Изображения страниц

need to have it said that Aeneas unites the Trojans and Latins in one nation? Was not that also a part of the compact? No, that could not have been the intention of a true poet. Virgil neither intended to add twelve more books nor twelve more lines.

There is left then only one possible conclusion as to Virgil's reasor for requesting that the manuscript be burned because unfinished. Virgil felt that the Aeneid was not such a perfect work as he would like to hand down to posterity. His ideal was so high, his poetic sense so acute that he felt dissatisfied. We ourselves can sympathize with this feeling when we compare the first books which he had had time to revise with the last and note the higher degree of perfection attained by the revision. Sellar says: "Had Virgil lived to devote three more years to the revisal of his work, there is no reason to suppose that he would have added anything to its substance. Some inconsistencies of statement would have disappeared and some difficulties would have been cleared up. But the chief part of his labor would have been employed in bringing the rhythm and diction of the poem to a more finished perfection than that which they present at present. The unfinished lines in the poem would certainly have been completed and more closely connected with the passages succeeding them." And this is what Virgil meant when he was dissatisfied, and we are convinced that the Aeneid ends just as Virgil wished it to end.



In no other age was English literature so affected by Latin as in the eighteenth century. As the hexameter found its perfection in Virgil, so the heroic couplet under the labored efforts of Pope became the model of poetic expression. And likewise in prose we see in Johnson the same finished periods that characterize the writings of Cicero. Though the fundamental causes for this similarity may lie in the social and political conditions of the English people, still a great deal of the likeness is due to the studied imitation of classic models. So close and enthusiatsic was this study that there sprang up a sort of pedantic pride, exhibiting itself in heading poems and chapters, and in scattering profusely throughout a work of prose quotations from the ancients. Naturally there also arose numerous imitations and translations, such as Dryden's Persius and Virgil, Pope's Iliad and Odyssey and his Imitations of Horace, to say nothing of previous attempts such as Oldham's excellent imitations of Juvenal. Thus we see that classical literature had become a vital element of the age.

The last great representative of this period was Samuel Johnson. Like many other learned men of his time, he had a sincere reverence for ancient literature, derived from an extensive and thoughtful reading of classic writers, especially of the Latin. As an example of his conversance with Latin literature, I quote from that inexhaustible biography of Boswell, who, in speaking of Johnson's imitations of Juvenal, says: "I remember when I once regretted to him that he had not given us more of Juvenal's Satires, he said he probably should give more, for he had them all in his head; by which I understood that he had the originals and correspondent allusions floating in his mind, which he could, when he pleased, embody and render permanent without much labor." [Boswell's Life of Johnson, page 63. Globe Edition. Ed. Mowbray Morris. Macmillan & Co. 1903.]

It is to this familiarity with Juvenal that we owe Johnson's London, an imitation of Juvenal's Third Satire, and his more famous imitation of the Tenth Satire, entitled The Vanity of Human Wishes. I have used the word famous, and yet I fear it is more famous than generally familiar. We of later generations have allowed it, and unjustly so, to lie upon our shelves, hidden away in a formidable volume of its author's Rambler, until the title of that volume has grown dim with the dust of years. And yet in spite of the diffidence and ignorance that may exist in regard to it, I make no apology for its resurrection; for the merit it possesses, I believe, will repay us for all the time we devote to it.

My first acquaintance with this poem came after I had read the Latin original; and I was at once struck by the dissimilarity between the two where I had expected to find similarity. I was still further surprised, in reading criticisms, to find that in them all the idea was conveyed that the English poem was a successful imitation of the Latin. This led me to work out a detailed comparison of the two satires, of which this paper is an outline.

