Our biographical notices of distinguished Novelists were in some degree proportioned to the space which their labours occupy in the Collection for which these sketches were originally written. On that principle, the present subject, so interesting — in every other point of view, could not be permitted long to detain us. The circumstances also of Dr Goldsmith's life, his early struggles with poverty and distress, the success of his brief and brilliant career after he had become distinguished as an author, are so well known, and have been so well and so often told, that a short outline is all that ought here to be attempted.
Oliver Goldsmith was born on the 29th November 1723, at Pallas, (or rather Palice,) in the parish of Farney, and county of Longford, in Ireland, where his father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, a minister of the Church of England, at that time resided. This worthy clergyman, whose virtues his celebrated son afterwards. rendered immortal, in the character of the Village Preacher, had a family of seven children, for whom he was enabled to provide but very indifferently. He obtained ultimately a benefice in the county of Roscommon, but died early; for the careful researches of the Rev. John Graham of Lifford have found his widow "nigra veste senescens," residing with her son Oliver in Ballymahon, so early as 1740. Among the shop accounts of a petty grocer of the place, Mrs. Goldsmith's name occurs frequently as a customer for trifling articles; on which occasions Master Noll appears. to have been his mother's usual emissary. He was recollected, however, in the neighbourhood, by more poetical employments, as that of playing on the flute, and, wandering in solitude on the shores, or among the islands of the river Inny, which is remarkably beautiful at Ballymahon.
Oliver early distinguished himself by the display of lively talents, as well as by that uncertainty of humour which is so often attached to genius, as the slave in the chariot of the Roman triumph. An uncle by affinity, the Rev. Thomas Contarine, undertook the expense of affording to so promising a youth the advantages of a scholastic education. He was put to school at Edgeworths-town, and, in June 1744, was sent to Dublin College as a sizer; a situation which subjected him to much discouragement and ill usage, especially as he had the misfortune to fall under the charge of a brutal tutor.
On 15th June 1747, Goldsmith obtained his only academical laurel, being an Exhibition on the foundation of Erasmus Smythe, Esq. Some indiscreet frolic induced him soon afterwards to quit the University for a period; and he appears thus early to have commenced that sort of idle strolling life, which has often great charms for youths of genius, because it frees them from every species of subjection, and leaves them full masters of their own time, and their own thoughts; a liberty which they do not feel too dearly bought, at the expense of fatigue, of hunger, and of all the other inconveniences incidental to those who travel without money. Those who can recollect journeys of this kind, with all the shifts, necessities, and petty adventures, which attend them, will not wonder at the attractions which they had for such a youth as Goldsmith. Notwithstanding these erratic expeditions, he was admitted Bachelor of Arts in 1749.
Goldsmith's persevering friend, Mr. Contarine, seems to have recommended the direction of his nephew's studies to medicine, and in the year 1752 he was settled at Edinburgh to pursue that science. Of his residence in Scotland, Goldsmith retained no favourable recollections. He was thoughtless, and he was cheated; he was poor, and he was nearly starved. Yet, in a very lively letter from Edinburgh, addressed to Robert Brianton of Ballymahon, he closes a sarcastic description of the country and its inhabitants, with the good-humoured candour which made so distinguished a part of his character. "An ugly and a poor man is society only for himself, and such society the world lets me enjoy in great abundance. Fortune has given you circumstances, and Nature a power to look charming in the eyes of the fait. Nor do I envy my dear Bob such blessings, while I may sit down and laugh at the world and at myself, the most ridiculous object in it."
From Edinburgh our student passed to Leyden, but not without the diversities of an arrest for debt, a captivity of seven days at Newcastle, from having been found in company with some Scotchmen in the French service, and the no less unpleasing variety of a storm. At Leyden, Goldsmith was peculiarly exposed to a temptation which he never at any period of his life could easily resist. The opportunities of gambling were frequent, — he seldom declined them, and was at length stripped of every shilling.
