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for having brought him into the world as a Dissenting butcher's son ; which had provided neither rank, nor fortune, nor medical practice, and perhaps skill, sufficient to render him independent of Jeremiah Dyson's generosity. He was angry with his hospital patients, against whom, and their objectionable liability to infect their physician, he protected himself by a bodyguard of certificated conyalescents. He was angry with his professional brethren, with the men of letters, and men of none, whom he met at coffee-houses. He was angry even with his poems, which he proceeded to re-write.
Therein at last I perceive some signs of grace. It is a horrid thing to have nightmare-ridden English poetry with shallow yet heavy versified treatises, with leaden Odes which will not burn, and object to being buried. But at all events, though he had originally the folly to believe himself a born poet, to whom the Muses
In early days did to my wondering sense
he has a right to plead that he did not remain satisfied with his primary experiments as interpreter ; that finally, in a fit of despair, I could suppose, at the discovery of his inability to coax the embers of sulky fancy into a flame, he declared, it is reported, poetry to be only 'eloquence in metre'! 14 The fact that, so far from bettering his compositions by elaborate revision or reconstruction, he spoilt irretrievably the solitary exception to their pervading mediocrity, the Epistle to Curio, deepens my compassion for a poet manqué. Let any one who thinks such a measure of critical leniency parsimonious, do penance with me by reading for himself, and try to be as indulgent !
The Poetical Works of Mark Akenside (Aldine Edition of the British Poets). William Pickering, 1835.
1 The Pleasures of Imagination, Book II, vv. 73-83.
2 To the Evening Star (Odes on Several Subjects), Book I, Ode xv, stanzas 9-10.
3 Life : by Alexander Dyce, p. xc. • The Virtuoso—in imitation of Spenser's Style and Stanza, st. 2. 6 Inscription for a Statue of Chaucer at Woodstock.
? The Pleasures of Imagination, Book II, v. 20.
NATURE meant Goldsmith for a poet, and overdid her work. She gave a heart to sympathize with joy and sorrow, with every virtue and every weakness. To it she added a brain of versatility almost boundless, which, as Johnson has truly pronounced, could touch nothing without leaving a new beauty behind. She mixed sensibility to absurdities in others with insensibility to his own; a habit of impecuniosity with another of prodigality, in large doses ; thirst for posthumous fame with a propensity for mortgaging it for present cash ; rare delight in the exercise of heavenborn faculties with a less unusual appreciation of their market value; the dainty taste of a Gray with the indiscriminateness of a booksellers' hack. None of his gifts or foibles, except perhaps the last, were out of place in a poet. He himself always recognized the composition of poetry as his legitimate profession. But together they inclined to jostle him from its practice. With less wit and humour, less generosity and compassion, something less even of intelligence, he must have been more definitely a poet, and nothing else or lower.
He knew it himself, though ungrateful in imputing to poetry his poverty as well as his bliss. He had, as he was fully conscious, an ear exactly true for rhythm. His instinct discerned just what in a subject was poetical. His pen could paint a scene both delicately and broadly, with human life, its pleasures and troubles, to animate the land
scape. A suggestion of heroism or tyranny roused in him a storm of enthusiasm or indignation. Wit, cutting like a razor, and leaving no poison or taint behind, worked in him in alliance wit] an insight into haracter of extraordinary subtlety. Between them they opened on an instant for posterity in Retaliation a gallery of etched portraits, in its own way incomparable. With such qualities, all was constantly being prepared to make him the poet of his age, and eliminate, perhaps, in consequence, from the museum of literature an adorable curiosity. Wreath after wreath was twined, when the laureate-elect was ever finding that he could not exist without a peach-coloured velvet coat, or that his ragged regiment of vagabond clients were without shoes to their feet. An over-ready brain wandered off to supply the double want; and the Muse had to plait another crown. The sole comfort is that, if poetry suffered a loss in quantity, there was none in quality. At it he always, or with one or two exceptions—a Threnodia Augustalis, or an equally worthless Oratorio—insisted upon working with no regard for pay. On his poems he bestowed his best of heart and head without question of the proportion of labour to its pecuniary value.
Fortunately for us ; for it was at the high tide of his ascendancy with publishers, when histories, biographies, plays, moral essays, scientific treatises, and manuals poured from his complaisant fancy. Gold rained-at any rate, freely trickled-yet never filled his purse. While the thirst increased with the supply, he jealously held back one jewel of price for a couple of years' unwearied revision. In his poems literature is put off with no drudge's work, though his genius could illuminate penny-a-lining itself. The reward is that his verse remains eternally young. In the spirit it is true of all, even of The Traveller. I do not
suppose that this, with its mannered eloquence, and rather insular patriotism, appeals as a whole to modern sympathies. But it contains many noble passages, though indeed the charm of the score or so of opening lines would itself have preserved a worse poem fresh and fragrant. No Johnsonian pomp clogs his thought of brother and home :
Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow,
And learn the luxury of doing good.1 For the second of the only two compositions of any length no qualification is needed. I cannot deny that, like The Traveller, it is weighted with a strong didactic element. The reasoning is not very cogent, and often is not very fair. But the whole is set in a framework of tender homeliness irresistibly captivating and absorbing. A reader forgets that verse is capable of anything beyond. English poetry may boast of much grander things than The Deserted