Tityre tu magni recubans in
Silvestri tenuique fide pete iura peculi!
It would hardly be worth recording these medieval clerks, the undistinguished writers, ‘de quibus,’ Boccaccio said, ‘nil curandum est,’ were it not that they show how the memory at least of the classical pastoral survived amid the ruins of ancient learning, and so serve to lead up to one last spasmodic manifestation of the kind in certain poems which else appear to stand in a curiously isolated position.
It was in 1319, during the bitter years of his exile at Ravenna, that Dante received from one John of Bologna, known, on account of his fame as a writer of Latin verse, as Giovanni del Virgilio, a poetical epistle inviting him to visit the author in his native city. His correspondent, while doing homage to his poetic genius, incidentally censured him for composing his great work in the base tongue of the vulgar. Dante replied in a Vergilian eclogue, courteously declining Giovanni’s invitation to Bologna, on the ground that it was a place scarcely safe for his person. As regarded the strictures of his correspondent, his triumphant answer in the shape of the Paradiso lay yet unfinished, so the author of the De Vulgari Eloquio trifled with the charge and purported to compose the present poem in earnest of reform. There is a tone of not unkindly irony about the whole. Was it an elaborate jest at the expense of Giovanni, the writer of Vergilian verse? The Bolognese replied, this time also in bucolic form, repeating his invitation and holding out the special attraction of a meeting with Mussato, the most regarded poet of his day in Europe. Dante’s second eclogue, if indeed it is correctly ascribed to his pen, introduces several historical characters. It is said not to have reached Bologna till after his death. These poems were not included in any of the early bucolic collections, and first appeared in print in the eighteenth century. They seem, from their purely occasional nature, their inconspicuous bulk, and lack of any striking characteristics, to have attracted little notice in their own day, and to have been ignored by later writers on pastoral as forming no link in the chain of historical development. Given, indeed, the Bucolics of Vergil, they are imitations such as might at any moment have appeared, irrespective of date and surroundings, and independent of any living literary tradition. It is therefore impossible to regard them as in any way belonging to, or foreshadowing, the great body of renaissance pastoral, a division of literature endowed with remarkable vitality and evolutionary force, which must in its growth and decay alike be studied in close connexion with the ideas and temperament of the age, and in relation to the general development of the history of letters.