Published on [Permalink]

From T. R. Glover, 1932, Horace: A Return to Allegiance:

When Cervantes discusses Don Quixote with his friend in his sore need of introductory sonnets and marginal glosses, the friend suggests that he should write the sonnets himself; he could “father them on Prester John of the Indies”; and then he should gather phrases and scraps of Latin which he knows by heart or can easily find; the first specimen is from “Horace or whoever said it,” and the next is still more authentic, if anonymous —

Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas

Regumque turres.

Erasmus learnt all Horace (and Terence) by heart as a schoolboy. Luther himself has a strange Horatian echo in a serious passage; forgiveness is indeed a problem, nodus Deo vindice dignus (cf. A.P. 191). Ben Jonson translated the Art of Poetry and some of the Odes; Drummond of Hawthornden records how he repeated his version of Beatus ille, “and admired it” — the added clause suggests that Drummond felt as we all feel about other people’s translations of Horace, which in itself suggests fresh thought as to our poet’s appeal. Robert Burton in the Anatomy of Melancholy steadily quotes Horace; Sir Thomas Browne in his most serious moments turns to him, and Herrick in his lighter moments. Milton writes sonnets on Petrarch’s model, in which Cyriack Skinner may read his Horace again and find himself almost Maecenas.

But, as the Times reviewer of Miss Goad’s book said, Horace seems in Queen Anne’s reign to have burst upon the English world as a new and popular author. The urbanity, the quiet satire, the common-sense view of life, all appealed. Addison, Pope and Johnson are steeped in him. Fielding gave to The History of Tom Jones the Horatian motto, Mores hominum multorum vidit — cut away in the modern reprints. He inspires the light verse of Prior — “Horace is always in his mind”; William Cowper with his Classical scholarship, his humour, his grace, comes even nearer him; Burke quotes him to the House of Commons in arguing for conciliation with America, and Pitt for the abolition of the slave trade. Praed’s verse, all English light verse where touch and wit have play, goes back to Horace. William Makepeace Thackeray is a born Horatian, more Horatian perhaps than he guessed, anima naturaliter Horatiana. I opened the Roundabout Papers at random the other day for another purpose and I found three Horatian echoes in one opening, two or three words being enough to remind you. It was No. viii. Thackeray’s speech is full of Horace, and his heart; — no slight testimony to the worth of Horace. You might say that Horace never lost his seat in Parliament till Gladstone retired and solaced his retirement by translating him. Well, Thackeray is not the fashion of the moment with our modern novelists, nor is Horace. A clerical headmaster has, indeed, lamented that “the philosophy of the average public school product is still fundamentally Horatian.” To which The Times rejoins that one passage of his doctrine remains steadily ours; aequam memento, even if we didn’t quote it, was an integral part of out lives in the years of the war. A great old English characteristic — but is it also waning today? If the Horatian echo has dropped out of our talk and writing and out of our thought, perhaps we need not at once congratulate ourselves; let us remember that, when Jack Wilkes censured it as pedantry, Dr. Johnson at once rejoined: “No, Sir, it is a good thing; there is a community of mind in it. Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.” It is hard to feel sure that Parliament and the press, literature or reviewing, are any the saner for the decline of his influence; extravagance never had a friend in him. Horace belonged to the Augustan age, and perhaps he needs an Augustan age, or something like it, to appreciate him and that is the last description that will be given of this Twentieth Century. Mark Antony, so fat, is much more than Octavian our model, brilliant, disorderly, unstable; and, if Horace hated anything, it was the kind of life, public and private, that Antony affected. The triumphal ode for the battle of Actium is not the only evidence for this.