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[“The Deserted Village" made its appearance in the latter end of May 1770, and at once obtained a place in popular esteem. On the 7th of June came out the second edition, on the 14th a third, on the 28th a fourth, and on the 16th of August a fifth; being a run of success such as few poems of the time had experienced within so short a period. The journals devoted to literature hailed it with the warmest applause, and the author was highly elated at his good fortune. See Life, ch. xix. Shortly after its appearance the following Lines were addressed to him by Miss Aikin, afterwards Mrs. Barbauld:
“ In vain fair Auburn weeps her desert plains ;
She moves our envy who so well complains :
The same lady, in her Lives of the British Novellists, thus characterizes the poetry of Goldsmith :
“ Of all the walks in which Goldsmith exercised his genius, that of poetry is the one in which it shone the brightest. Of his compositions in this line the bulk is small; but for beautiful description, touching sentiment, and a harmony of versification that operates like a charm upon any one who has an ear for poetry, they are scarcely exceeded by any in the language. There is scarcely any poem in the English language, in which harmony, beautiful description, and pathos are united with greater effect than in the Deserted Village."— British Novelist, vol. xxiii. p. 7.
To this we will add the able critique of Mr. Thomas Campbell : “ In the Deserted Village,” he says,
“ Goldsmith is an advocate for the agricultural, in preference to the commercial prosperity of a nation ; and he pleads for the blessings of the simpler state, not with the vulgar predilection for the country which is common to poets, but with an earnestness that professes to challenge our soberest belief. Between Rousseau's celebrated letter on the influence of the sciences, and this popular poem, it will not be difficult to discover some resemblance of principles. They arrive at the same conclusions against luxury; the one from contemplating the ruins of a village, and the other from reviewing the downfall of empires. But the English poet is more moderate in his sentiments than the philosopher of Geneva ; he neither stretches them to such obvious paradox, nor involves them in so many details of sophistry ; nor does he blaspheme all philosophy and knowledge in pronouncing a malediction on luxury. Rousseau is the advocate of savageness, Goldsmith only of simplicity. Still, however, his theory is adverse to trade, and wealth, and arts. He delineates their evils, and disdains their vaunted benefits. This is certainly not philosophical neutrality; but a neutral balancing of arguments would have frozen the spirit of poetry. We must consider him as a pleader on that side of the question which accorded with the predominant state of his heart ; and, considered in that light, he is the poetical advocate of many truths. revisits a spot consecrated by his earliest and tenderest recollections ; he misses the bloomy flush of life, which had marked its once busy, but now depopulated scenes; he beholds the inroads of monopolizing wealth, wbich had driven the peasant to emigration ; and, tracing the sources of the evil to ' Trade's proud empire,' which has so often proved a transient glory and an enervating good, he laments the state of society, where wealth accumulates and men decay.' Undoubtedly, counter views of the subject might have presented themselves, both to the poet and philosopher. The imagination of either might have contemplated, in remote perspective, the replenishing of empires beyond the deep, and the diffusion of civilized existence, as eventual consolations of futurity, for the present sufferings of emigration. But those distant and cold calculations of optimism would have been wholly foreign to the tone and subject of the poem. It was meant to fix our patriotic sympathy on an innocent and suffering class of the community, to refresh our recollections of the simple joys, the sacred and strong local attachments, and all the manly virtues of rustic life. Of such virtues the very remembrance is by degrees obliterated in the breasts of a commercial people. It was meant to rebuke the luxurious and selfish spirit of opulence, which, imitating the pomp and solitude of feudal abodes, without their hospitality and protection, surrounded itself with monotonous pleasur grounds, which indignantly 'spurned the cottage from the green.'
“Although Goldsmith has not ined all the points and bearings of the question suggested by the changes in society which were passing before his eyes, he has strongly and affectingly pointed out the immediate evils with which those changes were pregnant. Nor while the picture of Auburn delights the fancy, does it made an useless appeal to our moral sentiments. It may be well sometimes that society, in the very pride and triumph of its improvement, should be taught to pause and look back upon its former steps; to count the virtues that have been lost, or the victims that have been sacrificed by its changes. Whatever may be the calculations of the political economist as to ultimate effects, the circumstance of agricultural wealth being thrown into large masses, and of the small farmer exiled from his scanty domain, foreboded a baneful infuence on the independent character of the peasantry, which it is by no means clear that subsequent events have proved to be either slight or imaginary.