In this hopeless condition Goldsmith commenced his travels, with one shirt in his pocket, and a devout reliance on providence. It is understood, that in the narrative of George, eldest son of the Vicar of Wakefield, the author gave a sketch of the resources which enabled him, on foot and without money, to make the tour of Europe. Through Germany and Flanders he had recourse to his violin, in which he was tolerably skilled; and a lively tune usually procured him a lodging in some peasant's cottage for the evening. In Italy, where his musical skill was held in- less esteem, he found hospitality by disputing at the monasteries, in the character of a travelling scholar, upon certain philosophical theses, which the learned inhabitants were obliged, by their foundation, to uphold against all impugners. Thus, he obtained sometimes money, sometimes lodgings. He must have had other resources to procure both, which he has not thought proper to intimate. The foreign Universities afford similar facilities to poor scholars, with those presented by the Monasteries. Goldsmith resided at Padua for several months, and is said to have taken a degree at Louvain. Thus far is certain, that an account of the tour made by so good a judge of human nature, in circumstances so singular, would have made one of the most entertaining books in the world; and it is both wonder and pity, that Goldsmith did not hit upon a publication of his travels, amongst the other literary resources in which his mind was fertile. He was not ignorant of the advantages which his mode of travelling had opened to him. "Countries," he says, in his Essay on Polite Literature in Europe, "wear very different appearances to travellers of different circumstances. A man who is whirled through Europe in his post-chaise, and the pilgrim who walks the great tour on foot, will form very different conclusions. Haud inexpertus loquor." Perhaps he grew ashamed of the last admission, which he afterwards omitted. Goldsmith spent about twelve months in these wanderings, and lauded in England in the year 1746, after having perambulated France, Italy, and part of Germany.
Poverty was now before our author in all its bitterness. His Irish friends had long renounced or forgotten him; and the wretched post of usher to an academy, of which he has drawn so piteous a picture in George's account of himself, was his refuge from actual starving. Unquestionably, his description was founded on personal recollections, where he says, "I was up early and late; I was brow-beat by the master; hated for my ugly face by the mistress; worried by the boys within; and never permitted to stir out, to seek civility abroad." This state of slavery he underwent at Peckham Academy, and had such bitter recollection thereof, as to be offended at the slightest allusion to it. An acquaintance happening to use the proverbial phrase, "Oh, that is all a holiday at Peckham," Goldsmith reddened, and asked if he meant to affront him. From this miserable condition he escaped with difficulty, to that of journeyman, or rather shop-porter, to a chemist in Fish-street-hill, in whose service he was recognized by Dr. Sleigh, his countryman and fellow-student at Edinburgh, who, to his eternal honour, relieved Oliver Goldsmith from this state of slavish degradation.
Under the auspices of his friend and countryman, Goldsmith commenced practice as a physician about the Bankside, and afterwards near the Temple; and although unsuccessful in procuring fees, had soon plenty of patients. It was now that he first thought of having recourse to that pen, which afterwards afforded the public so much delight. He wrote, he laboured, he compiled; he is described by one contemporary as wearing a rusty full-trimmed black suit, the very livery of the muses, with his pockets stuffed with papers, and his head with projects; gradually he forced himself and his talents into notice, and was at last enabled to write, in one letter to a friend, that he was too poor to be gazed at, but too rich to need assistance; and to boast in another, of the refined conversation which he was sometimes admitted to partake in.
