"Empires Rise and Sink": The Rising Village and the Cyclical View of History

by Ronald E. Tranquila


At the outset of The Rising Village, Oliver Goldsmith invites his older brother Henry to "turn . . . where happier prospects rise / Beneath . . . Acadian skies,"1 and later notes that "the village each successive year / Presents new prospects, and extends its sphere. . ." (ll. 249-250).  This is not unlike the poem itself, for through the years, and especially recently, successive evaluations and interpretations of The Rising Village generally have brightened and broadened its "prospects."   In Britain, where the poem first was published, early reviews apparently were unfavourable, Goldsmith reporting in his Autobiography that his poem "was criticized with undue severity, abused, and condemned, and why?  Because I did not produce a poem like the great Oliver."2  Comparison with "the great Oliver's" poem and generally unfavourable reviews dogged The Rising Village for almost a century and a half,3 until Kenneth J. Hughes4 found positive reasons to permit the poem to "stand by itself." Hughes argued that Goldsmith was not "simplemindedly imitating his great-uncle," and that "the charge of technical weakness that has been levelled at this work is without foundation and can only have arisen out of a misunderstanding of the poem" (p. 42).   Responses to Hughes' interpretation, and later criticism of the poem, moved toward a fuller understanding.5  These successive readings of The Rising Village seem progressively closer to its central concerns, and yet each also seems to reveal not so much the poem's intentions and context as the concerns of the times of the critic.  Thus, the early reviews inevitably compare the poem to the British Goldsmith's, deploring what is not there rather than seeking to evaluate what is.  Interpretations of the nineteen fifties and early 'sixties seem naive to critics of the more cynical late 'seventies and early 'eighties, critics who find in the poem not simplicity but irony.  Douglas Fetherling's argument that the poem "stands out" because it is so bad seems a spirited application of the central thesis of "Camp" theories of culture fashionable at the time: that something could be "good because it's awful."6  Likewise, Hughes' appeal for a nationalistic reading of the poem and his attack on the poem's "political" failures, and David Jackel's rebuttal,7 reflect the stirrings and development through the nineteen sixties and 'seventies of a strong Canadian nationalism and "anti-colonialism."   Finally, Gerald Lynch's concern with nature and human nature as wilderness is consistent with several of the themes commonly discussed in thematic criticism of Canadian literature, popular at the time, and his concern with "control" reflects the growing intellectual consideration, through the 'seventies, with "dominance" and "control" as central characteristics of Western civilization.8

     As enlightening as these later interpretations are, perhaps even more useful would be a broader view, a view of the poem within the historical context of Goldsmith's actual circumstances.  Trying to examine the poem within the terms of its own time rather than our own, we find that the poem embodies one of the views of history common in eighteenth-century Britain and America — the cyclical view — and in this way expresses a warning to Nova Scotia and Britian about the inevitability of the decline of nations and of empires.  Eighteenth and early nineteenth-century North American thought encompassed three different views of history: Christian millenialism, a product of the Great Awakening; organic cyclicalism, a conservative and rationalist reaction to the Great Awakening's democratic, revivalist spirit; and secular, unilinear millenialism, a faith in the inevitability of human progress.  Although the last of these usually is associated with Enlightenment thought in the United States, Stow Person has shown that the belief in inevitable human progress gained strength only after the Revolutionary War, and that the preceding period of the Enlightenment was dominated by belief in a "theory of organic cycles," a theory which "found the source of historical dynamics in the operation of universal moral law, the effect of which upon history was the endless cyclical movement analogous to the life cycle of the individual organism.  Societies rise and fall in endless sequence according as they observe or disregard those universal moral laws . . . ." This cyclical theory was conservative, and was held by a majority of those in dominant social positions, most of whom "had a keen sense of the precariousness of the felicity which they enjoyed . . . and of the ultimate likelihood of its dissipation."9  The cyclical view not only developed in reaction against the revivalist spirit that swept North America in the mid-eighteenth century, but also had its sources in English enlightenment thought of the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.  Clearly, the cyclical theory of history and its moral corollary had shaped the thought of the great English Tory satirists, including Oliver Goldsmith, whose Deserted Village not only narrates the decline of a society, but places the blame on deviation from universal moral law, on the corrupt slide from industry and simplicity to greed and luxury.  The Canadian Goldsmith's The Rising Village would seem to tell the opposite story, the rise of a new society and its inevitable and unending progress, and this is how most critics prior to the nineteen seventies interpreted the poem.  Goldsmith was a Tory, however, and antagonistic to the American Revolution and its concommitant political thought.  A close reading of his poem shows that it does indeed embody the older cyclical view, and, additionally, expresses a moral imperative about adherence to universal law quite similar to that expressed in The Deserted Village, serving as a warning to both British and Nova Scotian societies about the inevitability of the fall of empires and nations.  The Rising Village, like Goldsmith's great-uncle's poem, is a kind of "Vanity of Human Wishes," as implied by K.P. Stich, and reading the poem in this way makes more clear its purposes, its relation to The Deserted Village, and its structure, all of which have been matters of critical contention.

