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that it gives to the whole body of English poetry a quality of its own; the epic as such is to some degree foreign to the English mode of creation; and still more is it foreign to the movement which now runs so strongly towards dissolving and democratizing all art. Even in the eighteenth century there was a revolt against it. "Epic poetry," Horace Walpole said, "is the art of being tiresome in verse." But there is no kind of poetry, then or now, on which the same criticism could not be passed. For the enormous and chaotic production of the present age, it is more than ever essential to have a standard of quality, to preserve and study and appreciate the masterpieces. This standard Virgil gives, more fully perhaps than any other single poet. phrase in which he was characterized three hundred years ago by Bacon still holds true: "The chastest poet and royalest, Virgilius Maro, that to the memory of man is known."
Art is what gives form and meaning, beauty and joy to life; and poetry is the queen of the arts. In the exercise, in its fullest compass, of the art in which he was so great a master, Virgil is not merely an interpreter or expounder, but a creator. He incarnated ideas; he made
history. He stands alongside of, and a little above but how much that little is! -statesmen and thinkers as joint creator of the Holy Roman Empire which was for centuries the mould and frame of European civilization. That Empire, so far as it ever existed otherwise than as an ideal, has passed away: it became a dream. But Virgil's creative touch did not end with it. He is joint creator of a present and actual ideal, the largest perhaps which has yet been placed before mankind; he is the poet and prophet of no mere League of Nations, but of a single world-commonwealth, and of the fulfilment of the divine purpose in an ordered and universal peace.
The unified and Roman Italy which was Virgil's primary ideal or aim, the one which lay nearest his eyes and his heart, was to some degree, and for a time, realized. Then it broke to pieces, it crumbled and dissolved into vapour, not to reappear in tangible shape for more than a thousand years. In our time it has been reborn. Those are yet living who saw the first creation since a thousand years back of an Italian kingdom; our own days have seen its slow unification, its extension to its natural boundaries, the larger hope of its
concord or coalescence with the spiritual power which still lives in the name of Rome. Virgil's vision is, for Italy and for the world, a living inspiration, an aim pursued with unquenchable ardour, a prophecy that brings more and more of its own fulfilment.
We stand now, as Virgil stood, among the wreckage of a world; he can give light and guidance to us in the foundation of a new world upon its ruins. Mankind is, above all, human; what it above all needs, not in education only but in the whole conduct of life, is humanism; consciousness of its own past, faith in its own future, the sense of truth, beauty, joy. This last is the gift of art: art is joy. The human value of all great works of art is not only imperishable but unreplaceable. Virgil is one of the greatest of artists; and it is as such that he finally claims the study which he more than repays, the love which that study increases the further it is pursued and the more largely it is communicated.
XII. STYLE AND DICTION: THE
IRGIL'S lifetime covers the period in which the Latin language was perfected as an instrument of expression; and in Virgil himself the technical achievement of Latin poetry admittedly culminates. He had great predecessors, but he carried the art to a point which they had not reached. He had distinguished successors, some of them like Ovid cleverer technicians than himself; but they all count together as his followers, as the post-Virgilians. Fundamentally of course this is because his own poetical genius was so incomparable. But that genius arose just at the time when the technique of the art was, after much laborious effort, on the point of being mastered. He mastered it; and after him, it took no new development.
Apart from a few juvenile exercises, he concentrated wholly on a single metrical vehicle, the dactylic hexameter. This was the metre of the Homeric poems and of another poem
not less widely known, read, and learned by heart throughout the Hellenic world, the FarmCalendar (the so-called Works and Days) of Hesiod. It was established as the recognized form of verse for all later Greek epics, and for the whole province of philosophic, scientific, or didactic poetry. Theocritus and his school gave it a still further scope, using it not only (with certain subtle modifications of handling) for pastorals, but for the wider field of descriptive sketches, romantic narratives, and epic idyls. In all these directions Latin poetry had followed suit, first by exercises in translating or adapting, then by launching out on original work. Virgil had, together with many others, Ennius, Lucretius and Catullus before him as models and incitements.
It must never be forgotten that the Latin hexameter was a foreign metrical structure. The native rhythm of the Latin language was trochaic; the native forms of verse were accentual, not quantitative. Much the same thing happened with our own poetry. The purely English poetry was composed in verses of an indefinite number of syllables, based on stress-accent and emphasized by alliteration. Equivalence of syllables, and the use of rhymed