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what is lacking in his definition. If you take from Virgil his diction and metre, what do you leave him?' Coleridge was undoubtedly prejudiced : the Etonian who edited his Table Talk told him so, and he reports that the Sage was content to reply that, 'likeall Eton men, I swore per Maronem': but in spite of this it cannot be denied that if a subject is uninteresting in itself, or unsuited to the genius of the poet, no mere merits of diction and metre could save a poem from failure. It has been maintained that Virgil's subject was no choice of his own; that his characters are insipid; that his hero arouses no interest; that he was 'the least original poet of antiquity', writing to order on an uncongenial theme, and owing all that is best in his work to the Greek writers whom he imitated.

It is not enough to set against these verdicts the testimony of the great writers, from Dante to Tennyson, who have confessed their debt to Virgil, nor to say that such criticisms represent the predominance of German literary taste, or the deeper appreciation of Greek poetry in the nineteenth century. It will be better to examine them separately and to see what measure of truth they contain.

The first criticism, then, which we have to consider is concerned with the poet's choice of subject, or rather with his failure to choose a subject for himself and his acceptance of one which gave no scope for the drawing of character.

It is no doubt true that Virgil wrote the Aeneid to please Augustus as he had written the Georgics to please Maecenas, but it has never been suggested that the love of Italy shown in the latter poem was assumed for the purpose, and it is equally certain that the belief in the destiny of Rome which inspires the Aeneid was a real and a profound sentiment in the poet's heart. Augustus has been called 'perhaps the most unheroic of heroes and the least of the great men of history', but, as the same writer fully recognizes, he was a great statesman and not unworthy of the title of the second

1 By Mr. Butler, The Sixth Book of the Aeneid, p. 4.

founder of Rome. It is difficult for us to estimate his claims in comparison with the great name of Caesar, but it ought not to be impossible to realize the greatness of the gifts which he undoubtedly gave to his subjects. Peace and order after a hundred


of continual strife were real and great possessions. Virgil's homage to him is at worst the apotheosis of Court poetry, but for most students of Roman history it is something more'. Most lovers of Virgil will feel this to be a deliberate understatement.

But the greatest gift was one which it required vision to realize: Augustus not only restored peace to Rome, but was the first creator of Italian unity. No one could be better fitted than Virgil to appreciate the greatness of the achievement. Born in the Cisalpina, possibly of Etruscan blood, a Roman citizen perhaps from birth and certainly from childhood, a lifelong student of Greek culture, and for many years a resident in the Greek cities of the south, he combined in himself in a very singular and significant way all the strains which formed the main elements in the complex fabric'. His passion for Italian unity was a very real and a very personal thing, and it is no accident that the words Romanus and Italus are used by him interchangeably.

Sit Romana potens Itala virtute propago was the prayer not of a Court poet but of the first Italian patriot.

It has been laid down that 'an epic poem must be either national or mundane', the latter word meaning with a theme common to all mankind. The weakness of Virgil's subject comes not from its national character, but from the supernatural colour which he found it necessary to give it. The gods of the Roman religion are far from exalting the theme : on the contrary they degrade it, for it is impossible to regard the disputes and jealousies of Juno and Venus as either

Mackail, The Italy of Dante and Virgil (Dante, Essays in Commemo. ration)

edifying or enlightening. It is the paradox of Roman official religion that, while the story of the nation's destiny is full of dignity and pathos, the gods who are alleged to guide it are consistently undignified and not infrequently absurd. But the injury done to the poem does not end there: the supernatural machinery does 'much to rob the characters of the poem of human interest; and to make the Aeneid what has been called 'an epic of fatalism'. Fatalism, if not necessarily ruinous to all poetry, is ruinous to any display of individual character: there are some who believe its presence to be a drawback in the novels of Mr. Thomas Hardy. The conception of the mighty destiny in store for the Trojans is in itself a grand one, and might (though the task would have been difficult) have been developed in a way which would have given scope for human beings to play their part. Nothing is finer than the feeling of overmastering fate which often broods in Virgil's lines; but the persistent intrusion of the unreal deities of Olympus is neither fine nor appropriate. We tolerate and even welcome their presence in Homer: we are not shocked by their failings nor disgusted by their partisanship, for with him we feel them to be of a piece with the life of which we read and to have a reality of their

In Virgil they are mere survivals of machinery, as unreal (we must believe) to the poet as they have proved to generations of his readers: for the English reader they have a parallel in the tedious and unconvincing mechanism of the Faery Queen.

