Abel Evans's six pastorals, of a group numbering thirteen dated 1707-26, were belatedly by John Nichols in his 1782 supplement to Dodsley's Collection of Poems: "The Pastorals here first printed (for which I am obliged to Mr. [Isaac] Reed) are intutled, 'Extracts from an original manuscript volume of Pastorals by A. Evans.' The specimen, thus preserved, may perhaps be the means of bringing the whole to light" 5:87n. The series develops a biographical allegory concerning Evans's search for patronage; it concludes shortly after he found his position as Rector of Cheam, in Surrey (1724).
The first, a love complaint, opens with a bow in the direction of Sidney and Spenser: "O could I imitate those sprightly strains, | With which great Pembroke whilom charm'd the plains, | To thee my grateful reed should sweetly sound, | And Herbert's name through every grove resound." The allusion is to Sidney's Arcadia, using Spenser's patron to set up an equivalence between Evans and the present earl of Pembroke, Thomas Herbert (1656-1733), who was made Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1707. The prominent placement of this dedication recalls those in Pope's Pastorals.
Robin relates a fragment of a tale to Nancy; in it the shepherd Alen comes upon the sleeping Lucilla by night and, overwhelmed by her beauty, considers whether she resembles more the Queen of Fairies or the Queen of May. He decides that she is mortal, and declining to offer a kiss, stands over her until she wakes. Robin is rewarded for his song by a kiss from Nancy.
Evans's pastorals are rustic rather than idealizing, resembling Theocritus more than Virgil, John Gay more than Spenser. The significant new development in eighteenth-century British pastoral is the attention to national folkways already apparent in "Alen, or the Tale." As the pastoral tradition began mingling with oral traditions the stage was set for the invention of modern conceptions of national and primitive culture, a gradual development that unfolded throughout eighteenth-century Spenserian poetry.
"Alen, or the Tale' antedates the publication of Philips's pastorals, though it is possible that Evans would have seen them in manuscript, or at least heard of them, through Oxford connections with Addison and Tickell. Had Evans published pastorals concurrently with Pope and Philips, he would be much better known than he is today.
Though the notes to the poems are signed by Nichols, Chester Chapin reports that they are really by the antiquary Isaac Reed: "Reed was a good friend of John Nichols who printed the first collection of Evans's poems in volumes iii (1780) and v (1782) of his Select Collection of Poems: With Notes Biographical and Historical. A number of these notes, including the biographical account of Evans in Nichols, volume iii, are by Reed, and it was Reed who supplied Nichols with the manuscript containing the Evans poems printed in Nichols, volume v" "The Poems of Abel Evans" Notes and Queries NS 38 (June 1991) 78.
ROBIN AND NANCY.
In vain the bashful Bard presumes to sing;
In vain his modest Muse expands her trembling wing.
Distrust to please suspends her tuneful choice,
And sinks the puny Poet's feeble voice.
How should he sing, alas! unskill'd in song;
Or how succeed in his attempt so young?
Teach him, ye plumy minstrels of the groves;
In artless strains ye warble forth your loves:
Untaught, the linnet and the nightingale
With native melody delight the dale:
Like them, my Muse, thy slender musick try,
And glad the plains with rustic harmony:
No lofty thoughts these sylvan scenes infuse,
A homely song best fits a homely Muse.
Herbert! true friend! to thee, of right, belong
These lays, my first essay in rural song.
When chilling winter pinch'd the needy swain,
And his starv'd flock pin'd on the barren plain;
You took him home, what more could shepherd crave?
And shelter to his sheep and fodder gave.
O could I imitate those sprightly strains,
With which great Pembroke whilom charm'd the plains,
To thee my grateful reed should sweetly sound,
And Herbert's name through every grove resound.
Mean while the tribute of an humbler lay
Accept; 'tis all a bankrupt Muse can pay.
'Twas dusk; and now Heaven's shining troops began
Their polar march, with Vesper in the van;
When Nancy, leaning on young Robin's arm,
Return'd from dancing at a neighbouring farm.
Long had the pair with mutual flames been blest,
And Love and Joy exulted in each breast;
The happy swain, prest by so sweet a load,
Yet lighter for his lovely burden trod.
And now the moon, uprising in the east,
Long shadows on the gloomy valley cast;
The timorous nymph clung to her guardian swain,
Scar'd at each shade that stretch'd along the plain;
And often turn'd; oft thought some spright appear'd;
Now frisking elves, now jack-a-lanterns fear'd.
Till the kind youth, who long had learn'd the way
To sooth her breast, and every care allay,
Thus with a tale began to charm her ears,
Beguile the way, and expiate her fears.
All on high noon, when as the sultry plains
To cooly shades had drove the fainting swains,
Aneath the shelter of a whelming rock
Lucilla lay; around her graz'd her flock:
Around and near; proud to be thusen kept;
Nor wander'd they albe't their pastor slept.
Ah, happy flock! well might ye deign to stay;
From such a lovely keeper what would stray?
Ah, happy flock! rul'd by so sweet a maid;
Ah, happy girl! by flocks and swains obey'd.
How! Robin! how!
