Of all our poets, there is none who more completely verified the words of Crabbe, than Oliver Goldsmith:—
And never mortal left this world of sin
More like the infant that he entered in.
He was a genuine Irishman, all heart and impulse. Imposed upon, ill-treated, often made the butt of witlings, and compelled to labour and live on with that cancer of the heart, constant anxiety to procure the ordinary means of existence — none of these things could convert the milk of human kindness within him into gall, could teach him one lesson of malevolence, or dim the godlike sense of truth and humanity in his soul. Through a long experience of men and things, living by shifts, and writing for mere bread, he still remained the same simple, warm-hearted, generous and unsophisticated creature that he was at the beginning. Improvident he was, out of the overflowing goodness of his nature; ready, at the first cry of distress, to give away that which he had bitterly toiled for, and which had been grudgingly paid; but he never made others the victims of his improvidence. He remained single, and made all that were in suffering his family, and helped them even when he needed help himself. I know not whether more to admire the exquisite beauty of his poetry, the life and virtues of the Vicar of Wakefield, or the gloriously unworldly texture of his heart. Thousands of brilliant spirits have risen, glittered and died in the field of our literature, having astonished and wounded their neighbours, as they have gone along in their pride, dreaming of an everlasting reputation, who are now justly forgotten, or are remembered without respect or emotion. They had intellect unallied to heart, and the cold meteor dazzled in its descent to earth, and left no blessing behind it. But the genial spirit of Goldsmith, all love and pity in itself, is and will be for ever remembered with love and reverence, — the last the very quality that he received least of in his lifetime. One of the most amiable and attractive points of view in which we contemplate Dr. Johnson, is that of his attachment to Goldsmith, and of his acknowledgment of his genius.
The life of Oliver Goldsmith has been well written by Mr. Prior. It is almost the only one that I have found, during the researches necessary for this work, which might have rendered unnecessary a visit to the actual "homes and haunts" of the poet under notice. It is a most rare circumstance that a biographer possesses the faculty of landscape-painting, and besides detailing the facts of a person's life, can make you see the places where that life was passed. Mr. Prior possesses this faculty in a high degree. He was at the pains to visit Ireland, and see, with his own eyes, the scenes where Goldsmith was born, and where he lived; and the different sojourns of Goldsmith in that country are so accurately sketched, that they might have been transferred literally to these pages, with advantage, had not I myself also gone over the same ground.
Goldsmith was of a very respectable family in Ireland, many of whom had been clergymen, residing principally in the counties of Roscommon, Westmeath, and Longford. Two of them were deans of Elphin, another dean of Cloyne. Goldsmith used to boast that, by the female side, he was remotely descended from Oliver Cromwell, from whom his christian name was derived. It seems, however, more likely, that he owed his name to his mother's father, the Rev. Oliver Jones, master of the diocesan school at Elphin. The poet's own father, Charles Goldsmith, was a poor curate at the time of the poet's birth. He had married Ann Jones at a time when he was without occupation, and therefore to the great dissatisfaction of her friends. Mrs. Goldsmith's uncle, however, was rector of Kilkenny West, near Lissoy, afterwards to become the residence of Goldsmith himself, and to receive from him the immortal name and celebrity of Auburn. This uncle provided the young couple with a house, about six miles from Kilkenny West, at a small hamlet called Pallasmore, and with a salary for officiating at the church of the parish in which Pallas or Pallasmore was situated, and also in that of his own, Kilkenny West. It seems Goldsmith's parents continued to reside twelve years at Pallas, and here the poet was born, on the 10th of November, 1728. He was one of eight children, five boys and three girls. He was the second son, his elder brother being Henry, who afterwards became curate of Kilkenny West, and lived at Lissoy, where Oliver addressed to him his poem, The Traveller. That Goldsmith was come of a good stock, we may infer, by the character of simple piety which both his poetry and local tradition give to his father, the good parish priest, — "passing rich with forty pounds a year;" — and not the less from the spirit and decision which his grandmother, Mrs. Jones, displayed, in order to improve the scanty income of Oliver's parents. The husband of this lady, the Rev. Oliver Jones, was now dead; she was a widow, her daughter and son-in-law were living at Pallas, on the poor stipend derived from his curacy. Her husband had rented a considerable tract of land on very advantageous terms, which now fell out of lease. She determined, if possible, to secure this for her son-in-law and daughter. She was refused: but, nothing daunted, she mounted behind her own son on a pillion, and set out on the long and arduous journey to Dublin, to try her personal influence with the landlord. Here the same refusal met her; but, as a last argument, she took out a hundred guineas, which she had provided herself with, and held them open in her hand while she pleaded. This had the effect that she procured half the land on the same easy terms as before, and she used jocularly to regret that she had not taken two hundred guineas, and thus got the whole. This noble act of maternal heroism is the more to be admired, as it cost her the life of her son, who received an injury of some kind on the journey.
Pallasmore, then, where Oliver Goldsmith was born, is a mere cluster of two or three cottages, called in Ireland farm-houses, but which, to an English eye, would present only the appearance of huts. The place lies quite out of the track of high-roads, about a mile and a half from Ballymahon in a direct line, but perhaps three, taking in all the windings of the ways to it. It is now the property of the Edgeworths. There is nothing remarkable in the aspect of the country. It is rather flat, naked of trees, and cultured by small tenants. It was with some difficulty that I got at it. My car-driver, from Edgeworthstown, knew nothing more of it than its name, and we had proceeded somewhat beyond the proper turning, as it lay quite off the highway, and were obliged to obtain permission to pass through the park of Newcastle, in order to reach it without making a great circuit. Having approached to within half a mile of it, a peasant pointed it out, as a group of white cottages standing in a clump of trees. The lanes were now become so narrow and stony that I was obliged to quit my car, as Mr. Prior describes himself to have done, and proceed across the fields on foot. I passed along the deep, stony, and narrow lanes, here and there a regular Irish cabin sticking in the bank, the smoke coming out of the door, or issuing from the thatched roof about on a level with the fields above. A boy who was teaching school in one of these, came out with his book in his hand, and directed me into a footpath across the fields. Here I advanced through the standing corn, and at length reached this out-of-the-world spot, dignified with the sounding title of Pallasmore. Here about three whitewashed cottages, of a superior description to the cabins I had passed in the narrow lanes, stood amid a number of ash trees, looking out over an ordinary sort of country. A man, the inhabitant of one of them, advanced to show me the spot where the poet was born. He plunged into a potatoe-field, and at a few hundred yards from the cottages, in the bank of the next field, showed me a few stones, like the foundation of a wall, which have the reputation of being the sole remains of the house where the poet was born. Poets are, certainly, often born in odd places, but it certainly did strike me strangely, that the man who was destined to spend the greater portion of his life in the dense crowd of London, should have sprung out of this obscure, and almost inaccessible location. There is nothing in the view around to suggest to the mind any the most faint dream of poetry. Oliver Goldsmith, however, was a mere infant when first removed from this place. His father, two years after his birth, succeeded, on the death of his wife's uncle, to the rectory of Kilkenny West, and removed to Lissoy; but Oliver was accustomed to come thither, and make considerable sojourns with his brother Henry, who lived here when Oliver was grown up. The house is said to have been a good country house, looking towards Forney church, at which Oliver's father and brother used to preach, and which still rises to view between it and some distant woods, one of the most pleasing objects of the scene.
Popular tradition ascribes the utter destruction of the house to the fairies, who, on its becoming untenanted, used to take up their quarters there, and pursue their nocturnal sports in great content. But a tenant being found, and repairs of the house being commenced, a huge man in huge jack-boots used to come every night, and making a horse of it by bestriding the roof, would push his legs through the tiles, and, imitating galloping, shake the roof to pieces. It was therefore obliged to remain empty, till falling into ruin, it was at length cleared clean away, with the exception of these few stones.
The very ordinary character of this scene, and of the country round, almost extinguished my desire for proceeding onwards five miles further to Lissoy, the reputed Auburn, especially as the Edgeworths had told me it was not worth my while. I inquired, however, of a farmer that I met on my return to the car that waited for me on the road, what sort of a place Lissoy was. "Oh, a very beautiful place!" said he, "a very beautiful place. You must see it — that was where Oliver Goldsmith lived and died." "Lived, but not died," I replied: "he died in London." "Oh no! your honour," replied the man, "I assure you he died there, and lies buried at Kilkenny West."
The accuracy of the man's account was about equal in all its parts. Lissoy was just as truly beautiful as Goldsmith was buried there. But this is always the way with the Irish peasantry. Unlike the Scotch, whose local knowledge is generally very correct, they seem to look upon all remarkable men as they do on their saints, and insist on their remains being preserved amongst them. At Kilcolman castle I was assured with equal positiveness, that Spenser was buried just below the castle, and the spot pointed out to me. There was, however, sufficient charm in the farmer's assurance that Lissoy was a very beautiful place, to turn the scale for going on. In such cases one is willing to be deceived, and follow the slightest word, though with an inward consciousness that we shall not find what we are promised. We drove on, therefore, six or seven miles further, over a very monotonous, naked country, only marked by a few banks for fences, and a few little smoky cabins with a poor population. It is a country that to Goldsmith's boyish fancy might be charming, lit is certainly to an English eye by no means romantic. A part of an old round tower, however, stands near Auburn. There are the ruins of an old castle not far off, and old parks that are charming. One I passed, old, grey, craggy, and full of fern, but having not a single tree in it except old thorn-trees, large and of venerable age. There was a desolate antiquity about it that was attractive to the imagination. From the higher part of the road too, approaching Lissoy, you see the Shannon hastening on towards the west. Presently, at a turn of the road, we passed the public-house said to be that alluded to in The Deserted Village, and were in that "very beautiful place," Lissoy. It consists, in fact, of a few common cottages by the road side, on a flat, and by no means particularly interesting scene. A few hundred yards beyond these cottages stand, at some distance from the road, the ruins of the house where Goldsmith's father lived, and which continued in the family till 1802, when it was sold by Henry, the son of Henry, Oliver Goldsmith's brother, the nephew of the poet who had gone to America. This house was described in 1790 by the Rev. Mr. Hancock, of Athlone, who was intimately acquainted with the Goldsmith family, and indeed managed their property for them, as "a snug farm-house, in view of the high road, to which a straight avenue leads, with double rows of ash-trees, six miles north-east of this town — Athlone. The farm is still held under the Naper family, by a nephew of Goldsmith at present in America. In the front view of the house is the 'decent church' of Kilkenny West, that literally 'tops the neighbouring hill;' and in a circuit of not more than half a mile diameter around the house, are 'the never-failing brook,' 'the busy mill,' 'the hawthorn bush with seats beneath the shade,' 'the brook with mantling cresses spread,' 'the straggling fence that skirts the way, with blossomed furze unprofitably gay,' 'the thorn that lifts its head on high, where once the sign-post caught the passing eye,' 'the house where nut-brown draughts inspired;' in short, every striking object of the picture. There are, besides, many ruined houses in the neighbourhood, bespeaking a better state of population than at present."
