« 上一頁繼續 »
Transform'd from himself, he grew meanly severe,
“ Such then were his foibles; but though they were such
“ Then hear me, blest spirit! now seated above,
POETRY OF DR. GOLDSMITH.
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, Parnel, Tickel, 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 honour 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 favourite 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 favour, 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 characterised 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 prosopopeia, or audacious metaphor:-it scarcely contains añ 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 nature. 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 strongly 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 Spencer, 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
But at every age, and with every degree of culture, correct and well-chosen representations