The decline of pastoral in eighteenth century English poetry

Tilley, Harold Reginald (1968) The decline of pastoral in eighteenth century English poetry. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Although pastoral has had a long and varied history in literature, English poets have never felt completely at ease with the genre. Renaissance poets modified the classical pastoral to suit their own purposes. Spenser and Milton both used pastoral for satiric purposes rather than simply as a vehicle to express longings for a simpler life. Both ultimately rejected it. The native English tradition stemming from the "popular" pastorals and the mystery plays served also to modify the foreign tradition. Consequently there is an element of realism and lyricism in the English Renaissance pastoral which distinguishes it from the pastorals of the classical tradition. Throughout the Renaissance pastoral permeated almost every form of literary expression. -- During the eighteenth century, however, a change occurs in the attitude towards pastoral largely as a result of the rather restrictive theory of the French critic Rapin and his English follower Pope. The displacement from reality, inherent in pastoral since Virgil, now becomes extreme. Addison, Philips, and Purney stress the need for more realistic description and an indigenous pastoral. Other poets like James Thomson appear to question the efficacy of the genre as a vehicle of serious poetic expression, and turn to longer descriptive-reflective poems to express pastoral themes. -- This study attempts to show how English poets in the eighteenth century either worked within the genre to transform it into something more dynamic and vital, or else rejected it altogether as a serious poetic form. Part of the reason for the decline of pastoral was the growing consciousness of the invalidity of poetry which depicts shepherds who are remote from everyday reality. Other factors contributing to its decline were the new humanitarianism as found in the poetry of Goldsmith) Crabbe, and Cowper, as well as a greater interest in naturalistic description than is normally found in the pastoral poetry of the earlier part of this century. The ridicule cast upon pastoral by such writers as Gay, Swift, Johnson) Goldsmith, and Richard Jago also tended to undermine the prestige of the genre. The culmination of this changed attitude toward pastoral comes with Wordsworth’s "Michael". "Michael" is a pastoral poem which is free of pastoral conventions, is set in the English lake district, and treats of the life of the shepherd Michael in a more realistic way than shepherds had been depicted in the traditional pastoral of a poet like Pope. But Wordsworth began no major revival of pastoral as a genre. By 1800 the general critical attitude towards pastoral had hardened into distaste. No major revival of the genre was possible.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/8002
Item ID: 8002
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 158-164.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1968
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Great Britain
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Pastoral poetry, English; English poetry--18th century--History and criticism

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