1704
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Preface to A Pastoral Poem on the Victories at Schellenburgh and Bleinheim.

A Pastoral Poem on the Victories at Schellenburgh and Bleinheim; obtain'd by the Arms of the Confederates, under the Command of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough over the French and Bavarians. With a large Preface, shewing the Antiquity and Dignity of Pastoral Poetry. By Mr. Oldmixon.

John Oldmixon


Edmund Spenser is called in to justify the length of John Oldmixon's heroic pastoral praising the Duke of Marlborough: "The first Idyll of Theocritus and his Enchantress, Virgil's 3d and 8th Ecclogue, several of Spencer's, Tasso's Amynta and Guarini's Pastor Fido are sufficient Autorties to justifie the Length of this Pastoral, if Example wou'd excuse me. But I believe there's no need of citing Presidents" Sig. Fv. Perhaps he is thinking of Colin Clouts Come Home Again. The preface is of little value as a contribution to pastoral theory, though it helps to flesh out the critical atmosphere at the time that Philips and Pope were composing their more successful pastorals. The personal and literary character that would gain Oldmixon a prominent place in the Dunciad is on display throughout.

Oldmixon uses a discussion of the ideal of heroism to announce his Whig principles, censuring the ancient poets and their modern imitators for singing the praises of arbitrary power: "they seem to make it one of the first Principles of their Art for a Hero to own no Law but his Will, and set no Bounds to his Ambition, but the acquiring universal Empire. If some Modern Bardes have attempted to place the Asserters of Liberty in a true Light, their Poems have been discourag'd, and their Heroes esteem'd a mean sort of People, below the Imitation of great Minds" Sigs A2v-B. He next sets about justifying heroic pastoral: "I suppose the half Criticks may fancy that Pastoral is a very improper sort of Poem to sing of Victory and War. They imagine Shepherds and Shepherdesses when they are in their Shades, shou'd be always Billing and Cooing, Sighing and Sobbing, talking of their Flocks and their Garlands, and that every thing which looks like Business or Ambition is out of their Element. They reckon Pastoral below the Character of a Hero, a Politician, or Philosopher" Sig C2. But examples of high matter have been treated by Virgil in his Pollio eclogue, and others can be found in Theocritus.

Oldmixon then reviews briefly reviews recent discussions of pastoral, finding inconsistencies in Rapin and Boileau, but praising the essay prefacing the Dryden translation of Virgil's pastorals (since attributed to William Walsh). That Walsh had argued that the pastoral calling had been proper to kings in the Golden Age, is taken as authorizing Oldmixon's poem, which is set in modern times. There is a pointless discussion of whether pastorals should be called Idylls or Idyllia; while Oldmixon follows Milton in preferring blank verse, he has written his new poem in couplets to demonstrate that he can manage rhyme. A poem of 400 lines is justified by authority and by example, since shepherds have been known to speak for twenty or thirty minutes at a time. After all, "the Rules of the Art. . . I never thought were of any Force, except when they helpt a Man to the nearest Way to please" Sig. F2.

Thomas Campbell: Oldmixon was "ridiculed in the Tatler under the name of Omikron, the unborn poet, and one of the heroes of the Dunciad, who mounts the side of a lighter in order to plunge with more effect. His party virulence was rewarded with the place of collector of the customs at the port of Bridgewater" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 370.

C. H. Timperley: "John Oldmixon, a political writer and historian, was born near Bridgewater in Somersetshire, and died July 9, 1742. He wrote a History of the Steuarts, folio, a Volume of Poems, 8vo., the Life of Queen Anne, and other works" Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:595.




Since Praise, by the Universal Consent of Mankind, is allow'd to be a just Tribute, which ought to be paid to the Virtuous and the Brave; we shou'd think our selves short in our Duty, if we omitted bringing our Mite into the publick Treasury, and acknowledging among the rest of our Country-men, in the best manner we can, what we owe to the Courage and Conduct of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough, who has done more for the Liberty of Europe in one Campaign, than all the Instruments of the French King's Tyranny has been able to do against it in an Age.

