UNIVERSAL BISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
as well as in abundance and variety, his works fall far below the level of the
Ciceronian productions. It was the orator rather than the historian who revealed
to the people of the Republic the full power and majesty of their language in the
broad domain of prose.
Caesar, Cicero, and Varro were the most distinguished literary men of the closing
days of the Republic. To be sure, the first was a warrior and statesman rather
than a man of letters; but his claim to authorship is undisputed, and his
patronage of literature was such that but for the assassin's steel the world
would have been the richer. Had he lived to build up the great library which was
one of his favorite schemes, and for the management of which he selected Varro,
it is not unlikely that a vast mass of ancient literature now hopelessly lost
might have been preserved for the entertainment and instruction of mankind.
As soon as those vast movements were accomplished by which the Imperial regime
was substituted instead of the Republic the literary pendulum oscillated again to
the side of poetry. We have in this fact a phenomenon not often witnessed in the
history of literature, a phenomenon, indeed, which never could occur except among
a people of predominant practicality and small imagination. The thing referred to
is the reversal, in the case of Latin literature, of the usual chronological
order in the development of prose and poetry. In nearly all nations the latter
has preceded the former. The rule has been that a given language is first
perfected by the poets, and then handed over, not without much timidity and
delay, to the purposes of prose. In most nations the earliest prose writers have
assumed their tasks in a kind of apologetic way, as if their unmetered method of
expressing thought were a kind of sacrilege and prostitution of letters.
Not so, however, in the case of Rome. Here the prose development preceded the
poetical. The last century and a half of the Republic witnessed the creation of a
prose literature which for its elevation and classicism required no additional
finish. As yet poetry had not advanced beyond the archaic stages of development.
Up to the age of Cicero no great national poet had arisen to honor his country in
song. With the institution of the Empire, however, there came a great change in
the literary sentiment of the nation, and poetry became a rage in all classes of
The transformation of popular taste was traceable in part to the influence of the
schools. In these the study of poetry and the art of verse-making were
assiduously cultivated. Nearly every Roman boy of good rank was expected to have
some skill as a versifier. This species of culture became quite universal. No
doubt poor Nature tried to hide her wounds and dishonor; for she was grievously
tramped upon and outraged. Every body had the Muse in common. Augustus in his
bath, Tiberius in the German woods, Germanicus on his campaigns, each
contributed, as in duty bound, to swell the aggregate of Imperial poetry. Nero
wrote verses like a learned pig. As for Caligula and Claudius, they contented
themselves with the humbler work of prose.
In the meantime, moreover, oratory fell to a discount. The Empire did not need,
did not desire, public speech, as did the Republic. In a country where all of the
people have the good or ill fortune to be on one side of the question there can
be no oratory. To this extent, therefore, the literary energy went over to the
more agreeable, less dangerous, pursuit of the muses.
Perhaps there never was an age more given to literary patronage than that of
Augustus. The Emperor himself set the example. Triumphant Rome might now devote
herself to song. The sovereign encouraged in all possible ways the production of
literary and artistic works. He sought out the most distinguished men of letters,
and made them his friends. He furnished them the means of leisure, and rewarded
them for their works. As did the master, so did the men. It became a point of
honor with wealthy Romans to have authors or artists dependent upon their bounty.
More than the rest did Messala and Maecenas distinguish themselves in this
particular. The latter, as the friend and counselor of Augustus, became a kind of
literary pontifex for the early Empire. Horace, who had refused the favors of the
Emperor, accepted those of Maecenas, and the two for thirty years remained