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HERE are not, I believe, a greater number of any fort of verfes than of those which are called Paftorals; nor a smaller, than of those which are truly fo. It therefore seems neceffary to give some account of this kind of Poem, and it is my defign 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 alfo 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 afcribed to that Age which fucceeded the creation of the world and as the keeping of flocks feems to have been the firft employment of mankind, the most ancient fort of Poetry was probably Paftoral +. It is natural to imagine, that the leifure of thofe ancient fhepherds admitting and inviting fome diverfion, none was fo proper to that folitary
* Written at fixteen years of age.
and fedentary life as finging; and that in their fongs they took occafion 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 fince the life of fhepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chofe to întroduce their Perfons, from whom it received the name of Paftoral.
A Paftoral is an imitation of the action of a fhepherd, or one confidered under that character. The form of this imitation is dramatic, or narrative, or mixed of both; the fable fimple, the manners not too polite nor too ruftic: the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickness and paffion, but that short and flowing the expreffion humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not florid; eafy, and yet lively. In fhort, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expreffions, are full of the greatest fimplicity in nature.
The complete character of this Poem confifts in fimplicity, 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 Paftoral is an image of what they call the Golden Age. So that we are not to defcribe our thepherds as fhepherds at this day really are, but as they
*Heinfius in Theocr.
may be conceived then to have been ; when the best of men followed the employment. To carry this refemblance 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 fhine through the Poem, which fo visibly appears in all the works of antiquity: and it ought to preferve fome relish of the old way of writing; the connection fhould be loose, the narrations and defcriptions short *, and the periods concife. Yet it is not fufficient, that the fentences only be brief; the whole Eclogue fhould be fo too. For we cannot fuppofe Poetry in those days to have been the business of men, but their recreation at vacant hours.
But with respect to the prefent age, nothing more conduces to make these compofures natural, than when some Knowledge in rural affairs is discovered +. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on defign, and fometimes is beft fhewn by inference; left by too much ftudy to feem natural, we deftroy that eafy fimplicity from whence arifes the delight. For what is inviting in this fort of poetry proceeds not fo niuch from the Idea of that business, as the tranquillity of a country life.
We must therefore ufe fome illufion to render a Paftoral delightful; and this confifts in expofing the best fide only of a fhepherd's life, and in concealing its miferies ‡. Rapin, Reflex. fur l'Art Poet. d'Arist.
+ Pref. to Virg. Paft. in Dryd. Virg.
P. 2. Reflex.
to be too long in his defcriptions, of which that of the Cup in the first Pastoral is a remarkable inftance. In the manners he seems a little defective, for his fwains are fometimes abusive and immodest, and perhaps too much inclining to rufticity; for instance, in his fourth and fifth Idyllia. But it is enough that all others learned their excellence from him, and that his Dialect alone has a fecret charm in it, which no other could ever attain.
Virgil, who copies Theocritus, refines upon his original and in all points, where judgment is principally concerned, he is much fuperior to his master. Though fome of his fubjects are not paftoral in themselves, but only feem to be fuch; they have a wonderful variety in them, which the Greek was a stranger to*. He exceeds him in regularity and brevity, and falls fhort of him in nothing but fimplicity and propriety of ftyle; the first of which perhaps was the fault of his age, and the last of his language.
Among the moderns, their fuccefs has been greatest who have moft endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The moft confiderable Genius appears in the famous Taffo, and our Spenfer. Taffo in his Amintą has as far excelled all the Paftoral writers, as in his Gierufalemme he has outdone the Epic poets of his country. But as his piece seems to have been the original of a new fort of poem, the Paftoral Comedy, in Italy, it cannot fo well be confidered as a copy of the
Rapin, Refl. on Arist. part ii. Refl. xxvii.——Pref. to the Ecl. in Dryden's Virg.