When the kind first makes its appearance in a world already old, it arises purely as a solace and relief from the fervid life of actuality, and comes as a fresh and cooling draught to lips burning with the fever of the city. In passing from Alexandria to Rome it lost much of its limpid purity; the clear crystal of the drink was mixed with flavours and perfumes to fit the palate of a patron or an emperor. The example of adulteration being once set, the implied contrast of civilization and rusticity was replaced by direct satire on the former, and later by the discussion under the pastoral mask of questions of religious and political controversy. Proving itself but a left-handed weapon in such debate, it became a court plaything, in which princes and great ladies, poets and wits, loved to see themselves figured and complimented, and the practice of assuming pastoral names becoming almost universal in polite circles, the convention, which had passed from the eclogue on to the stage, passed from the stage into actual existence, and court life became one continual pageant of pastoral conceit. From the court it passed into circles of learning, and grave jurists and administrators, poets and scholars, set about the refining of language and literature decked out in all the fopperies of the fashionable craze. One is tempted to wonder whether anything more serious than light loves and fantastic amours can have flourished amid eighteenth-century pastoralism. When the ladies of the court began to talk dairy-farming with the scholars and statesmen of the day, the pretence of pastoral simplicity could hardly be long kept up. Nor was there any attempt to do so. In the introduction to his famous romance d’Urfe wrote in answer to objectors: ’Responds leur, ma Bergere, que pour peu qu’ils ayent connoissance de toy, ils scauront que tu n’es pas, ny celles aussi qui te suivent, de ces Bergeres necessiteuses, qui pour gaigner leur vie conduisent les troupeaux aux pasturages; mais que vous n’avez toutes pris cette condition que pour vivre plus doucement et sans contrainte.’ No wonder that to Fontenelle Theocritus’ shepherds ‘sentent trop la campagne.’ But the hour of pastoralism had come, and while the ladies and gallants of the court were playing the parts of Watteau swains and shepherdesses amid the trim hedges and smooth lawns of Versailles, the gates were already bursting before the flood, which was to sweep in devastation over the land, and to purge the old order of social life.
The Alexandria of the Ptolemies was not the nurse of a great literature, though the age was undoubtedly one of considerable literary activity. Scholastic learning and poetic imitation were rife; the rehandling of Greek masterpieces was a fashionable pastime. For serious and original composition, however, the conditions were not favourable. That the age produced no great epic was less due to the disparagement