With a short DEFENCE of
Against some of the Reflexions of Monsieur Fontanelle.
S the Writings of greatest Antiquity are in Verse, so of all sorts of Poetry, Pastorals seem the most Ancient; being form'd upon the Model of the First Innocence, and Simplicity, which the Moderns, better to dispence themselves from imitating, have wisely thought fit to treat as Fabulous, and impracticable; and yet they, by obeying the unsophisticated Dictates of Nature, enjoy'd the most valuable Blessings of Life; a vigorous Health of Body, with a constant serenity, and freedom of Mind, whilst we, with all our fanciful Refinements, can scarcely pass an Autumn without some access of a Feaver, or a whole Day, not ruffled by some unquiet Passion. He was not then look'd upon as a very Old Man; who reach'd to a greater Number of Years, than in these times an ancient Fami∣ly can reasonably pretend to; and we know the Names of several, who saw, and practis'd the World for a longer space of time, than we can read the Account of in any one entire Body of History. In short, they invented the most useful Arts, Pastorage, Tillage, Geometry, Writing, Musick, Astronomy, &c. Whilst the Moderns, like Extravagant Heirs, made rich by their Industry, ingratefully deride the good Old Gentlemen, who left them the Estate. It is not therefore to be wonder'd at, that Pastorals are fallen into Disesteem, together with that Fashion of Life, upon which they were grounded. And methinks, I see the Reader already uneasie at this Part of Virgil, counting the Pages, and posting to the Æneis; so delightful an entertainment is the very Relation of publick Mischief, and slaughter, now become to Mankind: and yet Virgil pass'd a much different judgment on his own Works: He valu'd most this part, and his Georgics, and depended upon them for his Reputation with Posterity: But Censures himself in one of his Letters to Augustus, for medling with Heroics, the Invention of a degenerating Age. This is the Reason that the Rules of Pastoral, are so little known or studied. Aristotle, Horace, and the Essay of Poetry, take no notice of it. And Mr. Boileau, one of the most accurate of the Moderns, because he never loses the Ancients out of his Sight, bestows scarce half a Page on it.
It is the Design therefore of the few following Pages, to clear this sort of Writing from vulgar Prejudices; to vindicate our Author from some unjust Imputations; to look into some of the Rules of this sort of Poetry, and Enquire what sort of Versification is most proper for it, in which point we are so much inferiour to the Ancients; that this Consideration alone, were enough to make some Writers think as they ought, that is, Meanly, of their own Performances.
As all sorts of Poetry consist in imitation; Pastoral is the Imitation of a Shepherd consider'd under that Character: It is requisite therefore to be a little inform'd of the Condition, and Qualification of these Shepherds.
One of the Ancients has observ'd truly, but Satyrically enough, that Mankind is the Measure of every thing: And thus by a gradual improvement of this mistake, we come to make our own Age and Country the Rule and Standard of others, and our selves at last the measure of them all. We figure the Ancient Country-men like our own, leading a painful Life in Poverty and Contempt, without Wit, or Courage, or Education: But Men had quite different Notions of these things, for the first four Thousand Years of the World; Health and Strength were then in more esteem than the refinements of Pleasure; and it was accounted a great deal more Honourable to Till the Ground, or keep a Flock of Sheep, than to dissolve in Wantonness, and effeminating Sloath. Hunting has now an Idea of Quality join'd to it, and is become the most important Business in the Life of a Gentleman; Antiently it was quite otherways. Mr. Fleury has severely remark'd, that this Extravagant Passion for Hunting is a strong Proof of our Gothic Extraction, and shews an affinity of Humour with the Savage Americans. The Barbarous Franks and other Germans, (having neither Corn, nor Wine of their own growth,) when they pass'd the Rhine, and possess'd themselves of Countries better Cultivated, left the Tillage of the Land to the Old Proprietors; and afterwards continu'd to hazard their Lives as freely for their Diversion, as they had done before for their necessary subsistance. The English gave this Usage the Sacred Stamp of Fashion, and from hence it is that most of our Terms of Hunting are French. The Reader will, I hope, give me his Pardon for my freedom on this Subject, since an ill Accident, occasion'd by Hunting, has kept England in pain, these several Months together, for one of the best, and greatest Peers which she has bred for some Ages; no less Illustrious for Civil Virtues, and Learning, than his Ancestors were for all their Victories in France.
