1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gay

William Wordsworth, in Essay, Supplementary to the Preface (1815); Prose, ed. Grosart (1876) 2:117.



Having wandered from humanity in his Eclogues with boyish inexperience, the praise, which these compositions obtained, tempted [Alexander Pope] into a belief that Nature was not to be trusted, at least in pastoral Poetry. To prove this by example, he put his friend Gay upon writing those Eclogues which their author intended to be burlesque. The instigator of the work, and his admirers, could perceive in them nothing but what was ridiculous. Nevertheless, though these Poems contain some detestable passages, the effect, as Dr. Johnson well observes, "of reality and truth became conspicuous even when the intention was to show them grovelling and degraded." The Pastorals, ludicrous to such as prided themselves upon their refinement, in spite of those disgusting passages, "became popular, and were read with delight, as just representations of rural manners and occupations."