     The poem's title might be understood to suggest faith in progress, but when taken together with The Deserted Village, which Goldsmith clearly intended,10 it completes a cycle, signaling a continuous circle of fall and rise.  In its entirety, the poem narrates the material rise of the village, while depicting its moral and cultural decline.  Further, each of the poem's three major parts presents within itself cycles of rising and falling, a kind of microcosm of the poem as a whole.  From the very beginning of the poem, Goldsmith's imagery, diction and narration combine motifs of both rising and falling.  In the poem's "rising" passages, Goldsmith has embedded images and diction suggestive of decline and fall, and vice versa; moreover, ''rising'' and ''falling'' passages alternate in unbroken succession throughout the poem.

     The first major part of the poem, lines 1-308, portrays the settlers' conquest of the wilderness, and the building of homes, a tavern, a church, and a school.  Even as the village builds and extends its influence, however, the poem's tone and judgments suggest not ascent but decline.  Thus, although lines 43-130 recount the conquest of nature, the defeat of the "savages," and the development of culture, the rest of this part describes how the tavern, church, Pedlar, Doctor and teacher, all promising additions to the village, in practice either fail to achieve their potential or actually detract from the village, each generally more negative than the previous: the tavern is a site of idleness and possible contention, villagers go to church to seek refuge in God because of the lonely wilderness, the Pedlar provides material goods some of which not only are "useful" but also contribute to luxury and ease, the Doctor is a quack, and the teacher is incompetent.

     In addition Goldsmith has constructed this overall cycle of rise and fall in the first part of the poem from smaller sections, each embodying the cycle in microcosm.  Thus, lines 27-42 extol the "splendid . . . scenes" of Britain's countryside and culture, scenes which, beginning in line 43, are then contrasted with the "lone and drear" scenes of Acadian wilderness, Britain's bright diversity countered by Acadia's "gloomy shades" and the "bleak" sameness of "desert lands"; its majesty and splendour by "a wilderness of trees"; its crowds by loneliness and solitude; its fruitful abundance by "solemn silence" and "waste"; its arts and science by "the first rude culture of the soil"; its pride and peace by sad "anguish, and . . . wild despair," by "dire distress," and by "pain . . . danger, and . . . toil" (ll. 43-64).  These scenes begin to change, however, as the "sturdy woodsman" prepares the land for planting, the falling trees contrasted by the rising smoke, and by the growing "golden corn triumphant" (ll. 65-72).  Then, while the settler from "his labour gains a short repose, / And hope presents a solace for his woes," the cycle turns again to decline, as "New ills arise, new fears his peace annoy, / And other dangers all his hopes destroy" (ll. 73-80).  (Note the ironic counter-movement in "ills arise," a technique of ironic tension and counter-motif used throughout the poem.)   The "savage tribes" of Indians ravage the settlers (ll. 81-100) until (ll. 101-130) the settlers' "patient firmness and industrious toil" prevails, accomplishing "a happy peaceful home" replete with "fair prospects," "rising crops," and "future joys," while "arts of culture now extend their sway," and "new prospects rise."

     This pattern of alternating passages of rise and decline continues in the presentation of the village's social institutions.  The tavern at first is presented as a place of "snug and safe repose" (ll. 131-136), but then we are told that "the host" mars the peace with endless "flippant questions" (ll. 137-140).   Even Goldsmith's apology for the tavern keeper deepens the negative mood, excusing him because of his isolation in "the dreary waste" of Acadia from "every busy throng / And social pleasures," caught in "winter's dreary terrors" of "cold, and snow, and storm" (ll. 141-156).  The conclusion to the tavern section seems to rise, but again the explanation lingers on the negative: those "happy few" who meet in the tavern enjoy "sweet . . . social pleasures" and "lively joy" (ll. 157-159), as each remembers his hardship

And to the listeners paints the dire distress,
That marked his progress in the wilderness;
The danger, trouble, hardship, toil and strife,
Which chased each effort of his struggling life

(ll. 160-165).

The subjects of the tavern-talk markedly contrast with the supposed enjoyment of "happy" and "sweet" "pleasures" and "joy."

     Likewise, the church, which next "lifts" its turret above the village, offers a "sweet" sight as villagers come to worship, but then is cause for negative musing by Goldsmith.  He first emphasizes the beauty and positive qualities of the church in adjectives such as "sacred," "hallowed," "grateful," and "pious," and in nouns such as "morn," "blessing," "God," "thanks," and "Heaven" (ll. 165-174).  The concluding lines about the church (175-198), however, look first to the "lost" person, the "cold" heart, and the "dead" soul of him without the faith the church inspires, and then go on to explain how people seek refuge in God because of dangers, fears, errors, wants and helplessness, with a special impetus given by Acadia's environment,

Where not a friend in solitude is nigh,
His home the wild, his canopy the sky;
And, far removed from every human arm,
His God alone can shelter him from harm

(ll. 193-196).

In The Rising Village, then, even the reasons to seek God's "blessings" are negative: God is all the comfort there is in the absence of human help.

