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might be white as snow; and, though their iniquities have been multiplied without number, revile the hand, that would blo: them from the Register of Heaven.
Bold be the critic, zealous to his trust,
To the ADVENTURER.
In the papers of criticism which you have given to the public, I have remarked a spirit of candor, and love of truth; equally remote from bigotry and cap-, tiousness; a just distribution of praise amongst the an-, cients and the moderns; a sober deference to reputa. tion long established, without a blind adoration of an.. tiquity; and a willingness to favour later performe ances, without a light or puerile fondness for novelty..
I fhall, therefore, venture to lay before you fuch observations as have risen to my mind in the confider. ation of Virgil's Pastorals, without any inquiry how far my sentiments deviate from established rules or common opinions.
If we survey the ten paltorals in a general view, it will be found, that Virgil can derive from them very little claim to the praise of an inventor. To search into the antiquity of this kind of poetry, is not my present purpose : that it has long sublisted in the east, the Sacred Writings fufficiently inform us; and we may conjecture, with great probability, that it was sometimes the devotion, and fometimes the entertainment, of the first generations of mankind. Theocritus united elegance with fimplicity; and taught his shepherds to fing with so much ease and harmony, that his countrymen, despairing to excel, forbore to imitate him: and the Greeks, however vain or ambitious, left him in quiet poffeffion of the garlands which the Wood-Nymphs had belowed upon him.
Virgil, however, taking advantage of another language, ventured to copy or to rival the Sicilian Bard. He has written with greater splendor of di&tion, and elevation of fentiment: but as the magnificence of his performances was more, the fimplicity was less: and, perhaps, where he excels Theocritus, he fometimes obtains his fuperiority by deviating from the paitoral character, and performing what Theocritus never attempted.
Yet, though I would willingly pay to Theocritus the honour which is always due to an original author, I am far from intending to depreciate Virgil; of #hom Horace justly declares, that the Rural Mufes. have appropriated to him their elegance and sweetness; and who, as he copied Theocritus in his design, has refembled him likewise in his success ; for, if we except Calphurnius, an obfcure author of the lower ages, I know not that a single pastoral was written after him by any poet, till the revival of literature.
But though his general merit has been universally acknowledged, I am far from thinking all the productions of his rural Thalia equally excellent. There is, indeed, in all his paftorals, a strain of versification, which it is vain to seek in any other poet ; but, if we except the first and the tenth, they seem liable, either wholly or in part, to considerable objections.
The second, though we should forget the great charge against it, which I am afraid can never be refuted, might, I think, have perished, without any diminution of the praise of its author; for I know not that it contains one affecting fentiment or pleafing defcription, or one paffage that strikes the imagination, or awakens the passions.
The third contains a contest between two fhepherds, begun with a quarrel, of which fome particulars might well be spared, carried on with sprightliness and elegance, and terminated at last in a reconciliation: but,, surely, whether the invectives with which they attack each other be true or false, they are too much degraded from the dignity of pastoral innocence; and, instead of rejoicing that they are both victorious, I fhould not have grieved, could they have been both defeated.
The Poem to Pollio is, indeed, of another kind: it is filled with images; at once splendid and pleasing ; and is elevated with grandeur of language, worthy of the first of Roman poets : but I am not able to reconG6
cile myself to the disproportion between the performance and the occasion that produced it: that the golden age should return, because Pollio had a son, appears fo. wild a fiction, that I am ready to suspect the poet of having written, for some other purpose, what he took this opportunity of producing to the public.
The fifth contains a celebration of Daphnis, which has stood to all succeeding ages as the model of pala toral elegies. To deny praise to a performance which
many thousands have laboured to imitate, would be to judge with too little deference for the opinion of mankind: yet whoever shall read it with impartiality, will find, that most of the images are of the mythological kind, and, therefore, easily invented; and that there are few sentiments of rational praise or natural lamentation.
In the Silenus he again rises to the dignity of philofophic sentiments and heroic poetry. The address to: Varus is eminently beautiful: but since the compliment paid to Gallus fixes the transaction to his own. time, the fiction of Silenus seems injudicious; nor has any sufficient reason yet been found, to justify his choice of those fables that make the subject of the song.
The seventh exhibits another conteft of the tuneful Shepherds : and, surely, it is not without some reproach. to his inventive power, that, of ten pastorals, Virgil has written two upon the same plan. One of the shep-, herds now gains an acknowledged victory, but without. any apparent superiority; and the reader, when he fees the prize adjudged, is not able to discover how it was deserved
Of the eighth pastoral, so little is properly the work of Virgil, that he has no claim to other praise or blame, than that of a translator.
Of the ninth, it is scarce possible to discover the design or tendency; it is said, I know not upon what authority, to have been composed from fragments of other poems; and except a few lines in which the auther touches upon his own misfortunes, there is nothing that seems appropriated to any time or place, or of which any other use can be discovered than to fill
The first and the tenth pastorals, whatever be determined of the rest, are sufficient to place their author above the reach of rivalry. The complaint of Gallus disappointed in his love, is full of such sentiments as disappointed love naturally produces ; his wishes are wild, his resentment is tender, and his purposes are inconstant. In the genuine language of despair, he fooths himself a-while with the pity that shall be paid him after his death :
-Tamen cantabitis, Arcedes, inquit,
-Yet, O Arcadian swains, Ye best artificers of soothing strains ! Tune your soft reeds, and teach your rocks my
woes, So shall my shade in sweeter rest repose. O that
your birth and business had been mine; To feed the flock, and prune the spreading vine !