The Rising Village Again

by W.J. Keith


     Readers of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Rising Village will be grateful to Kenneth J. Hughes for his pioneering article that appeared in the first issue of Canadian Poetry.1  His reading of the poem offers a healthy challenge to Desmond Pacey’s earlier but now largely outdated article, “The Goldsmiths and Their Villages.”2  These two articles represent, indeed, opposite extremes in their response to the poem. Pacey assumed that the Canadian poem was an inferior imitation of The Deserted Village by Goldsmith’s famous great uncle and namesake, while Hughes claims that The Rising Village is truly Canadian and needs to be read on its own terms. The last three sentences of his article represent the culmination of Hughes’ argument: “It should now be clear that Goldsmith was not simplemindedly imitating his great-uncle. The poem and the poet have surely lived too long in the shade of the earlier poet and poem. It is time for the poem to stand by itself for it is most as suredly capable of doing so” (42). I shall argue here that the truth lies somewhere between these two poles.

     I cannot fully accept the suggestion that the poem stands by itself because it seems clear that Goldsmith never intended that it should do so. Hughes himself grants that The Deserted Village is the “predecessor-model” of the Canadian poem (27). He admits that “the comparative approach is satisfying up to a point, but beyond that point it prevents us from understanding the Canadian work in its own right” (29). I would insist, however, that we cannot properly understand the Canadian work in its own right unless we see it in relation to the poem from which it indisputably derives — but derives not as a blatant imitation but in literary terms as part of a conscious and accepted poetic tradition.

     Many of the connections between the two poems are obvious (and, needless to say, Hughes recognizes them), but in the interests of my argument I must recapitulate them. First and foremost, of course, no one with the name of Oliver Goldsmith could sit down to write a poem in the early nineteenth century without being acutely conscious of the shadow of the author of The Vicar of Wakefield, The Deserted Village and She Stoops to Conquer peering over his shoulder. And in choosing his title, he both alludes to the earlier poem and indicates a difference in emphasis. A passage from his autobiography makes the structural connection between the two poems unambiguously clear:

The celebrated Author of the “Deserted Village” had pathetically displayed the Anguish of his Countrymen, on being forced, from various causes, to quit their native plains, endeared to them by so many delightful recollections, and to seek a Refuge in regions at that time but little known. . . .  In my  humble poem, I, therefore, endeavoured to describe the sufferings they experienced in a new and uncultivated Country, the Difficulties they surmounted, the Rise and progress of a Village, and the prospects which promised Happiness to its future possessors.3

The Deserted Village ends with the emigration of the displaced inhabitants, the following extract indicates:

Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,
I see the rural virtues leave the land:
Down where yon anchoring vessel spreads the sail,
That idly waiting flaps with every gale
Downward they move a melancholy band,
Pass from the shore, and darken all the strand. (DV, ll.398-402)4

The Rising Village begins where the earlier poem left off.

     But there are other noteworthy connections. In dedicating the poem to his brother, and personally addressing him in the opening lines, Goldsmith is consciously following the older Oliver Goldsmith’s procedure not, indeed, in The Deserted Village but in The Traveller (1764). By a curious coincidence, both elder brothers were named Henry, so the names not only of the authors but of those to whom the poems were dedicated are identical. And above all, course, the Canadian Goldsmith employs the same verse-form. Here I must insist that Hughes goes too far in his “political” reading of the poem when he maintains that Goldsmith uses the rhymed couplet “because, with “balance and antithesis, it constitutes a poetical form appropriate to a society in which political power consists of a union of opposites in the alliance between landed Tory and mercantile Whig interests” (30). This may possibly be a secondary factor, but the primary reason can only be that this was the verse-form favoured by his predecessor. By means of this common verse-form, Goldsmith was able to forge a rhetorical and tonal link with The Deserted Village and so set his seal on the connection between the two poems.

