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A DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL,
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR MDCCIV.
Rura mihi et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes;
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 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.
| Written at sixteen years
of This sensible and judicious discourse, written at so early an age, is a more extraordinary production, than the pastorals that follow it: in which, I hope, it will not be deemed an injurious criticism to say, there is scarcely a single rural image to be found that is new. The ideas of Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser, are indeed here exhibited in language equally mellifluous and pure; but the descriptions and sentiments are trite and common, To this assertion, formerly made, Dr. Johnson answered; no invention was intended :" he therefore allows the fact, and the charge. Our author has chiefly drawn his observations from Rapin, Fontenelle, and the preface to Dryden's Virgil. A translation of Rapin's Discourse had been some years before prefixed to Creech's Translation of Theocritus, and is no extraordinary piece of criticism. And though Hume highly praises the Discourse of Fontenelle, yet Dr. Hurd thinks it only rather more tolerable than his Pastorals. I much wonder our author did not allude to the elegant lines on Pastoral Poetry at the beginning
The original of Poetry is ascribed to that Age which succeeded the creation of the world : and as the keeping of focks 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
of the second canto of Boileau's Art of Poetry. The best dissertations on this subject seem to be those in the Ild and Vth volumes of the Memoirs of the French Academy, that which is prefixed to Heyne's excellent edition of Virgil's Eclogues, and that which is prefixed to the Oxford edition of Theocritus, in two volumes 4to. 1776; in which the reader will find a particular account of the three distinct characters and personages introduced by Theocritus, namely, the Keepers of Oxen, the Keepers of Sheep, and of Goats ; to which distinction even Virgil did not attend : and in which he also will find such reasons for preferring the pastorals of Theocritus to those of Virgil, as will serve for a complete confutation of Dr. Johnson's opinion on this subject, delivered with a surprising want of taste and judgment, in the Life of that great man, vol. ii. p. 329. The truly learned Heyne goes so far as to say, that if Virgil had written only his Bucolics, vix eum in censum principum poetarum venturum fuisse arbitror. So competent and able a judge as the sweet and pathetic Racine, assured M. de Longepierre, that he thought the second Idyllium of Theocritus was one of the most exquisite pieces that antiquity had left us, and that it contained the most striking and forcible descriptions of the passion of love he had ever seen.
2 Fontenelle's Disc, on Pastorals. P.
invented, and afterward 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 imitation is dramatic, or narrative, 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 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
3 Heinsius in Theocr. P.
5 Avoiding, what a sensible writer calls, les sentimens quintessencies, les douceurs metaphysiques. Gesner's Pastorals are exquisite ; and abound in new situations, images, and sentiments.