1767
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Beauties of English Poesy: The School-Mistress.

The Beauties of English Poesy. Selected by Oliver Goldsmith. In Two Volumes.

Oliver Goldsmith


Oliver Goldsmith's brief headnote to Shenstone's School-Mistress probably speaks for the common reader when he declares that "I dislike the imitations of our old English poets in general." The Beauties of English Poesy collected some of the more popular English poems in a collection intended for young readers, with a brief remark by Goldsmith prefixed to each.

John Langhorne: "Though Mr. Goldsmith hath written some little pieces that have been read and approved of; yet, from his preface, notes, and introductions to these poems, one would almost be inclined to think he had never written before. In the first place he informs you that his bookseller told him, there was no collection of poetry in the English language, of any estimation. — Was this to shew his own ignorance, or was it an affectation of ignorance? If he knew so little of the English publications as to be guided in this respect by his bookers, he was very unfit for the task he undertook; if the thing was otherwise, his declarations are still more ridiculous than his attempt. But, however unaccountable or uncouth the preface may be (where we are told of the 'promotion of Deformity,' &c. &c.) the introductory observations on the several poems are still more wrong-headed, more singular, more affected, and more absurd. Thomson, in the opinion of this mighty critic, is a verbose and affected poet, and Shenstone's Pastoral Ballads have neither harmony nor simplicity; but his Schoolmistress is 'one of those happinesses in which a poet excels himself.' Gay's Burlesque Pastorals are in the manner of Theocritus! Who that reads such criticisms can forbear crying out with the shepherd in Virgil, 'Quid facient Domini, audent cum talia fures?'" Monthly Review 36 (June 1767) 490-91.

Henry Headley: "Selections expressly of beauties from modern books of credit, unless immediately intended for the use of schools, are in a great degree idle and impertinent, and do but multiply books to no good end.... Dr. Goldsmith, who was only unhappy, amidst all the works he undertook, in his Beauties of English Poetry, disgraced himself by a very superficial and hasty compilation of the kind" Specimens of Early English Poetry (1787; 1810) 1:iii-iv & n.

Alexander Chalmers: "Being desired by Griffin, the bookseller, to make a selection of elegant poems from our best English classics, for the use of boarding schools, he carelessly marked for the printer one of the most indecent tales of Prior. His biographer adds, 'without reading it;' but this was not the case, as he introduces it with a criticism" Works of the English Poets (1810) 16:484.

Robert Southey: "In reviewing his Beauties of English Poetry, 2 vols, 6s.), Monthly Review vol. 36. p. 491, his preface is called unaccountable and uncouth, and his introductory observations on the several poems, 'still more wrong-headed, more singular, more affected, and more absurd.' Thomson, in the opinion of this 'mighty critic,' is a verbose and affected poet, and Shenstone's Pastoral Ballads, have neither learning nor simplicity; but his Schoolmistress is 'one of those happinesses in which a poet excels himself'! Gay's burlesque pastorals are in the manner of Theocritus. Who that reads criticisms can forbear crying out with the Shepherd in Virgil, 'Quid facient Domini, audent cum talia fures?'" Common-Place Book (1849-51) 4:343.

William Howitt: "Goldsmith had his full share of this baptism of literary wretchedness. I cannot follow him minutely through the years of book-drudgery and all its attendant adventures. Suffice it, that he wrote an immense mass of articles for the periodicals, hosts of histories; plays, tales, essays and the like, anonymously; and which, therefore, brought him precarious bread, but little fame. He commenced writing in the Monthly Review in 1757, and it was not till 1764, that his name was first affixed to his first poem — The Traveller. Thus he served a seven years' apprenticeship to anonymous literature before he began to take that rank in English literature which was his destined portion; exactly in ten years more he was in his grave, having in the mean time given to posterity his exquisite Deserted Village; his inimitable Vicar of Wakefield; his Good-natured Man, and She Stoops to Conquer; besides hosts of histories, written to make the pot boil" Homes and Haunts (1847) 1:319-20.

Herbert E. Cory: "Goldsmith followed Johnson in his admiration for Shenstone but general opposition to Spenserian imitation" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 157.

Myra Reynolds: "In his prose works Goldsmith has several vigorous attacks on falsness and affectation in poetry.... Goldsmith also praised Gay's poems saying that 'he has hit upon the true spirit of pastoral poetry.' Goldsmith has other keen critical remarks that point in the direction of the new spirit but they do not bear directly on the study of Nature. He is important chiefly because of his interest in man as man, his close and sympathetic delineation of the poor and ignorant" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 167.

George Saintsbury: "Of Goldsmith as a critic little need be said, though his pen was not much less prolific in this than in other departments. But the angel is too often absent, and Poor Poll distressingly in evidence.... So in the Citizen of the World the Author's Club is of course delightful; but why should a sneer at Drayton have been put in the mouth of Lien Chi Altangi? And the miscellaneous Essays, including the Bee, which contain so much of Goldsmith's best work, are perhaps the best evidences of his nullity here" History of English Criticism (1911) 231.

Goldsmith owned a copy of the 1750 edition of Hughes's Spenser; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) 7:243.




This poem is one of those happinesses in which a poet excels himself, as there is nothing in all Shenstone which any way approaches it in merit; and, though I dislike the imitations of our old English poets in general, yet on this minute subject, the antiquity of the style produces a very ludicrous solemnity.


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