Page images
PDF
[blocks in formation]

The Pastorals were written at the age of sixteen, and then passed through the hands of Mr. Walsh, Mr. Wycherley, G. Granville, afterwards lord Lansdowne, sir William Trumbull, Dr. Garth, lord Halifax, lord Somers, Mr. Maynwaring, and others. All these gave our author the greatest encouragement, and particularly Mr. Walsh, whom Mr. Dryden, in his Postscript to Virgil, calls the best critic of his age. “ The author (says he) seems to have a particular genius for this kind of poetry, and a judgment which much exceeds his years. He has taken very freely from the ancients; but what he has mixed of his own with theirs, is no way inferior to what he has taken from them. It is not flattery at all to say, that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age. His Preface is very judicious and learned.” Letter to Mr. Wycherley, April, 1705. The lord Lansdowne about the same time, mentioning the youth of our Poet, says (in a printed Letter of the Character of Mr. Wycherley), “ that if he goes on as he has begun in his Pastoral way, as Virgil first tried his strength, we may hope to see English poetry vie with the Roman,” &c. Notwithstanding the early time of their production, the author esteemed these as the most correct in the versification and musical in the numbers, of all his works. The reason for his labouring them into so much softness, was, doubtless, that this sort of poetry derives almost its whole beauty from a natural ease of thought, and smoothness of verse; whereas, that of most other kinds consists in the strength and fulness of both. In a letter of his to Mr. Walsh about this time, we find an enumeration of several niceties in versification, which perhaps have never been strictly observed in any English poem, except in these Pastorals. They were pot printed till 1709.

A DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL POETRY'.

THERE are not, I believe, a greater number of any sort of verses than of those which are called Pastorals, nor a smaller than those which are truly so. It therefore seems necessary to give some account of this kind of poem; and it is my design to comprize in this short paper the substance of those numerous dissertations the critics have made on the subject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. You will also find some points reconciled, about which they seem to differ; and a few remarks, which, I think, have escaped their observation.

The original of poetry is ascribed to that age which succeeded the creation of the world, and as the keeping of focks seems to have been the first employment of mankind, the most ancient sort of poetry fas probably pastoral'. It is natural to imagine, that the leisure of those ancient shepherds admittings

· Written at sixteen years of age.
* Fontenello's Discourse on Pastorals,

and inviting sone diversion, none was so proper to that solitary and sedentary life as singing; and that in their songs they took occasion to celebrate their own felicity. · From hence a poem was invented, and afterwards improved to a perfect image of that happy time; which, by giving us an esteem for the virs tues of a former age, might recommend them to the present. And since the life of shepherds was at. tended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the poets choose to introduce their persons, from whom it received the name of Pastoral.

A pastoral is an imitation of the action of a shepherd, or one considered under that character. The form of this imitation is dramatic, or narrative, or mixed of both'; the fable simple, the manners not too polite nor too t'ustic: the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickn s9 and passion, but that short and flowing: the expression humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not forid; easy, and yet lively. In short, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expressions, are full of the greatest simplicity in nature.

The complete character of this poem consists in simplicity“, brevity, and delicacy, the two first of which render an eclogue natural, and the last delightful.

If we could copy Nature, it may be useful to take this idea along with us, that pastoral is an image of what they call the Golden Age. So that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceived then to have been, when the best of men followed the employment. To carry this resemblance yet further, it would not be amiss to give these shepherds some skill in astronomy, as far as it may be useful to that sort of life. And an air of piety to the Gods should shine through the poem, which so visibly appears in all the works of antiquity; and it ought to preserve some relish of the old way of writing: the connection should be loose, the narrations and descriptions shorts, and the periods concise: yet it is not sufficient, that the sentences only be brief; the whole eclogue should be so too; for we cannot suppose poetry in those days to have been the business of men, but their recreation at vacant houts.

