« PreviousContinue »
for his songs of the herdsmen, and singly he terms them Eclogues, that is, select poems.
The pastoral may embrace any subject of rural life. ....A shepherd lamenting the loss of his mistress; a contest between rural swains; a moral lesson; and some writers have even elevated the eclogue to the sublimest subjects, as Mr. Pope in his Messiah, which is a happy imitation of Virgil's Pollio. English wit has even given us a specimen of the burlesque Idyllium, of which we have most pleasant specimens in Mr. Gay's pastorals, and in some more recent publications.
Thus embracing so wide a range of subject, scarcely any rules or principles can be established for the eclogue. The quality which most critics have agreed in recommending is simplicity. Theocritus adopted the Doric dialect, which being the rustic dialect of Greece, is regarded as a recommendation of his Idylliums. I am apprehensive, however, that if an English writer of pastorals was to reduce his language to the level of husbandmen or rustics, he must entirely depart from the poetic dialect, and consequently all the charm would be lost. It must indeed be confessed that modern pastorals composed on the ancient plan are exceedingly uninteresting; and they can only be supported by fine and lively description, or rather should be considered as the vehicle of it.
Theocritus lived at a period when mankind had scarcely emerged from the pastoral state (almost 300 years before Christ), and in a country, Sicily, which existed by rural occupations. Every thing therefore conduced to give popularity to his productions, as adapted to the times in which they were composed. Virgil, and the modern writers of pastoral, were altogether differently situated. They described scenes which no longer existed, and which consequently wanted that interest which the first readers of Theocritus experienced. Indeed they became mere imitators of him. This is notoriously the case with Virgil, except in his first eclogue, which being founded on an incident in his own
life, contains all the force and beauty of an original composition from the hand of so great a master.
The pastorals of Theocritus then, are chiefly valuable as exhibiting a picture of the remote age in which the poet lived. Those of Virgil (except the first and the fourth), are chiefly estimated for some fine passages which they contain. The modern pastorals (strictly so called) as they present no pictures at all analogous to modern life or manners, and are mere imitations of Theocritus and Virgil, excite but little interest. Few at present, I believe, read the pastorals of Spencer or of Phillips, and even the charm of Mr. Pope's versification would scarcely now afford popularity to his pastorals, were they not supported by the excellence of his more mature productions.
That I may not however dismiss the subject without something of example, I shall select a few passages from Virgil's 3d Eclogue, and to afford a specimen at the same time, of the burlesque pastoral, I shall shew in what manner. they have been imitated, or rather travestied by Mr. Gay. The subject is a poetical contest between two shepherds....
"Quis fuit alter
"Descripsit radio totum qui gentibus orbem?
"From Cloddipole we learnt to read the skies,
"When stuck aloft, that show'rs would straight ensue
"That pricking corns foretold the gath'ring rain.
"He told us that the welkin would be clear."
Dam...." Vis ergo inter nos, quid possit uterque vicissim
Men...." Id quod multo tute ipse fatebere majus,
Cuddy...." I'll wager this same oaken staff with thee, "That Cloddipole shall give the prize to me."
Lobbin Clout...." See this tobacco pouch, that's lin❜d with hair,
"Made of the skin of sleekest fallow deer :
"This pouch, that's ty'd with tape of reddest hue, "I'll wager that the prize shall be my due."
Dam.... Triste lupus stabulis, maturis frugibus imbres, "Arboribus venti: nobis Amaryllidis iræ."
Men...." Dulce satis humor, depulsis arbutus hædis, "Lenta salix fæto pecori: mihi solus Amyntas.”
Lobbin Clout...." Leek to the Welsh, to Dutchmen butter's dear,
"Of Irish swains potatoes are the cheer;
"Oats for their feasts the Scottish shepherds grind, "Sweet turnips are the food of Blouzelind:
"While she loves turnips, butter I'll despise,
"Nor leeks, nor oatmeal, nor potatoes prize.”
Cuddy...." In good roast-beef my landlord sticks his knife, "A capon fat delights his dainty wife;
Pudding our parson eats, the squire loves hare,
"But white-pot thick is my Buxoma's fare.
"While she loves white-pot, capon ne'er shall be,
"Nor hare, nor beef, nor pudding, food for me."
Pal...." Non nostrum inter vos tantas componere lites :
Cloddipole...." Forbear, contending louts, give o'er your
"An oaken staff each merits for his pains.
"But see the sun-beams bright to labour warn,
They're weary of your songs....and so am I.”
The ballad is the sweetest and most natural medium in which pastoral ideas can at present be conveyed. Perhaps the charming Idyllium of Bion, on the death of Adonis, may not improperly fall under this description. If it does not, I know not under what class to rank it; but this I know, that a more beautiful poem does not exist, either for pathetic expression or simplicity of thought: and therefore not to have noticed it would have been unpardonable. We have many beautiful compositions of this kind in our language. Gay, Cunningham, Rowe, and Shenstone have all left specimens of the pastoral ballad, but that of Mr. Shenstone, in four parts, is generally esteemed the best. It is all beautiful, and I may select at random; the following lines are from that portion which the author entitles Hope....
"One would think she might like to retire
"To prune the wild branches away.
"From the plains, from the woodlands and groves,
"How the nightingales warble their loves
"As....she may not be fond to resign."
The chief difficulty I have intimated in pastoral, consists in finding such subjects and materials as may render them interesting. With this view, some modern poets have formed them into a kind of dramatic per
formance, and this may be considered as the highest improvement of pastoral poetry. Of this kind is the Aminta of Tasso; it abounds in tenderness, but has also too much of the Italian refinement and quaintness. Guarini's Pastor Fido is a drama of the same kind, and is by some more admired than the Aminta; but, in my opinion, they are both greatly surpassed by the production of a Scottish bard; I allude to Allen Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd. It may want the dignity of the Arcadian scene, but there are in it descriptions and sentiments which would do honour to any poet. The Scottish dialect, in which it is written, gives it all the advantage of the Doric numbers, which was the original language of pastoral. It has besides interest and pathos; the plot is good, the characters well drawn, and the whole drama is conducted with singular address and effect.