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INTRODUCTION

I

THIRTY years of taking-in; fifteen years of giving out; that, in brief, is Oliver Goldsmith's story. When, in 1758, his failure to pass at Surgeons' Hall finally threw him on letters for a living, the thirty years were finished, and the fifteen years had been begun. What was to come he knew not; but, from his bare-walled lodging in Green-Arbour-Court, he could at least look back upon a sufficiently diversified past. He had been an idle, orchard-robbing schoolboy; a tuneful but intractable sizar of Trinity; a lounging, loitering, fair-haunting, flute-playing Irish "buckeen." He had tried both Law and Divinity, and crossed the threshold of neither. He had started for London and stopped at Dublin; he had set out for America and arrived at Cork. He had been many things a medical student, a strolling musician, a corrector of the press, an apothecary, an usher at a Peckham "academy." Judged by ordinary standards, he had wantonly wasted his time. And yet, as things fell out, it is doubtful whether his parti-coloured experiences were not of more service to him than any he could have obtained if his progress had been less erratic. Had he fulfilled the modest expectations of his family, he would probably have remained a simple curate in Westmeath, eking out his "forty pounds a year" by farming a field or two, migrating contentedly at the fitting season from the "blue bed to the brown," and (it may be) subsisting vaguely as a local poet upon the tradition of some youthful couplets to a pretty cousin, who had married a richer man. As it was, if he could not be said "to have seen life steadily, and seen it whole," he had, at all events, inspected it pretty narrowly in parts; and, at a time when he was most impressible, had preserved the impress of many things which, in his

turn, he was to re-impress upon his writings. "No man" says one of his biographers-"ever put so much of himself into his books as Goldsmith." To his last hour he was drawing upon the thoughts and reviving the memories of that "unhallowed time” when, to all appearance, he was hopelessly squandering his opportunities. To do as Goldsmith did, would scarcely enable a man to write a Vicar of Wakefield or a Deserted Village,―certainly his practice cannot be preached with safety "to those that eddy round and round." But viewing his entire career, it is difficult not to see how one part seems to have been an indispensable preparation for the other, and to marvel once more (with the philosopher Square) at "the eternal Fitness of Things."

say so.

II

The events of Goldsmith's life have been too often narrated to need repetition here, and we shall not resort to the well-worn device of repeating them in order to But, in a fresh reprint of his Poems and Plays, some brief preamble to those branches of his work may be excusable, and even useful. And, with regard to both, what strikes one first is the extreme tardiness of that late blossoming to which Johnson referred. When a man succeeds as Goldsmith succeeded, friends and critics speedily discover that he had shown signs of excellence even from his boyish years. But, setting aside those half-mythical ballads for the Dublin streetsingers, and some doubtful verses for Jane Contarine, there is no definite evidence that, from a doggerel couplet in his childhood to an epigram not much better than doggerel composed when he was five and twenty, he had written a line of verse of the slightest importance; and even five years later, although he refers to himself in a private letter as a "poet," it must have been solely upon the strength of the unpublished fragment of The Traveller, which in the interval, he had sent to his brother Henry from abroad. It is even more remarkable

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that although so skilful a correspondent must have been fully sensible of his gifts-until, under the pressure of circumstances, he drifted into literature, the craft of letters seems never to have been his ambition. He thinks of being a lawyer, a physician, a clergyman,anything but an author; and when at last he engages in that profession, it is to free himself from a scholastic servitude which he appears to have always regarded with peculiar bitterness, yet to which, after a first unsatisfactory trial of what was to be his true vocation, he unhesitatingly returned. If he went back once more to his pen, it was only to enable him to escape from it more effectually, and he was prepared to go as far as Coromandel. But Literature" toute entière à sa proie attachée"-refused to relinquish him; and, although he continued to make spasmodic efforts to extricate himself, detained him to the day of his death.

If there is no evidence that he had written much when he entered upon what has been called his second period, he had not the less formed his opinions on many literary questions. Much of the matter of the Polite Learning is plainly manufactured ad hoc; but in its references to the profession of authorship, there is a personal note which is absent elsewhere; and when he speaks of the tyranny of publishers, the sordid standards of criticism, and the forlorn and precarious existence of the hapless writer for bread, he is evidently reproducing a condition of things with which he had become familiar during his brief bondage on the Monthly Review. As to his personal views on poetry in particular, it is easy to collect them from this, and later utterances. Against blank verse he protests from the first, as suited only to the sublimest themes-which is a polite way of shelving it altogether; while in favour of rhyme he alleges that the very restriction stimulates the fancy, as a fountain plays higher when the aperture is diminished. Blank verse, too (he asserted), imported into poetry a "disgusting solemnity of manner " which was fatal to "agreeable trifling," -an objection intimately connected with the feeling which afterwards made him the champion on the

stage of character and humour. Among the poets who were his contemporaries and immediate predecessors, his likes and dislikes were strong. He fretted at the fashion which Gray's Elegy set in poetry; he considered it a fine poem, but "overloaded with epithet," and he deplored the remoteness and want of emotion which distinguished the Pindaric Odes. Yet from many indications in his own writings, he seems to have genuinely appreciated the work of Collins. Churchill, and Churchill's satire, he detested. With Young he had some personal acquaintance, and had attentively read his Night Thoughts. Of the poets of the last age, he admired Dryden, Pope and Gay, but more than any of these, if imitation is to be regarded as the proof of sympathy, Prior, Addison and Swift. By his inclinations and his training, indeed, he belonged to this school. But he was in advance of it in thinking that poetry, however didactic after the fashion of his own day, should be simple in its utterance and directed at the many rather than the few. This is what he meant when, from the critical elevation of Griffiths' back parlour, he recommended Gray to take the advice of Isocrates, and "study the people." If, with these ideas, he had been able to divest himself of the "warbling groves" and "finny deeps" of the Popesque vocabulary (of much of the more mechanic art "" of that supreme artificer he did successfully divest himself), it would have needed but little to make him a prominent pioneer of the new school which was coming with Cowper. As it is, his poetical attitude is a little that intermediate one of Longfellow's maiden

"Standing, with reluctant feet,

Where the brook and river meet."

Most of his minor and earlier pieces are imitative. In A New Simile, and The Logicians Refuted, Swift is his acknowledged model; in The Double Transformation it is Prior, modified by certain theories personal to himself. He was evidently well acquainted with collections like the Ménagiana, and with the French minor poets of the

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