« ZurückWeiter »
preferred sense and reason to imagination. Bat does not the unrivalled popularity of his works show, at the same time, that the preference he gave is that of truth and nature, since it is au acknowledged fact, that men read the higher efforts of the sublime muse as tasks, but recur to the writings of Pope as to a never-ending pleasure? But, whatever may be in this, the author of the Rape of the Lock, and of the Eloisa, cannot be dented such powers of invention and of pathos as rarely are to be met with. These two poems have produced many imitations, but unquestionably no rival whose pretension's can be allowed.
As the refiner of versification, and the poet of reason, sense, and satire, Pope stands at the head of a school the most numerous of any. Among his imitators, indeed, we find almost alt the names of any considerable merit since his days; and if invention has been too much neglected, it may on the other hand be said, that versification has been so much improved, that slovenly rhymes, want of harmony, and rugged lines are no longer tolerated, and no longer excusable. Pope has the honour, therefore, of advancing English poetry one important step towards perfection, by refining its language, and-smoothing the way towards those efforts of the sublime and the pathetic, which before his time were obscured by uncouth measures, or mixed with pedantic quaintnesses.
His private character is not so consistent with the sense and morals which pervade his works, as could be wished. Yet while he aimed at the grosser gaieties of life, he had many good qualities. He was a most affectionate son, and a steady friend; and it is probable, that the connexion with the lady who contributed most to the vexation of his latter .days, by gaining an improper ascendancy over him,, was the result of sympathy for her weakness, or a, consciousness that the undisguised freedom of their connexion had endangered her reputation.
A DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL.
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1T04.
Rura mini, et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes, Flumina am em, sylvasque, inglorius! VIRG.
The Pastorals were written at the age of sixteen, and then passed through the hands of Mr. Walsh, Mr. Wycherley, G. Granville, afterwards lord Lansdowne, sir William Trumbull, Dr. Garth, lord Halifax, lord Somers, Mr. Maynwaring, and others. All these gave our author the greatest encouragement, and particularly Mr. Walsh', whom Mr. Dryden, in his Postscript to Virgil, calls the best critic of his age. * The author (says he) seems to have a particular genins for this kind of poetry, and a judgement which much exceeds his years. He has taken very freely" from the ancients; but what he has mixed of his own with, theirs, is no way inferior to what he has taken from them. It is not flattery at all to say, that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age. His Preface is very judicious and learned.' Letter to Mr. Wycherley, April, 1705. The lord Lansdowne about the same time, mentioning the youth of our Poet, says (in a printed Letter of the Character of Mr. Wycherley), ' that if he goes on as he has begun in his Pastoral way, as Virgil first tried his strength, we may hope to see English poetry vie with the Roman, ' &c. Notwithstanding the early time of their production, the author esteemed these as the most correct in the versification, and musical in the numbers, of all his works. The reason for his labouring them into so much softness, was, doubtless, that this sort of poetry derives almost its whole beauty from a natural ease of thought, and smoothness of verse; whereas that of most other lands consists in the strength and fulness of both. In a letter of his to Mr. Walsh about this time, we find an enumeration of several niceties in versification, which perhaps have never been strictly observed in any English poem, except in these Pastorals. They were not printed till 1709.
A 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 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 the critics have made on the subject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. 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
* Written at sixteen years of age.
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 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 choose 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 nanative, or mixed of both; 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, brevity, and delicacy; the two first of which render an eclogue natural, and the last delightful.
If we could 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 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 astronomy, as far as it may be useful to that sort of life. And an air of piety to the pods 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 connexion should be loose, the narra* tions and descriptions short, and the periods con* cise: yet it is not sufficient that the sentences only be brief; the whole eclogue should be so too; 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. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on design, and sometimes is best shown by inference; lest by too much study to seem natural, we destroy that easy simplicity from whence arises the„ delight: for what is inviting m this sort of poetry proceeds not so much from the idea of that business, as the tranquillity of a coun-. try 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 shephefds 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 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 interrogation to things inanimate; by beautiful digressions, but those short; sometimes by insisting a little on circumstances; and, lastly, by elegant turns ou the words, which render the numbers extremely sweet and pleasing. As for the numbers themselves, though they are