« PreviousContinue »
and fedentary life as finging; and that in their fongs they took occafion 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 prefent. And fince the life of fhepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chofe to introduce their Perfons, from whom it received the name of Paftoral.
A Paftoral is an imitation of the action of a fhepherd, or one confidered 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 ruftic: the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickness and paffion, but that short and flowing: the expreffion humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not florid; eafy, and yet lively. In fhort, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expreffions, are full of the greatest fimplicity in nature.
The complete character of this Poem confifts in fimplicity, brevity, and delicacy; the two firft of which 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 defcribe our thepherds as fhepherds at this day really are, but as they *Heinfius in Theocr.
Rapin, de Carm. Paft. p. 2.
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 amifs to give these fhepherds fome skill in aftronomy, as far as it may be ufeful to that fort 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 preferve fome relish of the old way of writing; the connection fhould be loofe, the narrations and defcriptions fhort*, and the periods concife. Yet it is not sufficient, that the fentences only be brief; the whole Eclogue should be fo too. For we cannot fuppofe Poetry in those days to have been the business of men, but their recreation at vacant hours.
But with respect to the prefent age, nothing more conduces to make these composures natural, than when fome Knowledge in rural affairs is discovered +. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on design, and fometimes is beft fhewn by inference; left by too much tudy to feem natural, we deftroy that easy fimplicity from whence arifes the delight. For what is inviting in this fort of poetry proceeds not so much from the Idea of that bufinefs, as the tranquillity of a country life.
We must therefore ufe fome illufion to render a Paftoral delightful; and this confifts in expofing the best side only of a fhepherd's life, and in concealing its miferies .
Rapin, Reflex. fur l'Art Poet. d'Arift. p. 2. Reflex. xxvii.
+ Pref. to Virg. Paft. in Dryd. Virg.
Fontenelle's Difc. of Paftorals.
Nor is it enough to introduce fhepherds difcourfing together in a natural way; but a regard must be had to the fubject; that it contain fome 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 prefented to our view, which should likewife 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 digreffions, but those short; fometimes by insisting a little on circumstances; and, lastly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the numbers extremely fweet and pleafing. As for the numbers themfelves, though they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smootheft, the most easy and flowing imaginable.
It is by rules like these that we ought to judge of Paftoral. And fince the inftructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of neceffity be derived from thofe in whom it is acknowledged fo to be. It is therefore from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors of Paftoral) that the Critics have drawn the foregoing notions concerning it.
Theocritus excells all others in nature and fimplicity. The fubjects of his Idyllia are purely paftoral; but he is not fo exact in his perfons, having introduced reapers † and fishermen as well as fhepherds. He is apt
* See the forementioned Preface.
† Olpiɛtai, Idyl. x. and Aɛis, Idyl, xxi.
to be too long in his defcriptions, of which that of the Cup in the first Paftoral is a remarkable inftance. In the manners he seems a little defective, for his fwains are fometimes abusive and immodeft, and perhaps too much inclining to rufticity; for inftance, 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 fecret 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 fuperior to his mafter. Though fome of his fubjects are not pastoral in themselves, but only feem to be fuch; they have a wonderful variety in them, which the Greek was a ftranger to *. He exceeds him in regularity and brevity, and falls fhort 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 fuccefs has been greatest who have moft endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most confiderable Genius appears in the famous Taffo, and our Spenfer. Taffo in his Aminta has as far excelled all the Paftoral writers, as in his Gierufalemme he has outdone the Epic poets of his country. But as his piece feems to have been the original of a new fort of poem, the Paftoral Comedy, in Italy, it cannot fo well be confidered as a copy of the
*Rapin, Ref. on Arift. part ii. Refl. xxvii.to the Ecl. in Dryden's Virg.
ancients. Spenfer'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 fome few points. His Eclogues are fomewhat too long, if we compare them with the ancients. He is fometimes 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 ftanza is not ftill the fame, nor always well chofen. This laft may be the reason his expreffion is fometimes not concife enough: for the Tetraftic has obliged him to extend his fenfe 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 phrafes of Spenfer were either entirely obsolete, or spoken only by people of the lowest condition. As there is a difference betwixt fimplicity and rufticity, fo the expreffion of fimple thoughts fhould be plain, but not clownish. The addition he has made of a Calendar to his Eclogues, is very beautiful; fince by this, befides the general moral of
Dedication to Virg. Ecl.