During the Renaissance the classical tradition of panegyric attracted a body of critical commentary, not large but nevertheless influential. The general direction of this criticism is indicated by the Warwick recorder, who completes his definition of panegyricae by outlining the purpose of this kind of oratory.
. . . and because the [orations] were made in publike places and open assemblies of senators and counsaillors, they were callid both in Greek and Latyn panegyricae . In thies were sett fourth the commendacions of Kings and Emperors, with the sweet sound whereof, as the ears of evil Prynces were delightid by hearing there undeservid praises, so were good Princes by the plesaunt remembrance of their knowen and true vertues made better, being put in mynde of their office and government.
Elizabeth responded to these words when she answered her subject: "It was told me that youe would be fraid to look upon me, or to speak boldly; but you were not so afraid of me as I was of youe; and I now thank you for putting me in mynd of my duery, and that should be in me." The recorder's speech and the queen's response suggest that the Renaissance found a serious purpose behind panegyric: instruction of the monarch.
Perhaps the most cogent of didactic appreciations of panegyric was written early in the sixteenth century by Erasmus. Engaged to compose a panegyric to Philip of Burgundy, Erasmus fortified himself in his labor by re-
calling ancient examples. In a letter to the official orator of the University of Louvain, Erasmus writes:
Those persons who think Panegyrics are nothing but flattery, appear not to know with what design this kind of writing was invented by men of great sagacity, whose object it was, that by having the image of virtue put before them, bad princes might be made better, the good encouraged, the ignorant instructed, the mistaken set right, the wavering quickened, and even the abandoned brought to some sense of shame. Is it to be supposed that such a philosopher as Callisthenes, when he spoke in praise of Alexander, or that Lysias and Isocrates, or Pliny and innumerable others, when they were engaged in this kind of composition, had any other aim but that of exhorting to virtue under pretext of praise?
Erasmus, somewhat uncomfortable in the role of panegyrist, sets up two lines of defense against the charge of flattery: (1) panegyric presents an "image of virtue," not simply praise, and (2) panegyric has been written by respectable men and therefore must itself be respectable. Among these "men of great sagacity," Pliny stands out, for later in the same letter Erasmus mentions the panegyric to Trajan explicitly. And yet the name of Isocrates is the most revealing addition to this list. As Isocrates' Panegyrikos does not include celebration of a prince, Erasmus must also have another oration in mind. Possibly he is alluding to the Philip, where Isocrates transposes material from the Panegyrikos, thus shifting responsibility for national reconciliation to the shoulders of the prince he is praising, Philip of Macedon. More likely, however, Erasmus has in mind To Nicocles . Atleast external evidence points toward this particular model.
Erasmus's Panegyricus, presented to Archduke Philip of Burgundy on the sixth of January 1504, and published shortly thereafter, was not immediately forgotten, at least not by its author. References to the work occur periodically in subsequent correspondence, and in 1516 he appended the Panegyricus to the first edition of the Institutio Principis Christiani . The preface to this volume, moreover, is his own Latin translation of an extract from Isocrates' To Nicoles . This oration, a compendium of advice concerning a ruler's obligations to his subjects, is a perfect companion (as well as model) for Erasmus's own tract on the education of the prince. The inclusion of the Panegyricus in the same volume implies that Erasmus considered it also to have educational value. The republication of the panegyric a dozen years after the occasion for which it was written, in a volume that includes two tracts on royal education, is strong circumstantial evidence that Erasmus meant what he said when he defined the function of panegyric as "exhorting to virtue under pretext of praise."
The close connection between panegyric and the Renaissance tract on royal education can also be demonstrated by reference to interpretations of Claudian. In the first chapter of the second book of Sir Thomas Elyot's The Book named The Govemour (1531), where the author discusses the works necessary for a prince to read and "premeditate," we find a translation from "the verses of Claudian, the noble poet, which he wrote to Theodosius and Honorius, emperors of Rome." Elyot proposes that
the prince read selections from Claudian's panegyrics every day.
These verses of Claudian, full of excellent wisdom, as I have said, would be in a table, in such a place as a governor once in a day may behold them, specially as they be expressed in Latin by the said poet, unto whose eloquence no translation in English may be equivalent. But yet were it better to con them by heart . . .
