Abbildungen der Seite

agreeing with that character; to copy him in all the variations of his ftyle, and the different modulations of his numbers; to preserve, in the more active or defcriptive parts, a warmth and elevation; in the more fedate or narrative, a plainnefs and folemnity; in the fpeeches, a fulness and perfpicuity; in the fentences, a fhortnefs and gravity: not to neglect even the little figures and turns on the words, nor fome. times the very caft of the periods; neither to omit nor confound any rites or cuftoms of antiquity: perhaps too he ought to include the whole in a fhorter compafs than has hitherto been done by any tranflator, who has tolerably preferved either the fenfe or poetry. What I would farther recommend to him, is to study his author rather from his own text than from any commentaries, how learned foever, or whatever figure they may make in the eftimation of the world; to confider him attentively in comparison with Virgil above all the ancients, and with Milton above all the moderns. Next thefe, the archbishop of Cambray's Telemachus may give him the trueft idea of the spirit and turn of our author, and Boffu's admirable treatise of the epic poem the juftest notion of his defign and conduct. But after all, with whatever judgment and study a man may proceed, or with whatever happinefs he may perform fuch a work, he must hope to please but a few; thofe only who have at once a tafte of poetry, and competent learning. For to fatisfy fuch as want either, is not in the nature of this undertaking; fince a mere modern wit can like nothing that is not modern, and a pedant nothing that is not Greek.

What I have done is fubmitted to the public, from whofe opinions I am prepared to learn; though I fear no judges fo little as our beft poets, who are moft fenfible of the weight of this tafk. As for the worst, whatever they fhall pleafe to fay, they may give me fome concern as they are unhappy men, but none as they are malignant writers. I was guided in this tranflation by judgments very different from theirs, and by perfons for whom they can have no kindness, if an old obfervation be true, that the strongest antipathy in the world is that of fools to men of wit. Mr. Addifon was the first whole advice determined me to undertake this talk, who was pleafed to write to me upon that occafion, in fuch terms as I cannot repeat without vanity. I was


obliged to Sir Richard Steele for a very early recommendation of my undertaking to the public. Dr. Swift promoted my intereft with that warmth with which he always ferves his friend. The humanity and franknefs of Sir Samuel Garth are what I never knew wanting on any occafion. I must also acknowledge, with infinite pleasure, the many friendly offices, as well as fincere criticifms of Mr. Congreve, who had led me the way in tranflating fome parts of Homer; as I wish, for the fake of the world, he had prevented me in the reft. I must add the names of Mr. Rowe and Dr. Parnell, though I fhall take a farther opportunity of doing justice to the laft, whofe goodnature (to give it a great panegyric) is no less extenfive than his learning. The favour of thefe gentlemen is not entirely undeserved by one who bears them so true an affection. But what can I fay of the honour fo many of the Great have done me, while the first names of the age appear as my fubfcribers, and the most diftinguished patrons and ornaments of learning as my chief encouragers? Among thefe, it is a particular pleasure to me to find that my highest obligations are to fuch who have done most honour to the name of poet: that his grace the duke of Buckingham was not difpleased I should undertake the author to whom he has given (in his excellent Effay) fo complete a praise.

"Read Homer once, and you can read no more; For all books elfe appear fo mean, so poor, "Verfe will feem Profe; but still perfift to read, "And Homer will be all the books you need." That the earl of Halifax was one of the first to favour me, of whom it is hard to fay whether the advancement of the polite arts is more owing to his generofity or his example. That fuch a genius as my lord Bolingbroke, not more diftinguished in the great fcenes of business than in all the ufeful and entertaining parts of learning, has not refufed to be the critic of thele fheets, and the patron of their writer. And that fo excellent an imitator of Homer as the noble author of the tragedy of Heroic Love, has continued his partiality to me, from my writing Pastorals, to my attempting the Iliad. I cannot deny myself the pride of confeffing, that I have had the advantage not only of their advice for the conduct in general, but their correction of feveral particulars of this tranflation.


I could

I could fay a great deal of the pleasure of being diftinguished by the earl of Carnarvon; but it is almoft abfurd to particularize any one generous action in a perfon whofe whole life is a continued feries of them. Mr. Stanhope, the prefent fecretary of fate, will pardon my defire of having it known that he was pleafed to promote this affair. The particular zeal of Mr. Harcourt (the fon of the late lord chancellor) gave me a proof how much I am honoured in a fhare of his friendship. I must attribute to the fame motive that of feveral others of my friends, to whom all acknowledgments are rendered unneceffary by the privileges of a familiar correfpondence and I am fatisfied I can no better way oblige men of their turn, than by my filence.

