Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village:
Controlling Nature

by Gerald Lynch

     It is gratifying to see that Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village, "the first poem to be published in book form by an English Canadian,"1 has recently been receiving critical attention. However, it is lamentable that the critics who have written about the poem have managed somehow to discuss much that is peripheral to an understanding of Goldsmith's central concerns in The Rising Village.2  In the instance of this previously neglected work, a careful study of the poem's thematic coherence is surely required before comparative, political, or generic studies are attempted. In the first study that treats the poem at length, Desmond Pacey compares The Rising Village to The Deserted Village, by the Anglo-Irish Goldsmith.3   Pacey finds the Canadian poem pale, passionless, and evidencing less talent than its ancestor, though admirable in its derivative Canadian way. After twenty-one years of further critical neglect, Kenneth J. Hughes takes Pacey to task and attempts to demonstrate that changes between the 1825 and 1834 versions of the poem are proof of Goldsmith's "incipient Nova Scotia Nationalism."4   This may very well be true5 but still we remain without a convincing interpretation of just what the poem is about. Furthermore, in his contortions to prove his political thesis, Hughes misin terprets the Albert and Flora story as an allegory of the relationship between England and Acadia. It remains for W.J. Keith to refute Hughes' interpretation, though Keith's reading of the poem is not without its problems.6  He recognizes that Goldsmith offers the story of Albert and Flora in terms of "vice and virtue" (p. 10), and that the story "warns that the possibility of decline is ever-present" (p. 11). But Keith, in his determination to walk a critical tightrope, shies away from exploring "the rich complexities" of The Rising Village.7  His study becomes, unfortunately, less useful generic criticism that slots Goldsmith's poem into the category of "sub-genre . . . the Village Poem" (p. 4). As useful as these three studies are, none conveys an acceptable appreciation of the complexity and skill with which Goldsmith portrays the civilizing of the wilderness; and none ever focuses on what is so obviously the poet's preoccupation in The Rising Village.

     I will argue that The Rising Village is a poem about control, the control of nature, both physical and human. From beginning to end the poem reveals a cyclical movement wherein control is gained, the settlers relax, control is lost, regained and tenuously maintained. In this sense, The Rising Village appears the work of an obsessively moralistic man, a poet who anticipates encroaching chaos in his environment, creeping vice in his neighbours. Such a reading of the poem places the Albert and Flora story in its proper thematic context and reveals the central concerns of The Rising Village: the control of nature, of nature-as-wilderness, and of human nature — those who work to exert control on external nature and within themselves. Read in this light, the poem is as successful in its own terms as is its "predecessor-model" (Hughes, p. 27), The Deserted Village. The Rising Village also emerges as having more in common with the concerns of The Deserted Village than has yet been demonstrated.

     Kenneth J. Hughes has pointed out the complexity of Goldsmith's uses of the words "prospects" and "culture," demonstrating how both terms are employed in a human and a physical sense, often to suggest both senses simultaneously (pp. 39-40). It is not surprising, then, though of greater importance, that Goldsmith employs the word "nature" in a similar manner. To Goldsmith the concept, "nature," carries multiple meanings. For example: he speaks of "nature's ruggedness" (73) to signify the harsh reality of the wilderness faced by the pioneers; he uses the phrase, "by nature nourished" ( 119), to convey his understanding of nature in the abstract, as beneficent mother; and he writes of "exhausted nature" (379), meaning human nature — in this instance, exhausted Flora. Physical nature is to Goldsmith both a terrifying wilderness (inclusive of Indians and beasts) and a beneficent, nourishing nature in the abstract. In its human manifestation, nature is also two-sided: there is virtuous human nature, civilized man, resulting from controlled instinct; and there is the side of human nature that is equivalent to the wilderness, a dark side that must be controlled if civilization is to prosper. Perhaps this split in Goldsmith's view of nature is, as was the case with Susanna Moodie, a result of old-world trappings, im ported poetic conventions brought face-to-face with an unconventional wilderness. Faced with such a challenge to order, the poet becomes obsessed with controlling what appears uncontrollable — that which threatens the "rising village." As we shall see, Goldsmith's achievement results from depicting in general terms the gaining and losing of this control, and from synthesizing in the story of Albert and Flora his fourfold vision of nature — as beneficent mother, as wilderness, as civilized man, and as in stinctual human nature — with his moralistic intent.

