Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NONUMQUE PREMATUR IN ANNUM, by JOHN BYROM



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NONUMQUE PREMATUR IN ANNUM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Ye poets, and critics, and men of the schools
Last Line: And by all future printers unumque be printed.
Subject(s): Horace (65-8 B.c.); Poetry & Poets; Translating & Interpreting


YE poets, and critics, and men of the schools,
Who talk about Horace and Horace's rules,
Ye learned admirers, how comes it, I wonder,
That none of you touch a most tangible blunder?
I speak not to servile and sturdy logicians,
Who will, right or wrong, follow printed editions;
But you, who are judges, come, rub up your eyes,
And unshackle your wits, and I'll shew where it lies.

Amongst other rules, which your Horace has writ,
To make his young Piso for Poetry fit,
He tells him that verses should not be pursued
When the Muse or Minerva was not in the mood;
That "whate'er he should write, he should let it descend
"To the ears of his father, his master, his friend;"
"And let it lie by him"—now prick up your ears—
Nonumque prematur in annum—"nine years."

"Nine years!" I repeat—For, the sound is enough,
With the help of plain sense, to discover the stuff.
If the rule had been new, what a figure would "nine"
Have made with your Pisos, ye masters of mine?
Must a youth of quick parts, for his verse's perfection
Let it lie for "nine years"—in the house of correction?
Nine years if his verses must lie in the leaven,
Take the young rogue himself, and transport him for seven.

To make this a maxim that Horace infuses,
Must provoke all the laughter of all the nine Muses.
How the wits of old Rome in a case so facetious
Would have jok'd upon Horace, and Piso, and Metius,
If they all could not make a poetical line
Ripe enough to be read, till the year had struck nine!
Had the boy been possess'd of nine lives like a cat,
Yet surely he'd ne'er have submitted to that.

"Vah!" says an old critic, "indefinite number
"To denote many years"—(which is just the same lumber)
Quotes a length of Quintilian for time to retouch,
But wisely stops short at his blaming too much.
"Some took many years," he can instance, in fine,
"Isocrates ten, Poet Cinna just nine"—
Rare instance of taking, which, had he been cool,
Th' old critic had seen, never could be a rule.

"Indeed," says a young one, "nine years, I confess,
"Is a desperate while for a youth to suppress;
"I can hardly think Horace would make it a point;
"The word, to be sure, must be out of its joint;
"Lie by with a nonum!—Had I been his Piso,
"I would have told little Fatty, mine never should lie so.
"Had he said for nine months, I should think them enow:
"This reading is false, Sir, pray tell us the true."

Why, you are not far off it, if present conjecture
May furnish the place with a probable lecture;
For by copies, I doubt, either printed or written,
The hundreds of editors all have been bitten.
Nine months you allow.—"Yes."—Well, let us, for fear
Of affronting Quintilian, e'en make it a year:
Give the critics their numque, but as to their no—
You have one in plain English more fit to bestow.

I take the correction, unumque prematur—
"Let it lie for one twelve-month"—"Ay, that may hold water;
"And time enough too for consulting about
"Master Piso's performance before it came out.
"What! would Horace insist that the sketch of a boy
"Should take as much time as the taking of Troy?
"They that bind out the young one say, when the old fellow
"Took any time like it, to make a thing mellow,

"Tho' correct in his trifles,"—Young man, you say right;
And to them that will see, it is plain at first sight;
But critics that will not are hunting all round
For something in sameness, in sense, or in sound;
It is all one to them, so attach'd to the letter
That, to make better sense, makes it never the better.
Nay the more sense in readings, the less will they own 'em;
You must leave to these sages their mumpsimus nonum.

"Do you think," they cry out, "that with so little wit
"Such a world of great critics on Horace have writ?
"That the poets themselves, were the blunder so plain,
"In a point of their art too, would let it remain?"—
For you are to consider, these critical chaps
Do not like to be snubb'd; you may venture, perhaps,
An amendment where they can see somewhat amiss;
But may raise their ill blood, if you circulate this.

"This as surely will circulate, Sir, as their blood,
"Or, if not, it will stand as in Horace it stood.
"They may wrangle and jangle, unwilling to see,
"But the thing is as clear as a whistle to me.
"This nonum of theirs no defence will admit,
"Except that a blot is no blot till 'tis hit;
"And, now you have hit it, if nonum content 'em,
"So would, if the verse had so had it, nongentum."

You'll say, "this is painting of characters"—true;
But really, good Sirs, I have met with these two:
The first, in all comments quite down to the Delphin,
A man, if he likes it, may look at himself in:
The last if you like, and, along with the youth,
Prefer to nonumque poetical truth,
Then blot out the blunder, now here it is hinted,
And by all future printers unumque be printed.





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