Studying Nature’s Laws
Whence, but from Heav’n, cou’d men unskill’d in Arts
In several Ages born, in several parts,
Weave such agreeing Trutbs?
—Dryden, Religio Laici
The first line of Dryden’s Georgics I is described by Milbourne as a “stumble at the Threshold.”1 William Benson, less charitably, calls it “dogmatical, and vulgar, and mean.”2 Both object to Dryden’s disregard of Vergil’s reverent address to his patron at the outset of “a very necessary Work” undertaken “for the Service of his Prince, and his Country.”3 Like the programmatic introduction of his third Georgic, however, the first sections of Georgics I and II announce, in Hugh Seiwyn Mauberley—fashion, not classics in paraphrase, but what the age demanded. They again demonstrate that Dryden’s own Georgics undertake a “very necessary Work” in the service of his prince and country, and that his task involves not Vergilian glorification of the present but the setting of his own “Inferiour Times” against the eternal laws of nature.
As he introduces his Georgics as a body, Dryden again presents himself as the nation’s husbandman:
What makes a plenteous Harvest, when to turn
The fruitful Soil, and when to sowe the Corn;
The Care of Sheep, of Oxen, and of Kine;
And how to raise on Elms the teeming Vine:
The Birth and Genius of the frugal Bee,
I sing, Mæcenas, and I sing to thee.
Vergil announces a song about “joyous crops” and about labors guided by heavenly signs and supported by a beneficent patron, whom he hon-