     In the initial contrast between the "chaste and splendid . . . scenes that lie / Beneath the circle of Britannia's sky" (27-28) and Acadia's "lone and drear . . . woods and wilds" (43-44), we notice that what appeals most to the poet is the orderliness of the old world. In Britain, there is a place for earthing and everyone:

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;
While the low hamlet and the shepherd's cot
In peace and freedom mark the peasant's lot.     (31-36)

Everything and everyone is in its / his place. The word "chaste" is itself revelatory of Goldsmith's moralism, his association of virtue with social order and economic prosperity. Obviously he has not taken from his great uncle's poem the explicit message that "the merchant's glory" and "the farmer's pride" are incompatible. This is understandable: in a pioneering environment, and in accordance with the new-world mythology that in fuses The Rising Village, mercantile and agrarian interests would have to be viewed as compatible if there was to be any hope of Acadia's prospering. We are not concerned in The Rising Village with the depopulation of a rural class but with the reverse of Auburn's dilemna — settlement. Goldsmith has, however, infused his poem with the moralistic tone of The Deserted Village, particularly, as we will see, that poem's uneasiness with regard to pleasurable pastimes.

     In The Rising Village, the first imposition of order on the wilds of Acadia culminates in the triumph of agriculture:

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 the air, and redden all the skies;
And where the forest once its foliage spread,
The golden corn triumphant waves its head.          (67-72)

The above passage depicts the initial onslaught against nature-as-wilder ness in images that are at once suggestive of alchemical transmutation (from the green of the "forest" to the "golden corn") and the martial ("red den all the skies" and "triumphant"). The wilderness is transformed, the initial battle is won, control is exerted, order is imposed. The pioneer then finds time to relax, the one pastime that Goldsmith portrays throughout the poem as boding ill. For just when "hope presents a solace for his woes, / New ills arise" (78-79). The "wilderness of trees" (60) is not the only danger that nature-as-wilderness holds. As the poet suggests, if trees were the sole challenge to security, there would be no need eternally to maintain vigilance: "How blest, did nature's ruggedness appear / The only source of trouble or of fear" (73-74). There are other challenges to be met. The "solemn silence" (63), which was lamented earlier as 'pervading the waste,' is "solemn" because it conceals the "hideous yells" that "announce the murderous band" of Indians (85). The settler is forced to flee, but there is no security within nature-as-wilderness, for there "a host of foes" — the beasts of the wilderness — "On every side, his trembling steps oppose" (93-94). Nevertheless, daylight brings repose; nature-as-wilderness is subdued by "patient firmness," "industrious toil" (103), and ultimately by the sheer number of settlers (105-10). The poem moves into the second phase of relaxation.

     In this second phase, nature is characterized as beneficent. As the settler is 'charmed by fair prospects on every side,' he is

By nature nourished, by her bounty blest,
He looks to heaven, and lulls his cares to rest. (119-20)

It is human nature that now surfaces in its relaxed, uncontrolled state, for eboding new turmoils.  Lulling one's cares to rest is never a promising prospecs for this poet: recall what happened when the pioneer rested his cares after having axed the forest. For Goldsmith, human nature contains its own equivalent of wild savages and beasts stalking the deceptive stillness. Although nature-as-wilderness has been overcome, controlled, there yet remains the greater struggle with human nature, to be effected by means of the "arts of culture" ( 121) — following the triumph of the axe and agriculture, the cultivating of human nature.

     The first evidence of the "arts of culture" is the tavern with its "useful front" (132), filled with men who "will sigh to learn whatever" a passing stranger "can teach" (146). We are presented with settlers who hunger for knowledge. If this thirst for information, this "idle curiosity" (148) is not satisfied, "by indulgence, so overpowering grown / It seeks to know all business but its own" (151-52) — a bad omen. The church is the second accomplishment of the "arts of culture." As we move through the descriptions of the country store, the doctor, and the schoolhouse, we soon realize that the tavern, the church and the store are the only institutions that Goldsmith finds of any practical, hence "useful," value. The tavern provides respite from loneliness, the church supplies the settler's spiritual needs, the store his material needs and wants. These three successful institutions are followed by passages dealing with two failures; this time, concerning body and mind, the doctor and the schoolmaster. Besides conveying a feeling for the immediacy of death in a pioneer community, the passage dealing with the doctor's inability to control what happens to his charges' bodies complements the following description of the schoolmaster and his frustrated attempts to shape the young minds of the community.

