1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Satire

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SATIRE (Lat. sativa, satura; see below). Satire, in its literary aspect, may be defined as the expression in adequate terms of the sense of amusement or disgust excited by the ridiculous or unseemly, provided that humour is a distinctly recognizable element, and that the utterance is invested with literary form. Without humour, satire is invective; without literary form, it is mere clownish jeering. It is indeed exceedingly difficult to define the limits between satire and the regions of literary sentiment into which it shades. The first exercise of satire was no doubt coarse and boisterous. It must have consisted in gibing at personal defects; and Homer's description of Thersites, the earliest example of literary satire that has come down to us, probably conveys an accurate delineation of the first satirists. The character reappears in the heroic romances of Ireland and elsewhere; and it is everywhere implied that the licensed backbiter is a warped and distorted being, readier with his tongue than his hands. To dignify satire by rendering it the instrument of morality or the associate of poetry was a development implying considerable advance in the literary art. The latter is the course adopted in the Old Testament, where the few passages approximating to satire, such as Jotham's parable of the bramble and Job's ironical address to his friends, are embellished either by fancy or by feeling. An intermediate stage between personal ridicule and the correction of faults and follies seems to have been represented in Greece by the Margites, attributed to Homer, which, while professedly lampooning an individual, practically rebuked the meddling sciolism impersonated in him. In the accounts that have come down to us of the writings of Archilochus, the first great master of satire, we seem to trace the elevation of the instrument.of private animosity to an element in public life. Though almerciless assailant of individuals, Archilochus was also a distinguished statesman, naturally for the most part in opposition, and his writings seem to have fulfilled many of the functions of a newspaper press. Their merit is attested by Quintilian; and Gorgias's comparison of them with Plato's persiflage of the Sophists proves that their virulence must have been tempered by grace and refinement. Archilochus also gave satiric poetry its accepted form by the invention of the iambic trimeter, slightly modified into the scazonic meter by his successors. Simonides of Arnorgus and Hipponax were distinguished like Archilochus for the bitterness of their attacks on individuals, with which the former combined a strong ethical feeling and the latter a bright active fancy. All three were restless and turbulent, aspiring and discontented, impatient of abuses and theoretically enamoured of liberty; and the loss of their writings, which would have thrown great light on the politics as well as the manners of Greece, is to be lamented. With Hipponax the direct line of Greek satire is interrupted; but two new forms of literary composition, capable of being the vehicles of satire, almost simultaneously appear. Fable is first heard of in Asiatic Greece about this date; and, although its original intention does not seem to have been satirical its adaptability to satiric purposes was soon discovered. A far more important step was the elevation of the rude fun of rustic merry makings to a literary status by the evolution of the drama from the Bacchic festival. The means had now been found of allying the satiric spirit with exalted poetry, and their union was consummated in the comedies of Aristophanes.

A rude form of satire had existed in Italy from an early date in the shape of the Fescennine verses, the rough and licentious pleasantry of the vintage and harvest, which, lasting down to the 16th century, inspired Tansillo's Vendemmiatore. As in Greece, these eventually, about 364 {sc|B.C.}}, were developed into a rude drama, originally introduced as a religious expiation. This was at first, Livy tells us (vii. 2), merely pantomimic, as the dialect of the Tuscan actors imported for the occasion was not understood at Rome. Verse, “ like to the Fescennine verses in point of style and manner," was soon added to accompany the mimetic action, and, with reference to the variety of metres employed, these probably improvised composition were entitled Saturae, a term denoting miscellany, and derived from the satura lanx, “ a charger filled with the first-fruits of the year's produce, anciently offered to Bacchus and Ceres." The Romans thus had originated the name of satire, and, in so far as the Fescennine drama consisted of raillery and ridicule, possessed the thing also; but it had not yet assumed a literary form among them. Livius Andronicus (240 B.C.), the first regular Latin dramatic poet, appears to have been little more than a translator from the Greek. Satires are mentioned among the literary productions of Ennius (200 B.C.) and Pacuvius (170 B.C.), but the title rather refers to the variety of metres employed than to the genius of the composition. The real inventor of Roman satire is Gaius Lucilius (148–103 B.C.), whose Sagfirae seem to have been mostly satirical in the modern accetation of the term, while the subjects of some of them prove that the title continued to be applied to miscellaneous collections of poems, as was the case even to the time of Varro, whose “ Saturae " included prose as well as verse, and appear to have been only partially satirical. The fragments of Lucilius preserved are scanty, but the verdict of Horace, Cicero and Quintilian demonstrates that he was a considerable poet. It is needless to dwell on compositions so universally known as the Satires of Lucilius's successor Horace, in whose hands this class of composition received a new development, becoming genial, playful and persuasive. “ Arch Horace strove to mend." The didactic element preponderates still more in the philosophical satires of Persius. Yet another form of satire, the rhetorical, was carried to the utmost limits of excellence by Juvenal, the first example of a great tragic satirist. Nearly at the same time Martial, improving on earlier Roman models now lost, gave that satirical turn to the epigram which it only exceptionally possessed in Greece, but has ever since retained. About the same time another variety of satire came into vogue, destined to become the most important of any. The Milesian tale, a form of entertainment probably of Eastern origin, grew in the hands of Petronius and Apuleius into the satirical romance, immensely widening the satirist's field and exempting him from the restraints of metre. Petronius's “ Supper of Trimalchio " is the revelation of a new vein, never fully worked till our days. As the novel arose upon the ruins of the epic, so dialogue sprang up upon the wreck of comedy. In Lucian comedy appears adapted to suit the exigencies of an age in which a living drama had become impossible. With him antique satire expires as a distinct branch of literature,—though mention should be made of the sarcasms and libels with which the population of Egypt were for centuries accustomed to insult the Roman conqueror and his parasites. A denunciation of the apostate poet Hor-Uta—a kind of Egyptian “ Lost Leader "-composed under Augustus, has been published by M. Revillout from a demotic papyrus.

