« AnteriorContinuar »
of their time, that treated with levity the old-fashioned virtues and the practical piety of the quiet average Englishman. It was only in politics that he was opposed to the new middle class; he hated their Puritan ancestors and Cromwell and was almost a Jacobite in his unreasoning devotion to absolute monarchy. In his two satires he retails the new commonplaces, that, whilst pious in tone and distrustful of rationalism, were real symptoms of the coming revolution. In his London he is almost as passionate as Rousseau against the evils and vices of advanced and centralised society, as fierce as the most fervent socialist against the injustice to poverty and the lust for gold, as strong in his hatred of oppression as Shelley, whilst he has none of their impieties and rests in the guiding hand of Heaven.
“Grant me, kind Heaven, to find some happier place
Where honesty and sense owe no disgrace.”
To vote a patriot black, a courtier white."
Where looks are merchandise and smiles are sold.”
And bear oppression's insolence no more. In The Vanity of Human Wishes he is happier in spirit, and farther removed from the bitterness of personal illustration, that he learned from Pope ; yet he is still the middle class moralist of last century, who finds the whole world dark but for the light from faith in Heaven. He is even farther from the attitude of the Queen Anne period virtuoso who could sneer at the virtues as well as the vices of his neighbours and yet hold that “whatever is, is best.” He has the recoil from cities and city life that was coming into vogue with the growing wealth of the provinces and was about to bring back poetry to nature and simplicity. He mourns over the havoc that the desire for gold, the taste for luxury, and the pride of ambition work in human existence; and paints at length the fall of Wolsey and the end of Charles the Twelfth of Sweden. The humble have the best of it; “How much more safe the vassal than the lord!" Yet over unambitious life there is the shadow ;
“Our supple tribes repress their patriot throats,
And ask no questions but the price of votes ;
Their wish is full to riot and to rail." Misfortune, sorrow, and death dog the footsteps of the lowliest. The best, outlive their time; “Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage.” There is no hope but in Heaven
helpless man, who, without its aid, must roll darkling down the torrent of his fate.” This was the philosophy that had consoled the silenced Puritans during their exclusion from all public life and was now spreading, through evangelicalism, methodism, and philanthropy, upwards into literature. Johnson had the cue from Juvenal, he had the spirit from the surroundings of his boyhood and youth at Lichfield.
I. His true poetical successor was Oliver Goldsmith. He brought with him from his father's humble parsonage in
Ireland into the dark turmoil of the city that love of simplicity v and home which was to be one of the freshest notes of literature.
His poetry has the same mingling of old echoes and new tones, of conservatism of form and revolutionism of feeling. Long before he knew Johnson, when he was loitering in 1755-56 “by the lazy Scheldt or wandering Po”, he had adopted the heroic couplet for the first sketch of his Traveller, and after he had corrected and · revised and polished, as his master, Pope, had ever done, he published the poem in 1764, Popian in form, romantic in spirit. In it he takes a text, like Pope and Johnson, and enforces its lessons in a series of balanced paragraphs leading on to a brilliant peroration; he is as deeply imbued with the methods of pulpit eloquence as they; he varies the didactic with the descriptive, the abstract lesson with the example; he makes his couplets move in the same serried array ; he even adopts at times the rare Latinised word or phrase as in •Woods over woods in gay theatric pride,” “While sea-born gales their gelid wings expand,” “No vernal bloom their torpid rocks array," "The gay grandsire skilled in gestic lore," and
“Seen opulence, her grandeur to maintain,
Lead stern depopulation in her train.” But here the likeness to Pope ends; he proceeds much further than Johnson in the direction that was to lead to the overthrow of the Queen Anne empire in literature. Johnson had substituted for the personal and contemporary portraits, with which he had learned from Pope to point his satire, characters like Wolsey famous in history. Goldsmith dismissed portraiture and put in its place landscape or picture of national or local type. With Johnson too he rejected the satire of scorn and adopted that of pity or of indignation. He had an eye for the sorrows of men rather than for their weaknesses and vices. Sympathy wings any approach he makes to epigram, and not contempt. His well-polished couplets, much as in rhythm they resemble Pope's, are a complete contrast to them in spirit. Tenderness for the lowly and oppressed, love of the poor, worship of simplicity reign supreme. Rousseau's gospel of the return to the happiness of nature is preached with picturesque eloquence. The new philanthropy is already full-fledged in his two longer poems. His real poetic genius led him to abandon the Queen Anne method of epigrammatic attack on city vices, and to paint instead their melancholy results in national character and rustic life. There is in his Traveller and his Deserted Village the true pastoral beauty mingled with that indignant sorrow over the woes of civilisation which is the raw material of revolutionism and socialism.