     The schoolhouse section sounds the first explicitly problematical note in The Rising Village:

Beneath the shelter offs log-built shed
The country school-house next erects its head.
No ``man severe," with learning's bright display,
Here leads the opening blossoms into day;
No master here, in every art refined,
Through fields of science guides the aspiring mind. (229-34)

The phrase, "erects its head," should warn us that what we are encountering here is nothing less than the serpent about to enter this imperfect Eden.8  It is interesting that the poet associates the students' minds with natural — one is tempted to say edenic — imagery. They are "opening blossoms" to be led through "fields of science." The children are, like nature-as wilderness, raw material to be led, shaped — controlled. Further in this passage, Goldsmith sounds the most ominous note of all, a sounding that not only echoes forward to the Albert and Flora story, but actually contains the seeds of and reasons for Flora's tragedy.

      The schoolhouse section concludes with a description of the students who surround the schoolmaster:

No modest youths surround his awful chair,
His frowns to deprecate, or smiles to share,
But all the terrors of his lawful sway
The proud despise, the fearless disobey;
The rugged urchins spurn at all control,
Which cramps the movements of the free-born soul,
Till, in their own conceit so wise they've grown,
They think their knowledge far exceeds his own. (241-48)

We are confronted here with a picture of lawlessness (243), "proud," "fearless," "rugged urchins" who "spurn at all control" (245). This passage not only contrasts well with its counterpart in The Deserted Village (193-216), but serves as a pivot for The Rising Village and its unique, idiosyncratic concerns: the control of nature. The poet recognizes that the control of physical nature, the wilderness, is not as great a challenge as is the control of human nature, the shaping of young minds; he recognizes that the former is contingent upon the latter. From this point, the poem moves into the third phase of relaxation. But we must remember that the respite gained here, unlike the rest following the control of nature-as-wilderness, takes place following what is a failure to control nature in its human form.

     (It is pertinent to note here that the one thing Goldsmith regrets most in his "autobiography" is the failure of his own quest to find a good school and a learned teacher to instruct him in Latin and Greek. He writes of the time he spent in the Halifax Grammar School:

Boys generally remember school days with pleasure, but I must confess nothing agreeable is connected with my stay at this Seminary. (p. 5)

He speaks disparagingly of the "worthless Instruction" he received (p. 5), and complains that at one point he "felt most bitterly how deficient had been [his] education" (p. 11). As can be seen, his bitterness is apparent in the schoolhouse section of The Rising Village.)

     In the shadow of the failure of education, the village continues to prosper. These phases of rest convey the ever-increasing boundaries of the community by means of incremental repetition and the continued use of words such as "successive," "prospects," "extends" and "sphere":

As thus the village each successive year
Presents new prospects, and extends its sphere. (249-50)

But these phases of relaxation do not rest well with Goldsmith. He describes the settlers, presumably the older ones, as those "who felt each hardship nature could endure" (255). Granted, the old have fought the initial battle with nature-as-wilderness and deserve their rest. Nevertheless, one cannot help sensing the poet's unease when he describes them as "forgetful of their former care" (259). Recall again what occurred when the woodsman relaxed his "former care," or what a failure was made of the school when guards were let down following the earliest increase in settlement, the increase that banished Indians and beasts. Goldsmith is at all times a moralist, a poet who anticipates in human nature what he fears in physical nature — the savage in the silence. His final wish and warning preceding the Albert and Flora story is directed to youth, those undisciplined students who have known no hardship:

Dear humble sports, Oh! long may you impart
A guileless pleasure to the youthful heart. (281-82)

Note that this admonition is directed at "the youthful heart." The poet does not begrudge the old their "humble sports"; the old have known hardship in the rigors of pioneering, have proven themselves constant, virtuous, and deserve rest to enjoy the fruits of their labours. It is in the youth of the village — the future of Acadia — that Goldsmith anticipates 'guile.'

     The final challenge to the rising village's peace and security is masterfully contained in the story of Albert and Flora. Goldsmith introduces this interpolated tale of betrayal with a passage concerning vice and its breeding ground. The following fourteen lines recall the schoolhouse passage, echoing its concerns by means of similar diction:

Yet, tho' these simple pleasures crown the year,
Relieve its cares, and every bosom cheer,
As life's gay scenes in quick succession rise,
To lure the heart and captivate the eyes;
Soon vice steals on, in thoughtless pleasure's train,
And spreads her miseries o'er the village plain.
Her baneful arts some happy home invade,
Some bashful lover, or some tender maid
Until, at length, repressed by no control,
They sink, debase, and overwhelm the soul.
How many aching breasts now live to know
The shame, the anguish, misery and woe,
That heedless passions, by no laws confined,
Entail forever on the human mind. (285-98)

"Sportive pleasures" (257), "humble sports" (281), "guileless pleasure" (282) and "simple pleasures" (285), soon give way to "thoughtless pleasure's train" (289), which prepares the ground for vice to take root. Unseen, ice "spreads her miseries" (290), a parody, a mockery paralleling the village's ever-increasing physical boundaries. And why? Because these youths are "repressed by no control" (293), "by no laws confined" (297), like the "proud," "fearless" students of the schoolhouse passage who "spurn at all control" (245) and "despise" their teacher's "lawful sway" (243). "Heedless passions" (297), like nature-as-wilderness, must be controlled with un remitting vigilance.

