1714
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Shepherd's Week: The Proeme to the Courteous Reader.

The Shepherd's Week. In Six Pastorals. By Mr. J. Gay.

John Gay


John Gay's preface sends up Ambrose Philips and the Moderns' theory of pastoral in a burlesque of E. K.'s annotations to the Shepheardes Calender: "Great Marvell hath it been, (and that not unworthily) to diverse worthy Wits, that in this our Island of Britain, in all rare Sciences so greatly abounding, more especially in all kinds of Poesie highly flourishing, no Poet (though otherways of notable Cunning in Roundelays) hath hit on the right simple Eclogue after the true ancient guise of Theocritus." Compare the opening of Philips's Preface to his pastorals (1709): "It is strange to think, in an Age so addicted to the Muses, how Pastoral Poetry comes to be never so much as thought upon; considering especially that it has always been accounted the most considerable of the smaller Poems."

The burlesque of sixteenth-century English is remarkably good for the period, though being related to pastoral, it did not pass muster with the lexicographer Samuel Johnson, who described it as written "in a style that was never spoken or written in any age or in any place."

Alexander Pope to John Caryll: "Mr. Philips did express himself with much indignation against me one evening at Button's Coffeehouse, as I was told, saying that I was entered into a cabal with Dean Swift and others to write against the Whig interest, and in particular to undermine his own reputation and that of his friends Steele and Addison: but Mr. Philips never opened his lips to my face, on this or any like occasion, though I was almost every night in the same room with him, nor ever offered me any indecorum.... It is to this management of Philips that the world owes Mr. Gay's Pastorals" 8 June 1714; Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 6:209-10.

John Campbell: "It was an affront which had been lately put upon Mr. Pope by his great rival in pastoral poetry, Mr. Phillips: of this we have the following account, in a letter of Mr. Pope to Mr. Craggs, dated June 8, 1714. 'The question you ask in relation to Mr. Addison and Phillips, I shall answer in a few words. Mr. Phillips did express himself with much indignation against me one evening at Button's coffee-house (as I was told), saying, that I was entered into a cabal with Dean Swift and others, to write against the Whig interest, and in particular to undermine his own reputation, and that of his friends Steele and Addison. But Mr. Phillips never opened his lips to my face on this or any other like occasion, tho' I was almost every night in the same room with him, nor ever offered me any indecorum.' He then proceeds to relate Mr. Addison's and Lord Halifax's kindness to him in procuring subscriptions to his translation of Homer's Iliad, and goes on thus: 'However Phillips did all he could secretly to continue the report with the Hanover club, and kept in his hands the subscriptions paid for me to him as secretary to that club. — It is to this management of Phillips, that the world owes Mr. Gay's Pastorals'" Biographia Britannica 4 (1757) 2182n.

Samuel Johnson: "Steele, in some papers of The Guardian had praised Ambrose Philips as the Pastoral writer that yielded only to Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser. Pope, who had also published Pastorals, not pleased to be overlooked, drew up a comparison of his own compositions with those of Philips, in which he covertly gave himself the preference, while he seemed to disown it. Not content with this he is supposed to have incited Gay to write The Shepherd's Week to shew, that if it be necessary to copy nature with minuteness, rural life must be exhibited such as grossness and ignorance have made it. So far the plan was reasonable; but the Pastorals are introduced by a Proeme written with such imitation as they could attain of obsolete language, and by consequence in a style that was never spoken nor written in any age or in any place. But the effect of reality and truth became conspicuous, even when the intention was to shew them groveling and degraded. These Pastorals became popular, and were read with delight, as just representations of rural manners and occupations by those who had no interest in the rivalry of the poets, nor knowledge of the critical dispute" "Life of Gay" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 2:269.

Richard Polwhele: "In the school of rustic imitation, SPENSER AND GAY are said to hold the most conspicuous places. But neither the Shepherd's Calendar, nor the Shepherd's Week, presents us with just copies of nature or THEOCRITUS. The one exhibits mean and despicable characters that never existed, whose barbarity of language is often incongruously connected with elevated sentiment, and theological learning. The pastorals of the other (if we may judge from his proemium) are designed as pieces of burlesque" The Idyllia of Theocritus (1786, 1792) 2:25.

Robert Chambers: "His next work was his Shepherd's Week, in Six Pastorals, written to throw ridicule on those of Ambrose Philips; but containing so much genuine comic humour, and entertaining pictures of country life, that they became popular, not as satires, but on account of their intrinsic merits, as affording 'a prospect of his own country.'... This matter-of-fact view of rural life has been admirably followed by Crabbe, with a moral aim and effect to which Gay never aspired" Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:571.

Whitwell Elwin: "The Pastorals of Gay were intended by an exaggeration of rusticity to ridicule the Pastorals of Philips" Pope, Correspondence, ed. Elwin (1871) 1:210n.

Vinton A. Dearing: "The contents of the 'Proeme' are based on Philips's 'Preface' to his pastorals, its first sentence in particular being based on Philips's first and last; with large contributions of inspiration from Tickell's Guardian No. 30, Pope's Guardian No. 40, and E. K.'s 'Dedicatory Epistle' to The Shepherd's Calendar. The style of the 'Proeme' is based on E. K.'s in its marked alliteration, its strained rhetorical figures, its Elizabethan syntax, and perhaps in some instances even its choice of words" Gay, Poetry and Prose (1974) 2:515.




