« PreviousContinue »
and fedentary 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 virtues of a former age, might recommend them to the present. And since the life of thepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chose 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 fimple, the manners not too polite nor too rustic : the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickness and passion, but that short and flowing: the expression humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not florid; 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 fimplicity t, brevity, and delicacy; the two first of whick render an Eclogue natural, and the last delightful.
If we would 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 thepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they
* Heinsius in Theocr.
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 aftro nomy, 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 short *, and the periods concife. Yet it is not sufficient, that the sentences only be brief; the whole Eclogue should be so
For we cannot suppose Poetry in those days to have been the business of men, but their recreation at vacant hours.
But with respect to the present age, nothing more conduces to make these composures natural, than when some Knowledge in rural affairs is discovered f. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on defign, and -sometimes is best shewn by inference; left by too much study to seem natural, we destroy that easy fimplicity from whence arises the delight. For what is inviting in this sort of poetry proceeds not so much from the Idea of that business, as the tranquillity of a country life.
We must therefore use some illufion to render a Pastoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best side only of a thepherd's life, and in concealing its miseries I.
* Rapin, Reflex. sur l'Art Poet. d'Arist. p. 2. Reflex. xxvii.
+ Pref. to Virg. Past. in Dryd. Virg.
Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds discourfing 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 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 numbers extremely sweet and pleasing. As for the numbers themfelves, 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 Partoral. 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 excells all others in nature and simplicity. The subjects of his idyllia are purely paftoral; but he is not so exact in his perfons, having introduced reapers † and fishermen as well as shepherds. He is apt
* See the forementioned Preface.
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.
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 fimplicity 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 Gierusalemme 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 Pastoral Comedy, in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the
* Rapin, Refl. on Arist. part ii. Ref. xxvii.- -Pref. to the Ecl. in Dryden's Virg.
ancients. Spenser'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 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 fame, nor always well chofen. 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, 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 perfons : 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 dimple 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
* Dedication to Virg. Ecl.