First Follow Nature: Primitivism in English Poetry, 1725-1750

By Margaret M. Fitzgerald | Go to book overview
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Epilogue

THE main currents of primitivism have swirled and eddied by us, carrying with them the pensive poet dreaming of the Islands of the Blest, and the Opposition verseman swearing at Sir Robert, the weary bard longing for pastoral peace, and the philosophical poet pondering the vivere secundum naturam. In that welter of current and counter current the major poets of the period may seem to have become lost: it is not at all desirable that they should so remain. The reader interested in primitivism will endure dingdong verse and third rate hack work in order to establish the main outlines of the trend, but his ultimate goal is the discovery of the positions held by important poets on the question of primitivism. He is interested to know wherein their work was one with the opinions of their generation, and wherein it ran counter to those opinions.

Between the years 1725 and 1750, the names that mean most to the general reader are those of Pope, Thomson, Collins, Gray, Akenside, Young, and the Wartons. Pope stood for the regular and neo-classical strains in primitivism, Collins, Gray and the Wartons represented the irregular and the pre-romantic elements: neither side encompassed all or even most of the phases of the subject. Apart from both groups, but having something in common with each were the great primitivists, Thomson, Akenside, and Young.

As a primitivist, Pope represented the calm reasonableness, the interest in philosophical themes, the elegant accuracy in expression which epitomize the much-maligned term "neo-classical." He depicted with classic accuracy the state of Nature, the noble Indian, the chain of being. He found the universal machine good, and rejoicing in its perfect balance of parts, he fixed forever the creed of eighteenth-century optimism in the terse summary, "Whatever is, is right." Others might fight out the old battle of Nature and art, of reason and passion, but Pope at this period in his

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