« AnteriorContinuar »
Having remarked the small difference "either in propriety of words, or framing of the style," that is to be found between the familiar epistles of Cicero, and those written to him by his friends, he makes the following fine observation: "These men and Tully lived all in one time, were like in authority, not unlike in learning and study, which might be just causes of this their equality in writing. And yet surely they neither were indeed, nor yet were counted in men's opinions, equal with Tully in that faculty. And how is the difference hid in his Epistles? Verily, as the cunning of an expert seaman in a fair calm fresh river doth little differ from the doing of a meaner workman therein; even so, in the short cut of a private letter, where matter is common, words easy, and order not much diverse, small show of difference can appear. But where Tully doth set up his sail of eloquence in some broad deep argument, carried with full tide and wind of his wit and learning, all others may rather stand, and look after him, than hope to overtake him, what course soever he hold, either in fair or foul."
"Four men only," he continues, "when the Latin tongue was full ripe, be left unto us who in that time did flourish, and did leave to posterity the fruit of their wit and learning-Varro, Sallust, Cæsar, and Cicero." Of course the statement is confined to prose writers. The remainder of the treatise is occupied with a review of the characteristics and merits of the first three of these chief Roman classics.
Of Varro, he says, among other things, "His books of husbandry are much to be regarded and diligently to be read, not only for the propriety, but also for the plenty of good words in all country and husband men's affairs, which cannot be had by so good authority out of any
other author, either of so good a time, or of so great learning, as out of Varro. And yet, because he was four-score years old when he wrote those books, the form of his style there, compared with Tully's writing, is but even the talk of a spent old man: whose words commonly fall out of his mouth, though very wisely, yet hardly and coldly, and more heavily also, than some ears can well bear, except only for age and authority's sake; and perchance, of a rude and country argument, of purpose and judgment he rather used the speech of the country than the talk of the city."
"Sallust," he says, "is a wise and worthy writer; but he requireth a learned reader and a right considerer of him. My dearest friend and best master that ever I had or heard in learning, Sir John Cheke (such a man, as if I should live to see England breed the like again, I fear I should live over long), did once give me a lesson for Sallust, which, as I shall never forget myself, so is it worthy to be remembered of all those that would come to perfect judgment of the Latin tongue. He said that Sallust was not very fit for young men to learn out of him the purity of the Latin tongue; because he was not the purest in propriety of words, nor choicest in aptness of phrases, nor the best in framing of sentences; and therefore is his writing, said he, neither plain for the matter, nor sensible for men's understanding.
"And what is the cause thereof, Sir?' quoth I. 'Verily,' said he, 'because in Sallust's writing is more art than nature, and more labour than art, and in his labour also too much toil; as it were, with an uncontented care to write better than he could-a fault common to very many men. And therefore he doth not express the matter lively, and naturally with common speech, as
you see Xenophon doth in Greek; but it is carried and driven forth artificially after too learned a sort, as Thucydides doth in his Orations.'
"And how cometh it to pass,' said I,' that Cæsar and Cicero's talk is so natural and plain, and Sallust's writings so artificial and dark, when all they three lived in one time?'
"I will freely tell you my fancy herein,' said he.
"Surely Cæsar and Cicero, beside a singular prerogative of natural eloquence given unto them by God, both two by use of life were daily orators among the common people, and greatest counsellors in the Senatehouse; and therefore gave themselves to use such speech as the meanest should well understand, and the wisest best allow; following carefully that good counsel of Aristotle, Loquendum, ut multi; sapiendum, ut puuci. (Speak like the many; think like the few.)
"Sallust was no such man, neither for will to goodness, nor skill by learning, but ill given by nature, and made worse by bringing up; spent the most part of his youth very misorderly in riot and letchery, in the company of such who, never giving their mind to honest doing, could never inure their tongue to wise speaking. But at the last, coming to better years, and buying wit at the dearest hand (that is, by long experience of the hurt and shame that cometh of mischief), moved by the counsel of them that were wise, and carried by the example of such as were good, he first fell to honesty of life, and after to the love of study and learning, and so became so new a man, that Cæsar, being Dictator, made him prætor in Numidia, where he, absent from his country, and not inured with the common talk of Rome, but shut up in his study, and bent wholly upon reading, did
write the history of the Romans. And for the better accomplishing of the same, he read Cato and Piso in Latin, for gathering of matter and truth, and Thucydides in Greek, for the ordering of his history and furnishing of his style.""
The use of old words, Sir John Cheke is further made to say, is not the greatest cause of Sallust's roughness and darkness. "Read Sallust and Tully advisedly together, and in words you shall find small difference. Yea, Sallust is more given to new words than to old; though some writers say the contrary." He then gives some examples, after which he continues: "I could be long in reciting many such like, both old and new words in Sallust: but in very deed, neither oldness nor newness of words maketh the greatest difference betwixt Sallust and Tully; but, first, strange phrases made of good Latin words, but framed after the Greek tongue, which be neither choicely borrowed of them, nor properly used by him; then, a hard composition, and crooked framing of his words and sentences; as a man would say, English talk placed and framed outlandish-like."
Having concluded his report of this discourse of Sir John Cheke's, our author proceeds: "Some men perchance will smile, and laugh to scorn this my writing, and call it idle curiosity, thus to busy myself in picking about these small points of grammar, not fit for my age, place, and calling to trifle in. I trust that man, be he never so great in authority, never so wise and learned, either by other men's judgment or his own opinion, will yet think that he is not greater in England than Tully was at Rome; nor yet wiser nor better learned than Tully was himself: who at the pitch of threescore years, in the midst of the broil betwixt Cæsar and Pompey,
when he knew not whither to send wife and children, which way to go, where to hide himself; yet in an earnest letter, among his earnest counsels for those heavy times, concerning both the common state of his country and his own private affairs, he was neither unmindful nor ashamed to reason at large, and learn gladly of Atticus, a less point of grammar than these be, noted of me in Sallust: as whether he should write, ad Piraea, in Piraea, or in Piræum, or Piræeum, sine prepositione. And in those heavy times he was so careful to know this small point of grammar, that he addeth these words, 'Si hoc mihi Sýrnua persolveris, magnâ me molestiâ liberâris.' [If you will resolve me this question, you will deliver me from what gives me great annoyance.]
"If Tully at that age, in that authority, in that care for his country, in that jeopardy for himself, and extreme necessity of his dearest friends, being also the prince of eloquence himself, was not ashamed to descend to these low points of grammar in his own natural tongue; what should scholars do? yea, what should any man do, if he do think well-doing better than ill-doing, and had rather be perfect than mean, sure than doubtful, to be what he should be indeed, and not seem what he is not, in opinion? He that maketh perfectness in the Latin tongue his mark, must come to it by choice and certain knowledge, and not stumble upon it by chance and doubtful ignorance. And the right steps to reach unto it be these, linked thus orderly together,-aptness of nature, love of learning, diligence in right order, constancy with pleasant moderation, and always to learn of them that be best; and so shall you judge as they that be wisest. And these be those rules which worthy