     Goldsmith's fear that mindless relaxation ("thoughtless pleasures") leads inevitably to vice is, I feel, at least in part, a result of his reading of The Deserted Village. Rather than the politico-economic reading that the Anglo-Irish poet obviously intended, Goldsmith seems to have read his great-uncle's poem for its moral message. One should not forget that The Deserted Village could be read simply as a condemnation of luxury, that on one level the poem deals with the depopulation of the countryside as a sacrifice to the luxuries of the few:

O luxury! Thou cursed by Heaven's decree,
How ill exchanged are things like these for thee!
How do thy potions, with insidious joy,
Diffuse their pleasures only to destroy!
Kingdoms, by thee, to sickly greatness grown,
Boast of a florid vigor not their own.
At every draught more large and large they grow,
A bloated mass of rank unwieldy woe;
Till sapped their strength, and every part unsound,
Down, down they sink, and spread a ruin round. (385-94)

The author of The Rising Village is determined to nip this problem in the bud; and, as we will see, he illustrates his moral concern by depicting Flora blasted in the bloom of youth.

     In the apostrophe to virtue following the passage on vice, Goldsmith clearly reveals his moralistic bias, suggesting that virtue is obedience, that he would not have to tell the "hapless story" (307) of Albert and Flora had the youth of the village been properly schooled:

Oh, Virtue! that thy powerful charms could bind
Each rising impulse of the erring mind.
That every heart might own thy sovereign sway,
And every bosom fear to disobey. (299-302)

Goldsmith knows that virtue is not, of course, enough; virtue alone will not effect obedience. In parallel with the "rising village," there is "Each rising impulse of the erring mind" (300). Obedience must be drilled into the youths of the village who have not learned the lessons of hardship, who have not fought the battle to control nature-as-wilderness. In part, the story of Albert and Flora is introduced to illustrate this point. This story of betrayal serves also to announce Goldsmith's concern for the future of Acadia itself, his fear that the hardships of controlling nature-as-wilderness, nature as the land, will prove too much for the indolent, unschooled future generations of the "rising village." The Albert and Flora story is, then, a complex fusion of the poem's concerns with controlling nature in both its physical and human forms.

     One of the first things we learn about Albert is that "the hand of nature had profusely shed / Her choicest blessings on his youthful head" (311 12). In other words, Albert possesses promise, the material is there. The question becomes: what will be made of these "choicest blessings?" We are then introduced to Flora: "Flora was fair, and blooming as that flower / Which spreads its blossom to the April shower" (315-16). If her name alone is not enough to cue us to a broader reading of her function in the poem, Goldsmith takes pains to point out in a note that the flower of his metaphor is "indigenous to the wilds of Acadia, (America, 1825) and is in bloom from the middle of April to the end of May."9   Interestingly, in The Deserted Village a female figure is also employed to symbolize the land and what is being done to the land. The Anglo-Irish Goldsmith employs the image of a "shivering female" lying near her betrayer's door to convey what has been done to Auburn. The parallels with Flora, with what she comes to symbolize, and her fate, are striking:

Ah, turn shine eyes
Where the poor houseless shivering female lies.
She once, perhaps, in village plenty blest,
Has wept at tales of innocence distressed;
Her modest looks the cottage might adorn,
Sweet as the primrose peeps beneath the thorn;
Now lost to all; her friends, her virtue fled,
Near her betrayer's door she lays her head,
And pinched with cold, and shrinking from the shower,
With heavy heart deplores that luckless hour,
When idly first, ambitious of the town,
She left her wheel and robes of country brown.
       Do thine, sweet Auburn, shine, the loveliest train,
Do thy fair tribes participate her pain? (325-38)

The flower metaphor in The Rising Village, which "spreads its blossom to the April shower" (316), should remind us of the "opening blossoms" (232) of the schoolhouse section. It tells us also that Flora, like the flower, is receptive to growth. She and Albert meet, supposedly, in spring, "on the green" (322), when Flora is in "youthful bloom" (323). But Albert is impulsive, passionately so: "Nor long he sighed, by love and rapture fired, / He soon declared the passion she inspired" (325-26). Neither is Flora innocent of impulsiveness: "And, as his soft and tender suit he pressed, / The maid, at length, a mutual flame confessed" (329-30). Still, at this point, we are dealing with a story of promise, potential; for, even though Albert is not quite under control, "Love" had shed "His golden prospects on this happy pair" (332). We are quickly reminded, however, that Albert and Flora, un like the old settlers, have not learned "to know / Life's care or trouble, or to feel its woe" (335-36).

