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The reflections of Horace, and the judgments passed in his Epistle to Augustus, seemed so seasonable to the present times, that I could not help applying them to the use of my own country. The author thought them considerable enough to address them to his prince; whom he paints with all the great and good qualities of a monarch, on whom the Romans depended for the increase of an absolute empire : but to make the poem intirely English, I was willing to add one or two of those which contribute to the happiness of a free people, and are more consistent with the welfare of our neighbors.
This Epistle will show the learned world to have fallen into two mistakes : one, that Augustus 'was a patron of poets in general; whereas he not only prohibited all but the best writers to name him, but recommended that care even to the civil magistrate : admonebat prætores, ne paterentur nomen suum obsolefieri,' &c. : the other, that this piece was only a general discourse of poetry; whereas it was an apology for the poets, in order to render Augustus more their patron. Horace here pleads the cause of his contemporaries, first, against the taste of the town, whose humor it was to magnify the authors of the preceding age; secondly, against the court and nobility, who encouraged only the writers for the theatre ; and, lastly, against the emperor himself, who had conceived them of little use to the government. He shows, by a view of the progress of learning, and the change of taste among the Romans, that the introduction of the polite arts of Greece had given the writers of his time great advantages over their predecessors ; that their morals were much improved, and the license of those ancient poets restrained ; that satire and comedy were become more just and useful; that whatever extravagances were left on the stage, were owing to the ill taste of the nobility; that poets, under due regulations, were in many respects useful to the state ; and concludes, that it was on them the emperor himself must depend for his fame with posterity.
We may farther learn from this Epistle, that Horace made his court to this great prince by writing with a decent freedom towards him, with a just contempt of his low flatterers, and with a manly regard to his own character.Pope.
THE FIRST EPISTLE
SECOND BOOK OF HORACE.
While you, great patron of mankind ! sustain
Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame,
3 In arms abroad defend. A sarcasm on George II. ; the object of violent clamor, for enduring what were then termed the insults of Spain to our commerce. The poem was written in 1737 : the war was not commenced till 1739 : its beginning was fortunate, and Porto Bello was taken; but the scene was rapidly reversed; and Walpole, guilty of the heaviest crime of a minister, that of yielding up his judgment to popular passion, was driven from power in 1742. The war soon languished in the west; the bloody struggle of the Austrian succession began; and the king, after suffering heavy losses on the continent, was forced to defend himself at home from the invasion of the pretender in 1745. In 1748, this ill-omened war was happily closed by the peace of Aix la Chapelle.
Closed their long glories, with a sigh, to find
To thee the world its present homage pays;
Just in one instance, be it yet confess’d, Your people, sir, are partial in the rest : Foes to all living worth except your own, And advocates for folly dead and gone. Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old ; It is the rust we value, not the gold.
36 Chaucer's worst ribaldry is learn’d by rote, And beastly Skelton heads of houses quote;
3% And beastly Skelton. Poet laureat to Henry VIII.; a volume of whose poems had been just published, exhibiting a very degraded mind. Warton, though quoting the pleasantry, that “a poet laureat, in the modern idea, is a gentleman who has an annual stipend for reminding us of the new year and the birth-day,'tries to deal tenderly with the office; (his brother was laureat) and affects to prove, in an elaborate note, that formerly a poet laureat was a real university graduate.'
One likes no language but the Fairy Queen;
Though justly Greece her eldest sons admires,
If time improve our wit as well as wine,
• Who lasts a century can have no flaw; 55 I hold that wit a classic, good in law.'
- Suppose he wants a year, will you compound? And shall we deem him ancient, right, and
Ridicule bas been thrown on the laureatship from its employment; but a much stronger ridicule might be thrown on it from its salary. Nothing can be more to the honor of the continental courts, than the various provision made for literary eminence: in England, the nation patronises politics alone. France protected literature, and richly profited by the protection: for her letters gave her the supremacy of European opinion. England, with the most vigorous natural intellect in the world, and with the deepest necessity for its employment;-England, whose mind is strength, and whose strength is mind,-has one, and but one, office, for literature, and that office sustained by the imperial liberality of one hundred pounds a year!
40 Christ's Kirk of the Green. A ballad written by James I. of Scotland.