Elyot's advice is later affirmed by none other than James VI (and I), who also quotes from Claudian in Basilikon Doron (15 99), urging his son Prince Henry to follow the precepts of the Panegyricus De Quarto Consulatu Honorii Augusti . When James himself came to the English throne four years later, he rode to his coronation through an arch inscribed with a citation from this very poem, meaning (according to Ben Jonson) that "no watch or guard could be so safe to the estate, or person of a Prince, as the love and natural affection of his subjects . . ." Underlying this citation (one of several extracts from Claudian appropriated for this occasion) is the traditional ideal of national reconciliation, here defined as harmony between the prince and the people.
As the above sententia from Claudian implies, pane-
gyric is addressed not only to the monarch, but also to his subjects. Renaissance commentators saw in classical panegyric admonitions to the people as well as instructions to the prince. This second, but obviously complementary, purpose of the genre emerges most clearly from interpretations of Pliny. The panegyric to Trajan, which went through numerous Latin editions during the Renaissance, was twice translated into English during the seventeenth century, first by Robert Stapylton in 1644 and then by White Kennet in 1686. Kennet introduced his version with a lengthy critical preface which demonstrates the durability of didactic interpretation, while emphasizing the function of panegyric as an address to the people.
As the date of his translation suggests, Kennet undertook the project with the accession of James II in mind. He devotes a significant part of the preface to declaring, first, a historical parallel between James and Trajan, and second, his dismay and surprise that his contemporaries have not come forward with Plinyesque celebrations of their new prince. He attributes this failure to the fear of being accused of "flattery." "Silence on this subject, where there may be so many temptations to be eloquent, can upon that caution onely be accounted for. However, what we dare not imitate, we may at least rehearse: And may apply a translation where we must not venture at a like Original." As Kennet proceeds to explain the significance of panegyric, we begin to see more clearly why he troubled to translate Pliny's speech at this particular time.
Since it is an impulse of Nature to celebrate that goodness by which we are influenced, and an universal instinct disposes to extoll our Benefactours; since too the infinite obligations of providence have now made subjection our happiness, as much as Religion has always assign'd our duty, and we have a Monarch so indulging, that our onely yoke is a pressure of inability to raise him a deserved commendation: It is obvious to reflect on this gratulatory Speech of Pliny, and to conclude that nothing pen'd at so wide a distance comes so nearly up for an application to our times.
Here the emphasis is not on the obligations of the prince, but on the duties of the subject. Kennet's translation of Pliny is his panegyric to James II, and its primary purpose is to solicit the allegiance of the people to this new Trajan. In his conclusion, Kennet expresses this purpose unequivocally.
And now I ask the Reader no other mercy, but that when he has run through this Character of a Roman Emperour, he would bless the Divine Providence for living under the protection of a more Gratious Monarch, who wants nothing but the united Allegiance of his Subjects to make him happier than Augustus, since Heaven's and his own goodness have already made him even Better than Trajan.
Whether James will actually be "Happier than Augustus" thus depends on the public audience of the panegyric.
Whether James will actually prove to be another Trajan, however, depends only on the king himself. Although Kennet directs his interpretive preface primarily to the people, he does not neglect the traditional advice to the
prince. He describes the didactic "intent" of Pliny's panegyric in such a way that James could hardly miss the point.
The intent of [the panegyric] . . . was first a deserv'd commendation of the good Trajan, and then the offer of a kind of winning Lecture to future Princes, (not by way of assertory instructions, which he was sensible would have look'd saucy and pedantick) by recommending the best of Precedents to insinuate upon their imitation, which had a more taking resemblance of modesty, and promis'd a stronger influence.
Whatever Pliny's intention in the original address to Trajan, Kennet's intention is quite evidently to use the translation as a means of instructing James. The phrase, "winning Lecture to future Princes," explains to the king how he should interpret Pliny's idealization of Trajan. Thus, by directing the responses of both the prince and the people, Kennet attempts to achieve domestic peace and national unity. In effect, he attempts to accomplish the traditional purpose of the Greek panegyrikos by translating a Roman panegyricus .
From the early sixteenth century to the end of the seventeenth, general discussion of panegyric as a literary genre is derived from commentary on particular classical authors, above all Isocrates, Pliny, and Claudian. The influence of these three ancient writers extends to Dryden and is reflected in his criticism. Toward the conclusion of his well-known discussion of Vergil and Ovid in the preface to the Sylvae, Dryden compares the latter poet with Claudian.