But with respect to the present age, nothing more conduces to make these composures natural, than when some knowledge in rural affairs is discovered“. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on design, and sometimes is best shown by inference; lest by too much study to scem natural, we destroy that easy simplicity from whence arises the delight: for what is inviting in this sort of poetry proceeds not o much from the idea of that business, as the tranquility of a country life

We must therefore use some illusion to render a pastoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best side only of a shepherd's life, and in concealing its miseries'. Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds discoursing together in a natural way; but a regard must be had to the subject, that it contain some particular beauty in itself, and that it be different in every ecloguie. Besidos, in each of them a designed scene or prospect is to be presented to our view, which should likewise have its variety". This variety is obtained in a great degree by frequent comparisons. drawn from the most agreeable objects of the country; by interrogations to things inanimate; by beautiful digressions, but those short; sometimes by insisting a little on circumstances; and, lastly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the humbers extremely sweet ard pleasing. As for the numbers themselves, though they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smoothest, the most easy and flowing imaginable.

It is by rules like these that we ought to judge of pastoral. And since the instructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of necessity be derived from those in whom it is acknowledged so to be. It is therefore from the practice of 'Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors of pastoral) that the critics have drawn the foregoing notions concerning it. " Theocritus excels all others in nature and simplicity. The subjects of his idyllia are purely pastoral; but he is not so exact in his persons, having introduced reapers' and fishermen as well as shepherds. He is apt to be too long in his descriptions, of which that of the cup in the first pastoral is a remarkable instance In the manners he seems a little defective, for his swains are sometimes abusive and immodest, and perhaps too much inclining to rusticity; for instance, in his fourth and fifth Idyllia. But it is enough that all others learned their excellence from him, and that his dialect alone has a secret charm in it, which no other could ever attain.

3 Heinsius in Theocr.

• Rapin, de Carm. Past. p. 2.
Rapin, Reflex, sur l'Art Poet. d'Arist. p. 2. Reflex. 27.
• Pref. to Virg. Past. in Dryd. Virg.

; Fontenelle's Disc. of Pastorals. . See the forementioned Preface. ! DEPISTAI, Idyl. x, and AAIEIE, Idyl. xxi.

Virgil, who copies Theocritus, refines upon his original: and in all points, where judgment is principally concerned, he is much superior to his master. Though some of his subjects are not pastoral in themselves, but only seem to be such; they have a wonderful variety in them, which the Greek was a stranger to! He exceeds him in regularity and brevity, and falls short of him in nothing but simplicity and propriety of style; the first of which perhaps was the fault of his age, and the last of his language.

Among the moderns, their success has been greatest who have most endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso in his Aminta has as far excelled all the pastoral writers, as in his Gierusaleinme he has outdone the epic poets of his country. But as his piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem, the pass toral comedy, in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the ancients. Spenser's Calendar, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complcte work of this kind which any nation has produced ever since the time of Virgil?: not but that he may be thought imperfect in some few points. His eclogues are somewhat too long, if we compare them with the ancients. He is sometimes too allegorical, and treats of matters of religion in a pastoral style, as the Mantuan had done before him. He has employed the lyric measure, which is contrary to the practice of the old poets. His stanza is not still the same, nor always well chosen. This last may be the reason his expression is sometimes not concise enough ; for the tetrastic has obliged him to extend his sense to the length of four lines, which would have been more closely confined in the couplet.

In the manners, thoughts, and characters, he comes near to Theocritus himself; though, not withstanding all the care he has taken, he is certainly inferior in his dialect: for the Doric had its beauty and propriety in the time of Theocritus; it was used in part of Greece, and frequent in the mouths of many of the greatest persons: whereas the old English and country phrases of Spenser were either entirely obsolete, or spoken only by people of the lowest condition. As there is a difference betwixt simplicity and rusticity, so the expression of simple thoughts should be plain, but not clownish. The addition he has made of a calendar to his eclogues, is very beautiful; since by this, besides the general" moral of innocence and simplicity, which is common to other authors of pastoral, he has one peculiar to himself; he compares human life to the several seasons, and at once exposes to his readers a view of the great and little worlds, in their various changes and aspects. Yet the scrupulous division of his pastorals into months, has obliged him either to repeat the same description, in other words, for three months together; or, when it was exhausted before, entirely to omit it: whence it comes to pass that some of his eclogues (as the sixth, eighth, and tenth, for example) have nothing but their titles to distinguish them. The reason is evident, because the year has not that variety in it to furnish every month with a particular description, as it may every season.

Of the following eclogues I shall only say, that these four comprehend all the subjects which the cri. tics upon Theocritus and Virgil will allow to be fit for pastoral: that they have as much variety of description, in respect of the several seasons, as Spenser's: that, in order to add to this variety, the several times of the day are observed, the rural employments in each season or time of day, and the rural scenes or places proper to such employments; not without some regard to the several ages of man, and the different passions proper to each age.