2. He is, therefore, even more truly than Johnson a precursor of the new era. For he had no strong political prejudices to interfere with his middle class sympathies. His only strong prejudice was the economic fallacy that wealth destroys all virtue and pure happiness, and leads to desolation in rural districts. And this was the basis of that romantic sentiment which was about to take possession of English literature. The new leisured middle class saw, as Rousseau saw in France, much to deplore in the actual condition of men, and particularly the poor, and turned back for the ideal state of life to an older world, whose harsh features had been softened into enchantment by
distance. Both his long poems regret a past that is fast vanishing with human happiness.
3. In “The Traveller or Prospect of Society” he makes a survey of the parts of Europe he has visited, Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland, Britain, and after picturing the fair side of each nation he turns to the reverse and mourns over the vices and the outlook. In Italy he sees everything that can please the senses; “but small the bliss that sense alone bestows”; “Man seems the only growth that dwindles here”; he is luxurious, vain, trifling, untrue.
“All evils here contaminate the mind,
That opulence departed leaves behind”. The Swiss are a “nobler race", uncursed by the presence of palace or "costly lord”. The peasant fears no such contrast ;
“ Cheerful at morn he wakes from short repose,
Breasts the keen air, and carols as he goes ". “At night returning, every labour sped,
He sits him down, the monarch of a shed". The rough voices of nature make him the better patriot, as “scaring sounds” make the child cling “closer to the mother's breast”. But he is boorish, tied to a narrow round of life, heedless of all those larger pleasures that culture gives, unrefined in morals, unprogressive.
France has gentler manners, "gay, sprightly land
gay, sprightly land of mirth and social ease”, “idly busy, rolls her world away”. But all her people are too fond of praise, “nor weigh the solid worth of self-applause”; ostentation, vanity, and other follies result.
“For praise too dearly loved or warmly sought
Enfeebles all internal strength of thought. Holland and her victory over the ocean next occupies his
“The slow canal, the yellow-blossomed vale,
The willow-tufted bank, the gliding sail”.
craft and fraud appear,
Rough, poor, content, ungovernably bold”.
it is 66
Patriotism brings him to his own countrymen,
“Pride in their port, defiance in their eye”. But Britons prize independence too highly ;
“Ferments arise, imprisoned factions roar”. Here alone does the Johnsonian conservatism appear. He girds against the wealth that industrialism was beginning to clot and mingles the reactionary politics he took from his friend with the natural Rousseau-like regret for a past golden age.
" As nature's ties decay, As duty, love, and honour fail to sway, Fictitious bonds, the bonds of wealth and law,
Still gather strength and force unwilling awe He illogically charges this with the neglect of ability; “ talent sinks”;
“Till time may come, when, stripped of all her charms,
And scholars, soldiers, kings, unhonoured die". Yet, like Johnson too, he would not “flatter kings or court the great”. And he works in the favourite constitutionalism of the time that in Delolme and Burke showed the English government to be perfection as the embodiment of the balance of power and the harmony of all parts;
“Those that think must govern those that toil”; but “Should one order disproportioned grow,
Its double weight must ruin all below".
Who think it freedom when a part aspires”. He indignantly protests against the attempt of the rich oligarchs of the upper classes to absorb all power ;
“ Laws grind the poor and rich men rule the law”. He anticipates the anti-slavery agitation of the next half century, and the democratic spirit of our era, in his passion against wealth “pillaged from slaves to purchase slaves at home”. He ends, with some inconsistency, in the Johnsonian absolutism;
“I fly from petty tyrants to the throne". And he evidently thinks that it was the Puritan revolution, striking “at regal power”, that "gave wealth to sway the mind with double force”. From this reactionary lesson, that he