In short, I have found more patrons than ever Homer wanted. He would have thought himself happy to have met the fame favour at Athens, that has been shown me by its learned rival, the univerfity of Oxford. If my author had the wits of after ages for his defenders, his tranflator has had the Beauties of the prefent for his advocates; a pleasure too great to be changed for any fame in reverfion. And I can hardly envy him thofe pompous honours he received after death, when I reflect on the enjoyment of fo many agreeable obligations, and eafy friendships, which make the satisfaction of life. This diftinction is the more to be acknowledged, as it is fhewn to one whofe pen has never gratified the prejudices of particular parties, or the vanities of particular men. Whatever the fuccefs may prove, I shall never repent of an undertaking in which I have experienced the candour and friend.hip of fo many perfons of merit; and in which I hope to pafs fome of thofe years of youth that are generally loft in a circle of follies, after a manner neither wholly unufeful to others, nor difagrecable to myself.


$235. An Effay on Virgil's Georgics, pre

fixed to Mr. Dryden's Tranflation.

Virgil may be reckoned the first who introduced three new kinds of poetry among the Romans, which he copied after three the greatest matters of Greece. Theocritus and Homer have fill difputed for the advantage over him in paftoral and heroics; but I think all are unanimous in giving him the precedence to lichiod in

his Georgics. The truth of it is, the fweetnefs and rufticity of a pastoral cannot be fo well expreffed in any other tongue as in the Greek, when rightly mixed and qualified with the Doric dialect; nor can the majefty of an heroic poem any where appear fo well as in this language, which has a natural greatnefs in it, and can be often rendered more deep and fonorous by the pronunciation of the Ionians. But in the middle style, where the writers in both tongues are on a level, we fee how far Virgil has excelled all who have written in the fame way with him.

There has been abundance of criticism fpent on Virgil's Paftorals and neids, but the Georgics are a fubject which none of the critics have fufficiently taken into their confideration; most of them paffing it over in filence, or cafting it under the fame head with Paftoral; a divifion by no means proper, unless we fuppofe the ftyle of a husbandman ought to be imitated in a Georgic, as that of a fhepherd is in Paftoral. But though the scene of both these poems lies in the fame place, the fpeakers in them are of a quite different character, fince the precepts of husbandry are not to be delivered with the fimplicity of a plowman, but with the address of a poet. No rules therefore that relate to Paftoral can any way affect the Georgics, fince they fall under that clafs of poetry which confifts in giving plain and direct inftructions to the reader; whether they be moral duties, as thofe of Theognis and Pythagoras; or philofophical fpeculations, as thote of Aratus and Lucretius; or rules of practice, as thote of Hefiod and Virgil. Among thefe different kinds of fubjects, that which the Georgics go upon is, I think, the meanest and leaft improving, but the moft pleasing and delightful. Precepts of morality, befides the natural corruption of our tempers, which makes us averfe to them, are so abitracted from ideas of fenfe, that they feldom give an opportunity for those beautiful deferiptions and images which are the fpirit and life of poetry. Natural philofophy has indeed fenfible 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, addreffes itfelf wholly to the imagination: it is altogether converfant among the fields, and woods, and has the most delightful part of nature for its province. It raifes in


our minds a pleafing variety of fcenes and landfcapes, whilft it teaches us, and makes the dryett of its precepts look like a defcription. A Georgic therefore is fome ⚫ part of the fcience of husbandry put into a pleafing drefs, and fet off with all the beauties and embellishments of poetry.' Now fince this fcience of husbandry is of a very large extent, the poet fhews his skill in fingling out fuch precepts to proceed on, as are uteful, and at the fame time moft capable of ornament. Virgil was fo well acquainted with this fecret, that to fet off his first Georgic he has run into a set of precepts, which are almoft foreign to his fubject, in that beautiful account he gives us of the figns in nature, which precede the changes of the weather.

And if there be fo 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 fhew themfelves in the best and most advantageous light. They fhould all be fo finely wrought together in the fame piece, that no coarfe feam may difcover where they join; as in a curious brede of needle-work one colour falls away by fuch juft degrees, and another rifes fo inienfibly, that we fee the variety without being able to diftinguish the total vanishing of the one from the first appearance of the other. Nor is it fufficient to range and difpofe this body of precepts into a clear and eafy method, unless they are delivered to us in the most pleating and agreeable manner; for there are feveral ways of conveying the fame truth to the mind of man; and to choose the pleafanteft of thefe ways, is that which chiefly diftinguishes poetry from profe, and makes Virgil's rules of husbandry pleasanter to read than Varro's. Where the profewriter tells us plainly what ought to be done, the poet often conceals the precept in a defeription, and reprefents his countryman performing the action in which he would infruct his reader. Where the one fets out, as fully and diftin&ly as he can, all the parts of the truth which he would communicate to us; the other fingles out the most pleafing circumftance of this truth, and fo conveys the whole in a more diverting manner to the understanding. I fhall give one inftance cut of a multitude of this nature that might be found in the Georgics, where the reader may fee the different ways Virgil has taken to exprefs the fame thing, and how much

pleafanter every manner of expreffion is, than the plain and direct mention of it would have been. It is in the fecond Georgic, where he tells us what trees will bear grafting on each other.