     The scene of Flora's betrayal by Albert is set with a hauntingly particularized picture of an Acadian winter:

T'was now at evening's hour, about the time
When in Acadia's cold and northern clime
The setting sun, with pale and cheerless glow,
Extends his beams o'er trackless fields of snow. (341-44)

Winter is not the usual time of the year for a wedding, especially such a bleak winter as is described here. There is however to be no wedding. Albert breaks "his vows of love and constancy" (328); and it should be remembered that he abandons not only Flora but his "native plain" (363). The association of Flora with Acadia is reinforced here by the fact that in abandoning the former Albert is also bereft of the latter. As we will see, it is central to Goldsmith's poem that this dual abandonment takes place in winter. But why does Albert do this?

     In his letter, Albert refers to his betrayal of Flora as a "change of heart" (366) — "his weakness" (372). Albert's "weakness," "now involved in shame" (372), is inconstancy, fickleness, the instinct to flight, a natural outgrowth of the impulsiveness that he had demonstrated in his impetuous courtship of Flora (225-26). His weakness is first and foremost a direct result of vice, vice that resulted from the uncontrolled lawlessness of the village youths, among whom "Albert was foremost" (310). On one level, Albert's failure is the failure to control instinctive human nature; he has not had his fickle inconstancy schooled out of him. On another level — the interpretation that sees Flora as Acadia — Albert's abandonment of Flora is the failure of the settlers' vigilance in controlling nature-as-wilderness.

     It is even credible to view the story of Albert and Flora in yet more general terms. Ultimately, The Rising Village is a poem that treats of the wilderness civilized. Albert's decision not to settle down with Flora can, in the broadest sense, be interpreted as a failure of civilization; in this instance, a failure to suppress the nomadic (masculine?) instinct to resist domestication. Although it is unwise to push too far such a general allegorical reading of the Albert and Flora story, it is important to consider the levels on which Goldsmith may be working. I feel fairly secure in suggesting that we may also be dealing here with the age-old story of the man leaving the woman at the altar. That is, after all, what literally occurs: "The day was fixed, the bridal dress was made" (377).10 What interests Goldsmith is the repercussions to civilization of such an unsuppressed, uncontrolled instinct.

     Albert's betrayal of Flora, his unreined instinct to flight, causes her to go mad. We are informed that "her reason fled" (380), that "madness" fired her breast (386). But Flora serves a dual function in this moral tale. She goes on a mad dash through the winter night in search of Albert, but: "Exhausted nature could no further go, / And, senseless, down she sank amid the snow" (397-98). Although "nature" is employed here to mean human nature, the connotation of nature as the land, the former wilderness, is certainly present. This suggestion is made more forcibly when Flora's revival is described in images of a thaw: "The loitering current now begins to flow" (409); and again when the poet decries that nothing can be done "to remove the pain, / That floats and revels o'er her maddened brain" (421-22). Flora, as the receptive Acadian flower with which we began, has now come to symbolize the abandoned, frozen land and its revival. Therefore, in another sense, Albert's abandonment of Flora — especially in winter — brings about nothing less than a return of what this poet visualizes as chaos to the recently-controlled, potentially-promising wilderness.

     Following the story of Albert and Flora, Goldsmith is quick to point out that this is not the norm in the "rising village":

Yet, think not oft such tales of real woe
Degrade the land, and round the village flow. (427-28)

Again there is the water imagery to link Flora's fate with Acadia's. It is to be expected that Goldsmith views such "tales of real woe" as ones that "degrade the land," because on one level that is exactly what he means: a land abandoned, a land betrayed to wilderness, is a land degraded. And the phrase, "not oft," is significant: these tales of uncontrolled instinct, of the land abandoned, may not be the general case, but they do occur. Goldsmith concludes with a generalized picture of young couples pursuing lives of marital bliss:

In bliss pursue
Has at first begun.
Then, as life's current onward gently flows,
With scarce one fault to ruffle its repose,
With minds prepared, they sink in peace to rest. (436-39)

The key phrase is, of course, "with minds prepared," for it was lack of preparation that left Albert fickle — the failure of the schoolhouse. Here again we encounter the water imagery: "life's current" flowing gently onward (437); the youths "sink in peace" (439); the metaphor that Goldsmith has used throughout the Albert and Flora story to lend to his exemplar a more general significance.

