14 August 2013

Strong Meat for Mature Minds

Harry Lyman Koopman, The Booklover and His Books (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1917), pp. 68-69:
Byron speaks of reading and hating Horace as a schoolboy, but no normal person can hate Horace any more than he can hate Washington Irving. It is possible, however, that pupils who have to read Irving's "Sketch Book" with the fear of a college entrance examination before their minds may have no affection even for him. So some of us may have something to unlearn in our reading of Vergil and Horace, for we must approach their works as strong meat for mature minds. Vergil's theme is nothing less than the glorification of the Roman state through its divinely ordered and heroic founding. School children seldom read more than the six books of the "Aeneid" required for college; but the other six, though of much less varied interest, are necessary for the appreciation of the poem. The whole is a work that no one can afford to pass over in his search for the burning words that keep alive the thought of other ages. Very different in theme and manner is the poetry of Horace. He is the most modern of all the men of old, far more modern than our own Puritan ancestors. His mixture of grace and shrewdness, poetic charm and worldly wisdom, we find nowhere else. The bulk of his work is not large, and this fact, as in the case of Gray and Keats and Poe, is rather in his favor, because the reader can easily become familiar with it all, though then he will sigh for more. Horace wears well; the older we grow the better we like him. He has love songs for youth, political poems for maturity, and satires for old age. After we have lived with him for half a century he becomes more real to us than most of our acquaintances in the flesh. Roman literature is not without other great names to attract the student; but these two must not be overlooked by the most general or the most selective reader.