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This sensible and judicious Discourse, written at so early an age, is a more extraordinary production than the Pastorals that follow it : in which, I hope, it will not be deemed an injurious criticism to say, there is scarcely a single rural image to be found that is new. The ideas of Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser, are indeed here exhibited in language equally mellifluous and pure ; but the descriptions and sentiments are trite and common. To this assertion, formerly made, Dr. Johnson answered ;“ That no invention was intended :" he therefore allows the fact, and the charge. Our author has chiefly drawn his observations from Rapin, Fontenelle, and the preface to Dryden's Virgil. A translation of Rapin's Discourse had been some years before prefixed to Creech's Translation of Theocritus, and is no extraordinary piece of criticism. And though Hume highly praises the Discourse of Fontenelle, yet Dr. Hurd thinks it only rather more tolerable than his Pastorals. I much wonder our Author did not allude to the elegant lines on Pastoral Poetry at the beginning of the second canto of Boileau's Art of Poetry. The best dissertations on this subject, seem to be those in the second and fifth volumes of the Memoirs of the French Academy, that which is prefixed to Heyne's excellent edition of Virgil's Eclogues, and that which is prefixed to the Oxford edition of Theocritus, in two volumes 4to, 1776 ; in which the reader will find a particular account of the three distinct characters and personages introduced by Theocritus, namely, the Keepers of Oxen, the Keepers of Sheep, and of Goats ; to which distinction even Virgil did not attend : and in which he also will find such reasons for preferring the pastorals of Theocritus to those of Virgil, as will serve for a complete confutation of Dr. Johnson's opinion on this subject.
A mixture of British and Grecian ideas may justly be deemed a blemish in these Pastorals : and propriety is certainly violated, when he couples Pactolus with Thames, and Windsor with Hybla. Complaints of immoderate heat, and wishes to be conveyed to cooling caverns, when uttered by the inhabitants of Greece, have a decorum and consistency, which they totally lose in the character of a British shepherd : and Theocritus, during the ardours of Sirius, must have heard the murmurings of a brook, and the whispers of a pine, with more home-felt pleasure, than Pope could possibly experience upon the same occasion. We can never completely relish, or adequately understand any author, especially any ancient, except we keep in our eye his climate, his country, and his age. Pope himself informs us, in a note, that he judiciously omitted the following verse,
And list'ning wolves grow milder as they hear, on account of the absurdity, which Spenser overlooked, of introducing wolves into England. But on this principle, which is certainly a just one, may it not be asked, why he should speak, the scene lying in Windsor Forest, of the sultry Sirius, of the grateful clusters of grapes, of a pipe of reeds, the antique fistula, of thanking Ceres for a plentiful harvest, of the sacrifice of lambs, with many other instances that might be adduced to this purpose ? That Pope, however, was sensible of the importance of adapting images to the scene of action, is obvious from the following example of his judgment ; for in translating
Audiit Eurotas, jussitque ediscere Lauros, he has dexterously dropt the laurels appropriated to Eurotas, as he is speaking of the river Thames, and has rendered it,
Thames heard the numbers, as he flow'd along,
And bade his Willows learn the moving song. In the passages which Pope has imitated from Theocritus, and from his Latin Translator Virgil, he has merited but little applause. It may not be unentertaining to see how coldly and unpoetically Pope has copied the subsequent appeal to the nymphs on the death of Daphnis, in comparison of Milton on Lycidas, one of his juvenile, but one of his most exquisite, pieces.
Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream. The mention of places remarkably romantic, the supposed habitations of Druids, Bards, and Wizards, is far more pleasing to the imagination, than the obvious introduction of Cam and Isis as seats of the Muses.
Upon the whole, the principal merit of these Pastorals consists in their musical and correct versification ; musical, to a degree of which rhyme could hardly be thought capable ; and in giving the truest specimen of that harmony in English verse, which is now become indispensably necessary; and which has so forcibly and universally influenced the public ear, as to have obliged every moderate rhymer to be at least melodious. Warton.