     From the above passage, it should be apparent that the threat personified in Albert and his betrayal of Flora is the last that the "rising village" must face. Read in its dual sense as signifying a failure to control human nature and the abandonment of the land (control of nature-as-wilderness), it is a threat that Goldsmith envisions as one that the village must face continually. It should also be clear from the above lines that the poem has now entered its final phase of relaxation, peace. The tensions of vigilant control are forgotten for a moment. Goldsmith's final picture of man and nature is one of cohesion, in which nature has been tamed to serve man's needs. It is a picturesque tableau:

Here crops of grain in rich luxuriance rise,
And wave their golden riches to the skies;
There smiling orchards interrupt the scene,
Or gardens bounded by some fence of green;
The farmer's cottage, bosomed 'mong the trees,
Whose spreading branches shelter from the breeze;
The winding stream that turns the busy mill,
Whose clacking echos o'er the distant hill. (455-62)

Here, there, everywhere nature has been coaxed into compliance, harnessed, controlled for man's benefit. Notice also how the "Here/There" direction of this picturesque convention mimics the order in the landscape and draws attention to the point of view — the controlling, ordering eye of man. Even the saw-mill is portrayed as functioning in a reciprocal arrangement with the "winding stream." Goldsmith 'civilized' his original description of the saw-mill, presumably to make it fit less incongruously into this picture of cohesion. In the 1825 text of the poem,11 lines 461-62 read:

The saw-mill rude,whose clacking all day long
The wilds re-echo, and the hills prolong.

There has obviously been a change in Goldsmith's attitude toward the timber trade between 1825 and 1834. His revision of the couplet not only changes "the saw-mill rude" to "the busy mill," but (and I am assuming that he means the same mill) pictures the "busy mill" as an acceptable (natural?) extension of the "winding stream." The mill becomes one with the grain, the "smiling orchards," "gardens," "fence of green," and the cottage "bosomed 'mong the trees." This revision may be more revelatory of the poet's concerns that at first appears.

     In his The History of the Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 1712-l857,12 W.S. MacNutt points out that the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 were a boon to the timber trade of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Farms were left uncultivated as the settlers seized upon the opportunity for ready cash in the abundant forests. MacNutt makes two points that are pertinent to an understanding of Goldsmith and The Rising Village:

The rise of the timber trade, destined to produce immense repercussions on the social scene, was rather terrifying to the more morally minded. (p. 136)


Conventionally minded people spoke and wrote of the lawless, libertine spirit that seemed to sweep over the land as the timber trade boomed. (p. 139)

As we have seen, Goldsmith is nothing if not "morally minded". When relations between the United States and Britain were normalized, the Atlantic provinces lost their position as entrepreneurs and a period of economic depression ensued. Britain was no longer hungry for naval masts and building timber from her colonies. Goldsmith's fear that the land would be abandoned for the timber trade was no longer viable, and he was able in his 1834 revision of the poem to incorporate the "busy mill" into his cohesive picture of man and nature. One can see, however, even in this relatively insignificant instance, the extent to which Goldsmith desires to keep the settlers on the land.13   When the timber-trade's threat to agrarian pursuits was removed, he easily assimilated the mill to his vision of man and nature; easily, because that threat was insignificant compared to the greater threat posed by winter.

     Besides illustrating his fears of creeping vice, resulting from unschooled human nature, the Albert and Flora story surely shows that Goldsmith's greatest concern for the future of the "rising village" is his fear that the settlers will abandon the land, the effort to control nature-as wilderness, give up because of the harshness of the Acadian winter. His final panegyric on Acadia clearly makes this point:

Happy Acadia! though around thy shore.
Is heard the stormy wind's terrific roar;
Though round thee Winter binds his icy chain,
And his rude tempests sweep along thy plain,
Still Summer comes, and decorates thy land
With fruits and flowers from her luxuriant hand
Still Autumn's gifts repay the labourer's toil
With richest products from thy fertile soil;
With bounteous store his varied wants supply,
And scarce the plants of other suns deny. (485-94)

The winters are harsh but the soil is fertile. Although it may not seem so at times, "Summer comes" (489), "Autumn's gifts repay the labourer'a toil" (491). There is no reason to despair; do not abandon the land in winter as Albert betrayed his Flora. As the poet points out in his concluding praise of Acadia: see what has been accomplished in only "fifty Summers" (499). Ap parently, Goldsmith took to heart, and read literally, his great-uncle's command to Auburn's departing poet:

