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THE TRAVELLER: OR, A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY.

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TO THE REV. HENRY GOLDSMITH.

DEAR SIR,

I AM sensible that the friendship between us can acquire no new force from the ceremonies of a Dedication; and, perhaps, it demands an excuse thus to prefix your name to my attempts, which you decline giving with your own. But as a part of this poem was formerly written to you from Switzerland, the whole can now, with propriety, be only inscribed to you. It will also throw a light upon many parts of it, when the reader understands, that it is addressed to a man, who, despising fame and fortune, has retired early to happiness and obscurity, with an income of forty pounds a year.

I now perceive, my dear brother, the wisdom of your humble choice. You have entered upon a sacred office, where the harvest is great, and the labourers are but few; while you have left[Page 148] the field of ambition, where the labourers are many, and the harvest not worth carrying away. But of all kinds of ambition, as things are now circumstanced, perhaps that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest. What from the increased refinement of the times, from the diversity of judgments produced by opposing systems of criticism, and from the more prevalent divisions of opinion influenced by party, the strongest and happiest efforts can expect to please but in a very narrow circle.

Poetry makes a principal amusement among unpolished nations; but in a country verging to the extremes of refinement, Painting and Music come in for a share. And as they offer the feeble mind a less laborious entertainment, they at first rival Poetry, and at length supplant her; they engross all favour to themselves, and though but younger sisters, seize upon the elder's birth-right.

Yet, however this art may be neglected by the powerful, it is still in greater danger from the mistaken efforts of the learned to improve it. What criticisms have we not heard of late in favour of blank verse, and Pindaric odes, chorusses, anapests and iambics, alliterative care and happy negligence! Every absurdity has now a champion to defend it, and as he is generally[Page 149] much in the wrong, so he has always much to say; for error is ever talkative.

But there is an enemy to this art still more dangerous, I mean party. Party entirely distorts the judgment, and destroys the taste. A mind capable of relishing general beauty, when once infected with this disease, can only find pleasure in what contributes to increase the distemper. Like the tyger that seldom desists from pursuing man after having once preyed upon human flesh, the reader, who has once gratified his appetite with calumny, makes, ever after, the most agreeable feast upon murdered reputation. Such readers generally admire some half-witted thing, who wants to be thought a bold man, having lost the character of a wise one. Him they dignify with the name of poet; his lampoons are called satires, his turbulence is said to be force, and his phrenzy fire.

What reception a poem may find, which has neither abuse, party, nor blank verse to support it, I cannot tell, nor am I much solicitous to know. My aims are right. Without espousing the cause of any party, I have attempted to moderate the rage of all. I have endeavoured to shew, that there may be equal happiness in other states, though differently governed from our own; that each state has a particular principle[Page 150] of happiness, and that this principle in each state, and in our own in particular, may be carried to a mischievous excess. There are few can judge, better than yourself, how far these positions are illustrated in this poem.

I AM, SIR, YOUR MOST AFFECTIONATE BROTHER, OLIVER GOLDSMITH.
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THE TRAVELLER: OR, A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY.

