1. The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B., from a variety of Original Sources. By James Prior, Esq., F.S.A.; Member of the Royal Irish Academy; and Author of the Life of Burke. London. 2 vols. 8vo. 1836.
2. The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B., with a variety of Pieces in Prose and Verse, now included for the first time. By James Prior, Esq. London. 4 vols. 8vo. 1836.
We have satisfaction in observing that the enterprise of the booksellers has at length taken a bent which we several years ago told them would he found more beneficial to themselves, as well as to the public, than the rage for new "libraries" "de omni scibili." The monthly volumes which then threatened to pour upon us to the crack of doom, had the advantages of convenient form and cheap price, accompanied with elegance of print, and not unfrequently with lavish ornament in the way of engraving; but, to say nothing of real thought or talent, they, with few exceptions, reflected little credit on the industry, and less on the honesty, of the compilers. That flimsy manufacture, the steam-tambouring of literature, seems to have made room for the less showy speculation of preparing, under the direction of graver persons, carefully annotated editions of those classics of our country, whose writings may afford manly aliment to the understanding, and pure examples to the taste of the rising generation. Among the undertakings of this better order which have recently come under our view, we must allow a distinguished place to these labours of Mr. Prior, whose Life of Burke was criticised at some length in one of our numbers for 1826. Ever since that time he has been sedulously engaged in collecting materials for a biography of Goldsmith, on a scale somewhat commensurate with his merits; and having, in the course of his researches, discovered many pieces, both in prose and verse, which, though worthy of his reputation, had never been included in any collection of his works, Mr. Prior at length resolved to prepare an enlarged and corrected edition of his distinguished countryman's Miscellanies, to be issued from the press at the same time with this Memoir. We have the two books now before us — and proceed to notice, more briefly than we could wish to have done, the very considerable accession to our knowledge for which this modest and diligent man may demand the thanks of every student of our literature.
It is not to the honour of England, least of all is it to the honour of Ireland, that sixty years should have passed after the death of Goldsmith before any attempt was made to give the events of his life in accurate detail. Till now, however, there had been put forth, professedly to gratify curiosity on this head, nothing more valuable than one of the most meagre of prefaces. It was drawn up, indeed, by a person who received some verbal communications from two or three of the poet's surviving friends; but, except their half dozen anecdotes, a single loose letter on his early adventures by his eldest sister, and such trivial specimens of his own familiar correspondence as hardly sufficed to fill three pages, the nameless preface-writer produced almost nothing that could throw any real light on his subject. In fact, the personal character of this delightful author has been abandoned to the casual notices of Boswell — who, for whatever reason, bore him little good will, sets down nothing that might tend to counterbalance the ludicrous stories in which he introduces his name, and betrays a lurking disposition to undervalue even the talents for which his own great idol took every opportunity of expressing the highest respect. Mr. Croker and his coadjutors, more especially Sir Walter Scott and Sir James Mackintosh, seem to agree that Boswell, among many more pardonable weaknesses, all along regarded Goldsmith with a fretful jealousy. He, to the last, envied him his fame; but in the beginning of their intercourse he envied him above all things the avowed esteem of Johnson. From an early date Boswell had resolved to attempt, if he should outlive Johnson, the task which he ultimately executed, in so far as Johnson was concerned, with inimitable success. But his Doctor Minor was twenty years his Doctor Major's junior; he found them living in habits of familiarity in London, while his own visits to the capital were, and were likely to be, but rare; and Mrs. Thrale's information, that when Johnson was asked who ought to write his life, the answer was, "Goldy would, no doubt, do it the best," seems not only to have hung and rankled in his mind while Goldsmith lived, but to have left its traces in the last, long subsequent, labours of his pen. This is a painful and pitiable feature in, what we consider as, on the whole, the best-natured, as well as the most amusing, of books. But we are conscious that when we devoured Boswell in our boyish days, we were little prepared to discriminate and cross-examine; and, we are sorry to add, we doubt whether all the counter-working of Mr. Prior's zeal will be found sufficient to modify, to munch extent, the impression which familiarity with the charming pages of Goldsmith's habitual detractor has spread over the minds of our own coevals. On the race that is preparing to push us from our stools, his labours will perhaps produce an effect more adequate to his anticipations.
