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Nature and on life with the eye which Nature bestows only on a poet, and with a mind that at once comprehends the vast, and attends to the minute." To this well-expressed encomium another critic happily adds: "He looks also with a heart that feels for all mankind. His sympathies are universal. His touching description of the peasant perishing in the snow, the Siberian exile, or the Arab pilgrims, are all marked with that humanity and true feeling which show that the poet's virtues formed the magic of his song." Thomson was a born poet. Critics have allowed him invention, fancy, wit, and humor of the most voluptuous kind. "His faults," it has been aptly said, " were those of his style. He is often inelegant, and his diction is at times too gaudy and ornamental; but the original genius of the poet, the pith and marrow of his imagination, the fine natural mould in which his feelings were bedded, were too much for him to counteract by neglect or affectation or false ornaments."
In the drama Thomson failed. "Agamemnon," his tragedy, we are told, was "only endured." It struggled with great difficulty through the first night . We have a ludicrous picture of the author on that hapless night appearing in panting haste before some friends with whom he was to sup, and pitiably excusing his delay by relating how at the play the anguish of his soul had broken out in perspiration, and had so disordered his wig as to render him unpresentable till he had been refitted by a barber.
On his poem of " Liberty" Thomson is said to have spent two years, but his best two productions are "The Castle of Indolence" and " The Seasons." "The Seasons" abounds in fine passages; perhaps the most striking are the description of the contagion among the ships at Carthage and that of the caravan at Mecca. This bit from "Summer" is an example of the poet's happy diction:
"Among the crooked lanes, on every hedge,
. . . leading soft
The silent hours of love, with purest ray
Thomson's " Castle of Indolence " has in it more pure poesy than the "Seasons," and is consequently less widely popular, though some critics have considered it his best poem. The materials of this exquisite poem he is said to have derived originally from Tasso, though from the marked similarity between it and the "Faery Queen," the direct inspiration of the poet might seem to have been drawn from Spenser. Thomson, though less elegant, had the same luxuriant exuberance that characterizes the elder poet, and it is the true source of his power. "The Castle of Indolence " was a poem after his own heart. Here he finds a subject entirely in unison with his own listless temper; and the description of this luxurious palace of ease, with its lotos-eating inmates, is indeed perfect and delightful, doing equal honor to the genius and the supreme laziness of the poet who has been seen eating peaches off a tree, with both hands in his waistcoat pockets! Thus, in numbers that
"Softer fall than petals from blown roses on the grass,"
he describes that restful "lovely spot of ground" whereon he built his "Castle," —
"Was nought around but images of rest:
Where never yet was creeping creature seen.
"Joined to the prattling of the purling rills,
"Full in the passage of the vale above,
"A pleasing land of drowsy-head it was,
Thomson received his highest praise in the prologue to his posthumous tragedy, "Coriolanns." "His works," said Lord Lyttleton, u contain no line which dying he could wish to blot."
Worthy of notice among the minor poets of this era is Akenside, author of the "Pleasures of Imagination," a poet of taste and genius, and Beattie, whose fame rests upon his unfinished poem, "The Minstrel," — a composition which has been commended for the correctness of its style and the genius displayed in it, though in our day it is but little read.
In this age lived and wrote the sacred bard, Dr. Watts, whose poetry-, consisting almost wholly of the fine devotional hymns so well known, will ever give his name a place in the annals of our literature. These hymns are, it is true, unequal in merit, yet the best of them as sacred lyrics have never been excelled; and when, inspired by the grandeur of his subject and elevated by pure religious fervor, he forgets the narrow dogmas of creed in expansive and sublime conceptions of the Infinite, nothing can excel in grandeur and majesty his inspired numbers, as in stanzas like this, —
"Our lives through various scenes are drawn,
And vexed with trifling cares;
Thine undisturbed affairs."
In the literary annals of this period few names stand higher or fairer than Goldsmith's. In massive force of understanding, in sagacious knowledge of the world, and in moral poise of character, he was surpassed by his cotemporary, Dr. Johnson; yet though in strength and solidity Johnson bears the palm, Goldsmith far excelled him in that inimitable grace and poetic elegance that are part and parcel of the man. Johnson might perhaps too demand notice as an excellent reasoner in rhyme, though one could not disparage the craft by according to him the title of poet . In the "Vanity of Human Wishes" he takes expanded views of human nature, society, and manners, yet the same composition, in his own high-sounding, sonorous prose, would have been far more admirable. Nature has been lavish of rhymers, but chary of poets; and it is well to remember this wise maxim, "Never sing your thought when you can say it." In the world of letters Johnson was crowned king, and though it must be allowed that he depressed the literature of imagination and poetry, he conferred a lasting benefit upon the language by elevating that of the understanding.
Oliver Goldsmith was born at Pallas, a small village in the county of Longford, Ireland, on the 10th of November, 1728. His father, a poor curate, eked out his scanty salary by cultivating the soil. Succeeding to a rectory, he removed to Lissoy, where Goldsmith's youth was spent, and where he found the materials for his "Deserted Village."
At Trinity College, where, after a good country education, he was admitted a sizar, it is related of the poet that — good-natured, thoughtless, and irregular — having unexpectedly come into possession of thirty guineas, he provided for the lads and lasses of the neighborhood a bountiful collation, and made due preparation for an Irish jig in his own apartment. His tutor, grim and awful, broke in upon the festivities, and routed the dancers after beating the host in the very presence of his guests! Goldsmith fled in mortification from college, and having soon exhausted his remaining guineas, wandered about the country for some time in the utmost poverty.
He was found by his good brother Henry, clothed, and carried back to college, and in 1749 was admitted to the degree of B. A. His father in the mean time had died. Returning to his home in Lissoy, he idled away two j-cars among his relatives, spent one year as tutor in a gentleman's family, and then his uncle having given him twenty pounds to study the law, proceeded to Dublin for that pur