1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Eclogue the First. Selim; or, the Shepherd's Moral.

Persian Eclogues. Written for the Entertainment of the Ladies of Taurus. And now first translated, &c.

William Collins


In his set of four oriental eclogues William Collins takes the the times-of-day scheme from Alexander Pope's pastorals, where it was adapted from the temporal scheme of Spenser's Shepheardes Calender. These often-reprinted poems were very popular works in the eighteenth century, and several times imitated. The ethnographic turn Collins lent to pastoral verse helped to carry this supposedly-moribund literary form down to the nineteenth century — in suceeding decades there would be pastorals in the Caledonian, Hibernian, Cornish, African, Indian, and modes.

John Scott of Amwell: "The first is initled Selim, or The Shepherd's Moral. It introduces a Persian poet on the bank of the Tigris, expatiating to a female audience, on the praise of virtue. The Author is in this piece not a cold teacher of morality; there is an ardour in his composition, which induces one to think him not intirely uninterested in the lesson he is giving. Perhaps in the character of his Selim, he was obliquely advising some lady, whose person had attracted his affections, but whose conduct could not merit his esteem. This is mere conjecture, and may appear fanciful; nevertheless, the late ingenious Dr. Langhorne seems rather mistaken, when he observes, that Collins was one of the few poets who have sailed to Delphi, without touching at Cythera. Our Poet possessed a mind that could not be insensible to the fair; and his compositions discover much of the tender, though nothing of the licentious" "Collins's Oriental Eclogues" in Critical Essays (1785) 154-55.

Joseph Warton: "Mr. Collins wrote his Eclogues when he was about seventeen years old, at Winchester School, and, as I well remember, had been just reading that volume of Salmon's Modern History, which described Persia; which determined him to lay the scene of these pieces, as being productive of new images and sentiments. In his maturer years he was accustomed to speak very contemptuously of them, calling them his Irish Eclogues, and saying they had not in them one spark of Orientalism; and desiring me to erase a motto he had prefixed to one of them in a copy he gave me; 'quos primus equis oriens afflavit anhelis.' Virg. He was greatly mortified that they found more readers and admirers than his Odes" Works of Pope (1797) 1:61-62n.

Oliver Goldsmith: "The following eclogues, written by Mr. Collins, are very pretty: the images, it must be owned, are not very local; for the pastoral subject could not well admit of it. The description of Asiatic magnificence, and manners, is a subject as yet unattempted amongst us, and, I believe, capable of furnishing a great variety of poetical imagery" Beauties of English Poesy (1767) 1:239.

Richard Foster Jones: "Collins may have received the hint for this scheme from the notes to Pope's Pastorals in the 1736 edition of his poems, whence he derived the idea of the time cycle. Eyles Irwin, to be discussed later, follows Collins in both respects [Eastern Eclogues (1777)]" "Eclogue Types in English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century" JEGP 24 (1925) 52n.

A Latin translation was published in the Morning Chronicle for 6 October 1780.

John Langhorne's Observations:

"This eclogue, which is entitled Selim, or the Shepherd's Moral, as there is nothing dramatic in the subject, may be thought the least entertaining of the four: but it is, by no means, the least valuable. The moral precepts which the intelligent shepherd delivers to his fellow-swains, and the virgins their companions, are such as would infallibly promote the happiness of the pastoral life.

"In impersonating the private virtues, the poet has observed great propriety, and has formed their genealogy with the most perfect judgment, when he represents them as the daughters of truth and wisdom.

"The characteristics of modesty and chastity are extremely happy and peinturesque: 'Come thou, whose thoughts as limpid springs are clear, | To lead the train, sweet Modesty, appear; | With thee be Chastity, of all afraid, | Distrusting all, a wise, suspicious maid; | Cold is her breast, like flowers that drink the dew; | A silken veil conceals her from the view.' The two similes borrowed from rural objects are not only much in character, but perfectly natural and expressive. There is, notwithstanding, this defect in the former, it wants a peculiar propriety; for purity of thought may as well be applied to chastity as to modesty; and from this instance, as well as from a thousand more, we may see the necessity of distinguishing, in characteristic poetry, every object by marks and attributes peculiarly its own.

"It cannot be objected to this eclogue that it wants both those essential Criteria of the pastoral, love and the drama; for though it partakes not of the latter, the former still retains an interest in it, and that too very material, as it professedly consults the virtue and happiness of the lover, while it informs what are the qualities —' that must lead to love'" Poetical Works of Mr. William Collins (1765) 115-17.



SCENE, a Valley near Bagdad.
TIME, the MORNING.

Ye Persian Maids, attend your Poet's Lays,
And hear how Shepherds pass their golden Days:
Not all are blest, whom Fortune's Hand sustains
With Wealth in Courts, nor all that haunt the Plains:
Well may your Hearts believe the Truths I tell;
'Tis Virtue makes the Bliss, where'er we dwell.

Thus Selim sung; by sacred Truth inspir'd;
No Praise the Youth, but her's alone desir'd:
Wise in himself, his meaning Songs convey'd
Informing Morals to the Shepherd Maid,
Or taught the Swains that surest Bliss to find,
What Groves nor Streams bestow, a virtuous Mind.

When sweet and od'rous, like an Eastern Bride,
The radiant Morn resum'd her orient Pride,
When wanton Gales, along the Valleys play,
Breathe on each Flow'r, and bear their Sweets away:
By Tigris' Wand'ring Waves he sate, and sung
This useful Lesson for the Fair and Young.

Ye Persian Dames, he said, to ye belong,
Well may they please, the Morals of my Song;
No fairer Maids, I trust, than ye are found,
Grac'd with soft Arts, the peopled World around!
The Morn that lights you, to your Loves supplies
Each gentler Ray delicious to your Eyes:
For ye those Flow'rs her fragrant Hands bestow,
And yours the Love that Kings delight to know.
Yet think not these, all beauteous as they are,
The best kind Blessings Heav'n can grant the Fair!
Who trust alone in Beauty's feeble Ray,
Balsora's Pearls have more of Worth than they;
Drawn from the Deep, they sparkle to the Sight,
And all-unconscious shoot a lust'rous Light:
Such are the Maids, and such the Charms they boast,
By Sense unaided, or to Virtue lost.
Self-flattering Sex! your Hearts believe in vain
That Love shall blind, when once he fires the Swain;
Or hope a Lover by your Faults to win,
As Spots on Ermin beautify the Skin:
Who seeks secure to rule, be first her Care
Each softer Virtue that adorns the Fair,
Each tender Passion Man delights to find,
The lov'd Perfections of a female Mind.

Blest were the Days, when Wisdom held her Reign,
And Shepherds sought her on the silent Plain,
With Truth she wedded in the secret Grove,
The fair-eyed Truth, and Daughters bless'd their Love.

O haste, fair Maids, ye Virtues come away,
Sweet Peace and Plenty lead you on your way!
The balmy Shrub, for ye shall love our Shore,
By Ind' excell'd or Araby no more.

Lost to our Fields, for so the Fates ordain,
The dear Deserters shall return again.
O come, thou Modesty, as they decree,
The Rose may then improve her Blush by Thee.
Here make thy Court amidst our rural Scene,
And Shepherd-Girls shall own Thee for their Queen.
With Thee be Chastity, of all afraid,
Distrusting all, a wise suspicious Maid;
But Man the most; not more the Mountain Doe
Holds the swift Falcon for her deadly Foe.
Cold is her Breast, like Flow'rs that drink the Dew;
A silken Veil conceals her from the View.
No wild Desires amidst thy Train be known,
But Faith, whose Heart is fix'd on one alone:
Desponding Meekness with her down-cast Eyes,
And friendly Pity full of tender Sighs;
And Love the last: By these your Hearts approve,
These are the Virtues that must lead to Love.

Thus sung the Swain, and Eastern Legends say,
The Maids of Bagdat verify'd the Lay:
Dear to the Plains, the Virtues came along,
The Shepherds lov'd, and Selim bless'd his Song.

[pp. 5-9]