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any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of necessity be derived from those in whom it is acknowledged so to be. It is therefore from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors of pastoral) that the critics have drawn the foregoing notions concern
Theocritus excels all others in nature and simplicity. The subjects of his idyllia are purely pastoral; but he is not so exact in his persons, having introduced reapers 8 and fishermen as well as shepherds. He is apt to be too long in his descriptions, of which that of the cup in the first pastoral is a remarkable instance. In the manners he seems a little defective, for his swains are sometimes abusive and immodest, and perhaps too much inclining to rusticity; for instance, in his fourth and fifth idyllia. But it is enough that all others learned their excellences from him, and that his dialect alone has a secret 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 superior to his
master. Though some of his subjects are not - pastoral in themselves, but only seem to be such;
they have a wonderful variety in them, which the
8 Osplotai, Idyl. x. and Alleis, Idyl. xxi.
Greek was a stranger to. He exceeds him in regularity and brevity, and falls short of him in nothing but simplicity and propriety of style; the first of which, perhaps, was the fault of his age, and the last of his language.
Among the moderns their success has been greatest who have most endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso, in his Aminta, has as far excelled all the pastoral writers, as in his Gierusalemme he has outdone the epic poets of his country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem, the pastoral comedy, in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the ancients. Spenser's Calendar, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complete work of this kind which any nation has produced ever since the time of Virgil. Not but that he may be thought imperfect in some few points: his eclogues are somewhat too long, if we compare them with the ancients: he is sometimes 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 still the same, nor always well chosen. This last
Rapin, Refl. on Arist. part ii. refl. xxvii.—Pref. to the Ecl. in Dryden's Virg.
1 Dedication to Virg. Ecl.
the reason his expression is sometimes not concise enough; for the tetrastic has obliged him to extend his sense to the length of four lines, which would have been more closely confined in the couplet.
In the manners, thoughts, and characters, he comes near to Theocritus himself; though, 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 used in part of Greece, and frequent in the mouths of many of the greatest persons: whereas the old English and country phrases of Spenser were either entirely obsolete, or spoken only by people of the lowest condition. As there is a difference betwixt simplicity and rusticity, so the expression of simple thoughts should be plain, but not clownish. The addition he has made of a calendar to his eclogues is very beautiful ; since by this, besides the general moral of innocence and simplicity, which is common to other authors of pastoral, he has one peculiar to himself; he compares human life to the several seasons, and at once exposes to his readers a view of the great and little worlds, in their various changes and aspects. Yet the scrupulous division of his pastorals into months has obliged him either to repeat the same description, in other words, for three months together: or, when it was exhausted before, entirely to omit it: whence it comes to pass
DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL POETRY.
that some of his eclogues (as the sixth, eighth, and tenth for example) have nothing but their titles to distinguish them. The reason is evident, because the year has not that variety in it to furnish every month with a particular description, as it may every season.
Of the following eclogues I shall only say, that these four comprehend all the subjects which the critics
upon Theocritus and Virgil will allow to be fit for pastoral: that they have as much variety of description, in respect of the several seasons, as Spenser's: that, in order to add to this variety, the several times of the day are observed, the rural employments in each season or time of day, and the rural scenes or places proper to such employments ; not without some regard to the several ages of man, and the different passions proper to each age.
But after all, if they have any merit, it is to be attributed to some good old authors; whose works, as I had leisure to study, so, I hope, I have not wanted care to imitate.
First in these fields I try the sylvan strains,
You, that too wise for pride, too good for power,
tune the lyre:
1 For an account of this respectable character, see the Memoir prefixed to these volumes.