1763
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Phyllis. A Pastoral.

St. James's Chronicle or British Evening Post (16 July 1763).

John Cunningham


Four double-quatrain stanzas, after William Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad, signed "J. Cunningham" for John Cunningham, the Hiberno-Yorkshire actor and pastoralist. The poet considers writing more ambitious verse. but decides not: "I find the God Pan's in the right, | No fame's like the fair one's applause! | And Cupid must crown with delight | The shepherd that sings in his cause." By means of newsprint (and afterwards some successful volumes) Cunningham created a small virtual community of pastoral imitators working in Shenstone's manner. These verses were reprinted in the Scots Magazine and the Newcastle Chronicle under the title of "A Ballad, attempted in Mr. Shenstone's Manner."

John Aikin: "The pastoral song formed upon the ballad model, is capable of being made the most pleasing piece of the pastoral kind. The simplicity of language gives it an air of nature and reality, though the fictitious character be entirely kept up; and throwing the subject into a little tale, gives an opportunity of novelty in description from the variety of incidents. When the story has a tender and mournful turn, the ballad-simplicity has a peculiar happy effect. Perhaps the English alone, of all the moderns, have known how to unite the most perfect simplicity with real elegance and poetical expression; and it is to be hoped we shall never want taste to relish the beauties of this kind that we are possessed of" "On Ballads and Pastoral Songs" Essays on Song-Writing (1772) 39-40.



I said, — "On the banks of the Stream,
I've pip'd for the Shepherds too long:
Oh grant me, ye Muses, a Theme,
Where Glory may brighten my Song!"
But Pan bade me stick to my Strain,
Nor Lessons too lofty rehearse;
Ambition befits not a Swain,
And Phyllis loves Pastoral Verse.

The Rose, tho' a beautiful Red,
Looks faded to Phyllis's Bloom!
And the Breeze from the Bean-Flower Bed
To her Breath's but a feeble Perfume;
The Dew-Drop so limpid and gay,
That loose on the Violet lies,
(Tho' brighten'd by Phoebus's Ray)
Wants Lustre compar'd to her Eyes.

A Lily I pluck'd in full Pride,
Its Freshness with her's to compare;
And foolishly thought ('till I try'd)
The Flowret was equally fair.
How, Corydon, could you mistake?
Your Fault be with Sorrow confest!
You said, the white Swans on the Lake
For Softness might rival her Breast.

While thus I went on in her Praise,
My Phyllis pass'd sportive along;
Ye Poets I covet no Bays,
She smil'd — a Reward for my Song!
I find the God Pan's in the Right,
No Fame's like the Fair-One's Applause,
And Cupid must crown with Delight
The Shepherd that sings in his Cause.

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