He now circulated proposals for publishing, by subscription, his Essay on Polite Literature in Europe, the profits of which he destined to equipping himself for India, having obtained from the Company the appointment of physician to one of their factories on the coast of Coromandel. But to rise in literature was more his desire than to increase his fortune. "I eagerly long," he said, "to embrace every opportunity to separate myself from the vulgar, as much in my circumstances as I am already in my sentiments. — I find I want constitution and a strong steady disposition, which alone makes men great. I will, however, correct my faults, since I am conscious of Goldsmith's versatile talents and ready pen soon engaged him in the service of the booksellers; and doubtless the touches of his spirit and humour were used to enliven the dull pages of many a sorry miscellany and review; a mode of living which, joined to his own improvidence, rendered his income as fluctuating as his occupation. He wrote many Essays for various periodical publications, and afterwards collected them into one volume, finding that they were unceremoniously appropriated by his contemporaries. In the preface, he compares himself to the fat man in a famine, who, when his fellow-sufferers propose to feast on the superfluous part of his person, insisted with some justice on having the first slice himself. But his most elaborate effort in this style is the Citizen of the World; letters supposed to be written by a Chinese philosopher, resident in England, in imitation of the Lettres Persannes of Montesquieu. Still, however, though subsisting thus precariously, he was getting forward in society; and had already, in the year 1761, made his way as far as Dr. Johnson, who seems, from their first acquaintance, till death separated them, to have entertained for Goldsmith the most sincere friendship, regarding his genius with respect, his failings with indulgence, and his person with affection.
It was probably soon after this first acquaintance, that Necessity, the parent of so many works of genius, gave birth to the Vicar of Wakefield. The circumstances attending the sale of the work to the fortunate publisher, are too singular to be told in any other words than those of Johnson, as reported by his faithful chronicler, Boswell.
"I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith, that he was in great distress; and as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return, and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill."
Newberry, the purchaser of the Vicar of Wakefield, best known to the present generation by recollection of their infantine studies, was a man of worth as well as wealth, and the frequent patron of distressed genius. When he completed the bargain, which he probably entered into partly from compassion, partly from deference to Johnson's judgment, he had so little confidence in the value of his purchase, that the Vicar of Wakefield remained in manuscript until the publication of the Traveller had established the fame of the author.
For this beautiful poem Goldsmith had collected materials during his travels; and a part of it had been actually written in Switzerland, and transmitted from that country to the author's brother, the Rev. Dr. Henry Goldsmith. His distinguished friend, Dr. Johnson, aided him with several general hints; and is said to have contributed the sentiment which Goldsmith has so beautifully versified in the concluding lines.
The publication of the Traveller gave the author all that celebrity which he had so long laboured to attain. He now assumed the professional dress of the medical science, a scarlet cloak, wig, sword, and cane, and was admitted as a valued member of that distinguished society, which afterwards formed the Literary Club, or as it is more commonly called, emphatically, The CLUB. For this he made certain sacrifices, renouncing some of the public places which he had formerly found convenient in point of expense and amusement; not without regret, for he used to say, "In truth, one must make some sacrifices to obtain good society; for here am I shut out of several places where I used to play the fool very agreeably." It often happened amid those sharper wits with whom he now associated, that the simplicity of his character, mingled with an inaccuracy of expression, an undistinguishing spirit of vanity, and a hurriedness of conception, which led him often into absurdity, rendered Dr. Goldsmith in some degree the butt of the company. Garrick, in particular, who probably presumed somewhat on the superiority of a theatrical manager over a dramatic author, shot at him many shafts of small epigrammatic wit. It is likely that Goldsmith began to feel that this spirit was carried too far, and, to check it in the best taste, he composed his celebrated poem of Retaliation, in which the characters and failings of his associates are drawn with satire, at once pungent and good humoured. Garrick is smartly chastised; Burke, the Dinner-bell of the House of Commons, is not spared; and of all the more distinguished names of the Club, Johnson, Cumberland, and Reynolds alone escape the lash of the satirist. The former is not mentioned, and the two latter are even dismissed with unqualified and affectionate applause. Retaliation had the effect of placing the author on a more equal footing with his society than he had ever before assumed. Even against the despotism of Johnson, though much respecting him, and as much beloved by him, Goldsmith made a more spirited stand than was generally ventured upon by the compeers of that arbitrary Sultan of literature. Of this Boswell has recorded a striking instance. Goldsmith had been descanting on the difficulty and importance of making animals in an apologue speak in character, and particularly instanced the Fable of the Little Fishes. Observing that Doctor Johnson was laughing scornfully, he proceeded smartly; "Why, Dr. Johnson, this is not so easy as you seem to think; for if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like whales."