But there are some Prints still left of the Ancient Esteem for Husbandry and their plain Fashion of Life in many of our Sir-Names, and in the Escutcheons of the most Ancient Families, even those of the greatest Kings, the Roses, the Lillies, the Thistle, &c. It is generally known, that one of the principal Causes of the Deposing of Mahomet the 4th, was, that he would not allot part of the Day to some manual Labour, according to the Law of Mahomet, and Ancient Practice of his Predecessors. He that reflects on this will be the less surpriz'd to find that Charlemaign Eight Hundred Years ago, order'd his Children to be instructed in some Profession. And Eight Hundred Years yet higher, that Augustus wore no Cloaths but such as were made by the Hands of the Empress, and her Daughters; and Olympias did the same for Alexander the Great. Nor will he wonder that the Romans, in great Exigency, sent for their Dictator from the Plow, whose whole Estate was but of Four Acres; too little a spot now for the Orchard, or Kitchin-Garden of a Private Gentleman. It is commonly known, that the Founders of three the most renown'd Monarchies in the World, were Shepherds: And the Subject of Husbandry has been adorn'd by the Writings and Labour of more than twenty Kings. It ought not therefore to be matter of surprize to a Modern Writer, that Kings, the Shepherds of the People in Homer, laid down their first Rudiments in tending their mute Subjects; nor that the Wealth of Ulysses consisted in Flocks and Herds, the Intendants over which, were then in equal esteem with Officers of State in latter times. And therefore Eumæus is call'd Δὶος ὓφρζoς in Homer; not so much because Homer was a lover of a Country Life, to which he rather seems averse, but by reason of the Dignity and Greatness of his Trust, and because he was the Son of a King, stollen away, and Sold by the Phænician Pyrates, which the Ingenious Mr. Cowley seems not to have taken notice of. Nor will it seem strange, that the Master of the Horse to King Latinus, in the Ninth Æneid, was found in the homely Employment of cleaving Blocks, when news of the first Skirmish betwixt the Trojans and Latins was brought to him.
Being therefore of such Quality, they cannot be suppos'd so very ignorant and unpolish'd; the Learning and good breeding of the World was then in the hands of such People. He who was chosen by the consent of all Parties to arbitrate so delicate an Affair, as which was the fairest of the three Celebrated Beauties of Heaven; he who had the address to debauch away Helen from her Husband, her Native Country, and from a Crown, understood what the French call by the too soft name of Gallanterie; he had Accomplishments enough, how ill use soever he made of them. It seems therefore that Mr. F. had not duly consider'd the matter, when he reflected so severely upon Virgil, as if he had not observ'd the Laws of decency in his Pastorals, in making Shepherds speak to things beside their Character, and above their Capacity. He stands amaz'd that Shepherds should thunder out, as he expresses himself, the formation of the World, and that too according to the System of Epicurus. In truth, says he, page 176. I cannot tell what to make of this whole piece; (the Sixth Past.) I can neither comprehend the Design of the Author, nor the Connexion of the parts; first come the Ideas of Philosophy, and presently after those incoherent Fables, &c. To expose him yet more, he subjoins, it is Silenus himself who makes all this absurd Discourse. Virgil says indeed that he had drank too much the day before; perhaps the Debauch hung in his head when he compos'd this Poem, &c. Thus far Mr. F. who, to the disgrace of Reason, as himself ingenuously owns, first built his House, and then studied Architecture; I mean first Compos'd his Eclogues, and then studied the Rules. In answer to this, we may observe, first, that this very Pastoral which he singles out to triumph over, was recited by a Famous Player on the Roman Theatre, with marvellous applause; insomuch that Cicero who had heard part of it only, order'd the whole to be rehears'd, and struck with admiration of it, conferr'd then upon Virgil the Glorious Title of
Magnæ spes alteræ Romæ.
