The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
II. Samuel Butler
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.
§ 1. Ancient and Modern Satire
SATIRE, the humorous or caustic criticism of men’s faults and foibles in all their manifestations, the hotch-pot or farrago, as Juvenal calls it, of the vagaries of human conduct, is justly claimed by Quintilian as an entirely Latin or Italian product. So early as Ennius (b. 239 B.C.), the lanx satura or olla podrida of scraps of heterogeneous and discursive observations had been compounded; but it was not till Lucilius had seasoned it with “Italian vinegar” that the production could be looked upon as “satire” in the modern sense of the word. This ingredient, however, Horace declares, was, to a great extent, derived by Lucilius from the poets of the old Greek comedy. The parabases of Aristophanes certainly contain this element, though the concentration of their aim and object precludes the title of the discursive satura. Lucilius, the inventor of this kind of composition—the founder of the mocking style—was also its chief exponent, and it is interesting to note that, to Lucilius, each of his three successors—Horace, Juvenal and Persius—attributes in turn his own style: Horace, his inconsequent chatter full of moral maxims and worldly wisdom; Juvenal, his fiery declamations against vice; and Persius, his homilies in praise of virtue and against hypocrisy. When Horace asserts that Lucilius had recourse to his “faithful books” to record every mood of his impressions on all subjects, he reminds more modern readers of the practice of Montaigne, who charms us by his talk about himself and by his carefully recorded experiences on that subject.