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Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

XXXVII. To Cornelius Priscus

I HAVE just heard of Valerius Martial’s death, which gives me great concern. He was a man of an acute and lively genius, and his writings abound in equal wit, satire, and kindliness. On his leaving Rome I made him a present to defray his travelling expenses, which I gave him, not only as a testimony of friendship, but also in return for the verses with which he had complimented me. It was the custom of the ancients to distinguish those poets with honours or pecuniary rewards, who had celebrated particular individuals or cities in their verses; but this good custom, along with every other fair and noble one, has grown out of fashion now; and in consequence of our having ceased to act laudably, we consider praise a folly and impertinence. You may perhaps be curious to see the verses which merited this acknowledgment from me, and I believe I can, from memory, partly satisfy your curiosity, without referring you to his works: but if you should be pleased with this specimen of them, you must turn to his poems for the rest. He addresses himself to his muse, whom he directs to go to my house upon the Esquiline, but to approach it with respect.

  • “Go, wanton muse, but go with care,
  • Nor meet, ill-tim’d, my Pliny’s ear;
  • He, by sage Minerva taught,
  • Gives the day to studious thought,
  • And plans that eloquence divine,
  • Which shall to future ages shine,
  • And rival, wondrous Tully! thine.
  • Then, cautious, watch the vacant hour,
  • When Bacchus reigns in all his pow’r;
  • When, crowned with rosy chaplets gay,
  • Catos might read my frolic lay.”
  • Do you not think that the poet who wrote of me in such terms deserved some friendly marks of my bounty then, and of my sorrow now? For he gave me the very best he had to bestow, and would have given more had it been in his power. Though indeed what can a man have conferred on him more valuable than the honour of never-fading praise? But his poems will not long survive their author, at least I think not, though he wrote them in the expectation of their doing so. Farewell.