Great Acts are often produc'd by Lust of Power most of the famous Heroes both ancient and modern, were animated by a lawless Ambition and an immoderate Desire of Rule. Fortune too favourable to bold Enterprises, without entring into the merits of the Cause, crown'd them with success; and the Poets and Orators always measur'd their Glory by the extent of their Dominions, without considering that Conquests are at best but glorious Robberies, and that as the Pyrate told Alexander the Great, there was no more difference between them two, than that he robb'd People of their Money, and Alexander robb'd them of their Countries. Though some of the ancient Heroes might make a good use of their Power, yet that does not excuse their seizing it out of the Hands of those to whom it belong'd, and leaving it in Possession of such as knew not that 'twas given them for any other purpose than to indulge their Passions, and commit all sorts of Violence and Injustice, without fear of Punishment or Controul. If the Flatterers of Alexander and Caesar had been ask'd what either of them had done for their Country, must they not have answer'd, "they found her Free, and left her a Slave." The Liberties of Greece and Rome were their most Valuable Conquests; and yet these are the Men on whose Altars all the Poetical Incense of Antiquity is offer'd. 'Twas thought an extraordinary thing for Virgil to make Honourable mention of Cato: At the same time that he places the Julian Race among the Gods. The True Fathers of their Country, and the True Patriots met, with few Poets, to celebrate their Praises. But the worst of Tyrants if they had a little Personal Valour, and a small Portion of Generosity are left to Posterity as so many Divinities. These are the Men whose Examples have form'd most of the succeeding Heroes. These are the Models of Heroic Virtue on the Stage, and the Poets in our Days have been so Charm'd with the Shining Pictures drawn of them by the Antients, that they seem to make it one of the first Principles of their Art for a Hero to own no Law but his Will, and set no Bounds to his Ambition, but the acquiring universal Empire. If some Modern Bardes have attempted to place the Asserters of Liberty in a true Light, their Poems have been discourag'd, and their Heroes esteem'd a mean sort of People, below the Imitation of great Minds.

The French King without any of the Heroick Qualities of either Cesar or Alexander pretends to rival their Greatness, and indeed is the first Hero that assum'd the Title of "Le Grand," without ever having been in any Action. Yet he has not wanted a Crowd of Sycophants, some of them Men of the first Rank for Wit and Learning, to cry him up as a Prince; of whom they say little, when they only compare him to the Grecian or Roman Conqueror. They have had the Impudence to pay him Divine Honours, and this proud Man has liv'd to see his fairest Trophies ravish'd from him in one Summer; and his Design of enslaving the World, ruin'd by the Wisdom and Bravery of an English General, and an English Army, under the Auspices of a Queen, who makes no other use of Her Victories, than to confirm the Liberty of Mankind; against which Lewis the XIVth has for above forty Years been bending all his Force, and all his Cunning; for as his Arms have Triumph'd more by Numbers than Valour, so his Councils have succeeded more by Fraud and Tricking, than by the wise Management of a fair Politician.

What are all his Breaches of Treaties come to? One Vigorous Effort of a Prudent and Brave Captain, has reduc'd him to the Necessity of Abandoning the Empire, after he and his Ally had surpriz'd the best Cities under her Dominion, and carry'd the Terror of their Arms to the Walls of Vienna. His Armies that rov'd up and down on the Danube, are now either bury'd in its Banks, Imprison'd in the Hands of their Enemies, or skulking under the Cannon of their Strong Towns. The Emperor, the Empire and all the Bravest Nations of the North are eas'd of their Fears of a French Yoke, and the English Name made Glorious to the utmost Borders of Europe.

Is not this enough to kindle the Coldest Muse into a Flame, and put Life into the Deadest Wight of Parnassus? Those that are silent now must certainly do it for one of these two Reasons; they either believe, as Boileau says,

Pour chanter un Auguste, il faut etre un Virgile,
A Virgil only shou'd a Cesar sing,

Or they dislike both the Hero and the Action. Not to offend the Modesty of the Sons of Apollo, I fear few of 'em give the first for a reason to themselves, and the second they dare not deliver, least the World who already censure them for their silence shou'd carry their resentments further, and prove by very close and solid Arguments they are in the Wrong.

I am far from thinking I can do so illustrious an Action Justice, I ought to have been frighten'd by the success of most of the Writers, who have hitherto attempted it, had our Soldiers fought no better than our Poets write upon 'em, we should have had little to rejoyce over but our Victory at Sea. Yet instead of discouraging, this embolden'd me to do as I saw others had done before me: Comforting my self, that if I cou'd not do better 'twas impossible to do worse; and if I did not distinguish my self on this occasion, I might get off in the Croud of those for whom the Subject has been too hard. I have heard of other Poems from which I have much greater Expectations, and amongst them all I hope there will rise one Genius or another, who will Present the British Hero with something worthy the Dignity of the British Muse.

