1715
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lecture XIV. Of Pastorals.

Praelectiones Poeticae. 2 Vols.

Rev. Joseph Trapp


Joseph Trapp, the first of the Oxford professors of poetry, discusses the rules of pastoral and in his conclusion praises Spenser, observing that "The Italians and French generally want the Bucolic Genius: Their Shepherds are too genteel; as well bred as Citizens at least, if not as Courtiers, and fill into other Absurdities of the fame Kind. Our Countryman Spencer has succeeded much better; and one or two of the present Age seem justly to have deserv'd the Prize."

The lectures were originally delivered and published in Latin. Four earlier lectures were published in 1711; the whole was translated into English in 1742.

Francis Godolphin Waldron: "He left behind him a character of a pathetic and instructive preacher, and excellent scholar, a discerning critic, and a very pious christian. His sermons have been published in four volumes" Biographical Mirror (1795, 1798) 2:96.

George Saintsbury: "Trapp need not detain us very long; but as the first occupant of the first literary chair in England, and so the author of a volume of Praelections respectable in themselves, and starting a line of similar work which, to the present day, has contributed admirable critical documents, he cannot be omitted. He was the author of one of the wittiest epigrams on record, but he did not allow himself much sparkle in his lectures. Perhaps, indeed, he was right not to do so.... Individual preference, in the case of the famous pair of epigrams on the books and the troop of horse sent by George I. to Cambridge and to Oxford respectively, may be biassed by academical and political partisanship. But while it is matter of opinion whether 'Tories own no argument but force,' and whether, in certain circumstances, as University may not justifiably 'want loyalty,' no one can ever maintain that it is not disgraceful to a university to 'want learning.' This it is which gives the superior wing and sting to Trapp's javelin" History of English Criticism (1911) 195 & n.




This, also, is another Species of Poetry, not professedly treated of by any of the Ancients, nay, not so much as mention'd amongst their various Precepts relating to this Art. The later Latin Critics have bestow'd some Pains upon it; but our modern ones, of the present Age, much more; and (to speak my own Judgment, which I shall always be ready to submit to better) seem to have attributed too much Honour to it, and to have rais'd more Dust, than the Importance of the Subject deserv'd. Not but that I think it a very elegant Kind of Writing, and every Way worthy of Imitation. As in is now incumbent on me to say somewhat of it, agreeably to my present Design, I shall put together what I think most material relating to it, without making any Difference between what I have advanced new, or others have observed before me.

In the first Ages of the World, before Men were united in Cities, and had learnt the studied Arts of Luxury, they lead in the Country plain harmless Lives; and Cottages, rather than Houses, might be said to be their Habitation. Those happy Times abounded with Leisure and Recreation: To feed the Flock, and cultivate the Land, was the only Employ of its peaceable Inhabitants; the former the joint Care of the Women and the Men. Hence arose abundant Matter for Love and Verse. Nay, when the World was grown older, and Mankind so numerous, that they began to secure themselves in Walls, and to introduce what we call a more civil Life, yet still Shepherds and Husbandmen maintain'd their primitive Honour. Country Affairs, but especially the Care of the Flock, was not only the Labour of the Vulgar, but the Exercise of the Rich and Powerful, nay, of Princes of either Sex. This appears sufficiently, from sacred History, in the Example of Jacob Rachel, Moses, and the other Patriarchs: From the Testimony of Heathen Writers; as in that of Virgil,

Nec te poeniteat pecoris, divine Poeta,
Et formosus oves ad flumina parvit Adonis.

Them, heav'nly Poet, blush not thou to own
Ev'n fair Adonis did not scorn to tend
Along the River's Side his fleecy Care.

And in another Place, to omit other Instances:

Quem fugis, ah! demens? habitarunt Dii quoque silvas,
Dardaniusque Paris.

Whom fly'st thou, thoughtless? Gods have liv'd in Woods;
And Trojan Paris.

From what has been said, it is easy to see the Origin of Pastorals. It appears to have been a very ancient Species of Poetry, tho' I can by no means agree with Scaliger, in thinking it the oldest, which is an Honour I shall hereafter shew to be due to the Lyric Kind. Shepherds, 'tis true, were the first Poets; but Odes and Hymns, not Pastorals, were their original Compositions. However, Pastorals, as I said, are undoubtedly of very great Antiquity; and the Song of Solomon in sacred Writ comes under this Denomination; from whence, 'tis very observable, Theocritus has borrow'd literally many Expressions; making use of the Version of the Seventy-two, with whom he was cotemporary.

