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On a general view of the Greek Idyllia, their dialect is an obvious and ftriking feature. The Doric dialect, in which they are for the most part written, was, of all others, beft adapted to the fubjects, the characters, and fimplicity of the fentiment. It poffeffes an inimitable charm, that can never be transfused in the most happy translation. It hath a modulated sweetness which melts upon the ear, at the same time that its wildness and rufticity often characterize the personages who use it. In the age of THEOCRITUS, this species of the Doric (much softer and smoother than the old dialect of the Dorians) was current in many parts of Greece-another adventitious circumftance much in favor of our Poet. Hence his verfification derives a melody, which no one of the ancients hath equalled; while the frequent recurrence of the dactyl gives it an ease and lightness more peculiarly graceful in the paftoral IDYLLIA.
With respect to the general fentiment, there is a clearness, a fimplicity, a fportive vivacity, that must always please: but there are few strokes of the sublime; few fervid aspirations of fancy. There is no want of vigor; yet there is little enthufiafm. We, in fome inftances, meet with a furprizing thought, with a wonderful degree of animation: but though we are often charmed, we are feldom aftonifhed. There is always a juftness in the combination; all is natural and appropriated; but there is a regular and equable tenor in the thoughts as well as the language. The passions are tenderly and fimply expreffed: the complaints of love are drawn from the very bofom of nature; and the fituations have peculiar beauty. But the foul of THEOCRITUS was not tuned
to fenfibility. He had less feeling, though more judgement than BION. From the turn and manner of his compofition we may infer, that he generally trusts to his own stock of ideas-to his own powers of invention. Yet we fometimes discover imitations of profane as well as facred poetry. The Epics of HOMER, the Song of SOLOMON, and the PSALMS, (with the prophecies perhaps of ISAIAH) seem to have been chiefly familiar to his perufal; in proof of which particular paffages will be adduced, on a closer inspection of his Idyllia. But these Idyllia are of fo varied a complexion, that no general character of their language, ftyle, or fentiment, will be found applicable to them all. To arrange them under different claffes, expreffive of their matter or form, hath been vainly attempted by the critics. Yet for the fake of perfpicuity, and in conformity with our effay at a philofophical deduction of his pieces from the peculiar coincidence of genius and circumftance, we shall pursue, perhaps, no unnatural or improper mode of claffification, whilst we reduce them under the heads of Paftoral, Humorous, Panegyrical, Spoufal, Mythological, Epiftolary, and Anacreontic Idyllia.
THE HE fubject of Paftoral seems to have been long exhausted by the labors of criticism. Though it was never profeffedly difcuffed by the ancients, the later critics have entered deeply into its nature and origin. The more modern effufions indeed on this topic are scarcely to be enumerated: and we might imagine it to be of the first literary importance, whilft furrounded by the elaborate difquifitions of a SCALIGER, the flippant effays of a FONTENELLE, the voluminous inveftigations of a RAPIN, the hypotheses of a POPE, or the decisions of a JOHNSON. But controversy however extenfive, and conjecture however ingenious, evince not the value of their object; though they may invest it with an ideal dignity, fuch as it does not intrinsically poffefs.
The origin of this compofition hath called forth a profufion of learning. While one writer hath traced it from the times of ORPHEUS, LINUS, or EUMOLPUS, another hath made it coeval with the world itself; and a third might as well, if the humour led him, go back eleven thousand years, and place his pastoral poet on PLATO's Atalantis! The romantic vales of Tempe may ftill live in the colors of ELIAN; the luxuriance of Arcadia may ftill flourish in fong; and the golden age prefent its Paradife to fancy: Yet
Yet the Critic who would seriously investigate his subject, with a view to ascertain realities, fhould connect with the learning that is to guide him through the gloom of antiquity, a power to disenchant the wilds of error, and a resolution to dismiss fiction, though more agreeable than truth.
We know, from the concurrent testimonies of facred and profane hiftory, that the firft Princes and Patriarchs fed their flocks; and that the shepherd maintained, after the lapse of ages, the primitive honors of the cheiftain. Yet must the conclufion be deemed inconsequent, that the regular pastoral was the invention of the period, when
'DAN ABRAHAM left the Chaldee land,
• And pastur'd on from verdant stage to stage.' The Ode and the Hymn were manifeftly the production of wild and unimproved genius. But the Paftoral could little confist with the transitory establishments of the patriarchal times, or the reflefs fpirit of nations delighting in war. The fimplicity and innocence of the shepherd are too peaceable, unobtrusive, and placid, to attract the attentive obfervation of an unrefined poet, in such a manner as to fupply him with materials for uniform compofition. It is at the time when imagination loses its wildness, and the passions are softened and meliorated, amidst the ease and leisure of luxurious retirement, that the poet looks around him with interest on the pastoral landscape. It is at the period when the manners of the court and the cottage are obviously contradiftinguished, that, he, who hath mixed, perhaps, in the hurry and diffipation of the one, retreating to the stillness and ferenity of the other, is forcibly affected by the contraft; and calls forth his poetic
powers to paint what hath subdued arrogance, and foothed ambition! It is then that he delineates, with transport, the actions, the paffions, and the fcenes of rural life. Thefe, though before perhaps strongly, yet partially, represented, in the heat of a transitory enthusiasm, are now extensively held " up to view, in all their parts; and become the subjects of a new fpecies of writing. In the earlier ages, the very prevalence of the pastoral occupation might have prevented its becoming the fubject of poetic defcription. For hence, its familiarity must have precluded emotion. And he, who does not feel, will not attempt to describe.
We have already feen, that the people of Sicily, in the times of THEOCRITUS, were arrived at the point of elegant civilization. We have alfo viewed the fingular advantages our poet poffeffed, in fubfervience to his mufe. And fince, on examining the literary history of Greece, we find that the produced no writer, in this line of compofition, at her most refined periods, we may reasonably fix the date of Grecian paftoral with THEOCRITUS.* Its nature does not agree with the ruder æras. It hath been the opinion of fome refpectable writers, that our pastoral derives its origin from the
* Mr. WARTON is decidedly of opinion, that the origin of the Bucolic is to be discovered in the ancient Comedy; while the latter was in its rude unpolished state. On this idea he has formed an hypothefis, which he hath fupported with great ingenuity, in his curious Differtation on the Bucolic Poetry.
If this were really the origin of Paftoral, the ancients did not think it worthy their attention, under its scenic form. They have not given us the flightest account of the exhibition or acting of pastorals; which, in truth, `did not deferve the name of Compofition, till THEOCRITUS.