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in his criticisms on Waller and Watts,) this notion is still held by men who ought to be ashamed of it.
Didactic and Descriptive Poetry.
I class these two together, because poets themselves so often unite them; for though we have abundance of pieces, in which, if “pure description holds (not) the place of sense,” but occupies its own picturesque position with independent and due effect, yet few compositions in verse can be purely preceptive, without the « aid of foreign ornament;" nor can it be literally said of any art or science, thus handled, that its “beauty is,.“when unadorned, adorned the most.” It must be arrayed and enriched with extrinsic graces, or renounce all pretensions to attractiveness from the poor and impolitic use of metre. It is the misfortune of didactic poetry, that for the purposes of teaching, it has no advantage over prose; and, in fact, from the difficulty of adapting the elegancies of verse to common-place details, it often falls lamentably short of common sense, in unnatural attempts to convey the simplest meanings in bloated verbiage. Pure directions of any kind, especially on technical subjects, may be delivered more precisely and intelligibly in the ordinary language of men, diversified with the terms of that art which is taught. Every specimen of this class, from the days of Hesiod to those of the late James Grahame - not excepting what has been deemed, in point of execution, the most perfect poem of antiquity, the Georgics of Virgil, -every specimen
of this class establishes the truth, or rather the truism, above laid down.
In a poem on agriculture, it is self-evident, à priori, that instructions in hedging, ditching, draining, haymaking, sowing, reaping, &c. can assume little or nothing of poetry beyond the shape of rhythm to the eye, for they will scarcely admit the sound of it to the ear, in higher harmony, or sweeter diction, than may be found by humming and counting the fingers over old Tusser's “ Five Hundred Points in Husbandry.” Lessons on manual occupations, domestic economy, or even learned pursuits, cannot alone be the burthen of song, or it will soon be no song at all; for with “music, image, sentiment, and thought,”--the elements of poetry,—they have no affinity. I confine the remark to the instructions, because the things themselves may sometimes be made highly poetical and interesting ; but then they cease to be didactic, and become descriptive. Thomson's great work, with a few precepts intermingled, presents, in beautiful series and harmonious connection, the phenomena of nature, and the operations of man contemporary with these, through the four seasons ;— forming, in fact, a biographical memoir of the infancy, maturity, and old age of an English year. – Grahame, in his “ British Georgics," has written a preceptive poem, in which similar subjects are included; but here the lovely and magnificent appearances of nature are extraneous embellishments, while the labours of the farmer (the Scotch farmer), mean in themselves, are daily directed, and occasionally delineated, according to the succession of months. Between the plans of the two poems
there can be no comparison, and between the execution I will make none.
The God of nature has divided the year into several distinct gradations, however obscurely the boundaries of each may be marked; so that every body has clear and fixed ideas of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, from personal observation of the varying surface of the earth, the aspect of the heavens, the temperature of the air, and those employments of the husbandman by which they are respectively characterised. On the other hand, the distribution of the year into months is an arbitrary arrangement by man, which suits the almanack-maker much better than the poet. The phases (if we must use the term) of June and July, of December and January, - indeed, of any two contiguous months,-are too little diversified to admit of contrasted pictures of each, without producing monotony by repetition, or defect by omission, of those features which happen to be common to both. Indeed, in our irregular climate, the months sometimes seem to have changed places, particularly in the earlier half of the year, the advance of vegetation being far less undeviating than its decay. Thomson's is a descriptive poem, interpolated with precepts in their right places; Grahame's is a preceptive one, in which descriptions luckily superabound, and are never deemed misplaced; for without them its pages would be unreadable. Hence, in a didactic poem, the finest passages are those which are not didactic;-branches bearing flowers and fruit, engrafted on a stock which, of itself, would put forth nothing but leaves.
Grahame's “ Sabbath,” and his “ Birds of Scot
land,” are better known than his “ British Georgics.” His taste was singular, and his manner correspondent. The general tenour of his style is homely, and frequently so prosaic, that its peculiar graces appear in their full lustre, from the contrast of meanness that surrounds them. His readers
His readers may be few; but whoever does read him, will probably be oftener surprised into admiration, than in the perusal of any one of his contemporaries. The most lively, the most lovely sketches of natural scenery, of minute imagery, and of exquisite incident, unexpectedly developed, occur in his compositions, with ever-varying yet ever-assimilating features. All his beauties are of one kind; they have a family likeness, with infinite diversity of resemblance. I mean those beauties which most abound in him,- and more in him than in any other writer ; because, by the bent of a mind predisposed to a particular class of subjects, and with microscopic accuracy of observation, he curiously and constantly searches for them; while his brethren only take them as they fall in their way, or are necessary for the extraordinary embellishment of some other figure to which they are subordinate. These are almost exclusively descriptive; they consist in secondary qualities, and remote or relative contingencies, which, by unforeseen association, place an object in a novel and delightful point of view, give a quick and happy turn to a train of thought, or infuse such life and reality into a scene, by the sudden introduction of a sprightly image or an affecting circumstance, that the reader is instantly converted into a spectator on the spot, and forgets the
poet, the poetry, and every thing except the palpable
As offering, in proportion to its bulk,
- To turn the driving rains, the outer sheaves, With bottoms lower than the rustling tops, Should sloping lie. When, to the crowning sheaf Arrived, distrust the sky; the thatch lay on, And bind with strawy coils. O, pleasant sight; These lozenged ropes, that, at the tapering top, End in a wisp-wound pinnacle - a gladsome perch, On which already sits poor Robin, proud, And sweetly sings a song to harvest-home !" In these lines, nothing can be more dry or unentertaining than all that immediately belongs to the subject; but just when the reader is congratulating himself that the paragraph is within a couplet of the close,- he sees - he hears - " poor Robin," perched and singing on the twisted pinnacle; and,
* The countenance of a person placed opposite, without our knowledge, and looking into the mirror at the same time.