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Men must be taught as if you taught them not,
Knowledge that is conveyed thus indirectly, and without the appearance of a dictator, will be learned with more case, sink deeper into the understanding, and so six itself in the mind as not to be easily obliterated. And these considerations, we may suppose, induced the priests and bards of old to deliver their laws and religious maxims in verse.
Didactic or Preceptive Poetry, has been usually employed either to illustrate and explain our moral duties; our philosophical enquiries; our business and pleasures; or in teaching the art of criticism or poetry itself. It may be adapted, however, to any other subject, and may, in all cases, where instruction is designed, be employed to good purpose. Some subjects, indeed, are more proper than others, as they admit of more poetical ornaments, and give a greater latitude to genius; but whatever the subject is, those precepts are to be laid down that are the most usesul, and they should follow each other in a natural easy method, and be delivered in the most agreeable engaging manner. What the prose writer tells yoii ought to be done, the poet often conveys under the form of a narration, or shews the necessity of in a description; and by representing the action as done, or doing, conceals the precept that should enforce it. -The poet, likewise, instead of telling the whole truth, or laying down all the rules that are requisite, selects such parts only as are the most pleasing, and communicates the rest indirectly, without giving us an open view of them; yet takes care that nothing shall escape the reader's notice with which he ought to be acquainted. He discloses just enough to lead the imagination into the parts that are concealed, and the mind, ever gratisied with its own discoveries, is complimented with exploring and sinding them out; which, tho' done with ease, seems so considerable as not to be obtained but in consequence of its own adroitness and fagacity.
But this is not sufficient to render didactic poetry always pleasing; for where precepts are laid down one after another, and the poem is of considerable length, the mind will require some recreation and refreshment by the way; which is to be procured by seasonable moral reflections, pertinent remarks, familiar similes and descriptions naturally introduced, by allusions to ancient histories or fables, and by short and pleafant digreflions and excursions into more noble subjects, so aptly brought in that they may seem to have a remote relation, and be of a piece with the poem. By thus varying the form of instruction the poet gives lise to his precepts, and awakens and secures our attention, without permitting us to see by what means we are thus captivated: and his art is the more to be admired, because it - is so concealed as to escape the reader's observation.
The style too must maintain a dignity suitable to the subject, and every part be drawn in such lively colours that the things described may seem as if presented to the reader's view.
But all this will appear more evident from example; and tho' entire poems of this kind are not within the compass of our design, we shall endeavour to select such passages as will be sussicient to illustrate the rules we have here laid down.
We have already observed, that according to the usual divisions there are four kinds of didactic poems, vix. those that respect our moral duties; our philosophical speculations; our business and pleasures; or that give precepts for poetry and criticism.
On the sirst subject, indeed, we have scarce any thing that deserves the name of poetry, except Mr. Pope's EJJay on Man, and his Ethic Epistles; from these therefore we shall extract some passages to shew the method he has taken to render these dry subjects entertaining.
The sirst treats of the nature and state of man with respect to the universe; considers him in the abstract, and observes, that we can judge only with regard to our own system, since we are ignorant of the relations of other systems and things; that man is not to be deem'd impersect; but .a being persectly suited to his place and rank in the creation, agreeable to the general order of things, and conformable to ends and relations to him unknown; that it is partly upon his ignorance of suture events, and partly upon the hope of a suture state, that all his happiness in the present depends. Which last is thus beautisully expressed.
Heav'n from all creatures hides the book of fate,
Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar.
Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutor'd mind
He then proceeds to prove that the pride of aiming at more knowledge, and pretending to more persection, is the cause of man's error and misery; and shews the impiety of his presuming to judge of the sitness or ansitness, persection or impersection, justice or injustice, of the dispensations of the Almighty. He represents the absurdity of man's conceiting himself the sinal cause of the creation, or expecting that persection in the moral world, which is not in the natural. He shews the unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence, while on the one hand he craves the persections of "angels, and on the other the bodily qualisications of brutes; tho' to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree, would render him miserable; as he has thus proved.
she bliss of man (could pride that blessing sind)
He observes that throughout the whole visible world, an universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties may be seen, which causes a subordination of creature to creature, and of all creatures to man. He then treats of the gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, and reason; and observes that reason alone countervails all the other faculties. He enquires how far this order and subordination of living creatures may extend, above and below us; were any part of which broken, not that part only, but the whole connected creation must be destroy'd; and thus beautisully represents the extravagance, madness, and pride, of man's desiring to be other than what he is.
What if the foot, ordain'd the dust to tread,
What if the head, the eye, or ear repin'd
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
And this sirst epistle he concludes by shewing that absolute submission is due to Providence, both as to our present and suture state.
Cease then, nor order imperfection name:
Submit. In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:
Sase in the hand of one disposing pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, univerfal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spitt,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
In his second epistle he treats of the nature and state of man with respect to himself as an individual; and tells us