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GOLDSMITH as a Poet—History, uses, and origin of Poetry—“The Tra
veller” and minor Poems—The generosity, independence and political integrity of our Poet established—His Plays—His fortune improved — Expenses increased—“The Deserted Village "-Criticisms thereonRespective claims of Macaulay and of Goldsmith to immortality~ Calamities of Authors-The moral - Conclusion.
We have now to consider the character of Goldsmith as a poet. Poetry has been defined to be “an imitative art”. but that is an imperfect definition; nor would it be correct to describe it as the art of expressing our thoughts by fiction. It may be better defined or described as an art which has the creation of intellectual pleasure for its object—which attains that end by language adapted to an excited state of feeling, and by the beautifying power of the imagination. Poetry is coeval with the earliest ages of man's existence; it was a great means of his instruction, because it appealed to the affections; and if poetry was useful for so good a purpose centuries back, it may be more useful now, when the finer feelings of our nature are blunted or repressed by avarice or ambition.
In general, poetry has served morality; for I believe it to be a profound truth, that no poem essentially immoral has ever maintained a lasting popularity. Imagination is the essential quality of the poet; but he displays that faculty as much in the skilful use of materials at his hand, as by new and splendid conceptions. Imagination presents to the poet's eye common things in a new and poetic light. Judgment he must have, and studious habits; but without imagination and sensibility, no man could write poetry.
Homer, though imaginative, was sagacious,-Shakspeare laid all nature under contribution, yet who was ever more practical. It is obvious that to produce effect, Poetry must touch the heart, simplicity therefore is a characteristic of all true Poetry; and consequently we find the greatest poets have been the simplest—have been read alike by children and by men, in all ages and in all nations. It may be grand, but the effective poetry must be simple; our sympathies are to be affected and therefore, poetry must be condensed passion. In his essay on the Study of Literature,' Gibbon
6 points out briefly the sources of poetry, “man, nature, art.” The images presented to the minds of the poet by the grandeur, the littleness, the passions, the virtues, the perverseness or the madness of man, are boundless. Nature, according to Campbell, “is the poet's goddess; but by nature, no one rightly understands her mere inanimate face, however charming it may be. Nature, in the wide and proper sense of the word, means life in all its circumstances—nature moral as well as external.” According to this ingenious critique, nature includes art, form, works of the chisel or of the pencil; what we behold—what really has existence. The great events of the world light up the poetic fire which may have smouldered in the human breast. Such events awaken men to a new life, quicken their faculties, sharpen their observations, induce them to read, to think—impel to new discoveries or glorious enterprises. Of such events, one of the greatest was the Reformation, for the reasons specified, and more especially it gave us a free Bible to
ead by all in their mother tongue. How could we, apart from its inspiration, appreciate the truest, grandest, most ancient Poetry in the
world, if we had not the Old Testament translated for our delight as well as consolation. The historical critics, who trace the history of poetry from our day through the middle ages-from Dante to Virgil and Lucretius, thence to Homer -make their final stand on the Psalms of David and the He. brew Scripture. “The poetry of the Hebrews is the oldest in the world. It stands apart from all the rest in solitary grandeur, like a pillar of fire, in the poetical wilderness.” What a profusion of imagery and illustration from all the works of nature-that is, of God-have we not here before us, we may elevate our minds by reading the 8th, 19th, 104th Psalms, and yet simplicity reigns throughout the descriptions given of the mighty landscape of nature. We are taught in celestial strains the power, greatness, and goodness of God.
We have in Campbell's “ Essay” and in “ Johnson's Lives of the Poets," so far as he extends, masterly criticisms on the poets who have instructed and charmed our people through successive ages. I can only panse to notice a curious criticism of Wordsworth’s, (as introductory of Goldsmith's poetical works),“ that (with very slight exceptions) the poetry of the period, between the publication of Paradise Lost,' and 'The Seasons,' does not contain a single new image of external nature, and scarcely presents a familar one, from which it can be inferred that the eye of the poet has been steadily fixed upon his object, much less that his feelings had urged him to work upon it in the spirit of genuine imagination."
We can the more keenly analyze the poem of “ The Traveller," after what has been observed. What was the design of Goldsmith ? To give his own experiences in harmonious verse, to describe with beautiful simplicity the grandeur of nature; to indulge in noble and elevated contemplations of man, his government, his happiness; to clothe high philosophy in language which none could
supply who had not the soul of a poet. Observe, thousands fly through countries without reflecting for a moment on what they see, or whom they see, without examining the condition of a people, without studying the landscape of a country. They are more occupied with their hand book, their portmanteau, or their dinner, and cannot afford to waste time upon poetic nonsense. Goldsmith had no portmanteau—is reported to have had a second shirt, and certainly had good legs. The very stones he walked over, the mountains he climbed, the cities he saw,
the cottage that gave him shelter, the soil, the climate, the manners and customs of the people amongst whom he dwelt; their sports, their privations, all were presented to his view in a poetic light, and furnished materials for the exercise of his genius. As he walked he moralized; the structure of “The Traveller," and many of the philosophical thoughts it contains, were devised during what must have been occasionally dispiriting journeys. He informs us in his affectionate and manly dedication to his brother, that a part of this poem was formerly written to that brother from Switzerland. The Traveller was not published for years after the return of the author to England, and therefore was the production no less of meditation long and deep, than of close observation and polished taste—it would be well for the traveller in our day to catch the spirit of Goldsmith, to read attentively his verses, meditating on their moral, before he jumps into the steamer with a return ticket to do Europe in three weeks.
How soon and how easily we discover in his poem the mind of Goldsmith,
“Such is the patriot's boast, where'er we roam,
His first best country, ever is at home.” He does not question the advantages of liberty and prosperity, but he moralizes on their attendant ills
4 Where wealth and freedom reign, contentment fails."
Let us hope the description of the men of Italy applies no longer
“In Florid Beauty groves and fields appear,
Man seems the only growth that dwindles here." How poetical and yet how true, the contrast of the Italians with the sons of toil—the sturdy men of Switzerland, here
"No vernal bloom their torpid rocks array
But winter lingering chills the lap of May." The humble joys of the free born Swiss, are described with a charming simplicity and the moral is not merely that of the poet but of the patriot,
“At night returning every labour sped,
With many a tale repays the nightly bed.”
Imprints the patriot passion on his heart,
But bind him to his native mountains more." The critic I have named, Mr. Campbell, declares there is no couplet in English rhyme which more perspicuously expresses the flattering, vain, and happy character of the French, than the following
“ They please, are pleas'd; they give to get esteem,