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The history of Pastoral Poetry shows us how easily the most natural species of composition may pass into the most artificial. Whatever may have been its earliest beginnings—a question which seems to belong as much to speculation as to historical inquiry-it appears not to have been recognized or cultivated as a distinct branch till the Greek mind had passed its great climacteric, and the centre of intellectual life had been transferred from Athens to Alexandria. Yet as introduced into the world by Theocritus, if modern criticism is right in supposing him to have been its real originator, it exhibits little of that weakness and want of vitality which might have been expected to distinguish the child of old age. It is a vigorous representation of shepherd life, with its simple habits, its coarse humour, its passionate susceptibility, and its grotesque superstition. But it was not long to retain this genuine character of healthy, dramatic energy. Already in the next age at Syracuse it began to show signs of failing power: and on its transference to Rome, these were at once developed into the unmistakeable symptoms of premature constitutional decay. What it became afterwards is characteristically described in one of Johnson's sarcastic sentences. "At the revival of learning in Italy," he says in his Life of Ambrose Philips , “it was soon discovered that a dialogue of imaginary swains might be composed with little difficulty: because the conversation of shepherds excludes profound or refined sentiment: and for images and descriptions, Satyrs and Fauns, and Naiads and Dryads, were always within call; and woods, and meadows, and hills, and rivers supplied variety of matter, which, having a natural power to soothe the mind, did not quickly cloy it.” Arcadia, more famous among the ancients, at least before the time
· The theories of its origin resolve themselves into speculations like those of Lucretius (5. 1382 foll.), as Heyne remarks in his treatise “ De Carmine Bucolico,” prefixed to his edition. It is easy to see that music is a natural solace for a shepherd, and that the whistling of the wind through the reeds would suggest the use of the reed as a pipe.
2 The names of the supposed pastoral poets who preceded Theocritus may be found in Heyne's treatise, or in the Dictionary of Biography, art. Theocritus. For a destructive criticism on their existence or claims to the title, see Näke's Opuscula, vol. i. pp. 161 foll.
3 Lives of the Poets, Cunningham's edition, vol. iii. pp. 262, 3.
of Virgil', for pastoral dulness than for pastoral ideality, became the poet's golden land, where imagination found a refuge from the harsh prosaic life of the present. Gradually the pastoral was treated as a sort of exercise-ground for young authors, who supposed themselves, in the words of an old commentator on Spenser", to be " following the example of the best and most ancient poets, which devised this kind of writing, being both so base for the matter and homely for the manner, at the first to try their habilities : and as young birds that be newly crept out of the nest, by little first prove their tender wings, before they make a greater flight.” It was indeed little more than the form in which the poet made himself known to the world, the pseudonym under which it was thought decorous to veil his real style and title. His shepherds might preserve their costume, but their conversation turned on any thing which might be uppermost in his own mind, or in that of the public, the controversies of the Church°, or the death of a royal personage. It was not to be expected that a thing so purely artificial could outlive that general questioning of the grounds of poetical excellence, which accompanied the far wider convulsions at the end of the last century. Whether it is now to be registered as an extinct species, at least in England, is perhaps a question of language rather than of fact. The poetry of external nature has been wakened into new and intenser life, and the habits of the country are represented to us in poems, reminding us of the earliest and best days of the Idyl: but the names of Eclogue and Pastoral are heard no longer, nor is it easy to conceive of a time when the associations connected with them are likely again to find favour with Englishmen.
For this corruption probably no writer is so heavily chargeable as Virgil. Changes of the kind, it is true, are attributable as much to the general condition of the intellectual atmosphere as to any individual source of infection; the evil too had begun, as has been already remarked, before pastoral poetry had migrated from Syracuse. But in Virgil it at once attained a height which left comparatively little to be done by subsequent writers, though their inferiority in the graces of expression was sure to render the untruthfulness of the conception more conspicuous. They might make their poetical Arcadia, to borrow again the words of Johnson', still more “ remote from known reality and speculative possibility:" but it was scarcely in their power to confound worse the confusion which blended Sicily and the Mantuan district into
4 See Keightley's note on Virg. Ecl. 7. 4. 5 Prefatory Epistle to Spenser's “Shepheard's Calendar," addressed to riel Harvey.
6 The affairs of the Church are touched on in two of Spenser's Pastorals, those for May and September. Ambrose Philips has a Pastoral on the death of Queen Mary. 7 Lives of the Poets, vol. ii. p. 297. (Life of Gay.)
one, and identified Julius Caesar with that Daphnis whom the nymphs loved, and whose death drew groans from the lions.
There is something almost unexampled in the state of feeling which at Rome, and in the Augustan age in particular, allowed palpable and avowed imitation to claim the honours of poetical originality. Pacuvius and Attius are praised not for having called out the tragedy which lies, patent rather than latent, in Roman history and Roman life, nor even for having made the legends which they derived from Greece the subject of original dramas of their own, but specifically for having applied their wit to the writings of the Greeks, as to so much raw material, and adapted to the Roman stage the entertainments which had alternately delighted and terrified the populace of Athens. Horace invites attention to himself', as an independent traveller along untrodden ground, not as having discovered any measure peculiar to the Latin language, any melody to which the thoughts of his countrymen would naturally vibrate, but as having been the first to display to Latium the capabilities of the Archilochian Iambic, the Alcaic, and the Sapphic. So Propertius ? speaks of Thyrsis and Daphnis, and the rustic presents which shepherd makes to shepherdess, names and things copied precisely from Theocritus, as if they were actually a new world to which Virgil had introduced him and his contemporaries of the great city. Striking as the phenomenon is, the circumstances of the case enable us readily to account for it. The Roman knew only of a single instance of a national literature in the world: it challenged his allegiance with an undisputed claim, and his only course seemed to be to conforın to it, and endeavour, so far as he could, to reproduce it among his own people. It seems as if no parallel to such a mental condition could exist in our larger modern experience, where the very number of the models set before us corrects our admiration by distracting it, and forces us, as it were, in spite of
8 « Serus enim Graecis admovit acumina chartis,
Et post Punica bella quietus quaerere coepit
(Hor. 2 Ep. 1. 161.)
Non aliena meo pressi pede. Qui sibi fidit,
(Hor. 1 Ep. 19. 21.)
Thyrsin et attritis Daphnin arundinibus,
(Prop. 3. 26. 67.) The coarseness of the second couplet is characteristic, showing the sort of charm which Propertius found in a poem of rural life.