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De Carmine Pastorali (1684)   By: (1621-1687)

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Series Two: Essays on Poetry

No. 3

Rapin's De Carmine Pastorali , prefixed to Thomas Creech's translation of the Idylliums of Theocritus (1684)

With an Introduction by J.E. Congleton and a Bibliographical Note

The Augustan Reprint Society July, 1947 Price: 75c


RICHARD C. BOYS, University of Michigan EDWARD NILES HOOKER, University of California, Los Angeles H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., University of California, Los Angeles


EMMETT L. AVERY, State College of Washington LOUIS I. BREDVOLD, University of Michigan BENJAMIN BOYCE, University of Nebraska CLEANTH BROOKS, Louisiana State University JAMES L. CLIFFORD, Columbia University ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, University of Chicago SAMUEL H. MONK, University of Minnesota JAMES SUTHERLAND, Queen Mary College, London

Lithoprinted from copy supplied by author by Edwards Brothers, Inc. Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A. 1947


Recent students of criticism have usually placed Rapin in the School of Sense. In fact Rapin clearly denominates himself a member of that school. In the introduction to his major critical work, Reflexions sur la Poetique d'Aristote (1674), he states that his essay "is nothing else, but Nature put in Method, and good Sense reduced to Principles" ( Reflections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesie , London, 1731, II, 131). And in a few passages as early as "A Treatise de Carmine Pastorali" (1659), he seems to imply that he is being guided in part at least by the criterion of "good Sense ." For example, after citing several writers to prove that "brevity" is one of the "graces" of pastoral poetry, he concludes, "I could heap up a great many more things to this purpose, but I see no need of such a trouble, since no man can rationally doubt of the goodness of my Observation" (p.41).

The basic criterion, nevertheless, which Rapin uses in the "Treatise" is the authority of the Ancients the poems of Theocritus and Virgil and the criticism of Aristotle and Horace. Because of his constant references to the Ancients, one is likely to conclude that he (like Boileau and Pope) must have thought they and Nature (good sense) were the same. In a number of passages, however, Rapin depends solely on the Ancients. Two examples will suffice to illustrate his absolutism. At the beginning of " The Second Part," when he is inquiring "into the nature of Pastoral, " he admits: And this must needs be a hard Task, since I have no guide, neither Aristotle nor Horace to direct me.... And I am of opinion that none can treat well and clearly of any kind of Poetry if he hath no helps from these two (p. 16).

In " The Third Part," when he begins to "lay down" his Rules for writing Pastorals," he declares: Yet in this difficulty I will follow Aristotle's Example, who being to lay down Rules concerning Epicks , propos'd Homer as a Pattern, from whom he deduc'd the whole Art; So I will gather from Theocritus and Virgil , those Fathers of Pastoral , what I shall deliver on this account (p. 52).

These passages represent the apogee of the neoclassical criticism of pastoral poetry. No other critic who wrote on the pastoral depends so completely on the authority of the classical critics and poets. As a matter of fact, Rapin himself is not so absolute later. In the section of the Réflexions on the pastoral, he merely states that the best models are Theocritus and Virgil. In short, one may say that in the "Treatise" the influence of the Ancients is dominant; in the Réflexions , "good Sense ."

Reduced to its simplest terms, Rapin's theory is Virgilian. When deducing his theory from the works of Theocritus and Virgil, his preference is almost without exception for Virgil... Continue reading book >>

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