THE IMAGE OF Horace
I am now at my leisure hours reading Horace with some diligence and find the world was just the same then, that it continues to be now. . . . ( Thomas Burnet to George Duckett, I June 1716)
THE single fact that best expresses the difference between Dryden and Pope is the active presence of Horace as a writer and a symbolic figure in Pope's life and poetry. In spite of his indebtedness to Horace in his prologues and his essays in verse, Dryden confessed 'that the delight which Horace gives me is but languishing', and he went so far as to describe the style of the Satires and Epistles as 'generally grovelling'. Horace and Pope might well reply with de te fabula narratur. It was altogether natural for Dryden to rise in satire to 'the majesty of the heroic', and though he adopts the 'legislative style' of Horace in the Religio Laici, at his most vigorous moments in the poem he writes in the heroicdeclamatory manner of Absalom and Achitophel. As we have seen from the Rape of the Lock, there is in Pope an opposite tendency to mask and modulate the heroic by talking to the reader in a tone that is 'Spectator-Horatian'. The essayists of the Spectator and the Tatler and similar periodicals were like Pope writing with Horace over their shoulder. Their literary style, their conception of their function as polite educators, their picture of the good life in town and country, are further signs of the effect of Horace's example. For the small yet influential class that created what we call eighteenth-century civilization, Horace was a kind of 'cultural hero', a description he would certainly find amusing, if we may judge from his self-portrait:
Quite small, grey before my time, made for the sun;
Quick to anger, yet after all easily soothed.
corporis exigui, praecanum, solibus aptum,
irasci celerem, tamen ut placabilis essem.1
(Epp. i. xx. 24-25)