Nor is it Old Donatus only who relates this, we have the same account from another very Credible and Ancient Author; so that here we have the judgment of Cicero, and the People of Rome, to confront the single Opinion of this adventrous Critick. A Man ought to be well assur'd of his own Abilities, before he attack an Author of establish'd Reputation. If Mr. F. had perus'd the fragments of the Phænician Antiquity, trac'd the progress of Learning thro' the Ancient Greek Writers, or so much as Consulted his Learned Country-Man Huetius, he would have found, (which falls out unluckily for him) that a Chaldæan Shepherd discover'd to the Ægyptians and Greeks the Creation of the World. And what Subject more fit for such a Pastoral, than that Great Affair which was first notified to the World by one of that Profession? Nor does it appear, (what he takes for granted) that Virgil describes the Original of the World according to the Hypothesis of Epicurus; he was too well seen in Antiquity to commit such a gross Mistake; there is not the least mention of Chance in that whole passage, nor of the Clinamen Principiorum, so peculiar to Epicurus's Hypothesis. Virgil had not only more Piety, but was of too nice a Judgment to introduce a God denying the Power and Providence of the Deity, and singing a Hymn to the Atoms, and blind Chance. On the contrary, his Description agrees very well with that of Moses; and the Eloquent Commentator D'Acier, who is so confident that Horace had perus'd the Sacred History, might with greater Reason have affirm'd the same thing of Virgil. For, besides that Famous Passage in the Sixth Æneid, (by which this may be illustrated,) where the word Principio is us'd in the front of both by Moses and Virgil, and the Seas are first mention'd, and the Spiritus intus alit, which might not improbably, as Mr. D'Acier would suggest, allude to the Spirit moving upon the face of the Waters; But omitting this parallel place, the successive formation of the World is evidently describ'd in these words,
Rerum paulatim sumere formas;
And tis hardly possible to render more literally that verse of Moses,
Let the Waters be gathered into one place, and let the dry Land appear, than in this of Virgil,
Jam durare solum, & discludere Nerea Ponto.
After this the formation of the Sun is describ'd (exactly in the Mosaical order,) and next the production of the first Living Creatures, and that too in a small number, (still in the same method.)
Rara per ignotos errent animalia montes.
And here the foresaid Author would probably remark, that Virgil keeps more exactly the Mosaick System, than an Ingenious Writer, who will by no means allow Mountains to be coæval with the World. Thus much will make it probable at least, that Virgil had Moses in his thoughts rather than Epicurus, when he compos'd this Poem. But it is further remarkable, that this Passage was taken from a Song attributed to Apollo, who himself too unluckily had been a Shepherd, and he took it from another yet more ancient, compos'd by the first Inventer of Musick, and at that time a Shepherd too; and this is one of the noblest Fragments of Greek Antiquity; and because I cannot suppose the Ingenious Mr. F. one of their number, who pretend to censure the Greeks, without being able to distinguish Greek from Ephesian Characters, I shall here set down the Lines from which Virgil took this passage, tho' none of the Commentators have observ'd it.
————————ερα ν δ οι εσπε ο φωνη,
Κραινων αθανατ ς τε θε ς, χαι γαιαν ερεμνην,
Ως τα ωρωτα γενον ο, κ ως λακε μοιραν εκαςος, &c.
Thus Linus too began his Poem, as appears by a Fragment of it preserv'd by Diogenes Laertius; and the like may be instanc'd in Muſæus himself.
So that our Poet here with great Judgment, as always, follows the ancient Custom of beginning their more Solemn Songs with the Creation, and does it too most properly under the person of a Shepherd; and thus the first and best Employment of Poetry was to compose Hymns in Honour of the Great Creator of the Universe.
