Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Art Of Poetry An Epistle To The Pisos by Horace

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Perque manus, perque ora virum permitte vagari.

POETIC. lib 3.


Laws were originally written in verse, and graved on wood. The Roman
laws were engraved on copper. DACIER.

595.--TYRTAEUS.] An ancient Poet, who is said to have been given to the
Spartans as a General by the Oracle, and to have animated the Troops by
his Verses to such a degree, as to be the means of their triumph over
the Messenians, after two defeats: to which Roscommon alludes in his
_Essay on translated Verse_.

When by impulse from Heav'n, Tyrtaeus sung,
In drooping soldiers a new courage sprung;
Reviving Sparta now the fight maintain'd,
And what two Gen'rals lost, a Poet gain'd.

Some fragments of his works are still extant. They are written in the
Elegiac measure; yet the sense is not, as in other Poets, always bound
in by the Couplet; but often breaks out into the succeeding verse: a
practice, that certainly gives variety and animation to the measure;
and which has been successfully imitated in the _rhime_ of our own
language by Dryden, and other good writers.

604.--_Deem then with rev'rence, &c]

_Ne forte pudori
Sit tibi_ MUSA, _Lyrae solers, & Cantor Apollo._

The author of the English Commentary agrees, that this noble encomium on
Poetry is addressed to _the Pisos_. All other Commentators apply it, as
surely the text warrants, to _the_ ELDER PISO. In a long controversial
note on this passage, the learned Critick abovementioned also explains
the text thus. "In fact, this whole passage [from _et vitae_, &c.
to _cantor Apollo_] obliquely glances at the two sorts of poetry,
peculiarly cultivated by himself, and is an indirect apology for his own
choice of them. For 1. _vitae monstrata via est_, is the character of
his _Sermones_. And 2. all the rest of his _Odes_"--"I must add, the
very terms of the Apology so expressly define and characterize Lyrick
Poetry, that it is something strange, it should have escaped vulgar
notice." There is much ingenuity in this interpretation, and it is
supported, with much learning and ability; yet I cannot think that Horace
meant to conclude this fine encomium, on the dignity and excellence of
the Art or Poetry, by a partial reference to the two particular species
of it, that had been the objects of his own attention. The Muse, and
Apollo, were the avowed patrons and inspirers of Poetry in general,
whether Epick, Dramatick, Civil, Moral, or Religious; all of which are
enumerated by Horace in the course of his panegyrick, and referred to
in the conclusion of it, that Piso might not for a moment think himself
degraded by his attention to Poetry.

In hoc epilago reddit breviter rationem, quare utilitates a poetis
mortalium vitae allatas resenfuerit: ne scilicet Pisones, ex nobilissimd
Calpurniorum familia ortos, Musarum & Artis Poeticae quam profitebantur,
aliquando paniteret.


Haec, inquit, eo recensui, ut quam olim res arduas poetica tractaverit,
cognoscas, & ne Musas coutemnas, atque in Poetarum referri numerum,


Ne forte, pudori. Haec dixi, O Piso, ne te pudeat Poetam esse.



In writing precepts for poetry to _young persons_, this question could
not be forgotten. Horace therefore, to prevent the Pisos from falling
into a fatal error, by too much confidence in their Genius, asserts
most decidedly, that Nature and Art must both conspire to form a Poet.

The Duke of Buckingham has taken up this subject very happily.

_Number and Rhyme,_ and that harmonious found,
Which never _does_ the ear with harshness wound,
Are necessary, yet but vulgar arts;
For all in vain these superficial parts
Contribute to the structure of the whole,
Without a GENIUS too; for that's the Soul!
A spirit, which inspires the work throughout,
As that of Nature moves the world about.

As all is dullness, where the Fancy's bad,
So without Judgement, Fancy is but mad:
And Judgement has a boundless influence,
Not only in the choice of words, or sense,
But on the world, on manners, and on men;
Fancy is but the feather of the pen:
Reason is that substantial useful part,
Which gains the head, while t'other wins the heart.

Essay on Poetry.

626.---As the fly hawker, &t. Various Commentator concur in marking the
personal application of this passage.

