Page images

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 con- | siderable 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 realisel 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, i 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 the 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 senti

ment 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 says?, exhausted, and gladly con

1 Ann. i. I; Hist. i. 1.

sented to the establishment of the Empire in the interests of peace. The generation to which Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, and Propertius belonged had passed through one of the worst crises of this long period of suffering. The victors of Philippi, so far from following the example of clemency set to them by the great victor of Pharsalia, had emulated the worst excesses of the times of Marius and Sulla. The poets whose works record the various phases of feeling through which that age passed had in their own person experienced the consequences of the general insecurity. Virgil, in addition to the loss of his paternal farm, had incurred imminent danger from the violence of the soldier to whom his land had been allotted. The language of Horace indicates that his life had been more than once in jeopardyat the rout of Philippi, and in his subsequent wanderings by land and sea till he found himself a needy adventurer, 'humilem decisis pennis,' again at Rome. Tibullus lost the greater part of the estates which his ancestors had enjoyed for generations. A similar calamity befell Propertius 3. Their own experience must thus have deepened the horror of prolonged war and bloodshed natural to men of humane and unwarlike temper, as they all were; for Horace, who alone among them took part in the civil war, describes himself, a few years later, as

Imbellis et firmus parum ; and Tibullus pleads his effeminacy and timidity as a justification of a life devoted to indolent enjoyment 4. The works of that age, composed between the dates of the battles of Philippi and Actium, express the deep longing of the world for rest; those written later express the deep thankfulness for its attainment. In Virgil the recoil from

[ocr errors]

1 Od. iii. 4. 28.
2 Cf. Eleg. i. 41-42:-

Non ego divitias patrum fructusque requiro

Quos tulit antiquo condita messis avo. 3 Cf. v. 1. 129–130 :

Nam tua cum multi versarent rura iuvenci

Abstulit excultas pertica tristis opes. 4 Eleg. i. 1 ; i. 10.

the cruel and violent passions of the time in which his early manhood was cast draws forth his tender compassion for all human suffering, and creates in his imagination the ideal of a life of peace— procul discordibus armis,' the vision of a place of rest after toil and danger— sedes ubi fata quietas ostendunt;' just as the recoil from the political anarchy of his own age and from the cruel memories of the Marian times deepens the sense of human misery in Lucretius, and forces on his mind the ideal refuge from the storms of life in the high and serene temples well bulwarked by the learning of the wise.' In Horace the feeling of insecurity arising out of his early experience confirms the lessons of Epicurean wisdom, and teaches him not to expect too much from life, but to enjoy thankfully whatever good the passing hour brought to him. In all of them the sense of the real miseries from which the world had escaped, and of the real blessings which it enjoyed after the battle of Actium, induces an acquiescence in the extinction of liberty and in the establishment of a form of government which had been for centuries most repugnant to Roman sentiment.

Another influence reconciling men to the great political change which took place in that era was the restored sense of national union. With whatever feelings Octavianus may have been regarded in the early years of the Triumvirate, after the final departure of Antony from Rome he was looked upon both as the main pillar of order and as the champion of the national cause, the true representative of Italy and of the 'Senatus Populusque Romanus' against the motley hosts of the East, arrayed under the standards of Antony and his Egyptian queen :

Hinc Augustus agens Italos in proelia Caesar
Cum Patribus Populoque, Penatibus et magnis Dis.

[blocks in formation]


ope barbarica variisque Antonius armis, Victor ab Aurorae populis et litore rubro, Aegyptum viresque Orientis et ultima secum Bactra vehit, sequiturque, nefas, Aegyptia coniunx?.

1 Aen. viii. 678 et seq.

[ocr errors]

With the Romans in the later age of the Republic the feeling of the glory and greatness, the ancient and unbroken tradition, of their State was a more active sentiment than the love of political liberty. The care for the ‘Respublica Romana' as a free commonwealth was in the last century of its existence confined to the leaders of the Senatorian aristocracy; the pride in the 'Imperium Romanum' was a feeling in which all classes could share, and which could especially unite to Rome the people of Italy, who had been admitted too late into citizenship, and were separated by too great a distance from the capital, to make the exercise of the political franchise an object of value in their eyes. They probably felt themselves more truly in the position of equal citizenship after the establishment of the monarchy than before it. This feeling of the pride of ! empire asserts itself much more strongly in the poets of : the Augustan Age than in the writers of the preceding generation. It is scarcely, if at all, apparent in Lucretius and Catullus. It is only in the idealising oratory of Cicero, who, with all his devoted attachment to the forms of the constitution and the traditions of political freedom, still had a strong sympathy with the imperial spirit of Rome, that we find the expression of the same kind of sentiment which suggested to Virgil such lines as

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento,

and inspired the national Odes of Horace.

The majesty of the State, moreover, impressed the imagination more immediately and more deeply when it was visibly and permanently embodied in a single person than when the administration of affairs and the government of the Provinces were distributed for a brief tenure of office among many competitors. By enabling them to realise the unity and vast extent of their dominion, Augustus reconciled the prouder spirits of his countrymen to his rule, as by restoring peace, order, and material prosperity he enlisted their interests in his favour. At the same time the success of his arms over the still unsubdued

« PreviousContinue »