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* Of the following Eclogues I shall only fay, that these four comprehend all the subjects which the Critics upon Theocritus and Virgil will allow to be fit for pastoral: That they have as much variety of description, in respect of the several seasons, as Spenser's : that in order to add to this variety, the several times of the day are observ'd, the rural employments in each season or time of day,
* The superiority of Milton's Lycidas to all paftoral poems in our language is, I should hope, acknowledged by every man of true classical judgment; and Dr. Johnson's strange animadversions on it have been thus effectually answered. “ Lycidas, (says he,) is filled with the heathen deities; and a long train of mythological imagery, such as a College easily supplies.-But it is also such as even the Court itself could now have easily supplied. The public diverfions, and books of all sorts, and from all sorts of writers, more especially compositions in poetry, were at this time over-run with classical pedantries. But what writer, of the fame period, has made these obsolete fictions the vehicle of so much fancy and poetical description? How beautifully has he applied this sort of allusion to the Druidical rocks of Denbighshire, to Mona, and the fabulous banks of Deva! It is objected, that its pastoral form is disgusting. But this was the age of pastoral; and yet Lycidas has but little of the bucolic cant, now fo fashionable. The satyrs and fauns are but just mentioned. If any trite rural topics occur, how are they heightened ! “ Together both, ere the high lawns appear'd
Under the opening eye-lids of the morn,
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Battning our flocks with the fresh dews of night. “ Here the day-break is described by the faint appearance of the upland lawns under the first gleams of light : the fun-fet, by the buzzing of the chaffer: and the night sheds her fresh dews on their flocks. We cannot blame pastoral imagery and paftoral allegory, which carry with them so much natural painting. In and the rural scenes or places proper to such employments; not without some regard to the several ages of man,
and the different pafsions proper to each age.
But after all, if they have any merit, it is to be attributed to some good old Authors, whose works as I had leisure to study, so I hope I have not wanted care to imitate.
this piece there is perhaps more poetry than sorrow.
But let us read it for its poetry. It is true, that passion plucks no berries from the myrtle and ivy, no calls upon Arethuse and Mincius, nor tells of rough fatyrs with cloven heel. But poetry does this ; and in the hands of Milton, does it with a peculiar and irresistible charm. Subordinate poets exercise no invention, when they tell how a shepherd has lost his companion, and must feed his flocks alone without any judge of his skill in piping : but Milton dignifies and adorns these common artificial incidents with unexpected touches of picturesque beauty, with the graces of sentiment, and with the novelties of original genius. It is said, “here is no art, for there is nothing new." But this objection will vanish, if we consider the imagery which Milton has raised from local circumstances. Not to repeat the use he has made of the mountains of Wales, the Ise of Man, and the river Dee, near which Lycidas was. ship-wrecked; let us recollect the introduction of the romantic superstition of Saint Michael's Mount in Cornwall, which overlooks the Irish seas, the fatal scene of his friend's disaster.
“ But the poetry is not always unconnected with passion. The poet lavishly describes an ancient sepulchral rite, but it is made preparatory to a stroke of tenderness. He calls for a variety of flowers to decorate his friend's hearse, supposing that his body was present, and forgetting for a while he was drowned; it was some consolation that he was to receive the decencies of burial. This is a pleasing deception : it is natural and pathetic. But the real catastrophe recurs.
And this circumstance again opens a new vein of imagination.”
Poems of Milton, second edition, Robinson, 1791, p. 35.
First in these fields I
IRST in these fields I try the fylvan strains,
Nor blush to sport on Windsor’s blissful plains : Fair Thames, flow gently from thy sacred spring, While on thy banks Sicilian Muses fing;
REMARKS. These Pastorals were written at the age of fixteen, and then past through the hands of Mr. Walsh, Mr. Wycherley, G. Granville afterwards Lord Lansdown, Sir William Trumbal, Dr. Garth, Lord Hallifax, Lord Somers, Mr. Mainwaring, 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 geníus for this kind of Poetry, and a judgment that 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, Ap. 1705. The Lord Lansdown 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 hath begun in the Pastoral way, as Virgil
Let vernal airs through trembling ofiers play, 5 And Albion's cliffs resound the rural lay.
You, that too wise for pride, too good for pow'r, Enjoy the glory to be great no more,
REMARKS. 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 moft 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 kinds 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. P.
Sir William Trumbal.] Our Author's friendship with this gentleman commenced at very unequal years ; he was under fixteen, but Sir William above fixty, and had lately refign'd his employment of Secretary of State to King William. P.
Ver. 7. You, that too wise] This amiable old man, who had been a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and Dr. of Civil Law, was fent, by Charles II, Judge Advocate to Tangier, and afterwards in a public character to Florence, to Turin, to Paris ; and by James II, Ambassador to Conftantinople; to which city he went through the continent on foot. He was afterwards a Lord of the Treasury, and Secretary of State with the Duke of Shrewsbury, which office he resigned 1697, and retiring to East Hampstead, died there in December 1716, aged seventy-seven, Nothing of his writing remains but an elegant character of Archbishop Dolben.
Nostra nec erubuit sylvas habitare Thalia.” This is the general exordium and opening of the Pastorals, in imitation of the fixth of Virgil, which some have therefore not improbably thought to have been the first originally. In the beginnings of the other three Pastorals, he imitates expressly those