« הקודםהמשך »
of nature must please. We admire them when young; we recur to them when old; and they charm us till nothing longer can charm. Further, in forming a scale of excellence for artists, we are not only to consider who works upon the noblest design, but who fills his design best. It is, in reality, but a poor excuse for a slovenly performer
magnis tamen excidit ausis ;” and the addition of one master-piece of any kind to the stock of art, is a greater benefit, than that of a thousand abortive and mis-shapen wonders.
If GOLDSMITH then be referred to the class of descriptive poets, including the description of moral as well as of physical nature, it will next be important to enquire by what means he has attained the rank of a master in his class. Let us then observe how he has selected, combined, and contrasted his objects, with what truth and strength of colouring he has expressed them, and to what end and purpose.
As poetry and eloquence do not describe by an exact enumeration of every circumstance, it is necessary to select certain particulars which may excite a sufficiently distinct image of the thing to be represented. In this selection, the great art is to give characteristic marks, whereby the object
may at once be recognized, without being obscured in a mass of common properties, which belong equally to many others. Hence the great superiority of particular images to general ones in description : the former identify, while the latter disguise. Thus, all the hackneyed representations of the country, in the works of ordinary versifiers, in which groves, and rills, and flowery meads, are introduced just as the rhyme and measure require, present nothing to the fancy but an indistinct daub of colouring, in which all the diversity of nature is lost and confounded. To catch the discriminating features, and present them bold and prominent, by few, but decisive strokes, is the talent of a master; and it will not be easy to produce a superior to Goldsmith in this respect. The mind is never in doubt as to the meaning of his figures, nor does it languish over the survey of trivial and unappropriated circumstances. All is alive-all is filled-yet all is clear.
The proper combination of objects refers to the impression they are calculated to make on the mind; and requires that they should harmonize, and reciprocally enforce and sustain each other's effect. They should unite in giving one leading
tone to the imagination; and without a sameness of form, they should blend in an uniformity of hue. This, too, has very successfully been attended to by GOLDSMITH, who has not only sketched his single figures with truth and spirit, but has combined them into the most harmonious and impressive groups. Nor has any descriptive poet better understood the great force of contrast, in setting off his scenes, and preventing any approach to wearisomeness by repetition of kindred objects. And, with great skill, he has contrived that both parts of his contrast should conspire in producing one intended moral effect. Of all these excellencies, examples will be pointed out as we take a cursory view of the particular pieces.
In addition to the circumstances already noted, the force and clearness of representation depend also on the diction. It has already been observed, that GOLDSMITH's language is remarkable for its general simplicity, and the direct and proper use of words. It has ornaments, but these are not far-fetched. The epithets employed are usually qualities strictly belonging to the subject, and the true colouring of the simple figure. They are frequently contrived to express a necessary circumstance in the description, and thus avoid the
usual imputation of being expletive. Of this
“ the rattling terrors of the vengeful snake”; « indurated heart”; ~ shed intolerable day”;
matted woods”; ventrous ploughshare”;
equinoctial fervours". The examples are not few of that indisputable mark of true poetic language, where a single word conveys an image ; as in these instances: “ resignation gently slopes the way”; scoops out an empire”; “ the vessel idly waiting flaps with ev'ry gale”; “ to winnow fragrance”; murmurs fluctuate in the gale." All metaphor, indeed, does this in some degree; but where the accessory idea is either indistinct or incongruous, as frequently happens when it is introduced as an artifice to force language up to poetry, the effect is only a gaudy obscurity,
The end and purpose to which description is directed is what distinguishes a well-planned piece from a loose effusion ; for though a vivid representation of striking objects will ever afford some pleasure, yet if aimn and design be wanting, to give it a basis, and stamp it with the dignity of meaning, it will in a long performance prove flat and tiresome. But this is a want which cannot be ebarged on GOLDSMITH; for both the Traveller
and the Deserted Village have a great moral in view, to which the whole of the description is made to tend. I do not now enquire into the legitimacy of the conclusions he has drawn from his premises; it is enough to justify his plans, that such a purpose is included in them.
The versification of Goldsmith is formed on the general model that has been adopted since the refinement of English poetry, and especially since the time of Pope. To manage rhyme couplets so as to produce a pleasing effect on the ear, has since that period been so common an attainment, that it merits no particular admiration, GOLDSMITH
I think, be said to have come up to the usual standard of proficiency in this respect, without having much surpassed it. A musical ear, and a familiarity with the best examples, have enabled him, without much apparent study, almost always to avoid defect, and very often to produce excellence. It is no censure of this poet to say that his versification presses less on the attention than his matter. In fact, he has none of those peculiarities of versifying, whether improvements or not, that some who aim at distinction in this point have adopted. He generally suspends or closes the sense at the end of the line or