Goldsmith happily called one of the arts in which he has never been surpassed, that of "building a book;" but the most studious of his admirers does not shine as a compiler. We could hardly praise too highly the sagacity and patience with which he has hunted every hint of information, whether oral or documentary, but he has seldom shown skill in his manner of putting together the results. His minute accounts of the way in which he traced out every item of novelty that he presents ought to have been given in his preface: they belong — not to the history of Goldsmith — but to the history of Mr. Prior's book. His episodic chapters on Goldsmith's obscure literary associates and forgotten antagonists should have been first cut down very considerably — and then thrown into so many articles of an appendix; and the new and valuable illustrations of the early career of Burke, which he has crammed head and shoulders into the midst of Goldsmith's story, should have been reserved for another edition of his Life of Burke. There are, moreover, some clumsy repetitions — and heavy disquisitions, both moral and critical, which it is impossible not to wish away altogether. To balance these defects and errors we recognise throughout Mr. Prior's main narrative a candid mind, kept active by a generous enthusiasm in the cause of virtue and genius, and a plain, unaffected style, never disfigured by tinsel garnishing, and now and then rising into a certain sober dignity which we are old-fashioned enough to prefer to either the point of wit or the pomp of rhetoric. But the solid worth of the biography consists in the striking anecdotes which Mr. Prior has gathered in the course of his anxious researches among Goldsmith's few surviving acquaintances and the immediate descendants of his personal friends in London and relations in Ireland; above all, in the rich mass of the poet's own familiar letters, which, by the help of these allies, he has been enabled to bring together. No poet's letters in the world, not even those of Cowper, appear to us more interesting for the light they throw on the habits and feelings of the man that wrote them; and we think it will also be acknowledged that the simple gracefulness of their language is quite worthy of the author of the Vicar of Wakefield. We may differ from many of our readers as to all the rest, but we are confident that, if Mr. Prior had done, and should do, nothing else, the services he has rendered to literature by recovering and recording these beautifully characteristic effusions, would be enough to secure honour to his memory. And who will not be rejoiced to hear that in one instance at least the best secondary monument of a great Irish genius has also been erected by an Irish hand?
The origin of Goldsmith's family is obscure; the first ascertained ancestor being his great-great-grandfather, the Rev. John Goldsmith, rector of Borrishoull, in the county of Mayo, who narrowly escaped perishing in the Popish massacre of 1641. The then Bishop of Killala, with this gentleman and sixteen others of his clergy, having witnessed the shocking scene at Castlebar, betook themselves to the residence of the Viscount Bourke, a Roman Catholic peer, who had married a Protestant lady, and claimed his personal protection. Lord Bourke invited Mr. Goldsmith to remain in attendance on his wife, and thus he was safe. He then gave the rest of the party a safe-conduct to Galway, and himself accompanied them part of the way thither; but so soon as he left them they were set upon, and the Bishop and almost all his train murdered. The services and losses of this rector of Borrishoull procured a small grant of land and considerable promotion in the church for his eldest son, who died in 1722 Dean of Elphin. His second son, Robert, the poet's grandfather, obtained also a beneficial lease of some crown land, and lived on it as a gentleman farmer. Charles Goldsmith, the poet's father, was Robert's second son, one of a family of thirteen children; he was of Trinity College, Dublin, took orders on leaving it, and immediately married the daughter of the Rev. Oliver Jones, master of a school at Elphin, where he had received his preliminary education and formed this attachment. The young couple married against the will of both their families, and without having any means of support at their own command; but Mr. Green, an uncle of the bride, who was rector of Kilkenny-West, provided them a farm-house in his parish to live in, and by and bye her mother, Mrs. Jones, made over to them fifty acres of land, procured at a nominal rent by the exertion of that species of address which an Irish tenant still sometimes plays off upon an Irish landlord.
The Rev. Oliver Jones had held these and other lands on a life-rent lease from Mr. Conolly, one of the Lords Justices. His wife, on his death, found that Mr. Conolly was not disposed to grant a renewal, and determined to try the effect of a personal application. She mounted on horseback behind her only son, and travelled straight to Dublin. Mr. Conolly persisted in his refusal, until the old lady drew out a bag and showered its contents, one hundred guineas, upon the table. This was a temptation not to be resisted; the landlord immediately granted a fresh lease of half the lands on the same easy terms as before — and she used afterwards to say that she wished she had taken another hundred with her, and so secured the whole. An accident on this journey cost the spirited dame the life of her son: she returned home, as the old song says, "Sitting single on her saddle;" and, in time mercy of sorrow, handed over the hard-earned lease to her rash daughter and son-in-law.