     The cycle next swings upward as the Pedlar with his "little wares, lonely but brave in the "silent waste" of the "cold and snow-clad plain" (ll. 197-204), rises to the "higher title" of merchant (ll. 205-2 16), then swings downward, as the Doctor and teacher bring death and ignorance to the village.  While the nomadic Pedlar rises to higher position by establishing "his settled home," the Doctor "settles down" (italics mine) and, ironically for a doctor, is responsible for the "fall" of many a "victim to decay" (1. 224).   While the Pedlar's quest for wealth and his "great and various stock in trade" provide "useful things," the Doctor's parallel quest for wealth (ll. 217-228) leads to accidental cures and much dying, while the Doctor himself makes excuses and (quite the diagnostician, he) blames "Death" (ll. 227-228).  Next, in the description of the school, images of the school-house which "erects its head" and of students who are led like "opening blossoms into day" parallel the "rising" images of the church, which "lifts its turret to the opening day" (1. 168).  The teacher however, is not a master but "some poor wanderer . . .  / Unequal to the task" of teaching students who are lawless, rugged and crude (hardly "opening blossoms"), yet who believe they know more than the teacher (and even they might!) (ll. 229-248).  Goldsmith deepens the sense of decline represented in this teacher by echoing The Deserted Village's description of Auburn's school-master, inviting the reader to see the strong contrast between Acadia's teacher and the former, who is "skill'd to rule."11

     Finally, the first part of the poem ends with a passage illustrating the "new prospects" and extended sphere of the village (ll. 249-308).  As we might now expect, even these "prospects" are not all positive, but rather alternate rising and falling possibilities: in the midst of the village's "smiling charms" and "rural beauties," the villagers (who have learned through "years of suffering, all the weight of woe," having experienced hardship and pain) find relief and peace in "sportive pleasures" and in romance and courtship (ll. 249-266), until "Winter rules the sad inverted year" (1. 269); in winter, new sports are enjoyed, along with continued romance and courtship, bringing joy, happiness and peace (ll. 272-284), until "vice steals on," and her "baneful arts" invade the village and "sink, debase, and overwhelm the soul" with "shame . . . anguish, misery and woe" (ll. 285-298).  The final lines of the first part not only end on a bleak note, completing the falling part of the cycle — in addition, the seasonal fall from summer to winter, the descriptions of village leisure, sports and games, each ripe with conventions and rituals of courtship, and the concluding invective against the baleful effects of "thoughtless pleasure" and "heedless passion" on "some bashful lover, or some tender maid" (ll. 289-298), all skillfully form both prelude to and microcosm of the story of Albert and Flora, the poem's second major part.

     The first part of the poem, made up of passages which alternate moods of rise and fall, not only embodies in this way a cyclical pattern, but also, as I have suggested, contains embedded in these various passages images and diction, often ironic, of rise and fall, foreshadowings of the counter-movement to come in the next section.  Motifs combining both rise and fall, of promise balanced by defeat, are introduced immediately in the poem, in the dedication to Goldsmith's brother Henry, whom Goldsmith describes as "Partner of all my boyish hopes and fears" (1. 2), a pattern repeated throughout, for example in the description of the settler, who finds "new ills" just when "hope presents a solace for his woes" (1. 78); in the Pedlar, whose wares are "the source of all his hopes, and all his cares" (1. 204); and in Flora's reading of Albert's letter, which she in vain "hoped would every fear assuage" (1. 360).   So, too, Henry is asked to turn from Auburn to where happier prospects rise, / Beneath the sternness of Acadian skies" (ll. 17-18; italics mine).  The settlers, whose story Goldsmith picks up from the ending of The Deserted Village, have come to this desolate new world "in search of wealth, of freedom, and of ease" (1. 52), yet they have done so with noble courage" and "great . . .   ardour" (1. 47-48).  Describing their clearing of the forest, Goldsmith mingles imagery of both ascent and fall:

See! from their heights the lofty pines descend,
And, crackling, down their pond'rous lengths extend.
Soon from their boughs the curling flames arise . . .

(ll. 67-69; italics mine).

Keith suggests that the tree-felling scene, an opportunity for ironic comment on New World destructiveness, seems rather to be presented by Goldsmith with approval (p. 6).  The felling of the forest is presented in not entirely positive terms, however, for Goldsmith describes the trees "strewn" on the ground and the flames which "redden all the skies": the golden corn [which] triumphant waves its head" has risen at a price, the destruction of the fallen trees.  In Abram's Plains, published in 1789, Thomas Cary's description of ship-building likewise plays falling against rising, but without Goldsmith's irony:

Tall forests their high-waving branches bow,
And yield, submiss, to lay their honors low;
The plowing keel the builder artist lays,
Her ribs of oak the rising ship displays . . . .12

Cary, who tends to view the woods as either "rank" jungle, echoing the imagery of The Deserted Village, or as "resource," emphasizes the submis sion of the fallen forest and the concommitant "yield," — "the rising ship" — apparently a fair exchange; Goldsmith emphasizes force and conquest, balancing product against cost (both corn and smoke rise).  Later, when the arts of culture" promise a rise in the village's "prospects," Goldsmith explicitly reminds the reader of the "lofty" forest's fall and thereby with holds unequivocal approval:

Where once the pine upreared its lofty head,
The settlers' humble cottages are spread;
Where the broad firs once sheltered from the storm,
By slow degrees a neighborhood they form.

(ll. 123-126).

