1 JUNE 1844, Page 16


A SCIENTIFIC didactic poem is a rarity in these days, and espe- cially on a subject like geology, where the terms are often uncouth, and the principles rather abstruse. Mr. WATSON, however, has suc- ceeded much better in his undertaking than might have been ex- pected. His arrangement is orderly ; the digressions from his strict subject are a good relief; and his style, though sometimes level and approaching prose, is adapted to his theme and formed upon good models. Without being an exact imitator, he reminds the reader of our best didactic and descriptive blank-verse writers. Perhaps there is more resemblance to the philosophical parts of Paradise Lost than to any other poem. Geology consists of seven books ; of which the two first are chiefly historical, describing the various theories that were formerly entertained respecting the formation of the world, and noticing the traditions of some of its great disturbances—as the submersion of Atlantis. The third and fourth books approach the true subject, by a general survey of the changes that have taken place within the records of man,—such as the volcanic action traceable along the coasts of Italy in the overthrow of ancient cities, the sudden ap- pearance of volcanoes along the Andes range, and the various ope- rations of earthquakes, icebergs or avalanches, with the action of seas and rivers. The fifth book reaches geology scientific ; ex- pounding the order of the strata and the characters of the rocks, including the formation of coal. The sixth book, in its commence- ment, rather digresses again, to the late creation of man, and a re- futation of the opinions of LAMARCK as to the progressive growth of animals from monads; but the latter part of this book begins to trace the organic remains of plants and inferior animals, whilst the subject is completed in the seventh by a description of the more striking animal wonders of the primeval world. The work closes with a general view of the benevolent design visible in nature, and the beneficial effects that flow from seeming irregularities. The true principle of didactic poetry involves some questions ; and one of the most curious is, Can poetry properly undertake to teach that which is new ? We doubt it. We doubt in fact whether poetry can be understood, or at least relished, excepting by those who have some knowledge of the original delineated, either from or study. The works of the greater poets of our own country, even of SHAKSPERE himself, chiefly please the vulgar by their broader qualities—the interest of the story and situations, to- gether with the consummate art of the great dramatist in the busi- ness of the stage. If HOMER could arise with a knowledge of Eng- lish and translate the Iliad, it would perhaps only be admired by those who had attained by study some notion of the life described ; the transmutation of common translations being at the same time a necessity, and a fault indispensable to being read and relished. If these opinions be true, it seems to arise from the fact that the poet must flash his meaning upon the mind, not convey it by iteration : he must cautiously avoid minute explanation of things, and subtile limitation of meaning; all which is absolutely necessary when a new discovery is to be expounded. Hence it would seem, that a didactic poem should not be written till a general knowledge of the subject has become common property, in the same way if not to the same extent as the appearances of nature, the manners of life, and the passions of man. New lights may be thrown by the poet upon the subject ; he may treat it altogether in a novel way ; but the reader must know enough to recognize the truth when it is pre- sented to him, and he should be able readily to understand the terms be encounters : for the poet's tirst business is to instruct man- kind, not to teach technicalities or train professionals. Practice seems to correspond with this theory. The educated world was well enough instructed in the ancient natural philosophy when LUCRETIUS wrote " De Rerum Naturtt," VIRGIL his Georgics, and HoaAce his Art of Poetry. The prefaces of DRYDEN had given some popular notions upon the subject to the English public when POPE produced his Art of Criticism. It may be said, indeed, that poetry is the earliest kind of composition, and that the primitive poets are the first historians and philosophers. Still, they rather record knowledge which is known, than discover new ; and the his- tory or science of those early writers is not of the exactest kind.

