Page images

of life, to be concealed in gloomy and unprofitable folitude.

If we confider the votaries of this idle art with respect to fame, that fingle recompence which they pretend to derive, or indeed to feek, from their ftüdies; we shall find, they do not by any means enjoy an equal proportion of it with the fons of Oratory. For even the best poets fall within the notice of but a very small proportion of mankind; whilft indifferent ones are univerfally difregarded. Tell me, Maternus, did ever the reputation of the most approved rehearsal of the poetical kind, reach the cognizance even of half the town; much lefs extend itself to distant provinces? Did ever any foreigner, upon his arrival here, inquire after Baffus? Or if he did, it was merely as he would after a picture or a statue; just to look upon him, and pass on. I would in no fort be understood as difcouraging the pursuit of poetry, in those who have no talents for oratory; if happily they can by that means amuse their leifure and establish a just character. I look upon every species of Eloquence as venerable and sacred; and give her the preference in whatever C & 2 guife

[ocr errors]

guife she may think proper to appear, to any
other of her fifter-arts: not only, Maternus,
when she exhibits herself in your chofen fa-
vorite, the folemn tragedy, or lofty heroic,
but even in the pleasant lyric, the wanton
elegy, the fevere iambic, the witty epi-
gram, or, in one word, in whatever other
habit she is pleased to affume. But (I re-
peat it again) my complaint is levelled fing-
ly against you; who, defigned as you are by
nature for the most exalted rank of elo-
quence, choose to defert your ftation, and
deviate into a lower order. Had you been
endued with the athletic vigor of Nicostra-
tus, and born in Greece, where arts of that
fort are esteemed not unworthy of the most
refined characters; as I could not patient-
ly have fuffered that uncommon ftrength
of arm, formed for the nobler combat, to
have idly spent itself in throwing the javelin,
or toffing the coit: fo I now call you forth
from rehearsals and theatres, to the forum,
and bufinefs, and high debate: especially
fince you cannot urge the fame plea for en-
gaging in poetry which is now generally al-
ledged, that it is lefs liable to give offence
than oratory. For the ardency of your ge-

[ocr errors]

nius has already flamed forth, and you have incurred the displeasure of our superiors: not, indeed, for the fake of a friend; That would have been far lefs dangerous; but in fupport, truly, of Cato! Nor can you offer in excuse, either the duty of your profeffion, justice to your client, or the unguarded heat of debate. You fixed, it should feem, upon this illuftrious and popular fubject with deliberate defign, and as a character that would give weight and authority to your fentiments. You will reply (I am aware)" it was that very circumstance "which gained you fuch univerfal applause, "and rendered you the general topic of dif "courfe," Talk no more then, I befeech you, of fecurity and repofe, whilst you thus industrioufly raise up to yourself fo potent an adverfary. For my own part, at least, I am contented with engaging in queftions of a more modern and private nature; wherein, if in defence of a friend I am under a neceffity of taking liberties unacceptable, perhaps, to my fuperiors, the honeft freedom of my zeal will, I truft, not only be excused but applauded.

AFTER having delivered this with his
Cc 3


ufual warmth and earnestnefs; I am prepar`d
(replied Maternus, in a milder tone and
with an air of pleasantry) to draw up a
charge against the orators, no less copious
than my friend's panegyric in their behalf.
I fufpected, indeed, he would turn out
of his road, in order to attack the poets:
tho' I must own at the fame time, he has
fomewhat softened the feverity of his fa-
tire, by certain conceffions he is pleased to
make in their favor. He is willing, I per-
ceive, to allow thofe whofe genius does
not point to oratory, to apply themselves to
poetry. Nevertheless, I do not scruple to
acknowledge, that with some talents, per-
haps for the forum, I chose to build my
reputation on dramatic poetry. The first
attempt I made for this purpose, was by
expofing the dangerous power of Vatinius: a
power which even Nero himself disapproved,
and which that infamous favorite abused,
to the profanation of the facred Muses.
And I am perfuaded, if I enjoy any share
of fame, it is to poetry rather than to orato..
that I am indebted for the acquifition. It
is my fixed purpose, therefore, entirely to
withdraw myself from the fatigue of the

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

bar. I am by no means ambitious of that fplendid concourse of clients, which Aper has reprefented in fuch pompous colors, any more than I am of those sculptured honors which he mentioned; tho' I must confess, they have made their way into my family, notwithstanding my inclinations to the contrary. Innocence is, now at least, a furer guard than eloquence; and I am in no apprehenfion I shall ever have occafion to open my lips in the fenate, unless, perhaps, in defence of a friend.

WOODS and groves and folitude, the objects of Aper's invective, afford me, I will own to him, the most exquifite fatisfaction. Accordingly, I esteem it one of the great privileges of poetry, that it is not carried on in the noife and tumult of the world, amidst the painful importunity of anxious fuitors, and the affecting tears of diftreffed criminals. On the contrary, a mind enamored of the Mufes, retires into fcenes of innocence and repofe, and enjoys the facred haunts of filence and contempla-. tion. Here genuine Eloquence received her birth, and here the fixed her facred and fequestered manfion. 'Twas here, in deCC 4


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »