1713
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Guardian 23 [On Pastoral Poetry.]

The Guardian No. 23 (7 April 1713).

Thomas Tickell


The second essay on pastoral ventures into cultural anthropology. On the one hand, pastoral has been linked to a particular kind of simple society, on the other, the lives of savages are understood to have universal implications for humanity: "all Men, both the rude and polite, think and conceive things the same way (Truth being eternally the same to all) though they express them very differently." While differences in expression result from the complexity of civil societies, in the lives of simple people we apprehend with a clarity lost in modern literatures the origins of human nature. Tickell's second and third characteristics anticipate anthropological doctrines: a belief in the innocence of natural societies (rather unchristian, this) and their reliance on superstition, the "totems and taboos" that interested Theocritus as much as Ruth Benedict.

C. H. Timperley: "It was during the temporary suspension of the Spectator, that Steele, with the same assistance, issued the Guardian, which extended to 175 numbers, or two volumes. It ranks between the Spectator and Tatler. The title was of too grave a cast" Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:604.




Having already conveyed my Reader into the Fairy or Pastoral Land, and informed him what manner of Life the Inhabitants of that Region lead; I shall in this Day's Paper give him some Marks, whereby he may discover whether he is imposed upon by those who pretend to be of that Country; or, in other Words, what are the Characteristicks of a true Arcadian.

From the foregoing Account of the Pastoral Life, we may discover that Simplicity is necessary in the Character of Shepherds. Their Minds must he supposed so rude and uncultivated, that nothing but what is plain and unaffected can come from them. Nevertheless we are not obliged to represent them dull and stupid, since fine Spirits were undoubtedly in the World before Arts were invented to polish and adorn them. We may therefore introduce Shepherds with good Sense and even with Wit, provided their Manner of Thinking be not too gallant or refined. For all Men, both the rude and polite, think and conceive things the same way (Truth being eternally the same to all) though they express them very differently. For here lies the Difference: Men, who by long Study and Experience have reduced their Ideas to certain Classes, and consider the general Nature of things abstracted from Particulars, express their Thoughts after a more concise, lively, surprising Manner. Those who have little Experience, or cannot abstract, deliver their Sentiments in plain Descriptions, by Circumstances, and those Observations, which either strike upon the Senses, or are the first Motions of the Mind. And though the former raises our Admiration more, the latter gives more Pleasure, and soothe us more naturally. Thus a courtly Lover may say to his Mistress.

With thee for ever I in Woods could rest,
Where never human Foot the Ground hath prest;
Thou e'en from Dungeons Darkness canst exclude,
And from a Desart banish Solitude.

A Shepherd will content himself to say the same thing more simply.

Come Rosalind, Oh! come, for without thee
What Pleasure can the Country have for me?

Again, since Shepherds are not allowed to make deep Reflections, the Address required is so to relate an Action, that the Circumstances put together shall cause the Reader to reflect. Thus by one delicate Circumstance Corydon tells Alexis that he is the finest Songster of the Country.

Of seven smooth Joints a mellow Pipe I have,
Which with his dying Breath Damaetas gave:
And said, This, Corydon, I leave to thee,
For only thou deserv'st it after me.

As in another Pastoral Writer, after the same manner a Shepherd informs us how much his Mistress likes him.

As I to cool me bath'd one sultry Day,
Fond Lydia lurking in the Sedges lay.
The Wanton laugh'd, and seem'd in haste to fly,
Yet often stop'd, and often turn'd her Eye.

If ever a Reflection be pardonable in Pastorals, it is where the Thought is so obvious, that it seems to come easily to the Mind; as in the following admirable improvement of Virgil and Theocritus.

Fair is my Flock, nor yet uncomely I,
If liquid Fountains flatter not. And why
Should liquid Fountains flatter us, yet show
The bord'ring Flow'rs less beauteous than they grow?

A second Characteristick of a true Shepherd is Simplicity of Manners, or Innocence. This is so obvious from what I have before advanced, that it would be but Repetition to insist long upon it. I shall only remind the Reader, that as the Pastoral Life is supposed to be where Nature is not much depraved, Sincerity and Truth will generally run through it. Some slight Transgressions for the sake of Variety may be admitted, which in effect will only serve to set off the Simplicity of it in general. I cannot better illustrate this Rule than by the following Example of a Swain who found his Mistress sleep.

Once Delia slept, on easie Moss reclin'd,
Her lovely Limbs half bare, and rude the Wind:
I smooth'd her Coats, and stole a silent Kiss;
Condemn me, Shepherds, if I did amiss.

A third Sign of a Swain is, that something of Religion, and even Superstition, is part of his Character. For we find that those who have lived easie Lives in the Country, and contemplate the Works of Nature, live in the greatest Awe of their Author. Nor doth this Humour prevail less now than of old: Our Peasants as sincerely believe the Tales of Goblins and Fairies, as the Heathens those of Fauns, Nymphs and Satyrs. Hence we find the Works of Virgil and Theocritus sprinkled with left-handed Ravens, blasted Oaks, Witch-crafts, evil Eyes, and the like. And I observe with great Pleasure, that our English Author of the Pastorals I have quoted hath practiced this Secret with admirable Judgment.

I will yet add another Mark, which may be observed very often in the above-named Poets, which is agreeable to the Character of Shepherds, and nearly allied to Superstition; I mean the use of Proverbial Sayings. I take the common Similitudes in Pastoral to be of the Proverbial Order, which are so frequent, that it is needless, and would be tiresome to quote them. I shall only take Notice upon this Head, that it is a nice Piece of Art to raise a Proverb above the vulgar Stile, and still keep it easie and unaffected. Thus the old Wish, God rest his Soul, is finely turned.

Then gentle Sidney liv'd the Shepherd's Friend,
Eternal Blessings on his Shade attend.

[unpaginated]