Perhaps geology may be a shade too scientific at present for the use of poetry : the chemical and mathematical principles on which it is founded may require at times something like a strain upon the attention to follow ; and some of the terms are not the most poetically sounding. We doubt, for example, whether a reader of this poem would apprehend the atomic theory of the formation of worlds, unless he knew it before ; and with this advantage, be might not think it very happily explained. Ou the other hand, perhaps the science is in a certain sense too new—its more strik- ing features are too fresh in prose exposition—to come upon the reader as novelties in poetry ; they require to slip out of the public mind. The account of the formation of coral islands is of this character : it reads rather like a translation from prose than a poetical recreation. A fuller mastery of his subject might have lessened this peculiarity. Mr. WATSON, who professes no original views and to be little more than a follower of LYELL, has probably proceeded upon too full and methodized a plan, without sufficient confidence in his own art of leaving out.

The poem, however, is very able, considering the difficulties of the subject ; and it may be praised as an excellent manual of geology, for those who have some general ideas of the science : had the accounts of the history and theories of the earlier books been freely condensed, it might have formed a still better, because an easier book. The following quotations descriptive of the operation of ice in altering the character of the earth, and of the changes pro- duced in England within the historical age, will convey an idea of the poet's more popular treatment.


Neither does water no strong efforts work On earth's condition, even when potent frost Binds it iu ice. NV ith ice, thus bound, oft mix Fragments of pebbly soil, or solid rock,

Which, when thaw splits the gelid mass, are borne By the rapt segments into new abodes.

Vast bergs of ice, as down the half-solv'd stream They dust impetuous, from projecting banks Oft tear whole promontories of hardest rock, Or broad-spread wharfs, and give them to the flood, That rolls them, solv'd or solid, to the sea. Thus banks, and shores, and river-isles, are chang'd In form, or swept away. Beds, too, of streams, Are worn by secret ice, form'd in their depths, (How fumed, none know, though all philosophers Attest that there 'tis form'd, but when they seek Tb' efficient cause, stand puzzled and confuted.) This secret ice, as gradual it congeals'

Contiguous with th' gravelly soil, unites The gravelly soil's rough surface with itself; And, when th' thawing stream begins to flow Warmer and free, floats off and bears along Its spoils in other parts to be &pad. Such mingled fragments, even in English Thames, When Winter reigns severe, may men behold Swimming with upturn'd bases, mud-bespread.

The glacier thus, compact of frozen snow Accumulated thick o'er loftiest bills, Collects its tribute of the crumbling soil On which it rests attach'd, and rolls it down Into the subject vale, or neighbouring sea. Long rests the icy mass, firm- fix'd, till used By strong expansion of the frozen drops Lodg'd in its cavities, or 'ne,,th its base, It heaves its swelling bulk, and rolls amain

Its ponderous weight gravescent down the steep,.

"With all its load, earth, sand, and stones, and shale,-

And masses oft of densest granite rock

Full many a heavy ton, which, in their course, Strike other rocks, and snap their jutty peaks, Or tear the softer soil, and hurl in droves The fragments to the deep. Such icy heaps, Laden with rocky ruins, oft beholds The mariner that roams the Arctic seas, Much dreading lest they crush his hapless bark, And tomb himself unpitied. Here they float Perchance o'er many a league; but worn at last,

And solv'd by ambient waves, they yield their freight

To ocean's volume, and decrease its depth; Or else bestrew its beach with boulders rude, Numerous and vast, high o'er the shingle raised.


Whole tracts at once, even in our own bless'd Oft vanish from the view. Where are the lands

Of Harold's sire ? 'Where are the fields that spread 'Twixt old Reculver's steeples and the sea ?

"Where is the Cornish champaitn that conjoin'd The coast and Scilly Isles? Where is the port That sbipp'd weak Ballot off for Scotia's shores To seize a mimic throne, and that beheld The Lancaster, whose powerful word depos'd The second Richard, moor his traitorous fleet 7 Where are the towns and villages that fired The Suffolk coast and Humbrian? Where the soir That whilom join'd the correspondent cliffs Of Dover and of France? All, all are gone; Gone from the face of earth into the deep, COM mix'd with barbarous waves and sterile sands.

Yet often such immersion of the land Is fur long time but partial. The prone waves Burst in but here and there ; and what before Was soil continuous, now appears disrupt, Detach'd and riv'n, a swarm of acatter'd isles.