Great Marvell hath it been, (and that not unworthily) to diverse worthy Wits, that in this our Island of Britain, in all rare Sciences so greatly abounding, more especially in all kinds of Poesie highly flourishing, no Poet (though otherways of notable Cunning in Roundelays) hath hit on the right simple Eclogue after the true ancient guise of Theocritus, before this mine Attempt.

Other Poet travailing in this plain High-way of Pastoral know I none. Yet, certes, such it behoveth a Pastoral to be, as Nature in the Country affordeth; and the Manners also meetly copied from the rustical Folk therein. In this also my Love to my native Country Britain much pricketh me forward, to describe aright the Manners of our own honest and laborious Plough-men, in no wise sure more unworthy a British Poet's imitation, than those of Sicily or Arcadie; albeit, not ignorant I am, what a Rout and Rabblement of Critical Gallimawfry hath been made of late Days by certain young Men of insipid Delicacy, concerning, I wist not what, Golden Age, and other outragious Conceits, to which they would confine Pastoral. Whereof, I avow, I account nought at all, knowing no Age so justly to be instiled Golden, as this of our Soveraign Lady Queen ANNE.

This idle Trumpery (only fit for Schools and School-boys) unto that ancient Dorick Shepherd Theocritus, or his Mates, was never known; he rightly, throughout his fifth Idyll, maketh his Louts give foul Language, and behold their Goats at Rut in all Simplicity. [Greek characters: The goatherd, when he sees the bleating she-goats covered, cries his eyes out because he is not a he-goat.] Theoc [1:87-88].

Verily, as little Pleasance receiveth a true homebred Tast, from all the fine finical new-fangled Fooleries of this gay Gothic Garniture, wherewith they so nicely bedeck their Court Clowns, or Clown Courtiers, (for, which to call them rightly, I wot not) as would a prudent Citizen journeying to his Country Farms, should he find them occupied by People of this motley Make, instead of plain downright hearty cleanly Folk, such as be now Tenants to the Burgesses of this Realme.

Furthermore, it is my Purpose, gentle Reader, to set before thee, as it were a Picture, or rather lively Landscape of thy own Country, just as thou mightest see it, didest thou take a Walk into the Fields at the proper Season: even as Maister Milton hath elegantly set forth the same.

As one who long in populous City pent,
Where Houses thick and Sewers annoy the Aire,
Forth issuing on a Summer's Morn to breathe
Among the pleasant Villages and Farms
Adjoin'd, from each thing met conceives Delight;
The Smell of Grain or tedded Grass or Kine
Or Dairie, each rural Sight, each rural Sound.

Thou wilt not find my Shepherdesses idly piping on oaten Reeds, but milking the Kine, tying up the Sheaves, or if the Hogs are astray driving them to their Styes. My Shepherd gathereth none other Nosegays but what are the growth of our own Fields, he sleepeth not under Myrtle shades, but under a Hedge, nor doth he vigilantly defend his Flocks from Wolves, because there are none, as Maister Spencer well observeth.

Well is known that since the Saxon King
Never was Wolf seen, many or some
Nor in all Kent nor in Christendom.

For as much, as I have mentioned Maister Spencer, soothly I must acknowledge him a Bard of sweetest Memorial. Yet hath his Shepherds Boy at some times raised his rustick Reed to Rhimes more rumbling than rural. Diverse grave Points also hath he handled of Churchly Matter and Doubts in Religion daily arising, to great Clerkes only appertaining. What liketh me best are his Names, indeed right simple and meet for the Country, such as Lobbin, Cuddy, Hobbinol, Diggon and others, some of which I have made bold to borrow. Moreover, as he called his Eclogues, the Shepherd's Calendar, and divided the same into the twelve Months, I have chosen (paradventure not overrashly) to name mine by the Days of the Week, omitting Sunday or the Sabbath, Ours being supposed to be Christian Shepherds, and to be then at Church worship. Yet further of many of Maister Spencer's Eclogues it snay be observed; though Months they be called, of the said Months therein, nothing is specified: wherein I have also esteemed him worthy mine Imitation.

That principally, courteous Reader, whereof I would have thee to be advertised, (seeing I depart from the vulgar Usage) is touching the Language of my Shepherds; which is, soothly to say, such as is neither spoken by the country Maiden nor the courtly Dame; nay, not only such as in the present Times is not uttered, but was never uttered in Times past: and, if I judge aright, will never be uttered in Times future. It having too much of the Country to be fit for the Court, too much of the Court to be fit for the Country; too much of the Language of old Times to be fit for the Present, too much of the Present to have been fit for the Old, and too much of both to befit for any time to come. Granted also it is, that in this my Language, I seem unto my self, as a London Mason, who calculateth his Work for a Term of Years, when he buildeth with old Materials upon a Ground-rent that is not his own, which soon turneth to Rubbish and Ruins. For this point, no Reason can I alledge, only deep learned Ensamples having led me thereunto.

But here again, much Comfort ariseth in me, from the Hopes, in that I conceive, when these Words in the course of transitory Things shall decay, it may so hap, in meet time that some Lover of Simplicity shall arise, who shall have the Hardiness to render these mine Eclogues into such more modern Dialect as shall be then understood, to which end, Glosses and Explications of uncouth Pastoral Terms are annexed

Gentle Reader, turn over the Leaf; and entertain thyself with the Prospect of thine own Country, limned by the painful hand of

thy Loving Countryman

JOHN GAY.


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