I suppose the half Criticks may fancy that Pastoral is a very improper sort of Poem to sing of Victory and War. They imagine Shepherds and Shepherdesses when they are in their Shades, shou'd be always Billing and Cooing, Sighing and Sobbing, talking of their Flocks and their Garlands, and that every thing which looks like Business or Ambition is out of their Element. They reckon Pastoral below the Character of a Hero, a Politician, or Philosopher. As if Virgil did not know what he was doing, when he wrote of Pollio, the Consul's Triumphs and the Birth of his Son, in his Fourth Ecclogue.

The Lovely boy with his Auspicious Face,
Shall Pollio's Consulship and Triumph Grace
Majestick Months set out with him to their appointed Race.
The Father Banish'd Virtue shall restore,
And Crimes shall threat the Guilty World no more.
The Son shall lead the Life of Gods, and be
By Gods and Heroes seen, and Gods and Heroes see.
Dryd. Transl. of the 4th Eclog.

These severe Judges will not Pardon him what he says of the formation of the World in the 6th Eclogue.

For lo, he sung the Worlds stupendous Birth,
How scatter'd Seeds of Sea and Air and Earth,
And Purer Fire thro' universal Night,
And empty space did fruitfully unite:
From whence th' innumerable Race of things,
By Circular successive order springs.
E. of Roscommon's Translat. of the 6th Ecclog.

They forget his Pharmaceutria, and that of Theocritus when he imitates,

Great Pollio, thou for whom thy Rome prepares
The ready Triumph of thy Finish'd Wars.

Again,

Since neither Gods nor Godlike Verse can move,
Break out ye smother'd Fires, and kindle smother'd Love.
Exert your utmost Powers, &c.
Dryden's Transl. of the 8th Ecclog.

Now to my Charms, but you bright Queen of Night,
Shine and assist me with your borrowed Light;
You mighty Goddess I invoke, and you
Infernal Hecate, &c.
Mr. Bowl's Transl. of Theoc. Pharm.

Neither will the 18th Idyll of Theocritus escape their Censure, if they will never allow the Shepherds Songs to fly higher than the Tops of their Poplars and Willows. The Poet sings the Epithalamium of Helen and Menelaus, and speaks of the Bridegroom's Happiness:

Jove's beauteous Daughter now his Bride must be,
And Jove himself is less a God than he.
Dryden's Translat.

But 'twould be endless, if a Man shou'd go about to give all the Instances wherein the Antients have suffered the Rural Muse to tower upwards with a dazling Wing, and Thalia soars as high as Clio or Calliope. I am much more afraid of not being able to offend in this kind, than of displeasing any one by it.

As for the Antiquity of the Ecclogue, what the ingenious Author of the Preface to Dryden's Virgil has said of it, there is little left for any one to add to the Subject. 'Tis generally allowed that Pastoral Poetry is the most ancient of all, and that, as 'tis the eldest Child of Nature, so it most resembles her. Pere Rapin gives it a Place in his Reflexions sur la Poetique, before Satyrs, Elegy, or even the Ode; saying, 'tis "le plus considerables des Petits Poemes," the most considerable of the Low Poetry, or the Little Poems as Mr. Rimer translates it, and when he compares Theocritus and Virgil together, he writes, the latter has "plus de bon Sens, plus de Force, & plus de Noblesse;" more good Sense, more Force, and more Nobleness; which is an odd Commendation, if as he affirms elsewhere, the Subject of Pastoral Poetry ought always to be low, for "son Genie n'a rien de grand." There is nothing great in its Genius. We have shown how Virgil, whom both he and Boileau advise us to imitate, has given more than one Proof, that the Ecclogue is capable of Elevation. The latter of these Two Criticks seems of another Opinion.

Au milieu d'un Eglogue etonne le Trompette
De peur de l'ecouter Pan fuit dans les Roseaux.

Beward how you sound a Trumpet in an Ecclogue, least when Pan hears it, he flies from the Rivers Banks, and hides himself in the Rushes. Though this agrees very little with what he says afterwards.

