« ZurückWeiter »
able, that peo
racter for sense and learning has been obtained by those who have been most indebted to them. For, to say truth, whatever is very good sepse must have been common sense in all times; and what we call learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predecessors. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our fathers : and indeed it is very unreas ple should expect us to be scholars, and yet be angry to find us so.
I fairly confess that I have served myself all I could by reading; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living ; that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors, both by my friends and enemies. But the true reason these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the consideration how short a time they and I have to live : one may be ashamed to consume balf one's days in bringing sense and rhyme together; and what critic can be so unreasonable as not to leave a man time enough for any more serious employment, or more agreeable amusement?
The only plea I shall use for the favour of the public is, that I bave as great a respect for it as most authors bave for themselves; and that I have sacrificed mnch of my own self-love for its sakė, in preventing not only many mean things from seeing the light, but many which I thought tolerable. I would not be like those authors, who forgive themselves some particular lines for the sake of a whole poem, and vice versâ, a whole poem for the sake of some particular lines. I believe no one qualification is so likely to make a good writer as, the power of rejecting his own thoughts; and it, must be this, if any thing, that can give me a chance to be one. For what I have published, I can only hope to be pardoned; but for what I have burned, I deserve to be praised. On this account the world is under some obligation to me, and owes me the justice, in return, to look upon no yerses as mine that are not inserted in this collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own wbat are really so, but to avoid the imputation of so many dull and immoral things as, partly by malice, and partly ly ignorance, have been ascribed to me. I must further acquit myself of the presumption of having lent my name to recommend any miscellanies or works of other með ; a thing I never thought becoming a person who has hardly credit enough to answer for bis own.
In this office of collecting my pieces, I am als together uncertain whether to look upon myself as a man building a monument, or burying the dead. If time shall make it the former, may these poems, as long as they last, remain as a testimony that their author never made his talents subservient to the mean and unworthy ends of party or self-interest; the gratification of public prejudices or private passions ; the flattery of the undeserving, or the insult of the unfortunate. If I have written well, let it be considered that it is what no man can do without good sense ; a quality that not only renders one capable of being a good writer, but a good man : and if I have made any acquisition in the opinion of any one under the notion of the former, let it be continued to me under no other title than that of the latter.
But if this pablication be only a more solemn funeral of my remains, I desire it may be known that I die in charity, and in my senses; without any murmurs against the justice of this age, or any mad appeals to posterity. I declare I shall think the world in the right, and quietly submit to every truth which time shall discover to the prejudice of these writings; not so much as wishing so irrational a thing, as that every hody should be deceived merely for my credit. However, I desire it may then be considered, that there are very few things in this collection which were not written under the age of five and twenty; so that my youth may be made (as it never fails to be in executions) a case of compassion: that I was never so concerned about my works as to vindicate them in print; believing, if any thing was good, it would defend itself, and what was bad could never be defended : that I used no artifice to raise or continue a reputation, depreciated no dead author I was obliged to, bribed no living one with unjust praise, insulted no adversary with ill language; or, when I could not attack a rival's works, encouraged reports against his morals. To conclude, if this volume perish, let it serve as a warning to the critics, not to take too much pains for the future to destroy such things as will die of themselves ; and a memento mori to some of my vain contemporaries the poets, to teach them that, when real merit is wanting, it avails nothing to have been encouraged by the great, commended by the eminent, and favoured by the public in general.
Nov. 10, 1716.
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1704.
Rura mihi et rigni placeant in vallibus amnes,
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 of those which are truly so. It therefore seems necessary to give some account of this kind of poem; and it is my design to comprise in this short paper the substance of those numerous dissertations that critics have made on the subject, without omitting any of their rules in my own faronr: 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 flocks seems to have been the first employment of mankind, the most ancient sort of poetry was probably pastoral?. It is natural to imagine, that the leisure of those ancient
| Written at sixteen years of age. 2 Fontenelle's Discourse on Pastorals.
shepherds admitting and inviting some 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 virtues of a former age, might recommend them to the present. And since the life of shepherds 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 initation is dramatic, or narrative, or mixed of both 3 ; the fable simple, 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 simplicity 4, brevity, and delicacy; the two first 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 describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be con
3 Heinsius in Theocr.
4 Rapin de Carm. Past. p. 2.