     Goldsmith makes the connection explicit in his opening verse-paragraphs, first by articulating his intention to “emulate his fame / Whose genius formed the glory of our name” (RV, p.2, ll.5-6)5 and second by the reference to “Auburn’s village” eight lines later. There are, moreover, several direct quotations set conspicuously in inverted commas: “lowly train” (RV, .2, l.15; DV, l.252), “To tell of all they felt and all they saw” (RV, p.5, l.156; lapsed from DV, l.92), “man severe” (RV, p.7, l.231; DV, l.197).  Again, “The village church in unadorned array” (RV, p.5, l.167) balances “The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill” (DV, l.12); the description of tavern (RV, pp.4-5, ll.131ff.) is offered as both a comparison with and a contrast to the inn at Auburn (DV, ll.217ff.), while the portrait of the Canadian schoolmaster (RV, p.7, ll.229ff.) depends for its effect on the contrast with his Auburn equivalent (DV, ll.193ff.)   Furthermore, the account of the portive pleasures” in Nova Scotia depends upon the reader’s recognising echoes from The Deserted Village.  Here is the Canadian version:

Beneath some spreading tree’s expanded shade
Here many a manly youth and gentle maid,
With festive dances or with sprightly song
The summer’s evening hours in joy prolong,
And as the young their simple sports renew,
The aged witness, and approve them too, (RV, p.7, ll.261-6)

And this is the Anglo-Irish original:

And all the village train from labour free
Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree,
While many a pastime circled in the shade,
The young contending as the old surveyed. . . .
These were thy charms, sweet village; sports like these,
With sweet succession, taught even toil to please;
These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed,
These were thy charms — But all these charms are fled.
(DV, ll.17-20, 31-4)

I have set these lines side by side because they neatly exemplify the principle of similarity with difference which is perhaps the Canadian Goldsmith’s most important literary effect. On the one hand, similarity is established through subject-matter and language (“spreading tree,” for example); on the other, he makes the point that the charms have indeed fled from England but are recreated in Nova Scotia.6

     There are many other echoes.  Here is the Canadian Goldsmith’s description of the Acadian village as seen, in standard eighteenth-century fashion, from a convenient eminence:

While time thus rolls his rapid years away,
The Village rises gently into day.
How sweet it is, at first approach of morn,
Before the silvery dew has left the lawn,
When warring winds are sleeping yet on high,
Or breathe as Softly as the bosom’s sigh,
To gain some easy hill’s ascending height,
Where all the landscape brightens with delight,
And boundless prospects stretched on every side,
Proclaim the country’s industry and pride. (RV, pat, ll.441-50)

He is recoding a specific passage from The Deserted Village:

Sweet was the sound when oft at evening’s close,
Up yonder hill the village murmur rose;
There as I past with careless steps and slow,
The mingling notes came softened from below. . . .
But now the sounds of population fail,
No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,
No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread
But all the blooming flush of life is fled. (DV, ll.113-6, 125-8)

Once again, the Canadian Goldsmith both follows his source and transforms it. He follows his predecessor up the hill, but he goes, significantly and appropriately, at dawn instead of in the evening, and his lines set up a comparison with the Auburn of the past and a contrast with the Auburn of the present. Where the evening setting of the original suggests the end of a process, the dawn of the “imitation” heralds a positive new beginning. I have said enough, I hope, to prove that, while The Rising Village undoubtedly exists as a poem in its own right, it cannot be considered in isolation from the tradition in which it was written. To ignore or play down this tradition is to do damage to the essential effects of the poem.

     Hughes claims at one point that “the two works do not properly belong to the same genre” (28). Here once again I must disagree. This is not merely because I do not share his classification of The Deserted Village as a satire to the neglect of the element of elegy which (to say the least) is just as strong; neither satire nor elegy, in fact, characterizes The Rising Village. But the two poems are linked in a tradition that transcends this kind of generic cate gorization. So influential was The Deserted Village that it fostered a sub-genre within the English tradition of descriptive and topographical poetry that may be designated the Village Poem. Examples include George Crabbe’s The Village (1783), James Hurdis’s The Favourite Village (1800), John Clare’s Helpstone (1820) and Ebenezer Elliott’s The Splendid Village (1833). Remnants of the tradition survived even into the present century; one of Edmund Blunden’s poems, “Old Homes,” which begins,