Nay, Nancy dear! I trow,
With all her beauties, she must vail to you.
Belike the lad who did the lay indite
Liv'd long ago; or ne'er of thee had sight.
Tell on, whoe'er the lad or lass may be,
It matters not, so Robin loves but me.
A flowery wreath her milky temples bound;
The sweetest flowers the sweetest maiden crown'd.
Each flower so worn puts on a brighter hue:
Yet, though they flourish'd more than when they grew,
The lily, which in gardens seems so fair,
No snow could brag, her whiter skin so near.
The rose, which on the bushes blushes so,
Wax'd pale, or seem'd to wax. Carnations too
Doubled their smell, but lost their crimson dye,
Or seemed to lose; her lovelier checks so nigh,
As thus the maid, stretch'd on the mossy floor,
Slept, as she thought, from prying lads secure,
Alen, a shepherd of the bordering plains,
Young, yet no stranger to Love's tender pains,
In quest of wanton stragglers from his stock
Chanced this-a-way to pass; but when the rock
He spied, and, low adown, so fair a lass
In tempting guise, soft slumbering on the grass,
His search forgot, and lost in sweet amaze,
He stops, upon the lovely girl to gaze.
Well might he stop! Who such a sight could spy,
Yet, like a lubber, pass unheedful by?
"Ah me! (he cried, when first he'd power to speak)
Ah me! (then sigh'd as though his heart would break)
What may this mean? why flutters so my heart?
Why glow my cheeks? and whence this tickling smart
Through every limb? Of sleeping maids good store
I've seen, yet never felt the like before.
Some fairy queen, I trow, who with her train,
By moonshine, nightly trips it on the plain,
Dwells in this hollow hill! 'tis so! then haste,
Rash lad, away! thou canst not fly too fast.
Haste, turn thy eyes, lest with their loss you pay
The bold forbidden ken. Haste far away.
Chance she to wake, albe't you scape with sight,
Dread the blue mark of pinches rude each night.
But ah! I rave; what fairy elve may vie
With flesh so fair! ting'd with such rosy dye?
Those tiny forms at midnight take their round
And never sleep; or sleep not, sure, so sound.
The wreath she d'ons bespeaks her May's bright queen,
So justly chosen by our neighbour Green.
'Tis she! and song is scanty in her praise,
Though the sweet burden of each shepherd's lays:
But O! what lays, what ditties, can set forth
Such countless beauties! such unmated worth?
Why stoop I not, and gently steal a kiss?
I tremble! what unwonted dread is this!
Lasses, well pleas'd, such tender thefts allow;
Oft have I tried them; what withholds me now?
Ah! luckless hap to guide my steps this way!
I sought a straying lamb; but now, wide stray
Myself, alas! better I'd stay'd at home
Content, though half my flock had deign'd to roam.
My pipe, the tuneful calmer of my grief,
With cheary strains had yielded sure relief;
Soft soothing sounds had wafted wide my care,
While answering groves had seem'd my woes to share.
But soothing ditties fan a lover's flame,
And who would goad the grief he seeks to tame?
Untoward ail! which music feeds alone!
Woe's me poor Alen! then, I'm share undone!
But why undone? is Love so sad a pain?
O! yes, it is when not return'd again.
Why not return'd? to woo's a pleasing task;
Will any damsel yield afore we ask?
Such lovely looks ill mate with peevish pride;
'Tis soon enough to wail when once denied.
Blithsome and brisk, I trow, thou dost not bear
A make that ever yet was known to scare.
Sucky and Agnis, maids of no mean face,
Allow thee freely in their hearts a place;
And why should this despise thee? though more gay,
She's woman, and may love as well as they.
But, should she not! can Alen brook her scorn
In love, wont hitherto to meet return?
Waist-heart! what shall I do in such a case?
How will fast trickling tears unman my face?
How will my sighs swell up the rising gale?
Yet, what will sighs, and what will tears avail?
Still hope: what though she should thy suit deny;
Lasses, at first, are naturally coy,
And will be woo'd. 'Tis cunning more than scorn
With-holds their smiles, we slight what's easy won.
Were there no rugged rocks nor dreary dales,
We should not prize the beauty of these vales.
The rose, the violet, and cowslip too,
Would seem less sweet, were no rank weeds to grow.
Then ne'er despair, though, first, she icy prove,
In time she'll melt, Love's the reward of Love.
Alack, alack! my hope is all too vain!
Oft have I heard how much this fruitful plain
Vaunts of its blithsome youth; lads who possess
Whate'er in Love can please, or maiden bless.
Mehap some one of these her easy heart
May have already gain'd: and then, what smart
Must Alen feel, what woe, what pining pain,
To see the lass for which I sigh in vain
Some lucky rival bless! O rueful thought!
First may I die, ere such should be my lot!"
So having plain'd, his stand the shepherd takes
Propt on his crook: soft watching till she wakes.
But, of his court, the story makes no say;
Or else, mehap, the rest was torn away.
Now, for my tale, I beg, at least, one kiss.
Take it, dear lad! and with it this, and this.
Such tales to tell, I'd hire thee thus all day,
So sweet the purchase, and so sweet the pay.