Observations On The Fourth Eclogue Of Virgil -- By: Leonard Withington

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 003:9 (Feb 1846)
Article: Observations On The Fourth Eclogue Of Virgil
Author: Leonard Withington


Observations On The Fourth Eclogue Of Virgil

Rev. Leonard Withington

The fourth Eclogue of Virgil has always been regarded as a remarkable specimen of Pagan spirituality. The poet has been supposed to have uttered higher strains than he understood; and to have borrowed his sublimity from Hebrew inspiration. The Sibylline verses were of great account in the estimation of some of the fathers; their forgery and falsehood are pretty clear before the light of modern criticism. Still the design of this Eclogue is by no means certain; so obscure was it to Lowth, that he even expresses a doubt whether it ever can be explained.1 Yet we should never despair, because poetry is the language of the affections; and they are as permanent as the nature of man. If Virgil had any presages of his own immortality, he must have addressed his predictions to all generations.

My design is, to make some remarks on pastoral poetry in general, and then consider this Eclogue in particular.

Pastoral poetry is not intended to give us the most rigid representation of life and manners. It is not the design of it to hold the mirror up to nature, and to produce those feelings of recognition with which we read the dramatic writers. A pastoral is essentially a fancy piece by which we may obtain a distant glimpse of rural life, in those modes in which it plays before the imagination and exhilarates our hearts by relieving us from our present cares. As when we sail by some green island, or take a view from the sea of some Turkish city, we see nature and art dimly, with a few hints from reality for fancy to dress and adorn, and we contemplate the image while, at the same time, our reason tells us that a nearer view might impair the picture and dissipate the delusion; so, in pastoral poetry, the hint is taken from life, but we dress it at our pleasure; and the mind is delighted with the

landscapes and personages of its own creation. Hence Mr. Pope has told us, that pastoral poetry “is an image of what they call the golden age. So that we are not to describe our shepherds, as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceived to have been, when the best of men followed the employment.”2 Dr. Johnson has denied this allusion to the golden age.3 It is certain, however, that the thought which Pope was feeling after in this remark is mainly correct. He felt that naked nature here could not be pleasing, and his object was to show that descriptions of country life only charm refined minds when shown in distant perspective. The imagination must be permitte...

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