1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gay

Cassius, in "Pastoral Poetry of England" Universal Magazine NS 8 (August 1807) 126.



Mr. Roscoe, in his Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, has justly observed, at page 394 of the first volume, that few attempts have been made in England to adopt the provincial idiom of the inhabitants to the language of poetry. Neither the Shepherd's Tale of Spenser (he adds) nor the Pastorals of Gay, possess that native simplicity and close adherence to the manners and language of country life, which ought to form the basis of this kind of composition. And Mr. Roscoe thinks that the reason of this is the inaptitude of our language for genuine pastoral poetry. Perhaps, however, another and more probable cause may be assigned. May it not be, that neither Spenser nor Gay were bred in the country, nor passed their life in those low and homely scenes which constitute the characteristics of this species of poetry? They wrote, as it were, in a foreign language, and they imagined that words would convey the feelings of the heart, the inwrought habitudes of nature. They attempted to describe what was to them strange, and partly unknown, perhaps, except from books; it did not circulate with the flow of their sensations, and consequently it has a frigid and often a ludicrous appearance. It is the same as if an Englishman were to attempt to write Chinese pastorals, by grouping together all that he has heard respecting their rural affairs and manners: the materials, indeed, might be there, but they would be wrought up without judgment, skill, or feeling.