Et par quel Art encor l'Eglogue quelquefois
Rend dignes d'un Consul, la Campagne & les Bois.
Boil. L'Art Poetique.

Learn by what Art the Ecclogue sometimes may render the Woods worthy a Consul. We know Rapin and Boileau have said enough of the Simplicity of the Ecclogue, that they confine it to the Loves, the Sports, the Piques, the Jealousies, Quarrels, Intrigues, Passions and Adventures of Shepherds; that the latter gives very hard Names to those Rhimers who lay aside the Pipe and the Flute, to take up the Fife and the Trumpet. The Author of the abovemention'd Preface, contrary to their Opinion, which indeed is not always consistent with itself, justifies the Dignity of the Rural Muse, by the Character of the Shepherds of old, "Three of whom were the Founders of the most renown'd Monarchies in the World."

The Shepherds in those Days had not only the Charge of their Flocks upon their Hands, but the Care of the State; and as the Riches of the World consisted chiefly in the Riches of the Field, Flocks, Herds, and Corn; so Husbandry and Labour were so far from being thought below Persons of the highest Quality, that Kings held at once Crook and Scepter; and Fabricius the Dictator was taken from the Plough, to be plac'd at the Head of the Roman Empire. For which and other Reasons, the same Author adds, Shepherds "cannot be suppos'd so very ignorant and unpolish'd, the Learning and good Breeding of the World was then in such Hands." Why They shou'd not be as sensible of good News as of bad, and may not be allow'd to rejoice as well as to mourn, is what we cannot comprehend. And till we have better Satisfaction in this Point, then what any of the French Criticks give us, we shall content our selves with the Authority and Example of Theocritus and Virgil.

We gave our former Pastorals the Title of Idylls, at which some Persons were offended; we have avoided it now, not out of Conviction that we were in the wrong before, knowing no Reason why we may not as well say in English Theocritus's Idylls, as Theocritus's Idyllia; Idylls being as Musical a Word as Idyllia, and Mons. Rapin always calls the Poems of that Author Idylles. Some have fancy'd 'tis an affected Word; but those very Men wou'd think us much more affected, if we had call'd either of those Poems an Idyllium, as a certain Writer wou'd have it. But as for his Reflexions or his Judgment, we value both the one and the other alike; We think his Judgment, his Wit and his Condition to be equally miserable; so very wretched in all, that we are sorry he has not good Nature enough to deserve Pity. We shall never more concern our selves about his Opinion, and had we not had a deal of Room in this Preface, we shou'd not have given the Reader this Trouble about him, knowing that we cannot do him a greater Service, than to remember him, though 'tis with Ignominy. In Complaisance to the Taste of the Age, we have left off writing in Blank Verse, waiting till a second Milton shall finish what the first began, and shake off the barbarous Yoke, impos'd on the Muses in the Ages of Darkness and Ignorance. Whoever thought we wrote formerly in blank Verse, rather out of Necessity than Choice, we hope will now be convinc'd of the contrary.

Some Persons may think Shepherds shou'd not be so talkative, that half an Hour's Discourse is very unnatural by a River's Side.

The first Idyll of Theocritus and his Enchantress, Virgil's 3d and 8th Ecclogue, several of Spencer's, Tasso's Amynta and Guarini's Pastor Fido are sufficient Autorties to justifie the Length of this Pastoral, if Example wou'd excuse me. But I believe there's no need of citing Presidents. If there is any Action in the Poem, or Variety of Passions, to take off from the Tediousness of 3 or 400 Verses, I have not transgress'd against the Rules of the Art, which I never thought were of any Force, except when they helpt a Man to the nearest Way to please. I cannot apprehend why there shoul'd be any Difficulty to imagine an old Shepherd might entertain his Sylvan Auditory 20 or 30 Minutes. And having heard some of our Modern Swains hold out a much longer time, 'twill be impossible to convince me, 'tis out of Nature. That they discourse in Measure and Rhime, and with Flight and Figure, is no Argument against me, for Ten Lines, after that way of Judging, is as unnatural as Ten Hundred.

When I speak of Her Majesty or the Duke, I call them by their Proper Names without Disguise, finding Virgil in his Ecclogues always do's the same; and gives no Nom de Guerre, to either Pollio, Varus or Gallus. Those I have made use of, are good old English Names, and I believe will be found very harmonious to the Ears of all hearty Lovers of their Country.


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