But after all, if they have any merit, it is to be attributed to some good old authors, whose works as I had leisure to study, so, I hope, I have not wanted care to imitate.

"Rapin. Refl. on Arist. part. 2. Ref. 27.- Pref. to the Ecl. in Dryden's Vire.

? Dedication to Virg. Ecl.

POEMS

ALEXANDER POPE.

PASTORALS.

Pour figures rising from the work appear

The various seasons of the rolling year ;
SPRING.

And what is that which binds the radiant sky,

Where twelve fair signs in beauteous order lie? (THE FIRST PASTORAL, OR DAMON.

DAMON.
TO SIR WILLIAM TRUMBULL.

Then sing by turns, by turns the Muses sing;
First in these fields I try the sylvan strains, Now hawthorns blossom, now the daisies spring,
Nor blush to sport on Windsor's blissful plains: Now leaves the trees, and flowers adorn the ground;
Fair Thames, flow gently from thy sacred spring, Begin, the vales shall every note rebound.
While on thy banks Sicilian Muses sing ;

STREPHON. Let vernal airs through trembling osiers play, Inspire me, Phoebus, in my Delia's praise, And Albion's cliffs resound the rural lay.

| With Waller's strains, or Granville's moving lays ! You that, too wise for pride, too good for power,

A milk-white bull shall at your altars stand, Enjoy the glory to be great no more,

That threats a fight, and spurns the rising sand. And, carrying with you all the world can boast, To all the world illustriously are lost!

DAPANIS.

O Love! for Sylvia let me gain the prize, 49 O let my Muse her slender reed inspire. Till in your native shades you tune the lyre :

And make my tongue victorious as her eyes;

No lambs or sheep for victims I'll impart, So when the nightingale to rest removes,

Thy victim, Love, shall be the shepherd's heart. The thrush may chant to the forsaken groves, But charm'd to silence, listens while she sings,

STREPHON. And all th' aërial audience clap their wings.

Me gentle Delia beckons from the plain, Soon as the flocks shook off the nightly dews, Then, hid in shades, eludes her eager swain; Twoswains, whom love kept wakeful, and the Muse, But feigns a laugh, to see me search around, Pour'd o'er the whitening vale their fleecy care, And by that laugh the willing fair is found. Fresh as the morn, and as the season fair:

DAPHNIS. The dawn now bhushing on the mountain's side, The sprightly Sylvia trips along the green, Thus Daphnis spoke, and Strephon thus reply'd. She runs, but hopes she does not run unseen; DAPHNIS.

While a kind glance at her pursuer flies, Hear how the birds, on every bloomy spray,

How much at variance are her feet and eyes ! With joyous music wake the dawning day!

STREPHON. Why sit we wate, when early linnets sing,

O'er golden sands let rich Pactolus flow, 61
When warbling Pbilomel salutes the Spring? And trees weep amber on the banks of Po;
Why sit we sad, when Phosphor shines so clear,
And lavish Nature paints the purple year?

VARIATIONS.
STREPHON.

Ver. 49. Originally thus in the MS.
Sing then, and Damon shall attend the strain, Pan, let my numbers equal Strephon's lays,
While yon slow oxen turn the furrow'd plain. Of Parian stone thy statue will I raise ;
Here the bright crocus and blue violet glow;

But if I conquer, and augment my fold, Here western winds on breathing roses blow.

Thy Parian statue shall be chang’d to gold. I'll stake yon lamb, that near the fountain plays, Ver. 61. It stood thus at first : And from the brink his dancing shade surveys. 34 Let rich Iberia golden fleeces boast, DAPHNIS.

Her purple wool the proud Assyrian coast, And I this bowl, where wanton ivy twines, Blest Thames's shores, &c. And swelling clusters bend the curling vines : 36 | Ver. 61. Originally thus in the MS.

Go, flowery wreath, and let my Sylvia know, VARIATIONS.

Compard to thine how bright her beauties Ver. 34. The first reading was,

And his own image from the bank surveys. Then die; and dying, teach the lovely maid Ver. 36. And clusters lurk beneath the curling vines. How soon the brightest beauties are decay'd

VOL XIL

show :

« PreviousContinue »