Although the whole of Pope's early productions are allowed the praise of elegant correctness and musical versification, they have not escaped the charge of a want of originality and poetical invention ; but of all his various and very freely censured writings, there are none that appear to have met with a harsher or more fastidious reception at the hands of his commentators and critics, than his Pastorals. Without regarding them with a sufficient reference, either to the time of life of the author, or the objects he had in view in their composition, they have considered them as deficient in originality and strength of thought, because they do not more greatly abound in new and striking images. But to say nothing of the unreasonableness of requiring " new and striking images,” on a subject which has been obvious from the earliest ages to all mankind, and has been the general theme of poetry in every country, period, and language; it must be observed, that it was not the intention of Pope to rely upon the strength of his own powers, or to attempt an original style of pastoral composition. On the contrary, he informs us at the close of his discourse, that if these pastorals have any merit, it is to be attributed to some good old authors, “whose works,” says he, “ as I have had leisure to study, so I hope I have not wanted care to imitate.”
In conceding then to Pope, that he has exhibited “ the ideas of Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser, in language equally mellifluous and pure," Dr. Warton has granted every thing which Pope endeavoured to accomplish ; and the observation of Johnson, " that no invention was intended," is, as far as the remark of Warton affects the genius and character of Pope, a decisive answer.
As regular compositions, these pastorals may be considered as the first productions which intitled their author to the name of a poet. From these it appears, that he had already very carefully studied the works of the best critics and commentators, with a view of acquiring that uncommon degree of elegance, correctness, and harmony, with which his poetry abounds. To these rules he ever afterwards conformed ; and for their merits in the exemplification of them he placed none of his productions above the pastorals.
It is unjust in Dr. Warton to say that Pope “couples Pactolus with Thames,” and “ Windsor with Hybla.” On the contrary, he places them in opposition to each other; and only declares that the Thames is superior to Pactolus and the Po, and Windsor to Cynthus and Hybla.
That complaints of immoderate heat have, when uttered by the inhabitants of Greece, “a consistency totally lost in the character of a British shepherd,” can scarcely be allowed ; as the heat of our own summers is generally sufficient to excite such a lively idea of the refreshment and pleasure to be derived from water and shade, as may fully justify the poet in introducing the effects of it in his work. Nor although the scene be laid in Windsor Forest, does there appear to be any impropriety in referring to a pipe of reeds, the clusters of grapes, the bounty of Ceres, and other objects connected with pastoral life, and for which the poet has himself assigned a sufficient reason in the following discourse. If,” he observes, we would copy nature, it would be useful to carry this idea along with us, that pastoral is an image of what they call the golden age ; so that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceived then to have been when the best of men followed the employment;" to which he adds, that“ 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.” Disregarding, however, these remarks, the learned Critic has thought proper to observe, “ that the design of pastoral poetry to represent the undisturbed felicity of the golden age, is an empty notion, which, though supported by a Rapin and a Fontenelle, I think all rational critics have agreed to extirpate and explode.” On this opinion, so directly contrary to that of Pope, it is not necessary to decide, as it cannot affect the present inquiry, which is in fact merely to determine whether Pope has accomplished the object he had in view, or whether he has failed through want of genius and invention. That the latter is the point which the Doctor wishes to establish, may be presumed from the following remark :-“ It has been my fortune, from my way of life, to have seen many compositions of youths of sixteen years old, far beyond these pastorals in point of genius and imagination, though not perhaps of correctness ;” to which he adds, with singular inconsistency, “their excellence might indeed be owing to having had such a predecessor as Pope,”—but if Pope had no invention, and had exhibited in his pastorals no new or striking images, how could his example have led the way to others, in point of genius and imagination, whatever it might have done in point of correctness ?
Of the effect produced by the pastorals of Pope on a young and ingenuous mind, we have the following account in the introduction to the remarks upon them by the late Mr. Gilbert Wakefield.
“Of the merit of these poems I can scarce deem myself an impartial judge. The Pastorals of Pope were among the very first writings that engaged the notice of my infancy ; and, if the reader will excuse this circumstance of egotism, I read them with facility, with perseverance, and delight, at an earlier period than any one, whom I have ever known or heard of. They have left upon my mind the fading traces of a transport inexpressible. Still disenchanted, after a lapse of so many years, I feel like Agamemnon in the poet, just waking from the dream of Jove :
Εγρετο δ' εξ ύπνου, θειηδε μιν αμφεχυτ’ ομφη.
THERE are not, I believe, a greater number of any sort of verses than of those which are called Pastorals; nor a smaller, than of those which are truly so. It is therefore necessary to give some account of this kind of Poem; and it is my design to comprise in this short paper the substance of those numerous Dissertations that Critics have made on the subject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. You will also find some points reconciled, about which they seem to