Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

had so ill learned from his dogmatic friend, he passes into a more natural lament over the desertion of rural districts and hamlets, and anticipates his Deserted Village. The centralisation of the people for industrial purposes had already begun, and emigration to America helped to depopulate the country, and let "the smiling, long-frequented village fall". He closes with the sentiment, which was all around him and in his own heart, distrust in legislative panaceas ; our own felicity we make or find". The introduction written before he knew Johnson expresses feelings far more natural to his emotional nature and his middle class sympathies than this fiery polemic against the new plutocracy and in favour of absolutism. In consequence it is simpler and truer poetry. His "heart untravelled fondly turns" to his brother, and his native place, and the hospitable parsonage, "where all the ruddy family" "learn the luxury of doing good". He catches the glow of the rising philanthropy, which was soon to overleap all barriers of race and climate;

"Wiser he whose sympathetic mind

Exults in all the good of all mankind."

"Creation's heir, the world, the world is mine".

And yet he pines with all the passion of the English peasantry and middle class for his own hearth, for some spot"Where my worn soul, each wandering hope at rest,

May gather bliss to see my fellows blest".

"His first best country ever is at home".

4. It was this love of home that was one of the distinctive notes of the new audience of literature as against the upper classes, who still, as in the Queen Anne period, left their country seats and flitted about London and the court. And it was this that made The Traveller the first great popular success of the era; it became an English household book like the Pilgrim's Progress. For it expressed, in language that was, on the whole, simple, one of the fundamental emotions of the new audience. And it was as natural to the author as to those whom he addressed.

5. Hence he turned for his second love-task to another phase of the same theme and wrote his Deserted Village. In it he throws the new romantic sentiment round rustic life; and, as he lived in narrow city streets or lanes during the half dozen years that he spent on it, the lament over its

decay grows almost artificial in its pastoral intensity from the contrast. The poem bears the marks of the distractions of his London life and is far less of a unity than his first. Yet, when published in 1770, four years before his death, it won immediate and widespread popularity, and raised him to the zenith of his fame. It chimed with that love of nature and simple, primitive life, which in England was about to cancel the long divorce between the literature and the people; and it anticipated the romantic movement by its poetry of reminiscence and regret. It had little of the rhetorical eloquence of The Traveller and none of its political diatribes; and, in spite of the economic fallacy that ran through it, it became far more popular, because of its greater melody, the pastoral beauty of its pictures, the more natural flow of its emotions, and the essential simplicity of its art. Many poems have given more phrases and lines to the English language; none have fixed in the national consciousness so many passages, pictures, and charactersketches.

6. The very name of the village, "Sweet Auburn ", has almost become proverbial in English. It is neither English nor Irish; it is the ideal village of middle class sentiment, in both its happy and its ruined state. The descendants of the Puritans still cherished the memory of the exodus of their American relations for the sake of their religion; and the romance and the terrors of the English world across the great sea were revived amongst them by the visits of their preachers Whitefield and Wesley. Oppression or failure of employment still kept up the stream of emigration. Hence the almost religious feeling that lingered round a ruined cottage or homestead or an abandoned hamlet. Nor did they strictly distinguish between the effect of colonisation and that of the new emigration from the country to industrial centres. All alike formed the natural fountain of the poetry of regret amongst the rapidly expanding audience of literature. With Goldsmith it was almost instinctive to choose the theme. He was a being wholly of sentiment, and he never lost touch with the middle class life of his own family. Hence the naturalness of the expression, in spite of its Queen Anne echoes; and hence the great popularity

of the poem, in spite of the departure of the theme from all the traditions of London critics.

7. And its fundamental fallacy that wealth was the ruin of all that was simple and great in a nation must have been a widespread sentiment throughout Britain; else Adam Smith would not have put such vigour into the refutation of it and into the elucidation of the laws that guide national prosperity. It is significant that The Wealth of Nations appeared in 1776, six years after the publication of The Deserted Village. Something rational was needed to stem the current of popular antagonism to the new industrial development now made so romantic by this sweet-natured poet of memory. And such a melodious work of art was then stronger than a dozen of the most persuasive and lucid treatises on political economy. Lines like these sang in the

ear like lyrics:

"And parting Summer's lingering blooms delayed";
'Along thy glades, a solitary guest,

The hollow-sounding bittern guards his nest;
Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies."

"No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread;
For all the bloomy flush of life is fled."