The farm-house in which they had found shelter was that of Pallismore, the property then and now of the Edgeworths of Edgeworthstown; — and here they continued to live for about twelve years, on the scanty income of Mr. Conolly's fifty acres, which it adjoined. Five children were born to them at Pallismore, the last being Oliver, who, according to the first leaf of the family-bible, saw the light on the 10th of November, 1728, three years earlier than time date on his monument in Westminster Abbey. He had one brother, Henry, six years his senior, two younger brothers, and three sisters; but before all these came into the world, the father succeeded to the living of Kilkenny-West, then worth from £150 to £200 a year, and removed to a good house at Lissoy, in that parish. Oliver was only two or three years old when they went to Lissoy; and in Lissoy tradition has uniformly pointed out, and Mr. Prior fondly recognizes the original of
Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain.
A relation of the Goldsmiths, one Elizabeth Delap, widow of a farmer, kept a little school in this village, and under her Oliver learned his letters. Dr. Strean, the present venerable rector of Athlone, remembers Mrs. Delap well; she outlived her celebrated pupil, and used, when boasting of their connexion in her latter days, to add, nevertheless, that he was one of the dullest boys she ever had to deal with. At six years of age he was transferred from the dame's school to one kept by Thomas Byrne, an old soldier, who had risen from the ranks to be quartermaster of a regiment in the wars of Marlborough. Byrne was, it seems, not only a fair scholar, but a wit, a humourist, the chief oracle of the village alehouse, — and a poet. Mr. Prior quotes, without remark, time testimony of one of his pupils, given so late as 1790, that "he could translate Virgil's Eclogues extemporaneously into Irish verse of at least equal elegance!" Young Oliver listened to this original's stories of the wars with unwearied zeal, and appears to have imbibed all his enthusiasm about "Carolan the Blind, the last and best of the Irish minstrels," so designated in the little essay essay which Goldsmith many years afterwards dedicated to his memory. Byrne carried the boy to visit the famous harper at Athlone; a circumstance which we consider as more important than the tradition that in that school, as at the former, he attracted no sort of notice by aptitude or ardour for its proper studies. Byrne, however, found that when he could once read with ease to himself, he was very willing to read for his amusement. The "History of the Rogues and Rapparees," the lives of pirates, robbers, and smugglers, which constituted, as they still do, the library of an Irish cabin, were devoured in the evenings by the light of the old quartermaster's peat fire. Neighbours dropped in and told their wild tales of fairies and witches, so many of which have now obtained a permanent record from Mr. Crofton Croker. Oliver became noted for his love of these legends, and repeated them among his playfellows. He became musical too, and used to delight his parents with his singing of some of those pathetic old ballads, the very names of which, he said, when past the meridian of life, would still bring tears into his eyes.
An attack of small-pox, which had nearly cost him his life, and left its marks on his face ever after, caused his removal from the quartermaster's care, and on his recovery he was sent to attend a school of a superior sort at Elphin. Mrs. Piozzi, we think, mentions a rhyming repartee which was remembered as having contributed to his rising reputation here. A youth, playing the fiddle while Oliver danced an Irish jig one evening, was suddenly so much struck with the grotesqueness of his figure and attitudes, that he exclaimed, "Oliver puts me in mind of Aesop." Oliver, if the tale be true, halted in his capers, and turned the laugh against his critic, by pronouncing in a solemn tone,
Our herald has pronounced this saying,
See Aesop dancing, and his monkey playing:—
—a couplet as deserving of record certainly as that about "the duck which Samuel Johnson trod on."
When he was eleven years old, his father resolved that his education should he completed with a view to mercantile life, and he was sent first to a commercial academy at Athlone, and from thence to the school of Edgeworthstown, near the place of his birth, where the master had the reputation of superior skill in mathematics. For the art of book-keeping, however, and all others connected with exact science, Oliver soon betrayed unconquerable disgust; and his new teacher, being also a classic, winked at his negligence of what he had been sent to study, as he showed, on the other side of the account, a zeal hitherto undeveloped abut his Latin scholarship. Love of Ovid and Horace now took place of his Rapparee manuals, and divided his time with the game of fives and angling, in both of which he exhibited meritorious expertness.