1 REMOTE, unfriended, melancholy, slow,
2 Or by the lazy Scheld or wandering Po;
3 Or onward, where the rude Carinthian boor
4 Against the houseless stranger shuts the door;
5 Or where Campania's plain forsaken lies,
6 A weary waste expanded to the skies:
7 Where'er I roam, whatever realm to see,
8 My heart untravell'd fondly turns to thee;
9 Still to my brother turns, with ceaseless pain,
10 Or drags at each remove a lengthening chain.
11 Eternal blessings crown my earliest friend,
12 And round his dwelling guardian saints attend;
13 Blest be that spot, where cheerful guests retire
14 To pause from toil, and trim their evening fire;
15 Blest that abode, where want and pain repair,
16 And every stranger finds a ready chair;
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17 Blest be those feasts where mirth and peace abound,
18 Where all the ruddy family around
19 Laugh at the jests or pranks that never fail,
20 Or sigh with pity at some mournful tale,
21 Or press the bashful stranger to his food,
22 And learn the luxury of doing good.
23 But me, not destin'd such delights to share,
24 My prime of life in wand'ring spent and care!
25 Impell'd, with steps unceasing, to pursue
26 Some fleeting good, that mocks me with the view;
27 That, like the circle bounding earth and skies,
28 Allures from far, yet, as I follow, flies;
29 My fortune leads to traverse realms alone,
30 And find no spot of all the world my own.
31 Ev'n now, where Alpine solitudes ascend,
32 I sit me down a pensive hour to spend;
33 And, plac'd on high above the storm's career,
34 Look downward where an hundred realms appear;
35 Lakes, forests, cities, plains extended wide,
36 The pomp of kings, the shepherd's humbler pride.
37 When thus creation's charms around combine,
38 Amidst the store, should thankless pride repine?
39 Say, should the philosophic mind disdain
40 That good, which makes each humbler bosom vain?
41 Let school-taught pride dissemble all it can,
42 These little things are great to little man;
43 And wiser he, whose sympathetic mind
44 Exults in all the good of all mankind.
45 Ye glitt'ring towns, with wealth and splendour crown'd,
46 Ye fields, where summer spreads profusion round,
47 Ye lakes, whose vessels catch the busy gale,
48 Ye bending swains, that dress the flow'ry vale,
49 For me your tributary stores combine;
50 Creation's tenant, all the world is mine.
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51 As some lone miser visiting his store,
52 Bends at his treasure, counts, recounts it o'er;
53 Hoards after hoards his rising raptures fill,
54 Yet still he sighs, for hoards are wanting still:
55 Thus to my breast alternate passions rise,
56 Pleas'd with each good that heaven to man supplies:
57 Yet oft a sigh prevails, and sorrows fall,
58 To see the sum of human bliss so small;
59 And oft I wish, amidst the scene, to find
60 Some spot to real happiness consign'd,
61 Where my worn soul, each wand'ring hope at rest,
62 May gather bliss to see my fellows blest.
63 Yet, where to find that happiest spot below,
64 Who can direct, when all pretend to know?
65 The shudd'ring tenant of the frigid zone
66 Boldly proclaims that happiest spot his own,
67 Extols the treasures of his stormy seas,
68 And his long night of revelry and ease;
69 The naked savage, panting at the line,
70 Boasts of his golden sands and palmy wine,
71 Basks in the glare, or stems the tepid wave,
72 And thanks his gods for all the good they gave.
73 Nor less the patriot's boast where'er we roam,
74 His first, best country, ever is, at home.
75 And yet, perhaps, if countries we compare,
76 And estimate the blessings which they share;
77 Though patriots flatter, still shall wisdom find
78 An equal portion dealt to all mankind,
79 As different good, by Art or Nature given
80 To different nations, makes their blessings even.
81 Nature, a mother kind alike to all,
82 Still grants her bliss at Labour's earnest call;
83 With food as well the peasant is supply'd
84 On Idra's cliff as Arno's shelvy side;
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85 And though the rocky crested summits frown,
86 These rocks, by custom, turn to beds of down.
87 From Art more various are the blessings sent;
88 Wealth, splendors, honour, liberty, content:
89 Yet these each other's power so strong contest,
90 That either seems destructive of the rest.
91 Hence every state to one lov'd blessing prone,
92 Conforms and models life to that alone.
93 Each to the favourite happiness attends,
