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Library at Oxford alone there are about twenty MSS. of Virgil, hardly any of which seem to have been collated (I except of course the Canonician MS. which Mr. Butler has examined so thoroughly); the College Libraries too contain a few, the readings of one of which, a copy in Balliol College Library, No. 140, referred by Mr. Coxe to the fifteenth century, have been noted with scrupulous care by my friend Mr. E. Palmer, and placed at my disposal. I myself examined ten or eleven of the Bodleian MSS. to discover the authority for the readings 'litus arenosum Libyae ' in Aeneid 4. 257 (see Additions and Corrections at the end of the volume) and “Trinacriis' in Aeneid 5. 573 (see note there), doubts having arisen about the existence of each ; but almost the only other passages I turned to were Aeneid 1. 668, where all agreed with the Medicean in giving 'iniquae,' and the celebrated lines about Helen in the Second Book, which they were unanimous in omitting in the text, one of them adding the passage in the margin. On the whole it would seem that while it may be advisable to apply to an inferior MS. in a case like that which I have mentioned, to ascertain a reading not otherwise certified, it would be waste of time to perform partially a work which, to have any value, should be performed entirely. It is one thing to find that a particular reading which seems necessary to the sense has probably some better support than mere conjecture : it is another to collect all the readings of a copy without knowing what place it holds among the members of one or other of the various families of MSS. through which the text of a popular classical author has been transmitted to us, or indeed before it has been distinctly ascertained what those families are, and what their history has been. A critic of the New Testament may be laudably employed in establishing a theory of recensions inductively by the examination of cursive no less than uncial MSS. ; but in the present state of classical studies we shall probably have to wait long before any
one will think it worth while to qualify himself for writing a detailed history of the text of Virgil.
The commentaries which I have used have been in general the same as those employed for the Eclogues and Georgics. I have lost the companionship of Mr. Keightley, and have gained that of Gossrau and Dr. Henry. Gossrau's commentary is neat and compendious, more convenient than Forbiger's, though not so full, and with more traces of independent judgment. He has studied Servius with care, and quotes him at times very appositely: and he has paid considerable attention to his author's peculiarities of language and metre, to the latter of which subjects he has devoted an elaborate appendix. His fault is an occasional tendency to see insuperable difficulties and suspect interpolations : but it is kept within bounds, and may perhaps only operate on the student as awakening a wholesome spirit of inquiry. Dr. Henry's work is rather a collection of copious observations on numerous detached passages (“Notes of a Twelve Years' Voyage of Discovery,' as he somewhat quaintly calls it) than a regular commentary: but I have found it of the greatest use, as my frequent references to it will show. The form is perhaps a little cumbrous, and the endeavours after precision not always successful : but there is freshness and originality in every page: a large number of the views are at once novel and sound : and the illustrations from other authors are good and apposite, though we may sometimes feel that the more obvious sources have been neglected for the less obvious. I am only sorry that he has not explored' as yet beyond the Sixth Book.
For the notices I have given from time to time of varieties in the Trojan legend and the story of Aeneas' migration unknown to Virgil, or recognized only in the way of distant allusion, I have been indebted almost entirely to Heyne's Excursuses, which seem to me to present a rare union of learning, sagacity, and sobriety.
I have also referred to the first volume of Sir George Lewis' Inquiry into the Credibility of Early Roman History. My introductions to the several books of the Aeneid are naturally longer in some cases than those prefixed to the several Eclogues and books of the Georgics : indeed, the Introduction to the Sixth Book has grown into a short Essay. In the general Introduction I have controverted Mr. Gladstone's view of the relation of the Aeneid to the Homeric poems, as expressed in the third volume of his Studies.' In my former volume I was thought, I believe, to have disparaged unduly Virgil's claim to originality: I may now be considered to be taking the opposite side, in vindicating his right to be criticized independently of Homer. Both views are, I believe, true, and therefore consistent: but it is possible of course so to maintain either as to appear unmindful of the other.
The translations introduced into the notes of the former volume were intended to a certain extent as specimens or experiments. They have been, I believe, in general favourably received, so as to encourage me to think whether some day they might not be presented to the public in a more extended form; and I have accordingly been less anxious to introduce them in the present commentary.
My obligations to my former colleague, Mr. Goldwin Smith, are unfortunately confined in the present volume almost wholly to the notes on the First Book, which we originally composed together in 1853: and even they have since been so completely recast that it would be difficult now to point to any part of them as specially due to him. I need not say that I have still had the benefit of Mr. Long's assistance.