BOOK I.—THE ARGUMENT.
The Subject proposed—Remarks upon Pastoral Poetry—A Tract of Country near the Coast described—An Impoverished Borough—Smugglers and their Assistants—Rude Manners of the Inhabitants—Ruinous Effects of the High Tide—The Village Life more generally considered: Evils of it—The Youthful Labourer—The Old Man: his Soliloquy—The Parish Workhouse: its Inhabitants—The sick Poor: their Apothecary—The dying Pauper—The Village Priest.
The Village Life, and every care that reigns
O’er youthful peasants and declining swains;
What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last;
What form the real Picture of the Poor,
Demand a song—the Muse can give no more.
Fled are those times, when, in harmonious strains,
The rustic poet praised his native plains:
No Shepherds now, in smooth alternate verse,
Their country’s beauty or their nymphs rehearse;
Yet still for these we frame the tender strain,
Still in our lays fond Corydons complain,
And shepherds’ boys their amorous pains reveal,
The only pains, alas! they never feel.
On Mincio’s banks, in Caesar’s bounteous reign,
If Tityrus found the Golden Age again,
Must sleepy bards the nattering dream prolong,
Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song?
From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray,
Where Virgil, not where Fancy, leads the way?
Yes, thus the Muses sing of happy swains,
Because the Muses never knew their pains:
They boast their peasant’s pipes; but peasants now
Resign their pipes and plod behind the plough;
And few, amid the rural tribe, have time
To number syllables and play with rhyme;
Save honest Duck, what son of verse could share
The poet’s rapture and the peasant’s care?
Or the great labours of the field degrade,
With the new peril of a poorer trade?
From this chief cause these idle praises spring,
That themes so easy few forbear to sing;
For no deep thought the trifling subjects ask;
To sing of shepherds is an easy task:
The happy youth assumes the common strain,
A nymph his mistress, and himself a swain;
With no sad scenes he clouds his tuneful prayer,
But all, to look like her, is painted fair.
I grant indeed that fields and flocks have charms
For him that grazes or for him that farms;
But when amid such pleasing scenes I trace
The poor laborious natives of the place,
And see the mid-day sun, with fervid ray,
On their bare heads and dewy temples play;
While some, with feebler heads and fainter hearts,
Deplore their fortune, yet sustain their parts
Then shall I dare these real ills to hide
In tinsel trappings of poetic pride?
No; cast by Fortune on a frowning coast,