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Martial and his Rival,
Both were rivals for a tyrant's favour and the drunken applause of a degenerate city, and in the debasing contest occasionally sung of the same subjects, and flattered the same personages, but threw into their verses all the difference of their characters. Martial had observed the favour which the eunuch Salinus commanded at court, and the doating fondness with which Domitian hung over his bushy hair. He celebrates the shearing in three or four epigrams with the same gravity as Statius, and represents the boy, presenting his shorn curls to Esculapius, with the mirror which reflected his beauty.
• Latonæ venerande nepos
Ille tuus Latiâ misit ab urbe puer.
Quo felix facies judice tota fuit.
lib. ix. Ep. 18. Both rivals dine—we suspect at different times—with one Vindex, a rich old fool, who, in his rage for antiquarian curiosities, stumbled upon a bronze statue of Hercules, which the sellers vouched to have passed through the hands of Pellæus, Sylla, Hannibal, and a long line of heroes. The bare sight of this figure on the table of Vindex put Statius's rhyming powers into operation, and, by the aid of the mythological details to which the feats of Hercules naturally led, a poem of killing length was produced. He enters into all the actions of the god with scrupulous minuteness, and takes care to inform us how many lions there are in his history ; whether that which he killed in the charming vale of Tempe is the same that he throttled in the forest of Nemeus, and whose skin he bore in the double character of a trophy and a mantle ; what are the degrees of kindred in which he stands to the other deities, and how his irregular offspring fared when left to provide for themselves. If the reader wishes to get up Hercules's history he must seek it in Statius's rhapsody on the bronze statue of Vindex, and not in Smith's Dictionary of Pagan Antiquities. How different is all this cumbrous and inappropriate erudition to the classical brevity with which Martial treats the same subject.
De Statuá Herculis apud Vindicem.
Mitigat exiguo magnus in ære deus,
Cujus lava calet robore, dextra mero;
Non est fama recens, nec nostri gloria cæli:
Nobile Lysippi munus opusque vides.
Qui cito perdomito victor in orbe jacet.
Privatos gaudet nunc habitare Lares.
lib. ix. Epist. 44. In such contests as these, and the personal enmities to which they gave rise, is to be found a sufficient explanation of the gloomy obscurity to which Statius and Martial reciprocally consign each other's name.
Of the private life of Statius we know little, but that little gains for him the admiration which his verses fail to inspire, and attests the amiability of his character. He married a poor widow, with not even youth to recommend her, and watched over her daughter with the affectionate care a father lavishes on his own children. His chivalrous attachment was amply repaid by a rich harvest of connubial felicity. His wife, without being. a blue-stocking, took as much interest in his literary reputation as he possibly could do himself. The daughter of a musician, she sang his verses and adapted them to the late, dwelling on their sonorous cadences with affectionate sympathy. She committed each book of the Thebaid to memory as it feil from Statius's pen, and betrayed the greatest anxiety in the evolution of the poem.
"longi tu sola laboris Conscia, cumque tuis crevit mea Thebais annis.'
b. b. 3. c. 5. When Statius rehearsed the Thebaid in public Claudia placed herself as near her spouse as possible, and her delight grew into delirium as she heard the repetition of the shout which hailed the passages that he recited with emphatic gesticulation. When crowned victor by Domitian at the Albanian games, Claudia leapt upon his neck and planted kisses among the laurel with which the Emperor had insheathed his brow.
Te me nitidas Albana ferentem
Ibid. Nor was this hot affection thrown away upon Statius. Though his wife by the laws of the empire stood with regard to him in a
Domestic Life and Death.
305 position not much higher than that of a slave, he treated her with the distinguishing attention of modern chivalry, and carried out her meekest wishes with the gallantry of a youth but recently fallen in love. With the shouts of Rome swimming in his ears whenever he chose to recite in public, and the bright eyes of so sympathetic a woman to look kindly on him at home, his life must have passed very happily, had it not been for the want of that very base thing called money. Statius, with all his industry and sobriety, was poor. Literary merit brought in nothing but fame in those days, the cost of transcribing copies being so great as to confine the circulation to a very limited class, while the exorbitant percentage of the publishers left it totally impossible for a teruncius to find its way into the author's pocket. The patronage of the great was the poet's only refuge, but in an age of sensual indulgence, the means of the most liberal were exhausted on mistresses and artists. An attempt has been made to represent Statius's circumstances as comparatively easy from his adoption of an heir, and from the present of a country house conferred upon him by Domitian; but people without a penny adopted children in the hope that they might become the heirs of others, and the house of Domitian was a dilapidated building which none but a poet could be found to inhabit, and which required to be re-roofed to protect him from the elements. The most conclusive proofs of the poverty of Statius are his being obliged to open a school of rhetoric and brush up his father's old connexions; and the sale of the Agave, which he was necessitated to effect in the zenith of his fame, at a ruinously low price, in order to provide for the day that was passing over him. The penury he suffered in sight of purpled' slaves and rich charioteers early bred in Statius a distaste for Rome. He was convinced of the deep-rooted selfishness of the city, and vowed with the spirit of a Byron that his step-daughter, over whom he so fondly doted, should never wed a Roman. He went to seek for her a spouse in Naples, where marriages were not so much a ledger business as in the capital, and sighed for the day when bis circumstances might permit him to return to his natal soil and breathe its sunny air in peace. The death of Domitian cut the only tie that bound him to the court, and despatched Martial, though under luckier circumstances, to Spain, at the same time that Statius was preparing to leave a community with whom he had no ties but those of fame. Claudia, who had grown infatuated with the shouts that used to greet Statius in the city, strove to retain him within its walls, but she for the first time found her entreaties unavailing, and accompanied him to Naples to share his solitary hours. He pitched his habitation near a rich connoisseur of the arts, who had lavished enormous sums upon baths and gardens at Surrentum, and also in bygone times had shown Statius he was not without a benefactor. Here, within sight of that gulf whose murmurs he so much delighted to hear, and whose waves still sorrow over his tomb, he passed his closing years and breathed out his last sigh in the arms of friendship and ease.
