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Their hard-footed hackneys paraded before him.
“Such then were his foibles; but though they were such
• Then hear me, blest spirit! now seated above, ,
cks may poison the age ; O! protect us from such, nor let it be said, That in Goldsmith the last British poet lies dead !'
POETRY OF DR. GOLDSMITH.
BY DR. AIKIN.
AMONG those false opinions which, having once obtained currency, have been adopted without examination, may be reckoned the prevalent notion, that, notwithstanding the improvement of this country in many species of literary composition, its poetical character has been on the decline ever since the supposed Augustan age of the beginning of this [the 18th] century. No one poet, it is true, has fully succeeded to the laurel of Dryden or Pope; but if without prejudice we compare the minor poets of the present age (minor, I mean, with respect to the quantity, not the quality, of their productions), with those of any former period, we shall, I am convinced, find them greatly superior not only in taste and correctness, but in every other point of poetical excellence. The works of many late and present writers might be confidently appealed to in proof of this assertion ; but it will suffice to instance the author who is the subject of the present Essay; and I cannot for a moment hesitate to place the name of GOLDSMITH as a poet, above that of Addison, Parnell, Tickell, Congreve, Lansdown, or any of those who fill the greater part of the voluminous collection of the English Poets. Of these, the main body has obtained a prescriptive right to the honor of classical writers; while their works, ranged on the shelves as necessary appendages to a modern library, are rarely taken down, and contribute very little to the stock of literary amusement. Whereas the pieces of GOLDSMITH are our familiar companions; and supply passages for recollection, when our minds are either composed to moral reflection, or warmed by strong emotions and elevated conceptions. There is, I acknowledge, much of habit and accident in the attachments we form to particular writers; yet I have little doubt, that if the lovers of English poetry were confined to a small selection of authors, GOLDSMITH would find a place in the favorite list of a great majority. And it is, I think, with much justice that a great modern critic has ever regarded this concurrence of public favor, as one of the least equivocal tests of uncommon merit. Some kinds of excellence, it is true, will more readily be recognized than others; and this will not always be in proportion to the degree of mental power employed in the respective productions : but he who obtains general and lasting applause in any work of art, must have happily executed a design judiciously formed. This remark is of fundamental consequence in estimating the poetry of GOLDSMITH ; because it will enable us to hold the balance steady, when it might be disposed to incline to the superior claims of a style of loftier pretension, and more brilliant reputation.
Compared with many poets of deserved eminence, GOLDSMITH will appear characterized by his simplicity. In his language will be found few of those figures which are supposed of themselves to constitute poetry ;- no violent transpositions ;
no uncommon meanings and constructions; no epithets drawn from abstract and remote ideas; no coinage of new words by the ready mode of turning nouns into verbs; no bold prosopopæia, or audacious metaphor :--- it scarcely contains an expression which might not be used in eloquent and descriptive prose. It is replete with imagery; but that imagery is drawn from obvious sources, and rather enforces the simple idea, than dazzles by new and unexpected ones. It rejects not common words and phrases; and, like the language of Dryden and Otway, is thereby rendered the more forcible and pathetic. It is eminently nervous and concise ; and hence affords numerous passages which dwell on the memory. With respect to his matter, it is taken from human life, and the objects of
It does not body forth things unknown, and create new beings. Its humbler purpose is to represent manners and characters as they really exist; to impress strorgly on the heart moral and political sentiments; and to fill the imagination with a variety of pleasing or affecting objects selected from the stores of nature. If this be not the highest department of poetry, it has the advantage of being the most universally agreeable. To receive delight from the sublime fictions of Milton, the allegories of Spenser, the learning of Gray, and the fancy of Collins, the mind must have been prepared by a course of particular study; and perhaps, at a certain period of life, when the judgment exercises a severer scrutiny over the sallies of the imagination, the relish for artificial beauties will always abate, if not entirely desert us.
But at every age, and with every degree of culture, correct and wellchosen representations of nature must please. We admire them when young ; we recur to them when old; and they charm us till nothing longer can charm. Farther, in forming a scale
of excellence for artists, we are not only to consider who works upon the noblest design, but who fills his design best. It.is, in reality, but a poor excuse for a slovenly performer to say 'magnis tamen excidit ausis ;' and the addition of one master-piece of any kind to the stock of art, is a greater benefit, than that of a thousand abortive and mis-shapen wonders.
If GOLDSMITII .then be referred to the class of descriptive poets, including the description of moral as well as of physical nature, it will next be important to inquire by what means he has attained the rank of a master in his class. Let us then observe how he has selected, combined, and contrasted his objects, with what truth and strength of coloring he has expressed them, and to what end and purpose.
As poetry and eloquence do not describe by an exact enumeration of every circumstance, it is necessary to select certain particulars which may excite a sufficiently distinct image of the thing to be represented. In this selection, the great art is to give characteristic marks, whereby the object may at once be recognized, without being obscured in a mass of common properties, which belong equally to many others. Hence the great superiority of particular images to general ones in description : the former identify, while the latter disguise. Thus, all the hackneyed representations of the country in the works of ordinary versifiers, in which groves, and rills, and flowery meads are introduced just as the rhyme and measure require, present nothing to the fancy but an indistinct daub of coloring, in which all the diversity of nature is lost and confounded. To catch the discriminating features, and present them bola and prominent, by few, but decisive strokes, is the talent of a master; and it will not be easy to produce a superior to GOLDSMITII in this respect. The mind is never.in doubt as