And the pictures of "innocence and ease", of "humble happiness", were exactly those that would appeal to the hearts of rustics cooped up in factories and cities with the memory of the life they had left all idealised; to them the omission of the sordid details, the narrow routine, the hard struggle with poverty, the coarse ignorance, the often brutal jealousies and envies, and the injustice of village gossip, would seem anything but unnatural. Memory is the boldest magician; and this poem brought it into full play and expressed their best ideals:

"Remembrance wakes with all her busy train,

Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain."
"I still had hopes, my long vexations past,
Here to return-and die at home at last.

And the half-humourous, half-pathetic portraits of the village preacher, "passing rich with forty pounds a year," the beggar, the broken soldier, "shouldering his crutch and showing how fields were won," the schoolmaster whose "one small head could carry all he knew," would please the longings of the urbanised rustics for their old life. So too


would the series of vivid sketches of scenes, often Tenierslike in their faithfulness, and yet ever idealised; hawthorn bush with seats beneath the shade," the sports and dancing in the twilight, the kindly parson as "he watched and wept," "prayed and felt for all," "allured to brighter worlds and led the way," making "fools who came to scoff, remain to pray," smiling over his flock as he saw them at work or leisure, the village school with its humours and terrors, the bout at argument between the parson and the master, the village alehouse with its "varnished clock," that "clicked behind the door," and its "village statesmen talking with looks profound," the farmer telling his news, the barber his tale, the woodman singing his ballad, the smith clearing his dusky brow, and the coy maid "kissing the cup to pass it to the rest."

8. No wonder that the poem went straight to the heart of the emigrant yeomen and artisans in the great centres. And its philosophy harmonised with the latent socialism of men who saw members of their class rise to great wealth, and wealth develop into extravagant luxury, and the latent democracy of men who were soon to sympathise with the struggle of their brethren in America for freedom. It sank into their hearts strengthened by the revolutionism of the time.

"Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,
And desolation saddens all thy green
"Princes and lords may flourish and may fade;
A breath can make them as a breath has made.
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied".
"For him no wretches, born to work and weep,
Explore the mine or tempt the dangerous deep".
"Unpractised he to fawn, or seek for power,

By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour".

It mattered not that the basis of his sentiment was a mistake of fact; wealth was accumulating, it was true; but men were not decaying; they were only shifting the scene of their labours from agriculture to manufactures, from country to town, and were thus progressing towards greater intelligence and greater knowledge; and but for the great wars of the period recklessly undertaken by the government, their grow thin numbers, and in prosperity or real value of wages,

would have struck even a sentimentalist who romanced about the past.

9. He defends the mistake and the consequent fallacy in his prose dedication to Sir Joshua Reynolds. He says he has made excursions into the country for four or five. years and made inquiries. And he professes that his theory about the destructive effects of luxury will be met with "the shout of modern politicians", as it has been "the fashion”, "for twenty or thirty years past", "to consider luxury as one of the greatest national advantages". He holds with "the wisdom of antiquity". He seems quite unconscious that he is really expressing the Puritan feeling of the new middle classes, and the revolutionary feeling of the new European times that was to culminate twenty years after in the overthrow of both monarchic and aristocratic luxury in France. He was really interpreting the voice of the new audience of literature, as against London society.

[ocr errors]

IO. His protest against dedications points in the same direction. English literature was in the throes of rejecting patronage and he was doing his best for the revolution. The only dedication I ever made was to my brother, because I loved him better than most men. He is since dead." And the dedication he refers to is quite as manly as this, and as revolutionary in literary doctrines. He refers to the decay of poetry, and to the favour shown by "the powerful" to her new rivals, painting and music. Nor does he regret the disappearance of patronage. He mourns as as much over "the mistaken efforts of the learned to improve poetry". "What criticisms have we not heard of late in favour of blank verse, and Pindaric Odes, choruses, anapaests, and iambics, alliterative care, and happy negligence!" In short he will have nothing to do with the school of Gray and Collins or that of Akenside. He feels, though he does not say so, that it will never suit the more natural tastes of the new audience. So does he condemn, but with more vehemence, the satiric school that indulged in party distortion and calumny. This manifestly refers to Churchill and his disciples, though they were only carrying out one tradition of the age of Pope and Swift, which he too followed. "Some half-witted thing, who waits to be thought

« AnteriorContinuar »