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ratiocination as silences others; and seldom recal to a close examination, that discourse which has gratified our vanity with victory and applause.
Some caution, therefore, must be used left copiousness and facility be made less valuable by inaccuracy and confusion. To fix the thoughts by writing, and subject them to frequent examinations and reviews, is the best method of enabling the mind to detect its own sophisms, and keep it on guard against the fallacies which it practises on others : in conversation we naturally diffuse our thoughts, and in writing we contract them; method is the excellence of writing, and unconstraint the grace of conversation.
To read, write, and converse in due proportions, is, therefore, the business of a man of letters. For all these there is not often equal opportunity; excellence, therefore, is not often attainable; and most men fail in one or other of the ends proposed, and are full without readiness, or ready without exactness. Some deficiency must be forgiven all, because all are men; and more must be allowed to pass uncensured in the greater part of the world, because none can confer upon himself abilities, and few have the choice of fituations proper for the improvement of those which nature has bestowed: it is however, reasonable, to have perfe&tion in our eye ; that we may always advance towards it, though we know it never can be reached.
NUMB. 92. SATURDAY, September 22, 1753.
Cum tabulis animum cenforis fumet honesti.
To the ADVENTURER.
SIR, IN the papers of criticism which you have given I to the publick, I have remarked a spirit of candour and love of truth, equally remote from bigotry and captiousness; a just distribution of praise amongst the ancients and the moderns; a sober deference to reputation long established, without a blind adoration of antiquity; and a willingness to favour later performances, without a light or puerile fondness for novelty.
I shall, therefore, venture to lay before you, such observations as have risen to my mind in the consideration of Virgil's pastorals, without any inquiry how far my sentiments deviate from established rules or common opinions.
If we survey the ten pastorals 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 subsisted in the east, the Sacred Writings sufficiently inform
us; and we may conjecture, with great probability, that it was sometimes the devotion, and sometimes the entertainment of the first generations of mankind. Theocritus united elegance with simplicity; and taught his shepherds to sing 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 bestowed 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 diction, and elevation of sentiment: but as the magnificence of his performances was more, the simplicity was less; and, perhaps, where he excels Theocritus, he sometimes obtains his superiority by deviating from the pastoral 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 whom Horace justly declares, that the rural muses have appropriated to him their elegance and sweetness, and who, as he copied Theocritus in his design, has resembled him likewise in his success; for, if we except Calphurnius, an obscure 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 pastorals 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 sentiment or pleasing description, or one passage that strikes the imagination or awakens the passions.
The third contains a contest between two shepherds, begun with a quarrel of which some 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 should 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 reconcile 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 so wild a fiction, that I am ready to sufpect the poet of having written, for some other purpose, what he took this opportunity of producing to the publick.
The fifth contains a celebration of Daphnis, which has stood to all succeeding ages as the model of paltoral elegies. To deny praise to a performance which so many thousands have laboured to imitate; would be to judge with too litcle 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 philosophick sentiments and heroic poetry. The address to Varus is eminently beautiful: but fince the compliment paid to Gallus fixes the transaction to his own time, the fiction of Silenus seems injudicious ; nor has any fufficient reason yet been found, to juftify his choice of those fables that make the subject of the song.
The seventh exhibits another contest of the tuneful shepherds : and, surely, it is not without some reproach to his inventive power, that of ten paltorals Virgil has written two upon the same plan. One of the shepherds 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 posible to discover the design or tendency: it is said, I know not upon what authority, to have been composed from frag