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EPISTLES OF THE FIRST BOOK.
EPIST. I. The first epistle is addressed to Mæcenas, in excuse of the writer's abandonment of poetry for philosophy. In justification of this bias practical reflections are subjoined, and an exhibition of the follies and the inconsistencies of men (as in the first and third Satires of the First Book).
Epist. II. In this epistle an allegorical explanation of the Homeric poems is given, followed (at v. 32.) by a series of moral principles, clearly and keenly laid down for the due regulation of life.
EPIST. III. A letter to Julius Florus, to inquire after old friends associated with him in attendance upon Tiberius, who then had a command in the East; written also to encourage him in literary and intellectual studies ; but mainly, perhaps, to draw him to a complete reconciliation
Epist. IV. To the poet Tibullus; a pleasant recital of the comforts and means of happiness at his command, with a hint as to their right use. The terms and tone of the letter, and its closing profession, are Epicurean : perhaps affectedly so; RIDENTEM dicere verum quid vetat? to prevent the hint being taken as a reproof, or the reproof felt as a personality: or possibly because the moralist shrank from full avowal of truths but dimly seen, and the real meaning of his own words.
EPIST. V. This is an invitation to a holiday entertainment on the eve of Augustus's birthday (v. 9.); in which are mingled praises of conviviality, and a refined regard also to niceties of taste, comfort, and security.
Epist. VI. The moral of this epistle may be in part represented by Milton's line (Comus, 210.),
“ These thoughts may startle well, but not astound
The virtuous mind.” ....
It opens with a proverb from the Greek, which in its original meaning denoted the characteristic fearlessness of the well-balanced mind, free from amazement or superstitious alarm at natural phenomena ; but which might be, and here is, brought to bear upon moral causes of disquietude as well. These are the admiration and desire of wealth and power, of popular distinctions (vv. 5–14., 17-23.), the real value of which is tested by Time and Death (vv. 24–27.). True wisdom is never in excess (v. 16.); the real excellence of life is found in virtue (v. 30.); if not, let a man indulge his bent without respect to virtue, enrich himself without scruple as to means (v. 32. sqq.); gratify his ambition as he will (v. 49. sqq.); or his luxury (v. 56. sqq.).
The subject seems at first sight unfinished; we should have expected the counter-principle of v. 30. to be advocated in its turn; but it is left for inference, and loses nothing perhaps of its force, if fairly studied : helped out as it is by the evident irony of such lines as 36–38., 45–47., 62–64.
EPIST. VII. A letter of apology to his patron for his lengthened absence in the country: the terms are even affectionate (vv. 11, 12.) ; his sense of the discriminating kindness he had received is illustrated by his description (in contrast) of vulgar profusion (v. 14. sqq.); and his own spirit of independence by the fable of the little fox (vv. 29–34.); he will prefer leanness with liberty to wealth without it; or like Telemachus (v. 40.), he will not be tempted by vain show to desire what is useless or unfitting for him.
He closes with the anecdote of the rich orator Philippus (vv. 46–95.), to exemplify the folly, the awkwardness, and the discomfort, not to say ruin, consequent on a man's quitting his own natural sphere of life.
EPIST. VIII. A letter to Celsus, whom we may conclude, from the hint in the last line, to have shown some foolish vanity or elation at being promoted to the post of secretary when on Tiberius's staff. The body of the letter consists of a self-reproaching description of the writer's own deficiencies, his aimless levity and lethargy of mind; a description serving to introduce and excuse the admoniHorace, if he must censure, does it covertly, — he is amiculus, docendus adhuc (see below, Ep. xvii. 3.). That his own character, however, was wanting in fixedness of purpose, he seems to have been sincerely conscious. (See the reflections in the opening of Sat. 11. iii. and Sat. II. vii., vv. 22–29.).
Epist. IX. An introductory letter written to Tiberius, showing great tact in the avoidance of the difficulties of a false position.
His friend Septimius, supposing him to be influential, presses him to write it. He believes he has no influence, and knows he has no authority to ask a favour. Forced, however, by the plea of friendship, he complies in terms as brief and decisive as they are unpresuming.
Epist. X. A letter in praise of rural life: yet not so much on account of the real beauties of scenery, as of the happiness of disposition which prefers natural to artificial tastes.
Men’s natural wants (v. 12. sqq.), are met by the freedom, the freshness, the landscape of the country. The love of town luxuries is a corruption which tacitly convicts itself (v.22. sqq.); which punishes itself by its unsatisfied longings; and enslaves itself to babits that become a burden, though it can no more shake them off than the horse could shake off his rider when he had put himself in his power (v. 34. sqq.). Men should adapt their wants and wishes to their means and their position in life; the discomfort of not doing so is illustrated by comparison to shoes that do not fit the wearer (v. 42.). It is not the acquisition of wealth that will free us from discontent, or discomposure; but a superiority to its attractions in the resources of our own minds.