1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Oliver Goldsmith

John Aikin, in Letters to a Young Lady (1806) 264-66.



This is GOLDSMITH, one of the minor poets, with regard to the bulk of his productions, but perhaps the immediate successor of Dryden and Pope, if estimated by their excellence.

His two principal pieces, The Traveller, and The Deserted Village, come under the head of descriptive poems; but the description is so blended with sentiment, and so pointed and consolidated by a moral design, that they claim a higher place than is usually allotted to that class of composition. It is true, Goldsmith was more of a poet than of a philosopher or politician; and therefore it is rather for the entertainment than the instruction that they afford, that these performances are to be valued; yet there is much in them to warm the heart as well as to delight the imagination.

It is not derogatory to the merit of Goldsmith's poetry that it is calculated to please the general taste. The qualities by which it effects this purpose are, remarkable clearness and perspicuity of style; a natural unaffected diction that rejects every artifice of speech which has been employed to force up language into poetry by remoteness from common use; and a warmth, energy, and variety, which never suffer the attention to languish. His imagery is all taken from human life and natural objects; and though frequently new to the generality of readers, is easily comprehended. His sentiments, if not always accurately just, and such as obtain ready admission, and find something correspondent in every breast. The nervous conciseness with which they are expressed imprints them on the memory, while the melodious flow of his verse gratifies the ear, and aids the impression.