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DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL.
By ALEXANDER POPE, Efq;
Rura mihi & rigui placeant in vallibus amnes,
HERE are not, I believe, a greater number of
any fort of verfes than of thofe which are called Paftorals; nor a fmaller, than of those which are truly fo. It therefore seems neceffary to give some account of this kind of Poem, and it is my defign to comprize in this fhort paper the fubftance of thofe numerous differtations the critics have made on the fubject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. You will also find fome points reconciled, about which they feem to differ, and a few remarks which I think have efcaped their obfervation.
The original of Poetry is afcribed to that age which fucceeded the creation of the world: and as the keeping of flocks feems to have been the firft employment of mankind, the most antient fort of poetry was probably paftoral. 'Tis natural to imagine, that the leifure of those ancient fhepherds requiring fome diverfion, none was fo proper to that folitary life as finging; and that in their fongs they took occafion to celebrate their own felicity. From hence a Poem was invented, and afterwards improved to a perfect image of that happy time; which, B 2
by giving us an esteem for the virtues of a former age, might recommend them to the prefent. And fince the life of fhepherds was attended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the Poets chose to introduce their perfons, from whom it received the name of Paftoral.
A Paftoral is an imitation of the action of a fhepherd; the form of this imitation is dramatic, or narrative, or mixed of both; the fable fimple, the manners not too polite nor too ruftic: the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickness and paffion, but that short and flowing: the expreffion humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not florid; eafy, and yet lively. In short, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expreffions, are full of the greatest fimplicity in nature.
The complete character of this poem confifts in fimplicity, brevity, and delicacy; the two firft of which render an eclogue natural, and the last delightful.
If we would copy Nature, it may be useful to take this confideration along with us, that Paftoral is an image of what they call the Golden Age. So that we are not to describe our fhepherds 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 carry this resemblance yet farther, that air of piety to the gods fhould fhine through the Poem, which fo vifibly appears in all the works of antiquity: and it ought to preserve some relish of the old way of writing; the connections fhould be loose, the narrations and defcriptions fhort, and the periods concife. Yet it is not fufficient that the fentences only be brief, the whole Eclogue should be fo too. For we cannot fuppofe Poetry to have been the bufinefs of the ancient fhepherds, but their recreation at vacant hours.
But with a respect to the present age, nothing more conduces to make thefe compofures natural, than when fome knowledge in rural, affairs is difcovered. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on defign, and fometimes is beft fhewn by inference; left by too much study to feem natural, we destroy the delight. For what is inviting in this fort of poetry proceeds not fo much from the idea of a country life itself, as from that of its tranquillity. We muft therefore ufe fome illufion to render a Paftoral delightful; and this confifts in expofing the beft fide only of a fhepherd's life, and in concealing its miferies. Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds difcourfing together, 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. Befides, in each of them a defigned scene or prospect is to be prefented to our view, which fhould likewise 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 digreffions, but those short; fometimes by infifting a little on circumftances and laftly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the numbers extremely fweet and pleafing. As for the numbers themselves, though they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smootheft, the most eafy and flowing imaginable.
It is by rules like thefe that we ought to judge of Paftoral. And fince the inftructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of neceffity be derived from those in whom it is acknowledged fo to be. It is therefore from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil, (the only undisputed 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