He began also to be noted as a rhymer, and his zeal in this nobler art was, it seems, quickened by the local celebrity of a volume of verse by one Lawrence Whyte, a neighbour and acquaintance of his family, which was published in 1741. This Whyte described rural manners, and especially the grievances of the Irish tenantry, in many thousands of couplets, now forgotten, which passed in their day for successful imitations of the style of Swift; but Mr. Prior notices them, and particularly a piece in four cantos, called "The Parting Cup, or the Humours of Deoch an Doruis," on account of Goldsmith's confession to one of his eminent literary friends that this rustic bard gave his mind its first strong impression of the cruelty with which the Irish poor were treated, and suggested some of the most striking passages in The Deserted Village. It is curious, at all events, to observe that the themes of Whyte's indignant doggrel were exactly those which an Irish patriot of the same class would probably select now that Whyte has been near a hundred years in his grave. A short specimen will answer our purpose. Of absenteeism he says—
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 halls 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;
Excepting when it is their fate
To throw away a good estate;
Then does the squire with empty purse
Rail at ill fortune with a curse.
Their mansions moulder quite away,
All run to ruin and decay.
Where wild fowl may with safety rest,
At every gate may build a nest—
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.
And again, of the hardships of poor occupiers—
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 beggar'd and of all bereft,
Are doomed to starve or live by theft;
Take to the mountains 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 turn'd them out;
Embracing still the highest bidder,
Inviting all the nations hither,
Encouraging all strollers, caitiffs,
Or any other but the natives.
Now wool is low and mutton cheap,
Poor graziers can no profit reap;
Grown sick of bargains got by cant,
Must be in time reduced to want.
How many villages they razed,
How many parishes laid waste,
To fatten bullocks, sheep, and cows,
When scarce one parish has two ploughs!
Instead of living well and thriving,
There's nothing now but leading, driving—
The lands are all monopolized,
The tenants rack'd 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.
Of Goldsmith's Edgeworthstown rhymes nothing has been discovered. They no doubt had their effect in persuading his father that letters, not ciphers, suited the turn of his mind. The good man easily gave up the commercial scheme he had planned; and it was agreed that Oliver should succeed to the place which his elder brother Henry had shortly before vacated, in Trinity College, Dublin.
But it was easier for the rector to sanction this alteration of views than to provide the requisite means. Henry came home with his degree, and forthwith, with the usual prudence of the family, took to himself a penniless wife. His father procured him a curacy in the neighbourhood, and he found also a few pupils to board with him. One of these fell in love at first sight with Catharine Goldsmith, his wise preceptor's eldest sister, and they too eloped. Mr. Daniel Hudson, the hero of this new romance, was the son of a family "of good property near Athlone;" and they, bitterly resenting his rashness, accused Mr. Charles Goldsmith and his son of having violated their confidence, by promoting, or, at least, conniving at the young man's advances. Mr. Prior tells us, that "to remove all suspicion of being privy to the act of his daughter, Mr. Goldsmith, influenced by the highest sense of honour, made a sacrifice detrimental to the interests of the other members of his family." He immediately settled on Mrs. Hudson a marriage-portion which he could never pay — and thus the little landed property he held passed wholly in the sequel into the hands of the runaway girl and her husband: a result tantamount to the infliction of actual beggary on such of his other children as might chance to be young and without professional establishments in case of his own death. In the issue another daughter (Miss Jenny) eloped with a youth as poor as herself — and that couple never emerged from distress. One of the poet's younger brothers, again, lived and died a working cabinet-maker; and Mr. Prior has more details of the like complexion. But the first and immediate consequence of the rector's headlong generosity to Catharine was, that he found himself utterly destitute of means to support Oliver through an academical career at Dublin. It was presently suggested that he might enter as a sizar; but in those days that situation was burdened with the discharge of menial offices long since abolished, — for example, sweeping the college courts, and carrying up the dishes for the fellows' dinner, — and Oliver's spirit rebelled against reappearing among old schoolfellows with a badge of inferiority. A year elapsed before these scruples gave way to the remonstrances of a most kind relation, the Rev. Thomas Contarine, who had married one of his aunts. This respectable clergyman, though of not only gentle but noble blood, had himself passed through Trinity as a sizar. Had he not done so, he told his nephew, he could never have formed the friendships to which he owed the success of his after life; and some of the highest ornaments of the Irish bench (he might have added of the English) had not blushed to wear the tuftless cap when undergraduates. Oliver yielded, and was entered as a sizar in June, 1745, being then in the 16th year of his age.