To support the expense of his new dignities, Goldsmith laboured incessantly at the literary oar. The Letters on the History of England, commonly ascribed to Lord Lyttleton, and containing an excellent and entertaining abridgment of the annals of Britain, are the work of Goldsmith. His mode of compiling them we learn from some interesting anecdotes of the author, communicated to the public by Lee Lewes, an actor of genius, whom he patronized, and with whom he often associated.
"He first read in a morning, from Hume, Rapin, and sometimes Kennet, as much as he designed for one letter, marking down the passages referred to on a sheet of paper, with remarks. He then rode or walked out with a friend or two, whom he constantly had with him; returned to dinner, spent the day generally convivially, without much drinking (which he was never in the habit of,) and when he went up to bed, took up his books and paper with him, where he generally wrote the chapter, or the best part of it, before he went to rest. This latter exercise cost him very little trouble, he said; for having all his materials ready for him, he wrote it with as much facility as a common letter.
"But of all his compilations, he used to say, his Selections of English Poetry showed more 'the art of profession.' Here he did nothing but mark the particular passages with a red-lead pencil, and for this he got two hundred pounds — but then he used to add, 'a man shows his judgment in these selections, and he may be often twenty years of his life cultivating that judgment.'"
Goldsmith, amid these more petty labours, aspired to the honours of the sock, and the Goodnatured Man was produced at Covent Garden, 29th January 1768, with the moderate success of nine nights' run. The principal character the author probably drew from the weak side of his own; for no man was more liable than Goldsmith to be gulled by pretended friends. The character of Croaker, highly comic in itself, and admirably represented by Shuter, helped to save the piece, which was endangered by the scene of the Bailiffs, then considered as too vulgar for the stage. Upon the whole, however, Goldsmith is said to have cleared five hundred pounds by this dramatic performance. He hired better chambers in the Temple, embarked more boldly in literary speculation, and unfortunately at the same time enlarged his ideas of expense, and indulged his habit of playing at games of hazard. The Memoirs, or Anecdotes, which we have before quoted, give a minute and curious description of his habits and enjoyments about this period, when he was constantly occupied with extracts, abridgments, and other arts of bookmaking, but at the same time working slowly, and in secret, on those immortal verses, which secure for him so high a rank among English poets.
"Goldsmith, though quick enough at prose," continues Mr. Lewes, "was rather slow in his poetry — not from the tardiness of fancy, but the time he took in pointing the sentiment, and polishing the versification. He was, by his own confession, four or five years collecting materials in all his country excursions for this poem, (The Deserted Village,) and was actually engaged in the construction of it above two years. His manner of writing poetry was this; he first sketched a part of his design in prose, in which he threw out his ideas as they occurred to him; he then sat carefully down to versify them, correct them, and add such other ideas as he thought better fitted to the subject. He sometimes would exceed his prose design by writing several verses impromptu, but these he would take uncommon pains afterwards to revise, lest they should be found unconnected with his main design.
"The writer of these Memoirs, (Lee Lewes) called upon the Doctor the second morning after he had begun The Deserted Village, and to him he communicated the plan of his poem. 'Some of my friends,' continued he, 'differ with me on this plan, and think this depopulation of villages does not exist — but I am myself satisfied of the fact. I remember it in my own country, and have seen it in this.' He then read what he had done of it that morning, beginning,
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loitered o'er thy green,
Where humble happiness endear'd each scene!
How often have I paused on every charm,—
The shelter'd cot, — the cultivated farm,—
The never-failing brook, — the busy mill,—
The decent church, that topt the neighbouring hill,—
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whispering lovers made.
