Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE

WORKS OF VIRGIL.

PASTORALS.

TO THE

RIGHT HON. HUGH LORD CLIFFORD', Baron of Chudleigh.

MY LORD,

I HAVE found it not more difficult to translate Virgil, than to find such' patrons as I desire for my translation. For though England is not wanting in a learned nobility, yet such are my unhappy circumstances, that they have confined me to a narrow choice. To the greater part I have not the honour to be known; and to some of them I cannot show at present, by any public act, that grateful respect which I shall ever bear them in my heart. Yet I have no reason to complain of Fortune; since, in the midst of that abundance, I could not possibly have chosen better, than the worthy son of so illustrious a father. He was the patron of my manhood, when I flourished in the opinion of the world;

1 The son of lord-treasurer Clifford, to whom the Dedicator had inscribed his tragedy of Amboyna.'

2 Dryden is here supposed to allude to the circumscribed sphere of his own religion and politics.

[blocks in formation]

though with small advantage to my fortune, till he awakened the remembrance of my royal master. He was that Pollio, or that Varus, who introduced me to Augustus; and though he soon dismissed himself from state affairs, yet, in the short time of his administration, he shone so powerfully upon me, that, like the heat of a Russian summer, he ripened the fruits of poetry in a cold climate, and gave me wherewithal to subsist at least in the long winter which succeeded. What I now offer to your lordship, is the wretched remainder of a sickly age, worn out with study and oppressed by fortune; without other support than the constancy and patience of a Christian. You, my lord, are yet in the flower of your youth, and may live to enjoy the benefits of the peace which is promised Europe; I can only hear of that blessing for years, and, above all things, want of health, have shut me out from sharing in the happiness. The poets, who condemn their Tantalus to hell, had added to his torments, if they had placed him in Elysium, which is the proper emblem of my condition. The fruit and the water may reach my lips, but cannot enter: and, if they could, yet I want a palate as well as a digestion. But it is some kind of pleasure to me, to please those whom I respect: and I am not altogether out of hope, that these Pastorals of Virgil may give your lordship some delight, though made English by one who scarce remembers that passion which inspired my author when he wrote them. These were his first essay in poetry (if the 'Ceiris' was not his): and it was more excusable in him to describe love when he

was young, than for me to translate him when I am old. He died at the age of fifty-two; and I began this work in my great climacteric. But having perhaps a better constitution than my author, I have wronged him less, considering my circumstances, than those who have attempted him before, either in our own or any modern language. And though this version is not void of errors, yet it comforts me that the faults of others are not worth finding. Mine are neither gross nor frequent in those Eclogues, wherein my master has raised himself above that humble style in which pastoral delights: and which, I must confess, is proper to the education and converse of shepherds: for he found the strength of his genius betimes, and was, even in his youth, preluding to his Georgics and his Eneïs. He could not forbear to try his wings, though his pinions were not hardened to maintain a long laborious flight. Yet sometimes they bore him to a pitch as lofty as ever he was able to reach afterwards. But when he was admonished by his subject to descend, he came down gently, circling in the air, and singing to the ground; like a lark, melodious in her mounting, and continuing her song till she alights; still preparing for a higher flight at her next sally, and tuning her voice to better music. The fourth, the sixth, and the eighth Pastorals, are clear evidences of this truth. In the three first, he contains himself within his bounds: but addressing to Pollio, his great patron, and himself no vulgar poet, he no longer could restrain the freedom of his spirit, but began to assert his native character, which is

sublimity-putting himself under the conduct of the same Cumæan Sibyl, whom afterwards he gave for a guide to his Æneas. It is true, he was sensible of his own boldness; and we know it by the paulo majora, which begins his fourth Eclogue. He remembered, like young Manlius, that he was forbidden to engage : but what avails an express command to a youthful courage, which presages victory in the attempt? Encouraged with success, he proceeds further in the sixth, and invades the province of philosophy. And, notwithstanding that Phoebus had forewarned him of singing wars, as he there confesses, yet he presumed that the search of nature was as free to him as to Lucretius, who at his age explained it according to the principles of Epicurus. In his eighth Eclogue he has innovated nothing; the former part of it being the complaint and despair of a forsaken lover; the latter, a charm of an enchantress, to renew a lost affection. But the complaint perhaps contains some topics which are above the condition of his persons; and our author seems to have made his herdsmen somewhat too learned for their profession: the charms are also of the same nature; but both were copied from Theocritus, and had received the applause of former ages in the original. There is a kind of rusticity in all those pompous verses; somewhat of a holiday shepherd strutting in his country buskins. The like may be observed both in the Pollio and the Silenus, where the similitudes are drawn from the woods and meadows. They seem to me to represent our poet betwixt a farmer and a courtier, when he left

Mantua for Rome, and dressed himself in his best habit to appear before his patron, somewhat too fine for the place whence he came, and yet retaining part of its simplicity. In the ninth pastoral, he collects some beautiful passages, which were scattered in Theocritus, which he could not insert into any of his former Eclogues, and yet was unwilling they should be lost. In all the rest he is equal to his Sicilian master, and observes, like him, a just decorum both of the subject and the persons; as particularly in the third Pastoral, where one of his shepherds describes a bowl, or mazer, curiously carved.

In medio duo signa: Conon, et quis fuit alter,
Descripsit radio totum qui gentibus orbem?

He remembers only the name of Conon, and forgets the other on set purpose. Whether he means Anaximander or Eudoxus, I dispute not: but he was certainly forgotten, to show his country swain was no great scholar.

After all, I must confess that the boorish dialect of Theocritus has a secret charm in it, which the Roman language cannot imitate though Virgil has drawn it down as low as possibly he could, as in the cujum pecus, and some other words, for which he was so unjustly blamed by the bad critics of his age, who could not see the beauties of that merum rus, which the poet described in those expressions. But Theocritus may justly be preferred as the original, without injury to Virgil, who modestly contents himself with the second place, and glories only in being the first who transplanted pastoral into his own

« PreviousContinue »