94 And spurns the plan that aims at other ends;
95 'Till, carried to excess in each domain,
96 This favourite good begets peculiar pain.
97 But let us try these truths with closer eyes,
98 And trace them through the prospect as it lies:
99 Here for a while, my proper cares resign'd,
100 Here let me sit in sorrow for mankind;
101 Like yon neglected shrub at random cast,
102 That shades the steep, and sighs at every blast.
103 Far to the right, where Appennine ascends,
104 Bright as the summer, Italy extends:
105 Her uplands sloping deck the mountain's side,
106 Woods over woods in gay theatric pride;
107 While oft some temple's mould'ring top between,
108 With venerable grandeur marks the scene.
109 Could Nature's bounty satisfy the breast,
110 The sons of Italy were surely blest.
111 Whatever fruits in different climes are found,
112 That proudly rise or humbly court the ground;
113 Whatever blooms in torrid tracts appear,
114 Whose bright succession decks the varied year;
115 Whatever sweets salute the northern sky
116 With vernal lives that blossom but to die;
117 These here disporting own the kindred soil,
118 Nor ask luxuriance from the planter's toil;
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119 While sea-born gales their gelid wings expand
120 To winnow fragrance round the smiling land.
121 But small the bliss that sense alone bestows,
122 And sensual bliss is all this nation knows.
123 In florid beauty groves and fields appear,
124 Men seem the only growth that dwindles here.
125 Contrasted faults through all their manners reign,
126 Though poor, luxurious; though submissive, vain;
127 Though grave, yet trifling; zealous, yet untrue;
128 And even in penance planning sins anew.
129 All evils here contaminate the mind,
130 That opulence departed leaves behind;
131 For wealth was theirs; nor far remov'd the date,
132 When Commerce proudly flourish'd through the state;
133 At her command the palace learnt to rise,
134 Again the long-fall'n colomn sought the skies;
135 The canvass glow'd beyond even nature warm,
136 The pregnant quarry teem'd with human form.
137 But, more unsteady than the southern gale,
138 Soon Commerce turn'd on other shores her sail;
139 While nought remain'd of all that riches gave,
140 But towns unmann'd, and lords without a slave.
141 Yet still the loss of wealth is here supply'd
142 By arts, the splendid wrecks of former pride;
143 From these the feeble heart and long-fall'n mind
144 An easy compensation seem to find.
145 Here may be seen, in bloodless pomp array'd,
146 The paste-board triumph and the cavalcade;
147 Processions form'd for piety and love,
148 A mistress or a saint in every grove.
149 By sports like these are all their cares beguil'd,
150 The sports of children satisfy the child;
151 At sports like these, while foreign arms advance,
152 In passive ease they leave the world to chance.
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153 When noble aims have suffer'd long controul,
154 They sink at last, or feebly man the soul;
155 While low delights, succeeding fast behind,
156 In happier meanness occupy the mind:
157 As in those domes, where Caesars once bore sway,
158 Defac'd by time and tottering in decay,
159 Amidst the ruin, heedless of the dead,
160 The shelter-seeking peasant builds his shed,
161 And, wond'ring man could want the larger pile,
162 Exults, and owns his cottage with a smile.
163 My soul turn from them; turn we to survey
164 Where rougher climes a nobler race display,
165 Where the bleak Swiss their stormy mansions tread,
166 And force a churlish soil for scanty bread;
167 No product here the barren hills afford,
168 But man and steel, the soldier and his sword.
169 No vernal blooms their torpid rocks array,
170 But winter lingering chills the lap of May;
171 No zephyr fondly foothes the mountain's breast,
172 But meteors glare, and stormy glooms invest.
173 Yet still, ev'n here, content can spread a charm,
174 Redress the clime, and all its rage disarm.
175 Though poor the peasant's hut, his feasts though small,
176 He sees his little lot the lot of all;
177 Sees no contiguous palace rear its head
178 To shame the meanness of his humble shed;
179 No costly lord the sumptuous banquet deal
180 To make him loath his vegetable meal;
181 But calm, and bred in ignorance and toil,
182 Each wish contracting, fits him to the soil.
183 Cheerful at morn he wakes from short repose,
184 Breasts the keen air, and carrols as he goes;
