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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 clapt 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 dispatched 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 a 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 rest. 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 quis me gelidis sub montibus Hami
Sistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbrâ!
And 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 winterpiece 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 Æneas and Turnus, than in the engagement of two swarms. And as in his Eneis 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 Æneis; 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 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, sera 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 plowing 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 Æneis indeed is of a nobler kind, but the Georgic is more perfect in its kind. The Æneis 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.
ANCIENT AND MODERN
THE present age seems to have a very true taste of polite learning, and perhaps takes the beauties of an ancient author, as much as it is possible for it at so great a distance of time. It may, therefore, be some entertainment to us to consider what pleasure the contemporaries and countrymen of our old writers found in their works, which we at present are not capable of; and whether at the same time the moderns may not have some advantages peculiar to themselves, and discover several graces that arise merely from the antiquity of an author.
And here the first and most general advantage
1 There can be no doubt of the genuineness of this piece. The internal marks of its author are many and unequivocal; as must, I think, appear to every attentive reader who has any acquaintance with Mr. Addison's style and manner. But I should guess that it was drawn up by him in his younger days, and that it was not retouched, or at least finished by him. The reason might be, that he had afterwards worked up the principal observations of this piece into his critical papers on Milton. HURD.