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embellishments of poetry.” Now, since this science of husbandry is of a very large extent, the poet shows his skill in singling out such precepts to proceed on, as are useful, and at the same time most capable of ornament. Virgil was so well acquainted with this secret, that to set off his first Georgic, he has run into a set of precepts, which are almost foreign to his subject, in that beautiful account he gives us of the signs in nature, which precede the changes of the weather.
And if there be so much art in the choice of fit precepts, there is much more required in the treating of them, that they may fall in after each other by a natural, unforced method, and show themselves in the best and most advantageous light. They should all be so finely wrought together in the same piece, that no coarse seam may discover where they join ; as in a curious brede of needle-work, one colour falls away by such just degrees, and another rises so insensibly, that we see the variety, without being able to distinguish the total vanishing of the one from the first appearance of the other. Nor is it sufficient to range and dispose this body of precepts into a clear and easy method, unless they are delivered to us in the most pleasing and agreeable manner: for there are several ways of conveying the same truth to the mind of man; and to choose the pleasantest of these ways, is that which chiefly distinguishes poetry from prose, and makes Virgil's rules of husbandry pleasanter to read than Varro's. Where the prose writer tells us plainly what ought to be done, the poet often conceals the precept in a description, and represents his countryman performing the action in which he would instruct his reader. Where the one sets out as fully and distinctly as he can, all the parts of the truth which he would communicate to us, the other singles out the most pleasing circumstance of this truth, and so conveys the whole in a more diverting manner to the understanding. I shall give one instance out of a multitude of this nature that might be found in the Georgics, where the reader may see the different ways Virgil has taken to express the same thing, and how much pleasanter every manner of expression is, than the plain and direct mention of it would have been. It is in the second Georgic, where he tells us what trees will bear grafting on each other.
Ệt sæpe alterius ramos impune videmus
Steriles Platani malos gessere valentes,
-Nec longum tempus: et ingens
Here we see the poet considered all the effects of this union between trees of different kinds, and took notice of that effect which had the most surprise, and by consequence the most delight in it, to express the capacity that was in them of being thus united. This way of writing is every where much in use among the poets, and is particularly practised by Virgil, who loves to suggest a truth indirectly, and without giving us a full and open view of it, to let us see just so much as will naturally lead the imagination into all the parts that lie concealed. This is wonderfully diverting to the understanding, thus to receive a precept, that enters as it were through a by-way, and to apprehend an idea that draws a whole train after it : for here the mind, which is always delighted with its own discoveries, only takes the hint from the poet,
and seems to work out the rest by the strength of her own faculties.
But since the inculcating precept upon precept will at length prove tiresome to the reader, if he meets with no entertainment, the poet must take care not to encumber his poem with too much business, but sometimes to relieve the subject with a moral reflection, or let it rest awhile for the sake of a pleasant. and pertinent digression. Nor is it sufficient to run out into beautiful and diverting digressions (as it is generally thought) unless they are brought in aptly, and are something of a piece with the main design of the Georgic : for they ought to have a remote alliance, at least to the subject, that so the whole poem may be more uniform and agreeable in all its parts. We should never quite lose sight of the country, though we are sometimes entertained with a distant prospect of it. Of this nature are Virgil's descriptions of the original of agriculture, of the fruitfulness of Italy, of a country life, and the like, which are not brought in by force, but naturally rise out of the principal argument and design of the poem. I know no one digression in the Georgics that may seem to contradict this observation, besides that in the latter end of the first book, where the poet launches out into a discourse of the battle of Pharsalia, and the actions of Augustus : but it is worth while to consider how admirably he has turned the course of his narration into its proper channel, and made his husbandman concerned even in what relates to the battle, in those inimitable lines,
Scilicet et tempus veniet, cum finibus illis
And afterwards speaking of Augustus's actions, he still remembers that agriculture ought to be some way hinted at throughout the whole poem.
Non ullus aratro
We now come to the style which is proper to a Georgic ; and, indeed, this is the part on which the poet must lay out all his strength, that his words may be warm and glowing, and that every thing he describes may immediately present itself, and rise up to the reader's view. He ought, in particular, to be careful of not letting his subject debase his style, and betray him into a meanness of expression, but every where to keep up his verse in all the pomp of num. bers, and dignity of words.
I think nothing, which is a phrase or saying in common talk, should be admitted into a serious poem ; because it takes off from the solemnity of the expression, and gives it too great a turn of familiarity: much less ought the low phrases and terms of art, that are adapted to husbandry, have any place in such a work as the Georgic, which is not to appear in the natural simplicity and nakedness of its subject, but in the pleasantest dress that poetry can bestow on it. Thus Virgil, to deviate from the common form of words, would not make use of tempore, but sydere, in his first verse ; and every where else abounds with metaphors, Grecisms, and circumlocutions, to give his verse the greater pomp, and preserve it from sinking into a plebeian style. And herein consists Virgil's master-piece, who has not only excelled all other poets, but even himself, in the language of his Georgics : where we receive more strong and lively
ideas of things from his words, than we could have done from the objects themselves; and find our imaginations more affected by his descriptions, than they would have been by the very sight of what he describes.
I shall now, after this short scheme of rules, consi. der the different success that Hesiod and Virgil have met with in this kind of poetry, which may give us some further notion of the excellence of the Georgics, To begin with Hesiod : if we may guess at his character from his writings, he had much more of the husbandman than the poet in his temper: he was wonderfully grave, discreet, and frugal; he lived altogether in the country, and was probably, for his great prudence, the oracle of the whole neighbourhood. These principles of good husbandry ran through his works, and directed him to the choice of tillage and merchandise, for the subject of that which is the most celebrated of them. He is every where bent on instruction, avoids all manner of digressions, and does not stir out of the field once in the whole Georgic. His method in describing month after month, with its proper seasons and employments, is too grave and simple ; it takes off from the surprise and variety of the poem, and makes the whole look but like a modern almanac in verse. The reader is carried through a course of weather, and
may beforehand ther he is to meet with snow or rain, clouds or sunshine, in the next description. His descriptions, indeed, have abundance of nature in them ; but, then, it is nature in her simplicity and undress. Thus when he speaks of January : “ The wild beasts,' says he,
run shivering through the woods, with their heads stooping to the ground, and their tails clapped between their legs: the goats and oxen are almost flayed