1772 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

John Aikin, in "On Ballads and Pastoral Songs" Essays on Song-Writing (1772) 33-34.



No attempt to naturalize pastoral poetry appears to have succeeded better than Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd: it has a considerable air of reality, and the descriptive parts in general, are in the genuine taste of beautiful simplicity. Yet the sentiments and manners are far from being entirely proper to the characters, and while some descend so low as to be disgustful, others are elevated far beyond nature. The real character of a Scottish or English shepherd is by much too coarse for poetry. I suspect Ramsay gains a great advantage among us by writing in the Scotch Dialect: this not being familiar to us, and scarcely understood, softens the harsher parts, and gives a kind of foreign air that eludes the critic's severity. Some writers in aiming at natural simplicity of sentiment, have sunk into silliness, and have given their characters not only the innocence, but the weakness of a child. In that admirable ice of burlesque criticism, the Bathos of Scriblerus, are some ludicrous instances of puerility of sentiment and expression from Phillips's pastorals, and, I confess, this fault to me appears palpable in a piece which, by being introduced to notice in the Spectator, is universally known and admired — I mean the pastoral song of Colin and Phoebe.