Ovid and Claudian, though they write in styles differing from each other, yet have each of them but one sort of music in their verses. All the versification and little variety of Claudian is included within the compass of four or five lines, and then he begins again the same tenor; perpetually dosing his sense at the end of a verse . . .
The reference to Claudian is slighting, to be sure, but the remarkable fact is that Dryden mentions him at all, as his criticism of Latin literature is concentrated on the golden and silver ages. Justifying his own poetry by comparison with the great Augustan poets, Vergil above all, Dryden had little need to invoke the relatively obscure name of Claudian. As this reference indicates, however, it is entirely probable, if not certain, that Dryden had read Claudian's panegyrics. It has been fifty years since Mark Van Doren first suggested similarities between Claudian and Dryden, and yet, to my knowledge, no one has ever pursued the idea. Van Doren wrote: "The last great Roman poet, Claudian, was a professional panegyrist; his verses in praise of Honorius and Stilicho . . . look forward to the poetry of Dryden in respect to their fertility, ingenuity, and general temper." Whether or not Claudian directly influenced Dryden, the two poets are at least indirectly Linked (as Van Doren implies) by the tradition of panegyric.
That Dryden was conscious of this tradition is quite emphatically demonstrated in the critical dedication to Eleonora, which he subtitled a "panegyrical poem."
And on all occasions of praise, if we take the Ancients for our patterns, we are bound by prescription to employ the magnificence of words, and the force of figures, to adorn the sublimity of thoughts. Isocrates amongst the Grecian orators, and Cicero, and the younger Pliny, amongst the Romans, have left us their precedents for our security . . .
Although Dryden emphasizes style rather than purpose, his list recalls the very similar one penned by Erasmus almost two centuries earlier. The addition of Cicero's name (probably a reference to an oration like the Pro Marcello) only confirms Dryden's recognition of the oratorical origins of the genre. But Dryden extends his list of "patterns" by alluding to a fellow poet, not Claudian in this instance, but Pindar. "I think I need not mention the inimitable Pindar who stretches on these pinions out of sight, and is carried upward, as it were, into another world." Although Dryden's allusion almost certainly owes something to the seventeenth-century revival of the "Pindaric" ode, his identification of Pindar with the tradition of panegyric is, for its time, still unusual. Before Dryden, criticism of panegyric emphasizes its oratorical mode, illustrated most often by the Roman example of Pliny. Dryden, by coupling Pliny and Pindar in his list of models for panegyric, suggests a broader notion of the genre, one that unites the Greek ode with Roman oratory.
Because Pindar's odes celebrate men as heroes rather
than as rulers, Dryden's allusion also contains the implication that panegyric too is a heroic genre. In fact, years earlier Dryden had explicitly acknowledged his heroic conception of the genre by linking panegyric and epic. Attempting to find a generic niche for Annus Mirabilis, Dryden observes that the "same images serve equally for the epic poesy, and for the historic and panegyric, which are branches of it . . ." The inclusion of panegyric in this comparison is an important, if cryptic, piece of criticism. It is important because it places a traditionally oratorical genre within the highest genre of poetry, cryptic because Dryden offers no explanation that would justify such a lofty comparison. The context does indicate, however, that the main point of comparison is in the "images." By this Dryden seems to mean the portrayal (or image) of the hero, for he goes on to speak of two types of heroic image: (1) "heroesdrawn in their triumphal chariots, and in their full proportion," and (2) "others [in which] . . . there is somewhat more of softness and tenderness to be shown . . ." In either case, Dryden concludes that the purpose of heroic "images" is to "beget admiration," in contrast to the images of the burlesque mode, which "beget laughter." Panegyric, then, like epic, will inspire the reader's admiration.
But admiration, as seventeenth- (and eighteenth-) century writers were quick to point out, may be tinged with envy. Sir William Davenant, for example, saw this as a particular problem in shaping his idea of Gondibert .
I was likewise more willing to derive my Theme from elder times, as thinking it no little mark of skilfulness to comply with the common Infirmity; for men, even of the best education, discover their eyes to be weak when they look upon the glory of Vertue, which is great actions, and rather endure it at distance then neer, being more apt to beleeve and love the renown of Predecessors then of Contemporaries, whose deeds, excelling theirs in their own sight, seem to upbraid them, and are not reverenc'd as examples of Vertue, but envy'd as the favours of Fortune.
