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DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL
Written in the Year MDCCIV.
« Rura mihi et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes, « Flumina amem, fylvafque, inglorius !"
THE Paftorals were written at the age of fixteen, and then paffed 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 thefe gave our Author the greatest encouragement, and particularly Mr. Walsh, whom Mr. Dryden, in his Poftfcript to Virgil, calls the beft Critic of his age. "The Author (fays he) feems 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 66 own with theirs is no way inferior to what he has "taken from them. It is not flattery at all to fay, that "Virgil had written nothing fo good at his Age. His "Preface is very judicious and learned." Letter to Mr. Wycherley, Apr. 1705. The Lord Lanfdown about the fame time, mentioning the youth of our Poet, fays (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 ftrength, we "may hope to fee English Poetry vie with the Roman," &c. Notwithstanding the early time of their production, the Author esteemed these as the moft correct in the verfification, and mufical in the numbers, of all his works. The reafon for his labouring them into fo much foftnefs, was, doubtless, that this fort of poetry derives almost its whole beauty from a natural `eafe of thought and smoothness of verfe; whereas that of moft other kinds confifts in the ftrength and fullness of both. In a letter of his to Mr. Walsh about this time, we find an enumeration of feveral niceties in Verfification, which perhaps have never been strictly obferved in any English poem, except in these Paftorals. They were not printed till 1709.
HERE are not, I believe, a greater number of any fort of verfes than of those which are called Paftorals; nor a fmaller, than of those which are truly fo. It therefore seems necessary to give some account of this kind of Poem, and it is my defign to comprize in this short paper the fubstance of those numerous differtations the Critics have made on the fubject, 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 obfervation.
The original of Poetry is afcribed to that Age which facceeded 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.
+ Fontenelle's Difc. on Paftorals.
and fedentary life as finging; and that in their fongs 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 fince the life of fhepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chofe to introduce 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 simplicity in nature.
The complete character of this Poem confifts in fimplicity †, brevity, and delicacy; the two firft 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 hepherds as fhepherds at this day really are, but as they *Heinfius in Theocr.
Rapin, de Carm. Paft. p. 2.