The Nature of this Kind of Poem is to be sweet, easy, and flowing, and simple beyond all others: And yet not so humbly simple, (which is a common Mistake) as if it represented only the Characters of poor ignorant Shepherds, and the Thoughts of modern Rustics. The Scene, indeed, of Bucolics (for that is another Name for Pastorals, the former derived from the Herds, as the latter from the Flocks, that are the different Objects of the rural Care) ought always to be laid in the Country. Nor ought it to be diversify'd with any Thing repugnant to such a Situation; nay, Views, and little Descriptions of Lawns and Groves, ought always to be interspers'd in these Poems, whatsoever the Subject of them be. Yet there may be a Mixture of Images of a different Kind, and much elevated above the Apprehension of the Vulgar. Virgil, therefore, is very undeservedly censured by many for having introduced Philosophy, and even somewhat of the Sublime, into his Eclogues: For since, as we observ'd, many of the ancient Shepherds were Persons, I need not say of the better, but even of the first rank, it is no great Wonder if some of them were Scholars, and Philosophers. 'Tis a Mistake to say that Virgil's fourth and sixth Eclogues are not Pastorals; and that nothing sublime, but every Thing simple and rustic, is compatible with this Kind of Poetry. They are Pastorals, undoubtedly; tho' of a different Kind from the common ones. There is a certain Sublimity, agreeable enough to Pastorals; a Sublimity that arises from Philosophy and Religion, not from the Tumults of War, the Pomps of a Court, or the Refinements of the City. I don't see, therefore, why that divine Eclogue, Sicelides Musae, &c. (divine I may call it, on many Accounts) should not be allow'd a Place among the Pastorals. The rural Muses are invok'd; the Woods are celebrated; many Things expressly relate to the Country, and nothing repugnant to it. The Subject, indeed, is great; the Word; and Thoughts sublime; sublimer, I may say, than the Poet himself was aware of. For it is the Opinion of the most learned Divines, to which I very readily adhere, that he by happy Error celebrates from the Sibylline Oracles the Birth of Christ, which was then approaching; and it is evident, that many of the Lines describe the Nature of the Messias, and of his Kingdom, in Terms of near Affinity with the sacred Writings. And nothing, surely, could be more proper, than that the Prince of Poets should promulge that joyful News in Pastorals which was first proclaim'd from Heaven to Shepherds. That Objection drawn from the Invention of War and Ships, both which the Poet touches upon in the following Lines, is of little Moment.

Alter erit tum Tiphys, & altera qua vehat Argo
Delectos heroas; erunt etiam altera bella,
Atque iterum ad Trojam magnus mittetur Achilles

Another Tiphys o'er the Main shall waft
The chosen Chiefs, another Argo guide;
New warlike Expeditions shall be form'd,
And great Achilles sail again for Troy.

These are only incidental Ornaments of the Poem, not properly the Subject of it. Now it is impossible that the Argonautic Expedition, so famous throughout the World, should be unknown to Shepherds of Birth and Education. And as little probable is it, that they should be ignorant of the Trojan War, occasion'd by one of their own Profession. It is repugnant, indeed, to Pastorals, to turn wholly upon warlike Affairs; but it is a very different Thing to bring them in only as Embellishments. This is what may be justly pleaded for all the Eclogues of Virgil, where Arms are mention'd; excepting only the tenth:

Nunc infanus amor duri me Martis in armis,
Tela inter media, atque adversos detinet hostes.

Now frantic Love amidst thick Darts and Foes
Detains me in the rigid Toil of Arms.

Which, I confess, raises in me some Difficulty; because the Speaker introduc'd is manifestly a Soldier. But it must be observ'd that he does not at the same Time personate a Shepherd, as is manifest, from his Speech to the Arcadians, when he expresses his Envy of their happy Retirement:

Atque utinam e vobis unus, vestrique suissem
Aut custos gregis, aut maturae vinitor uvae.

O had kind Fortune made me one of you,
Keeper of Flocks, or Pruner of the Vine.

