Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

original thought, is often magnified by the severity of his judges into wilful theft or imitation. Yet looking at the vast number of poetical pieces, many upon the same or similar subjects, the real matter for wonder is that there are so few; and nothing perhaps can give us a higher idea of the art itself, or the infinite diversity of the human mind, than to trace the variety and ingenuity which appear in such productions. Poets certainly borrow much less than is usually supposed, for it can seldom be an object with a man of genius to do so. To appropriate even a happy expression, or a line, much less to seize upon a train of thought that belongs to one of his predecessors, is hazardous to his fame; the obligation is sure to be detected, and deprivation of his borrowed honours is not only the consequence, but a serious shock may be given to the credit he otherwise possesses for originality. No writer with even a moderate share of pride, but would sooner furnish a tolerable line himself than borrow a good one from another. And there is scarcely any man of fair talents who has accidentally fallen into such resemblances, that would not have been obliged to any critical friend for pointing out and expunging what never can be an advantage to retain. Justice therefore requires we should judge such things with more liberality than is commonly done. Let us not be alarmed at the prospect of seeming to open a wider door to the depredations of writers who possess little delicacy, or little genius; to prevent such a result it is at least

G

proper they should be noticed; and where the writer is really seen to possess native powers, we may on the disputed point, divest him of originality, yet not stigmatise him as a plagiary.

It is different, perhaps, where we find a train of thought obviously followed, for wherever this occurs imitation may be more reasonably suspected; but this is seen rather than among the younger with the veteran order of poets; and proceeds less from the desire to borrow, than the admiration produced in an inexperienced mind by forcible passages in a favourite writer. Thus for example some of the ideas of Goldsmith in the poem under consideration occupied the mind of Kirke White in writing Clifton Grove, where however unintentionally meant, we find resemblance in sentiment and even in language. The passage in the Traveller concluding with

"For me your tributary stores combine,

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

[merged small][ocr errors]

"Happy is he who, though the cup of bliss

Has ever shunn'd him when he thought to kiss ;
Who still in abject poverty and pain,

Can court with pleasure what small joys remain ;
Though were his sight convey'd from zone to zone,
He would not find one spot of ground his own;
Yet as he looks around he cries with glee,
'These bounding prospects all were made for me;
For me yon waving fields their burdens bear,
For me yon labourer guides the shining share,'" &c.

The opening and other portions of the same poem show that the youthful author had parts of the Deserted Village in his eye. Yet such imitations, as they are not meant to deceive, deserve no serious critical reprehension, but should be viewed as the involuntary homage of a young imagination to the merits of a distinguished predecessor in the art.

"Dear native grove! where'er my devious track,”
To thee will memory lead the wanderer back.
Whether in Arno's polish'd vales I stray,
Or where Oswego's swamps obstruct the way,
Or wander lone, where wildering and wide,
The tumbling torrent laves St. Gothard's side;
Or by old Tejo's classic margent muse,
Or stand entranc'd with Pyrenean views;
Still, still to thee, where'er my footsteps roam,
My heart shall point and lead the wanderer home."

Notwithstanding the suffrage of reviews, magazines, newspapers and private friends, to the merits of the Traveller, several admirers of the poem complained that it did not make way more rapidly in public favour; having in view, perhaps, the instantaneous popularity acquired not long before by the satires of Churchill. Allusions were even made to the neglect of the public, in a criticism said to be written by Bonnel Thornton, who as a friend of Churchill, while he reprehends Goldsmith for an obvious reference to that writer, gives, amid a variety of extracts, great praise to his production. "The beauties of this poem," he says, "are so great and various that we cannot but be surprised

that they have not been able to recommend it to more general notice. The pictures of the several countries visited by the Traveller are warmly imagined and highly finished."* Verses, as well as criticism, were not wanting in praise of the new candidate for poetical fame; of these the following "Lines on perusing the Traveller," may serve as a specimen rather of the zeal of the admirer than the skill of the writer in this line of composition:

"Ye friends of verse, who much afflicted sigh'd,
Deploring genius dead when Churchill died;
Your fancied grief, your needless fears give o'er,
And let dejection urge your tears no more;
Since happier Goldsmith's every faultless page,
Scorning the transient fame of party rage,
On being read, must make e'en envy sigh,
Compell'd to own, though anxious to deny,
That genius still surviving marks his name,

Το

grace the honour'd list of deathless fame." †

In the " Race," a poem published some time

* St. James's Chronicle, Feb. 7—9. 1765; then a favourite vehicle for literary criticism, and to which most of the wits of the day contributed. The passage alluding to Churchill, and another given in a preceding page, will give an idea of the extraordinary estimation in which his writings were held at this period. “The latter part of this paragraph (in the dedication of the Traveller) we cannot help considering as a reflection on the memory of the late Mr. Churchill whose talents as a poet were so greatly and so deservedly admired, that during his short reign, his merit in great measure eclipsed that of others; and we think it no mean acknowledgment of the excellencies of this poem to say that, like the stars, they appear the more brilliant now that the sun of our poetry is gone down." + Lloyd's Evening Post, Feb. 27. March 1. 1765.

afterward by Cuthbert Shaw, under the name of "Mercurius Spur," in which the chief poets of the day are made in the language of one of his lines,

to

"Prove by their heels the prowess of the head;"

and where Churchill and Murphy are the heroes, he is just alluded to among others as being likely to exhibit in the lists on a future occasion

"But, lo! a crowd upon the plain appear,
With Descaizeau slow-pacing in the rear!
Mason and Thomson, Ogilvy and Hayes,
And he whose hand has pluck'd a sprig of bays
On Rhotia's barren hills."

A note appended to the latter part of the passage refers the reader to "The Traveller, a Poem."

One of the means adopted by the friendship of Johnson to make the new production known, was to read it in circles of his friends. An incident on one of these occasions evinces that turn for sarcasm which rarely spared friend or foe, and while honouring the poem, threw no little ridicule on the poet. Miss Reynolds, the sister of Sir Joshua, who tells the story in her Recollections*, was the occasion of it; and though not celebrated for beauty herself, evinced on more than one occasion a strong lady-like aversion to the homely face and peculiarities, though harmless ones, of her brother's friend.

"Of Goldsmith's Traveller he (Johnson) used

* Quoted in Mr. Croker's Boswell.

« VorigeDoorgaan »