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DIDACTIC poetry is moral truth clothed in the garments of Fiction. Its design more than that of any other species of poetry is to instruct, guide the arts, and to trace the laws of propriety and reason. Like prosaical compositions it delivers the rules and the lessons of knowledge, while it borrows the harmony and images of measured numbers. It has been generally considered as that species of poetry, in which it is most difficult to excel. If it do not inculcate doctrines and opinions which are strictly just, and which will be generally received, it will be condemned, and unless it present those in a manner pleasing and captivating it will fail in its design of instruction. The didactic poet who is successful must not only be gifted with the power of invention, but he must possess the taste of the critic and the erudition of the scholar. In order to render his subject the more pleasing and ornamental he may sometimes suffer himself to be carried away by his
imagination, and may introduce episodes like the fables of Aristeus and Orpheus in the Georgics : But these digressions should always flow naturally from the subject, like small streams which wander from their native channel; they should always be concise and illustrative of some truth advanced in the poem. In didactic poetry a skilful arrangement should be observed. The branches of its argument are always numerous, and of different hues; in order to render these harmonious and to avoid the incoherence of transition, much attention and art are necessary. As in a building the pillars should be placed where the greatest supports are required, and the ornaments should be exhibited where they will produce the most striking effect; so in a poem of the didactic nature, the arguments should be arranged so as best to uphold the doctrines maintained; and the sentiments and illustrations should follow each other in that order which experience declares is the most impressive.
The different kinds of didactic poetry are as numerous as the different forms of truth. Some partake of a nature entirely speculative; others deliver precepts which conduce to practice and to the regulation of life. Hesiod has written tracts on husbandry. Lucretius has written a poem on nature. Virgil's Georgics deliver useful directions to rural
life. Horace, Vida, and Boileau have taught the art of poetry. The Fleece of Dyer delights the lover of nature and instructs the husbandman. Pope has exhibited Man in various characters and under different circumstances. Somervile has unkennelled the hounds, mounted the steed, blown the horn of the huntsman, and led on the chase. Akenside has unfolded the pleasures of imagination. Armstrong has taught the art of preserving health; and Polwhele has exhibited the orator, and prescribed rules for his direction.
After this view of the qualities necessary to the didactic poet, and of the difficulties attending the plan and the execution of didactic poetry; with the examples before me, of those great masters of genius, and of science, who have trodden its rugged paths with the toil and patience of years, I have ventured with the haste, eagerness, and rashness of youth, to invoke the same muse who has rewarded their toils, and to direct my course amidst regions hitherto unexplored.---May I hope to be heard ?