185 With patient angle trolls the sinny deep,
186 Or drives his vent'rous plough-share to the steep;
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187 Or seeks the den where snow-tracks mark the way,
188 And drags the struggling savage into day.
189 At night returning, every labour sped,
190 He sits him down, the monarch of a shed;
191 Smiles by his cheerful fire, and round surveys
192 His childrens looks, that brighten at the blaze;
193 While his lov'd partner, boastful of her hoard,
194 Displays the cleanly platter on the board:
195 And haply too some pilgrim, thither led,
196 With many a tale repays the nightly bed.
197 Thus every good his native wilds impart,
198 Imprints the patriot passion on his heart;
199 And ev'n those hills that round his mansion rise
200 Enhance the bliss his scanty fund supplies.
201 Dear is that shed to which his soul conforms,
202 And dear that hill which lifts him to the storms;
203 And as a babe, when scaring sounds molest,
204 Clings close and closer to the mother's breast,
205 So the loud torrent, and the whirlwind's roar,
206 But bind him to his native mountains more.
207 These are the charms to barren states assign'd,
208 Their wants are few, their wishes all confin'd.
209 Yet let them only share the praises due,
210 If few their wants, their pleasures are but few;
211 Since every want that stimulates the breast,
212 Becomes a source of pleasure when redrest.
213 Hence from such lands each pleasing science flies,
214 That first excites desire, and then supplies;
215 Unknown to them, when sensual pleasures cloy,
216 To fill the languid pause with finer joy;
217 Unknown those powers that raise the soul to flame,
218 Catch every nerve, and vibrate through the frame.
219 Their level life is but a smould'ring fire,
220 Nor quench'd by want, nor fann'd by strong desire;
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221 Unfit for raptures, or, if raptures cheer
222 On some high festival of once a year,
223 In wild excess the vulgar breast takes fire,
224 'Till, buried in debauch, the bliss expire.
225 But not their joys alone thus coarsely flow;
226 Their morals, like their pleasures, are but low:
227 For, as refinement stops, from sire to son,
228 Unalter'd, unimprov'd, their manners run;
229 And love's and friendship's finely pointed dart
230 Fall blunted from each indurated heart:
231 Some sterner virtues o'er the mountain's breast
232 May sit, like falcons cow'ring on the nest,
233 But all the gentler morals, such as play
234 Through life's more cultur'd walks, and charm our way,
235 These far dispers'd, on timorous pinions fly,
236 To sport and flutter in a kinder sky.
237 To kinder skies, where gentler manners reign,
238 We turn; and France displays her bright domain.
239 Gay sprightly land of mirth and social ease,
240 Pleas'd with thyself, whom all the world can please,
241 How often have I led thy sportive choir,
242 With tuneless pipe, beside the murmuring Loire!
243 Where shading elms along the margin grew,
244 And freshen'd from the wave the zephyr flew;
245 And haply, though my harsh touch faultering still,
246 But mock'd all tune, and marr'd the dancer's skill;
247 Yet would the village praise my wond'rous power,
248 And dance, forgetful of the noon-tide hour.
249 Alike all ages. Dames of ancient days
250 Have led their children through the mirthful maze,
251 And the gay grandsire, skill'd in gestic lore,
252 Has frisk'd beneath the burden of threescore.
253 So bright a life these thoughtless realms display;
254 Thus idly busy rolls their world away:
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255 Theirs are those arts that mind to mind endear,
256 For honour forms the social temper here.
257 Honour, that praise which real merit gains,
258 Or ev'n imaginary worth obtains,
259 Here passes current; paid from hand to hand,
260 It shifts in splendid traffic round the land:
261 From courts to camps, to cottages it strays,
262 And all are taught an avarice of praise;
263 They please, are pleas'd, they give to get esteem,
264 'Till, seeming blest, they grow to what they seem.
265 But while this softer art their bliss supplies,
266 It gives their follies also room to rise;
267 For praise too dearly lov'd or warmly sought,
268 Enfeebles all internal strength of thought:
269 And the weak soul, within itself unblest,
270 Leans for all pleasure on another's breast.
271 Hence Ostentation here, with taudry art,
272 Pants for the vulgar praise which fools impart;
