employed, that produced the finest Pastorals in the Roman, or perhaps, any other language.

Italy being now reduced to the utmost extremity, the grounds lying uncultivated, and the people in want of the very necessaries of life, the natural consequences of a civil war; Mæcenas, sensible of the great genius and unbounded knowledge of Virgil, set him about writing the Georgics, for the improvemeut of husbandry, the only means left to save Italy from utter ruin; in which Virgil succeeded so well, that after their publication Italy began to put on a new face, and everything went well. For the Georgics are not only the most perfect of all Virgil's Works, but the rules for the improvement of husbandry are so just, and at the same time so general, that they not only suited the climate for which he wrote them, but have been found of such extensive use, that the greatest part of them are put in practice in most places of the world at this very day. Virgil was now thirty-four years of age; having spent seven of the prime of his years in composing this inimitable poetical treatise on agricultural subjects.

After a few years respite, he set about the Æneid, when turned of forty; though it is generally believed he laid the foundation of that great and arduous work earlier, to which he seems to allude in Eclogue vi. 3—5. “Quùm canerem. reges et prælia, Cynthius aurem Vellit et admonuit : Pastorem, Titure, pingues Pascere oportet oves, deductum dicere carmen."

Virgil, in writing the Æneid, has not only given Augustus's character under that of Æneas, but has wrought into his Work the whole compass of the Roman history, with that of the several nations, from the earliest times down to his own; and that with such exactness as to deserve the title of the Roman Historian, much better than Homer* did that of writer of the Trojan War; most Romans, in any controverted point submitting rather to his authority than to the most learned historians.

The Æneid is an Epic Poem, which being the nobler composition in poetry, requires an exact judgment, a fruitful invention, a lively imagination, and an universal knowledge, all centering in one and the same person, as they did in Virgil, whose intellectual excellence has been the admiration of all mankind. Virgil spent about seven years in writing the first six books of this admirable poem, some parts of which Augustus and Octavia longed to hear him rehearse, and hardly prevailed with him, after many entreaties. Virgil for this purpose selected the Sixth, as in it he had inserted the funeral panegyric of young Marcellus (who died a little before that), whom Augustus designed for his successor, and who was the darling of his mother Octavia, and indeed of all the Romans; and after the poet had recited the inimitable lines, Bk. VI. 868–881; which are as follow : Ostendit terris hunc tantùm fata, neque ultrà esse sinent. Nimiùm vobis Romana propago Visa potens, Superi, propria hæc si dona fuissent. Quantos ille virúm magnam Mavortis ad urbem Campus aget gemitus ! vel que, Tiberine, videbis Funera, quum tumulum præterlabére recentem ! Nec puer Iliacâ quisquam de gente Latinos In tantum spe tollet avos ; nec Romula quondam Ullo se tantùm tellus jactabit alumno. Heu pietas ! heu prisca fides ! invictaque bello Dextera ! Non illi quisquam se impunè tulisset Obvius armato ; seu quum pedes iret in hostem, Seu spumantis equi foderet calcaribus armos :") he at last surprises them with the

*Conditor Iliados cantabitur, atque Maronis Altisoni dubiam facientia carmina palmam.” Juv. Sat. 11.

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noble lines immediately following those just cited ; -—Heu miserande puer! si quá fata aspera rumpas, Tu MARCELLUS ERIS.” At which most pathetic and affectionate allusion the Emperor and Octavia burst into tears, and Octavia fell into a swoon. Upon her recovery she ordered the Poet ten sesterces for every line, each sesterce making about seventy-eight pounds

in our money:

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In about four years more he finished the Æneid, and then set out for Greece, where he designed to revise it at his leisure; proposing to devote the chief of the remaining part of his days to philosophy, which had been always bis favourite study.

But he had not been long in Greece, before he was seized with a lingering distemper, being naturally of a weak constitution. Augustus returning about this time from his Eastern expedition, Virgil was willing to accompany him home; but he no sooner reached Brundusium, than he died there, in the year of Rome, 735, and in the fifty-first year of his age, and was buried at Naples, where his tomb is shown to this day.

He was one of the best and wisest men of his time; and in such popular esteem that, one hundred thousand Romans*

when he came into the Theatre, showing him the same respect they did Cæsar himself; and as he was beloved in his life, he was universally lamented at his death. He went out of the world with that calmness of mind that became so great and excellent a man, leaving Augustus his executor, who committed the care of publishing the Æneid to Tucca and Varius, strictly charging them, neither to cancel, nor add one word, nor so much as fill up the breaks or half verses.

A little before his death, it is said, he wrote this inscription for his monument :

** MANTUA ME GENUIT; CALABRI RAPUERE;

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Tacitus, Dialogo de Orat. •Testis ipse populus, qui, auditis in theatro versibus Virgilii surrexit universus, et fortè præsentem spectantemque Virgilium veneratus est sic quasi Augustum.'

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