Although Davenant finds this distinction between past and present a necessary one, if the reader's admiration is not to degenerate into envy, he goes on to point out an important connection between past heroes and contemporary princes. "Princes and Nobles, being reform'd and made Angelicall by the Heroick, will be predominant lights, which the people cannot chuse but use for direction, as Glowonns take in and keep the Suns beams till they shine and make day to themselves." Here, then, is a dual theory of admiration: princes admire and emulate the epic hero and thus become worthy of such admiration themselves. In this account of epic theory Davenant approaches Erasmus's defense of panegyric,
the main difference being that the "Theme" of epic comes from "elder times," whereas panegyric is concerned directly with the present.
Thomas Hobbes takes for granted this connection between ancient heroes and contemporary royalty in his answer to Davenant's preface. "For there is in Princes and men of conspicuous power, anciently called Heroes, a lustre and influence upon the rest of men resembling that of the Heavens . . ." Whereas Davenant sees in the epic hero a model for the modern prince, Hobbes looks at the modern prince and sees an ancient hero. Hobbes derives his view from his familiar geographical scheme of poetic genres. Court, city, and country all have their appropriate "kinds" of poetry: heroic, satiric, and pastoral, respectively. Heroic poetry, the poetry associated with the court, would naturally include panegyric as one of its "branches." When Dryden calls panegyric a "branch" of epic, he perceives and acknowledges the fundamental similarity between contemporary criticism of epic and contemporary criticism of panegyric.
When Dryden speculated about his own proposed epic of Arthurian or Plantagenet Britain, he stated plainly that the leaders of his own day would be honored in the poem. Indeed, it was partly on this basis that he sought patronage for the project. Addressing the Earl of Mulgrave, he writes: "Your Lordship has been long acquainted with my design, the subject of which you know is great, the story English, and neither too far distant from the present age, nor too near approaching it. Such it is, in my opinion, that I could not have wished a nobler
occasion to do honor by it to my king, my country, and my friends; most of our ancient nobility being concerned in the action." Dryden thus conceived of his epic in Vergilian-Spenserian terms, as presenting an analogy between past and present. An epic about an ancient king and nobility would also be an epic about a contemporary king and nobility. As Dryden never wrote the epic, his panegyrics to "men of conspicuous power" (to borrow Hobbes's phrase) assume a special importance in his career as a partial substitute for the great poem he long aspired to write.
Although regrettably terse, Dryden's criticism of panegyric describes a more complex and more significant genre than previous critics would have led us to expect. By invoking Isocrates and Pliny, Dryden places his criticism of panegyric in the Renaissance tradition initiated by Erasmus. By placing panegyric in the same constellation of genres as the Pindaric ode and the epic, he dignifies the genre as a kind of heroic poetry. This implicit accommodation between classical oratory and classical poetry is, however, shadowed by a recognition that it is "difficult to write justly on any thing, but almost impossible in praise." In the preface to The Spanish Friar (1681), Dryden even remarks indignantly on "the stale, exploded trick of fulsome panegyrics" which are not "worthy of a noble mind." Although it is possible to dismiss this remark as a device Dryden uses to free him-
self from the customary tributes required in dedications (thus allowing him to write a critical preface instead), it clearly forecasts eighteenth-century criticism of the genre. From the time of Erasmus to the time of Dryden, appeals to classical authority and precedent prevail over the persistent charge of flattery, but in the eighteenth century a rapid reversal takes place and criticism of the genre becomes universally an opportunity for ridicule.
From this chorus of voices speaking against panegyric we can distinguish those of Swift, in A Tale of a Tub, and Pope, in The Dunciad Variorum . Starting from the assumption that panegyric is mere flattery, "Bundles of Flattery," in fact, Swift makes two important observations: (1) that panegyric is difficult to write and dull to read, and (2) that it is never well received by the general public. The difficulty and dullness of the genre are due to the lack of variety found in the form.
For, the Materials of Panegyrick being very few in Number, have been long since exhausted: For, as Health is but one Thing, and has been always the same, whereas Diseases are by thousands, besides new and daily Additions; So, all the Virtues that have been ever in Mankind, are to be counted upon a few Fingers, but his Follies and Vices are innumerable, and Time adds hourly to the Heap. Now, the utmost a poor Poet can do, is to get by heart a List of the Cardinal Virtues, and deal them with his utmost Liberality to his Hero or his Patron.
