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HAVING treated of pastoral and lyric poetry, I proceed next to didactic poetry; under which is included a numerous class of writings. The ultimate end of all poetry, indeed, of every composition, should be to make some useful impression on the mind. This useful impression is most commonly made in poetry, by indirect methods; as by fable, by narration, by representation of characters ; but didactic poetry openly professes its intention of conveying knowledge and instruction. It differs, therefore, in the form only, not in the scope and substance, from a philosophical, a moral, or a critical treatise in prose. At the same time, by means of its form, it has several advantages over prose instruction. By the charm of versification and numbers, it renders instruction more agreeable; by the descriptions, episodes, and other embellishments, which it may interweave, it detains, and engages the fancy; it fixes also useful circumstances more deeply in the memory. Hence, it is a field, wherein a poet may gain great honour, may display both much genius, and much knowledge and judgment. It may be executed in different manners. The poet may choose some instructive subject, and he may treat it regularly, and in form; or, without intending a great or regular work, he may only inveigh against particular, vices or make some moral observations on human life and characters, as is commonly done in satires and epistles. All these come under the denomination of didactic poetry.

The highest species of it, is a regular treatise on some philosophical, grave, or useful subject. Of this nature we have several, both ancient and modern, of great merit and character: such as Lucretius's six books De Rerum Natura, Virgil's Georgics, Pope's Essay on Criticism, Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination, Armstrong on Health, Horace's Vida's, and Boileau's Art of Poetry.

In all such works, as instruction is the professed object, the fundamental merit consists in sound thought, just principles, clear and apt illustrations. The poet must instruct; but he must study, at the same time, to enliven his instructions, by the introduction of such figures, and such circumstances, as may amuse the imagination, may conceal the dryness of his subject, and embellish it with poetical painting. Virgil, in his Georgics, presents us here with a perfect model. He has the art of raising and beautifying the most trivial circumstances in rural life. When he is going to say, that the labour of the country must begin in spring, he expresses himself thus:

Vere novo, gelidus canis cum montibus humor
Liquitur, et Zephyro putris se gleba resolvit ;
Depresso incipiat jam tum mihi Taurus aratro
Ingemere, & sulco attritus splendescere vomer.*

Instead of telling his husbandman in plain language, that his crops will fail through bad management, his language is,

Heu magnum alterius frustra spectabis acervum,
Concussaque famem in sylvis solabere quercu. †

Instead of ordering him to water his grounds, he presents us with a beautiful landscape,

Ecce supercilio clivosi tramitis undam

Elicit; illa cadens, raucum per laevia murmur
Saxa ciet ; scatebrisque arentia temperat arva.‡

In all didactic works, method and order are essentially requisite ; not so strict and formal as in a prose treatise ; yet such

• While yet the spring is young, while earth unbinds

Her frozen bosom to the western winds;

While mountain snows dissolve against the sun,

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as may exhibit clearly to the reader a connected train of instruction. Of the didactic poets, whom I before mentioned. Horace, in his Art of Poetry, is the one most censured for want of method. Indeed, if Horace be deficient in any thing throughout many of his writings, it is in this, of not being sufficiently attentive to juncture and connexion of parts. He writes always with ease and gracefulness; but often in a manner somewhat loose and rambling. There is, however, in that work much good sense, and excellent criticism; and, if it be considered as intended for the regulation of Roman drama, which seems to have been the author's chief purpose, it will be found to be a more complete and regular treatise, than under the common notion, of its being a system of the whole poetical art.

With regard to episodes and embellishments, great liberty is allowed to writers of didactic poetry. We soon tire of a continued series of instructions, especially in a poetical work, where we look for entertainment. The great art of rendering a didactic poem interesting, is to relieve and amuse the reader, by connecting some agreeable episodes with the principal subject. These are always the parts of the work which are best known, and which contribute most to support the reputation of the poet. The principal beauties of Virgil's Georgics lie in digressions of this kind, in which the author has exerted all the force of his genius; such as the prodigies that attended the death of Julias Cæsar, the Praises of Italy, the Happiness of a Country Life, the Fable of Aristæus, and the moving Tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. So also the favourite passages in Lucretius's work, and which alone could render such a dry and abstract subject tolerable in poetry, are the digressions on the Evils of Superstition, the Praise of Epicurus and his philosophy, the Description of the Plague, and several other incidental illustrations, which are remarkably elegant, and adorned with a sweetness and harmony of versification peculiar to that poet. There is indeed nothing in poetry, so entertaining or descriptive, but what a didactic writer of genius may be allowed to introduce in some part of his work; provided always, that such episodes arise naturally from the main subject; that they be not disproportioned in length to it; and that the author know how to descend with propriety to the plain, as well as how to rise to the bold and figured style.