O happiest village! how I turned to you
Beyond estranging years that cloaked my view
With all their heavy fogs of fear and strain,7

is an unusually late instance.  As my list indicates, village poetry can include a remarkable diversity of tones and approaches, but all the poems are linked by a specific subject-matter which is partly attributable to their common ancestor. The vast majority of them demonstrate quite explicitly their debt to the older Goldsmith. Moreover, the Canadian Goldsmith is not the only non-English contributor to the tradition. Later in this article I shall have occasion to discuss an interesting and very early American example, Timothy Dwight’s “The Flourishing Village,” part of a larger topographical poem en titled Greenfield Hill (1794) — a poem far more obviously derivative from The Deserted Village than Goldsmith’s.


     First, however, I would like to explore in greater detail some of the subtler and more problematic interconnections between The Rising Village and The Deserted Village. Here the question of “intention” becomes decidedly tricky. I have, I think, demonstrated that Goldsmith unequivocally related his own poem to that of his great-uncle. But how far can one pursue these in terconnections? I agree with Hughes that he ultimately produces a very different poem because the circumstances under which he was writing and the conditions he was describing were both notably different. But, once the principle of interconnection is established, all sorts of possible tensions and ironies can be detected in the diverging patterns of the two poems. Many of these are, as it were, inherent within the material; Goldsmith could not have avoided them even if he had tried.  For my part, I am not prepared to argue that Goldsmith was invariably conscious of them — and even if he were, he did not always succeed in exploiting them — but they are available to the careful reader and need to be discussed here.

     Goldsmith points up the contrast between Nova Scotia and England by an apparently eulogistic account of “Britannia”:

How chaste and splendid are the scenes that lie
Beneath the circle of Britannia’s sky!
What charming prospects there arrest the view,
How bright, how varied, and how boundless too!
Cities and plains extending far and wide,
The merchant’s glory and the farmer’s pride.
Majestic palaces in pomp display
The wealth and splendour of the regal sway (RV, p.2, ll.27-34)

A reader familiar with The Deserted Village cannot help but pause here as he remembers some of the lines in the earlier poem:

Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen who survey
The rich man’s joys encrease, the poor’s decay,
’Tis yours to judge, how wide the limits stand
Between a splendid and an happy land. (DV, ll.265-8)

Splendid” and its cognates are recurrent words in The Deserted Village, but they are words of criticism. They stand for “luxury,” “opulence,” the qualities that have sounded the death-knell of the old Auburn. Yet the Canadian Goldsmith uses the word (apparently) with approval. Similarly, the couplet praising cities and plains clashes oddly with the values of the earlier poem. For the Anglo-Irish Goldsmith the phrase “merchant’s glory” would carry with it a palpable sense of indignant sarcasm, and the poet who lamented the lot of the “sad historian of the pensive plain” (DV, l.136) could never use the word “plains” in connection with “the farmer’s pride” — not, that is, unless “pride” were presented unequivocally as a sin. But the tone of the Rising Village passage does not lead us to suspect that criticism is intended.

     Moreover, the immediately succeeding lines raise even greater difficulties:

While the low hamlet and the shepherd’s cot
In peace and freedom mark the peasant’s lot.
There nature’s vernal bloom adorns the field,
And Autumn’s fruits their rich luxuriance yield.
                 (RV, p.2., ll.35-8)

Can it be, one wonders, that Goldsmith has temporarily forgotten the argument of his great-uncle’s poem:  that the peace and comfort of Auburn are poignant because “all these charms are fled” and the village has been tyrannically uprooted? Possibly he is intending to be ironic here; it would be necessary, I think, for Hughes’ thesis that this should be so.  If he is, I can only say that he fails to establish his attitude in an unambiguous manner.