273 Here Vanity assumes her pert grimace,
274 And trims her robes of frieze with copper lace;
275 Here beggar Pride defrauds her daily cheer,
276 To boast one splendid banquet once a year;
277 The mind still turns where shifting fashion draws,
278 Nor weighs the solid worth of self-applause.
279 To men of other minds my fancy flies,
280 Embosom'd in the deep where Holland lies;
281 Methinks her patient sons before me stand,
282 Where the broad ocean leans against the land,
283 And, sedulous to stop the coming tide,
284 Lift the tall rampire's artificial pride;
285 Onward methinks, and diligently slow,
286 The firm connected bulwark seems to go;
287 Spreads its long arms amidst the watry roar,
288 Scoops out an empire, and usurps the shore:
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289 While the pent Ocean rising o'er the pile,
290 Sees an amphibious world beneath him smile;
291 The slow canal, the yellow-blossom'd vale,
292 The willow-tufted bank, the gliding sail,
293 The crowded mart, the cultivated plain,
294 A new creation rescu'd from his reign.
295 Thus, while around the wave-subjected soil
296 Impels the native to repeated toil,
297 Industrious habits in each bosom reign,
298 And industry begets a love of gain.
299 Hence all the good from opulence that springs,
300 With all those ills superfluous treasure brings,
301 Are here display'd. Their much lov'd wealth imparts
302 Convenience, plenty, elegance, and arts;
303 But view them closer, craft and fraud appear,
304 Ev'n liberty itself is barter'd here.
305 At gold's superior charms all freedom flies,
306 The needy sell it, and the rich man buys;
307 A land of tyrants, and a den of slaves,
308 Here wretches seek dishonourable graves,
309 And calmly bent, to servitude conform,
310 Dull as their lakes that sleep beneath the storm.
311 Heavens! how unlike their Belgic sires of old!
312 Rough, poor, content, ungovernably bold;
313 War in each breast, and freedom on each brow;
314 How much unlike the sons of Britain now!
315 Fir'd at the sound, my genius spreads her wing,
316 And flies where Britain courts the western spring;
317 Where lawns extend that scorn Arcadian pride,
318 And brighter streams than fam'd Hydaspis glide.
319 There all around the gentlest breezes stray,
320 There gentle music melts on every spray;
321 Creation's mildest charms are there combin'd,
322 Extremes are only in the master's mind.
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323 Stern o'er each bosom Reason holds her state,
324 With daring aims irregularly great;
325 Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
326 I see the lords of human kind pass by,
327 Intent on high designs, a thoughtful band,
328 By forms unfashion'd, fresh from Nature's hand;
329 Fierce in their native hardiness of soul,
330 True to imagin'd right, above controul,
331 While ev'n the peasant boasts these rights to scan,
332 And learns to venerate himself as man.
333 Thine, Freedom, thine the blessings pictur'd here,
334 Thine are those charms that dazzle and endear;
335 Too blest, indeed, were such without alloy,
336 But, foster'd ev'n by Freedom, ills annoy:
337 That independence Britons prize too high,
338 Keeps man from man, and breaks the social tie;
339 The self-dependent lordlings stand alone,
340 All kindred claims that soften life unknown:
341 Here by the bonds of nature feebly held,
342 Minds combat minds, repelling and repell'd;
343 Ferments arise, imprison'd factions roar,
344 Represt ambition struggles round her shore,
345 Whilst over-wrought, the general system feels
346 Its motions stopt, or phrenzy fires the wheels.
347 Nor this the worst. As social bonds decay,
348 As duty, love, and honour fail to sway,
349 Fictitious bonds, the bonds of wealth and law,
350 Still gather strength and force unwilling awe.
351 Hence all obedience bows to these alone,
352 And talent sinks, and merit weeps unknown;
353 Till time may come, when stript of all her charms,
354 That land of scholars, and that nurse of arms,
355 Where noble stems transmit the patriot claim,
356 And monarchs toil, and poets pant for fame,
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357 One sink of level avarice shall lie,
358 And scholars, soldiers, kings, unhonour'd die.
359 Yet think not, thus when freedom's ills I state,
360 I mean to flatter kings, or court the great;
361 Ye powers of truth that bid my soul aspire,
362 Far from my bosom drive the low desire!
363 And thou, fair Freedom, taught alike to feel