The tension of rise and fall between "upreared" and "spread" emphasizes the ironic loss of "loftiness" in the "humble" cottages.  Just as the cottages were made of wood from the felled trees, once not only gloomy but also lofty and sheltering, so, Goldsmith reminds us later in the poem, fallen trees are a price of the rise of the village's other structures too, most of which are given rather negative connotations, especially compared to the loftiness of the pines — the tavern's "rude sign or post" (1. 131; italics mine), the church's "turret" (rather than "steeple" or "spire") (1. 168), the merchant's "shelves" (1. 207), and the school-house's sheltering "log-built shed" (1. 229).

     In other ways, too, Goldsmith mixes into his descriptions small fore shadowings of the shift in mood, the rise or fall, which is to come.  For example, he places the snug and useful refuge of the tavern "Where some rude sign or post the spot betrays" (1. 131; italics mine), and the church, a different kind of refuge, but one which like the tavern will at last be viewed negatively, he describes as sitting "In some lone spot of consecrated ground / Whose silence spreads a holy gloom around" (ll. 165-166), the contrasts of "lone" / "consecrated" and "holy" / "gloom" mirroring perfectly Goldsmith's movement of the villagers' worship from sweet adoration to wretched last resort.

     These techniques of building a narration of cyclical rise and fall from smaller passages which alternate upward and downward in movement, combined with imagery and diction which balance the positive with the negative and motifs of rising with motifs of falling, are used in much the same way in the poem's second major part, the story of Albert and Flora.   This part of the poem is more simple than the first and third, in that it breaks into only two sections, a rising section describing the meeting and courtship of the couple, and a falling section describing Albert's defection and Flora's ensuing grief and madness.  In keeping with the poem's cyclical pattern, the brightness and hope of the courtship follow, in the ending of the poem's first part, a passage lamenting the shame and disgrace brought in by "vice . . . in thoughtless pleasure's train" (1. 289), while the anguish of Flora's narrow escape from death and of her madness is followed by the assurance that most loves in the village are faithful, true, and long-lasting (the beginning of the third part of the poem).  Furthermore, counter-motifs are included here as in the other parts, to foreshadow or emphasize the cyclical nature of life.   Thus, in the first section, we are told not that Albert is "generous, noble, kind and free" (1. 313), but only that he "seemed" to be these things.   (In the 1825 version of the poem, "seem'd" is italicized.13)  Another example is that when Albert's letter arrives, the dramatization of Flora's anguish is not direct, but rather, true to its melodramatic lineage, is interrupted by sporadic fits of hopefulness (ll. 351-357).

     Almost all commentaries on The Rising Village have criticized this middle part of the poem as a digression, or have tried to justify its presence by lending it an allegorical purpose.  Hughes' suggestions that Albert is an allegorical emblem of Britain and Flora of Nova Scotia have been refuted effectively by W.J. Keith.  That Goldsmith simply wanted to tell a melodramatic tale, in the tradition of eighteenth-century English sentimental drama and early nineteenth century English melodrama (for example, William Wordsworth's "The Thorn," or Mary Blennerhasset's "The Widow of the Rock,"14), and therefore that this part of the poem is a "digression," intended as a sentimental tale within a tale, is entirely possible.  On the other hand, Goldsmith's inclusion of the Albert and Flora story is explicable in terms of the cyclical view of history expressed by the poem.  Person, in explaining why "the enlightened mind in America did not express itself in any. . . important measure in the historiographical form," notes that belief in history as a sequence of cycles shifted the perception from a broad view to a narrow one: ". . . history can only reiterate its great theme; the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  There was nothing to be learned from it that could not be found in one's personal experience, or in the life of one's own time."15  Albert and Flora, then, perhaps are to be seen as individual exempla, illustrating in their personal lives the organic cycles of rise and fall to be seen in history.  In this sense, this middle part of the poem is not a digression, but a further illustration of Goldsmith's point, in this case the "narrow" perception of individual personal experience.  That is, this second part of the poem tells the same story that the poem as a whole tells about nations (and to this degree, at least, Hughes' linking of Albert and Flora to Britain and Nova Scotia is just).  Indeed, as we shall see, Goldsmith himself, by using similar imagery to portray Albert and Flora on the one hand and Britain and Nova Scotia on the other, suggests that the Albert-Flora story, like the poem as a whole, "can only reiterate its great theme."

     The poem's third and final major part (ll. 427-560) follows a pattern similar to that of the two previous sections: it rises from the "real woe" of the Albert and Flora narrative to the assurance that such tales are not typical in Nova Scotia's "boundless prospects" brightened on every side with "delight" and "virtue's charms," and then, through a series of passages which alternate rising and falling, it builds to an implied warning that not "boundless prospects" but decline seems inevitable.  Goldsmith's assurances immediately after the Albert-Flora story that all is well with "modest youths" and "fairest girls" who "Unite their hopes and join their lives in one" (ll. 427-436) not only contrast with Albert's and Flora's "tale of . . . woe," but also contrast directly with the ending of the poem's first part.  That passage of the poem, a prelude to Albert and Flora which describes winter games and romantic courtship, portrays the reign not of "virtue's charms" associated with "beauty's train" (ll. 429-43 1), but rather of "vice" which "steals on, in thoughtless pleasure's train" (1. 289).  This later passage, the beginning of the third part of the poem, with its details of marriage and unbetrayed vows, contrasts with the earlier section's "bashful lovers" and "tender maids" who are debased by "heedless passion" (ll. 29 1-298).  Through these antithetical sections which act as "bookends" for the middle part of the poem, we fall before rising to the hope at the beginning of the Albert-Flora tale, then rise from its woeful ending to new hope, thereby carrying through the poem's pattern of alternating passages of rising and falling.