Such it was. Prior's description of it at his visit a few years ago would very nearly do for it now. "The house once occupied by the rector of Kilkenny West, pleasantly situated and of good dimensions, is now a ruin, verifying the truth of the pathetic lines of his son—
Vain, transitory splendours! Could not all
Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!
The front, including a wing, extends, as nearly as could be judged by passing it, sixty-eight feet by a depth of twenty-four; it consisted of two stories, with five windows in each. The roof has been off for a period of twenty years: the gable-ends remain, but the front and back walls of the upper story have crumbled away, and if the hand of the destroyer be not stayed, will soon wholly disappear. Two or three wretched cottages for labourers, surrounded by mud, adjoin it on the left. Behind the house is an orchard of some extent, and the remains of a garden, both utterly neglected. In fact, a pretty avenue of double rows of ash-trees, which formed the approach from the high road, about sixty yards distant, and at one time presented an object of interest to travellers, has, like every other trace of care or superintendence, disappeared-cut down by the ruthless hand of some destroyer. No picture of desolation can be more complete. As if an image of the impending ruin had been present, the poet has painted with fearful accuracy what his father's house was to be:—
Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,
And still where many a garden flower grows wild;
There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose,
The village preacher's modest mansion rose."
Little can be added to that account. There still stands the long white ruin of the house which sheltered Goldsmith as a boy, at the right hand end one tall gable and chimney remaining aloft, the other having since Mr. Prior's visit fallen in. At the left hand, near the house, still remains one of the wretched cottages he mentions. I went into it. The floor of mud was worn into hollows, in which geese were sitting in little pools. There was a dresser on one side, with a few plates laid on it; a few chairs, of a rudeness of construction such as no Englishman who has not visited an Irish cabin has any conception of; and the interior of the roof, for ceiling it had none, was varnished into a jetty brilliancy with the smoke.
Behind the ruins of the house, there are still the orchard and wild remains of a garden, enclosed with a high old stone wall. One could imagine this retreat a play place for the embryo poet, whose charm would long linger in his memory: and in truth, when the house was complete, with its avenue of ashes, along which you looked to the highway, and thence across a valley to the church of Kilkenny Wrest, on a hill at about a mile distant, the abode of Goldsmith's boyhood must have been a very pleasant one. It is now seen as stripped of all its former attractions, its life, its completeness as a house, its trees; and stands a white, bare, and solitary ruin.
Many people think, that as Goldsmith's father was the clergyman, this was the parsonage. It was not so. The parsonage was at Kilkenny West, where the present rector resides. This house was attached to the farm which the pastor had here, and was probably a much better and more commodious dwelling than the parsonage.
Returning to the village, — if three or four poor cottages by the roadside can deserve that name, — the public-house is the object which attracts your attention. This is said to be the very house of which Goldsmith speaks in the Deserted Village. Goldsmith, however, tells you himself, in the Deserted Village, that the public-house, amongst others, was destroyed:—
Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,
Where greybeard mirth and smiling toil retired, etc.
In fact, it was rebuilt by Mr. Hogan, a gentleman living near, who, being an ardent admirer of Goldsmith's poetry, did all that he could to restore to Lissoy the characteristics of Auburn. He rebuilt the public-house, on the spot where tradition placed the old one, with the traditionary thorn in front. He gave it the sign of "The Jolly Pigeons;" he supplied it with new copies of "The Twelve good Rules," and "The Royal Game of Goose;" he went even to the length of the ludicrous in his zeal for an accurate fac-simile of the genuine house — and
Broken tea cups, wisely kept for show,
Ranged o'er the chimney, glistened in a row.
These, to perpetuate them, were fast embedded in the mortar, but in vain; relic-hunters knocked them out, fictitious as they were, and carried them off as genuine. The very sign did not escape this relic mania, — it is no longer to be seen; nor, I suppose, were a new one to be set up, would it long remain. The new "twelve good rules," and new "royal game of goose," have gone the same way; and there is no question that a brave trade in such things might be carried on with what Goldsmith calls "the large family of fools," if a supply were kept here. The very thorn before the door has been cut down piecemeal, and carried off to all quarters of the world. In 1830, Mr. Prior, when visiting the place, making inquiries for Goldsmith's biography, observed that "a tender shoot had again forced its way to the surface, which he, in emulation of so many other inconsiderate idlers, felt disposed to seize upon as a memorial of his visit; but which, if permitted to remain, though this is unlikely, may renew the honours of its predecessor." Vain hope! there is not an atom of it left! He himself tells us, that "every traveller thither for forty years had carried away a portion of the tree, as a relic either of the poem or of his pilgrimage; when the branches had been destroyed, the trunk was attacked; and when this disappeared, even the roots were dug up, so that in 1820 scarcely a vestige remained, either above or below ground, notwithstanding a resident gentleman had built a wall round it, to endeavour to prevent its extermination." There is now neither vestige of tree, root, nor wall. I suppose the rage of relicism has carried off the very stones that had stood on so hallowed a spot. There is still a slight mound left, or rather made, to mark the spot where the thorn stood.
The public-house presents not a resemblance to Goldsmith's picture in his poem. The road from Ballymahon runs right towards this house. On arriving at it, the house stands on the further side of the road, facing you and the Ballymahon highway. Another road runs at right angles, that is, parallel with the house, so that it stands at what is usually called, "where three roads meet." The road on your right hand runs down to the village; and some space is left in front of the house, the stone wall on your right, which fences in the field, being carried in a circular sweeping, instead of coming up to an abrupt corner. On the space left by this arrangement, on the side of the road, and directly opposite to the house, stood the tree. But how different is the house itself, to that whose delightful picture your imagination has carried away from the page of the poet!—
Near yonder thorn that lifts its head on high,
Where once the sign-post caught the passing eye,
Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,
Where greybeard mirth and smiling toil retired.
Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,
And news much older than their ale went round.
Imagination fondly stoops to trace
The parlour splendours of that festive place;
The whitewashed wall, the nicely sanded floor,
The varnished clock that clicked behind the door:
The chest contrived a double debt to pay,
A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day.
The pictures, placed for ornament and use,
The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose.
The hearth, except when winter chilled the day,
With aspen boughs, and flowers, and fennel gay,
While broken tea cups, wisely kept for show,
Ranged o'er the chimney, glistened in a row.
Vain transitory splendour could not all
Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!
Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart
An hour's importance to the poor man's heart;
Thither no more the peasant shall repair
To sweet oblivion of his daily care;
No more the farmer's news, the barber's tale,
No more the woodman's ballad shall prevail;
No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,
Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;
The host himself, no longer to be found,
Careful to see the mantling bliss go round;
Nor the coy maid, half willing to be prest,
Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.
These are all the attractive characteristics of a nice old village public-house in England. Clean, quiet, sweet, and breathing of the olden time. They are characteristics professedly gathered by the poet in his rural rambles in England, where he had lived at least twenty years when he wrote the poem. In his preface he talks of these "country excursions for four or five years past," in which he had "taken all possible pains" to be correct in his details. Where, indeed, did any one see in an Irish country alehouse "the parlour splendours of a festive place;" "the whitewashed wall, the nicely sanded floor," "the varnished clock, that clicked behind the door; the hearth, except when winter chilled the day, with aspen boughs, and flowers, and fennel gay?" Where does he find the nut-brown ale? They all belong to the healthy, wholesome, well-to-do village alehouse of rural and prosperous England. An Irish village alehouse! What is it? A poor and filthy cabin, — the walls of rough stones, the roof, often with nothing between it and the floor. The floor! nicely sanded? — a bed of mud, full of holes, in which geese, and ducks, and pigs, are dabbling and wallowing! If floored at all, paved with pebbles, which stand up in heaps by places, and by places are gone, leaving the aforesaid duck-pools and pig-troughs. A parcel of ragged people sprawling on the hearth around the peat fire, the coy maid, a barelegged, shock-headed body, hard at work in tending the potato kettle, or contending with the ass, the cow, the pigs, that make part of the family. The parlour splendours? Half the house separated by a counter, behind which the landlord stands, amid a stock of candles and bread for sale, and dealing out, not the generous nut-brown ale, but the deadly liquid fire, called whisky. Such are the almost universal attributes of a village alehouse in Ireland. Goldsmith knew better than to draw on his memory for them; he turned to the more poetical scene of the English village alehouse, which, clean as hands could make it, sweet, and all that he describes, had charmed him in his numerous rural excursions in this country.
The Three Jolly Pigeons is just a regular Irish alehouse, or rather whisky-shop. On going in, you look in vain for the picture Goldsmith has so beautifully drawn. The varnished clock clicking behind the door, the pictures placed for ornament and use, the twelve good rules, the royal game of goose, where are they? Not there — but in many an old-fashioned hamlet of England. The mud floor, the dirty walls, the smell of whisky, these are what meet you. You look for "the parlour splendours," and on your left hand there is, for a wonder, a separate room, but it is, as usual, filled with the candles, the herrings, the bread, of the Irish alehouse, and the whisky is doled out over the suspicious counter, instead of the nut-brown ale being brought in the generous foaming cup, to the bright, clean fireside, by the neat and blooming maid.
In all Goldsmith's description of his Auburn, he has clearly blended the Doric charm of the English village and English scenery, with the fond boyish memories of his actual native place. He has evidently intended to represent the scene as in England, or at all events to make his poem of general application, though he has drawn on his memory for features connected with his native place, and imparted soul and sentiment to it by indulging the feelings of old affectionate regret. Thus the ale-house, the parsonage, the mill, the brook, the village green, the schoolmaster, the pious clergyman, were all portions of his native place, and actual inhabitants of it, yet mixed with touches from the later observations of his English life. The very circumstance of depopulation, which no doubt had occurred at Lissoy, and had sunk deep into his indignant heart, he tell us, in his dedication to Sir Joshua Reynolds, was going on in England, and that his description meant to apply to England. "But I know you will object, — and indeed, several of our best and wisest friends concur in the opinion, — that the depopulation it deplores is nowhere to be seen, and the disorders it laments are only to be found in the poet's own imagination. To this I can scarcely make any other answer, than that I sincerely believe what I have written; that I have taken all possible pains in my country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I allege, and that all my views and inquiries have led me to believe those miseries real which I here attempt to display."
The fact is only too much a fact. From Goldsmith's time to our own, the process of rural depopulation has been going on, by the absorption of smaller properties into larger ones. The rapid growth of capital in England has created a demand for landed investments, which has tempted the small proprietors to sell the old cottages and crofts. Whole hamlets have disappeared, one after another, and ample parks have taken their place, and solitary halls have sprung up where there used to be a long, populous village, buried in its gardens and orchards. As new men, merchants, lawyers, successful speculators, and cits grown wealthy, have carried out these changes, the old aristocracy have withdrawn farther and farther from the contact of these new erections, and, demolishing the little hamlets, have extended their immense park walls so as to create a vast solitude for themselves, where amid woods and wide fields have stood their proud seats. It were easy to cite almost innumerable instances of this, but in every neighbourhood, the old inhabitants are living chronicles of all these changes; we need only refer to the general and striking fact developed by our statistics, that about 1770, or in Goldsmith's time, the landed proprietors of England were about 200,000, they are now about 30,000!