Before entering upon the comparison of the two masterpieces, let us see if we can find a dissimilarity in their authors' attitudes toward life which will account for the dissimilarity in the poems. The meagreness of historical evidence relating to the life of Juvenal compels us to judge of him from what he has left written. This judgment is largely personal, depending upon our interpretation of the satires. The prevailing opinion has been, and is shared yet to a large extent, that Juvenal was a stern moralist and a pessimist, railing against all human kind. It is claimed that when he wrote Facit indignatio versum [Satire I-79], he meant what he said. But those who maintain this view forget that Juvenal is above all a satirist. Among the very requisites of satire are exaggeration, ridicule, and humor. Take these away and the satire is gone, and what is left is a moral platitude. We can no more expect that Juvenal is sincere in all that he says than we

can suppose that the pictorial satires of today, as depicted in our cartooons, are a true reflection of the artist's beliefs and thoughts.

How can we believe, for example, that Juvenal is sincere in his humorous description of Rome in the Third Satire? "I do not like," says he, "a Greek city. **** I cannot lie, nor can I praise a book if it is bad; I cannot tell fortunes by the stars, nor have I ever observed the vitals of frogs." The humor of this lies in its exaggeration; as if all Rome were so filled with foreign upstarts, that the only occupations were those of flatterer, astrologer and soothsayer, in which there was no chance for the sons of Romulus. To interpret these words literally is to destroy the humor. Juvenal realizes the untruth in his statement, just as at heart we all do when we satirically speak of old maids as sour and finicky, or of the proverbial mother-in-law as the incubus of the household. It is this humor, whether it be the humor of wit, exaggeration, or situation, that gives life and zest to Juvenal's satires. It is the one thing that makes him enjoyable, that marks him the true satirist. Indeed satire without humor sinks to mere abuse and invective, or at the best becomes a trite moralism.

This humor in Juvenal crops out everywhere, even in the midst of his serious discourse. Many are the instances where the sudden anti-climax renders the preceding majestic lines nothing but a mock solemnity. And so from the standpoint of the true satirist it is natural to conclude that Juvenal believes but a part of what he says. His sincerity extends only so far as the moral purpose of his satire is concerned. This purpose is only the kernel, around which he heaps a wealth of ridicule, of humorous illustrations and situations. Therefore, in view of Juvenal's wonderful power as a satirist, I cannot believe that he went through life with a grim and foreboding countenance, or that he was, like a cur, always ready with a snarl and a bite. It is more natural to think of him, indeed, as one whose eye was always open to the humorous side of life; whose friends, I imagine, often found him laughing, even though at times the laughter may have been cynical and bitter. It is this shrewd sense of the ridiculous and humorous that characterizes the Tenth Satire, and differentiate it from its imitation by Johnson, to whom we shall now turn our attention.

There is no doubt that Johnson was an out and out pessimist. To read his Rambler is like going to a funeral. His sentences march along in solemn and heavy array, and his thought is fully equal to his style. The following is a quotation from the Rambler, cited by Leslie Stephen in his Life of Johnson [English Men of Letters Series, page 175. Harper Bros. 1878.] It illustrates both his style and his view of life.

"The cure for the greatest part of human miseries is not radical, but palliative. Infelicity is involved in corporeal nature, and interwoven with our being; the armies of pain send their arrows against us on

every side; the choice is only between those which are more or less sharp, or tinged with poison of greater or less malignity; and the strongest armor which reason can supply will only blunt their points, but cannot repel them."

No wonder that the subject, "The Vanity of Human Wishes," which is also the theme of his story of Rasselas, was especially attractive to him. The sentiment of Juvenal's Tenth Satire, therefore, fitted in perfectly with the doctor's state of mind. To Johnson the moral and didactic element in Juvenal overshadowed all else. It was his unswerving rule never to allow much of the lighter vein to creep into anything which he was to offer for publication. As a result his writings are permeated with moral platitudes.

This moralizing of course entered into his conception of poetry. He was of the old school of Dryden and Pope, and so to him the didactic and logical element was the chief characteristic of poetical composition. As Leslie Stephen says, [page 187, in volume cited above], "He always inquires what is the moral of a work of art. **** He condemns not only insincerity and affectation of feeling, but all such poetic imagery as does not correspond to the actual prosaic belief of the writer." As a proof of this remark we need only to read Johnson's criticism of Milton's Lycidas in his Lives of the Poets. [Johnson's Lives of the Poets, page 96. Ed. Matthew Arnold. Macmillan & Co. London. 1892.]

