1768 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Oliver Goldsmith

Frances Burney, 1768; The Early Diary of Frances Burney (1889) 1:12-13.



Tuesday, Cabin.

I have this very moment finish'd reading a novel call'd the Vicar of Wakefield. It was wrote by Dr. Goldsmith, His style is rational and sensible and I knew it again immediately. This book is of a very singular kind — I own I began it with distaste and disrelish, having just read the elegant Letters of Henry, — the beginning of it, even disgusted me — he mentions his wife with such indifference — such contempt — the contrast of Henry's treatment of Frances struck me — the more so, as it is real — while this tale is fictitious — and then the style of the latter is so elegantly natural, so tenderly manly, so unassumingly rational, — I own I was tempted to thro' (sic) the book aside — but there was something in the situation of his family, which if it did not interest me, at least drew me on — and as I proceeded, I was better pleased. — The description of his rural felicity, his simple, unaffected contentment — and family domestic happiness, gave me much pleasure — but still, I was not satisfied, a something was wanting to make the book satisfy me — to make me feel for the Vicar in every line he writes, nevertheless, before I was half thro' the first volume, I was, as I may truly express myself, surprised into tears — and in the second volume, I really sobb'd. It appears to me, to be impossible any person could read this book thro' with a dry eye at the same time the best part of it is that which turns one's grief out of doors, to open them to laughter. He advances many very bold and singular opinions — for example, he avers that murder is the sole crime for which death ought to be the punishment, he goes even farther, and ventures to affirm that our laws in regard to penalties and punishments are all too severe. This doctrine might be contradicted from the very essence of our religion — Scripture for [erasure] in the Bible — in Exodus particularly, death is commanded by God himself, for many crimes besides murder. But this author shews in all his works a love of peculiarity and of making [sic, but probably marking] originality of character in others; and therefore I am not surprised he possesses it himself. This Vicar is a very venerable old man — his distresses must move you. There is but very little story, the plot is thin, the incidents very rare, the sentiments uncommon, the vicar is contented, humble, pious, virtuous, quite a darling character. How far more was I pleased with the genuine productions of Mr. Griffith's pen — for that is the real name of Henry, — I hear that more volumes are lately published. I wish I could get them, I have read but two — the elegance and delicacy of the manner — expressions — style of that book are so superiour! — How much I should like to be acquainted with the writers of it! — Those Letters are doubly pleasing, charming to me, for being genuine — they have encreased my relish for minute, heartfelt writing, and encouraged me in my attempt to give an opinion of the books I read.