Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

so often proved a transient glory, and an enervat. ing good, he laments the state of society, where wealth accumulates and men decay.' Undoubtedly, counter-views of the subject might bave 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 pleasure grounds, which indignantly 'spurned the cottage from the green.'

On the subject of those mis-named improvements, by the way, in which

Along the lawn, where scatter'd hamlets rose,
Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose,'

the possessors themselves of those places have not been always destitute of compunctions similar to the sentiments of the poet. Mr. Potter, in his • Observations on the Poor Laws,' has recorded an instance of it. . When the late Earl of Leicester was complimented upon the completion of his great design at Holkham, he replied, “ It is a melancholy thing to stand alone in one's country. I look round, not a house is to be seen but mine,

I am the Giant of Giant Castle ; and have eat up all my neighbours”.?

Although Goldsmith bas not examined all the points and bearings of the question suggested by the changes in society which were passing before bis eyes, he has strongly and affectingly pointed out the immediate evils with which those changes were pregnant. Nor, while the picture of Auburn de. lights the fancy, does it make 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 poetical 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 influence 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.?

THE

TRAVELLER:

OR,

A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY.

(FIRST PRINTED IN 1765.)

TO THE

REV. HENRY GOLDSMITH.

DEAR SIR, I Am sensible that the friendship between us can acquire no new force from the ceremonies of a Dedication; and perhaps it demands an excuse thus to prefix your name to my attempts, which you decline giving with your own. But as a part of this poem was formerly written to you from Switzerland, the whole can now, with propriety, be only inscribed to you. It will also throw a light upon many parts of it, when the reader understands that it is addressed to a man, who, despising fame and fortune, has retired early to happiness and obscurity, with an income of forty pounds a year.

I now perceive, my dear brother, the wisdom of your humble choice. You have entered upon a sacred office, where the harvest is great, and the labourers are but few; while you bave left the field of ambition, where the labourers are many, and the harvest not worth carrying away. But of all kinds of ambition, what from the refinement of the times, from different systems of criticism, and from the divisions of party, that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest.

Poetry makes a principal amusement among unpolished nations; but in a country verging to the extremes of refinement, Painting and Music come in for a share. As these offer the feeble mind a less laborious entertainment, they at first rival Poetry, and at length supplant her; they engross all that favour once shown to her, and though but younger sisters, seize upon the elder's birth-right.

Yet, however this art may be neglected by the powerful, it is still in greater danger from the mistaken efforts of the learned, to improve it. What criticisms have we not heard of late in favour of blank verse, and Pindaric odes, chorusses, anapests and iambics, alliterative care and happy negligence! Every absurdity has now a champion to defend it; and as he is generally much in the wrong, so he has always much to say; for error is ever talkative.

But there is an enemy to this art still more dangerous, I mean party. Party entirely distorts the judgment, and destroys the taste. When the mind is once infected with this disease, it can only find pleasure in what contributes to increase the distemper. Like the tiger, that seldom desists from

« AnteriorContinuar »