That is, proprietors of considerable estates; for the proprietors of small lots, on which houses and gardens, or town property stand, amount to about three millions. The proportion of estates, however, is as above, and it tells a fearful tale of the conglomeration of landed property during the last seventy years.
What is more strange than the doubt of the progress of rural depopulation in England, is that Mr. Prior, the biographer of Goldsmith, doubts even the justice of his strictures as applied to Ireland. He admits that there appeared to have been some such circumstance at Lissoy in Goldsmith's youth, as he has described in the Deserted Village; but he is inclined to palliate it till it becomes a mere trifle. "In November 1738, a part of the town lands of Lissoy, and the adjoining lands of Cannorstown, to the number of 600 acres, were sold by Jeffery Frend, Esq., of the Middle Temple, to the Honourable Robert Naper, Lieutenant-general of his Majesty's forces in Ireland, for the sum of £3,300, but the General died before the purchase was completed. Upon this property, named Ballybegg, lying behind the house of Mr. Goldsmith, about half a mile distant, Mr. William Naper, son of the General, several years afterwards built the family residence, named Littleton. In the preliminary arrangements, some circumstances, probably neither harsh nor unjust in themselves, connected with the removal of part of the tenantry, gave rise in the mind of Goldsmith, morbidly acute in his benevolent feelings, and particularly towards the poorer classes of society, to the idea of The Deserted Village." — Vol. I. p. 18. This, however, does not agree with Mr. Prior's own account of the appearance of the place on his own visit, given at page 257 of Vol. II. "There are, besides, many ruined houses in the neighbourhood, bespeaking a better state of population than at present." It as little agrees with Goldsmith's assertion, that the very alehouse of the village was pulled down. Nay, at this very part of Mr. Prior's account, (Vol. II. p. 259,) he gives a more extended history of Mr. Naper or Napier's transactions; and while he endeavours to persuade us that the tradition of the neighbourhood was not to he trusted, he shows that Mr. Naper had 1,200 acres of land, a great part of which had been converted into demesne. The story of the neighbourhood, as given by himself, is that Lieutenant-general Robert Naper, returning from Vigo in Spain with a large fortune, purchased, as has been stated, the adjoining lands. In erecting a residence and forming a demesne around it, the habitations of some, as is alleged, respectable tenants and several of the peasantry stood in the way, and being unwilling to remove for his convenience, were at length, after much resistance, all, except the Goldsmith family, ejected for non-payment of rent. Their houses were pulled down, and the park enlarged to a circumference of nine miles; but so great was the indignation of the people at the proceeding, that on the general's death, which occurred soon afterward, they assembled in a tumultuous manner, destroyed most of the property in and around it, and among other things, plantations to the value of £5,000.
What are the reasons assigned by the biographer for doubting the story? His own belief, that "the wanton destruction of a thriving and pretty village in a country where such are carefully encouraged by all proprietors of lands, is wholly improbable." He further fancies that Goldsmith's morbid imagination "had converted a few mud cabins into a beautiful village, and perhaps their turbulent and vindictive occupants into injured, and innocent, and expatriated peasants." Lastly, and most unfortunately of all, he adds, "Proprietary rights cannot always be exercised by landlords in Ireland, even in a reasonable manner, without extreme jealousy on the part of the people. Circumstances, therefore, which daily occur in England, and produce neither concern nor notice, excite in the former loud complaint, if not open hostility. Anything resembling severity becomes speedily known and loudly censured; and such impressions, however untrue, taken up and acted upon by the imagination and eloquence of a poet, are dangerous assailants of reputation."
The revolting case of the expulsion of the tenants from the estate of the Gerrards at Ballinasloe in Ireland, occurring at the moment at which I write this, in which 270 poor people are turned out to the elements, their houses pulled to the ground, themselves chased from the roadside ditches, where they had sought a night's shelter from the piercing wind, and the fires which they had made to warm themselves extinguished, — all this is a fearful answer to such writings, and too awful proof of the correctness of the poet's statements. So far from Irish landlords not destroying villages, so far from "anything like severity" being speedily known and resisted, — the inquiries caused by this one flagrant case have shown to the horrified public, that in no country in the world are the rights of the peasantry so totally disregarded; in no country has the outrage of The Deserted Village been so often enacted. The scene which Goldsmith so pathetically describes, of the poor villagers whose homes had been destroyed, whose native haunts had been made to cast them forth, going on towards the shore seeking for an asylum beyond the ocean, was not a solitary scene. It has been reacted again and again. It has been repeated from that hour to this; and every year and almost every day sees sad thousands bidding adieu to their birthplaces, and crowding on board the ships that carry them to a more hospitable country.
Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,
I see the rural virtues leave the land.
Down where yon anchoring vessel spreads the sail
That idly waiting, flaps with every gale,
Downward they move, a melancholy band,
Pass from the shore, and darken all the strand.
Contented toil, and hospitable care,
And kind connubial tenderness are there;
And piety, with wishes placed above,
And steady loyalty, and faithful love.
In five years, it is shown by official documents, that 72,000 persons have been thus east out of their homes, and expatriated, and that the process of this exterminating system has, within twenty years, made outcasts of no less than two millions and a half of peasantry!
Seeing this wholesale depopulation, which has not merely gone on formerly, but is going on at this hour, in the face of all enlightened and humane England, it is quite too late to call in question the truth of the poet's descriptions. We no longer wonder that, in opposition to popular opinion, he stood boldly forward at the moment that he issued his poem to the world, in assertion of the truth of his descriptions; and we deplore the fact, that his noble sentiments have not sooner become national and availing.
Under all these circumstances, Auburn or Lissoy, which you will, will always be visited with enthusiasm by the genuine lovers of purest poetry and of kindly humanity. The visitor will not find all there that he naturally looks for. He will not find the country very beautiful, or the mill, the brook, the ale-house, as rural and picturesque as he could wish; but he will find the very ground on which Oliver Goldsmith ran in the happy days of his boyhood, the ruins of the house in which that model of a village preacher, simple, pious, and warm-hearted, justly, indeed, dear to all the country, — lived, the father of the poet; the ruins of the house in which the poet himself spent a happy childhood, cherishing under such a parent one of the noblest spirits which ever glowed for truth and humanity — fearing no ridicule, contracting no worldliness, never abating, spite of harsh experience and repeated imposition, one throb of pity or of generous sympathy for the wretched. The ground where such a man was reared, is, indeed, holy. Goldsmith himself, not less than his father and brother, was one of the most genuine Christian preachers that ever lived. The sermons of the father and the brother perished with their hearers, but those of the poet live for ever in his writings. And how many of the personal characteristics of "the village preacher," which in his father he celebrates, lived in himself!
Unpracticed he to fawn or seek for power,
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour:
For other aims his heart had learned to prize,
More skilled to raise the wretched than to rise.
How often did he present this trait in his own life! How zealous he was to help any one that he could; how careless to help himself! Thus, when requested by the minister to say if he could be of any service to him, he said, "Yes, he had a brother, a worthy clergyman, whom he would gladly see promoted." At this time he was in great distress himself. At another time, Lord North sent to him a Dr. Scott, with a carte blanche to induce him to write for the ministry, but Goldsmith was not to he bought. "I found him," said the Doctor, "in a miserable set of chambers in the Temple; I told him my authority; I told him that I was empowered to pay most liberally for his exertions, and, would you believe it! he was so absurd as to say — 'I can earn as much as will supply my wants without writing for any party; the assistance therefore you offer is unnecessary to me;' and so I left him," added Dr. Scott, "in his garret."
How completely was this Dr. Primrose! how thoroughly was he the same man in everything. When his aid was needed by his fellow-man—
Careless their merits or their faults to scan,
His pity gave ere charity began.
It is because he embodied himself in all he wrote, that his writings command such undecaying interest; for in impressing his own heart on his page, he impressed there nature itself in its most unselfish and generous character. Every circumstance, therefore, connected with The Deserted Village of such a man will always be deeply interesting to the visitor of the spot, and we must for that reason notice one or two facts of the kind before quitting Lissoy. Mr. Best, an Irish clergyman, met by Mr. Davis, in his travels in the United States, said — "The name of the schoolmaster was Paddy Burns. I remember him well. He was indeed a man severe to view. A woman, called Walsey Cruse, kept the alehouse. I have often been in the house. The hawthorn bush was remarkably large, and stood opposite the house. I was once riding with Brady, titular Bishop of Ardagh, when he observed to me — 'Ma foy, Best, this huge, overgrown bush is mightily in the way; I will order it to be cut down!' 'What, sir,' said I, 'cut down Goldsmith's hawthorn bush, that supplies so beautiful an image in the Deserted Village!' 'Ma foy!' exclaimed the bishop, 'is that the hawthorn bush? Then ever let it be sacred from the edge of the axe, and evil to him that would cut from it a branch!'"
In other places, the Schoolmaster is called, not Paddy Burns, but Thomas Byrne, evidently the same person. He had been educated for school-teaching, but had gone into the army, and, serving in Spain during the reign of Queen Anne, became quarter-master of the regiment. On the return of peace he took up his original calling. He is represented to be well qualified to teach; little more than writing, reading, and arithmetic were wanted, but he could translate extemporaneously Virgil's Eclogues into Irish verse, in considerable elegance. But his grand accomplishment was the narration of his adventures, which was commonly exercised in the alehouse; at the same time that, when not in a particular humour for teaching, he would edify his boys in the school with one of his stories. Amongst his most eager listeners was Oliver, who was so much excited by what he heard, that his friends used to ascribe his own love of rambling to this cause. The schoolmaster was, in fact, the very man to raise the imagination in the young poet. He was eccentric in his habits, of a romantic turn, wrote poetry, was well versed in the fairy superstitions of the country, and what is not less common in Ireland, believed implicitly in their truth.
A poor woman, named Catherine Geraghty, was supposed to be—
Yon widowed, solitary thing,
That feebly bends beside the plashy spring:
She, wretched matron, pressed in age for bread,
To strip the brook with mantling crosses spread.
The brook and ditches near where her cabin stood, still furnish cresses, and several of her descendants reside in the neighbourhood. The school-house is still pointed out, but it is unfortunate for its identity, that no school-house was built then, school being taught in the master's cottage. There is more evidence in nature of the poet's recalling the place of his boyhood as he wrote his poem. The waters and marshy lands, in more than one direction, gave him acquaintance with the singular bird which he has introduced with such effect, as an image of desolation.
Along thy glades, a solitary guest,
The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest.