     The opportunities for paradox and irony continue in the lines describing the clearing of the forest to make a settlement in the New World. In both poems (contrary to romantic convention) silence has negative connotations. In The Deserted Village the older Goldsmith laments the passing of sounds of community — lowing herds, playful children, barking dogs, etc., sounds that mark a healthily busy rural world (see ll.125-8 already quoted).  The Canadian Goldsmith, by contrast, notes the oppressive silence of the virgin forest:

How sinks his heart in those deep solitudes,
Where not a voice upon his ear intrudes;
Where solemn silence all the waste pervades,
Heightening the horror of its gloomy shades. (RV, p.3, ll.61-4)

But (and this is my point) he does not seem to make anything of the contrast. He has led us to expect cross-reference back to the earlier poem, but in this case he raises expectations that he never satisfies. Perhaps he assumes that the reader will register the connection on his own, but I suspect not.  Similarly, no English reader (and we recall at this point that the poem was originally published in England) could read the lines about tree-felling with out being struck by the contrast between his own sense of destruction8 and the positive connotations that come through in Goldsmith’s lines:

. . . Save where the sturdy woodman’s strokes resound,
That strew the fallen forest on the ground.
See! from their heights the lofty pines descend,
And crackling, down their pond’rous lengths extend.
Soon from their boughs the curling flames arise,
Mount into air, and redden all the skies. (RV, p.3, ll.65-70)

He would be surprised (even, perhaps shocked) by the approval in the culminating next two lines:

And where the forest once its foliage spread,
The golden corn triumphant waves its head.

Again one expects an elaborating commentary from Goldsmith, but he does not provide it.  I am frankly undecided whether this is a matter of accident or design.

     In his description of the Indian attack, one would expect an “original” presentation, since the Indians represent a threat unique to the New World. Here, however, Goldsmith surprises us (again, either by accident or by design the innocent-looking couplet,

But hideous yells announce the murderous band,
Whose bloody footsteps desolate the land. (RV, p.3, ll.85-6)

Desolate” is recoenizablv a Deserted Village word:

Amide bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen,
And desolation saddens all thy green. (DV, ll.37-8)

It combines with such words as “usurp,” “decay,” “robb’d,” “scourg’d” and “devastation” to build up an accusation against the mercantile landlord class. That the word is applied in The Rising Village to the murderous Indians would seem to indicate a conscious irony on Goldsmith’s part, but we cannot be sure.

     A few lines later, however, the associations change dramatically. Unlike the unfortunate villagers in Auburn, the Nova Scotian pioneer withstands the Indian attacks.  “He still retains possession of the soil” (RV, p.4, l.104), we are told, and ultimately it is the Indians who must retire discomfited:

And now, behold! his bold aggressors fly,
To seek their prey beneath some other sky
Resign the haunts they can maintain no more,
And safety in far distant wilds explore. (RV, p.4, ll.107-10)

One is not over-reading, I think, to note that the Indians here find themselves in precisely the same position as the dispossessed countrymen in The Deserted Village. There is a potentially rich irony in the demonstration that the villagers drive the Indians out of their native haunts just as they were forced into unwilling exile themselves by the enclosing landowners in Britain. Perhaps this is a characteristically twentieth-century reading that would not have occurred to Goldsmith or his original readers, yet the pattern is there, established within the poem, backed up by the unequivocal parallels emphasized by Goldsmith in earlier verse-paragraphs. I do not wish to be dogmatically assertive about all these interconnections, but it seems to me that, cumulatively, they make a point. In view of what I have written, I do not think that Hughes need fear that a stress on the connections with The Deserted Village will necessarily make The Rising Village any less forceful or any less Canadian.


     Up to this point I have based my argument on a relatively detailed comparison of The Rising Viilage with its acknowledged “predecessor-model.”  I would now like to turn to another North American poem derived from The Deserted Village, Timothy Dwight’s “The Flourishing Village.” After a brief scrutiny of this poem, we should be in a better position to decide whether some of the difficulties in The Rising Village are to be explained by the poet’s individual temperament and ability or by the circumstances of the North American experience.