After the great deluge of barbarism has begun to retire, one form of satire after another peeps forth from the receding flood, the order of development being determined by the circumstances of time and place. In the Byzantine empire, indeed, the link of continuity is unbroken, and such raillery of abuses as is possible under a despotism finds vent in the pale copies of Lucian published in Adolf Ellissen's Analekten. The first really important satire, however, is a product of western Europe, recurring to the primitive form of fable, upon which, nevertheless, it constitutes a decided advance. Reynard the Fox, a genuine expression of the shrewd and homely Teutonic mind. is a landmark in literature. It gave the beast-epic a development of which the ancients had not dreamed, and showed how ridicule could be conveyed in a form difficult to resent. About the same time, probably, the popular instinct, perhaps deriving a hint from Rabbinical literature, fashioned Morolf, the prototype of Sancho Panza, the incarnation of sublunar mother-wit contrasted with the starry wisdom of Solomon; and the Till Eulenspiegel is a kindred Teutonic creation, but later and less significant. Piers Ploughman, the next great work of the class, adapts the apocalyptic machinery of monastic and anchoritic vision to the purposes of satire, as it had often before been adapted to those of ecclesiastical aggrandizement. The clergy were scourged with their own rod by a poet and a Puritan too earnest to be urbane. Satire is a distinct element in Chaucer and Boccaccio, who nevertheless cannot be ranked as satirists. The mock-heroic is successfully revived by Luigi Pulci, and the political songs of the 14th and I5th centuries attest the diffusion of a sense of humour among the people at large. The Renaissance, restoring the knowledge and encouraging the imitation of classic models, sharpened the weapons and enlarged the armoury of the satirist. Partly, perhaps, because Erasmus was no poet, the Lucianic dialogue was the form in the ascendant of his age. Erasmus not merely employed it against superstition and ignorance with infinite and irresistible pleasantry, but fired by his example a bolder writer, untrammelled by the dignity of an arbiter in the republic of letters. The ridicule of Ulric von Hutten's Epistolae obscurorum virorum is annihilating, and the art there for the first time fully exemplified though long previously introduced by Plato, of putting the ridicule into the mouth of the victim, is perhaps the most deadly shaft in the quiver of sarcasm. It was afterwards used with even more pointed wit though with less exuberance of humour by Pascal, the first modern example, if Dante may not be so classed of a great tragic satirist. Ethical satire is vigorously represented by Sebastian Brant and his imitator Alexander Barclay; but in general the metrical satirists of the age seem tame in comparison with Erasmus and Hutten, though including the great name of Machiavelli. Sir Thomas More cannot be accounted a satirist, but his idea of an imaginary commonwealth embodied the germ of much subsequent satire.

In the succeeding period politics take the place of literature and religion, producing in France the Satyre Mértippée, elsewhere the satirical romance as represented by the Argenis of Barclay, which may be defined as the adaptation of the style of Petronius to state affairs. In Spain, where no freedom of criticism existed, the satiric spirit took refuge in the novela picaresca, the prototype of Le Sage and the ancestor of Fielding; Quevedo revived the medieval device of the vision as the vehicle of reproof; and Cervantes's immortal work might be classed as a satire were it not so much more. About the same time we notice the appearance of direct imitation of the Roman satirists in English literature in the writings of Donne, Hall and Marston, the further elaboration of the mock-heroic by Tassoni, and the culmination of classical Italian satire in Salvator Rosa. The prodigious development of the drama at this time absorbed much talent that would otherwise have been devoted to satire proper. Most of the great dramatists of the 17th century were more or less satirists, Molière perhaps the most consummate that ever existed; but, with an occasional exception like Les Précieuses ridicules, the range of their works is too wide to admit of their being regarded as satires. The next great example of unadulterated satire is Butler's Hudibras, and perhaps one more truly representative of satiric aims and methods cannot easily be found. At the same period dignified political satire, bordering on invective, received a great development in Andrew Marvell's Advices to a Painter, and was shortly afterwards carried to perfection in Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel; while the light literary parody of which Aristophanes had given the pattern in his assaults on Euripides, and which Shakespeare had handled somewhat carelessly in the Midsummer Night's Dream, was effectively revived in the duke of Buckingham's Rehearsal. In France Boileau was long held to have attained the ne plus ultra of the Horatian style in satire and of the mock-heroic, but Pope was soon to show that further progress was possible in both. The polish, point and concentration of Pope remain unsurpassed, as do the amenity of Addison and the daring yet severely logical imagination of Swift; while the History of John Bull and the Pseudologia place their friend Arbuthnot in the first rank of political satirists.