Few words will suffice to answer his other Objections. He demands why those several Transformations are mention'd in that Poem? And is not Fable then the Life and Subject of Poetry? Can himself assign a more proper Subject of Pastoral, than the Saturnia Regna, the Age and Scene of this kind of Poetry? What Theme more fit for the Song of a God, or to imprint Religious awe, than the Omnipotent Power of transforming the Species of Creatures at their pleasure? Their Families liv'd in Groves, near clear Springs; and what better warning could be given to the hopeful young Shepherds, than that they should not gaze too much into the Liquid dangerous Looking-glass, for fear of being stoln by the Water-Nymphs, that is, falling and being drown'd, as Hylas was? Pasiphea's monstrous passion for a Bull, is certainly a Subject enough fitted for Bucolics: Can Mr. F. Tax Silenus for fetching too far the Transformation of the Sisters of Phaeton into Trees, when perhaps they sat at that very time under the hospitable shade of those Alders or Poplars? Or the Metamorphoses of Philomela into that ravishing Bird, which makes the sweetest musick of the Groves? If he had look'd into the Ancient Greek Writers, or so much as Consulted honest Servius, he would have discover'd that under the Allegory of this drunkenness of Silenus, the refinement and exaltation of Mens Minds by Philosophy was intended. But if the Author of these Reflections can take such flights in his Wine, it is almost pity that drunkenness shou'd be a Sin, or that he shou'd ever want good store of Burgundy, and Champaign. But indeed he seems not to have ever drank out of Silenus his Tankard, when he made either his Critique, or Pastorals.
His Censure on the Fourth seems worse grounded than the other; it is Entituled in some ancient Manuscripts, The History of the Renovation of the World; he complains that he cannot understand what is meant by those many Figurative Expressions: But if he had consulted the younger Vossius his Dissertation on this Pastoral, or read the Excellent Oration of the Emperor Constantine, made French by a good Pen of their own, he would have found there the plain interpretation of all those Figurative Expressions; and withall, very strong proofs of the truth of the Christian Religion; such as Converted Heathens, as Valerianus, and others: And upon account of this Piece, the most Learn'd of the Latin Fathers calls Virgil a Christian, even before Christianity. Cicero takes notice of it in his Books of Divination, and Virgil probably had put it in Verse a considerable time before the Edition of his Pastorals. Nor does he appropriate it to Pollio, or his Son, but Complementally dates it from his Consulship. And therefore some one who had not so kind thoughts of Mr. F. as I, would be inclin'd to think him as bad a Catholick as Critick in this place.
But, in respect to some Books he has wrote since, I pass by a great part of this, and shall only touch briefly some of the Rules of this sort of Poem.
The First is, that an air of Piety upon all occasions should be maintain'd in the whole Poem: This appears in all the Ancient Greek Writers; as Homer, Hesiod, Aratus, &c. And Virgil is so exact in the observation of it, not only in this Work, but in his Æneis too, that a Celebrated French Writer taxes him for permitting Æneas to do nothing without the assistance of some God. But by this it appears, at least, that Mr. St. Eur. is no Jansenist.
Mr. F. seems a little defective in this point; he brings in a pair of Shepherdesses disputing very warmly, whether Victoria be a Goddess, or a Woman. Her great condescension and compassion, her affability and goodness, none of the meanest Attributes of the Divinity, pass for convincing Arguments that she could not possibly be a Goddess.
Les Déesses toûjours fieres & méprisantes
Ne rassureroiént point les Bergeres tremblantes
Par d'obligeans discours, des souris gracieux;
Mais tu l'as veu; cette Auguste Personne
Qui vient de paroistre en ces lieux
Prend soin de rassurer au moment qu'elle étonne.
Sa bonté descendant sans peine jusqu'à nous.
In short, she has too many Divine Perfections to be a Deity, and therefore she is a Mortal [which was the thing to be prov'd.] It is directly contrary to the practice of all ancient Poets, as well as to the Rules of Decency and Religion, to make such odious Preferences. I am much surpriz'd therefore that he should use such an argument as this.
Cloris, as-tu veu des Déesses
Avoir un air si facile & si doux?
