« ПретходнаНастави »
ing, as these are successively presented to our minds. With whatever intent we commenced the reading of it,-whether criticism, or the wish to learn if what others say of it be true, we become at once absorbed in the piece. This power of arresting the attention, by the simplicity of its structure and the touching nature of its images, is at once a part and proof of its excellence. Much of what is here said of - The Deserted Village," is equally applicable to "The Traveler.” The latter has less of pathos and quiet beauty, but is distinguished by greater variety and boldness of delineation. Goldsmith spared no pains to make them both perfect poems, in their kind. The poet's art is to be natural, and his effort results in ease and gracefulness.
The style of his poetry, though modeled generally after that of Pope, is yet somewhat different, and wherein it differs, is not inferior to Pope's. He has a less exquisite polish than his model, and none of his “dazzling antitheses," but his turn of expression is more natural, and the flow of his verse is more melodious. Where an elaborate elegance and an ambitious brilliancy marked the verses of Pope, Goldsmith contented himself with simple neatness and a gentle pathos. His rhymes are perfect except in a very few instances, where the usage of those times allowed a deviation from an exact sameness of sound. On the whole, as combining the highest degree of elegance and studied rhythm, compatible with a natural and simple mode of expression, it is one of the best models of English verse.
The poetry of Goldsmith is seldom marked, by any thing like elevation or sublimity.
"Standing on earth, nor rapt above the Pole,
More safe he sang with mortal voice.' He has a tone of sober earnestness, which gently agitates the whole surface of the reader's mind, rather than addresses any master passion. He deals in human sympathies, and it is truly with a mortal voice" he sings,-a charming fellow-feeling, with all that is tender, and bright, and happy, in human bosoms. The sentiments and images which his poetry reflects, are of the more common and every-day kind, deriving little adventitious beauty from the imagination, though selected with care, and grouped together with admirable taste and judgment. They speak to the heart, inasmuch as they are objects which the heart cherishes, both when they are in reality enjoyed, and when enjoyed by retrospection. The often quoted lines,
"Sweet was the sound,' &c. are a beautiful example of this quality of Goldsmith's poetry.
He delights to paint domestic scenes,—the family group, with their lively sports and tender cares, their joys and sorrows, their interchanges of affection, and their home-born attachments. Like Cow per, and some others, who had no households of their own, he seems to have entertained a higher idea of the felicity of the domestic state, from the very deprivation, in his own case. The general enjoyments of that condition, filled the visions of the poet's mind, while the occasional bitterness and trials were overlooked. This social turn is eminently visible in Goldsmith. He identifies himself with his fellow-man,-utters no ranting soliloquies, -expresses no moody discontent; or if he depicts passions and feelings of his own, he dwells only on those which find a response in all human hearts, and show the poet in all the weaknesses of our nature. Every one feels, or would feel in the same situation, what he has described concerning himself, in the following lines :
In all my wanderings round this world of care,
Here to return, and die at home at last.' In short, his poetry breathes the true English spirit and notions. English life is stamped upon it, and we might know the Briton's ideas of comfort and enjoyment,—of what constitutes the charm of earthly existence, from the pages of this poet. No picture of earthly happiness, in his view, is finished, except as it presents a scene like the following:
• Blest be that spot where cheerful guests retire
pause from toil, and trim their evening fire;
And learn the luxury of doing good.' The prose writings of Goldsmith are too numerous to be particularly mentioned here, nor need their merits be extensively brought into view. They consist of nearly all the various kinds, into which prosaic literature is divided,—the novel, the drama, the essay, biography, and history. Dying at the age of forty-six, he left a variety and amount of recorded thought that are wonderful. “The pen,” a foreign critic has truly said, “was to Oliver Goldsmith the charmed key, which “turned deftly in the oiled wards,' and opened the door to the endless treasures of his mind. Can any author,- —can even Sir Walter Scott be compared to Goldsmith, at the age of forty-six, for the variety, beauty, and power of his compositions?' You may take him and cut him out in little stars,' so many lights does he present to the imagination."
He is an admirable prose writer. With whatever haste, or under whatever embarrassments, he produced his prose works, they all show, though not equally indeed, his felicitous genius. His ready use of the pen, we should say, was an instinct, were it not well known, how much the ability, after all, is created by long discipline and practice. His diction is so select and pure, and his turn of thought is so natural, that neither would seem to be capable of improvement. It costs no effort to comprehend his meaning,—a fact, which, in the opinion of some, may prove him to be without depth, yet is rather an evidence of definite and clear conceptions. He always makes out satisfactorily and lucidly his propositions. Indeed, they appear so extremely obvious,—they are expressed with such simplicity and precision, we almost infer that it required as little labor to propound, as to understand them. His representations are conceived with such truth and nature, that they blend with our convictions and feelings, as soon as the words convey them to the senses. It is true, that they raise the soul only to a certain pitch,—they create no overpowering emotion,--all is gentle, smooth, rational, sensible. He puts forth scarcely any statement, or opinion, which one would wish to controvert. The reader would rather silently enjoy it, in its clear light and soft graces, as he is carried from thought to thought, and from picture to picture.
