Quotes about Virgil
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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.
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.
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.
Cleric said he thought Virgil, when he was dying at Brindisi, must have remembered that passage. After he had faced the bitter fact that he was to leave the 'Aeneid' unfinished, and had decreed that the great canvas, crowded with figures of gods and men, should be burned rather than survive him unperfected, then his mind must have gone back to the perfect utterance of the 'Georgics,' where the pen was fitted to the matter as the plough is to the furrow; and he must have said to himself, with the thankfulness of a good man, 'I was the first to bring the Muse into my country.'
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.