1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Oliver Goldsmith

Tobias Oldschool, Gentleman, "Eminent Authors: Goldsmith" Literary Speculum 1 (March 1822) 312-14.



Oliver Goldsmith, whose merit as a writer is universally acknowledged, seems chiefly remarkable for a peculiar felicity of expression, which places his vigorous and original conceptions in the most interesting point of view, as the light of the sun draws our attention to the beauty of a fine prospect, and renders nature the object of our regard by displaying her charms in the most attractive manner. The prose works of this amiable author, the goodness of whose heart is evident in all his compositions, are truly admirable. The Citizen of the World amuses while it instructs, it possesses all the fascinations of an easy friend, and all the wisdom of a grave lecturer, without the idle levity of the one, or the solemn dullness of the other. These bewitching essays, when they seem only designed to please, frequently surprise us into the knowledge of some important truth; and while we appear to wander in the garden of fancy, we find ourselves in a school of morals. Thus, when Prince Boubobbin Bonbenuin Bonbobbinet and the mouse with green eyes, allure the reader, (for many readers are allured by a fairy tale,) who would be terrified by a disquisition on the folly of trifling pursuits, he is insensibly led to the instructive conclusion, that our employments should be adapted to our situations, and that what is highly laudable in one man, would be extremely ridiculous in another. The eccentricities of Mr. and Mrs. Tibbs, the Tallow Chandler's Widow, and the Man in Black, while they excite a smile. teach a lesson Profound treatises on the various foibles exposed in these characters would not have been half so effective these seemingly sportive effusions. Vice and folly are monsters, "That to be hated need but to be seen." The difficulty is to expose them in such a way as shall produce conviction of their unseemliness, without wounding the self-love which so powerfully actuates every heart; and in this delicate undertaking, Goldsmith has succeeded. The Vicar of Wakefield is one of the best novels In the English language. In a comparatively small volume, we are made acquainted with as interesting a groupe of characters as can be imagined; we observe virtue under numerous forms, and in various circumstances; and vice is depicted to us with the changing countenance which it wears in real life. Folly too assumes her cap and bells, and we become spectators of the several antics, solemn and sportive, which she is accustomed to play on the stage of existence. The Vicar is a noble character: in him, the zealous pastor, the affectionate father, the tender husband, and the upright man, are united. Mrs. Primrose is both vain and obstinate; yet even with these defects, we cannot but feel that she is an amiable woman; if in prosperity her follies offend us, the virtues she evinces in adversity redeem them all. Her two daughters, though there is considerable opposition in their characters, are alike interesting; or if Olivia is the most interesting, it is because she Is the most unfortunate. In George, we have a finished portrait of a high-spirited and generous youth: in Moses, a pleasing simplicity of manners, which forms a striking contrast to the low cunning of Jenkins. The eccentric Sir William Thornhill, and his abandoned nephew, are extremely well supported characters; the Flamborough family are sketches from nature; and the ladies from town are very well managed, as indeed are all the persons who figure in the novel. The incidents are not at all romantic. Without the least difficulty, we may suppose them to have happened just as they are narrated; yet the attention is engaged from the first page to the last, and there are numerous passages, particularly those descriptive of the midnight conflagration, and the scenes in the prison, which cannot be perused without emotion. Tom Jones has great merit, but it is a dangerous production; it is scarcely prudent to place it in the hands of youth: but the Vicar of Wakefield Is a moral, as well to a pleasing work; even children may peruse it with advantage, and it might prove beneficial in the bookcase of the nursery. Goldsmith's two comedies abound with humour: they are delightful, if not perfect compositions. She Stoops to Conquer retains its place on the stage, and it never fails to gratify the audience. The genius of Goldsmith shines with a steady light In his prose works, but with infinitely more brilliancy In his poems, to which there is nothing superior in the circle of the British classics. The harmony of these beautiful effusions is exquisite. Pope's numbers are highly musical, and the result is the harmony of art, but in Goldsmith we are charmed with the harmony of nature; all his thoughts are warm from the heart, and faithful to its fires, yet expressed in tones so finely modulated, that while we are transported with his glow of soul, we are ravished with his melody, which unites the ease of Wailer and the grace of Pope with a sweetness all his own. Every stanza of the Hermit has some striking beauty: with but little pomp of language, the ideas are invariably rich and appropriate; the mode in which the poem begins, "Turn, gentle hermit of the dale," deserves great praise; most poets would have previously run through several stanzas of morality or description. The discovery of a love-lorn lady in the weary palmer, Angelina's history, and Edwin's joy on again beholding his heart's queen, are enchanting specimens of pathos and elegant simplicity. But the excellencies of this piece are generally known and appreciated. To name the Deserted Village and the Traveller is to fill the mind with the pleasing recollection of an infinite variety of beautiful images, natural descriptions, and noble sentiments. To judge of the heart of Goldsmith from those productions, would be to pronounce him the most amiable of men; and in truth he was so: "for even his failings leaned to virtue's side." We do not attempt to praise poems like these, but we may observe, that while the language in which he wrote exists, they will ensure to their author a distinguished place in the Temple of Fame.