Et fæpe alterius ramos impune videmus
Vertere in alterius, mutatamque infita mala
Ferre pyrum, et prunis lapidoia rubefcere corna.
-Steriles Platani malos geilere valentes,

Caftanea fagos, ornufque incanuit albo
Flore pyri: Glandemque fus frigore fub ulmis,
Ex it ad coetum ramis felicibus arbos;
-Nec longum tempus: & ingens
Miraturque novas trondes et non fua poma.

Here we fee the poet confidered all the effects of this union between trees of different kinds, and took notice of that effect which had the moft furprife, and by confequence the most delight in it, to exprefs the capacity that was in them of being thus united. This way of writing is every where much in ufe among the poets, and is particularly practifed by Virgil, who loves to fuggelt a truth indirectly, and without giving us a full and open view of it, to let us fee juft fo 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 bye-way, and to apprehend an idea that draws a whole train after it. For here the mind, which is always delighted with its own difcoveries, only takes the hint from the poet, and seems to work out the reft by the ftrength of her own faculties.

But fince the inculcating precept upon precept, will at length prove tirelome to the reader, if he meets with no entertainment, the poet muft take care not to incumber his poem with too much bufinefs; but fometimes to relieve the fubject with a moral reflection, or let it reft a while, for the fake of a pleafant and pertinent digreffion. Nor is it fufficient to ran out into beautiful and diverting digreffions (as it is generally thought) unless they are brought in aptly, and are fomething of a piece with the main defign of the Georgic: for they ought to have a remote alliance at leaft to the fubje&, that fo the whole poem may be more uniform and agreeable in all its parts. We fhould never quite lofe fight of the country, though we are fometimes entertained with a diilant profpect of it. Of this nature are Virgil's defcription of the original of agriculture, of the fruitfulness of Italy, of a country

Gg 4


life, and the like, which are not brought in by force, but naturally rife out of the principal argument and defign of the poem. I know no one digreffion in the Georgics that may feem to contradict this obfervation, befides that in the latter end of the first book, where the poet launches out into a difcourfe of the battle of Pharfalia, and the actions of Auguftus. But it is worth while to confider 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 bat tle, in thofe inimitable lines:

Scilicet et tempus veniet, cum finibus illis
Agricola incurvo terram molitus aratro,
Exefa inveniet fcabrâ rubigine pila:
Aut gravibus raftris galeas pulfabit inanes,
Grandiaque effoflis mirabitur offa fepulchris.

And afterwards, fpeaking of Auguftus's actions, he still remembers that agriculture ought to be fome way hinted at throughout the whole poem,

Non ullus aratro

Dignus honos: fqualent abductis arva colonis: Et curvæ rigidum falces conflantur in enfem.

We now come to the ftyle which is proper to a Georgic; and indeed this is the part on which the poet muft lay out all his ftrength, that his words may be warm and glowing, and that every thing he defcribes may immediately prefent itself, and rife up to the reader's view. He ought, in particular, to be careful of no: letting his fubject debafe his ftyle, and betray him into a meanness of expreffion, but every where to keep up his verfe, in all the pomp of numbers and dignity of words.

I think nothing which is a phrafe or faying in common talk fhould be admitted into a ferious poem; because it takes off from the folemnity of the expreffion, and gives it too great a turn of familiarity: much lefs ought the low phrafes and terms of art that are adapted to hufbandry, have any place in fuch a work as the Georgic, which is not to appear in the natural fimplicity and nakednefs of its fubject, but in the pleafantest drefs that poetry can bestow on it. Thus Virgil, to deviate from the common form of words, would not make ufe of tempore but fydere in his first verse; and every where else abounds with metaphors, Grecifms, and circumlocutions, to give his verfe the greater pomp, and preferve it from finking into a plebian ftyle. And herein confifts Virgil's mafter-piece,

who has not only excelled all other poets, but even himself, in the language of his Georgics; where we receive more ftrong 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 fight of what he describes.