'Come,' says he, 'let me tell you this is no bad morning's work; and now, my dear boy, if you are not better engaged, I should be glad to enjoy a Shoemaker's holiday with you.' This Shoemaker's holiday was a day of great festivity to poor Goldsmith, and was spent in the following innocent manner:—
"Three or four of his intimate friends rendezvoused at his chambers, to breakfast, about ten o'clock in the morning; at eleven they proceeded by the City-Road, and through the fields to Highbury Barn to dinner; about six o'clock in the evening they adjourned to White Conduit House to drink tea; and concluded the evening by supping at the Grecian or Temple Exchange Coffeehouses, or at the Globe, in Fleet Street. There was a very good ordinary of two dishes and pastry kept at Highbury Barn about this time (five-and-twenty years ago, in 1796) at 10d per head, including a penny to the waiter, and the company generally consisted of literary characters, a few Templars, and some citizens who had left off trade. The whole expenses of this day's fete never exceeded a crown, and oftener from three-and-six-pence to four shillings, for which the party obtained good air and exercise, good living, the example of simple manners, and good conversation."
The reception given to the Deserted Village, so full of natural elegance, simplicity, and pathos, was of the warmest kind. The publisher showed at once his skill and generosity, by pressing upon Doctor Goldsmith a hundred pounds, which the author insisted upon returning, when upon computation he found that it came to nearly a crown for every couplet, a sum which he conceived no poem could be worth. The sale of the poem made him ample amends for this unusual instance of moderation. Lissoy, near Ballymahon, where his brother the clergyman had his living, claims the honour of being the spot from which the localities of the Deserted Village were derived. The church which tops the neighbouring hill, the mill, and the lake, are still pointed out; and a hawthorn has suffered the penalty of poetical celebrity, being cut to pieces by those admirers of the bard, who desired to have classical toothpick cases and tobacco-stoppers. Much of this supposed locality may be fanciful, but it is a pleasing tribute to the poet in the land of his fathers.
Goldsmith's Abridgements of the History of Rome and England may here be noticed. They are eminently well calculated to introduce youth to the knowledge of their studies; for they exhibit the most interesting and striking events, without entering into controversy or dry detail. Yet the tone assumed in the History of England drew on the author the resentment of the more zealous Whigs, who accused him of betraying the liberties of the people, when, "God knows," as he expresses himself in a letter to Langton, "I had no thought for or against liberty in my head; my whole aim being to make up a book of a decent size, and which, as Squire Richard says, would do no harm to nobody."
His celebrated play of She Stoops to Conquer, was Goldsmith's next work of importance. If it be the object of comedy to make an audience laugh, Johnson says that it was better obtained by this play than by any other of the period. Lee Lewes was, for the first time, produced in a speaking character, as young Marlow, and is, therefore, entitled to record his own recollections concerning the piece.
"The first night of its performance, Goldsmith, instead of being at the Theatre, was found sauntering, between seven and eight o'clock, in the Mall, St. James's Park; and it was on the remonstrance of a friend, who told him 'how useful his presence might be in making some sudden alterations which might be found necessary in the piece,' that he was prevailed on to go to the Theatre. He entered the stage-door just in the middle of the fifth act, when there was a hiss at the improbability of Mrs. Hardcastle supposing herself forty miles off, though on her own grounds, and near the house. 'What's that?' says the Doctor, terrified at the sound. 'Pshaw, Doctor,' says Colman, who was standing by the side of the scene, 'don't be fearful of squibs, when we have been sitting almost these two hours upon a barrel of gunpowder.'
"In the Life of Dr. Goldsmith, prefixed to his Works, the above reply of Colman's is said to have happened at the last rehearsal of the piece, but the fact was (I had it from the Doctor himself) as I have stated, and he never forgave it to Colman to the last hour of his life." — It may be here noticed, that the leading incident of the piece was borrowed from a blunder of the author himself, who, while travelling in Ireland, actually mistook a gentleman's residence for an inn. It is remarkable enough that we ourselves are acquainted with another instance of the kind, which took place, however, in the middle rank of life.
