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- Letters to Dead Authors - 18/18 -


It is hard, for you looked for no such thing.

_Omnes una manet nox Et calcanda semel via leti_.

You could not tell Maecenas that you would meet him again; you could only promise to tread the dark path with him.

_Ibimus, ibimus, Utcunque praecedes, supremum Carpere iter comites parati_.

Enough, Horace, of these mortuary musings. You loved the lesson of the roses, and now and again would speak somewhat like a death's head over thy temperate cups of Sabine _ordinaire_. Your melancholy moral was but meant to heighten the joy of thy pleasant life, when wearied Italy, after all her wars and civic bloodshed, had won a peaceful haven. The harbour might be treacherous; the prince might turn to the tyrant; far away on the wide Roman marches might be heard, as it were, the endless, ceaseless monotone of beating horses' hoofs and marching feet of men. They were coming, they were nearing, like footsteps heard on wool; there was a sound of multitudes and millions of barbarians, all the North, _officina gentium_, mustering and marshalling her peoples. But their coming was not to be to-day, nor to-morrow; nor to-day was the budding princely sway to blossom into the blood-red flower of Nero. In the hall between the two tempests of Republic and Empire your odes sound 'like linnets in the pauses of the wind.'

What joy there is in these songs! what delight of life, what an exquisite Hellenic grace of art, what a manly nature to endure, what tenderness and constancy of friendship, what a sense of all that is fair in the glittering stream, the music of the waterfall, the hum of bees, the silvery grey of the olive woods on the hillside! How human are all your verses, Horace! what a pleasure is yours in the straining poplars, swaying in the wind! what gladness you gain from the white crest of Soracte, beheld through the fluttering snowflakes while the logs are being piled higher on the hearth. You sing of women and wine--not all whole-hearted in your praise of them, perhaps, for passion frightens you, and 't is pleasure more than love that you commend to the young. Lydia and Glycera, and the others, are but passing guests of a heart at ease in itself, and happy enough when their facile reign is ended. You seem to me like a man who welcomes middle age, and is more glad than Sophocles was to 'flee from these hard masters' the passions. In the 'fallow leisure of life' you glance round contented, and find all very good save the need to leave all behind. Even that you take with an Italian good-humour, as the folk of your sunny country bear poverty and hunger.

_Durum, sed levius fit patientia_!

To them, to you, the loveliness of your land is, and was, a thing to live for. None of the Latin poets your fellows, or none but Virgil, seem to me to have known so well as you, Horace, how happy and fortunate a thing it was to be born in Italy. You do not say so, like your Virgil, in one splendid passage, numbering the glories of the land as a lover might count the perfections of his mistress. But the sentiment is ever in your heart and often on your lips.

Me nec tam patiens Lacedaemon, Nec tam Larissae percussit campus opimae, Quam domus Albuneae resonantis Et praeceps Anio, ac Tiburni lucus, et uda Mobilibus pomaria rivis. (1)

(1) 'Me neither resolute Sparta nor the rich Larissaean plain so enraptures as the fane of echoing Albunea, the headlong Anio, the grove of Tibur, the orchards watered by the wandering rills.

So a poet should speak, and to every singer his own land should be dearest. Beautiful is Italy with the grave and delicate outlines of her sacred hills, her dark groves, her little cities perched like eyries on the crags, her rivers gliding under ancient walls; beautiful is Italy, her seas, and her suns: but dearer to me the long grey wave that bites the rock below the minster in the north; dearer is the barren moor and black peat-water swirling in tanny foam, and the scent of bog myrtle and the bloom of heather, and, watching over the lochs, the green round-shouldered hills.

In affection for your native land, Horace, certainly the pride in great Romans dead and gone made part, and you were, in all senses, a lover of your country, your country's heroes, your country's gods. None but a patriot could have sung that ode on Regulus, who died, as our own hero died, on an evil day for the honour of Rome, as Gordon for the honour of England.

Fertur pudicae conjujis osculum, Parvosque natos, ut capitis minor, Ab se removisse, et virilem Torvus humi pusuisse voltum:

Donec labantes consilio patres Firmaret auctor nunquam alias dato, Interque maerentes amicos Egregius properaret exul.

Atqui sciebat, quae sibi barbarus Tortor pararet: non aliter tamen Dimovit obstantes propinquos, Et populum reditus morantem,

Quam si clientum longa negotia Dijudicata lite relinqueret, Tendens Venafranos in agros Aut Lacedaemonium Tarentum. (1)

(1) 'They say he put aside from him the pure lips of his wife and his little children, like a man unfree, and with his brave face bowed earthward sternly he waited till with such counsel as never mortal gave he might strengthen the hearts of the Fathers, and through his mourning friends go forth, a hero, into exile. Yet well he knew what things were being prepared for him at the hands of the tormenters, who, none the less, put aside the kinsmen that barred his path and the people that would fain have held him back, passing through their midst as he might have done, if, his retainers' weary business ended and the suits adjudged, he were faring to his Venafran lands or to Dorian Tarentum.'

We talk of the Greeks as your teachers. Your teachers they were, but that poem could only have been written by a Roman! The strength, the tenderness, the noble and monumental resolution and resignation--these are the gift of the lords of human things, the masters of the world. Your country's heroes are dear to you, Horace, but you did not sing them better than your country's Gods, the pious protecting spirits of the hearth, the farm, the field, kindly ghosts, it may be, of Latin fathers dead or Gods framed in the image of these. What you actually believed we know not, _you_ knew not. Who knows what he believes? _Parcus Deorum cultor_ you bowed not often, it may be, in the temples of the state religion and before the statues of the great Olympians; but the pure and pious worship of rustic tradition, the faith handed down by the homely elders, with that you never broke. Clean hands and a pure heart, these, with a sacred cake and shining grains of salt, you could offer to the Lares. It was a benignant religion, uniting old times and new, men living and men long dead and gone, in a kind of service and sacrifice solemn yet familiar.

Te nihil attinet Tentare multa caede bidentium Parvos coronantem marino Rore deos fragilique myrto.

Immunis aram si tetigit manus, Non sumptuosa blandior hostia Mollivit aversos Penates Farre pio et salienta mica. (1)

(1) Thou, Phidyle, hast no need to besiege the gods with slaughter so great of sheep, thou who crownest thy tiny deities with myrtle rare and rosemary. If but the hand be clean that touches the altar, then richest sacrifice will not more appease the angered Penates than the duteous cake and salt that crackles in the blaze.'

Farewell, dear Horace; farewell, thou wise and kindly heathen; of mortals the most human, the friend of my friends and of so many generations of men.


Letters to Dead Authors - 18/18

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