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clearly copied from a very fine picture, painted at a time when authentic portraits of Virgil were numerous, and when a live tradition of his appearance still survived. This portrait shews him such as he is described in his ancient biographies, and such as we can well believe him to have really been in his later years. The face is thin and worn, the complexion sallow; the delicate features bear traces of habitually poor health. The closely-cut hair is dark brown, shewing flecks of grey; the forehead finely moulded; the mouth sensitive and souffrant; the eyes large, deeply-set and luminous. Such as it is, this is all that we have to bring before us the bodily image of the poet of Rome.
V. THE ECLOGUES AND THE
IRGIL'S genius developed slowly. He wrote with difficulty and was never satisfied with what he wrote. For many years his work was experimental, tentative, immature in accomplishment and uncertain in handling. Yet from the first it impressed his contemporaries with the sense of wonderful promise, as the new voice of a new age.
Latin poetry was at the conflux of crosscurrents; its movements were perplexed, its future uncertain alike in aim and in attainment. The main effort of the writers then most recent and most popular had been to be elaborately scholarly. "Learned" was the stock epithet of praise for a poet. They concentrated on form rather than on substance, on ornament rather than on structure. Art more and more passed into artifice. They sought assiduously to reach the same standard of minute workmanship as had been established in Hellenistic poetry by the School of Alexandria. The
Alexandrian poets had been above all trained scholars and technical experts. The poet most admired and imitated at Rome was Euphorion, chief librarian at the Seleucid Court, as Callimachus, the head of the school, had been a generation earlier chief librarian at the Court of the Ptolemies. The post in both cases was not merely that of keeper of a library; it was that of President of a University. The poetry of which these two names are representative was marked by high technical finish, by ostentatious learning, and by fluctuation between dry hardness and deliquescent sentiment. Its vices, even more than its virtues, appealed strongly to Roman taste. In the poems of Catullus we see its pernicious effects gaining more and more control over his own lyrical genius. In the poetical interregnum which followed Catullus' death, Latin poetry ran the risk of losing itself completely in a desert or a morass. Pursuit of pedantic artifice in language went alongside of a lax and shallow treatment of life.
From this collapse towards which Latin poetry seemed heading, the Eclogues were the first open sign of recovery. They opened out a new life for it. Poetry breathed the air again.
Though not yet disentangled fully, it was no longer suffocated in the swathings of a stifling convention. The chrysalis was broken, though the wings of the butterfly still clung soft and crumpled and had not expanded into breadth and brilliance. The universal popularity and amazing success of the Eclogues came from the sense of this release. A new voice in poetry had made itself audible, and it was the voice of a new life. A poet had appeared, whose mastery of his art was indeed still very imperfect, whose work was timid, tentative, sometimes not only uncertain but imitative and feeble; but who already had, beyond all mistake, a grave sweetness, a tenderness and grace (the molle atque facetum of Horace's admirable characterization),' a melodiousness of language and beauty of phrasing previously unknown. The specific Virgilian charm disclosed itself. It was a new thing in the world then, and now after nearly two thousand years it has lost nothing of its potency. To each new reader, the Eclogues are still a revelation.
The Eclogues were Virgil's first published work. They are only a small fraction of what he had then written. He tells us himself that to produce an epic, "to sing of kings and
battles," had been his youthful ambition; and some early work which may date back even to that period can be traced here and there in parts of the Aeneid. But he experimented in many poetical forms; composing, we are told, copiously, and then cutting down so mercilessly that a single line might be all that was left to shew for a whole day's labour in composition. He would not give to the world anything but the distilled product, and even that he gave with reluctance. To his own work he was, from first to last, the most fastidious and merciless of critics. He destroyed, or succeeded in suppressing, nearly all the poetry that he did not publish, the amount of which was no doubt very large. In late collections of miscellaneous Latin minor poetry there are some short pieces ascribed to him and dating, if genuine, from his early youth. The greater number are not his at all: the few which may be accepted as authentic are only notable as throwing some light on his youthful studies and predilections, and giving a glimpse of the circle in which he moved. They are poetical exercises, showing little or no traces either of his distinctive manner or of his individual genius.