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A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY.
TO THE 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 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 for. tune, 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 criti. cism, and from the divisions of party—that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest.
1 This passage the author altered twice. In the first edition it appears thus :-" But of all kinds of ambition as things are now circumstanced perhaps that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest. What from
Poetry makes a principal amusement among unpolished nations; but in a country verging to the extremes of refipement, 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 all that favour once shown to her, and though but younger sisters, seize upon the elder's birthright.
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, choruses, anapests and iambics, alliterative care and happy negligence! Every absurdity has now a champion to de. fend 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? lampoons are called satires; his turbulence is said to be force, and his frenzy fire.
What reception a poem may find, which has neither abuse, party, nor blank verse to support it, I cannot tell,
the increased refinement of the times, from the diversity of judgments produced by opposing criticism, and from the more prevalent 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 too often is in the wrong place.”] In the second edition the bracketed paragraph was cut off; and in the sixth the final curtailment was effected.-ED.
1 The word “tawdry” was first given in the sixth edition. Goldsmith is thought to have had Churchill in his mind in this sketch.-ED.
nor am I 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 every state has a particular principle of happiness, and that this principle in each [state, and in our own in particularl] 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,
1 In the first five editions.-ED,
REMOTE, unfriended, melancholy, slow,
Eternal blessings crown my earliest friend,
i This poem is printed from the ninth edition, which was the last that appeared in the lifetime of the author. It underwent several alterations, and received some additional lines in the course of its successive visits to the press; and as it is interesting to trace the minutest efforts by which genius seeks to attain excellence, we have subjoined some of the more important various readings from the earlier editions.-B. 2 Variation.-In the first five editions.
Blest be those feasts where mirth and peace abound,
But me, not destin'd such delights to share,
E'en now, where Alpine solitudes ascend,
When thus Creation's charms around combine,
As some lone miser, visiting his store,
i Var.-In the first edition.
Amidst the store 'twere thankless to repine :