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If we proceed to the Georgics, we shall find as few marks of genius in them as in the Pastorals, in spite of the blind admiration which has been paid that poem. The subject is confessedly unhappy : for Virgil in this was the imitator of Hesiod, as in his Pastorals of Theocritus, and in his Æneid of Homer.
() imitatores servum pecus ! was the just exclamation of his more ingenious cotemporary, Horace. How blind, my friend, must thofe be who could not infer, if this remark be just, how little is Virgil! Virgil, whose whole fame refts upon three specimens of imitation!
To examine the Georgics by the criterion of invention, which is that of genius and true poetry, we must confess, that in a didactic poem,
the precepts are quite out of the province of invention ; and for this reason the didactie is the lowest of all the kinds of poetry. But the Georgics, are allowed to be Virgil's chief work: the work on which his fame principally rests; tho he afterwards aspired to be an epic writer, (what an epic writer !) and it follows, that, at the most, Virgil is but an
excellent didactic writer, even in the opinion of his most fanguine admirers: that is, if you please, we will grant for a moment that he ftands first in the very meanest rank of poetry: surely no high praise.
WHERE is his fame as a poet, if it is proved that even this praise, slender as it is, is yet infinitely too high for him! Yet this will be easily proved to those whose minds are not secured from the light of truth by the impenetrable shades of prejudice.
A DIDACTIVE poem must be written in such a style as to be understood by those to whom it is addressed. If painting, for example, is the subject, the language ought to be such as may be understood by any painter of common intelligence. This rule, universally just as it is, must always be followed; else the absurdity were as great as if a country curate should preach to his staring parishioners in Hebrew, and expect they should follow precepts which it was impossible they should understand. Common sense, my friend, which is so uncommon a thing among the critics, and yet which enables
any man to judge better of writing than all the capricious dictates of criticism, teaches us that the necessity of following this rule is indispensable. Yet it has not been followed by Virgil, who writes to country farmers in a most elaborate, and to them impenetrably obscure, style. Who can help smiling to see him constantly addressing himself to people, who, as he well knew, could not possibly understand him? Yet he is called the judicious Virgil, by those who can see very near as far as their noses, with the help of a borrowed lanthorn!
Why dwell on particular absurdities of a production, which, in its very effence, is absurdity itself? Yet we must not pass the Epifodes and ornaments of the Georgics, which have been hitherto allowed the very brightest proofs Virgil has given of genius or invention. Let us weigh these proofs, if possible, in the very scales which critical Justice holds.
The invocation to Cæsar's spirit, the spirit of a tyrant, who trampled on the liberties of his country, could never have been written by a poet of real genius; for invincible honesty of mind has always been its attendant. Fulsome flattery and adulation, unworthy of the soul of a Nave, constitute the merits of Virgil, in this admired address. May execration pursue his memory, who has placed a crown on the brows of a tyrant, that were much too bright for the best of kings! The signs preceding the deatlı of Julius, enumerated in the end of the book, are in the same style with the address; superstitious offerings on the altar of Navery. They who find invention in either of these ornaments, are welcome to feed on it, mixed
up with a little whipt cream.
I ALLow it were prejudice alone that could induce a reader to deny the beauty of the panegyric on a country life, which closes the Second Book ; but at the same time it
be fafely said, that there are no marks in it of a superlative poet. Of invention there are surely none, nor of originality; for the theme has been, in all ages of poetry, a trite one. Virgil in this passage, therefore, as in others, only displays great skill in the mechanical part of poetry, but leaves the praise of a great poet to happier rivals.
The description of the plague, in the end of the Third Book, is evidently in imitation of Lucretius, only more full and rich. But facile eft inventis addere; and this Episode may give Virgil the fame of a happy imitator, but never that of a true poet.
The story of Ariftæus in the last Book displays not the powers of Ovid, tho superior in chastity of versification. But who ever said Ovid was a poet ?
I Trust it will appear from this deduction, that Virgil has not in his Pastorals, nor in his Georgics, given any proofs of genius, invention, or that which properly constitutes a poet.
The Æneid shall, if you like the subject, be examined some future opportunity; and will, I know, add still less renown to Virgil as a crea
Yet Virgil deserves all his fame: a paradox, you will say, worthy of Rousseau.