     Timothy Dwight, born in 1752, was a grandchild of Jonathan Edwards. After attending Yale, beginning a lifelong career as a teacher and preparing to enter the Congregational Church, he took part briefly in the War of Independence. In 1783 he was ordained pastor of the Congregational Church at Greenfield, Connecticut, and two years later published his long religious poem The Conquest of Canuan. His most important poem, Greenfield Hill, of which “The Flourishing Village” forms a part, appeared in 1794. The following year he was appointed President of Yale, where he emphasized theology and religious observance.   He published, preached and taught widely until his death in 1817.9

     Greenfield Hill is divided into seven parts, “The Flourishing Village” forming the second section.  Dwight explains his original plan in a prose introduction:  “Originally the writer designed to imitate, in the several parts, the manner of as many British Poets; but finding himself too much occupied, when he projected the publication, to pursue that design, he relinquished it.”10  None the less, the first four parts follow this plan. Part I, “The Prospect,” is written in blank verse primarily derived from Thomson’s Seasons; Part II, as we shall see, imitates The Deserted Village and its rhymed couplets; Part III, “The Burning of Fairfield,” employs octosyllabics in the tradition of John Dyer and Matthew Green; Part IV, “The Destruction of the Pequods,” is written in Spenserian stanzas that suggest the influence of James Beattie’s The Minstrel. The last three parts abandon any attempt at metrical variety, employing octosyllabics and rhymed couplets once again.

     Like the Canadian Goldsmith, Dwight is quite specific about his debt to The Deserted Village. As he writes in his notes to the second part:

It will be easily discovered by the reader, that this part of the poem is designed to illustrate the effects of the state of property, which is the counter part to that, so beautifully exhibited by Dr. Goldsmith, in the Deserted Village.  That excellent writer, in a most interesting manner, displays the wretched condition of the many, where enormous wealth, splendour, and luxury constitute the state of the few.  In this imperfect attempt, the writer wished to exhibit the blessings, which flow from an equal division of property, and a general competence. (p.530)

The basic plans, then, appear identical; both show villages successfully developing in the New World on socio-political principles opposed to those of the “old country” that saw the devastation of Auburn.

     But despite the difference in political attitude (greater, as might be expected, in the patriotic American than in the Canadian descendant of United Empire Loyalists), Dwight imitates the Anglo-Irish Goldsmith’s poetic effects extremely closely.  Moreover, he follows a hallowed eighteenth century tradition in drawing attention to his borrowings and adaptations in the notes appended to his poem.  “The Flourishing Village” begins:

Fair Verna! loveliest village of the west, (p.397, l.1)

and a little later we encounter the following:

Yes! let the proud despise, the rich deride,
These humble joys, to Competence allied:
To me, they bloom, all fragrant to my heart,
Nor ask the pomp of wealth, nor gloss of art. (p.398, ll.49-52)

The correspondence to ll.251-4 of The Deserted Village is close indeed.  We might say that where the Canadian Goldsmith points up the connection by means of constant allusion, Dwight more often imitates and adapts the very rhymes and cadences of the original.  At other times, of course, he creates equivalent situations and duly produces a description of the Greenfield schoolmaster which can be compared with those offered by the two Goldsmiths.

     Oddly enough, Dwight’s general attitudes are closer to the older Goldsmith’s than are those of the grand-nephew.  His references to “empty pride” (p.400, l.92) and “foul luxury” (p.401, l.151), one feels, are not merely verbal but ideological debts to the author of The Deserted Village.  Moreover, he emphasizes the extent to which Greenfield avoids the abuses of Auburn:

No griping landlord here alarms the door
To halve, for rent, the poor man’s little store.
No haughty owner drives the humble swain
To some far refuge from his dread domain. (p.399, ll.81-4)

Although in the Thomsonian first part, while describing “Longa’s Sound,” he notes with apparent approval how

            o’er thy lucid waves,
Unceasing Commerce wings her countless sails,
                  (p.387, ll.363-4)

for the most part Dwight reflects the Anglo-Irish Goldsmith’s suspicion of “splendour,” “opulence” and mercantile values.

