Слике страница

of his brother authors. He wrote pure poetry and moral essays, and led, we fear, a loose life. He committed the most monstrous absurdities himself, and had the keenest eye for noticing and ridiculing absurdity in others. He

“ Wrote like an angel, and talk'd like poor Poll." In company, he blundered as if he had been the incarnation of - twenty Irishmen; and yet, in all his works you cannot detect a single bull, or almost a single blemish. His private religious views were extremely unsettled; his writings often breathe the very essence of the gospel. He was perpetually enamoured, and died single. Altogether, he drives us, in despair of any strict definition, to ask, Shall we call him, with Garrick, an “inspired idiot" ?-or, as the Germans said of Jean Paul, that he was the “ Only one,” shall we say, “ Thank God that there has been one Oliver Goldsmith, for there never shall be such another!”

We come to speak shortly of his works and his genius. We may pass by his numerous compilations with the remark, that there is none of them so hasty or so poor but it contains some trace of his fine instinctive sense and unconscious ease. He could not be affected or uninteresting upon any subject. A profound, powerful, or subtle thinker he was not, and his culture, of course, was exceedingly desultory and imperfect. But there lay in him a vein as exquisitely natural and true, within its limits, as any writer ever possessed. When we analyse his genius, we find it to be composed of the following elements :-a keen perception and enjoyment of the surface beauties of nature; an intuitive knowledge of the human heart; a power of instinct or common sense which supplies the lack of logic and learning, and is all the more powerfully displayed in his writings, that none of it was diverted to the regulation of his conduct or life; a fine healthy tone of moral feeling; an exquisite taste; a mild but sincere enthusiasm; a humour at once rich and delicate; and a style yielding in felicity, transparency, and grace, to Addison's alone. Imagination of the highest order--of that order which constructs great epics, swelters out deep tragedies, or soars up into lofty odes Goldsmith did not possess, and, with all his vanity, never dreamed that he did. But he had a fine fancy, which sometimes, as in “ The Traveller," and portions of “ The Deserted · Village,” verges on the imaginative, and produces short-lived bursts of grandeur. He has pathos, too, of a very tender and touching kind. He opens up at times, as in portions of “The Citizen of the World,” a vein of quiet, serious reflection, which, if never profound, is very pleasing and poetical. Best of all is a childlike simplicity, which, wherever it is found in an author, serves to cover a multitude of sins, but which, in Goldsmith, co-exists with manly sense, acute appreciation of character, and refined native genius. His literary faults are, as we have hinted, very few. He is sometimes too severe in his judgments of other writers. His ease of style occasionally degenerates into carelessness; and he often exhibits a dogmatism which his resources are not able to support-a fault incident, we suspect, to all half-taught writers.

His “ Traveller” is a poem in the style of Popeless thoroughly finished than his masterpieces, but warmed by a finer poetic enthusiasm, and abounding in those slight, successful touches which best exhibit the artist's hand, He takes you with him in every step of his tour; you

“Run the great circle, and are still at home." And the moral he draws from the whole, if not strictly correct, is ideally beautiful-none the less so that the words expressing it are lines which Johnson contributed to the poem

“How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure !
Still to ourselves in every place consign'd,

Our own felicity we make or find.” In his “ Deserted Village" he chooses a less ambitious, but a more interesting field. Like the chased hare, he flies back to his form—his dear native village ; and the poem is just a daguerreotype of Lishoy and its inhabitants — only so far coloured as memory colours all the past with its own poetic hues. The same power of delicate, minute, and rapid painting he has applied, in “ Retaliation," to living men ; and Plutarch, as a character-painter, is a dauber to Oliver Goldsmith;


nor has Reynolds himself, in those portraits of his in which, according to Burke, he has combined the “invention of history and the amenity of landscape,” excelled these little sketches, where the artist not only draws the literal features, but gives at once the inner soul and the future history of his subjects. The characters of Garrick and Burke have never been surpassed, and have been approached only by Lowell, in his T Fable for Critics”-a poem formed upon the model (and the motive, too !) of “ Retaliation.”

He has written but one novel; but as we said that the world has only had one Goldsmith, so literature has only had

Vicar of Wakefield.” It is quite unique, and, perhaps more than anything else in all his writings, stamps the originality of his powers. The ease of the narrative; the genuine benevolence of heart and bonhomie of temper which sparkle in every page; the descriptions of nature, so unostentatiously graphic and so artlessly interposed throughout the story; the characters so new and native, and yet so familiar to all of us, including the delightful group of the vicar's family; the venerable old monogamist himself; his wife, with her grogram gown, and her hearty laugh ; George, the genteel and interesting vagabond ; Moses, the alias of the author himself, with his immortal gross of green spectacles; the two beautiful daughters, so finely discriminated from each other; the little boys, with their dear prattle; not to speak of the monosyllabic Mr Burchell, with his everlasting “Fudge !” Mr Jenkinson, with his one scrap of rusty learning, about the cosmogony of the world having puzzled philosophers in all ages; the simpering Miss Wilmot; the political butler setting up for his master; and the never-to-be-forgotten and neverto-be-sufficiently-admired Miss Wilhelmina-Carolina-Amelia Skeggs; the individual incidents, especially that of the family painting and the state journey to church; the thousand quiet glances into the very depths of the human heart—have rendered the “ Vicar of Wakefield,” next to The Pilgrim's Progress, Don Quicote, and Robinson Crusoe, the most fascinating of all fictions. We had rather, for our parts, have been its author, than have written all Dickens's novels, one-half of Bulwer's, and one-third of Sir Walter Scott's. It is a veritable creation, and yet seems as old as the fields and flowers. You take it to your heart as instantly and as affectionately as you do them; and while, in common with every boy who reads it, you love and bless the kind-hearted author, you at the same time, with all critics, salute him as a " Maker". great original genius.

It is not necessary to characterise at length his plays, which are both fine hybrids between the comedy and the farce—the comic element predominating in “ The Good-natured Man,” and the farcical in “ She Stoops to Conquer.” They have produced more mirth than any other two plays out of Shakspeare—in the whole drama. But they have no poetry, or pretensions to poetry, in them. His “ Hermit," and his other smaller pieces, are very dewdrops of loveliness and simplicity “ from the womb of the morning.” And it is their author's highest praise, that he carried with him the heart and the artlessness of the child, which had distinguished him amid the groves of Lishoy, into all his wanderings through the Continent; that afterwards the many fires of disappointment and neglect did not burn, nor did the many waters of dissipation drown, his childlike nature; and that, at last, he died a humble, subdued, and—would we could add !—a forgiven and accepted child. This is a far higher encomium than to say that he has written the most agreeable series of letters, one of the healthiest and most delicious fictions, and two of the finest smaller poems, in the literature of the world.

« ПретходнаНастави »