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Much art may be shewn by a didactic poet in connecting his episodes happily with his subject. Virgil is also distinguished for his address in this point. After seeming to have left his husbandmen, he again returns to them very naturally by laying hold of some rural circumstance, to terminate his digression. Thus, having spoken of the battle of Pharsalia, he subjoins immediatly, with much art:

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Scilicet et tempus veniet, cum finibus illis,
Agricolo, incurve terram molitus aratro,
Exesa inveniet scabrâ rubigine pila :

Aut gravibus rastris galeas pulsabit inanes,

Grandiaque effossis mirabitur ossa sepulchris.*

In English, Dr. Akenside has attempted the most rich and poetical form of didactic writing in his Pleasures of the Imagination; and though, in the execution of the whole, he is not equal, he has, in several parts, succeeded happily, and displayed much genius. Dr. Amstrong, in his Art of Preserving Health, has not aimed at so high a strain as the other. But he is more equal; and maintains throughout a chaste and correct elegance.

Satires and epistles naturally run into a more familiar style, than solemn philosophical poetry. As the manners and characters, which occur in ordinary life, are their subject, they require being treated with somewhat of the ease and freedom of conversation, and hence it is commonly the "musa pedestris," which reigns in such compositions.

Satire, in its first state among the Romans, had a form different from what it afterwards assumed. Its origin is obscure, and has given occasion to altercation among critics. It seems to have been at first a relic of the Ancient Comedy, written partly in prose, partly in verse, and abounding with scurrility. Ennius and Lacilius corrected its grossness; and at last, Horace brought it into that form, which now gives the denomination to satirical writing. Reformation of manners, is the end which it professes to have in view; and in order to this end,

* Then, after length of time, the lab'ring swains
Who turn the turf of these unhappy plains,
Shall rusty arms from the plough'd furrows take,
And over empty helmets pass the rake:
Amus'd at antique titles on the stones,
And mighty relics of gigantic bones.


it assumes the liberty of boldly censuring vice, and vicious characters. It has been carried on in three different manners, by the three great ancient satirists, Horace, Juvenal, and Persius. Horace's style has not much elevation. He entitled his satires, "Sermones," and seems not to have intended rising much higher than prose put into numbers. His manner is easy and graceful. They are rather the follies and weaknesses of mankind, than their enormous vices, which he chooses for the object of his satire. He reproves with a smiling aspect; and while he moralizes like a sound philosopher, discovers at the same time, the politeness of a courtier. Juvenal is much more serious and declamatory. He has more strength and fire, and more elevation of style, than Horace; but is greatly inferior to him in gracefulness and ease. His satire is more zealous, more sharp and pointed, as being generally directed against more flagitious characters. As Scaliger says of him, “ardet, instat, jugulat ;" whereas Horace's character is, "admissus circum præcordia ludit." Persius has a greater resemblance of the force and fire of Juvenal, than of the politeness of Horace. He is distinguished for sentiments of noble and sublime morality. He is a nervous and lively writer; but withal, often harsh and ob


Poetical epistles, when employed on moral or critical subjects, seldom rise into a higher strain of poetry than satires. In the form of an epistle, indeed, many other subjects may be handled, and either love poetry, or elegiac, may be carried on ; as in Ovid's Epistolæ Herodium, and his Epistolæ de Ponto. Such works as these are designed to be merely sentimental; and as their merit consists in being proper expressions of the passion or sentiment which forms the subject, they may assume any tone of poetry that is suited to it. But didactic epistles, of which I now speak, seldom admit of much elevation. They are commonly intended as observations on authors, or on life and characters; in delivering which, the poet does not purpose to compose a formal treatise, or to confine himself strictly to regular method; but gives scope to his genius on some particular theme, which, at the time, has prompted him to write. In all didactic poetry of this kind, it is an important rule" quicquid præcipies, esto brevis." Much of the grace, both of

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