“ Pleasing as Goldsmith is, it is impossible to ascribe variety to his poetical character; and Dr. Johnson has justly remarked something of an echoing resemblance of tone and sentiment between the Traveller' and
Deserted Village.' But the latter is certainly an improvement on its predecessor. The field of contemplation in the ' Traveller'is rather desultory. The other poem has an endearing locality, and introduces us to beings with whom the imagination contracts an intimate friendship. Fiction in poetry is not the reverse of truth, but her soft and enchanted resemblance ; and this ideal beauty of nature has been seldom united with so much sober fidelity as in the groups and scenery of the Deserted Village.?”- British Poets, vol. vi. p. 265.
Sir Walter Scott, in performing the office of reviewer to a volume of poems, thus writes :
" It would be difficult to point out one among the English poets less likely to be excelled in his own style, than the author of the Deserted Village.' Possessing much of the compactness of Pope's versification, without the monotonous structure of his lines; rising sometimes to the swell and fulness of Dryden, without his inflations; delicate and masterly in his descriptions ; graceful in one of the greatest graces of poetry, its transitions ; alike successful in his sportive or grave, his playful or melancholy mood; he may long bid defiance to the numerous competitors whom the friendship or fattery of the present age is so hastily arraying against him."- Quarterly Rev., vol. iv. p. 516.
“ The wreath of Goldsmith is unsullied: he wrote to exalt virtue and expose vice; and he accomplished his task in a manner which raises him to the highest rank among British authors. We close his volume, with a sigh that such an author should liave written so little from the stores of his own genius, and that he should have been so prematurely removed from the sphere of literature which he so highly adorned.” -- Prose Works, vol. iii. p. 258, edit. 1831. VOL. IV.
To these testimonials we will add that of the great poet of Germany, Goethe :
“ A poetical production, which our little circle hailed with transport, now occupied our attention; this was Goldsmith's 'Deserted Village.' This poem seemed perfectly adapted to the sentiments which then actuated us. The pictures which it represented were those which we loved to contemplate, and sought with avidity, in order to enjoy them with all the zest of youth. Village fêtes, wakes, and fairs, the grave meetings of the elders under the village trees, to which they have retreated in order to leave the young to the pleasures of the dance; the part taken by persons of a more elevated rank in these village entertainments ; the decency maintained in the midst of the general hilarity by a worthy clergyman, skilled to moderate mirth when approaching to boisterousness, and to prevent all that might produce discord ;-such were the representations the poet laid before us, not as the objects of present attention and enjoyment, but as past pleasures, the loss of which excited regret. We found ourselves once more in our beloved Wakefield, amidst its well known circle. But those interesting characters had now lost all life and movement; they appeared only like shadows called up by the plaintive tones of the elegiac muse. The idea of this poem seems singularly happy to those who can enter into the author's intention, and who, like him, find a melancholy satisfaction in recalling innocent pleasures long since filed. I shared all Gotter's enthusiasm for this charming production. We both undertook to translate it; but he succeeded better than I did, because I had too scrupulously endeavoured to transfer the tender and affecting character of the original into our language. I had effected my purpose in a few stanzas, but had failed in the general effect.”— Memoirs, p. 448.]
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
DEAR SIR, I can have no expectations, in an address of this kind, either to add to your reputation or to establish my own.
You can gain nothing from my admiration, as I am ignorant of that art in which you are said to excel; and I may lose much by the severity of your judgment, as few have a juster taste in poetry than you. Setting interest therefore aside, to which I never paid much attention, I must be indulged at present in following my affections.
The only dedication I ever made was to my brother, because I loved him better than most other men. He is since dead. Permit me to inscribe this Poem to you.
How far you may be pleased with the versification and mere mechanical parts of this attempt, I do not pretend to inquire ; but I know you will object (and indeed several of our best and wisest friends concur in the opinion), that the depopulation it deplores is no where to be seen, and the disorders it laments are only to be found in the poet's own imagination. To this I can scarcely make any other answer than that I sincerely believe what I have written; that I have taken all possible pains, in my country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I allege, and that all my views and