     Dwight, of course, had every reason to be antagonistic to the British. In 1779 the town of Fairfield, in which Dwight’s parish of Greenfield was situated, had been laid waste by British troops.  As he describes the incident in the first part,

Yet scarce six suns are pass’d, since these wide bounds,
So still so lovely now, were wantoned o’er
By sails of British foes, with thunders dread
Announcing desolation to each field,
Each town, and hamlet. (p.388, ll.398-402)

We note once again the word “desolation,” employed by both the Goldsmiths.  Here, indeed, the British assault on Fairfield shares with an earlier Indian attack the place of the destructive landlords in The Deserted Village and the Indians in The Rising Village.  When Dwight was writing, the War of Independence was not long over. The United States were beginning the slow process of defining their distinction from Europe. Dwight is continually reiterating his belief that life in New England is superior to that in the Old World.

     But he can only articulate this connection in the literary tradition he was rejecting. As Kenneth Silverman has written, “the very culture Dwight loathed gave him the only terms he knew in which to express his hopes. Because his borrowed language bound him to an English view of his situation, his terms of praise for Connecticut are the conventions and poetic images of a culture that in his view has ‘prostituted’ them.”11  The result is decidedly odd.  The poem is full of patriotic eulogy for the principles of the United States and criticism (always implicit, frequently explicit) for the inequities of Britain and Europe.  But the language, the rhythms, the verse-forms, many of the allusions and references, what we might call the “feel” of the poem — all these inevitably suggest a cultural connection that his argument is denying.   Silverman calls the resultant effect “a kind of serious parody”;12 this is a good general description, but it does not establish the precise relation between the parody and its original.  We are aware of an uneasy sense of disparity between what Dwight tried to put into his poem and what we as readers find ourselves drawing out of it.

     A similar (though not, of course, identical) situation confronts us when we turn back to The Rising Village.  D.H. Lawrence’s famous advice, “Never trust the artist.  Trust the tale,”13 seems to have little application in this context. While Dwight intends to write an independent North American poem but is thwarted by the English literary tradition he has to employ, Goldsmith is in a more complicated dilemma. The links with Britain remain, but the circumstances of life in Nova Scotia continually threaten to upset the balance that is being attempted. In these conditions, how can we be sure whether Goldsmith is upholding the connection or subtly undercutting it?

     Hughes argues vigorously in favour of the second alternative; I am not so sure.  A decidedly strong point in Hughes’ reading of the poem is the way in which he is able to interpret the story of Flora and Albert as an integral part of the poem’s argument whereas earlier commentators could only dismiss it as an irrelevant digression. For Hughes, it is an allegory:

[Albert] is the embodiment of the English aristocratic ruling class when imperial-colonial relations were at their best. His perfidious desertion of Flora is thus the symbolic desertion of Nova Scotia by England in the developing period of economic stagnation following the economic boom of the Napole onic Wars. . . .  That Flora is rescued by a peasant implies that a sturdy and self-sufficient Nova Scotia can now go it alone without Britain if necessary. (35)

This is too clear-cut for my taste, and I am bound to say that I do not think it quite works.  If Hughes is right, why did Goldsmith go to the trouble, not once but twice, of stating that Albert is a native of Nova Scotia?  He is introduced into the poem as follows:

Among the youths that graces their native plain
Albert was foremost of the village train. (RV, p.8, ll.309-10)

And when he deserts Flora, he arrives:

Dear Flora, I have left my native plain. (RV, p.10, l.364)

Since Goldsmith is insistent that, on the literal level, Albert is neither English nor aristocratic, Hughes’ reading seems forced.  Moreover, Goldsmith specifically offers his story not in terms of England and Nova Scotia but of vice and virtue. The paragraph introducing the tale (RV, p.8, ll.285-308) is unequivocal, and I see no reason to doubt the poet’s conscious intentions; that Hughes’ interpretation may reveal an unconscious or suppressed reaction on Goldsmith’s part is possible but not demonstrable.