Little charm as Lissoy has at the present moment, independent of association with Oliver Goldsmith, with him and genius it possesses one that grows upon you the more you trace the scenes made prominent in his poem, and we leave it with regret; There are various other places in the same part of Ireland which are connected with the early history of Goldsmith. At the school of Paddy Byrne he made little progress, as was to be expected, except in a growing attachment to the marvellous. He devoured not only the romantic stories of the schoolmaster, but of the peasantry. He listened enthusiastically to their ballads, their fairy tales and superstitions, of which they have in Ireland a plentiful stock. He got hold of, and read with equal avidity, what have been called the cottage classics of Ireland. Those books which may be found n their cabins everywhere. History of Witches and Ghosts; the Devil and Dr. Faustus; Parismus and Parismenus; Montelea, Knight of the Oracle; Seven Champions of Christendom; Mendoza's Art of Boxing; Ovid's Art of Love; Lives of celebrated Pirates; History of the Irish Rogues and Rapparees; of Moll Flanders; of Jack the Bachelor, a notorious smuggler; of Fair Rosamond and Jane Shore; of Donna Rosena; the Life and Adventures of James Freny, a famous Irish robber, etc. A precious literature for a lad, it must be confessed. Luckily, if it excited his imagination it failed in corrupting his heart; and, thanks to the spread of knowledge, a better class of books has now found its way even into Irish cabins, amongst which not the least general are Chambers's Journal and Tracts. To put Oliver under more suitable tuition, he was sent to the Rev. Mr. Griffin of Elphin, master of the school once taught by his grandfather. Here he became an inmate of his uncle, Mr. John Goldsmith, of Ballyoughter, in the vicinity. Displaying now much talent, which was at once seen and cordially acknowledged by his uncle, he was destined for the university, and preparatory to that he was sent to a school of repute at Athlone. At this school he continued two years; when he was removed to Edgeworthstown, under the care of the Rev. Patrick Hughes, where he continued till he went to the university.
That we may take a connected view of his homes and haunts in this part of the country, we must include at once his life hereabout before he went to the university, and his visits hither during an interval of two years, between his quitting the university and his quitting Ireland, to study physic in Edinburgh, and, in fact, never again to return to Ireland.
There are several facts connected with his school days at Edgcworthstown, that are very interesting. He is said to have become acquainted, either here or at Ballyoughton, with Turlogh O'Carolan, the last of the ancient Irish bards. This popular musician and poet, whose songs have been translated into English, and published, maintained the style and life of the minstrel. He disdained to play for money, but went as an admired and honoured guest from house to house amongst the most ancient and opulent families of Connaught. To complete his character as a harper, he was blind; and had been so from the age of eighteen. His songs, which are sung by the peasantry with enthusiasm, are numerous, and celebrate the persons and families of his patrons. If they do not in the mind of an Englishman appear to possess an originality equal to their fame in Ireland, it is to be remembered that they have there all the charm of association; their very titles being the names of lords and ladies of old families: O'Connor Faby; Dennis O'Connor; Planxty Stafford; Nelly Plunket; Mrs. French; Anna M'Dermott Roe, etc.
The influence which the other local poet, Laurence Whyte, had on the mind and genius of Goldsmith, is very striking. Whyte wrote, as part of a larger poem, The Parting Cup, or the Humours of Deoch an Doruis, in four cantos. It is a lively picture of a Westmeath farmer's life, about the year 1710, and shows not only how its themes had sunk into the mind of Goldsmith as a boy when they re-appeared in The Deserted Village, but also how old and how fixed a portion of Irish history are those miseries and outrages on the people which are at this hour the topic of public wonder in England. The exactions of the landlords; the casting forth from house and home the wretched tenantry; the stream of consequent emigration; and the curse of absenteeism. Whyte's poem is very clever, and deserves to be better known. Speaking of the better condition of the farmers in the seventeenth century, he proceeds:—
Thus farmers lived like gentlemen,
Ere lands were raised from five to ten;
Again from ten to three times five,
Then very few could hope to thrive;
But tugged against the rapid stream,
Which drove them back from whence they came
At length 'twas canted to a pound,
What tenant then could keep his ground?
Not knowing which, to stand or fly.
When rent-rolls mounted zenith high,
They had their choice to run away,
Or labour for a groat a day.
Now beggared and of all bereft,
Are doomed to starve or live by theft.
Take to the mountain or the roads,
When banished from their old abodes.
Their native soil were forced to quit,
So Irish landlords thought it fit;
Who without ceremony or rout,
For their improvements turned them out....
How many villages they razed,
How many parishes laid waste,
To fatten bullocks, sheep and cows,
When scarce one parish has two ploughs.
Their flocks do range on every plain,
That once produced all kind of grain.
Depopulating every village,
Where we had husbandry and tillage;
Fat bacon, poultry, and good bread,
By which the poor were daily fed....
Instead of living well and thriving,
There's nothing now but leading, driving,—
The lands are all monopolized,
The tenants racked and sacrificed;
Whole colonies, to shun the fate
Of being oppressed at such a rate,
By tyrants who still raise their rent,
Sail to the Western Continent.
Rather than live at home like slaves,
They trust themselves to winds and waves.
If a poet at the present hour were describing the acts and deeds of the Gerrards, the Waterfords, and like exterminators, could he have done it more literally? Thus, independent of the other miseries and wrongs of Ireland, this system of turning out human creatures to make way for bullocks has been going on exactly for a hundred years; and the Irish aristocracy, having made themselves the scandal of the whole civilized world, still sleep in warm beds and dream that they are Christians! and England, the most powerful and humane nation on the earth, has overlooked the dreadful scene, having her eyes fixed, full of tears, on the far-off Negro, the Esquimaux, and the South Sea Islander. Till this crying iniquity and disgrace be removed out of our borders, every Bible Society, and Missionary Society, and Society for humanity to Animals, should stop its ordinary operations, and combine each and all into a great and omnipotent association to convert the Irish aristocracy to Christianity, and to teach to the oppressed and, trodden-on people that there is really such a thing as "loving our neighbours as ourselves."
How unvarying are the features of the Irish gentry;
Our squires of late through Europe roam
Are too well bred to live at home
Are not content with Dublin College,
But range abroad for greater knowledge;
To strut in velvets and brocades,
At balls and plays and masquerades.
To have their rent their chiefest care is,
In bills to London and to Paris.
Their education is so nice,
They know all chances on the dice;...
Those absentees we here describe
Are chiefly of our Irish tribe,
Who live in luxury and pleasure,
And throw away their time and treasure;
Cause poverty and devastation,
And sink the credit of the nation.
Who has not seen their deserted homes, so picturesquely sketched here?—
Their mansions moulder quite away,
And run to ruin and decay;
Left like a desert wild and waste,
Without the track of man or beast;
Where wild fowl may with safety rest,
At every gate may build a nest:
Where grass or weeds on pavements grow,
And every year is fit to mow.
No smoke from chimneys does ascend,
Nor entertainment for a friend;
Nor sign of drink, or smell of meat,
For human creatures there to eat.
To turn to a more agreeable circumstance. The chief incident in She Stoops to Conquer is said to have originated in an amusing adventure of Goldsmith's, on his last going from home to the school at Edgeworthstown, and is thus related by Prior: — "Having set off on horseback, there being then, and indeed now, no regular wheeled conveyance from Ballymahon, he loitered on the road, amusing himself by viewing the neighbouring gentlemen's seats. A friend had presented him with a guinea; and the desire, perhaps, of spending it — to a schoolboy — in a most independent manner at an inn, tended to slacken his diligence on the road. Night overtook him in the small town of Ardagh, about half way on his journey. Inquiring for the best house in the place, meaning the best inn, he chanced to address, as is said, a person named Cornelius Kelly, who boasted of having taught fencing to the Marquis of Granby, and was then domesticated in the house of Mr. Featherstone, a gentleman of fortune in the town: he was known as a notorious wag; and, willing to play off a trick upon one whom he had no doubt discovered to be a swaggering schoolboy, directed him to the house of his patron.
"Suspecting no deception, Oliver proceeded as directed; gave authoritative orders about the care of his horse; and, being thence conceived by the servants to be an expected guest, was ushered into the presence of their master, who immediately discovered the mistake. Being, however, a man of humour, and willing to enjoy an evening's amusement with a boy under the influence of so unusual a blunder, he encouraged it, particularly when, by the communicative disposition of the guest, it was found he was the son of an old acquaintance on his way to school. Nothing occurred to undeceive the self-importance of the youth, fortified by the possession of a sum he did not often possess; wine was therefore ordered, in addition to a good supper, and the supposed landlord, his wife, and daughters, were invited to partake of it. On retiring for the night, a hot cake was ordered for breakfast the following morning; nor was it until preparing to quit the house next day, that he discovered he had been entertained in a private family."
Ballymahon, the little foreign-looking town near his native place, figures conspicuously in Goldsmith's early life. After his father's death, which took place while he was at college, his mother removed thither, and thither during vacations Oliver betook himself. Again, when he quitted college, he spent two years amongst his relations, with no fixed aim; sometimes he was with his uncle Contarine in Roscommon; sometimes at Lissoy, where now his brother-in-law Mr. Hodson lived in the old house; at other times he was with his brother henry, who, officiating as curate, lived at Pallasmore in the house where Oliver was born, and to eke out his small salary, kept a school, in which Oliver assisted him. No place was so dear to him, however, as Lissoy, where he entered into all the rural sports and occupations of his brother-in-law with fullest enjoyment. There is no doubt that, had he had sufficient means, he would have continued to live here a country life, and the world would most probably have lost a poet. As it is, he has made the life and characters of Lissoy familiar to all the world, in both the Deserted Village and the Vicar of Wakefield. No man drew more from real and especially from his own past life, than Goldsmith. The last years he spent in the country he was a tutor in the family of a country gentleman in the county of Roscommon, of the name of Flinn; and the nature of his impressions regarding such a situation, he is supposed to have recorded in the history of The Man in Black.
His mother's house at Ballymahon, where she lived as a widow about twenty years, is still pointed out to the curious; it forms one corner of the road to Edgeworthstown. Some shop accounts have been preserved, in which Oliver, under the familiar title of Master Noll, is found figuring as his mother's messenger for tea and sugar; it was only to the next door. Opposite to his mother's house stood George Conway's inn, where he used to spend many a gay and jovial evening, in the company of those who resorted thither, and often amused them with a story or a song. Here he was naturally a great authority in matters of learning. From scenes and characters occurring here, it is believed he drew the first idea of Tony Lumpkin; at all events, in such a circle he saw traits of human life and action that would be found as old gold at the necessary time. At Ballymulvey House in the neighbourhood, he spent many happy hours with his friend and quondam college and school companion, Mr. Robert Bryanton; and also with him made excursions into the surrounding country, sometimes shooting, sometimes fishing in the Inny, which runs through the town. In these rambles he made himself as familiar with nature and her wild children as he did with man in towns; he traced the haunts of the wild fowl, and hunted the otter in the waters, that there communicate with the Shannon. There are many objects in the neighbourhood of Ballymahon still proudly pointed out as belonging to the haunts of Goldsmith: the islets in the river; the ruins of a mill, in his time in full activity; the places on the river side where he used to sit and play on his flute; as well as the house of a Mr. Gannon, where, as he himself tells us in his Animated Nature, he first saw a seal, this gentleman having two for ten years in his house.
In this portion of his life there are many rich and amusing incidents, which it is to be regretted we cannot here introduce; particularly that most amusing account of his visit to an old college friend, who had often pressed him to come and "command his stable and his purse," but who turned out as such friends often do. But we have overstepped his sojourn at college, and must turn back to it.
