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In all didactic works such method is requisite as will clearly exhibit a connected train of instruction. With regard to episodes and embellishments, writers of didactic poetry are indulged great liberties. For in a poetical performance a continued series of instruction without embellishment soon fatigues. The digressions in the Georgics of Virgil are his principal beauties. The happiness of a country life, the fable of Aristeus, and the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, cannot be praised too much.
A didactic poet ought also to connect his episodes with his subject. In this, Virgil is eminent. Among modern didactic poets, Akenside and Armstrong are distinguished. The former is rich and poetical; but the latter maintains greater equality, and more chaste and correct elegance,
Of didactic poetry, satires and epistles run into the most familiar style. Satire seems to have been at first a relic of ancient comedy, the grossness of which was corrected by Ennius and Lucilius. At length, Horace brought it into its present form. Reformation of manners is its professed end; and vice and vicious characters are the objects of its censure. There are three different modes in which it has been conducted by the three great ancient satirists, Horace, Juvenal, and Persius.
The satires of Horace have not much elevation. They exhibit a measured prose. Ease and grace cha
racterize his manner; and he glances rather at the follies and weaknesses of mankind, than at their vices. He smiles while he reproves. He moralizes like a sound philosopher, but with the politeness of a courtier. Juvenal is more declamatory and serious; and has greater strength and fire. Persius has distinguished himself by a noble and sublime morality.
Poetical epistles, when employed on moral or critical subjects, seldom rise into a higher strain of poetry than satires. But in the epistolary form, many other subjects may be treated; as love, poetry, or elegiac. The ethical epistles of Pope are a model; and in them he shows the strength of his genius. Here he had a full opportunity for displaying his judgment and wit, his concise and happy expression, together with the harmony of his numbers. His imitations of Horace are so happy, that it is difficult to say, whether the original or the copy ought to be most admired.
Among moral and didactic writers, Dr. Young ought not to be passed over in silence. Genius appears in all his works; but his Universal Passion may be considered as possessing the full merit of that animated conciseness, particularly requiste in satirical and didactic compositions. At the same time it is to be observed, that his wit is often too sparkling, and his sentences too pointed. In his Night Thoughts there is great energy of expression, several pathetic passages, many happy
images, and many pious reflections. But the sentiments are frequently overstrained and turgid, and the style harsh and obscure.
IN descriptive poetry the highest exertions of genius may be displayed. In general, indeed, description is introduced as an embellishment, not as the subject of a regular work. It is the test of a poet's imagination, and always distinguishes an original from a second rate genius. A writer of an inferior class sees nothing new or peculiar in the object he would paint ; his conceptions are loose and vague; and his expressions feeble and general. A true poet places an object before our eyes. He gives it the colouring of life; a painter might copy from him.
The great art of picturesque description lies in the selection of circumstances. These ought never to be vulgar or common. They should mark strongly the object. No general description is good; all distinct ideas are formed upon particulars. There should also be uniformity in the circumstances selected. In de scribing a great object, every circumstance brought for ward should tend to aggrandize; and in describing a gay object, all the circumstances should tend to beautify
it. Lastly, the circumstances in description should be expressed with conciseness and simplicity.
The largest and fullest descriptive performance in perhaps any language, is Thomson's Seasons; a work which possesses very uncommon merit. The style is splendid and strong, but sometimes harsh and indistinct. He is an animated and beautiful describer; for he had a feeling heart and a warm imagination. He studied nature with care; was enamoured of her beauties; and had the happy talent of painting them like a master. To show the power of a single wellchosen circumstance in heightening a description, the following passage may be produced from his Summer, where, relating the effects of heat in the torrid zone, he is led to take notice of the pestilence that destroyed the English fleet at Carthagena, under Admiral Vernon.
-You, gallant Vernon, saw
The miserable scene: you, pitying, saw
Of agonizing ships from shore to shore;
Heard nightly plung'd amid the sullen waves
The frequent corse.
All the circumstances here selected tend to heighten the dismal scene; but the last image is the most striking in the picture.
Of descriptive narration there are beautiful examples in Parnell's Tale of the Hermit. The setting forth of the hermit to visit the world, his meeting a companion, and the houses in which they are entertained, of the vain man, the covetous man, and the good man, are pieces of highly finished painting. But the richest and the most remarkable of all the descriptive poems in the English language, are the Allegro and the Penseroso of Milton. They are the store-house whence many succeeding poets have enriched their descriptions, and are inimitably fine poems. Take, for instance, the following lines from the Penseroso :
-I walk unseen
On the dry, smooth-shaven green,
Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the cricket on the hearth,
Or the bellman's drowsy charm,