Thursday, December 29, 2011


The Old Horatian Forbearance

Edward FitzGerald, letter to E.B. Cowell (January 9, 1876), in The Letters of Edward FitzGerald, edd. Alfred McKinley Terhune and Annabelle Burdick Terhune, Vol. III: 1867-1876 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 645-646 (at 646, with the editors' note 2):
I see by the Athenaeum that Browning and Swinburne go on pouring out Volumes of Verse. I wonder it does not strike them it would be better to follow the old Horatian forbearance for nine years:2 I suppose Gray brooded over his one little Elegy for all that time: and (with all its faults) it endures—as I think nothing which these more aspiring Geniuses do will.

2 Nine or ten years elapsed between the appearance of the first three books of Horace's Odes (23 B.C.) and the fourth (14-13). Subsequently, in one of his Epistles, the poet states that he had intended to abandon lyric poetry, but, in fact, he produced other works during the decade.
This is a very misleading note. FitzGerald was of course referring to a well-known passage in Horace's Ars Poetica, lines 385-390 (emphasis added):
tu nihil invita dices faciesve Minerva;
id tibi iudicium est, ea mens. si quid tamen olim
scripseris, in Maeci descendat iudicis auris
et patris et nostras, nonumque prematur in annum,
membranis intus positis: delere licebit
quod non edideris; nescit vox missa reverti.
In H. Rushton Fairclough's translation:
But you will say nothing and do nothing against Minerva's will; such is your judgement, such your good sense. Yet if ever you do write anything, let it enter the ears of some critical Maecius, and your father's and my own; then put your parchment in the closet and keep it back till the ninth year. What you have not published you can destroy; the word once sent forth can never come back.
Related post: Your Man Sallust.


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