Was not Aurora, and Venus, and Luna, and I know not how many more of the Heathen Deities too easie of access to Tithonus, to Anchises, and to Endimion? Is there any thing more Sparkish and better humour'd than Venus her accosting her Son in the Desarts of Lybia? or than the behaviour of Pallas to Diomedes, one of the most perfect and admirable Pieces of all the Iliads; where she condescends to rallié him so agreeably; and notwithstanding her severe Virtue, and all the Ensigns of Majesty, with which she so terribly adorns her self, condescends to ride with him in his Chariot? But the Odysses are full of greater instances of condescension than this.
This brings to mind that Famous passage of Lucan, in which he prefers Cato to all the Gods at once,
Victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni.
Which Brelæuf has render'd so flatly, and which may be thus Paraphras'd.
Heaven meanly with the Conquerour did comply,
But Cato rather than submit would die.
It is an unpardonable presumption in any sort of Religion to complement their Princes at the expence of their Deities.
Nec vox Hominem sonat, O Dea certe.
So true is that Remark of the Admirable E. of Roscomon, if apply'd to the Romans, rather I fear than to the English, since his own Death.
————————one sterling Line,
Drawn to French Wire, would thro' whole Pages shine.
Another Rule is, that the Characters should represent that Ancient Innocence, and unpractis'd Plainness, which was then in the World. P. Rapine has gather'd many Instances of this out of Theocritus, and Virgil; and the Reader can do it as well himself. But Mr. F. transgress'd this Rule, when he hid himself in the Thicket, to listen to the private discourse of the two Shepherdesses. This is not only ill Breeding at Versailles; the Arcadian Shepherdesses themselves would have set their Dogs upon one for such an unpardonable piece of Rudeness.
A Third Rule is, That there should be some Ordonnance, some Design, or little Plot, which may deserve the Title of a Pastoral Scene. This is every where observ'd by Virgil, and particularly remarkable in the first Eclogue; the standard of all Pastorals; a Beautiful Landscape presents it self to your view, a Shepherd with his Flock around him, resting securely under a spreading Beech, which furnish'd the first Food to our Ancestors. Another in quite different Situation of Mind and Circumstances, the Sun setting, the Hospitality of the more fortunate Shepherd, &c. And here Mr. F. seems not a little wanting.
A Fourth Rule, and of great importance in this delicate sort of Writing, is, that there be choice diversity of Subjects; that the Eclogues, like a Beautiful Prospect, should Charm by its Variety. Virgil is admirable in this Point, and far surpasses Theocritus, as he does every where, when Judgment and Contrivance have the principal part. The Subject of the first Pastoral is hinted above.
The Second contains the Love of Coridon for Alexis, and the seasonable reproach he gives himself, that he left his Vines half prun'd, (which according to the Roman Rituals, deriv'd a Curse upon the Fruit that grew upon it) whilst he pursu'd an Object undeserving his Passion.
The Third, a sharp Contention of two Shepherds for the Prize of Poetry.
The Fourth contains the Discourse of a Shepherd Comforting himself in a declining Age, that a better was ensuing.
The Fifth a Lamentation for a Dead Friend, the first draught of which is probably more Ancient than any of the Pastorals now extant; his Brother being at first intended; but he afterwards makes his Court to Augustus, by turning it into an Apothesis of Julius Cæsar.
The Sixth is the Silenus.
The Seventh, another Poetical Dispute, first Compos'd at Mantua.
The Eighth is the Description of a despairing Lover, and a Magical Charm.
He sets the Ninth after all these, very modestly, because it was particular to himself; and here he would have ended that Work, if Gallus had not prevail'd upon him to add one more in his Favour.
Thus Curious was Virgil in diversifying his Subjects. But Mr. F. is a great deal too Uniform; begin where you please, the Subject is still the same. We find it true what he says of himself,
Toûjours, toûjours de l'Amour.
