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L. ix. p. 79.) that, where it has been necessary to speak upon unseemly subjects, the utmost decorum of language has been observed.
In short, though I do not boast of having witnessed the peasantry (nor other ranks of men) as having attained the state of mind held out to us by pastoral and other poets, as a pattern for imitation ; yet I have seen enough of Good to rescue them from the general charge which seems to be implied in your Letters to your Son. (Vol. I. L. ix. p. 78.). I think I have seen the tender passion” in a considerable degree of purity; that I have seen “ content, disinterestedness, benevolence, simplicity, and delicacy”; and these not inspiring one bosom only, but prevailing sufficiently to characterize the inhabitants; and not in one hamlet only, but in number susficient to give me a favourable impression of the generality of our retired villages, especially where any pains have been taken by the clergyman or the principal person in the place to promote eivilization, morals and religion.
The Poet Burns, who was an accurate observer of mankind, formed at different times two societies for the purposes of convivial intercourse and mental improvement. Dr. Curric, in his Life of Burns, says, “ The members of
these two societies were originally all young men from the country, and chiefly sons of farmers ; a description of persons, in the opinion of our poet, more agreeable in their manners, more virtuous in their conduct, and more susceptible of improvement, than the self-sufficient mechanics of country-towns". (p. 108.) Professor Stewart, in his Letter to Dr. Currie, in the same work, (p. 138.) says, speaking of Burns, “ He was passionately fond of the beauties of nature; and I recollect once he told me, when I was admiring a distant prospect in one of our morning walks, that the sight of so many smoking cottages gave a pleasure to his mind, which none could understand who had not witnessed, like himself, the happiness and worth which they contained”.
All that I conceive, therefore, to be necessary in writing pastoral or rural poetry is, as in other delineations, to select good subjects, and to place those in advantageous points of view. In short, the poet need not depart farther from the rigid truth than the portrait painter ; who, if the original have any defect on one side of his face, will chuse the other ; will request him to call up his most favourable looks; or, if sickness should have given him a pallid cheek, will bestow upon him something nearer approaching to the glow of
health. You yourself commend “ the rural character, as delineated in the feelings of Thomson”, (whom you had before praised for " the admirable use" which he has made of the “ several occasions of introducing draughts of human life and manners,”) and say, that it “ contains all the softness, purity, and simplicity that are feigned of the golden age”. (Essay on Thomson's Seasons, p. lviii.) You say, p. lvii. that " The Poet of the Seasons"_" may draw pictures of the pastoral life in all its genuine simplicity; and assuming the tone of a moral instructor, may contrast the peace and felicity of innocent retirement with the turbulent agitations of ambition and avarice". Are the Damon and Musidora, the Celadon and Amelia, and the Palemon and Lavinia, of Thomson, too highly charged to be allowed to be portraits? That they are not I conceive you would allow from what you say yourself, when speaking of the Love Elegies of Hammond, you mention “ that in which a picture is drawn of connubial love in a country retreat, (Elegy xiii.) with circumstances only a little varied from those which might really take place in such a situation among ourselves. It is the English farmer”, (you say) “who speaks in the following stanza:
With timely care I'll sow my little field
And plant my orchard with its master's hand;
Nor blush to spread the hay, the hook to wield,
Or range my sheaves along the sunny land. He appears afterwards under a more refined form, but still suitable enough to a ferme ornée :
What joy to wind along the cool retreat,
To stop and gaze on Delia as I go !
(Letters on Poetry. L. viii. p. lll.) The Pastorals of Gay, though portraits, are in several instances too gross and indecent. One of the most delightful pastorals with which I am acquainted, though it is written in prose, is The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, in the Cheap Repository Tracts, written by Mrs. H. More; which for genuine and cheerful piety, and for excellent delineation of Character, without rising above humble life on the one hand, or descending into grossness or vulgarity on the other, is a production highly worthy the attention of the most simple and of the most enlightened understanding*. Several of the other
* When these Tracts were proposed as proper books to give away as rewards to the Children at the New School, at Cambridge, one of the Governors objected to this story that there were some words which he considered as vulgarisms in it, namely the shepherd's talking of “ 'pothecary's stuff,” and “ I would work myself to a 'natomy". These are traits of reality which, in my estimation, as a representation of life, add to the
Cheap Repository Tracts are of the same description, and some of the Rural Tales of Robert Bloomfield are of a very pleasing as well as natural cast.
The Ballad which stands first in your present Collection is that very celebrated one by Gay, “ 'Twas when the seas were roaring”, which however beautiful the versification may be, to my mind presents an unpleasing picture of murmuring and despair :
How can they say that Nature
Has nothing made in vain ?
Do hideous rocks remain ?
Nature is but the name for an effect
Cooper's Task, B. VI. I. 223. I consider all complaints against the works of Creation, as murmuring against the Great
delight of it, and it would be easy and useful to point out to children what the proper words are, and how these came to be ioserted.
If natural sentiments be expressed with simplicity and feeling, even unpolished language and false grammar, I conceive, rather add to the interest and pleasure of the poem, than offend, as in Mr. Dibdin's Songs of The Token, Tom Tackle, True Courage, and some others.