1802 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

Anonymous, in "Observations on the Gentle Shepherd and Strictures on Pastoral Poetry" Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany NS 10 (June 1802) 417-18.



Dignity and grace, both in dialect and diction, in description and sentiment, are therefore perfectly within the reach of rural nature, and consistent with the most faithful imitations of it, without obliging us to have recourse, as authors and critics, with the exception of Ramsay, have unfortunately supposed, to a visionary golden age, beyond the sphere of our knowledge, or to any other age but that in which we live, the manners of which only it is in our power to imitate. Had Phillips attended to real life in a pastoral district, he would not have thought it necessary to make his shepherds speak the language of the nursery, in order to seem natural; he would have found actual shepherds possessed of more shrewdness perhaps than he was able to ascribe to them in his eclogues. Had Gay's observations been sufficiently numerous or correct, he would not have deemed burlesque a representation of the conversations of real shepherds: by studying nature in the country, he might have produced in his Dione, not "a counter part" to the affected, artificial, and ideal uninteresting scenes of the Amynta and Pastor Fido, but to the Gentle Shepherd of his friend Ramsay: he might have adduced to it the importance and value of historical truth, left a curious fund of useful entertainment to posterity in a rural picture of the times, and thus have avoided the just censures which his biographer has bestowed on this pastoral tragedy, as being, in common with such of "the poetical Arcadia" as he was acquainted with, "so remote from known reality and speculative possibility."