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In short, however he succeeds, it is covetousness that induced him first to play; and covetousness is the undoubted sign of ill sense at bottom. The odds are against him, that he loses; and one loss may be of more consequence to him than all his former winnings. It is like the present war of the Christians against the Turks; every year they gain a victory, and by that a town; but, if they are once defeated, they lose a province at a blow, and endanger the safety of the whole empire. You, my lord, enjoy your quiet in a garden, where you have not only the leisure of thinking, but the pleasure to think of nothing which can discompose your mind. A good conscience is a port which is land-locked on every side, and where no winds can possibly invade, no tempests can arise. There a man may stand upon the shore, and not only see his own image, but that of his Maker, clearly reflected from the undisturbed and silent waters. Reason was intended for a blessing; and such it is to men of honour and integrity, who desire no more than what they are able to give themselves; like the happy old Corycian, whom my author describes in his Fourth Georgic, whose fruits and sallads, on which he lived contented, were all of his own growth, and his own planta tion. Virgil seems to think, that the blessings of a country life are not complete without an improvement of knowledge by contemplation and reading.
O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint, Agricolas !
It is but half possession, not to understand that happiness which we possess. A foundation of good sense, and a cultivation of learning, are required to give a seasoning to retirement, and make us taste the blessing. God has bestowed on your lordship the first of these; and you have bestowed on yourself the second. Eden was not made for beasts, though they were suffered to live in it, but for their master, who studied God in the works of his creation. Neither could the devil have been happy there with all his knowledge; for he wanted innocence to make him so. He brought envy, malice, and ambition, into Paradise, which soured to him the sweetness of the place. Wherever inordinate affections are, 'tis hell. Such only can enjoy the country, who are capable of thinking when they are there, and have left the passions behind them in the town. Then they are prepared for solitude; and, in that solitude, is prepared for them,
Et secura quies, et nescia fallere vita. Virgil, so I conclude it with another. As I began this Dedication with a verse of
The continuance of your health, to enjoy that happiness which you so well deserve, and which you have provided for yourself, is the sincere and
earnest wish of
And most obedient servant, JOHN DRYDEN.
ESSAY ON THE GEORGICS.
VIRGIL may be reckoned the first who introduced three new kinds of poetry among the Romans, which he copied after three the greatest masters of Greece. Theocritus and Homer have still disputed for the advantage over him in Pastoral and Heroics; but I think all are unanimous in giving him the precedence to Hesiod in his "Georgics." The truth of it is, the sweetness and rusticity of a Pastoral cannot be so well expressed in any other tongue as in the Greek, when rightly mixed and qualified with the Doric dialect; nor can the majesty of a Heroic poem anywhere appear so well as in this language, which has a natural greatness in it, and can be often rendered more deep and sonorous by the pronunciation of the Ionians. But, in the middle style, where the writers in both tongues are on a level, we see how far Virgil has excelled all who have written in the same way with him. There has been abundance of criticism spent on Virgil's "Pastorals" and "neis;" but the "Georgics" are a subject which none of the critics have sufficiently taken into their consideration; most of them passing it over in silence, or casting it under the same head with pastoral: a division by no means proper, unless we suppose the style of a husbandman ought to be imitated in a Georgic, as that of a shepherd is in a Pastoral, But, though the scene of both these poems lies in the same place, the speakers in
them are of a quite different character, since the precepts of husbandry are not to be delivered with the simplicity of a ploughman, but with the address of a poet. No rules, therefore, that relate to pastoral, can any way affect the Georgics, which fall under that class of poetry which consists in giving plain and direct instructions to the reader; whether they be moral duties, as those of Theognis and Pythagoras, or philosophical speculations, as those of Aratus and Lucretius, or rules of practice, as those of Hesiod and Virgil. Among these different kinds of subjects, that which the Georgic goes upon, is, I think, the meanest and least improving, but the most pleasing and delightful. Precepts of morality, besides the natural corruption of our tempers, which makes us averse to them, are so abstracted from ideas of sense, that they seldom give an opportunity for those beautiful descriptions and images which are the spirit and life of poetry. Natural philosophy has indeed sensible objects to work upon; but then it often puzzles the reader with the intricacy of its notions, and perplexes him with the multitude of its disputes. But this kind of poetry I am now speaking of addresses itself wholly to the imagination: it is altogether conversant among the fields and woods, and has the most delightful part of nature for its province. It raises in our minds a pleasing variety of scenes and land
* Addison had already distinguished himself as a man of letters, and as an admirer of Dryden, by a copy of verses addressed to our author, and by a translation of the Fourth Book of the Georgics, exclusive of the story of Aristæus. This last performance is liberally commended by Dryden in the Postscript to Virgil. The following Essay, which has been much admired for judicious criticism contained in elegant language, was sent by him to our author, but without permission to prefix the writer's name. This circumstance led Tickell to throw some reflection on Dryden, as if he had meant to assume to himself the merit of the composition. This charge was refuted by Steele, in a letter to Congreve, prefixed to an edition of the comedy of "The Drummer," in 1722, who proves, that the Essay was the same paper which Dryden calls the Preface to the Georgics, and which he acknowledges to have been sent by a friend, whose name he was not at liberty to make public. See the article Addison in the "Biographia Britannica."
scapes, whilst it teaches us, and makes the driest of its precepts look like a description. A Georgic, therefore, is some part of the science of husbandry put into a pleasing dress, and set off with all the beauties and 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 Georgics, 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 needlework, 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:
Et sæpe alterius ramos impune videmus
Ferre pyrum, et prunis lapidosa rubescere corna
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 everywhere 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 other 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 a while 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 origin 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 Dignus honos: squalent abductis arva colonis ; Et curvæ rigidum falces conflantur in ensem.