     Some of the same problems arise in a consideration of the closing lines of the poem.  Hughes sees the parallel invocations to Acadia and Britannia as decidedly ambivalent:

If [the reader] were a die-hard Tory, convinced that the old mercantile imperial connection of political dependence was a sine qua Ron for the continued existence of Nova Scotia, he would see in the last paragraphs of the poem a dutiful Nova Scotia standing beside Mother Britain. If, however, he belonged to the opposite party (including some Tories), he would see that the fully realized Nova Scotia could well exist politically independently of the neglectful mother country but within the new laissez faire imperial economic framework. (35)14

Here I find Hughes’ vocabulary unfortunate. By translating Goldsmith’s poetic language into a reductive political rhetoric, he distorts the effect. If we stay closer to Goldsmith’s lines, we see that, in the verse-paragraphs devoted to Acadia, he makes two statements that reinforce the connection with The Deserted Village, a fact that complicates any political reading.

     First, he notes that the changes in the fortunes of the Nova Scotian village move in the opposite direction from those of Auburn.   In The Deserted Village a peaceful and content Auburn is replaced by a desolate ruin; in Nova Scotia, the Indians’ “reign of terror” (RV, p.13, l.506) is followed — “And how changed the scene!” (l.507) — by prosperity and security “with joy and plenty crowned” (l.516), though the story of Flora and Albert (and this in itself justifies the inclusion of the tale) warns that the possibility of decline is ever-present.  Second, in describing this prosperity, Goldsmith offers another of his puzzlingly ambiguous statements:

From all her shores, with every gentle gale,
Commerce expands her free and swelling sail;
And an the land, luxuriant, rich, and gay,
Exulting owns the splendour of their sway. (RV, p.13, ll.519-22)

Commerce,” “luxuriant,” “rich,” “splendour.”  Once again the words with negative connotations in The Deserted Village become positive here.  A reader sensitive to the political “message” of the earlier poem cannot help wondering whether commerce and luxury will not have the same baleful effect on the Nova Scotian village as they had on Auburn.

     I would like to argue that this is the point of Goldsmith’s poem, just as I would like to have argued earlier that he intended the possible link between the landowner’s devastation of Auburn and the Indians’ attack in Nova Scotia.  But I cannot, in all conscience, do so.  They are readings, like those of Hughes, which extend some of the meanings seemingly implicit in the poem, yet they are extrapolated interpretations, not explications of what is de monstrably there in the text.  I do not think that we can escape the conclusion that Goldsmith, for all his merits, failed to communicate (even, perhaps, to recognize) the rich complexities that were available in his material.  At any rate, like Timothy Dwight he was unable to reconcile within his poem the conflicting claims of tradition and independence.

     In conclusion, I must return to the verse-form of The Rising Village.  I have noted that Dwight’s Greenfield Hill employs blank verse, octosyllabics and Spenserian stanzas as well as rhymed couplets.  This suggests that Hughes’ argument about the relation between political realities and appropriate verse-forms is exaggerated.  Numerous verse-forms were available, though it is certainly true that some would prove more suitable than others.  I agree with Hughes that the rhymed couplet was “the best verse instrument in English for his purposes” (42), but would reiterate the prime reason:  that The Deserted Village had already employed this form and established a traditional precedent.

     Ultimately, I cannot accept what seems to me to be Hughes’ rigidly deterministic connection between poetry and politics.  It provides a neat (I think, too neat) thesis that oversimplifies the issues.  The Rising Village is certainly a poem with political implications, but Goldsmith’s ability as a poet is in the last analysis distinct from the quality of his response to the political tensions of his time.  This brings us back, appropriately, to the poetic success of The Rising Village. Hughes maintains that the failure of the poem on its first publication in England “can be explained by the socio-economic industrial revolution which had destroyed the eighteenth-century conditions which in turn had given rise to the heroic couplet” (30).  Certainly the poem would have seemed an anomaly in the literary world of Byron, Scott, Southey and Wordsworth, but this is not to be explained solely in terms of history and politics.  I suspect that the chief reason for its failure was the un remarkable quality of its verse.

