1772 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gay

John Aikin, in "On Ballads and Pastoral Songs" Essays on Song-Writing (1772) 31-33.



What is in reality on the soft Arcadian and Sicilian plains, is all fiction here; and though by reading we may be so familiarized to these imaginary scenes, as to acquire a sort of natural taste for them, yet, like the fine fruits of the south, they will never be so far naturalized to the soil as to flourish without borrowed warmth and forced culture. The justice of this observation is sufficiently proved, by the ill success of those attempts in the mixed pastoral, where the rude speech and rough manners of the English have been ingrafted upon the foreign poetical character of the shepherd swain. This gave occasion to Pope's well known ridicule of Phillips; and it is in this incongruity of character, which is the foundation of the burlesque in Gay's Shepherd's Week, in which some natural strokes of beautiful simplicity, paired in so odd a manner with humour and parody, that one is at a loss whether to take it as a jest or earnest — whether to laugh or cry. Indeed this effect is also produced by his two dramatic burlesques, the Beggar's Opera, and What d'ye call it; for how ludicrous soever the general character of the piece may be, when he comes so near to hanging and shooting in good earnest, the joke ceases; and I have observed the tolling of St. Pulcre's bell received by an audience with as much tragical attention and sympathetic terror as that in Venice Preserved.