THE LATIN GENIUS. T HERE has appeared recently in French a
big volume of seven hundred pages, written by M. Frederic Plessis, Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Letters in the University of Paris. The book is called "La Poesie Latine " (Paris: Klincksieck; 1010, and in it he discusses the Roman poets from their buoyant entrance upon the stage with Livius Andro. nicus, about 278 B.C., to their melancholy exit with Rutilius Namatianus, early in the fifth century,—as ho makes his farewell journey, regretting and saluting the Eternal City, still outwardly majestic and comparatively untouched; bewailing the plague of monks and Jews, and then vanishing into the Dark Ages ; leaving an unfinished poem, a valuable and pathetic fragment, but a symbol or prophecy, both in its survival and its incompleteness, of that renascence of the Latin genius and civilisation in which the France to which Rutilius was going back has played and is playing so distinguished and leading a part.
It is a long history which M. Plessis sets before us, covering about eight hundred years, and reflected in some of the finest poetry which our race has made. It is well worth knowing, in its minutest details, both for its own sake and as an instrument of culture ; but M. Plessis looks beyond his immediate subject, and raises various larger questions. It is of them that we desire to speak more especially in the present article ; for our object is not so much to review the history of Latin verse as to draw attention to the originality of the Latin spirit ; to consider its true relation to the literature and thought of modern Europe; to remember the warnings and the guidance which it has undoubtedly for our own labouring and threatened civilisation.
Now a literature which can present such a roll as Lucretius and Catullus, Virgil and Horace, Tibullus and Propertius, as Ovid, Statius, and Martial, as Juvenal and Ausoniva and Claudian, to say nothing of its monumental prose, should not fear to be eclipsed even by its models, or to be depreciated by its pupils and successors ; yet this has been very largely the fate of Latin, especially during the last two centuries. Greek scholarship has advanced in this period, and the estimation of Greek thought has undoubtedly increased among the general public. This knowledge and this higher appreciation are, of course, good in themselves and beneficial in their effects ; but they have been circulated too much at the expense of Latin. Greek cannot be appreciated too highly; but the appreciation of it is no reason for depreciating Latin. The two languages are not exclusive and jealous rivals ; we can he loyal to them both. The two spirits are not contradictions one of the other; they are much more truly complements and completions. Both have con- tributed to our existing culture; both are necessary to its perfection. Hellenism fell to pieces because it had not those qualities in which the Latin genius excelled. Rome is sup- posed too commonly to have been without some of those other qualities which were the strength and the glory of the Hellenic race. It is thought to have had no originality, no spontaneity or freedom, no artistic sense, no intellectual gifts. In other words, it had no genius ; and the phrase " Latin Genius " is a contradiction in terms. Rome was hard, prosaic, practical, legal, literal. It could, indeed, fight and rule, as Virgil says ; but, as he also confesses, it could not excel in the spheres of art and of intellect. In these it was merely imitative, and that in the lowest way, catching a little perhaps of the form, but missing the spirit. And Virgil not only seems to imply this, and to acquiesce in it, but he has been
used himself as the most conspicuous example of it. He has been contrasted perpetually with Homer, to his disadvantage in every respect,. The Greek has been credited with genius, originality, spontaneity, freshness : he sang in the youth of the world, and expressed the mentality of an artless and unsophisticated age, even in his style ; and his elaborated hexameters are as natural as woodland notes. Virgil was held to be the precise opposite. He was summed up as the Court Versifier of an artificial and imitative century; and much the same was held and said of all the Latin poets, and of the Latin genius itself. The Romans could fight and colonise, make roads and bridges, build aqueducts and theatres, and even basilicas in which prosaic laws were administered; but they were not philosophers, nor sculptors, nor poets, except as inferior copyists of the Greeks. Such, roughly, was the popular verdict, taking form in the eighteenth century, becoming more narrow and aggressive in the nineteenth, especially as to the relative positions and values of Homer and Virgil.
Now many things have combined to alter and modify these views. The Homeric problem has not, indeed, moved back to the old conservative positions, but it has been fundamentally changed, and the charges all tend towards a truer apprecia- tion of Virgil. Archaeology has extended our knowledge of the earlier ages. It has proved civilisation much older than was imagined. Behind the Homeric poems is an old and a complex civilisation, of which they are the self-conscious and artistic representation. If the term " artificial " can be applied to Virgil, it is equally applicable to Homer. Besides archaeology, the newer science of comparative religion has been forcing us to revolutionary changes of opinion. It used to be held that the Roman Pantheon had been imitated or borrowed from the popular mythology of Greece ; but that mythology is now distinguished clearly from the older and more genuine Greek religion. It is itself artificial and secondary. And the old religion of Latium is now discovered to be just as original and just as national as the religion of the Greeks. Again, in another sphere, Mrs. Arthur Strong has shown conclusively that Roman sculpture is by no means an imitation of the Greek. It is not an exotic, but a splendid natural production. And much more might be said about the claims of Roman architecture. By all these lines of converging thought we are being forced to a saner and more just appreciation of the Latin genius.