It must be owned, that however kind, amiable, and benevolent, Goldsmith showed himself to his contemporaries, more especially to such as needed his assistance, he had no small portion of the jealous and irritable spirit proper to the literary profession. He suffered a newspaper lampoon about this time to bring him into a foolish affray with Evans the editor, which did him but little credit.
In the meantime, a neglect of economy, occasional losses at play, and too great a reliance on his own versatility and readiness of talent, had considerably embarrassed his affairs. He felt the pressure of many engagements, for which he had received advances of money, and which it was, nevertheless, impossible for him to carry on with that despatch, which the booksellers thought themselves entitled to expect. One of his last publications was a History of the Earth and Animated Nature, in six volumes, which is to science what his abridgements are to history; a book which indicates no depth of research, or accuracy of information, but which presents to the ordinary reader a general and interesting view of the subject, couched in the clearest and most beautiful language, and abounding with excellent reflections and illustrations. It was of this work that Johnson threw out the remark which he afterwards interwove in his friend's epitaph, — "He is now writing a Natural History, and will make it as agreeable as a Persian Tale."
But the period of his labours was now near. Goldsmith had for some time been subject to fits of the strangury, brought on by too severe application to sedentary labours; and one of those attacks, aggravated by mental distress, produced a fever. In spite of cautions to the contrary, he had recourse to Dr. James's fever powders, from which he received no relief. He died on the 4th April 1774, and was privately interred in the Temple burial-ground. A monument, erected by subscription in Westminster-Abbey, bears a Latin inscription from the pen of Dr. Johnson:—
Poet, Physici, Historici,
Qui nullum fere scribendi genus non tetigit,
Nullum quod tetigit non ornavit,
Sive risus essent movendi,
Affectuum potens at lenis dominator.
Ingenio, sublimis, vividus, versatilis;
Oratione, grandis, nitidus, venustus.
Natus in Hibernia Ferniae Longfordiensis,
In loco cui nomen Pallas,
Nov. XXIX. MDCCXXXI,
Eblanae literis institutus,
April IV. MDCCLXXIV.
This elegant epitaph was the subject of a petition to Dr. Johnson, in the form of a round robin, entreating him to substitute an English inscription, as more proper for an author who had distinguished himself entirely by works written in English; but the Doctor kept his purpose.
The person and features of Dr. Goldsmith were rather unfavourable. He was a short stout man, with a round face, much marked with the small-pox, and a low forehead, which is represented as projecting in a singular manner. Yet these ordinary features were marked by a strong expression of reflection and of observation.
The peculiarities of Goldsmith's disposition have been already touched upon in the preceding narrative. He was a friend to virtue, and in his most playful pages never forgets what is due to it. A gentleness, delicacy, and purity of feeling, distinguishes whatever he wrote, and bears a correspondence to the generosity of a disposition which knew no bounds but his last guinea. It was an attribute almost essential to such a temper, that he wanted the proper guards of firmness and decision, and permitted, even when aware of their worthlessness, the intrusions of cunning and of effrontery. The story of the White Mice is well known; and in the humorous History of the Haunch of Venison, Goldsmith has recorded another instance of his being duped. This could not be entirely out of simplicity; for he, who could so well embody and record the impositions of Master Jenkinson, might surely have penetrated the schemes of more ordinary swindlers. But Goldsmith could not give a refusal; and, being thus cheated with his eyes open, no man could be a surer or easier victim to the impostors, whose arts he could so well describe. He might certainly have accepted the draught on neighbour Flamborough, and indubitably would have made the celebrated bargain of the gross of green spectacles. With this cullibility of temper was mixed a hasty and eager jealousy of his own personal consequence: he unwillingly admitted that any thing was done better than he himself could have performed it; and sometimes made himself ridiculous by hastily undertaking to distinguish himself upon subjects which he did not understand. But with these weaknesses, and with that of carelessness in his own affairs, terminates all that censure can say of Goldsmith. The folly of submitting to imposition may be well balanced with the universality of his benevolence; and the wit which his writings evince, more than counterbalances his defects in conversation, if these could be of consequence to the present and future generations. "As a writer," says Dr. Johnson, "he was of the most distinguished class. Whatever he composed, he did it better than any other man could. And whether we regard him as a poet, as a comic writer, or as a historian, he was one of the first writers of his time, and will ever stand in the foremost class."