364 The rabble's rage, and tyrant's angry steel;
365 Thou transitory flower, alike undone
366 By cold contempt, or favour's fostering sun,
367 Still may thy blooms the changeful clime endure,
368 I only would repress them to secure:
369 For just experience tells in every soil,
370 That those who think must govern those that toil;
371 And all that freedom's highest aims can reach,
372 Is but to lay proportion'd loads on each;
373 Much on the low, the rest, as rank supplies,
374 Should in columnar diminution rise;
375 While, should one order disproportion'd grow,
376 Its double weight must ruin all below.
377 O then how blind to all that truth requires,
378 Who think it freedom when a part aspires!
379 Calm is my soul, nor apt to rise in arms,
380 Except when fast approaching danger warms:
381 But when contending chiefs blockade the throne,
382 Contracting regal power to stretch their own;
383 When I behold a factious band agree
384 To call it freedom when themselves are free;
385 Each wanton judge new penal statutes draw,
386 Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law;
387 The wealth of climes, where savage nations roam,
388 Pillag'd from slaves to purchase slaves at home;
389 Fear, pity, justice, indignation start,
390 Tear off reserve, and bare my swelling heart;
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391 'Till half a patriot, half a coward grown,
392 I fly from petty tyrants to the throne.
393 Yes, brother, curse with me that baleful hour,
394 When first ambition struck at regal power;
395 And thus polluting honour in its source,
396 Gave wealth to sway the mind with double force.
397 Have we not seen, round Britain's peopled shore,
398 Her useful sons exchang'd for useless ore?
399 Seen all her triumphs but destruction haste,
400 Like flaring tapers brightening as they waste;
401 Seen Opulence, her grandeur to maintain,
402 Lead stern Depopulation in her train,
403 And, over fields where scatter'd hamlets rose,
404 In barren solitary pomp repose?
405 Have we not seen, at Pleasure's lordly call,
406 The smiling long-frequented village fall;
407 Beheld the duteous son, the sire decay'd,
408 The modest matron, and the blushing maid,
409 Forc'd from their homes, a melancholy train,
410 To traverse climes beyond the western main;
411 Where wild Oswego spreads her swamps around,
412 And Niagara stuns with thund'ring sound?
413 Ev'n now, perhaps, as there some pilgrim strays
414 Through tangled forests, and through dangerous ways;
415 Where beasts with men divided empire claim,
416 And the brown Indian takes a deadly aim;
417 There, while above the giddy tempest flies,
418 And all around distressful yells arise,
419 The pensive exile, bending with his woe,
420 To stop too fearful, and too faint to go,
421 Casts a fond look where England's glories shine,
422 And bids his bosom sympathize with mine.
423 Vain, very vain, my weary search to find
424 That bliss which only centers in the mind:
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425 Why have I stray'd from pleasure and repose,
426 To seek a good each government bestows?
427 In every government, though terrors reign,
428 Though tyrant kings, or tyrant laws restrain,
429 How small of all that human hearts endure,
430 That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
431 Still to ourselves in every place consign'd,
432 Our own felicity we make or find:
433 With secret course, which no loud storms annoy,
434 Glides the smooth current of domestic joy.
435 The lifted ax, the agonizing wheel,
436 Luke's iron crown, and Damien's bed of steel,
437 To men remote from power but rarely known,
438 Leave reason, faith, and conscience, all our own.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): THE TRAVELLER: OR, A PROSPECT OF SOCIETY.
Themes: travel; rural life; city
Genres: heroic couplet; prospect poem / topographical poem

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Source edition

The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B. Containing all his Essays and Poems. London: printed for W. Griffin, Catherine-street, in the Strand, 1775, pp. []-164. [8],iv,[1],10-200p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T146118; OTA K113624.000)

Editorial principles

The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Secondary literature

  • Kazmin, Roman. Oliver Goldsmith's The Traveller and The Deserted Village: moral economy of landscape representation. English Studies (The Netherlands) 87(6) (2006): 653-668. Print.