Faithful friends are necessary, to apprise a Poet of his errors: but
such friends are rare, and difficult to be distinguished by rich and
powerful Poets, like the Pisos. DACIER.

Pisonem admonet, ut minime hoc genus divitum poetarum imitetur,
neminemque vel jam pranfum, aut donatum, ad fuorum carminum emendationem
admittat neque enim poterit ille non vehementer laudare, etiamsi
vituperanda videantur. DE NORES.

In what sense Roscommon, the Translator of this Epistle, understood this
passage, the following lines from another of his works will testify.

I pity from my foul unhappy men,
Compell'd by want to prostitute their pen:
Who must, like lawyers, either starve or plead,
And follow, right or wrong, where guineas lead:
But you, POMPILIAN, wealthy, pamper'd Heirs,
Who to your country owe your swords and cares,
Let no vain hope your easy mind seduce!
For rich ill poets are without excuse.
"Tis very dang'rous, tamp'ring with a Muse;
The profit's small, and you have much to lose:
For tho' true wit adorns your birth, or place,
Degenerate lines degrade th' attainted race."

Essay on Translated Verse.

630.--_But if he keeps a table, &c.--Si vero est unctum, &c._

"Here (says _Dacier_) the Poet pays, _en passant_, a very natural and
delicate compliment to _the Pisos_." The drift of the Poet is evident,
but I cannot discover the compliment.

636.--_Is there a man, to whom you've given ought,
Or mean to give?_

TU, _seu donaris, &c._

Here the Poet advises the Elder Piso never to read his verses to a man,
to whom he has made a promise, or a present: a venal friend cannot be a
good Critick; he will not speak his mind freely to his patron; but, like
a corrupt judge, betray truth and justice for the sake of interest.

643.--_Kings have been said to ply repeated bowls, &c._

_Reges dicuntur, &c._

_Regum exemplo_ Pisones admonet; _ut neminem admittant ad suorum
carminum emendationem, nisi prius optime cognitum, atque perspectum._ DE

654.--QUINTILIUS.] The Poet _Quintilius Varus_, the relation and
intimate friend of Virgil and Horace; of whom the latter lamented his
death in a pathetick and beautiful Ode, still extant in his works.
Quintilius appears to have been some time dead, at the time of our
Poet's writing this Epistle. DACIER.

[QUINTILIUS.] _Descriptis adulatorum moribus & consuetudine, assert
optimi & sapientissimi judicis exemplum: Quintilii soilicet, qui
tantae erat authoritatis apud Romanos, ut_ ei Virgilii opera Augustus
tradiderit emendanda.


It particularly suited Horace's purpose to paint the severe and rigid
judge of composition. Pope's plan admitted softer colours in his draught
of a true Critick.

But where's the man, who counsel can bestow,
Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know?
Unbiass'd, or by favour, or by spite;
Not dully prepossess'd, nor blindly right;
Tho' learn'd, well-bred; and tho' well-bred, sincere;
Modestly bold, and humanly severe:
Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin'd;
A knowledge both of books and human kind;
Gen'rous converse; a soul exempt from pride;
And love to praise, with reason on his side?

_Essay on Criticism._


"Horace, (says _Dacier_) diverts himself with describing the folly of
a Poet, whom his flatterers have driven mad." _To whom_ the caution
against flatterers was addressed, has before been observed by _Dacier_.
This description therefore, growing immediately out of that caution,
must be considered as addressed _to_ the Elder Piso.

699.--_Leap'd_ COLDLY _into AEtna's burning mount._

_Ardentem_ FRIGIDUS _aetnam insiluit._

This is but a cold conceit, not much in the usual manner of Horace.


_Whether, the victim of incestuous love,_
THE SACRED MONUMENT _he striv'd to move._

_An_ TRISTE BIDENTAL _moverit incestus_.

The BIDENTAL was a place that had been struck with lightning, and
afterwards expiated by the erection of an altar and the sacrifice of
sheep; _hostiis_ BIDENTIBUS; from which it took its name. The removal
or disturbance of this sacred monument was deemed sacrilege; and the
attempt, a supposed judgement from heaven, as a punishment for some
heavy crime.



The English Commentary introduces the explication of the last hundred
and eleven lines of this Epistle, the lines which, I think, determine
the scope and intention of the whole, in the following manner.