He seems to take Pastorals and Love-Verses for the same thing. Has Human Nature no other Passion? Does not Fear, Ambition, Avarice, Pride, a Capricio of Honour, and Laziness it self often Triumph over Love? But this Passion does all, not only in Pastorals, but in Modern Tragedies too. A Heroe can no more Fight, or be Sick, or Dye, than he can be Born without a Woman. But Dramatic's have been compos'd in compliance to the Humour of the Age, and the prevailing Inclination of the great, whose Example has a more powerful Influence, not only in the little Court behind the Scenes, but on the great Theatre of the World. However this inundation of Love-Verses is not so much an effect of their Amorousness, as of immoderate Self-love. This being the only sort of Poetry, in which the Writer can, not only without Censure, but even with Commendation, talk of himself. There is generally more of the Passion of Narcissus, than concern for Chloris and Corinna in this whole Affair. Be pleas'd to look into almost any of those Writers, and you shall meet every where that eternal Moy, which the admirable Paschal so judiciously condemns. Homer can never be enough admir'd for this one so particular Quality, that he never speaks of himself, either in the Iliad, or the Odysses; and if Horace had never told us his Genealogy, but left it to the Writer of his Life, perhaps he had not been a loser by it. This Consideration might induce those great Criticks, Varius and Tucca, to raze out the four first Verses of the Æneis, in great measure, for the sake of that unlucky Ille ego. But extraordinary Genius's have a sort of Prerogative, which may dispense them from Laws, binding to Subject-Wits. However, the Ladies have the less Reason to be pleas'd with those Addresses, of which the Poet takes the greater share to himself. Thus the Beau presses into their Dressing-Room, but it is not so much to adore their fair Eyes, as to adjust his own Steenkirk and Peruke, and set his Countenance in their Glass.
A fifth Rule, (which one may hope will not be contested) is that the Writer should shew in his Compositions, some competent skill of the Subject matter, that which makes the Character of the Persons introduc'd. In this, as in all other Points of Learning, Decency, and Oeconomy of a Poem, Virgil much excells his Master Theocritus. The Poet is better skill'd in Husbandry than those that get their Bread by it. He describes the Nature, the Diseases, the Remedies, the proper places, and Seasons, of Feeding, of Watering their Flocks; the Furniture, Diet; the Lodging and Pastimes of his Shepherds. But the Persons brought in by Mr. F. are Shepherds in Masquerade, and handle their Sheep-Hook as awkardly, as they do their Oaten-Reed. They Saunter about with their chers Moutons, but they relate as little to the Business in hand, as the Painter's Dog, or a Dutch Ship, does to the History design'd. One would suspect some of them, that instead of leading out their Sheep into the Plains of Mont-Brison, and Marcilli, to the flowry Banks of Lignon, or the Charanthe; that they are driving directly, à la boucherie, to make Mony of them. I hope hereafter Mr. F. will chuse his Servants better.
A sixth Rule is, That as the Style ought to be natural, clear, and elegant, it should have some peculiar relish of the Ancient Fashion of Writing. Parables in those times were frequently us'd, as they are still by the Eastern Nations; Philosophical Questions, Ænigma's, &c. and of this we find Instances in the Sacred Writings, in Homer, Contemporary with King David, in Herodotus, in the Greek Tragedians; this piece of Antiquity is imitated by Virgil with great judgment and discretion: He has propos'd one Riddle which has never yet been solv'd by any of his Commentators. Tho' he knew the Rules of Rhetorick, as well as Cicero himself; he conceals that skill in his Pastorals, and keeps close to the Character of Antiquity: Nor ought the Connexions and Transitions to be very strict, and regular; this would give the Pastorals an Air of Novelty, and of this neglect of exact Connexions, we have instances in the Writings of the Ancient Chineses, of the Jews and Greeks, in Pindar, and other Writers of Dithyrambics, in the Chorus's of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. If Mr. F. and Ruæus, had consider'd this, the one wou'd have spar'd his Critic of the Sixth, and the other, his Reflections upon the Ninth Pastoral. The over-scrupulous care of Connexions, makes the Modern Compositions oftentimes tedious and flat: And by the omission of them it comes to pass, that the Pensées of the incomparable Mr. Pascal, and perhaps of Mr. Bruyere, are two of the most Entertaining Books which the Modern French can boast of. Virgil, in this point, was not only faithful to the Character of Antiquity, but Copies after Nature her self. Thus a Meadow, where the Beauties of the Spring are profusely blended together, makes a more delightful Prospect, than a curious Parterre of sorted Flowers in our Gardens, and we are much more transported with the Beauty of the Heavens, and admiration of their Creator, in a clear Night, when we behold Stars of all Magnitudes, promiscuously moving together, than if those glorious Lights were rank'd in their several Orders, or reduc'd into the finest Geometrical Figures.
