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efforts of the previous centuries. Much of its literary inspiration is derived from the age immediately preceding it, and from still older native sources. The thought of Lucretius acted upon the mind of Virgil through the force both of sympathy and antagonism, as a strong original nature acts upon one which is at once receptive of influence and possessed of firm native convictions. The national sentiment of Ennius and the censorious spirit of Lucilius reappeared in new forms in the Augustan poetry; while the more humane and social feelings, and the enjoyment of beauty in Nature and art, fostered by Greek studies, as well as the taste for less elevated pleasures, stimulated by the life of a luxurious capital, are elements which the poetry of the early Empire has in common with that of the last years of the Republic.
But the poetry of the new era has also certain marked characteristics, the result not so much of antecedent as of concomitant circumstances, which proclaim its affinity with great literary epochs of other nations rather than with any period of the national literature. By Voltaire the Augustan Age at Rome is ranked with the Age of Pericles at Athens, that of Lorenzo de Medici at Florence, and that of Louis XIV. in France, as one of four epochs in which arts and letters attained their highest perfection. The affinity between the Augustan Age and those of Pericles and Lorenzo is more superficial than real. They were all indeed periods in which the cultivation of the arts to the highest degree of perfection was fostered by the enlightened patronage of the eminent men who have given their name to their eras. But the position of Augustus, as an absolute ruler, acted more directly and potently, as a modifying and restraining power, on the thoughts and feelings expressed in his age, than that of the leading men of a republic; and the unique position of Rome as the mistress and lawgiver of the civilised world gives to the literature of the Augustan Age an imperial character and interest, which the national literature of no other city or country, even though superior in
other respects, can possess. Those who regard all Latin poetry as exotic and imitative have, with some plausibility, attempted to establish a parallel between the Alexandrine poetry of the third century B. C. and that of the Augustan Age. Nor can it be denied that the relation of the Augustan poets to the Emperor was somewhat parallel to that of the scholars and poets of Alexandria to the Ptolemies. The Alexandrine science and literature were also important factors in Roman culture; and the most eminent poets both of the Augustan Age and of that immediately preceding it, with the exception of Horace and Lucretius, acknowledged, in the form as well as the materials of their art, the influence of this latest development of Greek poetry. The nature and amount' of the debt incurred to the learned school of Alexandria will be considered later, and it will be seen, that it does not seriously affect the originality of the best Roman writers. The age of Queen Anne and of the first George, again, has been called the Augustan Age of English literature. The parallel between the two eras consists in the relation which poets and writers held to men eminent in the State, and also in the finished execution and moderation of tone common to both. The writers of England in our Augustan Age had the advantage over those of Rome in the freedom with which they could express their thoughts; but, even with this advantage, and with the still greater advantage that the English race, in the 1 long course of its literary annals, has given proof of a richer poetical faculty than any other race except the Hellenic, the blindest national partiality would scarcely claim as general and as durable an interest for any poetical work of that era as that claimed for the Georgics and Aeneid of Virgil and for the Odes and Epistles of Horace.
On the whole the closest parallel, in respect not so much of the substance and form of composition as of the circumstances and conditions affecting the lives and tastes of poets and men of letters, is to be sought in the age of Louis XIV. of France. The position and the policy of
Augustus and of Louis XIV. were alike in some important features. As absolute rulers, the one over a great empire, the other over the most powerful and enlightened nation then existing, they each played the most prominent part in history during more than half a century. They were each animated by a strong passion for national and personal glory, and encouraged art and literature, not merely as a source of refined pleasure congenial to their own tastes, but as the chief ornament of their reigns, and as important instruments of their policy.
