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While these reflections rack his feeling mind,
Five only left of all the shipwrecked throng
Ah wherefore, trusting to unequal art, Didst thou, incautious ! from the wreck depart? Alas ! these rocks all human skill defy; Who strikes them once, beyond relief must die : And now sore wounded, thou perhaps art tost On these, or in some oozy cavern lost :' Thus thought Arion, anxious gazing round In vain, his eyes no more Palemon foundThe demons of destruction hover nigh, And thick their mortal shafts commissioned fly: When now a breaking surge, with forceful sway, Two, next Arion, furious tears away; Hurled on the crags, behold they gasp, they bleed! And groaning, cling upon the elusive weed; Another billow bursts in boundless roar! Arion sinks ! and memory views no more.
Ha! total night and horror here preside, My stunned ear tingles to the whizzing tide ; It is their funeral knell ! and gliding near Methinks the phantoms of the dead appear !
But lo! emerging from the watery grave Again they float incumbent on the wave,
Again the dismal prospect opens round,-
Two with Arion yet the mast upbore,
[Born at Pallas, county of Longford, Ireland, on the both of November, 1728; died in his chambers in Brick Court, London, on the 4th of April, 1774. The Traveller was published in December 1764; The Deserted Village, May 1770. The ballad The Hernit first appeared in The Vicar of Wakefield, 1776. The Haunch of Venison, written about 1771, was first published after its author's death, 1776; Retaliation, Goldsmith's last work, was also of posthumous publication, 1774.]
The poems of Goldsmith make but a small fragment of his work ; they are, however, more finely wrought and of a costlier material than the rest. 'I cannot afford to court the draggle-tail Muses,' he said, 'they would let me starve.' And so he turned to the booksellers' task-work, bestowing on that task-work a grace which was all his own ; and, the drudgery ended, he took his wages and was light of heart. But poetry belonged to his higher self, to his affections, to his imagination. Goldsmith could not have written The Deserted Village to the order of Griffiths or Newbery ; and it is told-nor is the story incredible—that he went back with the note for one hundred pounds in his pocket, and insisted that his publisher should not ruin himself by paying 'five shillings a couplet. The rustic maid Poetry whom he loved was not quite penniless ; still Goldsmith felt that the attachment was imprudent, and she was none the less dear to his foolish heart on that account:
Dear charming nymph, neglected and decried,
That found’st me poor at first, and keep'st me so.' His poems won for Goldsmith friendships and fame, yet he felt truly that his was not a poetic age. The keenest intellects and the most powerful imaginations of the time found their proper utterance in prose. The high tragedy of that period is Clarissa; the broadest and brightest study of the comédie humaine is Tom Jones. Johnson in his essays had dignified the minor morals of Addison, and breathed into them the spirit of a courageous melancholy. Burke by breadth of vision and largeness of character was transforming the political pamphlet from a thing of party to a thing for mankind. Hume had shown how the facts of history may be artfully disposed, and their ragged edges smoothed away, until a graceful narrative emerges from the confusion. Gibbon was already projecting the lines of his Roman road through the centuries. It was the age of prose. The poets themselves had turned critics, making but timid experiments in verse; the more exquisite their culture, the less was their poetic courage. One or two indeed might appear more robust, but by a well-instructed eye their force was seen to be but turbulence. As for the rest they handed their verses around in manuscript ; then perhaps contributed them to a poetical miscellany ; finally, collected them in a tiny volume, or a quarto pamphlet of ample margin.
Goldsmith, whose genius slumbered late, was in no hurry to be a poet, and he looked carefully to make sure of himself and of his way. With a happy instinct he discerned his own gift, and it was his virtue, amid all his wanderings, and with all his seeming recklessness, to be faithful to that gift. Should he apply his humour to base uses and follow in the steps of Churchill ? Goldsmith affected no airs of dignity in what he wrote, and did not fear that word of reproach in his day, low ; but his gentle heart, his kindly wisdom, made it impossible for him to follow Churchill. He did not covet the reputation of a literary bully ; his was no loud contentious voice ; if he hated anything, he hated the rage of party spirit. But might he not accept Gray as a master? Goldsmith has left on record his estimate of Gray, and the words express a qualified enthusiasm, a certain official admiration as critic. But in truth, to please him poetry should address the heart, and he felt cold towards the fastidious flights of The Bard and The Progress of Poetry. He ventured to hint to Gray the advice that Isocrates used to give his scholars, study the people. Pindar had been popular-Pan himself was seen dancing to his melody. The seeming obscurity, the sudden transitions, the hazardous epithet of that mighty master had been caught by Gray; the directness, the life, the native energy of classical poetry he had not discovered. And Gray's imitators, what did they produce but 'tawdry things ... in writing which the poet sits down without any plan, and heaps up splendid images without any selection'? Last, there was the didactic essay or epistle in verse. Should Goldsmith become the successor of Akenside? Goldsmith highly esteemed the didactic poem ; he looked on it as characteristic of England.
But, at least, let it be written in our old rhymed couplet, not in pedantic blank-verse ; and as for the pompous epithet, the licentious transposition, the unnatural construction, let these be reformed altogether. Why too should dulness be an essential of didactic. poetry ? Goldsmith could not endure its disgusting solemnity of manner'; he loved innocent gaiety, and found much wisdom in that agreeable trifling which often deceives us into instruction.'
With such views, and at a time of life when all his powers were ripe and mellow, Goldsmith published his Traveller. Some fragments, perhaps a first sketch of the poem, had been sent from Switzerland to his brother Henry in 1755. The Traveller, as we know it, is an attempt to unite the didactic with the descriptive poem. But Goldsmith does not begin with theory, and proceed to illustrate his theory by a series of pictures. He begins with a sigh for kindred and for home. The poem is personal; the reflections, except perhaps the closing ones, which came from Johnson, are such as naturally arose in his mind in the days of his wandering. It would have been easy to have thrown The Traveller into the form of an Essay on the Happiness of Nations, or The Deserted Village into that of an Epistle on the Dangers of Luxury, and then the wanderer sounding his flute beside the Loire might have risen to the stature of a philosophic spectator with a classical name; sweet Auburn might have appeared as minor term of a syllogism concerned with the abuse of wealth. Goldsmith chose a simpler method, more wholesome and sweet. He had actually smiled at sight of the old dames of the province in their quaint French caps leading out the little boys and girls to foot it while he piped ; he had turned away disappointed from the Carinthian peasant's inhospitable door; he had breasted the keen air with the Alpine herdsman; he had lazily stared from the towing-path at the Dutchman squat on his brown canal-boat. Seeking neither wealth, nor advancement, nor toilful learning, unencumbered by possessions of his own, he had looked on all with a sympathetic eye, an open heart, an innocent delight in human gladness, a kindly smile at human frailty, a sigh and a tear for human woe ; and from all he had gathered a store of gentle wisdom, of dear remembrance. He needed only to select from his recollections whatever was most full of charm, what was gayest, tenderest, most pleasantly coloured, and with these to mingle some natural thoughts, some natural feelings. Surely an easy thing; and yet none except Goldsmith had the secret how to do this, to unite such various elements