Had he been one of them, he would have join'd two contradictory Ideas, for a Shepherd in Arms, who could have born? But if it be ask'd, Why then is the chief Person in the Pastoral drawn of a very different Character from Pastoral; it is sufficient to answer, That Virgil so thought fit; and there is nothing absurd, or unnatural, in such a Conduct. For the State of the Case is no more than this: Gallus, engag'd in Camps, happens to fall in Love, and retires to the Solitude of the Country, to give vent to his Passion. Shepherds, Nymphs, Sylvanus, Pan, and even Apollo himself, lend their kind Endeavours to asswage it. Thus far every Thing is natural, elegant, and truly pastoral. And the whole Poem is of the same Nature, excepting only the two Verses I have now cited. Leave out these, and even Gallus's Complaint is perfectly rural, and all the Thoughts drawn from the Country. In short, so far am I from assenting to those Critics who would exterminate this from the Number of Pastorals, that I would place it the very first of all. The sixth Eclogue of Virgil, which I just now mention'd, is full of Philosophy and Religion: And that's a sort of Sublime, which, I before observ'd, was very consistent with Pastoral. The fourth I have likewise spoke to. The rest of them are pastoral, without any Objection; tho' the Etymology of the Word Eclogue by no means implies it; which signifies no more than Select Poems upon any Subject whatsoever. The Word Idyllium is as little expressive of Pastorals, nor are all Theocritus's such: it is deriv'd from [Greek characters, "eidos"], Species; and the Word Idyllia imports no more than Poems of various Sorts.

It must be own'd, however, that the greatest Essential in Pastoral is Simplicity; and that these Lines have much less of the Nature of it,

Aspice convexo nutantem pondere mundum,
Terrasque, tractusque maris, &c.

See the globous Weight
Of Earth, of Heav'n, of Ocean, nod and shake.

than the following:

Forte sub arguta confederat ilice Daphnis,
Compulerantque greges Corydon & Thyrsis in unum,
Thyrsis oves, Corydon distentas lacte capellas.

By chance, beneath the Covert of an Oak,
That whisper'd with the Breezes, Daphnis sate;
And Corydon and Thyrsis to one Place
Together drew their Flocks; Thyrsis, his Sheep;
His milch Goats, Corydon.

But then it ought to be elegantly simple, for the Plowmen should appear in their Holyday Garments. Thus we see Shepherds and Shepherdesses introduced upon the Stage; and tho' they bring Crooks in their Hands, and Straw Hats on their Heads, yet their Dress is nearly rural, and above the Habit of the Vulgar. In Virgil we have frequent Examples of this polite Rusticity, in those Places, especially, where Love is concern'd. I shall only produce one, out of many, where Damon, desperately in Love with the fair, but cruel Nisa, vents his Passion in these Words:

Sepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala
(Dux ego vester eram) vidi cum matre legentem;
Alter ab undecimo tum me jam ceperat annus,
Jam fragiles poteram a terra contingere ramos:
Ut vidi! ut perii! ut me malus abstulit error!

Thee, with thy Mother, in our Meads I saw,
Gath'ring fresh Apples; I myself your Guide;
Then thou wert little; I, just then advanc'd
To my twelfth Year, cou'd barely from the Ground
Touch with my reaching Hand the tender Boughs:
How did I look! how gaze my Soul away
How did I die! in fatal Error lost!

How unartful the Complaint, but yet how lovely?

Tho' the Style of Pastoral is humble, it is not sordidly mean, nor slovenly careless, neither resembling the Diction of Comedy, which is almost Prose; nor of the bantering Satire, which is one Degree farther from it: But is sweet, pleasant, and easy; elegant with Plainness, and but poetically low:

O tantum libeat mecum tibi sordida rura,
Atque humiles habitare casas, & figere cervos!

O! were but thy Delight with me to dwell
In lowly Cottages, and rural Shades
By thee despis'd! to drive the Kids a-field
With a green Wand, and shoot the flying Deer!

Antique Phrases, Aenigma's, Proverbs, superstitious Fables, are no unbecoming Ornaments of this Sort of Poetry.

It generally consists of Dialogue, in which some little dramatical Action ought to be represented, a rural Scene described, Interlocutors under different Circumstances, and a certain Plot carried on to a Conclusion. For 'tis not to be imagin'd, as many, now a-days do, that every Dialogue between two Shepherds, full of the bleating of Flocks, is a proper Pastoral: No, 'tis a Thing that requires more Labour, Art, and Judgment, than We are generally aware of: Nor is any Kind of Poem less tolerable, if ill, or even moderately perform'd. Who can bear those Crowds of Pastorals, as they are inscrib'd, that are daily publish'd in Latin and English, upon the Death of Princes, or Friends? They are all cast in the same Mould; read one, you read all. Daphnis asks Thyrsis the Reason of his Grief, whether he has lost a Goat; or Amaryllis, or Neaera, has been unkind to him. The Answer is, his Sorrow is owing to no such Cause; but that Pan, or Phyllis, or any one else is dead. Say you so, says Daphnis, I thought all along that Pan had been immortal, or Phyllis, I am sure, deserv'd to have been so. They then join in celebrating, alternately, the Praises of the deceas'd. Birds, Sheep, Woods, Mountains, Rivers, are full of Complaints. We are told how the cloaking Raven foreboded the dismal Event; Oaks were riv'd with Thunder; every Thing, in short, is wondrous lamentable, and in the most emphatical Sense miserable.