And not only the political but the purely literary conditions of the two epochs were in some respects parallel. They were both times, not of growth, but of maturity; not so much of the spontaneous inspiration of genius, as of systematic effort directed in accordance with the principles of art and the careful study of ancient models. In each time circumstances and mutual sympathies brought men of letters into close and familiar contact both with one another and with men of affairs and of social eminence. And, while the relation of patronage to literature is not in any circumstances favourable to original invention, and though, except under most advantageous conditions, its tendency is to produce a tameness of spirit, or even an insincerity of tone, yet it has its compensating advantages. It imparts to literature the tone of the world-of the world not only of social eminence, but of practical experience and conversance with great affairs. The good taste, judgment, and moderation of tone which have enabled the Augustan literature to stand successfully the criticism of nineteen centuries, as well as its deficiency in the highest creative power, when compared with such eras as the Homeric Age, the Age of Pericles, and the Elizabethan Age in England, mark the limits of the good influence which this relation between the great in worldly station. and the great in genius can exercise on literature.
A further parallel might be drawn between the material conditions of the Augustan Age and those of the Age of Louis XIV. The aspect which the world they lived in
presented to the writers of the two eras was that of a rich, luxurious, pleasure-loving city, the capital of a great empire or kingdom. And this aspect of the world acts upon the susceptible nature of the poet with both an attractive and a repellent force. He may feel the spell of outward pomp and magnificence and the attractions of pleasure; or he may be driven back on his own thought, and into communion with Nature, and to an ideal longing for simpler and purer conditions.
But, instead of tracing these resemblances further, it is more important to observe that, though the outward influences acting upon the poets of the two eras were in many respects parallel, yet in form and substance the poetry of the Augustan Age is quite different from that of the Age of Louis XIV. However striking the parallel between any two periods of history may appear at first sight, the points of difference between them must be much more numerous than those of agreement; and, though outward conditions have a modifying influence upon national temperament and individual genius, yet these last are much the most important factors in the creative literature of any age. The genius of ancient Italy was, in point of imaginative susceptibility, very different from that of modern France; and, though his countrymen recognise in Racine a moral affinity with Virgil, yet the works these poets have left to the world are as different as they well can be, in form, purpose, and character. The conditions indicated in the comparison between the two periods are to be studied as modifying, not as productive, influences. The forms which the highest spiritual life in an age or an individual assumes, the power of free and happy development which it obtains, or the limitations to which it has to submit, can, to a very considerable extent, be explained by reference, in the case of nations, to the political, social, and material circumstances of the age, and, in the case of the individual, to his early life and environment, his education and personal fortunes. But the quality and intensity of that spiritual force which manifests itself from time to time in the world, giving a
new impulse to thought, a new direction to feeling, and a new delight to life, are not to be explained by any combination of circumstances. But, just as it is desirable to realise all that can be known of the life and fortunes of an individual poet before endeavouring to extract from his various/ works the secret of his power and charm, so it is desirable, ( before entering on a separate study of the various books ( which constitute the literature of any age, to take a general survey of the most important conditions affecting the lives, thoughts, and art of all who lived and wrote in that age. In the Augustan Age these conditions may be classified under four heads: (1) the political circumstances of the Empire and the state of moral and religious feeling resulting from them; (2) the social relation of men of letters to men eminent in the State; (3) the wealth, luxury, and outward splendour which met the eye and gratified the senses, in thei great city itself, and in the villas scattered over the shores and inland scenes of central Italy; (4) the intellectual culture inherited from the preceding age and modified by the tastes and conditions of the new generation. These will be reviewed as conditions acting on the imagination, and forming the intellectual atmosphere in the midst of which the productions of poetical genius expanded into various/ shapes and dimensions of beauty and stateliness.
Influence on Literature of the national enthusiasm in favour of Augustus, and of the direction given to public sentiment by his policy.
The battle of Actium marked the end of a century of revolution, civil disturbances and wars, of confiscations of property, proscriptions and massacres, such as no civilised state had ever witnessed before. The triumph of Augustus secured internal peace and order for a century. The whole world was, as Tacitus says1, exhausted, and gladly con
1 Ann. i. 1; Hist. i. 1.