Page images

Is there not something mighty whimsical and ar bitrary in these critical tenets? May we not be permitted to ask why a species of poetry should be appropriated to one particular profession or occupation, in contradistinction to all others? What is there in the life of a shepherd to distinguish it from that of the other inhabitants of a country, and to mark the peculiar style and character of those verses which are employed in describing it?

A pastoral ought, in my opinion, to be distinguished from any other poem, not so much by the class of people whom it proposes to exhibit, as by the kind of sentiments which it is designed to express. Love and friendship give rise to sentiments which are apt to engross the whole imagination, and to have an extensive influence upon the disposition and temper. The sensibility and delicacy produced in a mind where these affections are prevalent, is liable to be disgusted with the ordinary commerce of society, to feel an aversion to the cares and bustle of an active life, and a high relish for the ease and indolent enjoyments connected with rural retire


And Wisdom's self

Oft seeks the sweet retired solitude,
Where, with her best nurse Contemplation,
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That, in the bustling hurry of resort,

Were all too ruffled, and sometimes impair'd,

As these dispositions and sentiments have a peculiar tone and character, that poetry in which they are expressed is, with propriety, considered as distinct from every other; being obviously different from that which is employed in describing great and heroic actions, or from that which is intended to call forth sympathy by scenes of distress, or from that

which is calculated to excite laughter by exhibiting objects of folly and ridicule.

In a poem expressive of tender sentiments, it seems necessary that the scene should be laid at a distance from places of business and public resort, and should be filled with a description of rural objects and amusements. Shepherds, therefore, being the earliest inhabitants of the country, enjoying ease and happiness, were naturally pitched upon as the only persons who could, with probability, be represented in compositions of this nature. Hence it seems to have arisen, that the readers of such poems, and even critics, attending more to the sensible objects that were exhibited, than to the end which the poet had in view, have considered that as primary which was merely an accidental circumstance; and have regarded the employment of tending flocks as essential in the persons represented. It is in consequence of this that the name of pastoral is now commonly appropriated to that sort of composition, which has been substituted in place of Eclogues, Idyllia, Sylva, and several others used by ancient authors. No reason, however, occurs for adhering to those early ideas in the present state of the world, where the situation of things is totally changed. Many people at present may, with probability, be supposed to live in the country, whose situation in life has no connection with that of shepherds, and yet whose character is equally suitable to the sentiments which ought to prevail in that species of writing.

It may even be doubted whether the representation of sentiments belonging to the real inhabitants of the country, who are strangers to all refinement, or those entertained by a person of an elegant and cultivated mind, who, from choice, retires into the country, with a view of enjoying those pleasures which it affords, is calculated to produce a

more interesting picture. If the former is recommended by its naïveté, and simplicity, it may be expected that the latter should have the preference in point of beauty and variety.

Two of the greatest poets of antiquity have described the pleasures of a country life in these two different aspects. The former view is exhibited, with great propriety and elegance, in one of the most beautiful poems of Horace :

Quod si pudica mulier in partem juvans
Domum, atque dulces liberos;
(Sabina qualis, aut perusta solibus
Pernicis uxor Appuli)

Sacrum vetustis exstruat lignis focum
Lassi sub adventum viri:

Claudensque textis cratibus lætum pecus
Distenta siccet ubera;

Et horna dulci vina promens dolio
Dapes inemptas apparet.

But if a chaste and virtuous wife
Assist him in the tender care,

Epod. 2.

Of sun-burnt charms, but honest fame
(Such as the Sabine or Apulian dame);
Fatigued when homeward he returns,
The sacred fire with cheerful lustre burns;
Or if she milk her swelling kine,
Or in their folds his happy flock confine;
While unbought dainties crown the feast,
And luscious wines from this year's vintage prest.

The more elevated Virgil has given a picture of the latter kind no less delightful, in that passage at the end of the second book of the Georgics, be. ginning,

O fortunatos nimium sua si bona nôr int

[blocks in formation]

O happy if he knew his happy state
The swain.-

The enlargement of the field of pastoral poetry, which is here suggested, would surely be of advantage, considering how much the common topics of that species of writing are already exhausted. We are become weary of the ordinary sentiments of shepherds, which have been so often repeated, and which have usually nothing but the variety of expression to recommend them. The greater part of the productions which have appeared under the name of pastorals are, accordingly, so insipid, as to have excited little attention, which is the more remarkable, because the subjects which they treat of naturally interest the affections, and are easily painted in such delusive colours as tend to soothe the imagination by romantic dreams of happi


Mr. de Fontenelle has attempted to write pastorals, upon the extensive plan above mentioned; but, though this author writes with great elegance in prose, his poetical talents seem rather below mediocrity; so that it is not likely he will be regarded, by succeeding poets, as a model for imitation.


N°80. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 1780.

Ex fumo dare lucem

Cogitat ut speciosa dehinc miracula promat.


AUTHORS have been divided into two classes, the instructive and the entertaining; to which has been added a third, who mix, according to Horace, the • utile dulci,' and are, in his opinion, entitled to the highest degree of applause.

Readers complain, that in none of these departments is there, in modern writing, much pretension to originality. In science, they say, so much has been already discovered, that all a modern writer has left, is, to explain and enforce the systems of our predecessors; and, in literature, our fathers have so exhausted the acuteness of reasoning, the flashes of wit, the luxuriance of description, and the invention of incident, that an author now-a-days can only give new form, not matter, to his argument; a new turn, not thought, to his epigram'; new attitudes, not object, to his picture; new language, not situation, to his story.

However true this complaint may be in the main, there is one class of writers to whom the charge of triteness does, I apprehend, very little apply. They are generally of the first species mentioned above, who publish useful information to mankind; yet in the last quarter of the 18th century, their information is often as new as if they had written in the infancy of art and of science, when every field

« PreviousContinue »