Of his college history, previously all but a blank, Mr. Prior's diligence has recovered more details than we should have expected at this distance of time; but they are details of no great consequence. A passage marked with the deepest feeling, in his Essay on the State of Literature in Europe, published in 1759, shows that he had not then subdued his resentment of the degrading circumstances of his position in Trinity, and some of his letters of still later date convey the like impression. He was, moreover, unfortunate in having for his tutor a Mr. Wilder, noted for savage temper, who had the ungenerosity to treat students of the subordinate class with peculiar harshness. Wilder might, perhaps, have treated Oliver better, had his turn been for mathematics and the scholastic logic, in which alone he himself excelled and delighted: but Oliver never concealed his dislike of these studies, and for his proficiency, to whatever it may have amounted, in the ancient languages and their elegant literature, the tutor cared little or nothing. In writing the Life of Parnell, Goldsmith no doubt drew from himself, when he said: — "The Poet's progress through college was probably marked with little splendour: his imagination might have been too warm to relish the cold logic of Burgersdicius, or the dreary subtleties of Smiglesius;" and we may take along with this a sentence in his Essay on Polite Literature — "Mathematics are, perhaps, too much studied at our universities. This seems a science to which the meanest intellects are equal. I forget who it is that says, 'All men might understand mathematics if they would.'" But he gives in that Essay not a few hints at other sources of academical obscurity than dislike to the severer sciences.
"Our magnificent endowments," he writes, "at best, more frequently enrich the prudent than reward the ingenious. A lad whose passions are not strong enough in youth to mislead him from that path of science which his tutors and not his inclination have chalked out, by four or five years' perseverance, will probably obtain every advantage and honour his college can bestow. I forget whether the simile has been used before, but I would compare the man whose youth has been thus passed in the tranquillity of dispassionate prudence to liquors that never ferment, and, consequently, continue always muddy. Passions may raise a commotion in the youthful breast, but they disturb only to refine it." — Works, vol. i. p. 431.
The youthful sizar was a poet, and we need not doubt that his passions at this period fermented with sufficient commotion. His father died before he had been two years in college, and from that time, though he received occasional supplies from his uncle Contarine, according to the statement of a companion, "his poverty was generally squalid." Despondence leads to idleness; and idleness leads many men to worse vices than ever seem to have stained poor Goldsmith. He was, however, remembered by his contemporaries, as one that would never refuse to join a party of pleasure; who emerged from his comfortless cell to exhibit animal spirits of apparently the maddest hilarity — who told his story well and sung his song better, and when he had no other means of paying a tavern reckoning, would indite a ballad for the street-singers, and carry it "to the sign of the Reindeer in Mountrath-street, where he found a ready sale at five shillings each." The Mr. Beatty, his chum, whose son furnishes these particulars, used to add, that Oliver "exhibited for his offspring all the partiality of a parent, by strolling the streets at night to hear them sung, and marking the degree of applause which each received." Mr. Crofton Croker announces a collection of Irish ballads; and we share Mr. Prior's hope, that in the course of his researches he may detect some of these early effusions of Goldsmith. The poet himself made no allusion to them in his conversation with Malone on the subject of his college life — when, however, he mentioned, that "though he made no figure in mathematics, he could turn an ode of Horace with any of them."
The registers of Trinity furnish evidence of many irregularities; and among the rest Goldsmith figures as aiding and abetting a riot of May, 1747, which began with pumping a bailiff at the college cistern — and ended with the students heading the rabble of the town in an attempt to force Newgate and liberate the prisoners. This frolic was a very serious one — the gaoler fired, and three were killed and several wounded. Five of the gowned ringleaders were expelled, and Goldsmith and four others were ordered to be admonished "Quod seditioni favissent et tumultuantibus opem tulissent."
In the month after this, Oliver, anxious to recover his ground, made a considerable exertion, stood for one of Erasmus Smith's exhibitions, for which, though then producing only thirty shillings a-year, there were numerous competitors, and acquitted himself at the examination so well as to attain his object. Elated with this first and last of his academical distinctions, he invited a party of young people of both sexes to a supper and dance in his chambers. Mr. Wilder, astounded with the noise of the unlawful fiddle, entered the room, expostulated warmly with Goldsmith, and probably receiving an intemperate answer, struck him. Upon his sensitive spirit this unwarrantable violence produced a violent effect. After brooding all night over his disgrace, he sold off his books and quitted the university, resolving to embark for America, and never revisit Ireland until he had made a character and fortune for himself in another region. He loitered about Dublin, however, until he had just one shilling left, and then set out for Cork. On this shilling he supported himself, by his own account, for three days, and then, having sold most of his raiment, was reduced to such extremity, that "after fasting twenty-four hours, he thought a handful of grey peas, given him by a girl at a wake, the most comfortable repast he had ever made." Fatigue and famine did what advice would probably have attempted in vain. Reaching the neighbourhood of his brother Henry, he sent him notice of his plight — was kindly received, re-clothed — and at length carried back to college, where his brother effected "a sort of reconciliation" between him and his tutor.
