Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 648 pages of information about Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama.

To this double origin may be ascribed a certain noticeable vitality that characterizes English pastoral composition.  Since this quality has been habitually overlooked by literary historians, I may be excused for dwelling on it somewhat in this place.  The stigma which, not altogether undeservedly, attaches to pastoral as a whole has tempted critics to confine their attention to the more notable examples of the kind, and to treat these as more or less sporadic manifestations.  Thus they have failed, on the whole, to appreciate the relation in which these works stand to the general pastoral tradition, which was mainly carried on in works of little individual interest.  It is no blame to them if they considered that these undistinguished productions were of small importance in the general history of literature:  any one who goes through them with care will probably arrive at a not very dissimilar conclusion.  Nevertheless the fact remains that the neglect of them has obscured both the relative positions of the greater and more enduring works, and also the general nature of the pastoral tradition in this country.  That tradition I believe to have been of a far more noteworthy character than has hitherto been realized.  I am not, of course, prepared to maintain that pastoral composition in England ever attained, as a whole, to the rank of great literature, or that it formed such a remarkable body of work as we find, for example, in the Arcadian drama of Italy.  But when we come to regard the pastoral production of this country in the light of a more or less connected tradition, it is impossible not be struck by the originality and diversity of the various forms which it assumed.  Though as a literary kind it never rivalled its Italian model in fertility, it evinced an individual and versatile quality which we seek in vain in other countries.  To substantiate this claim and to show how far the vitality of the English pastoral was due to its hybrid origin will be my chief aim in this chapter.  When I come to deal with the main subject of this inquiry it will be necessary to determine how far similar considerations apply in the case of the pastoral drama.

In the first place we have to consider what was produced on the one hand by the purely native impulse, and on the other under the sole inspiration of foreign tradition, at a period when these two influences had not yet begun to interact.  As an argument in favour of the spontaneous and genuine nature of the earlier fashion may be noticed its appearance in that miscellaneous body of anonymous literature which, whatever may be its origin—­and it is impossible to enter on so controversial a subject in this place—­is at least ‘popular’ in the sense of having been long handed down from generation to generation in the mouths of the people.  The acceptance of pastoral ballads into this great mass of traditional literature is at least as good evidence of their popular character as that of authorship could be.  In

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Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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