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THE Pastorals were written at the age of fixteen, and
then passed through the hands of Mr. Walsh, Mr. Wycherley, G. Granville, afterwards Lord Lanfdown, Sir William Trumbal, 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 “ genius 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, Apr. 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 has begun in « his Pastoral way, as Virgil first tried his strength, we
may hope to see English Poetry vie with the Ro" man,” &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 kinds consists in the strength and fullness 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 Partorals. They were not printed till 1709.
HERE are not, I believe, a greater number
fort 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 comprize in this short paper the substance of those numerous differtations 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 keeping of flocks seems to have been the first employment of mankind, the most ancient sort of Poetry was probably Pastoral t. It is natural to imagine, that the leisure of those ancient shepherds admitting and inviting some diversion, none was so proper to that solitary
* Written at fixteen years of age.
and fedentary 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 prefent. And since the life of Shepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chofe 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 narrative, or mixed of both * ; the fable fimple, the inanners not too polite nor too rustic : the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickness and passion, but that fhort 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 fimplicity in nature.
The complete character of this Poem confifts in fimplicity't, 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 defcribe our thepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they
* Heinsius in Theocr.
may be conceived then to have been ; when the beft 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 Gods fhould 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 connection should be loose, the narrations and descriptions short *, and the periods concise. 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 t. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on design, and fometimes is best shewn by inference; left by too much study to seem natural, we destroy that easy fimplicity from whence arises the delight. For what is inviting in this sort of poetry proceeds not so much from the Idea of that business, as the tranquillity of a country life.
We must therefore use fome illusion to render a Partoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best fide only of a shepherd's life, and in concealing its miseries I.
* Rapin, Reflex. sur l'Art Poet. d'Arist. p. 2. Reflex. xxvii.
+ Pref. to Virg. Past. in Dryd. Virg.
Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds 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 interrogations to things inanimate; by beautiful digressions, but those short; fometimes by insisting a little on circumstances; and, lastly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the numbers extremely sweet and pleasing. As for the numbers themselves, though they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smoothest, the most easy and flowing imaginable.
It is by rules like these that we ought to judge of Pastoral. And since the instructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of necessity be derived from those in whom it is acknowledged so to be. It is therefore from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors of Pastoral) that the Critics have drawn the foregoing notions concerning it.
Theocritus excells all others in nature and fimplicity. The subjects of his Idyllia are purely paftoral; but he is not so exact in his persons, having introduced reapers † and fishermen as well as shepherds. He is apt
* See the forementioned Preface.