Even in literature, and confining the word to a very technical sense, should it not be admitted, if we think, that the Latin poets have always adapted, and not merely adopted, the forms of their Greek models ? The Odes of Horace are surely a great deal more, even in form, than copies from the Greek, and in spirit they are widely different from any model. That they might not have existed without the pre-existence of Greek masters is doubtless true ; but, nevertheless, they are original poetry both in form and spirit. And in this connexion we may remember another salutary warning by M. Bessie. If the earliest Latin writing was rude and poor, as undoubtedly it was, that does not of itself prove the poverty or absence of any Latin genius. Civilisation came late and slowly into Latin Italy. The early Republic had other business on its hands. Early English poetry was rude and poor enough. It only blossomed fully when it had been fertilised by Italy and France; yet no one would deny originality to the English poets, or describe them as echoes and copyists, though they have borrowed and copied wholesale. And so it was in reality between the Latin poets and the Greeks.
It has been said that everything which lives and moves in the world, outside the blind forces of Nature, comes to us from the Greeks; and on the whole no one who is competent to judge would dispute this general proposition, though it must be accepted with reservations. We must remember that the Latins have bequeathed us certain things which the Greeks did not possess, of which law is one. And again, even of the things which we owe ultimately to Greece, most have come to us through the instrumentality of Rome. Rome, and not Greece, was the coloniser of Western Europe, and the direct foundress of modern civilisation, which is Occidental and not Oriental. We are beginning to see more clearly that Greece was affected very largely by Oriental influences ; and that in some directions, as in domestic life, the position of women, the relations of the sexes, Greece remained more Oriental than we have liked to admit. Both in literature and in life out sympathies, our instincts, are more naturally with the Latins than with the Greeks.
These and other aspects of the question have been formulated recently by M. Anatole France in a little masterpiece which he entitles "Le Genie Latin." The whole of it is not as long as this article ; and two of his paragraphs may be repro- duced here, because they illustrate the matter with which we are dealing. They are best left in the original. Indeed, M. France is untranslatable
" Le genie latin, pout-on le eelebrer asses ? Vest par
Rome fast delibere lo sort de runivers et concue In forme dans laquelle lee peuples wilt encore contenns. Notre science est fondee sur In science grecque qua Rome =us a trans-min. L'humanite dolt an genie latin Is naissance et In renaissance de In civilisation. Son sommeil de dix siecles fut la mart dm mends."
" Voill reternel miracle du genie latin. II s'eveille et soudaist la penseo hunedne s'eveille area Ini,; les times sont delivrees, la science et In beaute jaillissent. Je dis le genie latin, je dis les peuples latins, je ne dis pas les races latines, pares que riclee de race n'est le plus souvent qu'une vision de Yorgueil et de l'erreur, et pares que is civilisation hellenique et romaine, comma IA Jerusalem nouvelle, a vu venir de toutee parts 1 elle des enfants qu'ello n'avait point portes dans son win. Et o'est sa gloire de gagner l'univers. Lo genie latin rayonne sur is monde. En vain les puissances de tenebres voudraient lo replonger clans In tombs : it cree thus les joins plus de liberty, plus de science et plus de beaute, et prepare one justice plus juste at des lois meilleares."
As we read these words it is impossible not to regret that the Papal Church has failed so grievously in her duty to the Latin races. Instead of being their leader in civilisation, she has been persistently an agent of stagnation in thought and of reaction in politics. She might have been a. rallying-point for the whole of Latin culture against the growing perils of Germanism, and of what Matthew Arnold calls the "Anglo- Saxon commonness," of what Renan defines as Americanism. These are undoubtedly a peril, because they are a rising and a swelling flood which threatens to engulf us. And the Latin sense of form, the Latin clearness, are the best correctives to seine of its more obvious dangers. Mr. Addington Symonds describes Latin as an " athletic tongue." He speaks of its " austere and masculine virtues," of "the sincerity and brevity of Roman speech." Certainly these virtues are to be found
in Latin, and they have never been more wanting than at present in English literature. They can be acquired not only
from Latin, but from our own poetry and prose of the eighteenth century, which were modelled so carefully on Latin, and which are so lamentably forgotten or misjudged, especially
the verse. A revived study of these scrupulous and scholarly poets would reveal not only their strength, but the delicacy of their thought, the ease and charm of their manner, their correct vocabulary, and their refined use of words.
Rome also has many graver warnings for us. It can teach
us how impossible it is in religious matters to put back the clock, as Augustus tried, as Julian tried. The Oxford Movement tried vainly to imitate them in the last century, and the Papal Curia is trying as vainly at present. Men of the twentieth century cannot be put back into the thirteenth, nor can they believe and think precisely as their forefathers did in the sixteenth. Rome, again, can teach us that the elimination of militarism and of national rivalries is not all unmixed good; that a ruined agriculture is the precursor of all other ruin; that Socialism in many of its forms has actually been tried, and that it drained the State of industry, of energy, and of virility; that it is dangerous, and in the end disastrous, to encourage the unfit at the expense of the fit and thrifty ; that it is a very false economy to pillage and penalise the wealthy in the supposed interests of the poor ; that a bureaucracy is the worst of human plagues, especially when it is a theological persecutor as well; and that the tax-
gatherer was more destructive to the Roman Empire than all the barbarians together. They only completed the ruin which internal weakness and mismanagement had begun. The long agony of the Roman populations, from some of the causes which we have indicated, probably entailed more suffering than all the wars and sacks of which we read. At any rate, these causes destroyed a magnificent and beneficent civilisation, and plunged the West of Europe into darkness for a long thousand years. Who will venture to say that many of these causes are not operating among ourselves to-day, and tending in very ominous directions !