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. ought, in particular, to be careful of not letting his subject debase his style, and betray him into a meanness of expression, but everywhere to keep up his verse in all the pomp of numbers, 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 sidere, in his first verse, and everywhere 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, consider the different success that Hesiod and Virgil have met with in this kind of poetry, which may give us some farther 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 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 everywhere 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 guess whether 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 with cold: but it is not so bad with the sheep, because they have a thick coat of wool about them. The old men too are bitterly pinched with the weather: but the young girls feel nothing of it, who sit at home with their mothers by a warm fireside." Thus does the old gentleman give himself up to a loose kind of tattle, rather than endeavour after a just poetical description. Nor has he shown more of art or judgment in the precepts he has given us, which are sown so very thick, that they clog the poem too much, and are often so minute and full of circumstances, that they weaken and unnerve his verse. But, after all, we are beholden to him for the first rough sketch of a Georgic; where we may still discover something venerable in the antiqueness of the work but, if we would see the design enlarged, the figures reformed, the colouring laid on, and the whole piece finished, we must expect it from a greater master's hand.
Virgil has drawn out the rules of tillage and planting into two books, which Hesiod has despatched in half a one; but has so raised the natural rudeness and simplicity of his subject with such a significancy of expression, such a pomp of verse, such variety of transitions, and such a solemn air in his reflections, that, if we look on both poets together, we see in one the plainness of a downright countryman, and, in the other, something of a rustic majesty, like that of a Roman dictator at the ploughtail. He delivers the meanest of his precepts with a kind of grandeur: he breaks the clods, and tosses the dung about, with an air of gracefulness. His
prognostications of the weather are taken out of Aratus, where we may see how judiciously he has picked out those that are most proper for his husbandman's observation; how he has enforced the expression, and heightened the images, which he found in the original.
The second book has more wit in it, and a greater boldness in its metaphors, than any of the est. The poet, with a great beauty, applies oblivion, ignorance, wonder, desire, and the like, to his trees. The last Georgic has, indeed, as many metaphors, but not so daring as this; for human thoughts and passions may be more naturally ascribed to a bee, than to an inanimate plant. He who reads over the pleasures of a country life, as they are described by Virgil in the latter end of this book, can scarce be of Virgil's mind in preferring even the life of a philosopher to it.
We may, I think, read the poet's clime in his description; for he seems to have been in a sweat at the writing of it:
O! qui me gelidis in vallibus Hœmi Sistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbraand is everywhere mentioning, among his chief pleasures, the coolness of his shades and rivers, vales and grottoes, which a more northern poet would have omitted, for the description of a sunny hill and fireside.
The Third Georgic seems to be the most laboured of them all: there is a wonderful vigour and spirit in the description of the horse and chariot race. The force of love is represented in noble instances, and very sublime expressions. The Scythian winter-piece appears so very cold and bleak to the eye, that a man can scarce look on it without shivering. The murrain, at the end, has all the expressiveness that words can give. It was here that the poet strained hard to outdo Lucretius in the description of his Plague: and, if the reader would see what success he had, he may find it at large in Scaliger.
But Virgil seems nowhere so well pleased, as when he is got among his Bees in the Fourth Georgic; and ennobles the actions of so trivial a creature, with metaphors drawn from the most important concerns of mankind. His verses are not in a greater noise and hurry in the battles of Eneas and Turnus, than in the engagement of two swarms. And as, in his neïs, he compares the labours of his Trojans to those of bees and pismires, here he compares the labours of
the bees to those of the Cyclops. In short, the last Georgic was a good prelude to the Æneïs, and very well showed what the poet could do in the description of what was really great, by his describing the mock grandeur of an insect with so good a grace. There is more pleasantness in the little platform of a garden, which he gives us about the middle of this book, than in all the spacious walks and water-works of Rapin. The speech of Proteus, at the end, can never be enough admired, and was indeed very fit to conclude so divine a work.
After this particular account of the beauties in the Georgics, I should, in the next place, endeavour to point out its imperfections, if it has any. But, though I think there are some few parts in it that are not so beautiful as the rest, I shall not presume to name them, as rather suspecting my own judgment, than I can believe a fault to be in that poem, which lay so long under Virgil's correction, and had his last hand put to it. The First Georgic was probably burlesqued in the author's lifetime; for we still find in the scholiasts a verse that ridicules part of a line translated from Hesiod-Nudus ara, sere nudus: And we may easily guess at the judgment of this extraordinary critic, whoever he was, from his censuring this particular precept. We may be sure Virgil would not have translated it from Hesiod, had he not discovered some beauty in it; and indeed the beauty of it is, what I have before observed to be frequently met with in Virgil, the delivering the precept so indirectly, and singling out the particular circumstance of sowing and ploughing naked, to suggest to us, that these employments are proper only in the hot season of the year.
I shall not here compare the style of the Georgics with that of Lucretius, (which the reader may see already done in the preface to the second volume of Miscellany Poems,) but shall conclude this poem to be the most complete, elaborate, and finished piece of all antiquity. The Eneïs, indeed, is of a nobler kind; but the Georgic is more perfect in its kind. The Eneïs has a greater variety of beauties in it; but those of the Georgic are more exquisite. In short, the Georgic has all the perfection that can be expected in a poem written by the greatest poet in the flower of his age, when his invention was ready, his imagination warm, his judgment settled, and all his faculties in their full vigour and maturity.