1713
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Guardian 30 [On Pastoral Poetry.]

The Guardian No. 30 (15 April 1713).

Thomas Tickell


The fourth essay, treating of English authors, makes the case for Spenserian as opposed to Virgilian pastoral, the essential difference being the former's concern for local particularity: "The Theology of the ancient Pastoral is so very pretty, that it were pity entirely to change it; but I think that part only is to be retained which its universally known, and the rest to be made up out of our own rustical Superstition of Hob-thrushes, Fairies, Goblins and Witches.... It is easie to be observed that these Rules are drawn from what our Countrymen Spencer and Philips have performed in this way."

Tickell merely notices Pope, who has plainly failed to understand the "true" nature of pastoral. Similar arguments could be used to elevate "modern" romance over "ancient" epic: while the romance genre would not receive a body of critical theory for several decades, several key points of romantic doctrine are already making their appearance. These forward-looking essays were long regarded as Addison's.




The Italians and French being dispatched, I come now to the English, whom I shall treat with such Meekness as becomes a good Patriot; and shall so far recommend this our Island as a proper Scene for Pastoral under certain Regulations, as will satisfie the courteous Reader that I am in the Landed Interest.

I must in the first place observe, that our Countrymen have so good an Opinion of the Ancients, and think so modestly of themselves, that the generality of Pastoral Writers have either stole all from the Greeks and Romans, or so servilely imitated their Manners and Customs, as makes them very ridiculous. In looking over some English Pastorals a few Days ago, I perused at least fifty lean Flocks, and reckoned up an hundred left-handed Ravens, besides blasted Oaks, withering Meadows, and weeping Deities. Indeed most of the occasional Pastorals we have are built upon one and the same Plan. A Shepherd asks his Fellow, why he is so pale, if his favourite Sheep hath strayed, if his Pipe be broken, or Phyllis unkind? He answers, None of these Misfortunes have befallen him, but one much greater, for Damon (or sometimes the God Pan) is dead. This immediately causes the other to make Complaints, and call upon the lofty Pines and Silver Streams to join in the Lamentation. While he goes on, his Friend interrupts him, and tells him that Damon lives, and shows him a Track of Light in the Skies to confirm it; then invites him to Chesnuts and Cheese. Upon this Scheme most of the noble Families in Great Britain have been comforted; nor can I meet with any Right Honourable Shepherd that doth not die and live again, after the manner of the aforesaid Damon.

Having already informed my Reader wherein the Knowledge of Antiquity may he serviceable, I shall now direct him where he may lawfully deviate from the Ancients. There are some things of an established Nature in Pastoral, which is essential to it, such as a Country Scene, Innocence, Simplicity. Others there are of a changeable kind, such as Habits, Customs, and the like. The difference of the Climate is also to be considered, for what is proper in Arcadia, or even in Italy, might be very absurd in a colder Country. By the same Rule the difference of the Soil, of Fruits and Flowers is to be observed. And in so fine a Country as Britain, what occasion is there for that Profusion of Hyacinths and Paestan Roses, and that Cornucopia of foreign Fruits, which the British Shepherds never heard of! How much more pleasing is the following Scene to an English Reader!

This Place may seem for Shepherds leisure made,
So lovingly these Elms unite their Shade.
Th' ambitious Woodbine, how it climbs to breathe
Its balmy Sweets around on all beneath!
The Ground with Grass of cheerful Green bespread,
Thro' which the springing Flow'r up-reads its Head.
Lo here the King-Cup of a golden Hue,
Medly'd with Daisies white, and Endive blue!
Hark, how the gaudy Goldfinch and the Thrush
With tuneful Warblings fill that Bramble-Bush!
In pleasing Consort all the Birds combine,
And tempt us in the various Song to join.

The Theology of the ancient Pastoral is so very pretty, that it were pity entirely to change it; but I think that part only is to be retained which its universally known, and the rest to be made up out of our own rustical Superstition of Hob-thrushes, Fairies, Goblins and Witches. The Fairies are capable of being made very entertaining Persons, as they are described by several of our Poets, and particularly by Mr. Pope.

About this Spring (if ancient Fame say true)
The dapper Elves their Moon-light Sports pursue.
Their Pigmy King, and little Fairy Queen,
In circling Dances gambol'd on the Green,
While tuneful Sprights a merry Consort made,
And Airy Musick warbled through the Shade.

What hath been said upon the difference of Climate, Soil and Theology, reaches the Proverbial Sayings, Dress, Customs and Sports of Shepherds. The following Examples of our Pastoral Sports are extreamly beautiful.

Whilome did I, all as this Poplar fair,
Upraise my heedless Head, devoid of Care,
'Mong rustick Routs the thief for Wanton Game;
Nor could they merry make till Lobbin came.
Who better seen than I in Shepherds Arts,
To please the Lads, and win the Lasses Hearts?
How deftly to mine Oaten Reed, so sweet,
Wont they upon the Green to shift their Feet?
And when the Dance was done, how would they yearn
Some well devised Tale from me to learn?
For many Songs and Tales of Mirth had I,
To chase the lingring Sun adown the Sky.

—O now! if ever bring
The Laurel green, the smelling Eglantine,
And tender Branches from the mantling Vine,
The dewy Cowslip that in Meadow grows,
The Fountain Violet and Garden Rose:
Your Hamlets strew, and every publick Way,
And consecrate to Mirth Albino's Day.
My self will lavish all my little Store,
And deal about the Goblet flowing ore:
Old Moulin there shall harp, young Mico sing,
And Cuddy dance the Round amidst the Ring,
And Hobbinol his antick Gambols play.

The Reason why such Changes from the Ancients should be introduced is very obvious; namely, that Poetry being Imitation, and that Imitation being the best which deceives the most easily, it follows that we must take up the Customs which are most familiar, or universally known, since no Man can be deceived or delighted with the Imitation of what he is ignorant of.

It is easie to be observed that these Rules are drawn from what our Countrymen Spencer and Philips have performed in this way. I shall not presume to say any more of them, than that both have copied and improved the Beauties of the Ancients, whose manner of Thinking I would above all things recommend. As far as our Language would allow them, they have formed a Pastoral Stile according to the Doric of Theocritus, in which I dare not say they have excelled Virgil; but I may be allowed, for the Honour of our Language, to suppose it more capable of that pretty Rusticity than the Latin. To their Works I refer my Reader to make Observations upon the Pastoral Stile; where he will sooner find that Secret than from a Folio of Criticisms.


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