1685
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sylvae: The Preface.

Sylvae: or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies. [John Dryden, ed.]

John Dryden


In commenting on the challenge of translation, John Dryden compares Theocritus with other pastoral poets, and concludes that Spenser was mistaken in attempting to write in an English Doric; he would later alter this view.

William Mason: "Mr. Beattie, it seems, in their late interview had expressed himself with less admiration of Dryden than Mr. Gray thought his due. He told him in reply, 'that if there was any excellence in his own numbers he had learned it wholly from that great poet. And pressed him with great earnestness to study him, as his choice of words and versification were singularly happy and harmonious'" Works of Gray (1765), ed. Gosse (1896) 3:222n.

Edmond Malone: "The first volume of the collection of poems, generally known by the name of DRYDEN'S MISCELLANIES, was published in 1684, without any preface or introduction. The second, which was entitled 'SYLVAE, or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies,' appeared in the next year: the third volume, which bears the title of EXAMEN POETICUM, was published in 1693, and the fourth, which was called THE ANNUAL MISCELLANY, in 1694. And here ended our author's concern with this collection; for the two remaining volumes were not issued out till after his death, viz. in 1703, and 1708. — In 1716, Jacob Tonson, the proprietor, published a new edition of this Miscellany, which differs very much from the former collection, containing many additional pieces, not in the original Miscellany, and on the other hand, omitting several poems which are found there" Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden (1800) 3:25n.

John Wilson: "Doctors differ. Ben Johnson, alluding, we presume, rather to the Shepherd's Calendar than the Faerie Queen, though perhaps to both, said to Drummond, 'in Roslin's classic shade,' that Spenser 'wrote not language at all;' and Sam Johnson, improving on Ben, some century or so afterwards said almost the same of Milton. That Spenser shews himself master of 'our northern dialect,' we cannot bring ourselves to think; but true it is that he is 'skilled in Chaucer's English.' We daresay that John Dryden was a better Grecian than Christopher North, yet we demur to his decision, that in the Shepherd's Calendar Edmund Spenser has 'exactly imitated the Dorick of Theocritus'" "Spenser" in Blackwood's Magazine 34 (1833) 809.

Herbert E. Cory: "In Dryden's day uncertainty ran riot. His admirers and detractors have long puzzled over his vacillations in matters religious, literary, and political. However servile he may have been, it is difficult to deny that he was a man of strong if somewhat fickle convictions that changed, not merely with the breeze of public opinion, but with his own true moods. Some of his inconsistencies are readily explainable by his enthusiasm for the subject under immediate consideration. In his Discourse on Epick Poetry (1697), he devoted much time to proving triumphantly, in spite of Aristotle, that heroic poetry is a greater form than tragedy. But in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1667), where all his eloquence was being spent on the drama, he did not even pause to support a confident parenthesis: 'Though tragedy may be justly preferred to the other,' [viz., epic]. In his Preface to the second Miscellany (1685), Spenser's endeavour to imitate the rustic speech of Theocritus by an infusion of archaic and dialect words is adjudged unsuccessful. 'Spenser has endeavoured it [to imitate the Doric of Theocritus] in his Shepherds Kalendar; but neither will it succeed in English [any more than in the severe Latin tongue] for which reason I have forbore to attempt it.' Yet in his Dedication of the Pastorals of Virgil (1697), he wrote: 'But Spencer being master of our northern dialect, and skilled in Chaucer's English, has so exactly imitated the Dorick of Theocritus, that his love is a perfect image of that passion which God infused into both sexes, before it was corrupted with the knowledge of arts, and the ceremonies of what we call good manners'" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 113-14.

George Saintsbury: the preface "ranges with the Essay [on Dramatic Poesy], and not far below the Fables Preface, among Dryden's critical masterpieces. The thing is not long — less than twenty pages. But it gives a coherent and defensible, if also disputable, theory of translation, a singularly acute, and, it would appear, original contrast of the 'faire' of Ovid and of Claudian, more detailed studies of Virgil, Lucretius (singularly good) Horace, and Theocritus, and the best critical stricture in English on 'Pindaric' verse" History of English Criticism (1911) 124-25.




That which distinguishes Theocritus from all other Poets, both Greek and Latin, and which raises him above even Virgil in his Eclogues, is the inimitable tenderness of his passions; and the natural expression of them in words so becoming of a Pastoral. A simplicity shines through all he writes: he shows his Art and Learning by disguising both. His Shepherds never rise above their Country Education in their complaints of Love: There is the same difference betwixt him and Virgil, as there is betwixt Tasso's Aminta, and the Pastor Fido of Guarini. Virgil's Shepherds are too well read in the Philosophy of Epicurus and of Plato; and Guarini's seem to have been bred in Courts. But Theocritus and Tasso, have taken theirs from Cottages and Plains. It was said of Tasso, in relation to his similitudes, Mai esce del Bosco: That he negver departed from the Woods, that is, all his comparisons were taken from the Country: The same may be said, of our Theocritus; he is softer than Ovid, he touches the passions more delicately; and performs all this out of his own Fond, without diving into the Arts and Sciences for a supply. Even his Dorick Dialect has an incomparable sweetness in its Clownishness, like a fair Shepherdess in her Country Russet, talking in a Yorkshire Tone. This was impossible for Virgil to imitate; because the severity of the Roman Language denied him that advantage. Spencer has endeavour'd it in his Shepherds Calendar; but neither will it succeed in English, for which reason I forebore to attempt it, For Theocritus writ to Sicilians, who spoke that Dialect; and I direct my Translations to our Ladies, who neither understand, nor will take pleasure in such homely expressions. I proceed to Horace....


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