I fhall now, after this short scheme of rules, confider the different success that Hefiod 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 Hefiod; if we may guefs at his character from his writings, he had much more of the husbandman than the poet in his temper: he was wonderfully grave, difcreet, 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 hufbandry ran through his works, and directed him to the choice of tillage and merchandize, for the subject of that which is the most celebrated of them. He is every where bent on inftruction, avoids all manner of digreffions, and does not ftir out of the field once in the whole Georgic. His method in defcribing month after month, with its proper seasons and employments, is too grave and fimple; it takes off from the furprise and variety of the poem, and makes the whole look but like a modern almanac in verfe. The reader is carried through a course of weather, and may before-hand guess whether he is to meet with fnow or rain, clouds or funfhine, in the next defcription. His defcriptions indeed have abundance of nature in them, but then it is nature in her fimplicity and undrefs. Thus when he fpeaks of January, "The wild beasts," fays he, "run fhivering through the woods, "with their heads ftooping to the ground, "and their tails clapt between their legs; "the goats and oxen are almost flea'd "with cold; but it is not fo bad with the

fheep, 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 fit at home with their mothers by

[ocr errors]

a warm fire-fide." Thus does the old gentleman give himself up to a loose kind of tattle, rather than endeavour after a just poetical defcription. Nor has he shewn more of art or judgment in the precepts he has given us, which are fown fo very

thick, that they clog the poem too much, and are often fo 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 ftill difcover something venerable in the antiquenefs of the work; but if we would fee the defign 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 Hefiod has difpatched in half a one; but has fo raifed the natural rudeness and fimplicity of his fubject, with fuch a fignificancy of expreffion, fuch a pomp of verfe, fuch variety of tranfitions, and fuch a folemn air in his reflections, that if we look on both poets together, we fee in one the plainnefs of a downright countryman, and in the other fomething of ruftic majefty, like that of a Roman dictator at the plow-tail. delivers the meaneft of his precepts with a kind of grandeur; he breaks the clods and toffes the dung about with an air of gracefulness. His prognoftications of the weather are taken out of Aratus, where we may fee how judiciously he has picked out thofe that are moit proper for his husbandman's observation; how he has enforced the expreffion 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 reft. The poet, with a great beauty, applies oblivion, ignorance, wonder, defire, and the like, to his trees. The laft Georgic has indeed as many metaphors, but not fo daring as this; for human thoughts and paffions may be more naturally afcribed to a bee, than to an inanimate plant. He who reads over the pleafures of a country life, as they are defcribed by Virgil in the latter end of this book, can fcarce be of Virgil's mind, in preferring even the life of a philofopher to it.

We may, I think, read the poet's clime in his defcription; for he feems to have been in a sweat at the writing of it:

O quis me gelidis fub montibus Hami Siftat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbrà ! And is every where mentioning among his chief pleasures, the coolness of his hades and rivers, vales and grottos; which a more northern poet would have omitted,

for the description of a funny hill and firefide.

The third Georgic feems to be the most laboured of them all; there is a wonderful vigour and spirit in the description of the horfe and chariot-race. The force of love is represented in noble inftances, and very fublime expreffions. The Scythian winterpiece appears fo very cold and bleak to the eye, that a man can fcarce look on it without fhivering. The murrain at the end has all the expreffiveness that words can give. It was here that the poet ftrained hard to outdo Lucretius in the defcription of his plague; and if the reader would fee what fuccefs he had, he may find it at large in Scaliger.

But Virgil feems no where fo well pleafed as when he is got among his bees, in the fourth Georgic; and ennobles the actions of fo trivial a creature, with metaphors drawn from the most important concerns of mankind. His verses are not in a greater noife and hurry in the battles of Eneas and Turnus, than in the engagement of two fwarms. And as in his Æneis he compares the labours of his Trojans to thofe of bees and pifmires, here he compares the labours of the bees to those of the Cyclops. In fhort, the laft Georgic was a good prelude to the Eneis; and very well fhewed what the poet could do in the defcription of what was really great, by his defcribing the mock grandeur of an infect with fo good a grace, There is more pleafantnefs in the little platform of a garden, which he gives us about the mid dle of this book, than in all the spacious walks and water-works of Rapin. The fpeech of Proteus at the end can never be enough admired, and was indeed very fit to conclude fo divine a work.

After this particular account of the beauties in the Georgics, I fhould in the next place endeavour to point out its imperfections, if it has any. But though I think there are fome few parts in it that are not fo beautiful as the reft, I shall not prefume to name them, as rather fufpecting my own judgment, than I can believe a fault to be in that poem, which lay fo long under Virgil's correction, and had his laft hand put to it. The first Georgic was probably burlefqued in the author's life time; for we ftill find in the fcholiafts a verfe that ridicules part of a line tranflated from Hefiod-Nudus ara, fere nudus. -And we may eafily guefs at the judgment of this extraordinary critic, whoever


« ZurückWeiter »