     There is no point in trying to disguise the fact that The Rising Village lacks the verbal subtlety, rhythmic range and variety of tone that distinguished The Deserted Village. Goldsmith possessed a notable talent for poetry (one that can easily be underrated — it seems to me far more interesting than Dwight’s), but he lacked the genius of his great-uncle.  He was unable to dominate words and control metrical effects in the manner of his ancestor; his was not a “new voice” in verse, and his subject-matter required a new voice.  The Anglo-Irish Goldsmith created what it is now fashionable to call a persona for his poem; the Canadian Goldsmith did not, and this partly explains why as critics we find ourselves arguing about his intention rather than about his achievement.  He was not, like his ancestor, a distinguished “maker.”  But, while we may regret the unwritten great poem that might have been, there is no excuse for underestimating what we have. The Anglo-Irish Oliver Goldsmith was writing at the end of an era; his Canadian namesake wrote at the beginning of another.  It would be foolish to expect (or, under the circumstances, to desire) poetic splendour.  Goldsmith was able to offer a more modest but also more appropriate achievement. If we wish to allegorize his poem, I believe that an allegory of poetic development in a new land is more applicable than a political reading.  Goldsmith’s inestimable contribution as literary pioneer was to raise a solid and serviceable log cabin in the Canadian poetic wilderness.  It survives as a historic and significant creation.


  1. Kenneth J. Hughes, “Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The Rising Village’,” Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, 1 (Fall/Winter 1977), 27-43. Page-references hereafter cited in text.[back]

  2. Desmond Pricey, “The Goldsmiths and Their Villages,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 21 (October 1951), 27-38.  Subsequent scholarship suggests that Pacey underestimated the evidence that the Anglo-Irish Goldsmith could have cited for “deserted villages” in his own time.  For a useful list, see A.J. Sambrook, “The English Lord and the Happy Husbandman,” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, LVII (1967), 1362-4.  For Goldsmith’s earlier essay on the topic, “The Revolution in Low Life” (1762), see Arthur Friedman, ed., Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith (Oxford: Clarendon, 1966), III, 195-8.[back]

  3. Rev. Wilfrid E. Myatt, ed., The Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith (Toronto: Ryerson, 1943), pp.11-12.[back]

  4. For The Deserted Village (1770) I have followed the text in Volume IV of Friedman’s edition (see note 2).  Hereafter cited in the text as DV.[back]

  5. The most reliable text of The Rising Village (1825, revised 1834) is to be found in Michael Gnarowski’s edition (Montreal:  Delta Canada, 1968); the most accessible version is in David Sinclair, ed., Nineteenth Century Narrative Poems (Toronto:  McClelland & Stewart, 1972).  Both follow the 1834 revision.   Hereafter cited in text as RV.  Since the lines are numbered in Gnarowski’s edition but not in Sinclair’s, I give page-references for the latter edition and line-numbers for the former.[back]

  6. Goldsmith emphasize the point by introducing the echoing phrase, “charms are fled,” in the following line (RV, p.7, l.267), thus recalling DV, 1.34.[back]

  7. Edmund Blunden, English Poems (London:  Cobden-Sanderson, 1925), p.15.  This pastiche is worth mentioning here since Blunden has shown an interest in village poetry in his critical writing as well as in his own poetic practice.[back]

  8. These are not, I think, merely modern reactions.  Cf. Cowper’s “The Poplar Field” and the response of Fanny Price in chapter 6 of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. [back]

  9. For much information in this and succeeding paragraphs I am indebted to Kenneth Silverman, Timothy Dwight (New York:  Twayne, 1969).[back]

  10. William J. McTaggart and William K. Bottortff, eds., The Major Poems of Timothy Dwight (Gainesville, Florida:  Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1969), p.374. Subsequent page-references to Dwight’s poetry are incorporated into the text.[back]

  11. Silverman, p.59.[back]

  12. Ibid, pp.59-60.[back]

  13. D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (1923; rpt.  New York:  Viking, 1964), p.2[back]

  14. Hughes’ reading here skirts around RV, p.13, ll.523-8 (“These are thy blessings, Scotia . . .”), which are difficult to reconcile to his second alternative.  I find more convincing his earlier statement, that the “structured juxtaposition of Britain and Nova Scotia in separate verse stanzas at the conclusion of the poem” shows that “Nova Scotia has reached maturity” (33).[back]