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ON PASTORAL POETRY. Paper III. (No. 28).
THEocRITUs, Bion, and Moschus are the most famous amongst the Greek writers of Pastorals. The two latter of these are judged to be far short of Theocritus, whom I shall speak of more largely, because he rivals the greatest of all poets, Virgil himself. He hath the advantage confessedly of the Latin, in coming before him, and writing in a tongue more proper for pastoral. The softness of the Doric dialect, which this poet is said to have improved beyond any who came before him, is what the ancient Roman writers owned their language could not approach. But besides this beauty, he seems to me to have had a soul more softly and tenderly inclined to this way of writing than Virgil, whose genius led him naturally to sublimity. It is true that the great Roman, by the niceness of his judgment, and great command of himself, hath acquitted himself dexterously this way. But a penetrating judge will find there the seeds of that fire which burned afterwards so bright in the Georgics, and blazed out in the AEneid. I must not, however, dissemble that these bold strokes appear chiefly in those Eclogues of Virgil, which ought not to be numbered amongst his pastoral, which are indeed generally thought to be all of the pastoral kind; but by the best judges are only called his select poems, as the word Eclogue originally means.
Those who will take the pains to consult Scaliger's comparison of these two poets, will find that Theocritus hath out-done him in those very passages which the critic hath produced in honour of Virgil. There is, in short, more innocence, simplicity, and whatever else hath been laid down as the distinguishing marks of pastoral, in the Greek than the Roman; and all arguments from the exactness, propriety, conciseness, and nobleness of Virgil, may very well be turned against him. There is, indeed, sometimes a grossness and clownishness in Theocritus, which Virgil, who borrowed his greatest beauties from him, hath avoided. I will, however, add, that Virgil out of the excellence of
genius only hath come short of Theocritus; and had possibly excelled him, if in greater subjects he had not been born to excel all mankind. The Italians were the first, amongst the moderns, that fell into pastoral writing. It is observed, that the people of that nation are very profound and abstruse in their poetry as well as politics; fond of surprising conceits and far-fetched imaginations, and labour chiefly to say what was never said before. From persons of this character, how can we expect that air of simplicity and truth which hath been proved so essential to shepherds 2 There are two pastoral plays in this language, which they boast of as the most elegant performances in poetry that the latter ages have produced; the Aminta of Tasso, and Guarini's Pastor Fido. In these the names of the persons are indeed pastoral, and the sylvan gods, the dryads, and the satyrs appointed with the equipage of antiquity; but neither their language, sentiments, passions, or designs, like those of the pretty triflers in Virgil and Theocritus. I shall produce an example out of each, which are commonly taken notice of as patterns of the Italian way of thinking in pastoral. Sylvia in Tasso's poem enters adorned with a garland of flowers, and views herself in a fountain with such selfadmiration, that she breaks out into a speech to the flowers on her head, and tells them, she doth not wear them to adorn herself, but to make them ashamed. In the Pastor Fido, a shepherdess reasons after an abstruse philosophical manner about the violence of love, and expostulates with the gods for making laws so rigorous to restrain us, and at the same time giving us invincible desires; whoever can bear these, may be assured he hath no taste for pastoral. When I am speaking of the Italians, it would be unpardonable to pass by Sannazarius. He hath changed the scene in this kind of poetry from woods and lawns to the barren beach and boundless ocean: introduces sea-calves in the room of kids and lambs, sea-mews for the lark and the linnet, and presents his mistress with oysters instead of fruits and flowers. How good soever his style and thoughts may be; yet who can pardon him for his arbitrary change
of the sweet manners and pleasing objects of the country, for what in their own nature are uncomfortable and dreadful? I think he hath few or no followers, or if any, such as knew little of his beauties, and only copied his faults, and so are lost and forgotten. The French are so far from thinking abstrusely, that they often seem not to think at all. It is all a run of numbers, common-place descriptions of woods, floods, groves, loves, &c. Those who write the most accurately fall into the manner of their country, which is gallantry. I cannot better illustrate what I would say of the French, than by the dress in which they make their shepherds appear in their pastoral interludes upon the stage, as I find it described by a celebrated author. “The Shepherds,” saith he, “are all embroidered, and acquit themselves in a ball better than our English dancing-masters. I have seen a couple of Rivers appear in red stockings; and Alpheus, instead of having his head covered with sedges and bull-rushes, making love in a fair full-bottomed periwig and a plume of feathers, but with a voice so full of shakes and quavers, that I should have thought the murmurs of a country brook the much more agreeable music.” STEELE.
ON PASTORAL POETRY. PAPER IV. (No. 30).
THE Italians and French being dispatched, I come now to the English, whom I shall treat with such meekness as becomes a good patriot; and shall so far recommend this our island as a proper scene for pastoral under certain regulations, as will satisfy the courteous reader that I am in the landed interest.
I must in the first place observe, that our countrymen
have so good an opinion of the ancients, and think so * modestly of themselves, that the generality of the pastoral
\ writers have either stolen all from the Greeks and Romans, \or so servilely imitated their manners and customs, as makes them very ridiculous. In looking over some English
pastorals a few days ago, I perused at least fifty lean flocks, and reckoned up a hundred left-handed ravens, besides blasted oaks, withering meadows, and weeping deities. Indeed, most of the occasional pastorals we have are built upon one and the same plan. A shepherd asks his fellow, Why he is so pale, if his favourite sheep hath strayed, if his pipe be broken, or Phyllis unkind 2 He answers, None of these misfortunes have befallen him, but one much greater, for Damon (or sometimes the god Pan) is dead. This immediately causes the other to make complaints, and call upon the lofty pines and silver streams to join in the lamentation. While he goes on, his friend interrupts him, and tells him that Damon lives, and shows him a track of light in the skies to confirm it; then invites him to chesnuts and cheese. Upon this scheme most of the noble families in Great Britain have been comforted; nor can I meet with any right honourable shepherd that doth not die and live again, after the manner of the aforesaid Damon. Having already informed my reader wherein the knowledge of antiquity may be serviceable, I shall now direct him where he may lawfully deviate from the ancients. There are some things of an established nature in pastoral which are essential to it, such as a country scene, innocence, simplicity. Others there are of a changeable kind, such as habits, customs, and the like. The difference of the climate is also to be considered; for what is proper in Arcadia, or even in Italy, might be very absurd in a colder country. By the same rule the difference of the soil, of fruits, and flowers, is to be observed. And in so fine a country as Britain, what occasion is there for that profusion of hyacinths and Paestan roses, and that cornucopia of foreign fruits, which the British shepherds never heard of? How much more pleasing is the following scene to an English reader
“This place may seem for shepherds’ leisure made,
Lo here the king-cup of a golden hue,
The theology of the ancient pastoral is so very pretty, that it were pity entirely to change it; but I think that part only is to be retained which is universally known, and the rest to be made up out of our own rustical superstition of hob-thrushes, fairies, goblins, and witches. The fairies are capable of being made very entertaining persons, as they are described by several of our poets, and particularly by Mr. Pope :
“About this spring (if ancient fame say true)
What hath been said upon the difference of climate, soil, and theology, reaches the proverbial sayings, dress, customs, and sports of shepherds. The following examples of our pastoral sports are extremely beautiful:—
“Whilome did I, all as this poplar fair,