Tuesday, November 22, 2022



James Henry, Aeneidea, or Critical, Exegetical, and Aesthetical Remarks on the Aeneis, Vol. I (London: Williams and Norgate, 1873), pp. 649-651 (on Vergil, Aeneid 1.381 "sum pius Aeneas"):
Before Christianity, while we were all pagans alike, humility was meanness. No one ever dreamed of depreciating himself either to his God or to his brother man. He that recommended himself to the favor of God, never thought of saying he was unworthy of that favour, never thought of pleading against himself, on the contrary he put forward all his merits, all he had done, all he would do. To have underrated himself was the last thing in the world to occur to his mind, to his common human sense, and the surest way to prevent God from doing that which he might otherwise have been inclined to do, the surest way to foil himself in his object. In his dealings with man he proceeded on the same principle, always on the principle of his merits, always endeavoured to appear as well as he could, to impress every one with the best possible opinion of him, and so be treated in return by every one as an honest, truthspeaking, brave, generous, noble-minded and above all tender-hearted, "pius" (see Rem. on l. 14) man.

The pagan was thus at least consistent, dealt with his God and his brother man on the same principle, always and upon all occasions standing up for, and never unless in some paroxysm of despair, like Oedipus's, turning upon, abusing and depreciating himself. The first Christians, too, were consistent, but their consistency was of an opposite kind. They recommended themselves to the favour of God and man, not on the ground of merit, but on the ground of demerit. The more they sunk themselves, the more they expected to be exalted, the lower down at the table they took their seat, the higher up did they expect to be asked to sit. They washed the beggars' feet, without pomp and without ceremony, in the sure expectation that angels would in return wash their feet, and clothe them with surplices of spotless dazzling white. Humility and want of merit served the same purpose with them as transcendant merit, and a consciousness of it, served amongst the pagans, it was their way to honour among men, and honour with their God, their road to heaven, their "sic itur ad astra." Real humility, a really modest opinion of themselves, was their ladder to glorification, real humility I mean in every respect, except—and it is a startling exception—their religion. It never so much as once entered into their heads to extend their humility to their religion. To their religious pride there were no bounds. Humble and modest in all other respects, they were in respect of their new religion all Jews, as proud, overbearing, and intolerant, as ready to extirpate the Hittite, Gergashite, and Amalekite. With this one exception, however, they were consistent. Humble before heaven, humble towards each other, frugal, simple, self-denying, kind-hearted, and affectionate amongst themselves, ever ready to renounce this world, and all its pomps and pleasures, in order, by so doing, the better to secure for themselves what they called an eternal crown of glory hereafter. But these first Christians have all, long since, gone the way Jew and Pagan went before them, and we have now another Pharoah, who knows not Joseph—a Pharoah who has inherited not the real, living humility, sincerity, and simplicity of his forefathers, but the names, phrases, words, titles, and empty sounds, and who palms these off, in place of the qualities themselves, on all with whom he has dealings, whether terrestrial or celestial, on his brother man, as on God. Your correspondent, therefore, is your dear sir, and you are your correspondent's most obedient, humble servant, at the very moment you are reprimanding or cashiering him. If a police officer, you touch your hat as you are making an arrest; a judge, you weep when you are passing sentence of death; a hangman, you beg pardon of the culprit about whose neck you are putting the rope. Unworthy to stand before your God, you kneel, and from a crimson velvet cushion pour forth your regularly returning tide of devotion, your unmeasured praise of him, your equally unmeasured dispraise of yourself. Your unaffected contrition, humiliation, nothingness; your love, hope, faith, and gratitude, all fresh gushing from your heart every Sunday at least, if not every day of the year, at precisely the same hour, precisely the same moment, or precisely the same spot, unaffected, unstudied, unpremeditated, in the ready cut and dry words of the printed formularies read or intoned for you by a paid substitute.

In Aeneas's introduction of himself to Venus there is none of this paltry double-dealing, of this vile compound of ours, of verbal humility and real pride, of this our so fashionable seasoning of insolence with compliment. Without any even the least prevarication, he presents himself in his real and true character, the character in which he is so often, so invariably, presented to the reader by the author, viz., as Aeneas, the tender-hearted (the gentle knight of chivalrous times), seeking with his Penates, and surviving compatriots, a new land in place of that out of which he had been expelled by a victorious invader.

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