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thirty miles from Rome, on the banks of the Digentia, crowned by Mount Lucretilis, in the heart of the quiet Sabine uplands, and within easy access of his beloved Tibur, he has found for his friend a delightful hermitage, a compact little farm, producing olives, corn and wine, where he can be alone with his books, and with his more sympathetic associates. This welcome refuge was destined to become to the poet what Rydal Mount was to Wordsworth, or what Farringford was to Tennyson. And for the future we shall find Horace combining the rôles of townmouse and country-mouse in one.1
With the publication of this second book of satires in B.C. 30-29, our poet had risen to a literary position in Rome second only to that occupied by Virgil. A few years more and we shall find him returning once again to his discourses.' For, in respect of form, the epistles are only the satires softened down and made more graceful, and more musical in their rhythm, by the formative influence of those Greek masters of the lyre to whom he had been devoting so much time and study. The epistolatory form seems to have been an original device of Horace's later middle-age for keeping in touch with old friends away from Rome, and with the rising stars of literature. To satires and epistles alike he gives the same title, namely talks' or conversations.
Between the publication of the satires and of the earlier epistles there intervened a period of several years. A great national work had opened out before him, and, with all the auspices in his favour, he threw into the composition of the first three books of his odes the full strength of his maturing genius and all the joyousness of his mountain home.16
While our genial satirist had been living as a man-about-town and ministering to the enjoyment of his aristocratic audience, Octavian had been busying himself with the suppression of his rivals in the momentous struggle for supreme power. Bent upon consolidating his grip upon the West, he had confided to Maecenas, his confidential minister, the part of temporary watch-dog in the capital. There remained the Eastern peril, the inevitable collision with Antony. At the time, however, when Horace, in the quiet of the Sabine hills, was setting vigorously to work to become the Laureate of Rome and minstrel of the Latin lyre,' the battle of Actium and the fall of Alexandria (B.c. 31-30) had brought the long and terrible years of suspense and misery to an end, and there was now a universal yearning for peace and quiet. The dread spectre of Cleopatra, of an Orientalised West with an Egyptian Queen offering incense to Isis on the Capitol, was laid, and laid for ever. The ninth epode, and the thirty-seventh ode
15 II. Sat. vi. 79.
1 I. Odes i. 30; III. iv. 21.
of the first book, were written, the one in anticipation and the other in celebration of a victory which had sent a thrill of joy and thankfulness through Italy. At last there seemed to be an end to turbulence and faction and cold-blooded murders. It was with the glow in his veins of the reformation-moral, religious, legal, and aesthetic-which Augustus and Maecenas had long designed, and were now free to inaugurate, that Horace embarked upon his great work. It was Greece which had drawn him long ago from Rome to Athens. It was the early fascination for him of Greek literature which in Athens had, as he tells us, all but made of him a fifth-rate Greek poet. At the meridian of his powers he now returned to his early love. He had learnt to recognise in Augustus a ruler of supreme political genius, and the only possible saviour of society. He was eager, therefore, to play the part which Augustus pressed upon him, and to give a poet's advocacy to his policy. He would be the Alcaeus of Rome. He would be the first to sing lyric odes to her in her own native tongue, and so to handle the intractable ore of the Latin language that it might run freely in the metrical moulds framed by the splendid inspiration of a Sappho, a Pindar, or an Anacreon. The world knows well with what amazing skill he overcame the inherent technical difficulties of his task. But on this great monument more imperishable than bronze' we have not now the space to dwell.
The precise date at which the first three books of the odes were published is uncertain. But inasmuch as the first of the epistles, dedicated to Maecenas, indicates a considerable interval between the appearance of the odes and of the collection at whose head it stands, it is safe to assume that Horace devoted, at the very least, some seven years to his lyrical labours. It remains now to indicate briefly the distribution of his later works over the remaining period of his literary life.
Our poet was well over forty years of age when Maecenas, to whom he had addressed no fewer than eight of his odes, four of his epodes, and two of his satires, appears to have pressed him to take up poetry once more, and to give the world a fresh series of lyrics. The dedicatory Epistle " which introduces the first book is Horace's reply. He must beg off. The years are passing; his mood has changed; his singing days lie behind him. 'I am putting away poetry,' he says, ' with my other playthings, "caetera ludicra," and devoting myself wholly to the study of the principles of moral action.' Inspiration and imagination have begun to flag with him. He is feeling weary of the long strain involved in the imitation of Greek models and the wrestling with metrical difficulties. It is time to take life more seriously. He wants not to sing, but to think. Here, as elsewhere, Horace
17 I. Epis. i.
may probably be half concealing himself behind the irony which is part and parcel of his nature.18 It is all very well for him to dismiss his odes as just so much playful trifling. But they include some of his most earnest and loftiest utterances. They had cost him the best and happiest years of his life. He was justly content to base upon them his proud assurance of immortality. Nothing, for example, can be less fanciful or more genuine than are his songs of friendship, or than the noble odes of Book III., which have for their theme those moral excellences that had made Rome great in the brave days of old. On the other hand, it is no doubt true that the odes, as a whole, are the offspring of an imaginative inspiration which Horace describes as the spirit of play (ludere). He aims less in them at any deep philosophy of life than at literary loveliness and charm. So frequent is their change of key, so studied the modulation in their arrangement, 'from grave to gay, from lively to severe,' that the one object which their composer seems always to have before him is to catch all humours and to charm them all.
Dipping at random into his earlier lyrics, we find ourselves translated into a kind of fairy paradise of gaiety and unreason. Of temper amorous as the first of May,' luting and fluting' fantastic tendernesses, our poet hymns in them the praises of Falernian revelry, of rose-wreaths and lovely nymphs, and feasts our senses with all the rich wonderland of Pan.
Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang,
But this muse of jollity and frolic is with Horace only one muse among many, and as we read on we become conscious in each of the successive books of his odes of an increasing gravity and dignity, a growing and public-spirited seriousness of purpose, not unmingled even in Book I. with an undertone of sadness. The truth is that the two sides of Horace's emotional temperament, his gaiety and his seriousness, exercise their joint influence over almost all his writings, and any attempt to portion them off into water-tight literary compartments and periods, each labelled with its appropriate date and legend, is apt to lead into a complete misapprehension of him.
To say this, however, is not to say that in his excuses to Maecenas he was deliberately and consciously insincere, for from the outset of his literary career he had never been without his thoughtful and reflective side. When he began to devote himself to lyric poetry he was already a middle-aged man. In the loftiest sense of inspiration he had never been an inspired and spontaneous singer, for his lack of enthusiasm and his unemotional 18 II. Sat. vi. 54. 'Ut tu semper eris derisor.'
19 From lines ascribed to Luther.
temperament were alien to any high poetic passion. Nor was the materialistic age in which he lived one to set a singer's heart on fire, or to kindle in his breast the splendid aspirations of religion, love, or patriotism. Horace knows quite well that the eagleflights of a Pindar are beyond him. His genius is not creative. He is a highly gifted artist, a busy Matine bee, moulding and fashioning his material by strenuous work." It is not, therefore, surprising that after several years of such work, and hampered by the increasing failure of his health, he should begin to tire of it all, and should be minded to put his lyre away and to go back, with a matured experience of men and things, to those old problems in which, ever since his university days, he had felt an abiding interest—the problems of human life and conduct.
But the Horace of the epistles is still at heart the Horace of the satires. The difference arises from the fact that he is an older man, no longer in the exuberant spirits of past years, riper in thought and feeling, more perfect in literary grace and ease, more kindly, more refined, more persistently purposeful. It is in the epistles that we get the most faithful revelation of Horace himself as distinct from Horace the onlooker and the author; and where else can so pleasing a picture be found? It is in the epistles, too, that we pass beyond a mere external reformation of manners to a call for an inner purification of the heart. This, as Horace saw clearly enough, was what the age so urgently and desperately needed. Rome had been built up on character. 'Moribus antiquis stat res Romana virisque '-thus ran the famous line of Ennius, one of the oldest of her poets. With the degeneration of character had come moral ruin. The old robustness and virility which had marked the great days of the Republic had been undermined by prosperity and self-indulgence. In the renovation of character lay the one hope of her salvation.
But where was the needful moral leverage to be found? Whence was to come the impetus of a new enthusiasm and of a new life? Horace, who, though justly proud of his intellectual gifts, had no great opinion of his strength of character, made a brave show of finding a moral fulcrum in philosophy, in the ' verba et voces' of the best and wisest writers, and in the teaching of life by example. But, when it came to curing himself with his own prescriptions, he makes no pretence of concealing his deep disappointment." Philosophy might convince the head. It could neither capture the heart nor brace the vacillating and wayward will. To teach the world that common-sense is on the side of virtue is doubtless very comfortable doctrine for the easygoing man of average morals, but it avails nothing in the hour of 20 IV. Od. ii. 25. "1 I. Ep. viii. and xv. ad finem.
temptation. It is powerless to reclaim the drunkard or to reform the thief. For the real secret of life is neither pleasure, nor the golden mean, nor any form of intellectual or moral equipoise and serenity, but self-surrender and service. The Roman society in which Horace lived so much of his life, about which he wrote, and over which he pondered, was a society on which not even a Savonarola could have made any great permanent impression. Political freedom was dead. The old religious spirit was dead. Oratory was dead also. To one who could look beneath the surface Rome had become a mere gilded cage of restless and aimless discontent. On one side were men of baulked political ambitions, men impatient of restraint and needing the moral opiate of a listless Epicureanism, while on the other side surged a host of newly enriched and pushful snobs; here a miser, there a spendthrift; at the street-corner some Stoic preacher of righteousness, and among his listeners some irredeemable debauchee; everywhere a self-indulgent materialism, a money-mad, superstition-haunted, cruel, uncharitable world a world of mingled sadness and frivolity, indifference and earnestness, sensuality and satiety, credulity and scepticism: a world empty of hope, weary at heart, sick and loveless. Such was Horace's Rome, and it is in such terms as these that he sums it up:
What has not cankering Time made worse?
Viler than grandsires, sires beget
Ourselves, yet baser, soon to curse
The world with offspring baser yet. 22
The first book of epistles was probably published about B.C. 20, when Horace was some forty-five years of age. The beautiful epistle to his friend Florus, an ambitious young man of letters," seems intended to repeat to the rising generation the determination which, as we have already seen, the poet had recently conveyed to Maecenas. In point of date this epistle follows closely upon Book I. His resolution, however, was destined before long to give way to a pressure which even he could not resist. Some two years later, in B.c. 17, Horace, as Poet Laureate, received Caesar's commands to compose the Carmen Seculare, a religious ode which was to be officially sung at the celebration of the secular games in the capital. It was also under personal pressure from the Emperor that the fourth book of odes was composed, one of its chief objects being to commemorate the victories won by the Emperor's two stepsons, Drusus and Tiberius, in Raetia and Vindelicia (IV. Odes iv. and xiv.).
In the Ars Poetica, the date of which remains uncertain, and also in the Epistle to Augustus (B.C. 13) the writer returns to the subject which had engaged his pen in II. Sat. i.—namely, the
22 III. Od. vi. 45 (Conington).
23 II. Ep. ii.