Poets Reciting Their Works in Public
It was anciently the custom in Rome, when a Poet had composed a Poem, to rehearse it before a public audience, that he might gather from them their sentiments, and receive their applause or their censure. Juvenal opens his Satires with a bitter preliminary concerning this manner of recitation, which indeed must have been intolerable; when, like the endless Epic of Orestes, it foamed over the very margins and covers.
Strabo tells us, that a Poet, one day, was reading in a public place to an audience, who listened to him with attention. During his recitation, a bell rung; which was usual when the market was going to be held. In the twinkling of the Poet’s eye, he beheld himself deserted by all his auditors, except one person; who, being very deaf, had not heard the bell. The Poet, imagining him to be a man who possessed a correct taste, and for this reason remained there to hear the last verse of his Poem, began to compliment him highly. ‘I cannot but be sensible,’ exclaimed the Poet, ‘to your judicious manner of treating me. While the others have flown off at the first ringing of the market-bell, you remain—favourite of Apollo!-to the conclusion of my Poem.'—‘What!’ interrupted the other hastily, ‘have they rung the bell for the market? And have I been losing all this time in listening to verses? Adieu! adieu!’ And went to rejoin the rest of the Poet’s auditors in the market-place.