     This third part, too, maintains throughout the pattern of alternating sections of rise and fall.  After accounts of the lovers, and of the Village rising "gently into day" with "boundless prospects" that echo the descriptions of Britain given at the poem's beginning (Acadia and Britain, once contrasted, now are comparable in "pride" and "luxuriance") (ll. 429-462), Goldsmith turns our gaze to the "neat white church," and from thence to the cemetery, its stones "rude," the elegaic verses "laboured," telling how not just any "sacred dead," but rather how

. . . youth and beauty fell;
How worth and hope were hurried to the grave,
And torn from those who had no power to save.

(ll. 463-466)

The mood then rises again as "Happy Acadia" is celebrated for her abundance, her "budding hopes," and her "culture's arts" (ll. 469-528), this celebration leading to the poem's concluding panegyric to "Happy Britannia," the "parent" to whom Nova Scotia owes eternal gratitude for her care and protection (ll. 529-546), and the prayer that Acadia and Britain may forever rise to continued fame and glory (ll. 547-560).   The rising and falling sections of the poem's third part carry on the pattern established in the first two parts, in that they alternate, and in that they have embedded in them counter-motifs of rise or fall.  So, for example, the opening assurances that most loves in Acadia do not work out tragically, as Albert's and Flora's did, but rather end in marriage, ends with the lovers in old age dying: "they sink in peace to rest, / To meet on high the spirits of the blest" (ll. 437-440; italics mine).   As the Village "rises gently into day," the "warring winds are sleeping yet" (ll. 442-445), implying conflict to occur later, and in the Summer, the sun, now contrasting to images of ascent and rising in the previous section by running "Adown the West his fiery course" (1. 470), is "dry and sultry" (1. 469).  The previous and later passages use many variant forms of "bright," but here light is subdued, the sunset's "parting rays" lingering over the landscape, in which "The note of Whip-poor-Will . . . / . . . sadly slow . . . breaks upon the ear," each night telling "The hopeless sorrows of its mournful tale" (ll. 477-480).  Likewise, the paen to "Happy Acadia" includes a reference to Winter's "icy chain / . . . and rude tempests" (ll. 487-488) and a summary of the early settlers' struggles and hardships (ll. 499-512); the panegyric to Britain refers to the tyrant's "iron chain" thrown in the "darkest hour" around the world and "sinking nations" (ll. 541-545; italics mine).

     The use of these counter-motifs in this final part of the poem is different from that of the previous two, however, in that here the counter-motifs primarily are biological, diurnal and seasonal.  These motifs demonstrate that within the pattern of time "gently rolling" (1. 441), the cycle of rise and decline is inevitable, evidenced not only by the biological fall of the lovers to their death (ll. 431-440), but also in the movement of the sun from day to night (1. 442-472), and of the seasons from summer through winter (ll. 469-488).  Note too how, by introducing his description of the fruits, flowers and richness of summer and autumn with a glance toward Winter's "icy chain" (ll. 485-494), Goldsmith reminds us that, when autumn comes, can winter be far behind? The setting of Flora's night of terror in winter, with its "trackless fields of snow" (1. 344), its "keen . . . blast" and "piercing . . . cold" (1. 384), and its drifting snow and furious storm, already has impressed upon us the reality and power of winter in "Acadia's cold and northern clime" (1. 342).  These uses of the patterns of human life, day and night, and the seasons, parallel somewhat those of Thomas Cary's Abram's Plains, a poem which likewise expresses a cyclical view of history:

Blind fortune's fickle wheel perpetual whirls,
Those under lifts, those from the top low hurls.

(ll. 534-535)

Cary ends his poem with a picture of spring's sun breaking through bleak winter, the landscape "flush'd with the spirit of the rising year" (1. 499).  The sun, however, "far down the west . . . low sinks his ray" by the poem's end, as darkness "shuts up the scene and all is night" (ll. 568, 581).  Cary claims that the sun suspended beneath "fleecy clouds" and above the hills is a

True emblem of life's happy middle scene . . .
Beneath the blaze of mad ambition's fire,
Yet above want, where all our joys expire.

(ll. 572, 574-575)

Clearly, the actual sun's sinking toward night promises the same for the emblematic sun, just as Goldsmith shows us that sunrise inevitably moves to sunset, and "life's happy middle scene" moves to ending.

