Pastor Fido

Kenelm Digby (1635?) (Not lost?)

Historical Records


A translated portion of Giambattista Guarini's Il pastor fido made by Kenelm Digby is preserved among a small collection of literary papers at the British Library (MS Additional 89136). The extant portion was first printed in 1877 in a transcription by Henry Arthur Bright:

Pastor Fido. Act 2. Scen. 5.
Oh deare and blessed woods,
and you solitarie and silent horrors
true harbourers of rest and peace
how gladly j returne to you!
And if my starres had left vnto my choice
the maner of my life, j would not change
yr gentle shade for the Elisian fieldes,
the happie garden of the Demi-Gods:
For if the wisest erre not in their obseruations,
these transitorie goods are but vexations;
who most abound's wth them he hath the lesse,
and is posses't more then he doth possesse:
Not richesse; but such snares as tye
their owners from their libertye.
What doth auayle to one the stile of beautie
in freshest yeares; or fame of honestie;
a high descent and noble birth;
the graces both of heau'n and earth,
here large and fertile fieldes,
there meddowes, pastures, and a flocke that yieldes
a dayly haruest of encrease
if wth all this their hart is not in peace?
Happy shepheardesse, whose clothes are but a white wastcoat,
and on her flanc a poore but cleanly petticoate;
rich onely of herselfe, and without theft
adorn 'd alone wth bounteous natures guift;
that in sweete pouerty doth feel no neede,
nor yet the troubles wch great treasures breede;
and onely so much is her store
as shee's not vex'd wth the desire of more:
and shee wth natures guiftes her guiftes doth cherish,
her milke wth other milke doth nourish;
and wth the honye of the painefull bee
seasons those sweetes that in her natiue be;
and of that spring wch for her drinke shee takes,
a bath and looking glasse shee makes.
for her, the sky growe's clowdie but in vaine,
and armes it selfe wth thunder or wth raine,
for this her pouertie doth nothing feare:
and onely one sweete pleasing care
doth harbour in her brest,
wch is (whiles that her flocke doth graze or rest)
to feede wth her faire eyes her louing swaine;
not such a one as starres or men ordaine,
but him of whom her loue hath freely made
election, and they lying in the shade
of some greene mirtle groue they fauour
do freely speake and court each other;
nor any flames of loue shee feeles
that from his knowledge she conceales;
nor sooner shee discouers them but he
those flames doth feele as well as shee.
Thus they a perfect happy life enioy
and know not what death meanes before they dye
(qtd. Bright 4–5)

Theatrical Provenance


Probable Genre(s)

Pastoral (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Giambattista Guarini's Il pastor fido.

References to the Play

(Content welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Critics note the uncertainty of whether the 54 lines represent a fragment of a complete (and otherwise lost) translation of Guarini's play or whether they represent the extent of what Digby translated. Bentley (JCS, 3:280) points to a "lack of evidence that Sir Kenelm ever completed a translation of the play." Wiggins (#2147) offers "two slender reasons" to think Digby might have translated more than just the extant lines. One is that Digby completed a (now lost) translation of Tasso's Aminta at the request of his future wife, Venetia Stanley, and may have done the same with Guarini's play. At the very least, the manuscript's specification of the act and scene number indicates Digby's recognition of the speech's dramatic context of the lines.

On the subject of date, Harbage and Wiggins both propose that Digby's "Pastor Fido" may have been written around the same time that he completed his Aminta translation. George F. Warner noted (qtd. Bright 2), that the epistle endorsed "The dedication of Amyntas" is addressed to "Mrs. V. S."—the maiden name of the future Venetia Digby; however, the couple's marriage in January 1625 seems to have been kept a secret until after December 1627, when their second son was born, so Digby may have written to her using her maiden name. Based on the possibility that "Pastor Fido" could have been a product of Digby's courtship of Venetia, Wiggins assigns a "best guess" date of 1624 from a range of 1620–38. Harbage gives a range of 1630–38, assigning "Pastor Fido" to 1635 on unclear evidence.

For What It's Worth

Critical speculations about Digby's "Pastor Fido" as well as his "Amyntas" have depended on the 1877 edition of Poems from Sir Kenelm Digby's Papers, prepared by Henry Arthur Bright from a manuscript in his possession. These papers were acquired by the British Library from Christie’s, in a sale of books and manuscripts from the Bright family on 16 July 2014 (lot 33). An examination of the manuscript will presumably shed light on the potential connection between the "Pastor Fido" lines and document that is endorsed "The dedication of Amyntas." Some ambiguities of phrasing in the latter raise uncertainties about whether it was prepared to accompany Digby's full translation of Tasso's play or rather, as the BL's catalogue entry implies, simply the translated fragment from Guarini's play. Any LPD contributors who can access this manuscript, or the Christie's sale catalogue Yates, Thompson and Bright: A Family of Bibliophiles, are welcome to contribute to this entry.

Works Cited

Bright, Henry A., ed. Poems from Sir Kenelm Digby's Papers. London, 1877.

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