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HERE rests his head upon the lap of earth,
OR, A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY,
REV. HENRY GOLDSMITH.
DEAR SIR, 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
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 barvest is great, and the labourers are but few ; while you have left the field of ambition, where the labourers are many, and the barvest not worth carrying away. 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 diversions of opinion influenced by party, the strongest and happiest efforts can expect to please but in a very narrow circle.
Poetry makes a principle amusement among .unpolished nations; but in a country verging to the extremes of refinement, painting and music come in for a share. And as they offer the feeble mind a less laborious entertainment, they at first rival poetry, and at length supplant her ; they engross all favour to themselves, and, though but younger sisters, seize upon the elder’s birth-right.
Yet, however this art may be neglected by the powerful, it is still in greater 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, chorusses, anapests, and iambics, illiterative care and happy negligence ! Every absurdity bas 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. A mind capable of relishing general beauty, when once infected with this disease, can only find pleasure in what contri. butes 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 reputa-. tion. 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 dignity with the name of poet ; his lampoons are called satire, his turbulence is said to be force, and his phrenzy fire.
What reception a poem may find, which has neither abuse, party, nor blank verse to support it, I cannot tell, nor am I much 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 other states, though differently governed from our own ; that each state has a particular principle of happiness : and that this principle, in each state, and in our own in particular, may be carried to a mischievous excess. There are few can judge better than yourself, how far these positions are illustrated in this poem,
Your most affectionate Brother,