(Poem #286) An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog
Good people all, of every sort, Give ear unto my song; And if you find it wondrous short, It cannot hold you long. In Islington there was a man, Of whom the world might say That still a godly race he ran, Whene'er he went to pray. A kind and gentle heart he had, To comfort friends and foes; The naked every day he clad, When he put on his clothes. And in that town a dog was found, As many dogs there be, Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound, And curs of low degree. This dog and man at first were friends; But when a pique began, The dog, to gain some private ends, Went mad and bit the man. Around from all the neighbouring streets The wondering neighbours ran, And swore the dog had lost his wits, To bite so good a man. The wound it seemed both sore and sad To every Christian eye; And while they swore the dog was mad, They swore the man would die. But soon a wonder came to light, That showed the rogues they lied: The man recovered of the bite, The dog it was that died.
Another wonderfully cutting poem, the irony being all the better for being understated. The verse, likewise, has a deliberately simple rhythm to it, an appeal to 'popularity' established by the first stanza, where the narrator is cast into the mould of storyteller rather than 'high' poet. Of course, the poem itself is clear enough, and its central character practically a stereotype, but there's apparently more to it than that - according to the Dictionary of Sensibility, The dog, as we know, is Friedrich Nietzsche; [...] a figure of sensibility, the mad philosopher/prophet/poet who either heals or infects the community. Well, I didn't know, but I'll take their word for it. It goes on to explain the bite as an act that 'exposes the community's belief in the harmlessness of corruption'. Read the whole theory at [broken link] http://www.engl.virginia.edu/~enec981/dictionary/24goldsmithD2.html m. Biography and Assessment: Goldsmith, Oliver b. Nov. 10, 1730, Kilkenny West, County Westmeath, Ire. d. April 4, 1774, London The son of an Irish clergyman, he was graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1749. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and Leiden, but his career as a physician was quite unsuccessful. In 1756 he settled in London, where he achieved some success as a miscellaneous contributor to periodicals and as the author of Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe (1759). But it was not until The Citizen of the World (1762), a series of whimsical and satirical essays, that he was recognized as an able man of letters. His fame grew with The Traveler (1764), a philosophic poem, and the nostalgic pastoral The Deserted Village (1770). However, his literary reputation rests on his two comedies, The Good-natur'd Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), and his only novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). His comedies injected a much-needed sense of realism into the dull, sentimental plays of the period. They are lively, witty, and imbued with an endearing humanity. The Vicar of Wakefield is the warm, humorous, if somewhat melodramatic, story of a country parson and his family. Although he earned a great deal of money in his lifetime, Goldsmith's improvidence kept him poor. Boswell depicted him as a ridiculous, blundering, but tenderhearted and generous creature. He had the friendship of many of the literary and artistic great of his day, the most notable being that of Samuel Johnson. -- Columbia Encyclopedia Goldsmith's rise from total obscurity was a matter of only a few years. He worked as an apothecary's assistant, school usher, physician, and as a hack writer--reviewing, translating, and compiling. It remains amazing that this young Irish vagabond, unknown, uncouth, unlearned, and unreliable, was yet able within a few years to climb from obscurity to mix with aristocrats and the intellectual elite of London. Such a rise was possible because Goldsmith had one quality, soon noticed by booksellers and the public, that his fellow literary hacks did not possess--the gift of a graceful, lively, and readable style. [...] When Oliver Goldsmith died he had achieved eminence among the writers of his time as an essayist, a poet, and a dramatist. He was one "who left scarcely any kind of writing untouched and who touched nothing that he did not adorn"--such was the judgment expressed by his friend Dr. Johnson. His contemporaries were as one in their high regard for Goldsmith the writer, but they were of different minds concerning the man himself. He was, they all agreed, one of the oddest personalities of his time. [...] Goldsmith's success as a writer lay partly in the charm of personality emanated by his style--his affection for his characters, his mischievous irony, and his spontaneous interchange of gaiety and sadness. He was, as a writer, "natural, simple, affecting." It is by their human personalities that his novel and his plays succeed, not by any brilliance of plot, ideas, or language. In the poems again it is the characters that are remembered rather than the landscapes--the village parson, the village schoolmaster, the sharp, yet not unkindly portraits of Garrick and Burke. Goldsmith's poetry lives by its own special softening and mellowing of the traditional heroic couplet into simple melodies that are quite different in character from the solemn and sweeping lines of 18th-century blank verse. In his novel and plays Goldsmith helped to humanize his era's literary imagination, without growing sickly or mawkish. Goldsmith saw people, human situations, and indeed the human predicament from the comic point of view; he was a realist, something of a satirist, but in his final judgments unfailingly charitable. -- EB