If we were asked to describe the powers of Statius, we should say they merely consisted in combining the inventions of others : but if he had the taste to select the best pieces of the older poets, it was rather to disfigure than to imitate them; and this to so great a degree, that the classical reader is led to think, in examining the transfer, that he is reading some schoolboy's theme who, with his faculties half undeveloped, has been trying to improve the conceptions of Homer, Sophocles, and Virgil. The great fault of his life is that he never ventured to think for himself. His mind was a complete tabula rasa, imbibing, without any discriminating power, every colour and hue of the lessons which he received, and the books which he had read, and suggesting no thought but what arose from the ill-sorted arrangement of the impressions thus conveyed, necessarily working out their course in the form in which they had been originally received. The customs, rites, and mythology of the Greeks early corrupted him, infatuating him with sonorous words, gracious forms, and a certain exterior harmony. He repeated the sounds of her poets with a monotonous fidelity-like an echo, and exhibited their images in his verse--but with the garish reflexion of a mirror.
We cannot agree with the admirers of so passive a mind that, had its possessor been born at a more favourable era, before despotism had broken the finest chords of the Roman lyre, he would have drawn from it loftier strains; for it appears to us that if Statius had lived in the Virgiliean epoch, three-fourths of his resources being cut away, he would have had far fewer images to combine in his page, and must consequently have presented less attractions to the general reader. It may indeed have happened, had he been born at such an epoch, that the freedom of thought which would then have characterized his contemporaries might have imparted additional boldness to his conceptions, while the absence of all but a few first-class models, and of those deteriorating literary fashions which exercised so fatal an influence over his pages, might have flung him more upon his own resources, and given to what little poetic faculty he possessed, an healthy development; yet, with all these advantages, we venture to think that Statius would never have risen higher than a mere The Ethics of Revealed Theology.
307 maker of elegant verses, which, however sprightly and fanciful they may have been, could not have claimed for their author a more prominent place in Roman literature than Hayley or Shenstone occupies in our own. The fetters which the Roman emperors placed upon their subjects, and the moral turpitude which made the social fabric one crumbling mass of pollution, doubtless did their work in emasculating the mind of the country, and in depriving Rome of many à genius sent to diffuse lustre and glory round its annals; still these causes required centuries to operate, and could only produce their full effect by acting with increased debilitating influence upon the mental powers through successive generations. Where mind is imparted in any great strength, it is sure to manifest some portion of its power, although the offshoots that might have shot up into gigantic proportion from its seed may be blighted in the bud by agencies which marred, but could not crush, the vitality of the parent stem. It may be possible, by depriving the body of light and freedom for a course of ages, to enfeeble its strength and dwarf its proportions with increased effect as the race is transmitted ; but the greatest amount of intellectual imprisonment, though perpetuated through a long course of generations, could not, it appears, restrain such minds as Tacitus and Juvenal from expanding into colossal magnitude, and dominating over the natural influences which tended to stifle their growth and ensure their decline. Had Statius been possessed of splendid poetic talents, he would have exhibited them in spite of the corrupt taste of Rome, and its degenerate political institutions. Tyranny cannot in one age annihilate the powers of invention, or a licentious democracy extinguish the fire of genius.
ART. II.--Essays on the Accordance of Christianity with the Nature
of Man. By EDWARD Fry. 12mo. Constable. 1857. Is it not strange that men who can discern the seeds of all sorts of heresy in the slightest divergence from the common modes of thought, should witness the gravest departures from the just in ethical feeling without any serious apprehension as to consequences? The logical connexion between the beginning of error in speculation, and the ends of it, seems to be seized in a moment; while the relation between deteriorated moral feeling, and all sorts