"Having made all the reasonable allowances which a writer could expect,
he (Horace) goes on to enforce _the general instruction of this part,
viz._ A diligence in writing, by shewing [from l. 366 to 379] that a
_mediocrity_, however tolerable, or even commendable, it might be in
other arts, would never be allowed in this."--"This reflection leads him
with great advantage [from l. 379 to 391] to _the general conclusion in
view, viz._ that as none but excellent poetry will be allowed, it should
be a warning to writers, how they engage in it without abilities; or
publish without severe and frequent correction."

If the learned Critick here means that "_the general instruction of this
part, viz._ a diligence in writing, is chiefly inculcated, for the sake
of _the general conclusion in view_, a warning to writers, how they
engage in poetry without abilities, or publish without severe and
frequent correction;" if, I say, a dissuasive from unadvised attempts,
and precipitate publication, is conceived to be the main purpose and
design of the Poet, we perfectly agree concerning this last, and
important portion of the Epistle: with this addition, however, on my
part, that such a dissuasive is not merely _general_, but _immediately_
and _personally_ directed and applied to _the_ Elder Piso, and that
too in the strongest terms that words can afford, and with a kind of
affectionate earnestness, particularly expressive of the Poet's desire
to awaken and arrest his young friend's attention.

I have endeavoured, after the example of the learned and ingenious
author of the English Commentary, though on somewhat different
principles, to prove "an unity of design in this Epistle," as well as
to illustrate "the pertinent connection of its several parts." Many
perhaps, like myself, will hesitate to embrace the system of that acute
Critick; and as many, or more, may reject my hypothesis. But I am
thoroughly persuaded that no person, who has considered this work
of Horace with due attention, and carefully examined the drift and
intention of the writer, but will at least be convinced of the folly
or blindness, or haste and carelessness of those Criticks, however
distinguished, who have pronounced it to be a crude, unconnected,
immethodical, and inartificial composition. No modern, I believe, ever
more intently studied, or more clearly understood the works of Horace,
than BOILEAU. His Art of Poetry is deservedly admired. But I am
surprised that it has never been observed that the Plan of that work is
formed on the model of this Epistle, though some of the parts are more
in detail, and others varied, according to the age and country of the
writer. The first Canto, like the first Section of _the Epistle to the
Pisos_, is taken up in general precepts. The second enlarges on the
Lyrick, and Elegiack, and smaller species of Poetry, but cursorily
mentioned, or referred to, by Horace; but introduced by him into that
part of the Epistle, that runs exactly parallel with the second Canto of
Boileau's Art of Poetry. The third Canto treats, entirely on the ground
of Horace, of Epick and Dramatick Poetry; though the French writer has,
with great address, accommodated to his purpose what Horace has said but
collaterally, and as it were incidentally, of the Epick. The last Canto
is formed on the final section, the last hundred and eleven lines, of
_the Epistle to the Pisos:_ the author however, judiciously omitting in
a professed Art of Poetry, the description of the Frantick Bard, and
concluding his work, like the Epistle to Augustus, with a compliment to
the Sovereign.

This imitation I have not pointed out, in order to depreciate the
excellent work of Boileau; but to shew that, in the judgement of so
great a writer, the method of Horace was not so ill conceived, as
Scaliger pretends, even for the outline of an Art of Poetry: Boileau
himself, at the very conclusion of his last Canto, seems to avow and
glory in the charge of having founded his work on that of HORACE.

Pour moi, qui jusq'ici nourri dans la Satire,
N'ofe encor manier la Trompette & la Lyre,
Vous me verrez pourtant, dans ce champ glorieux,
Vous animez du moins de la voix & des yeux;
_Vous offrir ces lecons, que ma Muse au Parnasse,
Rapporta, jeune encor_, DU COMMERCE D'HORACE.