Trinity College, Dublin, is a noble structure; and, with its spacious courts and extensive gardens, more fittingly deserving the name of parks, one would think a place where the years of studentship might — especially in the heart of such a city — be very agreeably spent. But Goldsmith entered there under circumstances that were irksome to him, and to add to the matter, he met with a brute in his tutor. The family income did not allow him to occupy a higher rank than that of a sizer, or poor scholar, and this was mortifying to his sensitive mind. The sizer wears a black gown of coarse stuff without sleeves, a plain black cloth cap without a tassel, and dines at the fellows' table after they have retired. It was at that period far worse; they wore red caps to distinguish them, and were compelled to perform derogatory offices; to sweep the courts in the morning, carry up the dishes from the kitchen to the fellows' table, and wait in the hall till they had dined. No wonder that a mind like that of Goldsmith's writhed under the degradation! He has recorded his own feelings and opinions on this custom: "Sure pride itself has dictated to the fellows of our colleges the absurd fashion of being attended at meals, and on other public occasions, by those poor men who, willing to be scholars, come in upon some charitable foundation. It implies a contradiction, for men to be at once learning the liberal arts and at the same time treated as slaves; at once studying freedom and practising servitude." A spirited fellow at length caused the abolition of the practice of the sizers acting as waiters, and that, too, on grand occasions before the public, by flinging the dish he was carrying on Trinity Sunday, at the head of a citizen in the crowd, assembled to witness the scene, who made some jeering remarks on the office he had to perform.
His tutor, a great brute — let his name be known — it was Wilder, proceeded sometimes to actual corporal castigation; and with Oliver's natural tendency to poetry, rather than to dry classical and mathematical studies, like many other poets, including Scott and Byron, he cut no great figure at college; and, like the latter, detested it. Amongst his cotemporaries at the college was Edmund Burke, but they appear to have known little of each other. To add to Goldsmith's uncomfortable position, there occurred a riot of the students, who hearing that one of their body had been arrested in Fleet-street, rushed to the rescue, seized the bailiffs, dragged them to the college, and pumped them soundly in the old cistern. They next attempted to break open Newgate, and make a general jail delivery, but failed for want of cannon. In the subsequent inquiry Goldsmith came in, not for any severe punishment, but for a college censure. Feeling his self-respect deeply wounded by his brutal tutor entering his chambers, on one occasion when he had a party of merry comrades there, and in their presence inflicting personal chastisement upon him, he quitted college, selling his books, and set off to Cork to embark for some foreign country. But his money failed, he was compelled to sell his clothes from his back, and, brought to the utmost condition of misery and starvation, he thus reached his brother's house., who again clothed him, and brought him back to college, endeavouring to propitiate the brutal tutor. His father dying, he was reduced to the deepest distress. His generous uncle, Contarine, helped him all he could, but, with Oliver's careless habits, he was still often reduced to the utmost straits, He was sometimes compelled to pawn his books, and borrow others to study from. His condition became that of squalid poverty, and, at length, he was driven to the extremity of writing street ballads, which he found a ready sale for at five shillings a copy, at a shop known as the sign of the Reindeer, in Mountrath-street. Eventually obtaining the degree of B.A. he quitted the university, and, as we have seen, retreated to his own native neighbourhood and friends.
All chance of succeeding as a clergyman, to which office he moreover had an aversion, appearing out of the question, and having either no inclination or not sufficient spirit of plodding for the pursuit of law, which had been recommended to him, by assistance of his friends, he crossed over to Edinburgh, and commenced, in that university, the study of physic. We have no clue to the exact lodgings of Goldsmith during his stay in Edinburgh, which was two winters. Men in the poverty of Goldsmith, as a student, seldom record very traceably their whereabouts. The tradition is, however, that the lodgings he chiefly occupied were in the College Wynd; and this is very likely, both because the situation is very convenient for the college, and because the character of the place agrees pretty much with the sort of entertainment he describes himself to have found in them. The College Wynd is a narrow alley of wretched houses, now inhabited only by the lowest grade of population. It is probable, however, that in it was the better class of lodgings which Goldsmith occupied in this city. The house in which he located himself at first was also a boarding house, but of such a description that he used, in after days, to amuse his friends in London with an account of the economy of the table. A leg of mutton, as he told the story, dished up in various ways by the ingenuity of his hostess, served for the better part of dinner during a week; a dish of broth being made on the seventh day from the bone. He soon fled from this luxurious abode, and joined several other students, his friends and countrymen, who were better accommodated, most likely in this College Wynd. He had the advantage of studying under the elder Monro; he became a member of the Medical Society; but was soon more noted for his convivial talents and habits than for his industrious study. He made a trip into the Highlands on a pony, he says, of the size of a ram, and wrote a humorous account of Scotland and the people, to his friend Robert Bryanton, of Ballymahon. Through some Irish connexion he was invited to the Duke of Hamilton's, whose duchess at that time was one of the celebrated Gunnings: but he said he soon found himself liked rather as a jester than as a companion, and he at once disdained the company of dukes on any such terms. Amongst his college friends was that Lauchlan Macleane whom Sir David Brewster has of late again been endeavouring to prove to be the real Junius, though his claims were long ago sifted, and rejected by public opinion; particularly from the cogent facts that Macleane was the private secretary of Lord Shelburne at the very time that his lordship was violently attacked by Junius, under another signature, in 1767, according to Woodfall's evidence, which would convert Macleane into Junius at the cost of all character; and secondly, because Macleane was himself ridiculed by Junius, under the signature of Vindex, in 1771.
Having, with his usual incaution in such matters, become security for a fellow-student, he would not have been able to quit Edinburgh, had it not been for Macleane and Dr. Joseph Fenn Sleigh, a quaker, and afterwards a popular physician at Cork. Saved from arrest by their kindness, he embarked for Bordeaux, but was driven into Newcastle-on-Tyne; where the ship proving to be engaged in enlisting soldiers for the French army, he was seized and cast into prison for a fortnight, before he could prove his innocence. In the meantime the ship had escaped out of the harbour. He had lost his passage, and his passage money and luggage, but saved his life, for the ship was wrecked, and every soul perished. He then went over to Rotterdam, studied at Leyden for a year, but, as far as appears, took no degree; and thence set off, on foot, on that tour of which so much has always been said in connexion with his name. With his usual good-natured thoughtlessness, when about to set forward from Leyden, provided with a small fund by his uncle Contarine, being struck, in the garden of a florist, with some beautiful bulbous flowers, and recollecting in his gratitude his uncle Contarine's admiration of those flowers, he spent most of the money in purchasing a quantity of them to ship to Ireland for him, as the most welcome present he could think of, and then set out, almost penniless, on his journey. His tour extended through Flanders; France, at Paris attending the chemical lectures of Rouelle, and being introduced to Voltaire; a small portion of Germany; thence through Switzerland, visiting some of its most celebrated scenes, and climbing some of its highest mountains, as the Jura, into Italy; where he extended his journey to most of the northern cities, Mantua, Milan, Padua, Florence, Verona, Venice, and the wilds of Carinthia; but never reached Rome or Naples. His necessities became too great to permit him to go further. In France his flute was, amongst the peasantry, as represented in his Traveller, a never-failing resource — not so in Italy. There the higher taste for music made his rude skill useless; but he found many of his countrymen residents in the monasteries, and these were always ready to relieve his wants. He found also another resource, which he relates in his Philosophic Vagabond. — "My skill in music could avail me nothing in Italy, where every peasant was a better musician than I; but by this time I had acquired another talent, which answered my purpose as well; and this was a skill in disputation. In all the foreign universities and convents there are, upon certain days, philosophical theses maintained against every adventitious disputant; for which, if the champion opposes with any dexterity, he can claim a gratuity in money, a dinner, and a bed for one night. In this manner, then, I fought my way towards England; walked along from city to city, examined mankind more closely, and, if I may so express it, saw both sides of the picture."
There is no question that this hardy enterprise of making the tour of Europe on foot, and pushing his way as he could, by his powers of argument, or his flute, though, as he observed, it made him a debtor in almost every kingdom in Europe, yet immensely extended his knowledge of human nature. He was the first man, through his close observation of the French people, to predict their breaking up the despotism of the old monarchy. "As the Swedes are making concealed approaches to despotism, the French, on the other hand, are imperceptibly vindicating themselves into freedom. When I consider that these parliaments, the members of which are all created by the court; the presidents of which can only act by immediate direction; presume even to mention privileges and freedom, who, till of late, received directions from the throne with implicit humility; when this is considered, I cannot help fancying that the genius of freedom has entered that kingdom in disguise. If they have but three weak monarchs successively on the throne, the mask will be laid aside, and the country will certainly once more be free." This was a remarkable prophecy; the sagacity of Goldsmith penetrated the eventful future twelve years before the mind of Burke, by treading the same ground, arrived at the same conclusion.
In 1756 Oliver Goldsmith reached England, destined now to the end of his life to become the scene of his varied struggles, his poverty, and his fame. It were a long story to follow him minutely through all his numerous pursuits of an existence, his various changes of residence, for a long time without much advance towards profit or reputation. The early part of his career is lost in obscurity and conjecture. He stepped upon the shore of England a nameless adventurer, destitute of cash, and uncertain as to what means of livelihood he should embrace. The struggle which now and for some time went on, was for life itself. He was reduced to the most desperate circumstances. He applied for assistance to his relations in Ireland, but whether they could no longer help him, or whether they now regarded his continual wanderings, and continual drain upon them, as the confirmed signs of a thriftless vagabond, none came. It is said that in this situation he tried the stage in a country town, and his intimate acquaintanceship with the interior of the wretched country playhouse, as displayed in The Adventures of a Strolling Player, and the conclusion of the story of George Primrose, renders it very probable. He was driven by utter need, according to the byeword of the Irishman, to be almost "anybody's customer." The next resource was, trusting to his scholastic acquirements, to procure an engagement as an usher in a country school. But his appearance must have been against him; reference he had none in this country to give, and though he applied to his old kind tutor in Dublin, Dr. Radcliffe, not the brute Wilder, he requested his recommendation to be given to him under a feigned name, being ashamed of hereafter having his present condition associated with his own. Dr. Radcliffe was obliged to be silent. Goldsmith held this situation, it may be supposed, under these circumstances for no long period; but the very location of the school is unknown; it has been said to be in Yorkshire, and also in Kent, near Ashford or Tenterden. What sort of a life he had of it in this "Do-the-boys Hall," wherever it was, we may learn from the curious catechism he puts into the mouth of the cousin of one of his heroes. "Ay, this is indeed a very pretty career that has been chalked out for you. I have been an usher at a boarding-school myself; and may I die by an anodyne necklace, but I had rather be under-turnkey in Newgate. I was up early and late. I was browbeat by the master; hated for my ugly face by the mistress; worried by the boys within, and never permitted to stir out to receive civility abroad. But are you sure you are fit for a school? Let me examine you a little. Have you been bred apprentice to the business?" "No." "Then you won't do for a school. Have you had the small-pox?" "No." "Then you won't do for a school. Can you lie three in a bed?" "No." "Then you won't do for a school. Have you got a good stomach?" "Yes." "Then you will by no means do for a school!"
