16 SEPTEMBER 1876, Page 18


Ix editing Ovid for Ancient Classics for English Readers, Mr.

Church had a delicate and difficult task to do, and he has done it well. This excellent little book right worthily fills a vacant niche in a series which, on the whole, richly merits the popularity.

that it has gained. Of course there are some minor points on which we disagree with the author. It would, we think, be im- possible for any one to give a lengthened estimate of any writer, ancient or modern, which a second person could read without challenging some statement or other put forth in it. But our differences with Mr. Church are not of the kind which embitters criticism. He says, for instance, cheerily enough :—" Some one has said that we should recognise Horace were we to meet him in the street. Short and corpulent, the sunny and cheerful youthfulness of his face belying his white hair, his gay figure

seems familiar to us." We as cheerily retort That we doubt whether the great Pollaky himself would recognise the poet

from this description. Horace tells us himself that he

was MMus apt urn, and it is likely enough that his face was often sunburnt, but we have never thought of it as a bright and sunny face. He suffered from weak eyes, and without

exactly being " sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," his countenance, we fancy, was habitually tinged with melancholy, or rather, perhaps, we should say that the expressive lips, which his portraits have made familiar to us, wore, as a rule, a discon- tented sneer, half-struggling with a smile. This, of course, is only a fancy like another, but the popular notion that Horace was a merry bard who showed his mind's construction in his face is certainly erroneous ; and when Mr. Church describes the fair round belly of the dumpy bard as his "gay figure," we can only suppose that he is treating us with a gay figure of speech,—what Milton calls "gay rhetorick." A second minor point on which we have the pleasure to differ from Mr. Church is this. After quoting what his poet says of Inachus,—

" Whom grief

Held absent, in his cave's recess, with tears His flood augmenting,"

he goes on to say that this is one of "the frigid conceits with which Ovid betrays a faulty taste." We have always thought that this charge of indulging in frigid conceits has often been brought un- fairly against Ovid, and that it is very little better than a cuckoo- cry. At all events, in the present instance he is backed by no less an authority than Shakespeare :—

" And thus the hairy fool,

Much marked of the melancholy Jaques, Stood on the extremest verge of the swift brook, Augmenting it with tears."

It is quite possible Mr. Church might refuse to take Shake- speare's security on such a point, as Mr. Dumbleton refused to take Bardolph's ; and if he did, we most certainly should not dream of railing at him, as Falstaff railed at the cautions mercer.

In all that Mr. Church has to say about Ovid as a poet we

cordially agree, and the following passage is a specimen of the happy way in which he handles a peculiarly difficult topic, con-

sidering the audience, virginibus puerisque, for whom, among others, he is writing :— " Of the subject-matter of The Loves' there is little to be said. The passion which inspires the verse is coarser and more brutal than that of his rival poets, even when this shows itself in its worst phases. It has nothing of the fervour of Propertiae, the tenderness of Tibullus. It does not spring from any depth of feeling. It is real, but its reality is of the basest, most literal sort. That he describes an actual amour is only too manifest, but that this was in any true sense of the words an affair of the heart' may well be doubted. But then, again, he shows an incomparable skill in expression ; he invests even the lowest things with a certain grace. His wit and fancy 'sparkle on the stye.' If he lets us get away for a moment from the mire—if, with the delicate fancy that never fails him, ho tells us some legend that boys and virgins' need not blush to read—he is charming. There never was a more subtle and ingenious master of language, and it is a grievous pity that he should so often have used it so ill."

We do not, however, agree so cordially with what he says about Ovid as a man. This poet's personality, be believes, seems to elude us ; he gives us no such confidences as Horace gives us ; the real Ovid is almost as unknown to us as the real Virgil, and the most exact statement that he ever makes about his own char- acter—that though his verse was loose, his life was pure—we must, adds Mr. Church, be permitted to disbelieve. We have no space to combat all these statements in detail, but none the less do we

think that they are all open to contradiction. With regard to the last, indeed, the well known,—

"Vita verecnnda est lingua jocose mihi,"

* Ancient Classics/or Switch Readers,—Orid. By the Rev. A. Church. Edinburgh and London : Rhicktrood and Sons. we are very strongly inclined to take Ovid at his word. That in his "salad days," and when joined to a yoke-fellow thoroughly distasteful to him, he was, as Lord Macaulay says, "rather too fond of women," we can well believe. We have his own plea of guilty, but we also have his explicit declaration that his sins were comparatively venial. Ovid was not a rake of the stamp of Clodius or Cmsar, and at the time when he was inditing his most atrocious violations of decency, he was living, we have no doubt, a thoroughly respectable life, with a wife whom he loved, and there is no tittle of evidence to show that he ever returned to his wallowing in the mire.

