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On a general view of the Greek Idyllia, their dialect is an obvious and striking feature. The Doric dialect, in which they are for the most part written, was, of all others, beft adapted to the subjects, the characters, and simplicity of the sentiment. It possesses an inimitable charm, that can never be transfused in the most happy translation. It hath a modulated fweetness which melts upon the ear, at the same time that its wildness and rusticity often characterize the personages who use it. In the age of THEOCRITUS, this species of the Doric (much softer and smoother than the old dialect of the Dorians) was current in many parts of Greece-another adventitious circumstance much in favor of our Poet. Hence his versification derives a melody, which no one of the ancients hath equalled; while the frequent recurrence of the dactyl gives it an ease and lightness more peculiarly graceful in the pastoral IDYLLIĄ.
With respect to the general sentiment, there is a clearness, a simplicity, a sportive vivacity, that must always please: but there are few strokes of the sublime; few fervid aspirations of fancy. There is no want of vigor; yet there is little en. thusiasm. We, in some instances, meet with a surprizing thought, with a wonderful degree of animation: but though we are often charmed, we are seldom astonished. There is always a justness in the combination; all is natural and appropriated; but there is a regular and equable tenor in the thoughts as well as the language. The passions are tenderly and simply expressed: the complaints of love are drawn from the very bosom of nature; and the situations have pe. culiar beauty. But the soul of THEOCRITUS was not tuned
to sensibility. He had less feeling, though more judgement than Bion. From the turn and manner of his composition we may infer, that he generally trusts to his own stock of ideas to his own powers of invention. Yet we sometimes discover imitations of profane as well as sacred poetry. The Epics of HOMER, the Song of SOLOMON, and the PSALMS, (with the prophecies perhaps of ISAIAH) seem to have been chiefly familiar to his perusal; in proof of which particular passages will be adduced, on a closer inspection of his Idyllia. But these Idyllia are of so varied a complexion, that no general character of their language, style, or sentiment, will be found applicable to them all. To arrange them under different classes, expressive of their matter or form, hath been vainly attempted by the critics. Yet for the sake of perspicuity, and in conformity with our essay at a philosophical deduction of his pieces from the peculiar coincidence of genius and circumstance, we shall pursue, perhaps, no unnatural or improper mode of classification, whilst we reduce them under the heads of Pastoral, Humorous, Panegyrical, Spousal, Mythological, Epiftolary, and Anacreontic Idyllia.
T H E
PASTORAL IDYLLI A.
THE fubje&t of Pastoral seems to have been long exhausted by the labors of criticisin. Though it was never professedly discussed by the ancients, the later critics have entered deeply into its nature and origin. The more modern effufions indeed on this topic are scarcely to be enumerated: and we might imagine it to be of the first literary importance, whilft surrounded by the elaborate disquisitions of a SCALIGER, the flippant essays of a FONTENELLE, the voluminous investigations of a RAPIN, the hypotheses of a Pope, or the decisions of a JOHNSON. But controversy however extensive, and conjecture however ingenious, evince not the value of their object; though they may invest it with an ideal dignity, such as it does not intrinsically pofsefs.
The origin of this composition hath called forth a profufion of learning. While one writer hath traced it from the times of Orpheus, Linus, or EUMOLPUS, another hath made it coeval with the world itself; and a third might as well, if the humour led him, go back eleven thousand years, and place his pastoral poet on Plato's Atalantis! The romantic vales of Tempe may still live in the colors of ÆLIAN; the luxuriance of Arcadia may still flourish in song; and the golden age present its Paradise to fancy:
Yet the Critic who would seriously investigate his subject, with a view to ascertain realities, should connect with the learning that is to guide him through the gloom of antiquity, a power to disenchant the wilds of error, and a resolution to dismiss fiction, though more agreeable than truth.
We know, from the concurrent testimonies of sacred and profane history, that the first Princes and Patriarchs fed their flocks; and that the shepherd maintained, after the lapse of ages, the primitive honors of the cheiftain. Yet must the conclusion be deemed inconsequent, that the regular pastoral was the invention of the period, when
• DAN ABRAHAM left the Chaldee land,
* And pastur'd on from verdant stage to stage.' The Ode and the Hymn were manifestly the production of wild and unimproved genius. But the Pastoral could little consist with the transitory establishments of the patriarchal times, or the restless fpirit of nations delighting in war. The fimplicity and innocence of the shepherd are too peaceable, unobtrusive, and placid, to attract the attentive observation of an unrefined poet, in such a manner as to fupply him with materials for uniform compofition. It is at the time when imagination loses its wildness, and the passions are softened and meliorated, amidst the ease and leisure of luxurious retirement, that the poet looks around him with interest on the pastoral landscape. It is at the period when the manners of the court and the cottage are obviously contradistinguished, that he, who hath mixed, perhaps, in the hurry and dissipation of the one, retreating to the stillness and ferenity of the other, is forcibly affected by the contrast; and calls forth his poetic
powers powers to paint what hath subdued arrogance, and soothed ambition! It is then that he delineates, with transport, the actions, the passions, and the scenes of rural life. These, though before perhaps strongly, yet partially, represented, in the heat of a transitory enthusiasm, are now extensively held up to view, in all their parts; and become the subjects of a new species of writing. In the earlier ages, the very prevalence of the pastoral occupation might have prevented its becoming the subject of poetic description. For hence, its familiarity must have precluded emotion. And he, who does not feel, will not attempt to describe.
We have already seen, that the people of Sicily; in the times of THEOCRITUS, were arrived at the point of elegant çivilization. We have also viewed the singular advantages our poet possessed, in subfervience to his muse. And since, on examining the literary history of Greece, we find that she produced no writer, in this line of composition, at her most refined periods, we may reasonably fix the date of Grecian pastoral with THEOCRITUS.* Its nature does not agree with the ruder æras. It hath been the opinion of some respectable writers, that our pastoral derives its origin from the
* Mr. WARTON is decidedly of opinion, that the origin of the Bucolic is to be discovered in the ancient Comedy; while the latter was in its rude unpolished ftaté. On this idea he has formed an hypothesis, which he hath fupported with great ingenuity, in his curious Dissertation on the Bucolic Poetry.
If this were really the origin of Pastoral, the ancients did not think it worthy their attention, under its scenic form. They have not given us the Nightest account of the exhibition or acting of pastorals; which, in truth, did not deserve the name of Compofition, till THEOCRITUS.