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OR, A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY.
Printed for John] Newbery, in St. Paul's Church-yard,
"The Traveller; or, a Prospect of Society, inscribed to the Rev. Mr. Henry Goldsmith by Oliver Goldsmith, M. B.," was first published in December, 1764, price 18. 6d., and was the earliest production to which Goldsmith prefixed his name. It went through nine editions in Goldsmith's lifetime, and is here reprinted from the ninth edition, 4to, 1774, compared with the first edition 4to, 1765, and with the "sixth edition, corrected," 4to, 1770.
This poem is founded on Addison's "Letter from Italy to the Right Honourable Charles Lord Halifax," of which Goldsmith himself says: "Few poems have done more honour to English genius than this. There is in it a strain of political thinking, that was, at that time , new in our poetry. Had the harmony of this been equal to that of Pope's versification, it would be incontestably the finest poem in our language; but there is a dryness in the numbers which greatly lessens the pleasure excited both by the poet's judgment and imagination." 1
All that Goldsmith would appear to have received for this poem was twenty guineas.-Newbery MSS., Prior, ii. 58.
Beauties of English Poesy, 1767, vol. i. p. 111.
THE REV. HENRY GOLDSMITH.'
I am sensible that the friendship between us can acquire no new force from the ceremonies of a Dedication; and perhaps it demands an excuse thus to prefix your name to my attempts, which you decline giving with your own. But as a part of this Poem was formerly written to you from Switzerland, the whole can now, with propriety, be only inscribed to you. It will also throw a light upon many parts of it, when the reader understands that it is addressed to a man, who, despising fame and fortune, has retired early to happiness and obscurity, with an income of forty pounds a year.
I now perceive, my dear brother, the wisdom of your humble choice. You have entered upon a sacred office, where the harvest is great and the labourers are but few; while you have left the field of ambition, where the labourers are many and the harvest not worth carrying away. But of all kinds of ambition, what from the refinement of the times, from different systems of criticism, and from the divisions of party, that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest.?
Poetry makes a principal amusement among unpolished nations; but in a country verging to the extremes of refinement, Painting and Music come in for a share. As these offer the feeble mind a less laborious entertainment, they at first rival Poetry, and at length supplant her; they engross
1 The poet's brother; he died curate of Kilkenny West, about the year 1768, and therefore did not witness the fresh laurels which his brother won in 1770, by his second poem, "The Deserted Village."
2 "But of all kinds of ambition, as things are now circumstanced, perhaps that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest. What from the increased refinement of the times, from the diversity of judgments produced by opposing systems of criticism, and from the more prevalent divisions of opinion influenced by party, the strongest and happiest efforts can expect to please but in a very narrow circle. Though the poet were as sure of his aim as the imperial archer of antiquity, who boasted that he never missed the heart; yet would many of his shafts now fly at random, for the heart is too often in the wrong place."-First edition.
all that favour once shown to her,' and, though but younger sisters, seize upon the elder's birthright.2
Yet, however this art may be neglected by the powerful, it is still in great danger from the mistaken efforts of the learned to improve it. What criticisms have we not heard of late in favour of blank verse, and Pindaric odes, choruses, anapests, and iambics, alliterative care and happy negligence! Every absurdity has now a champion to defend it: and as he is generally much in the wrong, so he has always much to say; for error is ever talkative.
But there is an enemy to this art still more dangerous-I mean party Party entirely distorts the judgment and destroys the taste. When the mind is once infected with this disease, it can only find pleasure in what contributes to increase the distemper. Like the tiger, that seldom desists from pursuing man, after having once preyed upon human flesh, the reader, who has once gratified his appetite with calumny, makes ever after the most agreeable feast upon murdered reputation. Such readers generally admire some half-witted thing, who wants to be thought a bold man, having lost the character of a wise one. Him they dignify with the name of poet his tawdry 3 lampoons are called satires; his turbulence is said to be force, and his phrensy fire.*
What reception a Poem may find which has neither abuse, party, nor blank verse to support it, I cannot tell, nor am I 5 solicitous to know. My aims are right. Without espousing the cause of any party, I have attempted to moderate the rage of all. I have endeavoured to show, that there may be equal happiness in states that are differently governed from our own; that each state has a particular principle of happiness, and that this principle in each may be carried to a mischievous excess. There are few can judge better than yourself, how far these positions are illustrated in this Poem. I am, dear Sir,
Your most affectionate brother,
66 They engross all favour to themselves."-Second edition.
DRYDEN, To Sir Godfrey Kneller.
3 Tawdry was added in the "sixth edition corrected.” Churchill, at whom all this is aimed, died 4th November, 1764, while the first edition of "The Traveller" was passing through the press.
5 "Much."-Second edition.
6 "In other states though."
7 "And that this principle in each state, and in our own in particular, may be carried to a mischievous excess."-First and second editions.