After endeavouring to vouch so strong a testimony, in favour of Horace's
_unity_ and _order_, from France, it is but candid to acknowledge that
two of the most popular Poets, of our own country, were of a contrary
opinion. Dryden, in his dedication of his translation of the aeneid to
Lord Mulgrave, author of the Essay on Poetry, writes thus. "In this
address to your Lordship, I design not a treatise of Heroick Poetry, but
write _in a loose Epistolary way_, somewhat tending to that subject,
_after the example of Horace_, in his first Epistle of the 2d Book to
Augustus Caesar, _and of that_ to the Pisos; which we call his Art of
Poetry. in both of which _he observes_ no method _that I can trace_,
whatever Scaliger the Father, or Heinsius may have seen, _or rather_
think they had seen_. I have taken up, laid down, and resumed as often
as I pleased the same subject: and this loose proceeding I shall use
through all this Prefatory Dedication. _Yet all this while I have been
sailing with some side-wind or other toward the point I proposed in the
beginning_." The latter part of the comparison, if the comparison is
meant to hold throughout, as well as the words, "_somewhat tending to
that subject,_" seem to qualify the rest; as if Dryden only meant
to distinguish the _loose_ EPISTOLARY _way_ from the formality of a
_Treatise_. However this may be, had he seen the _Chart_, framed by the
author of the English Commentary, or that now delineated, perhaps he
might have allowed, that Horace not only made towards his point with
some side-wind or other, but proceeded by an easy navigation and
tolerably plain sailing.

Many passages of this Dedication, as well as other pieces of Dryden's
prose, have been versified by Pope. His opinion also, on the Epistle
to the Pisos, is said to have agreed with that of Dryden; though the
Introduction to his Imitation of the Epistle to Augustus forbids us to
suppose he entertained the like sentiments of that work with his great
predecessor. His general idea of Horace stands recorded in a most
admirable didactick poem; in the course of which he seems to have kept a
steady eye on this work of our author.

Horace still charms with graceful negligence,
And WITHOUT METHOD talks us into sense;
Will, like a friend, familiarly convey
The truest notions in the easiest way:
He, who supreme in judgment, as in wit,
Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ,
Yet judg'd with coolness, tho' he sung with fire;
His precepts teach but what his works inspire.
Our Criticks take a contrary extreme,
They judge with fury, but they write with flegm:

Essay on Criticism.

* * * * *

I have now compleated my observations on this popular Work of Horace, of
which I at first attempted the version and illustration, as a matter of
amusement but which, I confess, I have felt, in the progress, to be an
arduous undertaking, and a laborious task. Such parts of the Epistle, as
corresponded with the general ideas of Modern Poetry, and the Modern
Drama, I flattered myself with the hopes of rendering tolerable to the
English Reader; but when I arrived at those passages, wholly relative to
the Antient Stage, I began to feel my friends dropping off, and leaving
me a very thin audience. My part too grew less agreeable, as it grew
more difficult. I was almost confounded in the Serio-Comick scenes of
the Satyrick Piece: In the musical department I was ready, with Le
Fevre, to execrate the Flute, and all the Commentators on it; and when I
found myself reduced to scan the merits and of Spondees and Trimeters, I
almost fancied myself under the dominion of some _plagosus Orbilius,_
and translating the _prosodia_ of the Latin Grammar. Borrowers and
Imitators cull the sweets, and suck the classick flowers, rejecting at
pleasure all that appears sour, bitter, or unpalatable. Each of them
travels at his ease in the high turnpike-road of poetry, quoting the
authority of Horace himself to keep clear of difficulties;

--et que
Desperat tractata nitescere posse, relinquit.

A translator must stick close to his Author, follow him up hill and down
dale, over hedge and ditch, tearing his way after his leader thro' the
thorns and brambles of literature, sometimes lost, and often benighted.

A master I have, and I am his man,
Galloping dreary dun!

The reader, I fear, will fancy I rejoice too much at having broke loose
from my bondage, and that I grow wanton with the idea of having regained
my liberty. I shall therefore engage an advocate to recommend me to his
candour and indulgence; and as I introduced these notes with some lines
from a noble Poet of our own country, I shall conclude them with an
extract from a French Critick: Or, if I may speak the language of my
trade, as I opened these annotations with a Prologue from Roscommon, I
shall drop the curtain with an Epilogue from Dacier. Another curtain
now demands my attention. I am called from the Contemplation of Antient
Genius, to sacrifice, with due respect, to Modern Taste: I am summoned
from a review of the magnificent spectacles of Greece and Rome, to the
rehearsal of a Farce at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket.