The cool public reception Swift, echoing Davenant, attributes to envy.
but, tho' the Matter for Panegyrick were as fruitful as the Topicks of Satyr, yet would it not be hard to find out a sufficient Reason, why the latter will be always better received than the first. For, this being bestowed only upon one or a few Persons at a time, is sure to raise Envy, and consequently ill words from the rest, who have no share in the Blessing.
Extending Swift's conception of the genre as dull flattery, Pope makes Elkanah Settle the prince of dullness precisely because he wrote panegyrics.
Settle was alive at this time, and Poet to the City of London . His office was to compose yearly panegyricks upon the Lord Mayors, and Verses to be spoken in the Pageants: But that part of the shows being by the frugality of some Lord Mayors at length abolished, the employment of City Poet ceas'd; so that upon Settle's demise, there was no successor to that place. This important point of time our Poet has chosen, as the Crisis of the Kingdom of Dulness . . .
In the eighteenth century to write panegyrics is, almost by definition, to be acclaimed a dull author.
The most significant criticism of panegyric in the eighteenth century, however, was written between the time of Swift's tale and Pope's epic. In the second edition of his Characteristics (1714), the third Earl of Shaftesbury discusses the problems of the genre in some detail.
Our encomium or panegyrick is as fulsome and displeasing; by its prostitute and abandon'd manner of Praise. The worthy Persons who are the Subjects of it, may well be esteem'd Sufferers by the Manner. And the Publick, whether it will or
no, is forc'd to make untoward Reflections, when led to it by such Satirizing Panegyrists . For in reality the Nerve and Sinew of modern Panegyrick lies in a dull kind of Satire; which the Author, it's true, intends shou'd turn to the advantage of his Subject; but which, if I mistake not, will appear to have a very contrary Effect.
By equating "encomium" and "panegyric," by implicitly distinguishing "modern Panegyrick " from ancient panegyric, Shaftesbury places his criticism in the immediate context of contemporary literature. Instead of conjuring up ancient examples to justify the practice of writers like Settle, Shaftesbury concentrates on the actual "Effect" of reading such modern verse, with the result that panegyric is perceived as a form of satire. When the author intends praise, "a dull kind of Satire" emerges. When, we might add, the author does not intend praise, the formulas of panegyric can provide a framework for a very sharp kind of satire.
There is of course nothing new about ironic or paradoxical praise. As Henry K. Miller's study of the subject has shown, the tradition is an ancient one and even includes works by authors of serious panegyrics. But Isocrates did not call his ironic praise of Helen a "panegyric" and Erasmus, who celebrates Philip of Burgundy in a "panegyric," praises folly in an "encomium." Moreover, Miller's list of English paradoxical encomia from 1600 to
1800 includes no work titled "panegyric" before 1660, only four from 1660 to 1700, and twelve from 1700 to 1800. Although this list is not exhaustive, it is indicative of the trend. The term "panegyric" is not only generalized in the eighteenth century to mean the equivalent of "encomium," it also comes generically to imply its opposite, satire. It is this paradoxical conception of the genre that motivates Swift to propose A Panegyrical Essay upon the Number THREE and A Panegyrick upon the World, Gay to write A Panegyrical Epistle to Mr. Thomas Snow, Goldsmith, near Temple-Barr, Henry Carey to ridicule Ambrose Philips in Namby-Pamby; or a Panegyric on the new versification, Pope to do the same for George II in the "Panegyric strains" of the epistle "To Augustus," and Fielding to compose "a Panegyric or rather Satire on the Passion of Love, in the sublime Style" in Joseph Andrews . Just as Fielding's equation of "panegyric" and "encomium" in Tom Jones confirms the evolution of "panegyric" from a specific to a general term, so his equation of panegyric and satire in Joseph Andrews confirms the evolution of panegyric from a serious to a comic genre.
We can conclude this introductory chapter by tentatively placing Dryden against this evolutionary background. Dryden's career bridges the gap between the
serious Renaissance appreciation of panegyric and its comic inversion in the eighteenth century. Consideration of Dryden and the tradition of panegyric will put us in touch not only with the genre he most wanted to write, epic, but also with the genre he actually did write with most success, satire. To understand Dryden's own unique accommodation of panegyric, epic, and satire, however, we must first establish with greater care the classical heritage of panegyric, defined as: an oration addressed to a monarch, or other figure of "conspicuous power," on a public, ceremonial occasion.