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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 fmaller, than of those which are truly fo. It therefore seems neceflary to give fome account of this kind of Poem, and it is my defign to comprize in this short paper the fubftance of those numerous differtations the Critics. have made on the fubject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. You will also find fome 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 first employment of mankind, the most ancient fort of poetry was probably paftoral. It is natural to
imagine, that the leisure of those antient shepherds admitting and inviting fome diverfion, none was fo proper to that folitary 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 present. And fince the life of fhepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chose 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 short, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expreffions are full of the greatest fimplicity in nature.
The complete character of this poem confists in fimplicity, brevity, and delicacy; the two first of which render an eclogue natural, and the laft delightful.
Heinfius in Theocr. P.
Rapin de Carm. Paft. p. 2. P.
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 defcribe our fhepherds as fhepherds at this day really are, but as they 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 amifs to give these fhepherds fome skill in astronomy, as får as it may be useful to that fort of life. And an air of piety to the Gods should shine through the Poem, which so visibly appears in all the works of antiquity: and it ought to preserve some relish of the old way of writing; the connection should be loose, the narrations and defcriptions fhort, and the periods concife. Yet it is not fufficient, that the sentences 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 a respect to the prefent age, nothing more conduces to make these compofures natural, than when some Knowledge in rural affairs is difcovered f. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on defign, and sometimes is best shewn by inference; left by too much study to seem natural, we deftroy that easy fimplicity from whence arifes the delight. For what is in
Rapin, Reflex. fur l'Art Poet. d'Arift. p. 2. Refl. xxvii. P.
viting in this fort of poetry proceeds not so much from the lica of that butinefs, as of the tranquillity of a country life.
We must therefore ufe fome illufion to render a Paftoral delightful; and this confifts in exposing the best fide only of a thepherd's life, and in concealing its mileries. Nor is it enough to introduce fhepherds difcourfing together in a natural way; but a regard must be had to the subject; that it contain fome particular beauty in itself, and that it be different in every Eclogue. Befides, in each of them a defigned scene or profpect is to be prefented to car view, which thould likewife have its variety. This variety is obtained in a great degree by frequent comparisons, drawn from the moft agreeable objects of the country; by interrogations to things inanimate; by beautiful digreffions, but thofe fhort; fometimes by infifting a little on circumstances; and laftly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the numbers extremely sweet and pleasing. As for the numbers themselves, though they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smootheft, the most easy and flowing, imaginable.
It is by rules like thefe that we ought to judge of Pastoral. And fince the instructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of neceflity be derived from those
Fontenelle's Difc. of Paftorals. P.
in whom it is acknowledged fo to be. It is therefore from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil (the only undifputed authors of Paftoral) that the Critics have drawn the foregoing notions concerning it.
Theocritus excels all others in nature and fimplicity. The subjects of his Idyllia are purely paftoral; but he is not fo exact in his perfons, having introduced reapers and fishermen as well as fhepherds. He is apt to be too long in his defcriptions, of which that of the Cup in the first paftoral is a remarkable inftance. In the manners he feems a little defective, for his fwains are fometimes abufive and immodeft, and perhaps too much inclining to rufticity; for inftance, in his fourth and fifth Idyllia. But 'tis enough that all others learnt their excellencies 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 mafter. Th fome of his f
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