Driven from such a purgatory even for want of a character, Goldsmith, with the Deserted Village and the Vicar of Wakefield in his hand, was once more wandering the streets of London amid a thousand other equally destitute wretches. He applied to apothecary after apothecary, trusting to his medical education, for employment with them; but with all the traces of vagabond indigence upon him, and without any recommendation to show, his repulses were certain. A chemist of the name of Jacob, residing at the corner of Monument or Bell-yard, on Fish-street-hill, taking compassion on his destitute condition, at length gave him employment. It may be supposed to be about this time that his lodgings were of that magnificent description with which he once in after life startled a circle of good company, — breaking out suddenly in some fit of forgetful enthusiasm with — "When I lived amongst the beggars in Axe-lane." His first gleam of better fortune was finding his old Edinburgh college friend, Dr. Sleigh, in London, who received him in all his squalor with the warmth of true friendship, and enabled him to commence as physician in Bankside, Southwark, It did not answer, and the next glimpse of him is, acting as a corrector of the press in the printing office of Richardson the Novelist. The next fortunate circumstance was meeting with Mr. Milner, one of his old Edinburgh fellow-students, whose father, Dr. Milner, a dissenting minister, kept a classical school at Peckham, in Surrey. By him he was recommended to his father, to assist him in his school duties. Dr. Milner was suffering under severe illness, and Goldsmith's services were accepted. Here he continued for some time, it has been said by part of the family, three years; and this connexion led to the one which brought him into the direct field of authorship. Mr., afterwards Dr. Griffiths, a bookseller of Paternoster-row, had started the Monthly Review, and was beating up for contributors. Goldsmith, whom he had become acquainted with at Dr. Milner's, was one invited. The engagement is calculated to make both proprietors and authors of the present day smile. Goldsmith was regularly boarded and lodged in the bibliopole's house — the hired servant of literature. How satisfactory this odd arrangement of keeping a tame author turned out, may be guessed by the fact that the engagement for a year ended in five months. The great fact at which Goldsmith kicked was, that not only Griffiths, but his wife, was in the regular habit of acting as the censor, and altering the articles written for the Review.
From this time to the day of his death Goldsmith was regularly launched into the drudgery of literature; the most wearing, feverish, uncertain, and worst remunerating life under the sun. To live in one long anxiety, and to die poor, was his lot, as it has been that of thousands of others. There are innocent minds, who are filled with gladness at the sight of a goodly library; who feast on a well-bound row of books, as the lover of nature does on a poetical landscape or on a bank of violets. For my part, I never see such a collection of books without an inward pang. They remind me of a catacomb; every volume is in my eyes but a bone in the great gathering of the remains of literary martyrs. When I call to mind the pleasure with which many of these books were written, followed by the agonies of disappointment they brought; the repulses and contempt of booksellers, to whom the authors had carried them in all the flush of their inexperience and of high hope; the cruel malice of the critics which assailed them,—
Those cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame;
Bloody dissectors, worse than ten Monros:—
He hacks to teach, they mangle to expose;
when I think of the glorious hopes which accompanied their composition, and the terrible undeceiving which attended their publication; when I reflect how many of these fair tomes were written in bitterest poverty, with the most aching hearts, in the most cheerless homes, and how many others ruined the writers who were tolerably well off before they put pen to paper; when I remember, on passing my eye along them, how many of them never were raised to their present rank and occupation till the unhappy authors were beyond the knowledge of it; when I see others which had their fame during the author's life-time, but enriched only the lucky bibliopole, and left the conscious producer of wealth only doubly poor by seeing it in the enjoyment of another; when I see those works which, while the author lived, were assailed as blasphemous and devilish, and are now the text-books of liberty and progress; and when I call to mind all the tears which have bedewed them, the sadness of soul, often leading to suicide, which has weighed down the immortal spirits which created them; I own that there is to me no such melancholy spectacle as a fine collection of books.
Goldsmith had his full share of this baptism of literary wretchedness. I cannot follow him minutely through the years of book-drudgery and all its attendant adventures. Suffice it, that he wrote an immense mass of articles for the periodicals; hosts of histories; plays, tales, essays and the like, anonymously; and which, therefore, brought him precarious bread, but little fame. He commenced writing in the Monthly Review, in 1757, and it was not till 1764, that his name was first affixed to his first poem — The Traveller. Thus he served a seven years' apprenticeship to anonymous authorship before he began to take that rank in English literature which was his destined portion; exactly in ten years more he was in his grave, having in the mean time given to posterity his exquisite Deserted Village; his inimitable Vicar of Wakefield; his Good-natured Man, and She Stoops to Conquer; besides hosts of histories, written to make the pot boil. Histories of Animated Nature; of England, Greece, Rome, and what not. During the whole of his career, the pecuniary condition of Goldsmith was one of uneasiness. It is true that his generous, improvident disposition might have left the result the same had he won ten times the sum he did; but one cannot help regarding the sums received by him for his writings as something most humiliating when their real value to the booksellers of all ages is considered. We find his life abounding with his borrowing two and three guineas of his bookseller; and receiving such sums for articles. The Traveller brought him twenty guineas! The Vicar of Wakefield, sixty; and for the Deserted Village, one hundred;-not two hundred pounds altogether, for three of the most popular works in any language. It would be a curious fact to ascertain, were it possible, what these three works alone have made for the booksellers.
But if Goldsmith was not well remunerated for the works with which he enriched the English language, he was rich in friends. Johnson, Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, all the great men of the age, were his intimate associates, and knew how to value both his genius and his unselfish nature. The friendship of Johnson for him was beautiful. All the world knows the story of Johnson selling "the manuscript of the Vicar of Wakefield" to save the author from an arrest of his landlady for arrears of rent. It has been made the subject of more than one excellent painting; but it is not so generally known, that so uncertain were both Johnson and the publisher of its merits, that it remained nearly two years in the publisher's desk before he ventured to publish it. It was the fame of The Traveller which emboldened the bibliopole to bring it out, and the public at once received it with one instant and general cheer.
We must now confine ourselves to a brief indication of successive residences and haunts of Goldsmith during his literary life in London; first observing only, that so unpromising for a long time was the field of authorship that he sought several times to quit it. In 1758, he procured the post of physician and surgeon to one of the factories on the coast of Coromandel, but was refused his certificate at Surgeon's Hall, as not duly qualified. He tried, in 1760, to procure the situation of secretary to the Society of Arts, as a means of permanent support; and failing, he recurred to a wild project, which he had entertained years before, of going out to the East to decypher the inscriptions on the Written Mountains, though he was totally ignorant of Arabic or the language in which the inscription might be supposed to be written. His inducement was the salary of £300 a year, which had been left for that purpose. He proposed in this expedition also to acquire a knowledge of the arts peculiar to the East, and introduce them into Britain. When Johnson heard of this he said, — "Why, sir, he would bring home a grinding-barrow, which you see in every street of London, and think he had furnished a wonderful improvement." The scheme appeared as visionary in other quarters, and so fell through. These various plans, however, all show what a thorny path was that of authorship to him.
We find Goldsmith first residing, after he had quitted Griffiths's roof, about 1757, in the vicinity of Salisbury-square, Fleetstreet; where exactly, is not known. At this time he was in the habit of frequenting the Temple Exchange coffee-house, near Temple-bar, where he had his letters addressed, and where he even saw, according to the fashion of the times, his patients, when he had any. There does not appear to be any such coffee-house now. Green-arbour-court, between the Old Bailey and what was lately Fleet Market, was his next abode, where be located himself towards the end of 1758. "Here," says his biographer, "he became well-known to his literary brethren, was visited by them, and his lodgings well remembered. This house a few years ago formed the abode, as it appears to have done in his own time, of laborious indigence. The adjoining houses likewise presented every appearance of squalid poverty, every floor being occupied by the poorest class. Two of the number fell down from age and dilapidation; and the remainder, on the same side of the court, including that in which the poet resided, standing on the right-hand corner on entering from Farringdon-street by what is called, from their steepness and number, Breakneck-steps, — were taken down some time afterwards to avoid a similar catastrophe. They were four stories in height; the attics had casement windows, and at one time they were probably inhabited by a superior class of tenants. The site is now occupied by a large building, enclosed by a wall running through the court or square, intended for the stabling and lofts of a waggon office."
In the beginning of March, 1759, he was seen here in one of his excursions to London, by the Rev. Mr. Percy, afterwards Bishop Percy, the collector of the Reliques, and author of the Hermit of Warkworth, one of his earliest literary friends. "The doctor," observed the prelate, "was employed in writing his Enquiry into Polite Learning, in a wretchedly dirty room, in which there was but one chair; and when, from civility, this was offered to his visitant, he himself was obliged to sit in the window. While they were conversing, some one gently rapped at the door, and on being desired to come in, a poor ragged little girl of very decent behaviour entered, who, dropping a curtsy, said — 'My mama sends her compliments, and begs the favour of your lending her a potful of coals.'"
Mr. Prior, in 1820, going into a small shop in the Clapham-road to purchase the first edition of Goldsmith's Essays, lying in the window, found the woman in the shop an old neighbour of the poet's. She said she was a near relative of the woman who kept the house in Green-arbour-court, and at the age of seven or eight went frequently thither; one of the inducements to which was the cakes and sweetmeats given to her and other children of the family by the gentleman who lodged there. These they duly valued at the moment, but when afterwards considered as the gift of one so eminent, the recollection became the source of pride and boast. Another of his amusements consisted in assembling these children in his room, and inducing them to dance to the music of his flute. Of this instrument, as a relaxation from study, he was fond. He was usually shut up in the room during the day, went out in the evenings, and preserved regular hours. His habits otherwise were sociable, and he had several visitors. One of the companions whose society gave him particular pleasure, was a respectable watchmaker, residing in the same court, celebrated for the possession of much wit and humour; qualities which, as they distinguish his own writings, he professes to have sought and cultivated wherever they were to be found.
Here the woman related that Goldsmith's landlord having fallen into difficulties, was at length arrested; and Goldsmith, who owed a small sum of money for rent, being applied to by his wife to assist in the release of her husband, found that, although without money, he did not want resources. A new suit of clothes was consigned to the pawnbroker, and the amount raised, proving much more than sufficient to discharge his own debt, was handed over for the release of the prisoner. What is most singular is, that this effort of active benevolence to rescue a debtor from gaol, gave, in all probability, rise to a charge against him of dishonesty. As we have said, Goldsmith proposing to go out to India, took his examination at Surgeon's Hall. To make a creditable appearance there, he had borrowed money of Griffiths, the bookseller, for a new suit of clothes. These clothes Griffiths soon afterwards discovered hanging at a pawnbroker's door. As Goldsmith had lost the situation he had boasted of when he borrowed this money, and kept his own not very flattering secret of the cause of the loss — his rejection at Surgeon's Hall, — Griffiths, a man of coarse mind, at once jumped to the conclusion that it was all a piece of trickery. He demanded an explanation of Goldsmith; Goldsmith refused to give it. He demanded the return of his money; Goldsmith, of course, had it not. They came to a fierce and violent, and, as it proved, irreconcilable quarrel, and Goldsmith disdaining to explain the real circumstances, long bore the disgrace of duplicity, as the result of his generous act.
