Quotes about Virgil
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To me this world is all one continued vision of fancy or imagination, and I feel flattered when I am told so. What is it sets Homer, Virgil and Milton in so high a rank of art? Why is the Bible more entertaining and instructive than any other book? Is it not because they are addressed to the imagination, which is spiritual sensation, and but immediately to the understanding or reason?
Indeed, the best books have a use, like sticks and stones, which is above or beside their design, not anticipated in the preface,not concluded in the appendix. Even Virgil's poetry serves a very different use to me today from what it did to his contemporaries. It has often an acquired and accidental value merely, proving that man is still man in the world.
All the poets are indebted more or less to those who have gone before them; even Homer's originality has been questioned, and Virgil owes almost as much to Theocritus, in his Pastorals, as to Homer, in his Heroics; and if our own countryman, Milton, has soared above both Homer and Virgil, it is because he has stolen some feathers from their wings.
There is an inimitable grace in Virgil's words, and in them principally consists that beauty which gives so inexpressible a pleasure to him who best understands their force. This diction of his, I must once again say, is never to be copied; and since it cannot, he will appear but lame in the best translation.
Verse no longer stands at the centre of communicative discourse. It is no longer, as it was from Homer to Milton, the natural repository of knowledge and traditional sentiment. It no longer gives to society its main record of past grandeur or its natural setting for prophecy, as it did in Virgil and Dante. Verse has grown private. It is a special language which the individual poet insinuates, by force of personal genius, into the awareness of his contemporaries, persuading to learn and perhaps hand on his own uses of words. Poetry has become essentially lyric — that is to say, it is the poetry of private vision rather than of public or of national occasion.
Truth can never suffer from argument and inquiry; but may be essentally injured by the tyrannous interference of her pretended advocates. Impede her energies by the pains and penalties of law, and, like the Fame of Virgil, she will creep along the ground, diminutive in stature, and shrunk with apprehension: give free scope to all her tendencies, and she will soon collect her might, dilate herself to the fullness of her dimensions, and reach the stars.
The next Augustan age will dawn on the other side of the Atlantic. There will, perhaps, be a Thucydides at Boston, a Xenophon at New York, and, in time, a Virgil at Mexico, and a Newton at Peru. At last, some curious traveler from Lima will visit England and give a description of the ruins of St. Paul's, like the editions of Balbec and Palmyra.
It obliges one to think with a particular kind of logic and severity. If it is nonsense, it will not go into Latin... I regard it as cruelty to the young to deprive them of that insight into language... Who would have thought Thatcher would be responsible for introducing the Prussian system, of dictating from central government the content of education in the supposed interest of the state? Translation into Latin was the great stamp and mark of English classical scholarship... My fatal decision was not to be pedantic and leave it in Latin. I had written Et Tiberim multo spumantem sanguine cerno: from Virgil in the Aeneid. And at the last minute I said, 'I can't put that out in Latin, that's pedantic'... In Latin, it would have been lost.
Wordsworth says somewhere that wherever Virgil seems to have composed 'with his eye on the object', Dryden fails to render him. Homer invariably composes 'with his eye on the object', whether the object be a moral or a material one: Pope composes with his eye on his style, into which he translates his object, whatever it is.
Whatever the poets pretend, it is plain they give immortality to none but themselves; it is Homer and Virgil we reverence and admire, not Achilles or Aeneas. With historians it is quite the contrary; our thoughts are taken up with the actions, persons, and events we read, and we little regard the authors.