1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Oliver Goldsmith

Richard Cumberland, in Retrospection, a Poem (1811) 17-20.



There wants but Goldsmith now to make us full,
And Garrick says he loiters by the way,
Because forsooth some idle knave has said,
That men of fashion should be always late,
And by their want of manners show their taste.
Ah! Oliver, your friend has found you out,
For Johnson with emphatic yes declares,—
"David is right," and that confirms the truth.
But see, at length, th' eccentric being comes—
Seasons and times to Goldsmith are unknown:
What he is not he would be, what he is
He knows not, or forgets. Give him a pen,
And clear as Helicon his period flows;
Let him employ his tongue to speak his thoughts,
It babbles idly, and betrays the trust.
Yet this is he, whose prose I should not fear
To match with Addison's, his verse with Pope's.

"Heav'ns! is this he?" a stranger might exclaim;
But tho' no stranger's eye perchance could trace
The secret mark, with which the Muse had stamp'd
His passport to the Heliconian fount,
Yet Reynolds by that sympathy of soul,
Which Genius shares with Genius, saw the mark,
And made his portrait witness to a mind,
Which in th' original so few descried.

But what avail'd it thee, neglected bard,
How thy verse trickled, or thy period flow'd?
The loathsome vampire poverty thro' life
Insatiate clung to thee, and suck'd thy blood.
To the last drop. By thy sick couch I stood,
And saw death's hand was on thee: shall I say,
That thou wert vain, and carelessly dispers'd
The slender pittance, that thy genius earn'd?
No, 'twere a cruel comment on thy life:
He, who no harvest reaps, can hoard no grain.
Had it not been that Johnson's generous zeal
For a few pounds barter'd thy "Vicar's Tale,"
Penn'd in the veriest anguish of despair,
The pavement, or the step to some proud door
Had been thy stony pillow for the night.

And was there then no patron to be found
But one as bare and needy as thyself?
Ah thou, the Muse of Marmion and the Lake,
Rich as Pactolus' stream, dost thou not blush
To see thine elder, worthier, sister sit
In tatter'd raiment over Goldsmith's grave,
With that sweet "Village poem" in her hand,
Sad emblem of her poor "deserted" bard?
Thou in thy banner'd hail, with kilted knights
And elfin page, array'd in painted vest,
Scrawl'd o'er with magic characters, devis'd
To puzzle and surprise the gaping crowd—
She, with no other canopy but Heav'n,
No trophy but the amaranthine wreath,
That binds her brow, in contemplation rapt,
Waiting the award of ages yet to come.