1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1855) 105.



In Scotland, on the contrary, the scenery, rural economy of the country, and the songs of the peasantry, sung, "at the watching of the fold," presented Ramsay with a much nearer image of pastoral life, and he accordingly painted it with the fresh feeling and enjoyment of nature. Had Sir William Jones understood the dialect of that poet, I am convinced that he would not have awarded the pastoral crown to any other author. Ramsay's shepherds are distinct, in intelligible beings neither vulgar, like the caricatures of Gay, nor fantastic, like those of Fletcher. They afford such a view of national peasantry as we should wish to acquire by travelling among them; and form a draft entirely devoted to rural manners, which for truth, and beauty, and extent, has no parallel in the richer language of England. Shakspeare's pastoral scenes are only subsidiary to the main interest of the plays where they are introduced. Milton's are rather pageants of fancy than pictures of real life. The shepherds of Spenser's Calendar are parsons in disguise, who converse about heathen divinities and points of Christian theology.