Still let thy voice, prevailing over time,
Redress the rigors of the inclement clime.          (Deserted Village, 421-22)

     Two questions must be answered, finally, before I can proceed. Why, if Goldsmith was so concerned with education and agriculture, did he excise from the 1834 version of the poem twenty lines praising Dalhousie for improving the agriculture of the colonies? And why did he delete those notes to his poem (2 and 4) that convey his gratitude to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for its educational projects in the colonies? I believe that the answers to these questions lie in the passage of time between the 1825 and 1834 versions of the poem, and in reading the poem as a generalized treatment of the wilderness civilized rather than as a particularized account of the settlement of Acadia.

     Concerning the twenty excised lines dealing with Dalhousie, I accept Michael Gnarowski's explanation that Dalhousie "had become a somewhat unpopular personage in British North America, and, since 1828 had ceased to figure personally in the affairs of the country."14  I also accept, though with qualifications, Gnarowski's explanation for the deleted notes. In the dedicatory letter to his brother, Henry, which was part of the 1825 text, Goldsmith states that "the remarks which [he has] made on the schools are, however, more strictly applicable to a former period, than to the present one" (p. 20). Goldsmith deleted this qualification from the 1834 text; and Gnarowski explains this and the further excision of the two notes:

If Goldsmith had felt that his remarks on education had already become dated in 1824 so much so that he had to qualify them, . . . how much more so, then, ten years later. Consequently, Goldsmith did away with 'Notes' 2 and 4, and, incidentally, did away as well with his earlier expressions of admiration for the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. (p.43)

This explanation does not, however, take into account the extent to which the excisions of paragraphs from the dedicatory letter, the twenty lines on Dalhousie, and the two notes, made the poem that much less particular. Goldsmith understood that his poem possessed historical relevance, that its greatest value resided in its depiction of wilderness transformed to civilization. This is why the poem laments the lack of information concerning Britain's "infant age":

Happy Britannia! though thy history's page
In darkest ignorance shrouds shine infant age,
Though long thy childhood's years in error strayed,
And long in superstition's bands delayed. (529-32)

The poet assumes that even his beloved Britannia has undergone growing pains not unlike those that he has recorded as having beset Acadia. He then employs the metaphor of a chain to illustrate a recent threat to civilization that Britain has overcome (the specific reference being to Napoleon):

When, o'er the earth, a tyrant would have thrown
His iron chain, and called the world his own,
Thine arm preserved it. (541-43)

The recurrence of the chain metaphor makes for a fitting conclusion to The Rising Village. Earlier, the chain was winter's "icy chain" (487) binding Acadia, employed by Goldsmith to reinforce the notion that the settlers must withstand the temptation to submit to winter's bondage and abandon the control that they had achieved over nature-as-wilderness. In the above lines, the chain is Napoleon's territorial ambitions, figuring as a threat to civilization from human nature. At their various stages of civilization, both Britain and Acadia have their battles to win, the former against human nature, the latter against nature-as-wilderness. But, as we have seen, Acadia's battle also involves the control of human nature within its own domain, a control that Britain achieved in the past, the record of which is, unfortunately, lost in the dark pages of her "infant age." Goldsmith's poem records the tenuous achievement of such control over nature — both physical and human — as it happened. The Rising Village chronicles that which is unrecorded in Britain's history: the initial stages of civilization. What we are left with, finally, is a picture of Acadia and Britain ascending hand in-hand towards greater civilization: "Till empires rise and sink, on earth, no more" (560).

     As I hope this paper has demonstrated, Goldsmith's central concern in The Rising Village is the control of nature and the vigilant maintenance of that control. He begins with descriptive praise for the orderliness of Britannia, then shows how this order is initially imposed on nature in its state of wilderness and the ways in which nature-as-wilderness can surprise with new terrors if control is not strictly maintained. Respite from the initial rigors of controlling the wilderness gives rise to the tavern, the church, and the country store, institutions that adquately meet the settlers' social, spiritual, and material needs. Further respite from hardship brings the doctor and the schoolmaster, both of whom fail miserably in their efforts to control body and mind. The failure of the schoolhouse and the coming of further peace to enjoy pleasurable pastimes soon leads to "thoughtless pleasures" and creeping vice. The Albert and Flora story is a masterful fusion of Goldsmith's fears that the failure to control human nature, coupled with the harshness of wilderness and winter, will lead to an abandonment of the original task — the control of physical nature. But the poem is not simply a plea for better schooling or talk of the weather. The Rising Village depicts the imposition of civilization's control upon the wilderness, the tenuousness of such control, and the extent to which civilization is but a thin layer of ice on the turbulent natures of both the physical and human world.