It is impossible in writing about Ovid to omit all mention of his banishment. The secret involved in it is a very unimportant one, and only stimulates conjecture and curiosity because it is a secret. We are not satisfied with the explanation proffered, modestly enough, by Mr. Church, for the simple reason that it does not square with the poet's own account of the transaction. The immorality of the "Art of Love" was clearly a blind, but what it was that Ovid saw, for he most distinctly states that he had the misfortune to see something which he had better not have seen, and compares himself to Actwon, has hitherto com- pletely baffled all conjecture. There was no wickedness (scelta) in the fault for which he was punished, but he admits himself that there was disgrace (pwlore non caret), and again we are at fault. That he had taken the losing side in the squabbles which divided the family of Augustus we think highly improbable, and the oddest thing about the whole affair is that no explanation of it has been handed down by tradition, seeing that the poet explicitly asserts that the cause of his banishment was only too well known to everybody in Rome,

"Gauss mesa cnnctis nimium queque nota ruinae, Indicio non eat testificanda meo."

We have stated that we cordially agree with all that Mr. Church has said about Ovid's poetry ; it is needless, perhaps, to add that he has been compelled to leave much unsaid. In fact, Ovid's sins against decency are so gross, that he has put it out of the power of any critic to do full justice to his astonishing genius. A spoilt darling of the Muses, he abused their choicest gifts, and was cunning to the overthrow of his own fame. But he was not a poet of the stews, like Martial, nor are his poems defiled by the nameless filth which stains the lyrics of Catullus. Mr. Church has offered a durious apology for the immorality of Ovid's writings. Admitting that no defence can be made for this immorality, he says :—" Yet if it is anything in favour of a culprit that he is not alone in his guilt, it may be urged in arrest of judgment that one of the greatest of English poets translated with much approval of his own generation the very worst of these writings,—and not only translated them, but contrived to make them more offensive in their new dress than they are in the old." If there were anything at all in such an apology as this, it might, perhaps, be germane to the matter to add that a thin but very perceptible vein of prurience runs through the Faerie Queene, and that Paradise Lost itself Is stained by a description worthy of Boccaccio. Strictly speaking, there are not perhaps more than a dozen passages in Ovid which are too gross for criticism, and which, as Cicero said of Antony, a verecundo inimico vituperari non possunt. But then two-thirds of his poems, and all the best of them, are highly charged with objectionable matter. He returns again and again with damnable and even wearisome iteration to his unworthy theme ; and this, we believe, is what Quintilian meant when he said of him,—A7mium indulsit•ingenio suo, and not, as Macaulay renders these words, that he was "too fond of his own clever- ness." Pope's gross impertinence that "every woman is at heart a rake" is a lie, but it is not unfair to say that in Ovid's circle he must have met with ninety Cressidas, for ten Nausicaas or Andromaehes. Now in the study of this Cressida leaven in the fair sex Ovid was a rare adept. He knew, if man ever knew, "the tricks and wiles which women have," and he is never tired of displaying his knowledge. In this he is the reverse of Horace, who knew the nature of his own sex thoroughly, but seems to have been very imperfectly acquainted with that of his "dear enemies." Ovid rarely troubles himself to analyse the character of a man. Had his much regretted tragedy of Medea been preserved, we should doubtless have hail a masterly delineation of the Colchian -princess, but we may safely guess that his Jason would have been as feeble and colourless as the Jason of Euripides. Be this as it may, from a philological point of view the loss of Ovid's Medea is irreparable,—but, as Dr. Johnson was so fond of repeating, "complaints are useless."

Mr. Church closes his book with a summing-up from Lord Macaulay :—" Ovid seems to have been a very good fellow ; rather

too fond of women ; a flatterer and a coward, but kind and generous ; and free from envy, though a man of letters, and though sufficiently vain of his own performances." We haVe had our say about the women, but because the poet from his miserable place of exile feigned terror of the GetEe, and did not leave a stone unturned to propitiate Augustus, it does seem harsh and unfair to charge him with flattery and cowardice. If he for doing what he did in the straits in which he found himself is to be branded as a flatterer, what name of opprobrium sufficiently strong can be found for Virgil and Horace? Ovid, we believe, so far as acts are concerned, did not carry his indiscretions beyond the heyday of youth. He lived, we may reasonably infer, the respectable and comfortable life of a man of letters and a man of fashion in easy circumstances. If it be asked why, with all these advantages, and with a natural genius for poetry such as the world has seldom seen, he has yet completely failed to gain the popularity which has been accorded so ungrudgingly to Horace and Burns, the answer is not far to seek. Ovid will always be read, and his writings will always excite mingled feelings of disgust, regret, and admiration ; but he will never take his place among the classics of the world, for he never wrote from the heart himself, and he never touches the hearts of his readers.