This book is intended to supplement rather than to rival the modern histories of Latin literature, although I hope that, within its limits, it may give some idea of the aims and methods of Roman poets to those who have made little or no study of the subject. Sainte-Beuve has taught us to concentrate on a poet's personality, and our scanty knowledge of Virgil and Horace and still scantier conjectures about Lucretius and Catullus are the common property of existing histories. My own object is to emphasize the general character of Latin poetry -- to show (without, I trust, falling into the error of Taine's exploded method) the place of the poet as the interpreter of Roman life. I have therefore tried in the first place to indicate the general conception of poetry, as handed down by the Greek critics and modified by the Romans; and, secondly, to illustrate their theories by their actual practice, both in the choice of subjects and in technique. In regard to the subjects, I have chosen two of the greatest -- the poetic treatment of Nature and Philosophy; in technique, I have confined myself to the language and ornamental style, as metrical questions are apt to be over-technical for a work of this character.
Some of the statements in the following pages will no doubt seem a little obvious to professional critics; but long experience as a teacher has led me . . .