This strain of fatalism acting through this machinery explains the lack of interesting qualities which has been blamed in his characters and most of all in Aeneas. It must be conceded that he is normally too blameless to be attractive: he suffers from the same consciousness of merit which makes King Arthur in the Idylls fail to arouse our Toyalty : and in his one great crime (as we regard it), the desertion of Dido, he is so palpably acting under orders that


we tend to despise as well as to upbraid.' This inclination, though natural, is unjust. Aeneas is the man of destiny: he has given up all for a cause, and a Roman might be forgiven for holding that the cause was worth the sacrifice. It must be remembered (as Myers clearly shows) that he is, when we first meet him, 'a man who has survived his strongest passion and his greatest sorrow': there is no reason to doubt the genuineness of his regret that he too had not fallen with his brethren on the field of battle: there is nothing ignoble in his readiness to surrender the rest of his life to an overruling call and to save all that could be saved of the kingdom that was lost. If we fail to realize this it may assuredly be said that the fault lies not with Virgil but with ourselves: it cannot be without a very definite purpose that the poet has made the first words which his hero utters to be words of envy of the happy fate of those who died in battle beneath the lofty walls of Troy. And even in his treatment of Dido we do not doubt his honesty, though we blame his chivalry: it is not altogether his fault that love cannot be reconciled with duty.

But if in Aeneas personality has been sacrified to theory, the same cannot be said of Dido. Landor, it is true, who compares the heroes of the Aeneid to the half extinct frescoes of Raphael', adds that 'no man ever formed in his mind an idea of Dido or perhaps ever wished to form it': but even he admits that 'her passion is always true to nature'. Her story has been said, with some exaggeration, to mark the dawn of romance: it reveals in Virgil unexpected dramatic insight, and even when we are repelled by the savagery of her passion our hearts are touched by the greatness of the sacrifice she makes to love.

The last of the criticisms we are considering deals with Virgil's debt to the Greeks: the Romans were always ready to admit its magnitude, and no one could have done so more

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1 Charles James Fox, a great admirer of Virgil, described Aeneas as "always either insipid or odious'.


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wholeheartedly than Virgil; but to owe much to poets of another tongue is not to confess a lack of originality. No one, perhaps, except a Frenchman could say: ‘Homère a fait Virgile, dit-on : si cela est vrai c'est sans doute sa plus belle ouvrage', but there is a truth underlying the exaggeration. Homer could no more have written Virgil than Virgil could have written Homer, and if the Aeneid did not exist the loss to the world would be at least comparable to that if the Iliad had never been written. Originality is shown almost as much by a poet's influence on the future as by his lack of obligation to the past, and a judgement of Tennyson in his early days illustrates what poetry has owed to Virgil. He certainly then thought Milton the sublimest of all the Gang: his Diction modelled on Virgil, or perhaps Dante's.'

It would be natural to end an attempt to 'appreciate' Virgil with the tremendous compliments paid to him by two of his great successors-to quote the Ode written by Tennyson in his honour or to speak of the choice which Dante made of him to be his guide through the sad kingdoms of the dead. But Tennyson's poem is in the hands of all lovers of poetry, and the greatness of Dante's homage can only be appreciated by those who have traced their journey together through Hell and Purgatory to that sad parting from my most beloved father, to whom for my salvation I gave myself: not even Paradise itself could stay my cheeks from being stained again by tears' (Purg. xxx. 50 ff.).

Let me rather end by quoting a passage from the great essay on Virgil by F. W. H. Myers, the most loving and not the least judicious of his modern critics-one who could say of himself, with the Italian singer to whom was put the question : 'Sans doute vous avez beaucoup étudié l'Antique ?', Peutêtre je l'ai beaucoup senti'.

• What varied memories are stirred by one line after another as we read! What associations of all dates, from Virgil's own lifetime down to the political debates of to-day! On this line the poet's own voice

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