« AnteriorContinuar »
viting in this fort of poetry proceeds not so much from the Idea of that business, as of the tranquillity of a country life.
We must therefore use fome illufion to render a Pastoral delightful; and this confists in exposing the best fide only of a fhepherd's life, and in concealing its miferies". Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds 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. Besides, in each of them a defigned fcene or profpect is to be prefented to our view, which fhould likewife have its variety. This variety is obtained in a great degree by frequent comparisons, drawn from the most agreeable objects of the country; by interrogations to things inanimate; by beautiful digresfions, but those fhort; fometimes by infifting a little on circumftances; 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 these that we ought to judge of Pastoral. And fince the inftructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they muft 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 fubjects 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 descriptions, of which that of the Cup in the first paftoral is a remarkable inftance. In the manners he feems a little defective, for his swains are sometimes abufive and immodeft, and perhaps too much inclining to rufticity; for instance, 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. 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 tom. He exceeds him in regularity and brevity, and falls fhort of him in
'OEPIETAI, Idyl. x. and AAIEIE, Idyl. xxi. P.
Rapin Refl. on Arift. part ii. refl. xxvii.- Pref. to the
nothing but fimplicity and propriety of style; the first of which perhaps was the fault of his and the laft of his language.
Among the moderns, their fuccefs has been greatest who have moft endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most confiderable Genius appears in the famous Taffo, and our Spenfer. Taffo in his Aminta has as far excelled all the Pastoral writers, as in his Gierufalemme he has out-done the Epic poets of his country. But as this piece feems to have been the original of a new fort of poem, the Pastoral Comedy, in Italy, it cannot fo well be confidered as a copy of the ancients. Spenfer's Calendar, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complete work of this kind which any nation has produced ever fince the time of Virgil". Not but that he may be thought imperfect in fome few points. His Eclogues are somewhat too long, if we compare them with the ancients. He is fometimes too allegorical, and treats of matters of religion in a pastoral style, as Mantuan had done before him. He has employed the Lyric measure, which is contrary to the practice of the old Poets. His Stanza is not ftill the fame, nor always well chofen. This last may be the reason his expreffion is sometimes not concife enough: for the Tetrastic has obliged him to extend his sense to the length of four lines, which
"Dedication to Virg. Ecl. P.
would have been more clofely confined in the Couplet.
In the manners, thoughts, and characters, he comes near to Theocritus himfelf; tho', notwithstanding all the care he has taken, he is certainly inferior in his Dialect: For the Doric had its beauty and propriety in the time of Theocritus; it was ufed in part of Greece, and frequent in the mouths of many of the greateft perfons: whereas the old English and country phrafes of Spenser were either entirely obsolete, or fpoken only by people of the loweft condition. As there is a difference betwixt fimplicity and rufticity, fo the expreffion of fimple thoughts should be plain, but not clownish. The addition he has made of a Calendar to his Eclogues, is very beautiful; fince by this, befides the general moral of innocence and fimplicity, which is common to other authors of Paftoral, he has one peculiar to himself; he compares human Life to the feveral Seafons, and at once expofes to his readers a view of the great and little worlds, in their various changes and afpects. Yet the fcrupulous divifion of his Paftorals into Months, has obliged him either to repeat the fame defcription, in other words, for three months together; or, when it was exhausted before, entirely to omit it: whence it comes to pass that fome of his Eclogues (as the fixth, eighth, and tenth for example) have nothing but their Titles to diftinguish them. The
riety in it to furnish every month with a particular description, as it may every season.
Of the following Eclogues I fhall only say, that these four comprehend all the subjects which the Critics upon Theocritus and Virgil will allow to be fit for paftoral: That they have as much variety of description, in refpect of the several seafons, as Spenfer's: that in order to add to this variety, the feveral times of the day are observ'd, the rural employments in each feason or time of day, and the rural fcenes or places proper to fuch employments; not without fome regard to the feveral ages of man, and the different paffions proper to each age.
But after all, if they have any merit, it is to be attributed to fome good old Authors, whofe works as I had leisure to study, fo I hope I have not wanted care to imitate.