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ties of this poem) "That the comparison of a student's progress in the sciences to that of a traveller in the Alps, is perhaps the best that English poetry can shew.” I cordially agree with our great critic in condemning what the poet has urged with respect to the sound being an echo to the sense, as the weakest part of the poem.
Rapin's Poem on Gardening I have never seen. Du Fresnoy's Poem on Painting I have read in the original, and in Dryden's and Mason's translations; but it has only served to confirm my opinion respecting the great difficulty of making a didactic poem interesting. Mr. Mason's English Garden perhaps will rank most properly as a descriptive poem.
Dr. Akenside, in his Poem on the Pleasures of the Imagination, has attempted to blend philosophy with criticism. It is taken, as you have probably observed, from Mr. Addison's papers in the Spectator on the same subject. It is however but little read at present, and the reason is, that it possesses more the language than the spirit of poetry.
Dr. Armstrong's Essay on Health can scarcely be called a poem. It may be sound doctrine in some instances in a medical point of view; but if it would pass on an examination at the college of physicians, or at Surgeon's-hall, I am confident it never would at the court of Parnassus. If the Economy of Love, by the same author, may be considered as a didactic poem, it reflects equal disgrace on the poet and the man.
The third class of didactic poems, those on moral subjects, presents an unbounded field for admiration, perhaps for criticism, and includes some of the most engaging and beautiful productions of human genius. It is at an advanced period of society that moral science assumes any thing like a body or a form. Men have long learned to act, before they have learned to think and reason upon human actions and characters. We have therefore scarcely any thing in remote antiquity which deserves the title of a moral poem. The golden verses of Pythagoras (if really his) are only detached maxims, like those of Rochefoucault, but without
their point, and deserve only to be hung up with King Charles's golden rules.
When philosophy had made soine progress, and men began to mark the causes and motives of human action, and to reason upon character; then the muse of ethics discovered the natural connection between sentiment and poetry, and found that verse was the most delightful medium through which the praises and the precepts of virtue might be conveyed. In the regions of sentiment no track or limits can be described. Ethic poetry may assume almost any form, either as a formal essay, or a light and familiar epistle. It can rise to the superior heights of Parnassus, for there is no finer scope for human genius than the passions and actions of mankind, nor any subject that can be equally interesting.
If the Proverbs of Solomon, his Ecclesiastes, &c. may be ranked as poetry, of which I think there is satisfactory evidence in Bishop Lowth's Lectures, then we must admit that ethical poetry is of very ancient date indeed. But among the heathen writers I do not find that I am warranted in going further back than Horace. With most extensive reading, and, what is better, with an exquisite knowledge of mankind, with an imagination, perhaps inferior only to Shakspeare or Pope, and with that curiosa felicitus of language, so justly remarked of him by Petronius, it is not wonderful that Horace should have surpassed all that went before, and most that have followed, in the line of moral poetry. Most of those which he calls satires, and the bulk of his epistles, are admirable moral essays in verse. If I possess any knowledge of human nature, any insight into the principles of human action, I must acknowledge myself indebted for them to the Bible and HoThe 1st and 2d satire of the first book; the 2d of the second book; the 1st, 2d and 6th epistles, are incomparable specimens in this line of composition. Let me indulge in a few quotations from the first epistle, with Mr. Pope's most happy translation, the only man who could translate Horace with sufficient spirit....
"Ut nox longa, quibus mentitur amica, diesque
"Long as to him, who works for debt, the day,
"That lock up all the functions of my soul:
The following lines, though not so immediately applicable to our subject, and preceding those I have quoted, are a pleasant delineation of character, and shew (among many other proofs), the author's reading in the moral writings of the philosophers....
"Quo me cunque rapit tempestas, deferor hospes,
"Et mihi res, non me rebus, subjungere conor."
"But ask not, to what doctors I apply;
"Sworn to no master, of no sect am 1:
"As drives the storm, at any door I knock;
"And house with Montague now, and now with Locke;
"Sometimes a patriot, active in debate,
"Mix with the world, and battle for the state;
"And win my way by yielding to the tide."
The following is in a higher strain....
"Fervet avaritia, miseroque cupidine pectus !
66 Say does thy blood rebel, thy bosom move
"Know, there are words and spells, which can controul
"Know there are rhymes, which fresh and fresh apply'd,
"A Swiss, a High-Dutch, or a Low-Dutch bear:
""Tis the first virtue vices to abhor;
"And the first wisdom to be fool no more," &c.
"Hic murus aheneus esto
"Nil concire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa."
"True, conscious honour is to feel no sin,
The satires of Juvenal are improperly called such, for few of them are personal, or of a ludicrous description; but he perhaps called his moral essays satires, in imitation of Horace. The 10th satire is almost a perfect example of the moral didactic. It is a regular discourse on the folly (or as Dr. Johnson more properly perhaps translates it, the vanity) of human desires. Dr. Johnson's imitation of this satire is (to say the least of it) not inferior to any of those of Mr. Pope. Take the the following as examples....
"Da spatium vitæ, multos da Jupiter annos ?
"Non eadem vini atque cibi, torpenti palato,
"Nunc damnum alterius. Nam quæ cantanti voluptas,
"Morborum omne genus, quorum si nomina quæras, Promptius expediam, quot amaverit Hippia machos; "Quot Themison ægros autumno occiderit uno, "Percurram citius quot villas possideat nunc, "Quæ tondenti gravis juveni mihi barba sonabat, "Ille humero, hic lumbis, hic coxa debilis; ambos "Perdidit ille oculos, et luscis invidet. Hujus "Pallida labra cibum capiunt digitis alienis.
Ipse ad conspectum cænæ deducere rictum
"Suetus, hiat tantum, ceu pullus hirundinis, ad quem "Ore volet pleno mater jejuna. Sed omni, "Membrorum damno major dementia, quæ nec "Nomina servorum, nec vultum agnoscit amici, "Cum quo præterita cænavit nocte, nec illos "Quos genuit, quos eduxit. Nam codice savo "Hæredes vetat esse suos; bona tota feruntur "Ad Phialem. Tantum artificis valet halitus oris, "Quod steterat multis in carcere fornicis annis, "Ut vigeant sensus animi; ducenda tamen sunt "Funera patrum, rogus aspiciendus amita
Conjugis et fratris, plenæque sororibus urnæ