If we could allow ourselves in that license of conjecture, which is become almost inseparable from the character of an editor, we should say: That Milton having written it upon the borders of Wales, might have had easy recourse to the manuscript whose contents are now first given to the public: And that the singularity of preserving the name of the place where it was first performed in the title of his poem, was intended for an ingenuous and well-bred acknowledgement of the source from whence he drew his choicest materials.
But notwithstanding the plausibility of these conjectures, we are now inclined to give up our original opinion, and to ascribe the performance to a gentleman of Wales, who lived so late as the reign of king William the third. The name of this amiable person was Rice ap Thomas. The romance was certainly at one time in his custody, and was handed down as a valuable legacy to his descendants, among whom the present translator has the honor to rank himself. Rice ap Thomas, Esquire, was a man of a most sweet and inoffensive disposition, beloved and respected by all his neighbors and tenants, and "passing rich with "sixty" pounds a year." In his domestic he was elegant, hospitable, and even sumptuous, for the time and country in which he lived. He was however naturally of an abstemious and recluse disposition. He abounded in singularities, which were pardoned to his harmlessness and his virtues; and his temper was full of sensibility, seriousness, and melancholy. He devoted the greater part of his time to study; and he boasted that he had almost a complete collection of the manuscript remains of our Welch bards. He was often heard to prefer even to Taliessin, Merlin, and Aneurim, the effusions of the immortal Cadwallo, and indeed this was the only subject upon which he was ever known to dispute with eagerness and fervor. In the midst of the controversy, he would frequently produce passages from the Pastoral Romance, as decisive of the question. And to confess the truth, I know not how to excuse this piece of jockeyship and ill faith, even in Rice ap Thomas, whom I regard as the father of my family, and the chief ornament of my beloved country.
Some readers will probably however be inclined to apologize for the conduct of Mr. Thomas, and to lay an equivalent blame to my charge. They will tell me, that nothing but the weakest partiality could blind me to the genuine air of antiquity with which the composition is every where impressed, and to ascribe it to a modern writer. But I am conscious to my honesty and defy their malice. So far from being sensible of any improper bias in favor of my ancestor, I am content to strengthen their hands, by acknowledging that the manuscript, which I am not at all desirous of refusing to their inspection, is richly emblazoned with all the discoloration and rust they can possibly desire. I confess that the wording has the purity of Taliessin, and the expressiveness of Aneurim, and is such as I know of no modern Welch man who could write. And yet, in spite as they will probably tell me of evidence and common sense, I still aver my persuasion, that it is the production of Rice ap Thomas.
But enough, and perhaps too much, for the question of its antiquity. It would be unfair to send it into the world without saying something of the nature of its composition. It is unlike the Arcadia of sir Philip Sidney, and unlike, what I have just taken the trouble of running over, the Daphnis of Gessner. It neither on the one hand leaves behind it the laws of criticism, and mixes together the different stages of civilization; nor on the other will it perhaps be found frigid, uninteresting, and insipid. The prevailing opinion of Pastoral seems to have been, that it is a species of composition admirably fitted for the size of an eclogue, but that either its nature will not be preserved, or its simplicity will become surfeiting in a longer performance. And accordingly, the Pastoral Dramas of Tasso, Guarini, and Fletcher, however they may have been commended by the critics, and admired by that credulous train who clap and stare whenever they are bid, have when the recommendation of novelty has subsided been little attended to and little read. But the great Milton has proved that this objection is not insuperable. His Comus is a master-piece of poetical composition. It is at least equal in its kind even to the Paradise Lost. It is interesting, descriptive and pathetic. Its fame is continually increasing, and it will be admired wherever the name of Britain is repeated, and the language of Britain is understood.
If our hypothesis respecting the date of the present performance is admitted, it must be acknowledged that the ingenious Mr. Thomas has taken the Masque of Milton for a model; and the reader with whom Comus is a favorite, will certainly trace some literal imitations. With respect to any objections that may be made on this score to the Pastoral Romance, we will beg the reader to bear in mind, that the volumes before him are not an original, but a translation. Recollecting this, we may, beside the authority of Milton himself, and others as great poets as ever existed who have imitated Homer and one another at least as much as our author has done Comus, suggest two very weighty apologies. In the first place, imitation in a certain degree, has ever been considered as lawful when made from a different language: And in the second, these imitations come to the reader exaggerated, by being presented to him in English, and by a person who confesses, that he has long been conversant with our greatest poets. The translator has always admired Comus as much as the Pastoral Romance; he has read them together, and been used to consider them as illustrating each other. Any verbal coincidences into which he may have fallen, are therefore to be ascribed where they are due, to him, and not to the author. And upon the whole, let the imperfections of the Pastoral Romance be what they will, he trusts he shall be regarded as making a valuable present to the connoisseurs and the men of taste, and an agreeable addition to the innocent amusements of the less laborious classes of the polite world.
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