     Unlike Cary, however, Goldsmith makes of these biological, diurnal, and seasonal cycles emblems for the cycles of nations in history, linking the imagery and diction used to describe the natural scenes to his descriptions of nations and empires.16  Thus, both winter and the Indians "sweep" and "ravage" Nova Scotia's "plain" (ll. 487, 552), both winter and the Indians, like the beasts of prey, make terrifying roars (ll. 485, 505-506), and both winter and the tyrant bind with "chains" (ll. 486, 542); summer and autumn bring bounty and plenty, hopes and joy, treasures which Nova Scotians now enjoy, only "fifty summers" from first settlement — "How short a period in the page of time!" (ll. 489-499, 512-515).  Most clear of these links are the metaphors of human maturation used to describe Britain's ascendancy.  Britain is now "Matur'd and strong. . . in manhood's prime" (1. 533).  Given the poem's emphases on the cemetery (the most recent only sixty-five lines previous), as well as the description at the beginning of this third part of the poem of the lovers who "sink" beneath life's current, we can have no doubt that this manly "prime" of British brightness and power someday will dim and fade, the historical finding a parallel in the biological, which, as Person points out, is a connection commonly made in eighteenth-century expressions of cyclical historicism (p. 152).  Likewise, the prayer in the poem's final lines that Acadia's years may "increase" and her "glories rise, / To be the wonder of the Western skies" (ll. 557-558), compares her potential rise to the rise of the sun from night to the "height" of day (ll. 553-555), a part of the diurnal cycle that will lead inevitably and inexorably back to night.  (Indeed, Britain's "prime" earlier is said to "shine" like a "star" [ll. 533-534], and the setting of the fateful day for Flora includes the "morn" of the promised wedding, the "evening's hour" with its "pale and cheerless glow" of the setting sun, and finally night, with its "northern blast" [ll. 348-349; 341-344; 381-384]).  Finally, Acadia's fate is placed within the context of both human and millenial history, Goldsmith's prayer being that Nova Scotia will prosper "Till empires rise and sink, on earth, no more" (1. 560).  This, the poem's final line, brings together the motifs of rising and falling, and places them within the flow of all human history, both taking us back to the poem's title and its reference to The Deserted Village, which similarly emphasizes cycles of rise and fall, and also suggesting that these cycles inevitably will continue until apocalypse, thus implicating both Britain and Nova Scotia along with all empires in the cycles, cycles already illustrated in the poem by the demise of the Indians, who, as Keith has noticed, "find themselves in precisely the same position as the dispossessed countrymen in The Deserted Village"17.  So although Goldsmith's hope and prayer is that Britain and Acadia will ascend "hand-in-hand towards greater civilization"18, his practical and historical understanding seems to indicate that Britain and Nova Scotia, like all nations and empires, inevitably will fall into decline.  (All previous such prayers have been controverted almost immediately by actual events — for example, the prayer that "humble sports" might long impart "a guileless pleasure to youthful hearts" [ll. 281-284] gives way to the entrance of vice in "pleasure's train" [ll. 285-298].  Similar failed prayers are those in lines 299-302 that people will be obedient to Virtue, and in lines 483-484 that they will find "joy, peace and comfort" in Acadia's verdant charms "forever.") The concluding line of the first published version of the poem (1825) implies a similar apocalyptic and historical view: "Till sun, and moon, and stars shall be no more."19  Goldsmith's metaphors linking Nova Scotia to the sun and Britain to a star, and the importance of the poem's pattern of day and night, might not have been carried by the reader over into this conclusion, however, while the revised final line leaves little doubt about Goldsmith's warning, even in the midst of his hopes.  The individual (who hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, lives and dies); Albert and Flora; the village; the Indians; Nova Scotia; Britain; human history (empires rising and falling); the earth and sky (day and night, the seasons); the universe itself — all are subject to the same laws and move through similar cycles.  Thus, the "concluding paen" is not, as Jackel describes it, "a fine example of 'colonial' patriotism, an unequivocal hymn of praise" which "makes very odd reading, set against the scandals of the Regency period and the confusion and repression of the reign of King George IV . . . ."20  On the contrary, set against this historical background, the poem's insistence upon the cycles of history comes through with even greater force.

     Comparison of these final lines to those of a counterpart American poem, Timothy Dwight's "The Flourishing Village," is revealing and inter esting.21  Dwight's conclusion expresses the eighteenth-century theory of history that Person labels "unilinear millenialism"; it expresses faith in the inevitability of progress.  Dwight pictures a vital United States now extending its influence and uplifting the rest of the world, "an example bright" designed by heaven to "renovate mankind":

       Then to new climes the bliss shall trace its way,
And Tartar desarts hail the rising day;
From the long torpor startled China wake;
Her chains of misery rous'd Peruvia break;
Man link to man; with bosom bosom twine;
And one great bond the house of Adam join:
The sacred promise full completion know,
And peace, and piety, the world o'erflow.22

(ll. 737-744)

Although both poems use images of "rising day" and the "chains" of tyrants, Dwight's poem concludes expansively both in geography and history, while Goldsmith's is more narrow geographically, and is finite (". . . no more").  Dwight's apparently unwitting allusion to Samuel Johnson's "The Vanity of Human Wishes" ("Let observation with extensive view, / Survey man kind from China to Peru . . .") is ironic, for, not Dwight's, but Goldsmith's poem demonstrates in its cyclical structure, its imagery, and its narrative that human hopes and fears are vain, that progress is illusory, and that the fall of nations is inevitable.

