Oliver Goldsmith by Campbell

Letter G.

Goldsmith's poetry enjoys a calm and steady popularity. It inspires us, indeed, with no admiration of daring design or of fertile invention; but it presents within its narrow limits a distinct and unbroken view of poetical delightfulness. His descriptions and sentiments have the pure zest of nature. He is refined without false delicacy, and correct without insipidity. Perhaps there is an intellectual composure in his manner, which may, in some passages, be said to approach to the reserved and prosaic; but he unbends from this graver strain of reflection to tenderness, and even to playfulness, with an ease and grace almost exclusively his own; and connects extensive views of the happiness and interests of society with pictures of life that touch the heart by their familiarity. He is no disciple of the gaunt and famished school of simplicity. He uses the ornaments which must always distinguish true poetry from prose; and when he adopts col loquial plainness, it is with the utmost skill to avoid a vulgar humility. There is more of this sustained simplicity, of this chaste economy and choice of words, in Goldsmith than in any other modern poet, or, perhaps, than would be attainable or desirable as a standard for every writer of rhyme. In extensive narrative poems, such a style would be too difficult. There is a noble propriety even in the careless strength of great poems, as in the roughness of castle walls; and, generally speaking, where there is a long course of story, or observation of life to be pursued, such excursite touches as those of Goldsmith would be too costly materials for sustaining it. His whole manner has a still depth of feeling and reflection, which gives back the image of nature unruffled and minutely. His chaste pathos makes him an insulating moralist, and throws a charm of Claude-like softness over his descriptions of homely objects, that would seem only fit to be the subjects of Dutch painting; but his quiet enthusiasm leads the affections to humble things without a vulgar association, and he inspires us with a fondness to trace the simplest recollections of Auburn, till we count the furniture of its ale-house, and listen to the varnished clock that clicked behind the door.

Campbell.