Juan Christian Pellicer

Georgic verse — modeled on Virgil's didactic poem on plant and animal husbandry, the Georgics (c.36—29 bce) — burgeoned in the eighteenth century as never before or since. In a literary climate favorable to imitation of the classics, poets adapted Virgil's combination of practical instruction and politically suggestive description to comment on their own society. Just as Virgil deploys agricultural instruction to promote an ethos of responsible management under Augustus Caesar, essential to the transition from a time of civil war to an era of peace and prosperity, British georgics, most written in the half-century following the union of Scotland, England, and Wales in 1707, try to demonstrate in emphatically practical, "preceptive" (instructive) terms, how the newly unified nation's productive and imperial energies should be regulated and harnessed.

The influence of the Georgics pervades eighteenth-century literature. It is powerfully felt in a wide range of generically diverse poetic works that incorporate Vir-gilian material flexibly, such as Pope's Windsor-Forest (1713) and James Thomson's The Seasons (1726—44). The main focus of this essay will be the important group of poems in the formal georgic mode, the earliest John Philips's Cyder (1708), which use Virgil as their template (Chalker 1969: 36). These poems, like their model, often had a strong political and civic dimension. Philips's Cyder introduces the reader to the ways of Herefordshire apple-growing and cider-making. It also aims to promote the moderate Tory politics of Philips's ministerial patrons, with a view to healing divisions between oppositional ("Country") and pro-government Tories. William Somervile's The Chace (1735) is similarly designed to unite moderate Tories and opposition Whigs under the aegis of Frederick Prince of Wales (Gerrard 1994: 217—20). Christopher Smart's The Hop-Garden, on cultivating hops in his native Kent (written 1742—3, published 1752), presents an exuberant and politically dissident counterpart to Philips's Cyder. Robert Dodsley's Agriculture (1753), which addresses the future George III, embraces a remarkably broad range of topics and widens the British georgic's scope for civic instruction. John Dyer's The Fleece

(1757), the most ambitious and artistically successful venture in the formal georgic mode, describes the various processes involved in the woolen industry and traces the growth of Britain's mercantile empire through the global diffusion of its textiles, placing homely tasks against a historical backdrop of "epic" scope. The adaptation of the Virgilian georgic to reflect contemporary scientific, commercial, and imperial concerns climaxes in James Grainger's Caribbean georgic The Sugar-Cane (1764), while William Mason's The English Garden (1772—81) reflects georgic's subsequent retreat from the Virgilian themes of commerce and empire.

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