It is remarkable that, in speaking of Catullus, even the learned often designate him as a mere poet of love and revelry, who, like Anacreon, devoted his genius to enrich and celebrate the pleasures of the passing hour. ... Pezay mentions as his characteristical effusions, " des vers echappes "au delire de l'Orgie ou de l'Amour, des vers "ecrits sur la table de Manlius;" and Laharpe, estimating his reputation, writes, " Une douzaine de morceaux d'un gout exquis, pleins de grace et de naturel, Font mis au rang des poetes les plus "aimable." In this manner even his admirers have denied to Catullus his due rank; and, while they dwelt with fondness on the madrigals of the classical voluptuary, have forgotten to dignify him as the heroic poet; whom Atys and the Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis would have placed next to Virgil in his own language, even if Virgil had been all original: but from whom, let us add, Virgil has copied more than from any one except Homer; has adopted not only ideas but whole lines; whom he has, in short, repeatedly imitated, and not always improved. Critical and panegyrical quotations on particular poems are more appropriate to the notes; and of these two, suffice it here to observe, that the latter is in Latin composition surpassed by the Eneid alone; the first has no rival in any tongue. If a poet has sung of love, it seems as of course to accredit him also with a fondness for wine. Thus Pezay in the passage already quoted mentions of Catullus the "delire de l'Orgie," and Noel, a later French translator, attributes to him "des pieces echappees dans la double ivresse de "l'amour et du vin." However, in all Catullus there is only one poem, to his Cupbearer, which can be considered of a convivial nature, or at all indicative of such excesses. The prior English translator observes, that "a clean, well-pointed satire was his forte;" it may however be thought, on the contrary, that his satirical poems, taken altogether, most of which may rather be termed invectives, are those that do him the least credit. Some, as those on an Ingrate, to Cominius, and to Himself on the Times, seem the ungoverned ebullitions of rage; some are directed against unworthy and unfitting objects, and even, as those to Vettius, to Rufus, and to Mamurra's mistress, descend to remark upon personal defects: but among them the attacks upon Cesar for his favour to his profligate minion Mamurra, and to other unworthy hangerson, indicate that boldness and spirit of freedom from which alone exalted genius can borrow additional dignity. The consequence was, we know, at least not injurious to the poet: "Cesar," Suetonius writes, "though he felt that the lines, "which Valerius Catullus had written upon his attachment to Mamurra, had fixed a lasting stigma upon him, yet asked Catullus to supper on the very day of their appearance, and con"tinued, as before, to be frequently his father's guest." Whatever was Cesar's feeling, whether apathy, whether contempt, whether respect for literary men, and a wish to conciliate rather than to irritate them; whether he was subdued by a conviction of the truth of the imputations; or whether he deemed the prosecution of such - offences less likely to deter others by the punishment inflicted, than to injure himself by exciting sympathy with the culprit; whatever was his motive, it detracts nothing from the boldness of the poet, who had no reason to anticipate such a result. The poems of this class, however, that deserve reprehension for their subjects are but few. Some, as those to Furius on his poverty, on the interview with Varus and his mistress, and on Calvus's oratory, are merely jocular, and were probably no offence to the persons named; some, as those to Calvus in return for poems, to Aurelius and Furius, to the Courtezan who kept his tablets, and to his own Farm, seem to have been fairly called forth in his own behalf or defence; while many, as those on Suffenus, to Asinius, on a stupid Husband, to Verannius and Fabullus, to the Annals of Volusius, to Porcius and Socration, to Gellius, to Silo, and to Cinna, seem to have been directed against objects well worthy of exposure. It has pleased some editors to class "together several poems, the last in order, under the title of Epigrams. Many of them, however, are more properly elegiac, and few answer to the description of epigram, either in its antient or modern acceptation. The poems were probably classed originally according to their metre; and therefore we here still find the same natural tone which Catullus rarely or rather never lost. Only once in all his poems does he approach to any thing like a pun; and the reader who shall expect in this part of his works conceits or far-fetched thoughts, will often feel a similar contempt to that of Partridge for the acting of Garrick, and find, like him, that Catullus says nothing but what any man might say in the same situation. There remain some poems to be spoken of, not usually erected into a distinct class, but which may well justify such an arrangement, namely, the poetry of friendship and affection. This is a strain in which only a genius originally pure, however polluted by the immorality of its era, could descant with appropriate sentiment; which speaks with all the kindly warmth of love, while it refrains from its unreasoning rage; that adopts all its delicacy, without any tinge of its grossnessIt seems the Roman poet was almost never rude! Which rather begs the question: has Lamb actually read Catullus?
‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]
‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.
There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
George Lamb on Catullus
The poems of Caius Valerius Catullus, tr. with notes by G. Lamb (2 vols, 1821), 1:xxxvi-xli:
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