Famous Reviews eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 678 pages of information about Famous Reviews.

These poems, therefore, are not the worse for being un-Roman in their form; and in their substance they are Roman to a degree which deserves great admiration.  Mr. Macaulay’s prose writings had not prepared us for the power which he has here manifested of identifying himself easily and completely, with states of feeling and modes of life alien to modern experience.  Nobody could have previously doubted that he possessed fancy, but he has added to it the higher faculty of Imagination.  We have not been able to detect, in the four poems, one idea or feeling which was not, or might not have been Roman; while the externals of Roman life, and the feelings characteristic of Rome and of that particular age, are reproduced with great felicity, and without being made unduly predominant over the universal features of human nature and human life.

Independently therefore of their value as poems, these compositions are a real service rendered to historical literature; and the author has made this service greater by his prefaces, which will do more than the work of a hundred dissertations in rendering that true conception of early Roman history, the irrefragable establishment of which has made Niebuhr illustrious, familiar to the minds of general readers.  This is no trifling matter, even in relation to present interests, for there is no estimating the injury which the cause of popular institutions has suffered, and still suffers from misrepresentations of the early condition of the Roman and Plebs, and its noble struggles against its taskmasters.  And the study of the manner in which the heroic legends of early Rome grew up as poetry and gradually became history, has important bearings on the general laws of historical evidence, and on the many things which, as philosophy advances, are more and more seen to be therewith connected.  On this subject Mr. Macaulay has not only presented, in an agreeable form, the results of previous speculation, but has, though in an entirely unpretending manner, thrown additional light upon it by his own remarks:  as where he shows, by incontestible instances, that a similar transformation of poetic fiction into history has taken place on various occasions in modern and sceptical times....

We are more disposed to break a lance with our author on the general merits of Roman literature, which, by a heresy not new with him, he sacrifices, in what appears to us a most unfair degree, on the score of its inferior originality to the Grecian.  It is true the Romans had no Aeschylus nor Sophocles, and but a secondhand Homer, though this last was not only the most finished but even the most original of imitators.  But where was the Greek model of the noble poem of Lucretius?  What, except the mere idea, did the Georgics borrow from Hesiod? and whoever thinks of comparing the two poems?  Where, in Homer or the Euripides, will be found the original of the tender and pathetic passages in the Aeneid, especially the

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