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A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY.
FIRST PRINTED IN 1765.
REV. HENRY GOLDSMITH.
DEAR SIR, I Am sensible that the friendship between us can acquire no new force from the ceremonies of a dedication, and perhaps it demands an excuse, thus to prefix your name to my attempts, which you decline giving with your own. But as a part of this poem was formerly written to you from Switzerland, the whole can now, with propriety, be only inscribed to you.
It will also throw a light upon many parts of it, when the reader understands, that it is addressed to a man, who, despising fame and fortune, has retired early to happiness and obscurity, with an income of forty pounds a-year.
I now perceive, my dear brother, the wisdom of your humble choice. You have entered upon a sacred office, where the harvest is great, and the labourers are but few; while you have left the field of ambition, where the labourers are many, and the harvest not worth carrying away. But of all kinds of ambition, what from the refinement of the times, from different systems of criticism, and from the divisions of party, that which pursues poetical fame is the wildesť.
Poetry makes a principal amusement among unpolished nations; but in a country verging to the extremes of refinement, painting and music come in for a share. As these offer the feeble mind a less laborious entertainment, they at first rival poetry, and at length supplant her; they engross all that favour once shown to her; and, though but younger sisters, seize upon the elder's birth-right.
Yet, however this art may be neglected by the powerful, it is still in greater danger from the mistaken efforts of the learned, to improve it. What criticisms have we not heard of late in favour of blank verse, and Pindaric odes, chorusses, anapests, and iambics, alliterative care, and happy negligence! Every absurdity has now a champion to defend it; and as he is generally much in the wrong, so he has always much to say; for error is ever talkative.
But there is an enemy to this art still more dangerous, I mean party. Party entirely distorts the judgment, and destroys the taste. When the mind is once infected with this disease, it can only find pleasure in what contributes to increase the distemper. Like the tiger, that seldom desists from pursuing man, after having once preyed upon human flesh, the reader, who has once gratified his appetite with calumny, makes, ever after, the most agreeable feast upon murdered reputation. Such readers generally admire some half-witted thing, who wants to be thought a bold man, having lost the character of a wise one. Him they dignify with the name of poet: his tawdry lampoons are called satires; his turbulence is said to be force; and his frenzy, fire.
What reception a poem may find, which has neither abuse, party, nor blank verse, to support it, I cannot tell, nor am I solicitous to know. My aims are right. Without espousing the cause of any party, I have attempted to moderate the rage of all. I have endeavoured to show,