Another Rule omitted by P. Rapine, as some of his are by me, (for I do not design an entire Treatise in this Preface,) is, that not only the Sentences should be short, and smart, upon which account, he justly blames the Italian, and French, as too Talkative, but that the whole piece should be so too. Virgil transgress'd this Rule in his first Pastorals, I mean those which he compos'd at Mantua, but rectifi'd the Fault in his Riper Years. This appears by the Culex, which is as long as five of his Pastorals put together. The greater part of those he finish'd, have less than an Hundred Verses, and but two of them exceed that Number. But the Silenus, which he seems to have design'd for his Master-piece, in which he introduces a God singing, and he too full of Inspiration, (which is intended by that ebriety, which Mr. F. so unreasonably ridicules,) tho' it go thro' so vast a Field of Matter, and comprizes the Mythology of near Two Thousand Years, consists but of Fifty Lines; so that its brevity is no less admirable, than the subject Matter; the noble Fashion of handling it, and the Deity speaking. Virgil keeps up his Characters in this respect too, with the strictest decency. For Poetry and Pastime was not the Business of Mens Lives in those days, but only their seasonable Recreation after necessary Labours. And therefore the length of some of the Modern Italian, and English Compositions, is against the Rules of this kind of Poesy.
I shall add something very briefly touching the Versification of Pastorals, tho' it be a mortifying Consideration to the Moderns. Heroic Verse, as it is commonly call'd, was us'd by the Greeks in this sort of Poem, as very Ancient and Natural. Lyrics, Iambics, &c. being Invented afterwards: but there is so great a difference in the Numbers, of which it may be compounded, that it may pass rather for a Genus, than Species, of Verse. Whosoever shall compare the numbers of the three following Verses, will quickly be sensible of the truth of this Observation.
Tityre, tu patulæ recubans sub tegmine fagi.
The first of the Georgics,
Quid faciat lætas segetes, quo sydere terram.
and of the Æneis,
Arma, virumque cano, Trojæ qui Primus ab oris.
The Sound of the Verses, is almost as different as the Subjects. But the Greek Writers of Pastoral, usually limited themselves to the Example of the first; which Virgil found so exceedingly difficult, that he quitted it, and left the Honour of that part to Theocritus. It is indeed probable, that what we improperly call Rhyme, is the most ancient sort of Poetry; and Learned Men have given good Arguments for it; and therefore a French Historian commits a gross mistake, when he attributes that Invention to a King of Gaul, as an English Gentleman does, when he makes a Roman Emperour the Inventor of it. But the Greeks, who understood fully the force and power of Numbers, soon grew weary of this Childish sort of Verse, as the Younger Vossius justly calls it, and therefore those rhyming Hexameters, which Plutarch observes in Homer himself, seem to be the Remains of a barbarous Age. Virgil had them in such abhorrence, that he would rather make a false Syntax, than what we call a Rhyme, such a Verse as this
Vir precor Uxori, frater succurre Sorori.
was passable in Ovid, but the nice Ears in Augustus his Court could not pardon Virgil, for
At Regina Pyra.
So that the principal Ornament of Modern Poetry, was accounted deformity by the Latins, and Greeks; it was they who invented the different terminations of words, those happy compositions, those short Monosyllables, those transpositions for the elegance of the sound and sense, which are wanting so much in modern Languages. The French sometimes crowd together ten, or twelve Monosyllables, into one disjointed Verse; they may understand the nature of, but cannot imitate, those wonderful Spondees of Pythagoras, by which he could suddenly pacifie a Man that was in a violent transport of anger; nor those swift numbers of the Priests of Cybele, which had the force to enrage the most sedate and Phlegmatick Tempers. Nor can any Modern put into his own Language the Energy of that single Poem of Catullus,
Super alta vectus, Atys, &c.
