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familiar with the Iliad, his memory probably stored with many of its finest passages; and thus, at times, in proper place, ideas derived from the Greek poet might naturally occur to him. But he is very free from the charge of servile imitation, whether in the outlines of the plot or in its details. When it is considered that the Italian and Greek races were cognate, and their training and their creeds almost identical, it is to be wondered at that Virgil succeeded so well in vindicating complete freedom of thought. In this respect, the adoption of supernatural agency would have been particularly dangerous, had superstition laid confining restraints on his imagination ; but he brings before us the popular deities of his age with all the freedom Shakspeare uses in portraying Titania or Caliban. He has been charged with a design to expose polytheism to ridicule. This seems to be an over-statement; for it was a tenet of the Platonists, that it is our duty to treat with deference the religious feelings of the people among whom we live. When he was told that some contemporary poets accused him of stealing from Homer, he said, “Why do not they attempt thefts of the same kind? They would find it easier to steal his club from Hercules, than a line from Homer."
We feel that, before he ventured to compose, he had realized a lucid conception of the scenes and characters he was about to depict. These he places vividly before us, being always at home, whether the scenes be celestial, earthly, or tartarean,--his characters, always consistent with themselves, whether they be those of divinities
His imagery diffuses a glow of light on his page, without diverting our interest from the incidents he is proceeding to reveal. We may grant that Homer
. excelled his successor in fertility of invention, though it cannot be ascertained to what extent the machinery of the Iliad was of his creation; but certainly the moral tone and highly humanizing tendency of Virgil's per
formance were wholly his own. With all its attractions, however, we cannot help feeling some regret occasionally that its plan should confine him so closely to the traditions and history of Italy; that he is so constantly in the habit of preventing the pleasure of surprise by foreshadowing results; and that one of his leading purposes in so great an undertaking was to compliment a patron, to whom his reverential attachment seems to resemble, or rather to surpass, that of one of the old bards to his liege lord. The inoffensive tenor of his life, and his admiration of genius and learning in other men, did not save him from detraction in Rome, both by speech and writing. Two of the Pastorals were travestied, under the title Antibucolica, the first commencing
Tityre, si toga calda tibi est, quo tegmine fagi? and the second, referring to cujum,
Dic mihi, Dameta, cujum pecus ?-anne Latinum?
Non, verùm Ægonis : nostri sic rure loquuntur. It can scarcely be thought that such pasquinades gave him serious uneasiness; yet, during the latter and more distinguished part of his career, he very seldom visited Rome.
In composition it was his custom to dictate copiously at morning hours, and then at leisure to reduce his matter to small compass, and clothe it in choice language; in this respect sometimes likening himself to a she-bear, that beautifies her little cubs by licking them. The imperfect lines he called small beams, put in to keep up the building till he should find time to supply solid pillars.
He had brought his epic to a conclusion, and passed over to Greece, there to spend three years, and alter and retouch the composition to the satisfaction of his own taste; which being done, it was his intention to pass the remainder of his life in the enjoyment of philosophical pursuits. This voyage he undertook contrary to the
advice of his friends; for his sickly constitution was already worn out. On his departure, Horace expressed his tender concern for him in his prayer for the ship's safety, Sic te, Diva potens Cypri, etc. In the meantime, Augustus was on his return from a progress through his eastern dominions. Meeting with Virgil at Athens, the latter accompanied him to Megara; and there, feeling himself in an unusually languid condition, he took ship with the Emperor for Italy. Sea-sickness on the passage reduced him to such a state of exhaustion that, becoming sensible of the approach of death, he frequently called for his escritoire, that he might burn his imperfect work; but by the interposition of Augustus, the demand was not complied with. Landing at Brundisium, where he died in a few days, he made his last will, expressed a desire to be buried at Naples, wrote his own epitaph, and calmly expired in his fifty-first year.
Virgil's feeble health seems to have early deterred him from medical practice. At a later period, he turned his attention to the law, but pleaded only one cause, his want of success resulting from personal disqualifications, for he was asthmatic in voice, hesitating in utterance, large and ungainly in person, very swarthy in complexion, bashful before strangers, and rustic in dress and general appearance. But though he failed as a public pleader, his conversation in private was attractive in a high degree; and when he recited or read, his manner and his tones gave a striking effect to expressions which, falling from the lips of most men, would have been altogether unimpressive. The poet Montanus said, that of all Virgil's qualities he most coveted these three—"vocem, et os, et hypocrisin.” The possession of this power may
Mantua me genuit; Calabri rapuere; tenet nunc
Parthenope : cecini pascua, rura, duces. 9 With Virgil on one hand, and Horace on the other-the one asthmatic, and the other blear-eyed-Augustus said that he was seated betwixt sighs and tears.
account, in part, for the delight with which Augustus, Mæcenas, and others listened to his readings from his new productions. The Emperor's sister Octavia swooned away when she heard him recite the lament for her son Marcellus, at the close of the sixth book, and afterwards rewarded him munificently for every line.
In public places, his shyness was such that he hastened into a by-lane or a shop, if he saw citizens observe him on the street. On one occasion this feeling was painfully tried, when, on entering the theatre, the audience greeted him with plaudits similar to those with which they welcomed the Emperor.
He was sedentary in his habits, and very spare in his diet; to which causes, together with his late hours of study, Augustus used to impute, in a great measure, the delicacy of his health. His house and library were open to intelligent persons of every party. Free from any spirit of jealousy, we find him, soon after his own acquaintance with Mæcenas commenced, introduce Horace and other men of merit to that minister, and by his means to Augustus, who never was known to refuse a request made by Virgil. So great was the estimation of his talents, his knowledge of nature in all her works, and his multifarious learning, that his intimate friends, when they knew that his epic was in progress, regarded the exclamation of Propertius in no other light than that of a prophecy :
Cedite, Romani scriptores, cedite, Graii.
1 Nescio quid majus nascitur Iliade. Augustus importuned him with letters from Spain, some expressed in the tone of entreaty, others in jocularly threatening terms, and all conveying the request that he would send him either a rough sketch or some small portion of the new work. Forced at length to reply, Virgil respectfully refused, stating that he had finished nothing
1 Aliquid nascitur-nescio quid-majus Niade.
worthy of perusal, and had reason to fear that, from some defect in judgment, he had embarked in an enterprise for which he was qualified neither by ability nor by those high studies it required. But some time after, he recited to him the sixth book, with the effect already noticed.
Virgil was never married. After his removal to Rome, finding his own wants liberally supplied by Mæcenas, he settled his estate upon his parents and brothers, allowing them, moreover, an ample yearly income. Though he owed his wealth to the Cæsarean party, to whom he faithfully adhered, yet his character ranked no less high in the opinion of their opponents; for when he was presented with the gift of a forfeited estate, Virgil could not brook the proposal, and rejected the offer, though made by the Emperor. It is to be doubted that not many partisans on the successful side followed the poet's example. At his death, he bequeathed half his wealth to his own relatives; the remainder to his patrons Augustus and Mæcenas, and to his literary friends Lucius Varius and Plotius Tucca, to the latter two having been consigned the care of revising his unfinished work, but without adding to or deleting a line.