Excepting some short Tales, Goldsmith gave to the department of the novelist only one work — the inimitable Vicar of Wakefield. We have seen that it was suppressed for nearly two years, until the publication of the Traveller had fixed the author's fame. Goldsmith had, therefore, time for revisal, but he did not employ. it. He had been paid for his labour, as he observed, and could have profited nothing by rendering the work ever so perfect. This, however, was false reasoning, though not unnatural in the mouth of the author who must earn daily bread by daily labour. The narrative, which in itself is as simple as possible, might have been cleared of certain improbabilities, or rather impossibilities, which it now exhibits. We cannot, for instance, conceive how Sir William Thornhill should contrive to masquerade under the name of Burchell among his own tenantry, and upon his own estate; and it is absolutely impossible to see how his nephew, the son, doubtless, of a younger brother, (since Sir William inherited both title and property,) should be nearly as old as the Baronet himself: It may be added, that the character of Burchell, or Sir William Thornhill, is in itself extravagantly unnatural. A man of his benevolence would never have so long left his nephew in the possession of wealth which he employed to the worst of purposes. Far less would he have permitted his scheme upon Olivia in a great measure to succeed, and that upon Sophia also to approach consummation; for, in the first instance, he does not interfere at all, and in the second, his intervention is accidental. These, and some other little circumstances in the progress of the narrative, might easily have been removed upon revisal.
But whatever defects occur in the tenour of the story, the admirable ease and grace of the narrative, as well as the pleasing truth with which the principal characters are designed, make the Vicar of Wakefield one of the most delicious morsels of fictitious composition on which the human mind was ever employed. The principal character, that of the simple Pastor himself, with all the worth and excellency which ought to distinguish the ambassador of God to man, and yet with just so much of pedantry and of literary vanity as serves to show that he is made of mortal mould, and subject to human failings, is one of the best and most pleasing pictures ever designed. It is perhaps impossible to place frail humanity before us in an attitude of more simple dignity than the Vicar, in his character of pastor, of parent, and of husband. His excellent helpmate, with all her motherly cunning, and housewifely prudence, loving and respecting her husband, but counter-plotting his wisest schemes, at the dictates of maternal vanity, forms an excellent counterpart. Both, with their children around them, their quiet labour and domestic happiness, compose a fireside picture of such a perfect kind, as perhaps is nowhere else equalled. It is sketched indeed from common life, and is a strong contrast to the exaggerated and extraordinary characters and incidents which are the resource of those authors, who, like Bayes, make it their business to elevate and surprise; but the very simplicity of this charming book renders the pleasure it affords more permanent. We read the Vicar of Wakefield in youth and in age — We return to it again and again, and bless the memory of an author who contrives so well to reconcile us to human nature. Whether we choose the pathetic and distressing incidents of the fire, the scenes at the jail, or the lighter and humorous parts of the story, we find the best and truest sentiments enforced in the most beautiful language; and perhaps there are few characters of purer dignity have been described than that of the excellent pastor, rising above sorrow and oppression, and labouring for the conversion of those felons, into whose company he had been thrust by his villainous creditor. In too many works of this class, the critics must apologize for or censure particular passages in the narrative, as unfit to be perused by youth and innocence. But the wreath of Goldsmith is unsullied; he wrote to exalt virtue and expose vice; and he accomplished his task in a manner which raises him to the highest rank among British authors. We close his volume, with a sigh that such an author should have written so little from the stores of his own genius, and that he should have been so prematurely removed from the sphere of literature, which he so highly adorned.