There is one more anecdote connected with his residence here, and it is characteristic. A gentleman inquiring whether he was within, was shown up to his room without farther ceremony, when soon after having entered it, a noise of voices, as if in altercation, was heard by the people below, the key of the door at the same moment being turned within the room. Doubtful of the nature of the interview, the attention of the landlady was excited, but both voices being distinguished at intervals, her suspicions of personal violence were lulled, and no further notice taken. Late in the evening the door was unlocked, a good supper ordered by the visitor from the neighbouring tavern, and the gentlemen who met so ungraciously at first, spent the remainder of the evening in great good humour. The explanation given of this scene was, that the poet being behindhand with certain writings for the press, and the stated period of publication arrived, the intruder, who was a printer or publisher, probably Hamilton or Wilkie, for both of whom he wrote at that time, would not quit the room till they were finished; and for this species of durance inflicted on the author, the supper formed the apology.
In those apartments, little indebted as we may believe to the labours of the housemaid, he is said to have observed the predatory habits of the spider, and drawn up that paper on the subject which appeared in the fourth number of the Bee, reprinted in the Essays, and given in substance in the History of Animated Nature. In these lodgings he wrote a Memoir of the Life of Voltaire, and a Translation of The Henriade; an Enquiry into the State of Polite Learning in Europe; besides a multitude of reviews and other articles in the Bee, the Busybody, and other magazines of the day. He wrote also his Chinese Letters, and newspaper articles at least two a week, at the rate of a guinea per article. In 1760 he quitted Green-arbour-court, and took respectable lodgings in Wine-office-court, Fleet-street, where he continued about two years in the house of an acquaintance, a relative of the friendly bookseller, Newbery, predecessor of Hunter, corner of St. Paul's churchyard, and since of Harris. Here he had a large literary acquaintance amongst men of all grades of reputation and talent. Amongst them Dr. Percy was a frequent visitor, and here it was that Dr. Johnson was introduced to him by Dr. Percy, at a large party which Goldsmith gave to persons chiefly literary. Johnson went dressed in his highest style, and on Percy remarking it as they went along, "Why, Sir," said Johnson, "I hear that Goldsmith, who is a very great sloven, justifies his disregard of cleanliness and decency by quoting my practice, and I am desirous this night to show him a better example." From the first moment of meeting, these two great men took vastly to each other, and continued firm friends till Goldsmith's death.
During Goldsmith's residence in Wine-office-court, he was busily employed on a pamphlet on the Cock-lane Ghost; a History of Mecklenburg; The Art of Poetry on a New Plan; An Abridgment of Plutarch; Additions to English History; a Life of Beau Nash; and contributions to the Christian Magazine: most of these being written for Newbery. To relieve the tedium of his drudgery, he was in the habit of frequenting the Monday evening meetings of the Robin Hood Debating Society, held at a house of that name in Butcher-row, whither it had been removed from the Essex Head, in Essex-street, in the Strand. The payment of sixpence formed the only requisite for admission; three halfpence of which were said to be put by for the purposes of charity. The annual number of visitors averaged about 5,000. A gilt chair indicated the presiding authority, and all questions, not excepting religion and politics, were open to discussion. In these discussions Goldsmith used even to take part, but his great delight was to listen to the harangues of an eloquent baker, at the conclusion of one of which Goldsmith exclaimed to his companion, Derrick, "That man was meant by nature for a lord chancellor;" to which Derrick replied, "No, no, not so high; he was only intended for master of the rolls." The man actually became a magistrate in Middlesex, and, as was said, a first-rate one.
In 1762 Goldsmith quitted Wine-office-court, and took lodgings in the house of a Mrs. Elizabeth Fleming, in Islington. This was to be near his friend and publisher, Mr. Newbery, who resided at Canonbury-house, near to Mrs. Fleming's. Here he continued till 1764, chiefly employed upon job-work for his friend Newbery; amongst the most important, the Letters of a Nobleman to his Son, and the History of England. He used to relieve the monotony of his life by weekly visits to the Literary club, of which Johnson, Burke, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, were principal members, and which was held at the Turk's Head, Gerrard-street, Soho.
Here, there is every reason to believe, occurred the event already alluded to, the threat of his arrest, and the sale of the manuscript of the Vicar of Wakefield, by Johnson, to liberate him. Of this story there have been various versions; Mrs. Piozzi, Sir John Hawkins, Cumberland, and Boswell, all relate it, all profess to have heard it from Johnson, and yet each tells it very differently. In all these stories, however, there is a landlady demanding arrears of rent, and bailiffs waiting to arrest if the money were not forthcoming. All agree that Goldsmith was drinking, most of them say Madeira, to drown his vexation; and Cumberland adds, that the landlady proposed the alternative of payment or marriage. Whether the latter point were really included in the demand, is not likely ever to be known; but that Mrs. Fleming, who went by the name of Goldsmith's hostess, and is thus painted by Hogarth, was the woman in question. I think there can be little doubt, though Prior, the biographer, would fain exempt her from the charge, and suppose the scene to occur in some temporary lodging. There does not appear the smallest ground for such a supposition. All facts point to this place and person. Goldsmith had been here for at least a year and a half, for Prior himself gives the particulars of this landlady's bill reaching to June 22d. As it occurred in this year, and about this time, — for it is expressly stated that the Vicar of Wakefield was kept about two years by the bookseller unpublished, and it was not published till the end of March, 1766, — it could not possibly happen anywhere else. He could not have left Mrs. Fleming, or if he had, he could not have been away long enough to accumulate any alarming score. Here, on the contrary, everything indicates that he was in debt and difficulty. He had been at least a year and a half here, and might, and probably had, run a good way into his landlady's books. The biographer states expressly that Goldsmith was in great difficulties, and for some months was invisible, — said to have made a trip into Yorkshire. The biographer also shows that Newbery, the bookseller, generally paid the landlady for Goldsmith; but it comes out that Goldsmith was now got also very far behind with Newbery, owing him no less than £111; and next comes an obvious dislocation with Newbery himself. It is a fact which does not seem to have struck the biographer, that when Johnson sold the manuscript of the Vicar of Wakefield, he did not sell it to Newbery, though Newbery was not only Goldsmith's publisher, but his own. He went and sold it to a nephew of Newbery's, Mr. Francis Newbery, of Paternoster-row. Now there must have been a reason for this, and what so likely as that Goldsmith having run too deep into debt had alarmed Newbery — publishers are careful men — that he had not only refused to advance more, but had withdrawn his guarantee to the landlady. This being the case, Goldsmith would be at his wit's end. With long arrears of rent and board, for Mrs. Fleming found that too, the security withdrawn by Newbery, she would be alarmed, and insist on Goldsmith's paying. To Newbery he could not fly, and in his despair he sent for Johnson. Johnson sold the novel, but not to John Newbery. With him it would only have gone to reduce the standing claim, with another it could bring what was wanted, instant cash. What confirms this view of the case is, moreover, the fact that immediately after this Goldsmith did quit his old landlady, and returned to London.
Canonbury-tower, or Canonbury-house, as it is indifferently called, is often said to have been a residence of Goldsmith, and the room is shown which he used to occupy, and where it is said he wrote The Deserted Village. The reason given for Goldsmith's going to live at Islington is, that it was a pleasant, rural situation, and that there he would be near Newbery, his publisher, who engaged with Goldsmith's landlady to pay the rent. Newbery had apartments in Canonbury-house, and here Goldsmith visited, him. Anon, as his difficulties increased, he used to hide from his creditors in the tower, where he lay concealed for days and weeks. Very probably he was there all the time he was said to be gone into Yorkshire.
As to his having written The Deserted Village there, that is quite likely. It is equally probable, that he might write there The Traveller, which was published at the end of the very year he left Islington. The Deserted Village was not published for five years afterwards, or in 1769; and was, if written at Canonbury, the fruit of a subsequent residence there in 1767. His fixed abode was then in the Temple, but he had apartments for part of the summer in Canonbury-house, and was visited there by most of his literary friends. On many of these occasions they adjourned to a social dinner at the Crown tavern in the Lower-road, where tradition states them to have been very jovial. It is not improbable that he wrote part of the Vicar of Wakefield at Islington too, having, as we see, completed it at the time of his threatened arrest, that is, at the close of his residence at Islington.
Canonbury-tower, at the time Goldsmith used to frequent it, was a fine airy place, in a sweet rural neighbourhood. Geoffrey Crayon says; "It is an ancient brick tower, hard by 'merry Islington,' the remains of a hunting-seat of Queen Elizabeth, where she took the pleasure of the country when the neighbourhood was all woodland. What gave it particular interest in my eyes was the circumstance that it had been the residence of a poet. It was here Goldsmith resided when he wrote his Deserted Village. I was shown the very apartment: It was a relic of the original style of the castle, with panelled wainscot and gothic windows. I was pleased with its air of antiquity, and its having been the residence of poor Goldy." Irving located his "Poor Devil Author" in this room of Goldsmith's, but represents him as soon driven away by the troops of Londoners. "Sunday came, and with it the whole city world, swarming about Canonbury-castle. I could not open my window but I was stunned with shouts and noises from the cricket ground; the late quiet road beneath my windows was alive with the tread of feet and the clack of tongues; and to complete my misery, I found that my quiet retreat was absolutely a 'show house,' being shown to strangers at sixpence a head. There was a perpetual tramping up stairs of citizens and their families, to look about the country from the top of the tower, and to take a peep at the city through the telescope, to try if they could discern their own chimneys."
The reason why Irving located his "Poor Devil Author" in Canonbury-tower, no doubt, was, because it had been the resort of several such, as well as of men of greater note, — Smart; Chambers, author of the Cyclopedia; Humphries, author of Canons, a poem, Ulysses, an opera, etc.
Here Humphries breathed his last, the muses' friend,
And Chambers found his mighty labours end.
See on the distant slope, majestic shows
Old Canonbury's tower, an ancient pile
To various fates assigned; and where by turns
Meanness and grandeur have alternate reigned.
Thither in latter days hath genius fled
From yonder city to repine and die.
There the sweet Bard of Auburn sate, and tuned
The plaintive moanings of his village dirge.
There learned Chambers treasured lore for man,
And Newbery there his A. B. C. for babes.
One of these citizens who took a particular pleasure in a visit to Canonbury-tower was William Hone. The view of the tower in his Every Day Book, is very correct, except that there is now an iron balustrade round the top, for greater security of those who ascend it for the prospect. His account of it is as follows:—
"Canonbury-tower is sixty feet high, and seventy feet square. It is part of an old mansion which appears to have been erected or, if erected before, much altered about the reign of Elizabeth. The more ancient edifice was erected by the priors of the Canons of St. Bartholomew, Smithfield, and hence was called Canonbury, to whom it appertained until it was surrendered with the priory to Henry VIII; and when the religious houses were dissolved, Henry gave the mansion to Thomas Lord Cromwell. It afterwards passed through other hands, till it was possessed by Sir John Spencer, an Alderman and Lord Mayor of London, known by the name of 'rich Spencer.' While he resided at Canonbury a Dunkirk pirate came over in a shallop to Barking creek, and hid himself with some armed men in Islington-fields, near the path Sir John usually took from his house in Crosby-place to this mansion, with the hope of making him prisoner; but as he remained in town that night, they were glad to make off, for fear of detection, and returned to France disappointed of their prey, and of the large ransom they calculated on for the release of his person. His sole daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, was carried off in a baker's basket from Canonbury-house, by William, the second Lord Compton, lord, president of Wales. He inherited Canonbury, with the rest of Sir John Spencer's wealth, at his death, and was afterwards created Earl of Northampton; in this family the manor still remains."
In Hone's time a Mr. Symes, the bailiff of the manor under Lord Northampton, was residing in the tower. He had lived there for thirty-nine years. His mother-in-law, Mrs. Evans, wife to the former bailiff, told Mr. Symes that her aunt, Mrs. Tapps, a seventy year inhabitant of the tower, was accustomed to talk much about Goldsmith and his apartment. It was all old oak room on the first floor. Mrs. Tapps affirmed that he there wrote his Deserted Village, and slept in a large press bedstead placed in the eastern corner. Since Goldsmith's time, the room has been much altered and subdivided. The house is still the residence of the bailiff of the manor.
Poor Hone lamented sorely over the changes going on in this once sweet neighbourhood. "I ranged the old rooms, and took perhaps a last look from the roof. The eye shrunk from the wide havoc below. Where new buildings had not covered the sward, it was embowelling for bricks, and kilns emitted-flickering fire and sulphurous stench. Surely the dominion of the brick-and-mortar king will have no end; and cages for commercial spirits will be there, instead of every green thing."
So, Canonbury, thou dost stand awhile
Yet fall at last thou must; for thy rich warden
Is fast 'improving;' all thy pleasant fields
Have fled, and brick-kilns, bricks, and houses rise
At his command: the air no longer yields
A fragrance — scarcely health; the very skies
Grow dim and town-like; a cold creeping gloom
Steals into thee, and saddens every room;
And so realities come unto me,
Clouding the chambers of my mind, and making me — like thee.
One and twenty years have passed since Hone took this melancholy view of the changes going on round Canonbury-tower. There has been no pause in the process of housification since then. The whole neighbourhood is fast engulphing in one overflowing London. What a change since Queen Elizabeth used to come to this solitary tower, to hunt in the far spreading woodlands around; or to take a view from its summit of her distant capital, and of the far-off winding Thames! What a change even since Goldsmith paced this old tower, and looked over green fields, and thick woods, and over the whole airy scene, full of solitude and beauty! There are still old gardens with their stately cedars, and lanes that show that they were once in a rural district, and that Canonbury was a right pleasant place. But the goodly house of Sir Walter Raleigh, who grew enamoured of the spot from attending his royal mistress thither, is degraded to the Pied Bull, and long terraces of new houses extinguish one green field rapidly after another. Everything seems in a state of spreading and active advance, except the great tavern near the tower, whose cricketers and revellers used to din Washington Irving so much, and that now stands empty and ruinous; the very Sunday roisterers from the city have sought some more greenly suburban resort.
The last residences of Goldsmith in London were within the precincts of the Temple, but here he made two removes. He first took apartments on the library staircase, No. 2, Garden-court. This is now pulled down, and I suppose on the site stands the new library, for on going into the court you now find no No. 2, but only Nos. 3 and 4, looking odd and puzzling enough to the inquirer. Hence he removed to the King's-bench-walk; but the particular house does not appear to be known. Lastly, he removed to No. 2, Brick-court. His lodgings were on the second floor, on the right hand ascending the staircase; and are said to consist of three rooms, sufficiently airy and pleasant. With an imprudence which brought upon him deep anxiety, and probably hastened his end, he borrowed of the booksellers and of the occupier of the opposite rooms, Mr. Edmund Bott, a literary barrister, who was much esteemed by him, and became his principal creditor at his death, and the possessor of his papers, four hundred pounds, with which he furnished these apartments in an expensive manner. Below Goldsmith, on the first floor, lived Sir William Blackstone, and is said there to have written his Commentaries. There were other barristers, especially a Mr. William Cooke, author of a work on Dramatic Genius, and called Conversation Cooke, living in the Temple, with whom Goldsmith was on terms of intimacy; and here he occasionally gave very expensive suppers to his literary friends. Here he was visited by almost every man of note of the time; Johnson with his Boswell, Burke, Reynolds, Garrick, Percy, Sir Philip Francis, etc. Almost twenty years after his death these rooms became the scene of a tragical adventure, by a Miss Broderick shooting in them a Mr. Eddington, with whom she had formerly lived, and who took this desperate means of punishing his desertion.
These rooms are at the lower end of Brick-court, at the corner of the range of building on your right hand as you descend the court from Fleet-street. There seems to be a considerable mistake in Prior's account of them. Nearly all that he says appears to apply much more naturally to his rooms in Garden than in Brick-court. In Garden-court, they most likely would be airy and pleasant. There too the anecdote of his watching the rooks might take place; it could not in Brick-court. It is thus given:
"The view towards the gardens supplied him with an observation given in Animated Nature, respecting the natural history of the rooks. I have often amused myself with observing their plan of policy from my window in the Temple, that looks upon a grove where they have made a colony in the midst of the city," etc.
Now there is no view towards the garden. The court is built all round with buildings as old as Goldsmith's time, and older. In his rooms in Garden-court he could have full view of the elms in the garden, the probable scene of the rookery in question.
During Goldsmith's life here, he was in the habit of meeting his literary friends often in the evening at the Mitre tavern, Fleet-street; at a card club at the Devil tavern, near Temple-bar, not now existing; at the Globe tavern, also near there, now gone too; and at Jack's coffee-house, now Walker's hotel, Dean-street, corner of Queen-street, Soho. It was here that Goldsmith confounded the gravity of Johnson with one of his off-hand and simple jokes. They were supping tete-a-tete on rumps and kidneys. Johnson observed, — "Sir, these rumps are pretty little things, but they require a good many to satisfy a man." "Aye, but," said Goldsmith, "how many of these would reach to the moon?" " To the moon! aye, Sir, I fear that exceeds your calculation." "Not at all, Sir," said Goldsmith, "I think I could tell." "Pray then let us hear." "Why one, if it were long enough." Johnson growled at this reply for some time, but at last, recollecting himself, "Well, Sir, I have deserved it; I should not have provoked so foolish an answer by so foolish a question."
This house, in 1770, was the oldest tavern in London but three, and is now probably the oldest. Mr. Walker, the present landlord of this hotel, who has lived in it fifty years, and has now reached the venerable age of ninety, is proud of the ancient honours of the house. On his card he duly informs his friends, that it was here that "Johnson, Garrick, Goldsmith, and other literary characters of eminence," used to resort. The house is old, spacious, and quiet, and well adapted for the sojourn of families from the country, who are glad to escape the noise of more frequented parts of the city. By permission of Mr. Walker, I present at the head of this article a view of the room once honoured by Johnson and Goldsmith.
It is pleasant to find the author of The Traveller and Deserted Village, amid all his labours, ever and anon escaping to the country, which no man more profoundly enjoyed. It is delightful to imagine with what intense pleasure he must have traversed the groves of Ilam, and the lovely scenes of Dove-Dale. He made many similar rambles into Hampshire. Sussex, Suffolk, Yorkshire, Leicestershire, and Lincolnshire. When he wanted at once to enjoy country retirement and hard work, he would "abscond" from his town associates without a word — dive into some queer obscure retreat, often on the Harrow or Edgeware roads, and not be visible for two or three months together. One of these retreats is said to be a small wooden cottage, on the north side of the Edgeware-road, about a mile from Paddington, near what is called Kilburn Priory. At such places it was his great luxury, when tired of writing, to stroll along the shady hedge-sides, seating himself in the most agreeable spots, and occasionally setting down thoughts which arose for future use. When he was in a more sociable mood, he got up parties for excursions into the neighbourhood of London, in which he and his companions had a good long ramble amongst the villages, dined at the village inn, and so home again in the evening. These he called "tradesmen's holidays," and thus were Blackheath, Wandsworth, Fulham, Chelsea, Hampstead, Highgate, Highbury, etc., explored and enjoyed. On those occasions Goldsmith gave himself up to all his love of good fellowship and of generously seeing others happy. He made it a rule that the party should meet and take a splendid breakfast at his rooms. The party generally consisted of four or five persons; and was almost sure to include some humble person, to whom such a treat would never come from any other quarter. One of the most constant of these was his poor amanuensis, Peter Barlow. Peter had his oddities; but with them a spirit of high independence. He always wore the same dress, and never would pay more than a certain sum, and that a trifle, for his dinner, but that he would insist on paying. The dinner always costing a great deal more, Goldsmith paid the difference, and considered himself well reimbursed by the fund of amusement Peter furnished to the party. One of their frequent retreats was the well known Chelsea Bun-house. Another of these companions was a Dr. Glover, a medical man and author of no great note, who once took Goldsmith into a cottage in one of their rambles at West End, Hampstead, and took tea with the family as an old acquaintance, when he actually knew no more of the people than Goldsmith did, to his vast chagrin on discovering the fact.
A temporary retreat of Goldsmith's was a cottage near Edgeware, in the vicinity of Canons. There he lived, in conjunction with his friend Bott, and here he worked hard at his Roman History. It had been the retreat of a wealthy shoemaker of Piccadilly, and having a pleasant garden, they christened the place "The Shoemaker's Paradise." The last country lodging which he had was at Hyde, on the Edgeware-road. It is described by Prior as "of the superior order of farm-houses, and stands upon a gentle eminence in what is called Hyde-lane, leading to Kenton, about three hundred yards from the village of Hyde, on the Edgeware-road, and commands a view of an undulating country directly opposite, diversified with wood, in the direction of Hendon. From Mr. Selby, the occupier of the property, Mr. Prior obtained this information. He was himself a lad of sixteen at the time Goldsmith lodged there, and remembered him perfectly. He had only one room there, up one pair of stairs, to the right of the landing. There he wrote She stoops to Conquer. He boarded with the family, but commonly had his meals sent up to his own apartment. When he had visitors to tea, for his friends used to come out from London, take tea, and then drive home, he had the use of the parlour immediately under his own room. Occasionally he would wander into the kitchen, and stand with his back towards the fire, apparently absorbed in thought. Sometimes he strolled about the fields, or was seen loitering and musing under the hedges, or perusing a book. In the house he usually wore his shirt-collar open, in the manner represented in the portrait by Sir Joshua. Occasionally he read much in bed, and his mode of extinguishing his candle when out of immediate reach was to fling his slipper at it, which in the morning was found near the overturned candlestick bedaubed with grease.
There, then, Goldsmith spent the last days of his life, except what he spent on his sick-bed, in the full enjoyment of those two great charms of his existence, nature and books. Occasionally he would indulge in a jovial pause — have a dance got up amongst his visitors, and on one occasion took the young people of the house in a carriage to Windsor, to see a company of strolling players, and made himself and his juvenile party very merry by his remarks on the performance. From these quiet enjoyments and field musings, death called him away. He returned to town, and died in his lodgings in the Temple. He was privately interred in the Temple burial-ground, and a tabular monument to his honour placed on the walls of Westminster Abbey. That great and noble building does not hold the remains of a nobler or better heart. Oliver Goldsmith was a true Irishman, generous, impulsive, and improvident; but he was more, he was a true man and true poet. Whether we laugh with him or weep with him we are still better for it.