"In this poem (Lycidas)," writes Johnson, "there is no nature, for there is no truth; there is no art for there is nothing new. **** Its inherent improbability always forces dissatisfaction on the mind." And after a little he quotes Milton's lines, "We drove afield * * * * Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night," and adds, “We know that they never drove afield; and that they had no flocks to batten;" and still farther down we read, "Nothing can less display knowledge, or less exercise invention, than to tell how a shepherd has lost his companion, and must now feed his flocks alone, without any judge of his skill in piping; and how one god asks another god what is become of Lycidas, and how neither god can tell."

Such is Johnson's conception of poetry. Add to it his pessimistic moralism, and such a poem as The Vanity of Human Wishes becomes the inevitable outgrowth of his state of mind; for, naturally enough, we shall find it a sober, earnest, plodding poem, and yet filled with a dignity of language and thought that places it among the great poems of that school which wrote only in heroic couplets. To expect to find in Johnson the characteristic satire and humor of Juvenal is to presuppose an affinity between them which does not exist. Johnson is always reverent, conservative, sincere, and moralistic, qualities that certainly do not enter into the make-up of a great satirist, such as Juvenal. We are therefore not a little surprised to read in Macaulay's famous essay on Johnson that, "What Pope had done for Horace, John

son aspired to do for Juvenal. The enterprise was bold, and yet judicious. For between Johnson and Juvenal there was much in common, much more certainly than between Pope and Horace." [Macaulay's Life of Johnson in Matthew Arnold's edition of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, page 12. Macmillan & Co. 1892.] We can indeed agree with Macaulay that "the enterprise was bold;" but that it was "judicious" because of the likeness between Juvenal and Johnson is about as false as to say that Pope's translation of the Iliad and Odyssey was judicious because Pope had much in common with Homer. Let us now see how this judgment concerning Johnson and Juvenal is substantiated by the poems under discussion.

The limitations of space permit me to select only two or three characteristic passages for comparison. As to the poems as a whole, it will be sufficient to say that Johnson has closely followed the structure of Juvenal, using the same logical development, but drawing his illustrations from English life and history. Each satirizes in turn the wish for fortune, power, eloquence or literary fame, military glory, long life, and beauty.

One of the most humorous parts of Juvenal's poem is the satire on the wish for eloquence. Says Juvenal, "Why, even the little school urchins long for the fame of Demosthenes and Cicero, aye, and they keep on longing the whole year round, vacations and all." Then he cites that most wretched and jingling verse from Cicero's poem on his consulship, a verse filled with unbearable conceit, O fortunatam natam me consule Roman [Satire X-122]. And Juvenal adds, "If Cicero had written everything as bad as that, he could have scorned the swords of Antony. I should rather have been a ridiculous poetaster than have written thee, O thou divine Philippic of conspicuous fame." And he ends up with the humorous picture of the blear-eyed father of Demosthenes sending his boy from the felicity of a blacksmith shop to the unhappiness of an oratorical career.

But when we have read this passage and enjoyed its fun, we begin to wonder what it is that Juvenal is driving at; for surely eloquence and rhetorical training are worth striving after. Does Juvenal want to take away all intellectual attainment? Does he think his argument is good when he cites two so great careers as those of Cicero and Demosthenes? Almost any school-boy would reply, and justly, too, "Give me their eloquence, their honors, and I'll risk their fate." The whole argument is in fact nothing but pure sophistry. And of course Juvenal knew it was when he wrote it. There are some who will call this pessimism, or perhaps a case of "sour grapes." But Juvenal was a man of too much sense to make seriously such an argument as we find here. We must remember that sophistry is a natural means of satire; and, indeed, to a decided optimist all satire would be more or less sophistical. In fact the whole argument of this poem is based on insufficient evidence. We must dig below this false reasoning of

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »