William Dodd expresses dissatisfaction with the pastorals of Conrad Gesner, alludes to the Pope-Philips controversy, and avers that characters in his own pastorals are based on real persons. He cites Spenser's Shepheardes Calender as evidence that pastorals need not be idealized: "THEOCRITUS, VIRGIL, and SPENSER, all excellent in this kind of poetry, recurred not to the golden age." The Moral Pastorals were composed in the summer of 1762 as we learn from a note appended to the third, as previously published in the Christian's Magazine 4 (February 1763) 89-90.
Critical Review: "In these pieces the characters are drawn from nature and rural life, and the morality is unexceptionally good; but in several passages there is not the least spark of poetry" 24 (September 1767) 201.
Samuel Austin Allibone: "William Dodd, D.D., a divine of the Church of England, equally noted from his great abilities and his melancholy end, was a native of Bourne, Lincolnshire, of which parish his father was vicar, and educated at Clare Hall, Cambridge. He was ordained in 1753, and soon distinguished himself as one of the most eloquent preachers in London. After various preferments, Dr. Squier, Bishop of St. David's, procured for him a collation to a prebend of Brecon, and in the same year he received the appointment of tutor to Philip Stanhope, afterwards Earl of Chesterfield. He was made one of the king's chaplains in 1764. Dodd was exceedingly fond of display, and lived in a style altogether unsuited to his moderate circumstances. Finding himself deeply involved in debt, he determined to make a bold effort to secure the rectory of St. George's, Hanover Square, which had fallen to the disposal of the crown. To her great surprise, the lady of Lord Chancellor Apsley received an anonymous letter offering to present her with £3000 if she would obtain for Dr. Dodd the vacant parish. This insulting proposal was traced to the aspirant himself, and the king ordered his name to be struck from the list of his chaplains. In 1777 he forged the name of his former pupil, Lord Chesterfield, to a bond for £4200. Detected in his crime, he was cast into prison, tried, and convicted, and — notwithstanding the most strenuous efforts to save his life — executed at Tyburn on the 27th of June" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:508.
Some time since a learned correspondent abroad wrote me word, that GESNER had just published some PASTORAL, or RURAL POEMS, upon a plan entirely new; which, he heard (for my friend had not read them) were of a moral nature; each poem enforcing some virtue, and all of them inculcating, from rural incidents, the whole social system. I was extremely pleased with the information, and very impatient to see the poems, which I ordered immediately, expecting high entertainment: for fond as I have always been of Pastoral Poetry, it has long appeared to me, that the subject has been exhausted, upon the common plan; and that nothing new can be added, after the great masters, who have excelled so much; lavishing all the graces of poetry upon every rural idea proper for the usual kind of pastoral song. There is a time too, I suppose, with us all, when the contentions of DAPHNIS and CORYDON concerning the perfections and beauties of their mistresses, become less important; and surely it is to be wished that other topics, than those of love ant song, might employ the pastoral reed.
Full of there ideas, I received GESNER's poems. They are before the public, and in our own language the readers of them, therefore, will easily imagine that my disappointment was great: for, though there are many pleasing moral allusions in them, yet the generality of them, it must be confessed, are puerile; or at least they come not up, either to the character my friend had given, or to the idea I had formed. GESNER seems to think, that, for pastoral scenes, we must necessarily recur to the golden age: I cannot help disagreeing intirely with him in this respect: THEOCRITUS, VIRGIL, and SPENSER, all excellent in this kind of poetry, recurred not to the golden age. — But allowing this to be indispensably requisite in pastoral poetry, no modern, certainly, should attempt it: for there is a peculiar disgust arising in the mind, on perusing the composition of a modern, in which perpetual allusion is made to that heathen system which we know the modern utterly explodes: we cannot bear to read of Jupiters, Junos, Pans, Fauns, Dryads, and Metamorphoses in a GESNER. In a THEOCRITUS or a VIRGIL they do well: the faith and enthusiasm of the writers give a sanction to their system; and we can read, without offence, what we know was the creed of their times.
But I mean not to enter on a large discussion of this topic; it has been abundantly considered already. PHILLIPS'S, GAY'S, and POPE'S pastorals called forth the attention of the literati to this matter; and they who would see more on the head, may consult the papers and dissertations, which appeared at that period, and on that occasion.
I am only concerned to lay before the reader a short history of what gave rise to the poems, which at present offer themselves for his entertainment. — Dissatisfied with GESNER, and having my thoughts turned to the subject of pastoral poetry, by means of his book, I sat down to amuse myself during an agreeable recess, and a few leisure hours, with writing some pastorals on the plan which I conceived GESNER had pursued; and which, if he had pursued, he would utterly have precluded any attempt of mine. I formed; my plans, as much from nature and real characters as I could: and several incidents in rural life helped me, during my stay in the island of THANET. Last summer I finished four of the pastorals; which several of my friends approving, at their persuasion I finished the other two, during the same agreeable recess this year: and must freely acknowledge, that from the ideas, which they necessarily called forth, I received great satisfaction, and had no small pleasure in the composition. What GESNER says of himself, I can in a great measure adopt: "The following poems are the produce of some of the most delightful moments of my life: what situation indeed can be more delightful than that in which our passions are becalmed, and the active imagination transports us, from the grosser scenes of this iron age, to those of an age of gold! — Every description of the charms of tranquillity and happy repose cannot fail to give pleasure to well-tuned minds; those scenes which poetry borrows from real nature, pleasing us by so much the more, as they seem to bear some resemblance to those situations in which we are the most happy. I sometimes leave the busy world in disgust, and seek relief in the charms of rural solitude: there the surrounding beauties of nature soon divert the disagreeable sensations I brought with me. Enraptured by the variegated prospects and inspired with a thousand agreeable sentiments, I think myself as happy as a shepherd in the golden age, and as rich as a king."
My application to business during the winter, generally obliges me, for the recruiting my health and spirits, to retire for a little time in summer from all employment; and during that period, and that period only, I converse with the MUSE with whom, at other times, severer and better occupations forbid me any correspondence. This occasional visit, therefore may, I hope, well be pardoned; and if the present performances, the consequence of such a visit, contain nothing but what may serve the cause of virtue, the most rigid, I may reasonably expect, will not be offended at them. If all the graces and excellencies of poetry are not found in them, let the candid remember, that the author presumes not to affect that high character: — a POET is a rare production; and amongst the number of rhymers and writers, a genuine son of the Muses is but seldom to be found: a SHAKESPEARE, a SPENSER, a MILTON, are the comets of an age.