The 18th century was, indeed, the age of satire. Serious poetry had for the time worn itself out; the most original geniuses of the age, Swift, Defoe and Richardson, are decidedly prosaic, and Pope, though a true poet, is less of a poet than Dryden. In process of time imaginative power revives in Goldsmith and Rousseau; meanwhile Fielding and Smollett have fitted the novel to be the vehicle of satire and much beside, and the literary stage has for a time been almost wholly engrossed by a colossal satirist, a man who has dared the universal application of Shaftesbury's maxim that ridicule is the test of truth. The world had never before seen a satirist on the scale of Voltaire, nor had satire ever played such a part as a factor in impending change. As a master of sarcastic mockery he is unsurpassed; his manner is entirely his own; and he is one of the most intensely national of writers, notwithstanding his vast obligations to English humorists, statesmen and philosophers. English humour also played an important part in the literary regeneration of Germany, where, after Liscow and Rabener, imitators of Swift and the essayists, Lessing, imbued with Pope but not mastered by him, showed how powerful an auxiliary satire can be to criticism—a relation which Pope had somewhat inverted. Another great German writer, Wieland, owes little to the English, but adapts Lucian and Petronius to the 18th century with playful if somewhat mannered grace. Fortum's Jobsiad, a most humorous poem, innovates successfully upon established models by making low life, instead of chivalry, the subject of burlesque. Goethe and Schiller, Scott and Wordsworth, are now at hand, and as imagination gains ground satire declines. Byron, who in the 18th century would have been the greatest of satirists, is hurried by the spirit of his age into passion and description, bequeathing, however, a splendid proof of the possibility of allying satire with sublimity in his Vision of Judgment. Moore gives the epigram a lyrical turn; Béranger, not for the first time in French literature, makes the gay chanson the instrument of biting jest; and the classic type receives fresh currency from Auguste Barbier. Courier, and subsequently Cormenin, raise the political pamphlet to literary dignity by their poignant wit. Peacock evolves a new type of novel from the study of Athenian comedy. Miss Edgeworth skirts the confines of satire, and Miss Austen seasons her novels with the most exquisite satiric traits. Washington Irving revives the manner of The Spectator, and Tieck brings irony and persiflage to the discussion of critical problems. Two great satiric figures remain—one representative of his nation, the other most difficult to class. In all the characteristics of his genius Thackeray is thoroughly English, and the faults and follies he chastises are those especially characteristic of British society. Good sense and the perception of the ridiculous are amalgamated in him; his satire is a thoroughly British article, a little over-solid, a little wanting in finish, but honest, weighty and durable. Posterity must go to him for the humours of the age of Victoria, as they go to Addison for those of Anne's. But Heine hardly belongs to any nation or country, time or place. He ceased to be a German without becoming a Frenchman, and a Jew without becoming a Christian. Only one portrait really suits him, that in Tieck's allegorical tale, where he is represented as a capricious and mischievous elf; but his song is sweeter and his command over the springs of laughter and tears greater than it suited Tieck's purpose to acknowledge. In him the satiric spirit, long confined to established literary forms, seems to obtain unrestrained freedom to wander where it will, nor have the ancient models been followed since by any considerable satirist except the Italian Giusti. The machinery employed by Moore was indeed transplanted to America by James Russell Lowell, whose Biglow Papers represent perhaps the highest moral level yet attained by satire.

In no age was the spirit of satire so generally diffused as in the 19th century, but many of its eminent writers, while bordering on the domains of satire, escape the definition of satirist. The term cannot be properly applied to Dickens, the keen observer of the oddities of human life; or to George Eliot, the critic of its emptiness when not inspired by a worthy purpose; or to Balzac, the painter of French society; or to Trollope, the mirror of the middle classes of England. If Sartor Resartus could be regarded as a satire, Carlyle woulci rank among the first of satirists; but the satire, though very obvious, rather accompanies than inspires the composition. The number of minor satirists of merit, on the other hand, is legion. Poole, in his broadly farcical Little Pedlington, rang the changes with inexhaustible ingenuity on a single fruitful idea; Jerrold's comedies sparkle with epigrams, and his tales and sketches overflow with quaint humour; Mallock, in his New Republic, made the most of personal mimicry, the lowest form of satire; Samuel Butler (Erewhon) holds an inverting mirror to the world's face with imperturbable gravity; the humour of Bernard Shaw has always an essential character of satire the sharpest social lash. One remarkable feature of the modern age is the union of caricature (q.v.) with literature.  (R. G.)