Latin is but a corrupt dialect of Greek; and the French, Spanish, and Italian, a corruption of Latin; and therefore a Man might as well go about to persuade me that Vinegar is a Nobler Liquor than Wine, as that the modern Compositions can be as graceful and harmonious as the Latin it self. The Greek Tongue very naturally falls into Iambicks, and therefore the diligent Reader may find six or seven and twenty of them in those accurate Orations of Isocrates. The Latin as naturally falls into Heroic; and therefore the beginning of Livy's History is half an Hexameter, and that of Tacitus an entire one. The Roman Historian describing the glorious effort of a Colonel to break thro' a Brigade of the Enemies, just after the defeat at Cannæ, falls, unknowingly, into a Verse not unworthy Virgil himself.
Hæc ubi dicta dedit, stringit gladium, cuneoq;
Facto per medios, &c.
Ours and the French can at best but fall into Blank Verse, which is a fault in Prose. The misfortune indeed is common to us both, but we deserve more compassion, because we are not vain of our barbarities. As Age brings Men back into the state and infirmities of Childhood, upon the fall of their Empire, the Romans doted into Rhime, as appears sufficiently by the Hymns of the Latin Church; and yet a great deal of the French Poetry does hardly deserve that poor Title. I shall give an Instance out of a Poem which had the good luck to gain the Prize in 1685, for the Subject deserv'd a Nobler Pen.
Tous les jours ce grand Roy des autres Roys l'exemple,
S'ouvre nouveau chemin au faiste de un ton temple, &c.
The Judicious Malherbe exploded this sort of Verse near Eighty Years ago. Nor can I forbear wondering at that passage of a Famous Academician, in which he, most compassionately, excuses the Ancients for their not being so exact in their Compositions, as the Modern French, because they wanted a Dictionary, of which the French are at last happily provided. If Demosthenes and Cicero had been so lucky as to have had a Dictionary, and such a Patron as Cardinal Richelieu, perhaps they might have aspir'd to the honour of Balzac's Legacy of Ten Pounds, Le prix de l'Eloquence.
On the contrary, I dare assert that there are hardly ten lines in either of those great Orators, or even in the Catalogue of Homer's Ships, which is not more harmonious, more truly Rythmical, than most of the French, or English Sonnets; and therefore they lose, at least, one half of their native Beauty by Translation.
I cannot but add one Remark on this occasion, that the French Verse is oftentimes not so much as Rhime, in the lowest Sense; for the Childish repetition of the same Note cannot be call'd Musick; such Instances are infinite, as in the forecited Poem.
Mr. Boileau himself has a great deal of this μονολθνία, not by his own neglect, but purely by the faultiness and poverty of the French Tongue. Mr. F. at last goes into the excessive Paradoxes of Mr. Perrault, and boasts of the vast number of their Excellent Songs, preferring them to the Greek and Latin. But an ancient Writer of as good Credit, has assur'd us, that Seven Lives would hardly suffice to read over the Greek Odes; but a few Weeks would be sufficient, if a Man were so very idle as to read over all the French. In the mean time, I should be very glad to see a Catalogue of but fifty of theirs with
Exact propriety of word and thought.
Notwithstanding all the high Encomiums, and mutual Gratulations which they give one another; (for I am far from censuring the whole of that Illustrious Society, to which the Learned World is much oblig'd) after all those Golden Dreams at the L'Ouvre, that their Pieces will be as much valu'd ten, or twelve Ages hence, as the ancient Greek, or Roman, I can no more get it into my head that they will last so long, than I could believe the Learned Dr. H———K. [of the Royal Society,] if he should pretend to shew me a Butterflye that had liv'd a thousand Winters.
When Mr. F. wrote his Eclogues, he was so far from equalling Virgil, or Theocritus, that he had some pains to take before he could understand in what the principal Beauty, and Graces of their Writings do consist.
- The Duke of Shrewsbury.
- Essay of Poetry