It will be convenient, in dealing with the considerable volume of English pastoral verse which has come down to us from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, to divide it into two portions, according as it tends to attach itself to orthodox foreign tradition on the one hand, or to the more spontaneous native type on the other. To the former division belong in the main the more ambitious set pieces and eclogue-cycles, to the latter the lighter and more occasional verse, the pastoral ballads and the lyrics. The division is necessarily somewhat arbitrary, for the two traditions act and react on one another incessantly, and the types merge almost imperceptibly the one into the other; but that does not prevent the spirit that manifests itself in Drayton’s eclogues being essentially different from that which produced Breton’s songs. I shall not, however, try to draw any hard and fast line between the two, but shall rather deal first with those writers whose most important work inclines to the more formal tradition, and shall then endeavour to give some account of the lighter pastoral verse of the time.
After the appearance of the Shepherd’s Calender some years elapsed before English poetry again ventured upon the domain of pastoral, at least in any serious composition. In 1589, however, appeared a small quarto volume, with the title: ’An Eglogue. Gratulatorie. Entituled: To the right honorable, and renowmed Shepheard of Albions Arcadia: Robert Earle of Essex and Ewe, for his welcome into England from Portugall. Done by George Peele. Maister of arts in Oxon.’ Like the ‘A. W.’ of the Rhapsody, Peele followed Spenser more closely than most of his fellow imitators in the use of dialect, but his eclogue on the not particularly glorious return of Essex has little interest. His importance as a pastoralist lies elsewhere.