The Subjects of Pastoral are as various as the Passions of human Nature, nay, it may, in some measure, partake of every Kind of Poetry, but with this Proviso, that the Scene of it ought always to be in the Country, and the Thoughts never contrary to those that are bred there. Some of there short Strictures of Wit between contending Shepherds, favour something of Epigram: Thus in Virgil;

Fraxinus in silvis pulcherrima, pinus in hortis,
Populus in fluviis, abies in montibus altis:
Saepius at si me, Lycida formose, revisas;
Fraxinus in silvis cedet tibi, pinus in hortis.

In Groves the Beech, in Gardens is the Pine
Most beautiful; the Poplar near the Streams;
On the high Mountain's Tops, the stately Fir.
Yet, lovely Lycidas, if oft thou come
To visit me; thou, beauteous, shalt excel
The Pine in Gardens, and the Beech in Groves.

The second Eclogue is Elegiac, containing a Love Complaint; so is the latter Part of the fifth, bewailing the Death of Daphnis. The Songs, and Pipe, seem reducible to some Kind of Ode. And I see no Reason, why the third Eclogue may not be deem'd a short rural Comedy, representing the Manners, the Follies, little Tricks, and Quarrels of low Country Life; intermix'd, likewise, with various Strokes of Satire, many Examples of which we have elsewhere produced. Damon's Complaint, in the former Part of the eighth Eclogue, is tragical, and ends thus:

Praeceps aerii specula de montis in undas
Deferar; extremum hoc munus morientis habeto.

From yon aerial Rock
Headlong I'll plunge into the foamy Deep.
Take this last Gift, which dying I bequeath.

But the Thoughts and Diction of the fourth Eclogue, I before observ'd, favour much of the Heroic.

The Pleasure that arises from this Kind of Poetry, is owing to those beautiful rural Scenes, which it represents; and to that innate Love, which human Nature, depraved as it is, still retains for its primitive Simplicity. Simplicity and the Country I join together, because in Fact they were both united. We are born with a Love for a Country Life, for Nature always pleases us more than Art, not only as it is prior to it in Point of Time, but as the Works of God are more perfect, and more various, than those of Men. Nay, Art itself is then most pleasing, when it represents Nature. Thus Architecture affects the Mind with less Pleasure and Wonder than Poetry, or its Sister Painting; because that is the Effect of Art only, these of Nature likewise. And tho' it may be the Business of one Art to describe another, yet it never is so successfully employ'd, as when Nature sits for the Description.

Thus, in Painting, the Prospect of a magnificent Structure is beautiful; but how much more agreeable is that which is diversified with Woods, Flowers, Rivers, Mountains Cottages, Birds, Flocks, Herds, and Husbandmen? And how much would the Pleasure be still heighten'd, could the Pleasure convey to us the Fragrancy of Flowers, the Warbling of Birds, the Lowing of Oxen, the Bleating of Sheep, and all those other Gratifications that are the Objects, not of the Sight, but of the Hearing, and other Senses. Since Nature, then, and the Country, are the same, and Cities the Effect of Art and Refinement; it is no Wonder, if the former has the Preference. It pleads Prescription for our Choice; if we date our own Infancy from that of the world, we are all by Birth Inhabitants of the Fields and Woods: Thither, therefore, we naturally tend, and, as Ovid says, less justly, upon another Occasion,

—documenta damus, qua simus origine nati.

Give Proofs of our Original.

For, I'll be bold to say, that they who prefer a City Life, have a natural Affection for a Country one. It is Horace's Observation:

Nempe inter varias nutritur silva columnas,
Laudaturque domus, longos quae prospicit agros;
Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.

That House is mode esteem'd, he wisely builds,
That hath a Prospect to the open Fields.
Strive to expel strong Nature, 'tis in vain,
With doubled Force the will return again. Creech.

And those that make the City Life their Choice, do so, as the Schoolmen speak, only by Accident; either to indulge their Vices and Extravagancies; or on account of some Inconveniencies which the Country sometimes labours under; as the Want of Company, or the Opportunity of gaining, or increasing a Fortune; not out of any Distaste of the Pleasures of the Country. Who can help sympathizing with Horace's Citizen, and wish him Success in so reasonable a Request?

O rus, quando ego te aspiciam? quandoque licebit
Nunc veterum libris, nunc somno, & inertibus horis,
Ducere sollicitae jucunda oblivia vitae?

Oh! when shall I enjoy my Country Seat?
Oh! when remov'd from Noise to quiet Peace,
Amidst my learned Books, my Sleep and Ease,
While Hours do smoothly slow, and free from Strife
Forget the Troubles of a busy Life? Creech.

And it is impossible to read Virgil's Description of the Country, in his second Georgic, without being in Love with the Subject, as well as the Poet. Upon the whole, since Innocence and the Country are even now so agreeable to human Nature, it is easy to see from what Source the Pleasure of Pastoral Poetry springs.

As Theocritus is the first that attempted this Way of Writing, so has he excell'd all others that have follow'd him. Virgil copies, and in some Places literally translates him. He has sometimes, however, ventur'd to deviate from his Original, by throwing in a Mixture of the Sublime. If Theocritus's are truer Pastorals; Virgil's may be said, perhaps, to be the better Poems. I speak this with some Hesitation; for, it must be own'd, the Idyllia are truly beautiful; and the Author of them, I think, ought to be rank'd among the best Poets. The Sweetness of his Versification (owing partly to his own Ingenuity, and partly to his Doric Dialect) is equall'd by none.

Take, only as a Specimen, what first offers, the very Beginning of the first Idyllium [Greek characters]:

Thyr. Goatherd, that Pine-tree's Boughs by yonder Spring,
In pleasing Murmurs mix, and sweetly sing
And thou dost sweetly pipe; dear charming Swain,
And well deserv'st the next Reward to Pan, &c.
Goat. And sweeter Notes thy Pipe, dear Shepherd,
Than murm'ring Springs, that roll from yonder Hill.
When Muses claim a Sheep, a Lamb's thy Due;
When they a Lamb, thou shalt receive a Ewe. Creech.

Thyrsis then proceeds to lament, in the softest Verse that is possible, Daphnis's unhappy Love, the Beginning of which only I shall recite to you:

Where were you, Nymphs? Where did the Nymphs reside?
Where were you then, when Daphnis pin'd and dy'd?
On Pindus' Top, or Tempe's open Plain,
Where careless Nymphs, forgetful of the Swain?
For not one Nymph by swift Asopus flood,
Nor Aetna's Cliff, nor Acis' sacred Flood. Creech.

These harmonious Lines, Virgil imitates, in the following ones, but does not equal.

Quae nemora, aut qui vos saltus habuere, puellae, &c.

What Groves, ye Nymphs, detain'd you hence? what Lawns?

What Bion and Moschus have done in this Kind, among the Greeks, the Learned are no Strangers to. Among the Latins, we have nothing remaining of Calphurnius Siculus and Aurelius Nemesianus but their Names. The Syrinx, or Shepherd's Pipe; the Form, the Number, and the Manner of disposing the Oaten Reeds; the Names of the first Inventors of this Sort of Poetry, and other Things of the like Nature, I pass over, as foreign to my Province. Whoever is studious this Way, may consult the Writers of poetical History. I would only observe, that it seems universally agreed upon, that Pastoral owes its Rise and Increase to Sicily.

I cannot but think it a Poem less suitable to modern Times, on account of the Difference in the Circumstances of human Life, from what it was anciently. As the Condition of Shepherds is now mean and contemptible; it seems too forced a Prosopopoeia to affix to them any Character of Politeness, or to introduce them as Men of Wealth and Education: These Things are contradictory to Truth, and therefore leave no Room for Fiction. The very foundation, then, of Pastorals, as they are accommodated to the present Times, seems wholly taken away. But setting aside this, it must be own'd, several of the Moderns have attempted them very successfully, both in their own Tongue, and in Latin, The Italians and French generally want the Bucolic Genius: Their Shepherds are too genteel; as well bred as Citizens at least, if not as Courtiers, and fill into other Absurdities of the fame Kind. Our Countryman Spencer has succeeded much better; and one or two of the present Age seem justly to have deserv'd the Prize.


[Trans. Clarke and Bowyer (1742) 172-86]