Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

perused this poem, or who having once perused it has suffered it to lay by him for a series of years, is surprised, on taking it up, to recognise at every paragraph, lines with which he has long been familiarized, although not aware of their author. Pope himself, with all his sparkling antitheses, which serve admirably to point a sentence, is not referred to with that fondness with which a quotation is made from The DESERTED VILLAGE, because Pope rarely, if ever, comes home to the feelings like Goldsmith, or appeals to those best affections of our nature which consecrate the names of country and of home. Milton, especially in his Comus, Shakspeare, and in an inferior degree Thomson, and Young, and Cowper, may be enumerated as the only poets, besides Pope and Goldsmith, whose works have come into general use as text books of expression, and which have thus become in a measure identified with the language. It is unnecessary to point out how widely these all differ in style and character. Goldsmith's characteristic is a prevailing simplicity, which conceals the artifices of versification. His delineations of rural scenery, and his village portraits, are marked by singular fidelity and chasteness: they are delicately finished, without being overwrought; and there is a mixture of pleasantry and tender melancholy throughout the poem, which adds much to its interest.

There can be no doubt that AUBURN was employed to designate the scene of Goldsmith's earliest local attachment. The landscape, the characters, and the circumstances of the tale, all appear to have had a real existence in the eye and in the heart of the poet. It is no objection, that the scene is purely English: the poem was designed for English readers; but the feelings and the remembrances which it imbodies, were drawn from bis native soil. It is supposed that the village of Lishoy, in the county of Westmeath, Ireland, where his early years were passed, is the spot to which he pays this tribute of affection. His letters, no less than bis poetry, breathe an ardent attachment to his native country. He speaks of his “unaccountable fondness” for a country out of which he brought nothing except his brogue and his blunders; describes himself as suffering from the maladie de pays; and confesses that he carries his fondness to the souring of the pleasures he possesses. “If I go to the Opera, where Signora Columba pours out all the mazes of melody, I sit and sigh for Lishoy fire-side, and Johnny Armstrong's Last Good Night from Peggy Golden: if I climb up Flamstead Hill, than where Nature never exhibited a more magnificent prospect, I confess it fine; but then I had rather be placed on the little mount before Lisboy gate, and there take in, to me the most pleasing horizon in nature."

In confirmation of this conjecture, it seems that the inhabitants of Lishoy pointed out, to a recent visitant of the spot, remains of the principal objects referred to in the poem, the situation of which exactly corresponded with the description there given.

“The never failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topt the neighbouring bill,

The hawthorn bush
Some circumstances, too *, which occurred Lishoy
during our poet's life, and which issued in the emi-
gration of some hundreds to other parts of the coun-
try and to America, may well be supposed to have
suggested the subject of the poem.

The “ Village Preacher," which has every appearance of being drawn from the life, answers to the character of the poet's brother, to whom he dedicated his TRAVELLER, and of whom he always spoke in terms of the warmest affection. It is singular, that

• Goldsmith's Poetical Works, with topographical Illustrations of the Deserted Village, hy the Rev. Mr. Newell. 4to. 1811, p. 72.

2

the income on which, in the Dedication to the Traveller, Goldsmith represents his brother as retiring to happy obscurity, exactly corresponds with the stipend of the village preacher;

passing rich with forty pounds a year.” He was curate of Lishoy upon a small salary, and died “ within four years preceding the publication of The Deserted Village.” The “Broken Soldier" also is supposed to have had a prototype in the person of a schoolmaster, from whom Goldsmith had received instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and who had served as a quarter-master in Queen Anne's wars. “Having travelled over a considerable part of Europe,” we are informed, “and being of a romantic turn, he used to entertain Oliver with his adventures; and the impression they made upon his scholar, was believed by his family to have given bim that wandering and unsettled turn which so much appeared in his future life.”