* * * * *

Voila tout ce que j'ai cru necessaire pour l'intelligence de la Poetique
d'Horace! si Jule Scaliger l'avoit bien entendue, il lui auroit rendu
plus de justice, & en auroit parle plus modestment. Mais il ne s'eflort
pat donne la temps de le bien comprendre. Ce Livre estoit trop petit
pour estre goute d'un homme comme lui, qui faisoit grand cas des gros
volumes, & qui d'ailleurs aimoit bien mieux donner des regles que d'en
recevoir. Sa Poetique est assurement un ouvrage d'une erudition infinie;
on y trouve par tout des choses fort recherchees, & elle est toute
pleine de faillies qui marquent beaucoup d'esprit: mais j'oferai dire
qu'il n'y a point de justessee dans la pluspart de fes jugemens, & que
sa critique n'est pas heureuse. Il devoit un peu plus etudier ces grands
maitres, pour se corriger de ce defaut, qui rendra toujours le plus
grand savoir inutile, ou au moins rude &c sec. Comme un homme delicat
etanchera mille fois mieux sa soif, & boira avec plus de gout & de
plaisir dans un ruisseau dont les eaux seront clairs & pures, que dans
un fleuve plein de bourbe & de limon: tout de meme, un esprit fin qui ne
cherche que la justesse & une certaine fleur de critique, trouvera bien
mieux son compte dans ce petite traite d'Horace, qu'il ne le trouverait
dans vingt volumes aussi enormes que la Poetique de Scaliger. On peut
dire veritablement que celuy qui boit dans cette source pure, plate se
_proluit auro;_ & tant pis pour celuy qui ne fait pas le connoistre.
Pour moi j'en ai un tres grand cas. Je ne fay si j'auray este assez
heureux pour la bien eclaircir, & pour en dissiper si bien toutes
les difficultes, qu'il n'y en reste aucune. Les plus grandes de ces
difficultes, viennent des passages qu'Horace a imite des Grecs, ou des
allusions qu'il y a faites. Je puis dire au moins que je n'en ay laisse
passer aucune sans l'attaqaer; & je pourrais me vanter,

--nec tela nec ullas
V'itamsse vices Danaum.

En general je puis dire que malgre la soule des Commentateurs & des
Traducteurs, Horace estoit tres-malentendu, & que ses plus beaux
endroits estoient defigures par les mauvais sens qu'on leur avoit donnes
jusques icy, & il ne faut paus s'en etonner. La pluspart des gens ne
reconnoissent pas tant l'autorite de la raison que celle du grand
nombre, pour laquelle ils ont un profond respect. Pour moy qui fay qu'en
matiere de critique on ne doit pas comptez les voix, mais les peser;
j'avoiie que j'ay secoue ce joug, _& que sans m'assijetir au sentiment
de personne, j'ay tache de suivre Horace, & de demeler ce qu'il a dit
d'avec ce qu'on luy a fait dire._ J'ay mesme toujours remarque (& j'en
pourrais donner des exemples bien sensibles) que quand des esprits
accoutumes aux cordes, comme dit Montagne, & qui n'osent tenter de
franches allures, entreprennent de traduire & de commenter ces excellens
Ouvrages, _ou il y a plus de finesse & plus de mystere qu'il n'en
paroist,_ tout leur travail ne fait que les gater, & que la seule vertu
qu'ayent leurs copies, c'est de nous degouter presque des originaux.
Comme j'ay pris la liberte de juger du travail de ceux qui m'ont
precede, & que je n'ay pas fait difficulte de les condamner
tres-souvent, je declare que je ne trouveray nullement mauvais qu'on
juge du mien, & qu'on releve mes fautes: il est difficile qu'il n'y en
ait, & mesme beaucoup; si quelqu'un veut donc se donner la peine de
me reprendre, & de me faire voir que j'ay mal pris le sens, je me
corrigeray avec plaisir: car je ne cherche que la verite, qui n'a jamais
blesse personne: au lieu qu'on se trouve tou-jours mal de persister dans
son ignorance et dans son erreur.



Book of the day: