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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

IX. Oliver Goldsmith

§ 16. The Traveller and its success

In a spirit of independence which distinguishes this performance from its author’s workaday output, The Traveller was dedicated to his brother, Henry Goldsmith, to whom the first sketch had been forwarded from abroad, and who, in Goldsmith’s words, “despising Fame and Fortune, had retired early to Happiness and Obscurity, with an income of forty pounds a year”—the actual value of the curacy of Kilkenny West. The dedication further accentuates that distaste for blank verse which Goldsmith had already manifested in An Enquiry, as well as his antipathy, also revealed in The Citizen of the World, to the hectoring satires of Churchill; while the general purpose of the poem, anticipated by a passage in the fortythird letter of Lien Chi Altangi, is stated in the final words:

  • 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 may be carried to a mischievous excess.
  • Whether these postulates of the “philosophic Wanderer”—as Johnson would have called him—are unanswerable or not matters little to us now. The poetry has outlived the purpose. What remains in Goldsmith’s couplets is the beauty of the descriptive passages, the “curious” simplicity of the language, the sweetness and finish of the verse. Where, in his immediate predecessors, are we to find the tender charm of such lines as

  • Where’er I roam, whatever realms to see,
  • My heart untravell’d fondly turns to thee;
  • Still to my brother turns with ceaseless pain,
  • And drags at each remove a lengthening chain.
  • But me, not destin’d such delights to share,
  • My prime of life in wand’ring spent and care,
  • Impell’d, with steps unceasing, to pursue
  • Some fleeting good, that mocks me with the view;
  • That, like the circle bounding earth and skies,
  • Allures from far, yet, as I follow, flies;
  • My fortune leads to traverse realms alone,
  • And find no spot of all the world my own.
  • It is characteristic both of Goldsmith, and of the mosaic of memories which the poetic theories of his day made legitimate, that, even in these few lines, there are happy recollections, and recollections, moreover, that he had already employed in prose.