     Many critics of The Rising Village lament its lack of "invective" and satiric irony directed toward luxury and its effects, targets of his great-uncle's poem.   Keith and Stich, while seeing irony in the poem, and the possibilities of some satiric purpose, express uncertainty or uneasiness about Goldsmith's intentions.23  On the other hand, Lynch finds Goldsmith "obsessively moralistic" in his preoccupation with the need for "control" to beat back "encroaching chaos" and "creeping vice."24  If the poem is seen as embodying the eighteenth-century historical theory of organic cycles, however, its purpose and method are clarified.  Person describes this view of history as finding "its source of historical dynamics in the operation of universal moral law, the effect of which on history was an endless cyclical movement analogous to the life cycle of the individual organism.  Societies and nations rise and fall in endless sequence according as they observe or disregard those universal moral laws ordained of God. . . ."25  This view of history, then, not only sees the inevitability of decline both in persons and in nations, but also sees the engine of cyclical change in history as being "universal moral laws." Person quotes from a 1798 sermon preached by the Rev.  David Tappan, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard College, to "illustrate the cyclical view in its most literal form," and the quotation illuminates our consideration of Goldsmith's poem:

Experience proves that political bodies, like the animal economy, have their periods of infancy, youth, maturity, decay, and dissolution.  In the early stages of their existence, their members are usually industrious and frugal, simple in their manners, just and kind in their intercourse, active and hardy, united and brave. . . .  They become mature and flourishing . . . . [But then] their prosperity inflates and debauches their minds.  It betrays them into pride and avarice, luxury and dissipation, idleness and sensuality, and too often into practical and scornful impiety.  These, with other kindred vices, hasten their downfall and ruin.  [History shows that] virtue is the soul of republican freedom; that luxury tends to extinguish both sound morality and piety. . . .26

This moral stance is the very same taken, of course, by The Deserted Village and, as Lynch shows, by The Rising Village.  Dwight's description of the making of new villages, too, is remarkably parallel in content and diction to Goldsmith's narrative of the Rising Village:

In falling forests, Labour's axe resounds;
Opes the new field; and winds the fence's bounds;
The green wheat sparkles; nods the towering corn;
And meads, and pastures, lessening wastes adorn.
Where howl'd the forest, herds unnumber'd low;
The fleecy wanderers fear no prowling foe;
The village springs; the humble school aspires;
And the church brightens in the morning fires!

(ll. 693-700)

Dwight's picture lacks ironic complication, however, because of the composition of the village and the motivations of its settlers.  In the Flourishing Village we find among the residents the personified figures of Industry, Competence, Hospitality, Peace, Religion, the Virtues, Chastity, Patience, Innocence, Truth, Fortitude, Freedom, Purity, Simplicity, Prudence, Labour, Art, and Science, among others, with emphasis on Industry and Competence.  Residents of the Rising Village, on the other hand, have as neighbours — in addition to Virtue — Vice, and "thoughtless [P]leasure." These different populations are due, in part, to the motivation of the settlers of the Rising Village: they have come "In search of wealth, of freedom, and of ease" (1. 52).   As Keith has noted, these are the very sources of the decline of the Auburn, the Deserted Village, which Goldsmith could not have ignored in writing of Auburn's successor.27  Indeed, just as Tappan describes the cycle, the Rising Village's early years are characterized by hardship, frugality, and simplicity.   Soon, however, the quest for wealth, freedom and ease brings problems.  The financial opportunities of the village not only boost the Pedlar to a "useful" Merchant, but also provide a greedy quack for a doctor; excessive freedom creates unruly and unteachable students in the school and broken vows and promises in the village's courtships; the ease of the tavern leads to idleness, gossip and dissension.  In Tappan's terms, the settlers find, at the appropriate point in the village's history, not wealth, freedom and ease, but luxury, pride, idleness, and sensuality.  In this way, the poem's "concern" for "control," discussed by Lynch, is important, but is not "central"; it is but a part of the poem's illustration of the larger operation of universal moral law within the cycles of human history.  Thus, Goldsmith's purpose is not simply to warn against an ultimate, inevitable decline of nations, but also to show how deviation from universal moral law can hasten that decline.   In this way, if his irony is not as sharp, nonetheless, his poem's purposes and targets are similar to those of his great-uncle's poem.

     So Goldsmith, inviting his brother Henry to find newer and happier "prospects" in his picture of Acadia's rising village, hopes that such brightening promise will apply as well to Nova Scotia and to Britain, but at the same time he warns his readers that in the course of human history, the individual, the community, the nation, and the empire are finite.  In addition to these hopes and fears, the reader today can find in the poem a masterful architecture, unified and subtle imagery, and irony and purpose befitting of the nephew of "the great Oliver," a poem worthy of the "happier prospects" and "extending sphere" of its critical history.