Among Goldsmith's minor poems, the beautiful ballad of The Hermit deserves to be particularized. It was first printed in the year 1765; in which year Dr. Percy, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, published his elegant collection, entitled “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.” That work contains a tale framed on a plan so similar, that the Doctor was taxed by the scribblers of the day with having taken his ballad from the “Friar of Orders Gray.” This charge he repelled in a letter to the editor of the St. James's Chronicle, June, 1767, with all a poet's feverish solicitude for fame, asserting the priority of his own poem. But it appears from Dr. Percy's statement, that the story on which both poems are founded, was taken from a very ancient ballad in that collection, beginning, “ Gentle heardsman." This ballad Dr. Goldsmith had seen and admired long before it was printed; and some of the stanzas he appears, perhaps undesigncdly, to have imitated in The Hermit.

The following additional stanza, which should come after the twenty-ninth, is given in the octavo edition of his works, on the authority of the Bishop of Dromore.

“And when, beside me in the dale,

He carol'd lays of love,
His breath lent fragrance to the gale,

And music to the grore.” The remainder of Goldsmith's Poems come under the description of jeux d'esprit. Some of them scarcely deserve a place in a collection of English poetry, being more fit for a jest-book or a collection of songs and epigrams: of this character are “The Gift,” the imitation of a French madrigal, and the Epitaph on Ned Purdon, which ought never to have appeared as the production of the author of The DESERTED VILLAGE.

The poetical works of Oliver Goldsmith form, however, as is well known, but a small proportion of the fruits of his industry, and the proofs of bis genius. His fame, as a prose-writer, rests on scarcely inferior pretensions to excellence. CITIZEN OF THE World," originally published in a periodical paper called "The LEDGER;" his occasional “ESSAYS," first published in a collected form in 1765; and, above all, bis inimitable tale “The VICAR OF WAKEFIELD;" exhibit a fertility of intellectual resources, a fund of wit and humour, and a familiar acquaintance with human nature, which entitle him to rank among the foremost of the English classics. The latter production, like Johnson's Rasselas, was written from the spur of necessity. Goldsmith composed the tale in his lodgings, in Wine Office Court, Fleet Street, “attended," as we are informed by his biographer, “ with the affecting circumstance of his being under arrest.”. Through the friendship of Dr. Johnson, he obtained from Newberry, the bookseller, sixty pounds for the manuscript,-a handsome sum in those times; especially considering that Goldsmith’s fame had not

His “

then been established by the publication of his TRAVELLER. This sum procured bis enlargement: but the bookseller kept the manuscript by him two years before he ventured to publish it.

Poor Goldsmith was but too subject to these pecuniary difficulties, into which be was often betrayed by his imprudence, and then he escaped by the force of his talents. In a letter to his relative, Daniel Hodson, Esq. of Lishoy, he alludes to his precarious mode of livelihood, and refers to Scarron, who used jestingly to call himself the Marquis of Quenault, from the name of the bookseller that employed him: “and why," he adds, “may I not assert my privilege and quality on the same pretensions?” Then, remarking that they had in Ireland a very indifferent idea of a man who writes for bread, he consoles himself with the recollection, that “Swift and Steele did so in the earliest part of their lives.” Of all the literary artisans of the day, however, Goldsmith, if not the least industrious, was not the least successful. He had no reason to complain of his patrons, the booksellers. For one compilation he received eight hundred and fifty pounds; and the money which he earned by similar undertakings, exclusive of the profits arising from his comedies, would, with habits of prudence and decent economy, have rendered him independent, if not affluent. It is said that he composed his prose works with singular facility, scarcely a correction occurring in whole quires of his bistories; but his versification was submitted to patient and incessant revisal.

The notice of Dr. Goldsmith's productions has naturally led to the exhibition of his literary character, and with this, one would think, the reader's curiosity might be satisfied: but it is remarkable, that while with respect to the historian, the natural philosopher, and other authors, we are contented with the display which they make of themselves in their works, it is otherwise with a man whom we

« FöregåendeFortsätt »