S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Among the writers of antiquity, there are none who instruct us more openly in the manners of their respective times in which they lived, than those who have employed themselves in satire, under what dress soever it may appear; as there are no other authors whose province it is to enter so directly into the ways of men, and set their miscarriages in so strong a light. Simonides, a poet famous in his generation, is, I think, author of the oldest satire that is now extant; and, as some say, of the first that was ever written.
Should a writer single out and point his raillery at particular persons, or satirize the miserable, he might be sure of pleasing a great part of his readers; but must be a very ill man if he could please himself.
Of satires I think as Epictetus did: If evil be said of thee, and if it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it. By dint of time and experience I have learned to be a good post-horse: I go through my appointed stage, and I care not for the curs who bark at me along the road.
Wycherly, in his writings, is the sharpest satirist of his time; but in his nature he has all the softness of the tenderest dispositions: in his writings he is severe, bold, undertaking; in his nature gentle, modest, inoffensive.
Even in modern times songs have been by no means without influence on public affairs; and we may therefore infer that in a society where printing was unknown, and where books were rare, a pathetic or humorous party-ballad must have produced effects such as we can but faintly conceive. It is certain that satirical poems were common at Rome from a very early period. The rustics, who lived at a distance from the seat of government, and look little part in the strife of factions, gave vent to their petty local animosities in coarse Fescennine verse. The lampoons of the city were doubtless of a higher order, and their sting was early felt by the nobility. For in the Twelve Tables, long before the time of the Licinian laws, a severe punishment was denounced against the citizen who should compose or recite verses reflecting on another. Satire is, indeed, the only sort of composition in which the Latin poets whose works have come down to us were not mere imitators of foreign models; and it is therefore the only sort of composition in which they have never been rivalled. It was not, like their tragedy, their comedy, their epic and lyric poetry, a hot-house plant, which, in return for assiduous and skilful culture, gave only scanty and sickly fruits. It was hardy and full of sap: and in all the various juices which it yielded might be distinguished the flavour of the Ausonian soil. Satire, said Quinctilian, with just pride, is all our own. Satire sprang, in truth, naturally from the constitution of the Roman government and from the spirit of the Roman people; and, though at length subjected to metrical rules derived from Greece, retained to the last an essentially Roman character . The genius and spirit of the Roman satirists survived the liberty of their country, and were not extinguished by the cruel despotism of the Julian and Flavian Emperors. The great poet who told the story of Domitians turbot was the legitimate successor of those forgotten minstrels whose songs animated the factions of the infant Republic.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Lays of Ancient Rome: Virginia.
For a young and presumptuous poet (and presumptuousness is but too naturally connected with the consciousness of youthful power) a disposition to write satires is one of the most dangerous he can encourage. It tempts him to personalities, which are not always forgiven after he has repented and become ashamed of them; it ministers to his self-conceit; if he takes the tone of invective, it leads him to be uncharitable; and if he takes that of ridicule, one of the most fatal habits which any one can contract is that of looking at all things in a ludicrous point of view.
When I had run over several such in my thoughts, I concluded, however unaccountable the assertion might appear at first sight, that good-nature was an essential quality in a satirist, and that all the sentiments which are beautiful in this way of writing must proceed from that quality in the author. Good-nature produces a disdain of all baseness, vice, and folly: which prompts them to express themselves with smartness against the errors of men, without bitterness towards their persons. This quality keeps the mind in equanimity, and never lets an offence unseasonably throw a man out of his character. When Virgil said, he that did not hate Bavius might love Mævius, he was in perfect good humour; and was not so much moved at their absurdities as passionately to call them sots or blockheads in a direct invective, but laughed at them with a delicacy of scorn, without any mixture of anger.
The men of the greatest character in this kind were Horace and Juvenal. There is not, that I remember, one ill-natured expression in all their writings, not one sentence of severity, which does not apparently proceed from the contrary disposition. Whoever reads them will, I believe, be of this mind; and if they were read with this view, it might possibly persuade our young fellows that they might be very witty men without speaking ill of any but those who deserve it. But, in the perusal of these writers, it may not be unnecessary to consider that they lived in very different times.
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders generally discover everybodys face but their own;which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so few are offended with it.