  1. Desmond Pacey, "The Goldsmiths And Their Villages," The University of Toronto Quarterly, 21 (October, 1951), 38. Page references (27-38) hereafter cited in text.[back]

  2. Oliver Goldsmith, The Rising Village, ed. Michael Gnarowaki (Montreal: Delta, 1968). Although this edition is not readily available, I have chosen to use it because it is a variorum edition with numbered lines. Line references to the poem ant page references to other material hereafter cited in text.[back]

  3. Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. Arthur M. Eastman et al. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1970), pp. 500-607. Line references hereafter cited in text.[back]

  4. Kenneth J. Hughes, "Oliver Goldamitht's The Rising Village," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, No. 1 (Fall/Winter; 1977). Page references (27-43) hereafter cited in text.[back]

  5. There is some evidence, at least, of a growing sense of place in many of the revisions that Goldsmith made in the 1834 text of The Rising Village. For example: he changes "our Western" to "Acadian" (18); "our desert" to "Acadia's" (44); and often adds a feeling for home in revisions such as, from "terrific round him" to "around his cottage" (95). One could even, I suppose, read the revision of the poem's last line, from "Till sun, and moon, and stars shall be no more" to "Till empires rise and sink, on earth, no more" (560), as a shot at the British empire; especially so in light of the final metaphor that pictures Acadia as the rising sun (553-58). However, it is unwise to push too far a political interpretation of The Rising Village. In his "autobiography" Goldsmith hints the extent to which his "Nova Scotia Nationalism" ran. When, in 1817, Dalhousie sent to England for Goldsmith's return, our poet did not want to come back to his homeland:

    I must say I was much astonished at this application, for I had not even hinted a wish to return to Halifax, and I exhausted all my oratory in trying to persuade Mr. Hill [his superior in England] against this determination. I represented to him that I had just come away from Nova Scotia, intentionally, and with the view and in the hope of employment at some other station, that I had served there already six years, and was most desirous of going elsewhere, and that I would gladly accept any place whatever it might be rather than return.

    Perhaps Goldsmith had other, more personal, reasons for excising the twenty lines in praise of Dalhousie from the 1834 text than those discussed below. Wilfred E. Myatt, The Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith (Toronto: Ryeraon, 1943), p. 8. Page references here after cited in text.[back]

  6. W.J. Keith, "The Rising Village Again," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, No.3 (Fall / Winter, 1978), 1-13. Page references hereafter cited in text.[back]

  7. Keith concludes: "I would like to argue that this is the point of Goldsmith's poem . . . . But I cannot, in all conscience, do so . . . . 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" (p. 11).[back]

  8. Although I do not intend this image to be taken too literally, one should recall that Milton's serpent:

    Address'd his way, not with indented wave,
    Prone on the ground, as since, but on his rear,
    Circular base of rising folds, that tow'r'd
    Fold above fold a surging Maze, his Head
    Crested aloft. (Paradise Lost, IX, 496-500)

    One should also recall that Eve is tempted while she and Adam are busy cultivating the probelmatical "wilds" of Eden.[back]

  9. The Rising Village, ed. Michael Gnarowski, note 3 (1834), p. 46.[back]

  10. In the 1825 text, this line began: "The ring was bought." The revision to, "The day was fixed," reinforces the idea that Albert's decision to betray Flora's trust was postponed until the last moment. The Rising Village, ed. Michael Gnarowski, footnote 6, p.34.[back]

  11. The Rising Village, ed. Michael Gnarowski, footnote 3, p.38.[back]

  12. W.S. MacNutt, The History of the Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 1712-1957 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965). Page references hereafter cited in text.[back]

  13. Desmond Pacey employs Haliburton's The Clockmaker and his General Description of Nova Scotia to show that Nova Laotian farmers at the time of The Rising Village's composition were lazy and unenterprising; to use Pacey's phrase, they wallowed in a "slough of apathy" (p. 34). Pacey uses this information to point out that Goldsmith's farmers are not drawn true to life. Although Pacey realizes that realism was never Goldsmith's in tent, he fails to understand that the farmers' indifference in agriculture (as opposed to opportunism in the timber trade) is what Goldsmith was attempting to rectify.[back]

  14. The Rising Village, ed. Michael Gnarowski, p. 44. MacNutt also points out that Dalhousie was out of favour and recalled from his post in 1828 (p. 191). See also note 5 above.[back]