Abbildungen der Seite



[ocr errors]


GOLDSMITH," 1767.*

My bookseller having informed me that there was no collection of English poetry among us, of any estimation, I thought a few hours spent in making a proper selection would not be ill bestowed.

Compilations of this kind are chiefly designed for such as either want leisure, skill, or fortune, to choose for themselves; for persons whose professions turn them to different pursuits, or who, not yet arrived at sufficient maturity, require a guide to direct their application. To our youth, particularly, a publication of this sort may be useful; since, if compiled with any share of judgment, it may at once unite precept and example, show them what is beautiful, and inform them why it is so: I therefore offer this, to the best of my judgment, as the best collection that has as yet appeared; though, as tastes are various, numbers will be of a very different opinion. Many, perhaps, may wish to see in it the poems of their favorite authors; others may wish that I had selected from works less generally read; and others still may wish that I had selected from their own. But my design was to give a useful, unaffected compilation; one that might tend to advance the reader's taste, and not impress him with exalted ideas of mine. Nothing is so common, and yet so absurd, as affectation in criticism. The desire of being thought to have a more discerning taste than others, has often led writers to labor after error, and to be foremost in promoting deformity.

* (Two hundred pounds were said to be the price of this compilation, and the use of his name in the title-page, to Griffin the publisher ; an exaggeration which, though not circulated by himself, Goldsmith took no pains to contradict. When the magnitude of the sum was mentioned, his reply was, “Why, sir, it may seem large ; but then a man may be many years working in obscurity, before his taste and reputation are fixed; and then he is, as in other professions, only paid for his previous labors." See Life, ch. xvi.]

In this compilation, I run but few risks of that kind: every poem here is well known, and possessed, or the public has been long mistaken, of peculiar merit; every poem has, as Aristotle expresses it, a beginning, a middle, and an end, in which, however trifling the rule may seem, most of the poetry in our language is deficient. I claim no merit in the choice, as it was obvious; for in all languages the best productions are most easily found. As to the short Introductory Criticisms to each poem, they are rather designed for boys than men; for it will be seen that I declined all refinement, satisfied with being obvious and sincere. In short, if this work be useful in schools, 'or amusing in the closet, the merit all belongs to others; I have nothing to boast, and at best can expect, not applause, but pardon.



THE RAPE OF THE LOCK.—This seems to be Mr. Pope's most finished production, and is, perhaps, the most perfect in our language. It exhibits stronger powers of imagination, more harmony of numbers, and a greater knowledge of the world, than any other of this poet's works; and it is probable, if our countrymen were called upon to show a specimen of their genius to foreigners, this would be the work fixed upon.

L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO.—I have heard a very julicious critic say, that he had a higher idea of Milton's style in

poetry from the two following poems, than from his Paradise Lost. It is certain, the imagination shown in them is correct and strong

The introduction to both in irregular measure is borrowed from the Italians, and hurts an English ear.

An ELEGY, WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCH-YARD.—This is a very fine poem, but overloaded with epithet. The heroic measure, with alternate rhyme, is very properly adapted to the solemnity of the subject, as it is the slowest movement that our language admits of. The latter part of the poem is pathetic and interesting

LONDON: In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal. - This poem of Mr. Johnson's is the best imitation of the original that has appeared in our language; being possessed of all the force and satirical resentment of Juvenal. Imitation gives us a much truer idea of the ancients than even translation could do.

THE SCHOOL-MISTRESS: In Imitation of Spenser.—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.

Cooper's Hill.—This poem by Denham, though it may bave been exceeded by later attempts in description, yet deserves the highest applause, as it far surpasses all that went before it. The concluding part, though a little too much crowded, is very masterly.

Eloisa to ABELARD.—The harmony of numbers in this poem is very fine. It is rather drawn out to too tedious a length, although the passions vary with great judgment. It may be considered as superior to any thing in the epistolary way; and the many translations which have been made of it into the modern languages, are in some measure a proof of this.

AN EPISTLE FROM MR. PHILLIPS TO THE EARL OF DORSET. The opening of this poem is incomparably fine. The latter part is tedious and trifling.

LETTER FROM ITALY, TO CHARLES, Lori Halifax, 1701.Few poems have done more honor to English genius than this. There is in it a strain of political thinking, that was, at that time, new in our poetry. Had the harmony of this been equal to that of Pope's versification, it would be incontestably the finest poem in our language; but there is a dryness in the numbers which greatly lessens the pleasure excited both by the poet's judgment and imagination.

ALEXANDER'S FEAST; OR THE POWER OF Music. An Ode in Honor of St. Cecilia's Day.—This ode has been more applauded, perhaps, than it has been felt; however, it is a very fine one, and gives its beauties rather at a third or fourth, than at a first perusal.

ODE FOR Music on St. Cecilia's Day.—This ode has by many been thought equal to the former. As it is a repetition of Dryden's manner, it is so far inferior to him. The whole hint of Orpheus, with many of the lines, have been taken from an obscure ode upon music, published in Tate's Miscellanies.

THE SHEPHERD's WEEK. In Six Pastorals.—These are Mr. Gay's principal performance. They were originally intended, I suppose, as a burlesque on those of Philips; but perhaps without designing it, he has hit the true spirit of pastoral poetry. In fact, he more resembles Theocritus than any other English pastoral writer whatsoever. There runs through the whole a strain of rustic pleasantry, which should ever distinguish this species of composition; but how far the antiquated expressions used here may contribute to the humor, I will not determine; for my own part, I could wish the simplicity were preserved, without recurring to such obsolete antiquity for the manner of expressing it.

Mac FLECKNOE.—The severity of this satire, and the excellence of its versification, give it a distinguished rank in this species of composition. At present, an ordinary reader would scarcely suppose that Shadwell, who is here meant by Mac Flecknoe, was worth being chastised; and that Dryden, descending to such game, was like an eagle stooping to catch flies. The truth however is, Shad well at one time held divided reputation with this great poet. Every age produces its fashionable dunces, who, by following the transient topic or humor of the day, supply talkative ignorance with materials for conversation.

On POETRY. A Rhapsody.--Here follows one of the best versified poems in our language, and the most masterly production of its author. The severity with which Walpole is here treated, was in consequeace of that minister's having refused to provide for Swift in England, when applied to for that purpose, in the year 1725, if I remember right. The severity of the poet, however, gave Walpole very little uneasiness. A man whose schemes, like this minister's, seldom extended beyond the exi. gency of the year, but little regarded the contempt of posterity.

OF THE USE OF RICHES.—This Poem, as Mr. Pope tells us himself, cost much attention and labor; and, from the easiness that appears in it, one would be apt to think as much.

FROM THE DISPENSARY. Canto VI.-This sixth canto of the Dispensary, by Dr. Garth, has more merit than the whole preceding part of the poem, and, as I am told in the first edition of this work, it is more correct than as here exhibited; but that edition I have not been able to find. The praises bestowed on this poem are more than have been given to any other; but our approbation at present is cooler, for it owed part of its fame to party.

SELIM; OR, THE SHEPHERD'S MORAL.—The following eclogues, written by Mr. Collins, are very pretty: the images, it must be owned, are not very local; for the pastoral subject could not well

« ZurückWeiter »