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the Thames, we have in The Gentle Shepherd plain Patie and Roger and a simple picture of domestic life:
“At e'en when he comes weary frae the hill,
And serve him wi’ the best we can afford.” In such lines as these we feel that poetry has already found a new source of beauty and of power; that it has got back to something primary and fundamental.
James Thomson, whose name we have associated with Ramsay's as a pioneer of the new poetry, was a man of far greater influence, and one in whom the tendencies of the new literature were much more distinctly manifest. He was born in 1700, the year of Dryden's death, in the beautiful valley of the Tweed in the Scotch Lowlands. A year later his father removed to retired spot on the slopes of the Cheviot Hills. Here, in the most picturesque and romantic surroundings, the future poet of Nature passed his boyhood. His fondness for poetry showed itself early; and in 1725 he left the University of Edinburgh without taking his degree, and came to London. He published his great work, The Seasons, in 1730, a series of four poems on Winter, Summer, Spring, and Autumn. The Seasons begins a new era in the Nature poetry of England, and possibly of modern Europe. The great theme of the book is Nature herself, seen under the changing aspect of the four seasons. Thomson's poetry was a protest against the artificial life of the town, where
"Joyless Inhumanity pervades And petrifies the heart.”
Thomson was moved also by the sufferings of prisoners, and he commended the labors of the "generous band,"
“Who, touched with human woe, redressive searched
Into the horrors of the gloomy jail.” Collins and Gray. — From the time of the publication of The Seasons we find a growing delight in Nature and a further departure from the poetic style and spirit of Pope. The poets of this time look back to the classic, artificial school of Pope, and point forward to the more truly poetic school of Wordsworth, Scott, and Coleridge. As we proceed in the century, the romantic spirit, the element of “beauty with strangeness,” becomes stronger and more general. Towards the middle of the century this development is especially marked in the delicately musical Odes of WILLIAM COLLINS (1746), and in the immortal Elegy in a Country Churchyard of Thomas GRAY (1751). The poetry of both Collins and Gray is remarkable for lyrical melody, exquisite finish of workmanship, and sentiment. Collins had the finer and rarer lyrical gift, and the more purely imaginative mind. His passionate fondness for music is felt as a guiding instinct in his poetry; and his imagination carries us to strange lands, or paints vivid pictures of things abstract and unsubstantial. We see “Winter, yelling through the troublous air;” and “the haggard eye” and “hurried step" of Fear. In the Persian Eclogues, Collins turns to the Orient for poetic subjects. Although these eclogues lack the passionate enthusiasm of some of the Elizabethans for Oriental coloring, and much of the glamour of the land of pearls, silks, spices, and gold, they give us several real pictures of the east. In one of them a camel-driver, carrying his cruse of water and his scantily-filled scrip, shading his eyes from the
as he drives the caravan over the sandy plain,
regrets that he has left the quiet valleys and “the flowery mountain's side" to seek gain across the "dreary deserts;” and we are made to feel that for poetic sentiment the deserts of the east are less arid than the glades of Pope's Windsor Forest. Collins was attracted by mystery and splendor. Dr. Johnson says, he “delighted to roam through the meanders of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens.” In his Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, Collins shows his feeling for folk-lore and fairy-lore, and for the gloom and mystery of loch and mountain. In these new subjects, and in the “softly austere and simply tender gravity” found in some of the Odes, we see that poetry has advanced a long way indeed from the ideals of the so-called Classical School.
Gray. Gray likewise turned from the world of the prosaic. He explored old myths, or sought some quiet scene, congenial to contemplation. He was a scholar and a close observer of Nature, who opened new fields of romance to Englishmen by his study of Icelandic lays and Welsh history. But his best poems, Elegy in a Country Churchyard and Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, are noted for their even tone of quiet meditation, and their gentle moralizing on human life, rather than for any foreign material or any pure description of Nature. Yet, in the Elegy we are made to feel, as a pervading atmosphere entirely appropriate to the meditative mood of the poet, the quiet of evening and the charm of English landscape. Gray shows also a strong sympathy with the poor and lowly, with those "to Fortune and to Fame unknown." He appreciates their homely virtues, their silent heroism, and he realizes that too often their opportunities are but few.
The New Humanity :
Humanity: Goldsmith, Cowper, and Crabbe. While these poets were introducing a new music in eighteenth-century poetry, and were pointing out the beauties of Nature and of the life and literature of foreign lands, others were giving voice more particularly to the spirit of a widening humanity.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH (1728-1774), the friend and companion of Dr. Johnson, was connected by the style and outward form of many of his works with the literature of the older school of Pope and Addison. But protesting against the luxury of the careless rich, he is full of the new sympathy with the poor and the unfortunate. Thus in spirit, though not in form, he belongs with the poets of the new age. Goldsmith was born in an Irish village. He was an ugly, amiable boy, idle, blundering, and careless, but generous and loving, with a simple
goodness of nature which no hard experiences were able to soil or impair. For a time he studied medicine at Edinburgh; then, after some aimless wanderings on the Continent, he arrived in London in 1756, with no prospects and with only a few half-pence in his pocket. Here he had to fight for a bare living. After various disappointments and failures, he became a hack-writer for the booksellers. When he was in sore need, Dr. Johnson became his helper and friend. He was taken into the exclusive literary circle, and was one of the original members of the Literary Club, to which Johnson, Reynolds, and Burke also belonged. But Goldsmith was always in debt, and a great part of his writing was done to order under the pressure of many difficulties. From time to time he turned from his drudgery to add a classic to literature - The Traveller (1764), his idyllic story the Vicar of Wakefield (1766), The Deserted Village (1770), and his masterpiece of comedy She Stoops to Conquer (1773). These works brought him fame, but he was continually worried by money difficulties, and toward the last the strain told even on his easy-going and buoyant nature. He died in London in 1774, owing two thousand pounds, but as he lay dying, the staircase leading to his room was filled with poor outcasts whom he had befriended.
The spirit of humanity thus exemplified in Goldsmith's life is perhaps the chief distinction of his works. In his prose as in his poetry there is a depth of sympathy, and a certain cosmopolitan breadth of view unusual in his time. In the two comedies, The Good-Natured Man and She Stoops to Conquer, Goldsmith led a reaction against a less natural and more sentimental school of comedy, and helped to make a new era in the history of the English drama. But it is in The Vicar of Wake