Notes

  1. Oliver Goldsmith, The Rising Village, ll. 17-18.   Line citations, subsequently printed in the text, are from the 1834 version of the poem, edited by Michael Gnarowski (Montreal: Delta, 1968). [back]

  2. Oliver Goldsmith, The Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Rev. Wilfred E. Myatt (Toronto: Ryerson, 1943), p. 12. [back]

  3. These culminated in Desmond Pacey, "The Goldsmiths and Their Villages," University of Toronto Quarterly, 21 (October, 1951), pp. 27-38; John P. Matthews, Tradition in Exile (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962), pp. 31-34, 49-52; Fred Cogswell, "Literary Activity in the Maritime Provinces 1815-1880," in Literary History of Canada, ed. Carl Klinck (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964) — Oliver Goldsmith is discussed pp. 119-121; Doug Fetherling, "The Canadian Goldsmith," Canadian Literature, 68-69 (Spring-Summer, 1976), pp. 121-124. [back]

  4. Kenneth J. Hughes, "Oliver Goldsmith's 'The Rising Village'," Canadian Poetry, 1 (Fall/Winter, 1977), pp. 27-43. [back]

  5. See W. J.  Keith, "The Rising Village Again," Canadian Poetry, 3 (Fall/Winter, 1978), pp. 1-13; Gerald Lynch, "Oliver Goldsmith's Rising Village: Controlling Nature," Canadian Poetry, 6 (Spring/Summer, 1980), pp. 35-50; and K.P. Stich, "The Rising Village, The Emigrant, and Malcom's Katie: The Vanity of Progress," Canadian Poetry, 7 (Fall/Winter, 1980), pp. 48-55. [back]

  6. Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp'," Partisan Review 31, (Fall, 1964), pp. 515-530. [back]

  7. David Jackel, "Goldsmith's Rising Village and the Colonial State of Mind," Studies in Canadian Literature, 5 (1980), pp. 152-166. [back]

  8. See, for example, Carlos Castenada, Journey to Ixtlan (New York, 1972), and others in this series; Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine (New York, 1966) and The Pentagon of Power (New York, 1972); Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York, 1974); Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture (Garden City, 1969); and John Vernon, The Garden and the Map (Urbana, 1973). [back]

  9. Stow Person, "The Cyclical Theory of History in Eighteenth Century America," American Quarterly, 6 (1954), pp. 147-163. [back]

  10. Keith, pp. 1-7. [back]

  11. Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, lines 193-216.  C.f., Arthur Friedman, ed., Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith (Oxford: Clarendon, 1966), vol. IV. [back]

  12. Thomas Cary, Abram's Plains: A Poem, ed.   D.M.R. Bentley (London, Canada: Canadian Poetry Press, 1986), ll. 109-112.   All subsequent quotations from Cary are from this text. [back]

  13. See Gnarowski, p. 33. [back]

  14. Mary Blennerhasset, The Widow of the Rock and Other Poems (Montreal, 1824).  As in the Albert and Flora story, the tragic separation of the lovers culminates on a winter night, and leaves the heroine mad. [back]

  15. "Cyclical Theory," p. 154. [back]

  16. In this emblematic use of the diurnal and seasonal, The Rising Village is like W.F. Hawley's "Quebec," published apparently for the first time in Hawley's Quebec, The Harp, and Other Poems (Montreal, 1829), pp. 14-16, between the two publications of Goldsmith's poem.  "Quebec" echoes Goldsmith's sun imagery, and anticipates the diction of the final line of Goldsmith's 1834 revision, in its sympathetic portrait of the "Red-man" driven by "Christian plunderers" away to the "western wild": ". . . o'er the western main / Thy sun descends, never to rise again!"  For their help in trying to establish a first publication date of "Quebec," I am grateful to Mary Lu MacDonald, Halifax; Nell Reiss and Suzy Slavin of the MacLennan Library, McGill University; Barbera Teatero of Douglas Library, Queen's University; Thomas Vincent of Royal Military College; and Sandra Burrows of the National Library of Canada. [back]

  17. "The Rising Village Again," p. 7. [back]

  18. Lynch, p. 47. [back]

  19. See Gnarowski, p. 42.  The previous sun imagery and the apocalyptic diction of this final line perhaps echo Isaac Watts' hymn based on Psalm 72, "Jesus Shall Reign" (1719): "Jesus shall reign where'er the sun/ Does his successive journeys run,/ His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,/ Till moons shall wax and wane no more. [back]

  20. "Goldsmith's Rising Village," p. 156. [back]

  21. For a fuller comparison of the two poems, see Keith, pp. 7-10. [back]

  22. Timothy Dwight, "The Flourishing Village," Greenfield Hill, II, ll. 707-709, in The Major Poems of Timothy Dwight . . ., ed.   William McTaggart and William Bottorif (Gainseville, 1969), pp. 397-419.  All subsequent quotations from Dwight are from this text. [back]

  23. See Keith, pp. 4-7, and Stich, p. 48. [back]

  24. "Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village," pp. 35-36. [back]

  25. Person, p. 152. [back]

  26. Rev.  David Tappan, A Discourse Delivered to the Religious Society in Brattle-Street, Boston . . .  on April 5, 1798 (Boston, 1798).  Quoted from Person, pp. 152-153. [back]

  27. See Keith, p. 5.  Keith writes that "the tone of The Rising Village passage does not lead us to suspect criticism" of luxury and ease.  I believe the passage, taken within the context of the poem as I have discussed it, clearly does imply such criticism. [back]