« PreviousContinue »
ceeds not so much from the idea of that business, as of 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 eclogue. Besides, in each of them a designed scene or prospcct 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 circumstrnces; and lastly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the numbers extremely sweet and 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 Idylia are purely pastoral; but he is not so exact to his persons, having introduced reapers and fishermen? as well as shepherds. 3 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 Idylia. But it is enough that all others learnt their excellencies from him, and that his dialect alone has a secret charm in it, which no other could ever attain.
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 endeavored to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spencer. Tasso in his “ Aminta” has as far excelled all the pastoral writers, as in his “ Gerusalemme” he has outdone the epic poets of his country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem,' the pastoral comedy in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the ancients. Spencer's Calendar, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complete 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 thein 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. The 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.
1 Fontenelle's Disc. on Pastorals.-Pope.
3 The tenth and twenty-first idyl here alluded to contain some of the most exquisite stroke of nature and poetry anywhere to be met with, as does the beautiful descriptiou of the carving on the cup, which indeed is not a cup, but a very large pastoral vessel or cauldron.Warton.
In the manners, thoughts, and characters, he comes near to Theocritus himself; though, notwithstanding 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 country phrases of Spencer 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 critics 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 Spencer's: that in order to add to this variety, the
1 The "Aminta” of Tasso was not the first pastoral drama in Ital. ian, “Il Sacrificio of Agostino Bccarei was the first, who boasts of it in his prologue, and who died very old in 1590.-- Warton,
> Dedication to Virgil, Ecl.-Pope,
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.
THE FIRST PASTORAL; OR, DAMON.
TO SIR WILLIAM TRUMBULL.'
First in these fields I try the sylvan strains;
You, that too wise for pride, too good for pow'r,
Soon as the flock shook off the nightly dews, Two swains, whom love kept wakeful, and the muse, Poured o'er the whit’ning vale their fleecy care, Fresh as the morn, and as the season fair: The dawn now blushing on the mountain's side, Thus Daphnis spoke, and Strephon thus replied.
10ur author's friendship with this gentleman commenced at very unequal years; he was under sixteen, but Sir William above sixty, and had lately resigned his employment of Secretary of State to King William.-Pope.
2 Sir Wm. Trumbull was born in Windsor Forest (1630), to which he retreated after he had resigned the post of Secretary of State to King William III. He died ih 1716.-Pope,
Williand laters: he
Why sit we mute when early linnets sing,
DAMON. Then sing by turns, by turns the muses sing, Now hawthorns blossom, now the daisies spring, Now leaves the trees, and flow'rs adorn the ground, Begin, the vales shall ev'ry note rebound.
1 Phosphor-the planet Venus when she is the morning star.
2 Literally from Virgil; Eclogue III.: “ Alternis dicetis: amant alterna Camænæ. Et nunc omnis ager, nunc omnis parturit arbos: Nunc frondent sylvæ, nunc formosissimus annus." - Pope.
3 George Granville, afterwards Lord Lansdown, known for his poems, most of which he composed very young, and proposed Wallar as his model.-Pope.
“ Pascite taurum, Qui cornu petat, et pedibus jam spargat arenam." Virg. Ecl. iii.