What has now been said of his prose writings in general, is more or less applicable to each one in particular. They are all sensible and entertaining works, adapted to answer, if not high moral ends, yet the common purposes of mental and social improvement. His most prominent prose production is “The Vicar of Wakefield.” This fiction is too well known to require a description, and we fear, that a brief comment or two upon its character, may seem superfluous. Before the novels of Sir Walter Scott, it used to be referred to as one of the best, if not the very best, in the language; and if an objection was made against this whole class of writings, on account of their false morality, and their unnatural and exaggerated pictures of life, “ The Vicar of Wakefield," at least, used to be pointed out as an exception.
We know not but that even now, it may maintain the same position, in point of moral influence and sober views of life, if we except the professedly religious novels of late years; but as we shall speak soon of the moral worth of Goldsmith's productions as a whole, we shall be silent at present respecting this feature of “The Vicar of Wakefield.” The story he has rendered extremely entertaining by its simplicity and unity, the coherency of its parts, the easy and natural flow of its diction, the familiar household words with which it abounds, and the judicious, though not very plentiful, sprinkling of incident and adventure. Displaying, as it does, the scenes and notions, the habits and pastimes, the virtues and vices of common rural life, most readers enter familiarly, and at once, into the story, as if it detailed almost their individual consciousness and experience. The Vicar, the hero of the story, though he must be viewed, on the whole, as a slight exaggeration, comes sufficiently near to characters that may occasionally be found,—especially in the clerical profession, where simplicity, honesty, submission under disappointments, perhaps a share of credulity, unquestioning generosity, and an attachment to one's own opinions, may be expected, if anywhere, in order to pass for a reality. We see something at least of the kind frequently among mankind. But although not an extraordinary character, in respect either to sagacity or folly, spirituality or moral deficiency, an heroic spirit or cowardice, yet we become extremely interested in him. In what he says and does, in what befals him, we participate with the liveliest curiosity. This effect proceeds chiefly, we apprehend, from the author's inimitable humor, since he often places his hero in situations where he can play a consistent part, only by betraying some freak, or foible, or vanity, or other curious idiosyncrasy. From the train which is laid, we expect such a development of character as is described, and we are prepared to enjoy it, to the fullest extent. Most of the other personages of the fiction, are discriminated with great exactness. The scenes, attitudes, and conversations in which they figure, are perfectly congenial to their characters. They are always like themselves, whether the Vicar's goodly self-satisfied wife, the facile, lively Olivia, the sensible Sophia, or simple, pedantic Moses. As a whole, though
we might point out some defects as to probability, it is a valuable picture of English society, in the department which the author has selected, exhibiting in him an extensive acquaintance with human nature and the world. We should, perhaps, look in v: in any similar work, for advice more appropriate, than that which the Vicar gave his children and family upon the fall of their fortunes, or for a single stroke of the pathetic, equal to that which appears, in the blessing which the eldest son received upon his departure to London on foot, with a view to seek his living. The sports and pastimes of the class of people among whom the Vicar is supposed to live, are aptly described, and contrived to heighten our ideas of the simple enjoyments of rustic life.
In his “Essays," and "Citizen of the World,” Goldsmith shows his powers in a very different department of writing; nor is he perceptibly inferior either to Addison and Steele, or to the author of the Rambler. If he has less of idiomatic point than the two former, and less vigor of style and amplification of thought than the latter, he is more equable, correct, graceful, and perspicuous than either. With these celebrated essayists, he might have calculated on a co-partnership of immortality. His fund of sentiment and story, delivered in a most entertaining manner, seems fully adequate to the purposes to be sought in this form of composition. None can read “ The Citizen of the World,” without being charmed with his wisdom and wit, and the descriptive powers of his pen.
As we have no time to dwell on all his prose productions separately, and have spoken of his poetry only in part, we would seek to do justice to his reputation as an English classical writer, in a few more general observations. The character of his genius, and the value of his writings, as a whole, especially in a moral point of view, are worthy of no small consideration. That he takes rank among the first class of English authors, will probably be admitted by every one. Of course, the products of his mind, as with those of others of this description, must exert a powerful influence in respect to the welfare of man and society. The intellectual part of the community are, in a great degree, modeled as to their character and principles, by authors of the first rank in the language. That there is reason for referring a portion of the literature of a country to the department of classics, is conceded in the universal admiration which is felt for a certain description of works. Their power lies not so much in the subject, the form of composition, or the extent of knowledge displayed, as in the execution. The