Of the rest of his college life there is nothing to be said, but that he seems to have resumed his old courses, and obtained in February, 1749, an undistinguished degree of B.A. One incident preserved by his relation and fellow-student, Edward Mills of Roscommon, may probably have lost nothing in the telling — it is, however, sufficiently in keeping with all that has been ascertained:
"Mills, possessing a handsome allowance at the university, occasionally furnished his relative with small supplies and frequently invited him to breakfast. On being summoned on one occasion to this repast, he declared from within to the messenger his inability to rise, and that to enable him to do so they must come to his assistance, by forcing open the door. This was accordingly done by Mills; who found his cousin not on his bed, but literally in it, having ripped part of the ticking and immersed himself in the feathers, from which situation, as alleged, he found difficulty in extricating himself, By his own account in explanation of this strange scene, after the merriment which it occasioned had subsided, it appeared that while strolling in the suburbs the preceding evening, he met a poor woman with five children, who told a pitiful story of her husband being in the hospital, and herself and offspring destitute of food, and of a place of shelter for the night; and that being from the country, they knew no person to whom under such circumstances they could apply with hope of relief. The appeal to one of his sensitive disposition was irresistible; but unfortunately he had no money. In this situation he brought her to the college gate, sent out his blankets to cover the wretched group, and part of his clothes in order to sell for their present subsistence; and finding himself cold during the might from want of the usual covering, had hit upon the expedient just related for supplying the place of his blankets." — Life, vol. i. pp. 95, 96.
This blind promptitude of generosity Oliver inherited with his blood, and it stuck to him while he breathed. There is no doubt that in his sketch of the "Man in Black" he depicted his own father.—
"His education was above his fortune, and his generosity greater than his education. Poor as he was, he had his flatterers still poorer than himself: for every dinner he gave them they returned him an equivalent in praise; and this was all he wanted. The same ambition that actuates a monarch at the head of his army influenced my father at the head of his table: he told the story of the ivy tree, and that was laughed at; he repeated the jest of the two scholars and one pair of breeches, and the company laughed at that; but the story of Taffy in the sedan-chair was sure to set the table in a roar. Thus his pleasure increased in proportion to the pleasure he gave; he loved all the world; and he fancied all the world loved him.... We were told that universal benevolence was what first cemented society; we were taught to consider all the wants of mankind as our own; to regard the human face divine with affection and esteem; he wound us up to be mere machines of pity, and rendered us incapable of withstanding the slightest impulse made either by real or fictitious distress. In a word, we were perfectly instructed in the art of giving away thousands, before we were taught the more necessary qualifications of getting a farthing." — Works, vol. ii. p. 103.
In conversing with three different branches of the Goldsmith race, in as many different quarters of Ireland, Mr. Prior tells us that from each he had the same story in nearly the same words — "The Goldsmiths were always a strange family: they rarely acted like other people; their hearts were always in the right place, but their heads seemed to be doing anything but what they ought."
When Oliver left college he was only twenty-one, and must wait a couple of years before he could comply with the wishes of his family, by applying for orders. In the meantime he took up his quarters in the humble cabin to which his mother had retired on his father's death, contributing to her means whatever pittance his brother Henry could afford to give him for occasionally assisting in his school. Mr. Prior has dug up some of the old lady's household bills, which afford evidence enough of the penury to which she had been reduced. One item is, "To half an ounce of green tea by Mr. Noll, threepence halfpenny!" For two years "Mr. Noll" lounged thus about his native district, during which he was considered by his relations to have added nothing to his accomplishments, except the attainment of great facility in speaking French. This he owed, no doubt, to his familiarity with some of the "foreign bred" Romish priests, and it was very serviceable to him in the sequel. Of his ecclesiastical studies we only know that when, at the proper age, he went to be examined for ordination, at the residence of Dr. Synge, then bishop of Elphin, he was rejected; that according to family tradition his reception there was not improved by his choosing to appear before the diocesan in a pair of scarlet breeches; and that he never afterwards made any attempt to retrieve this mishap. He probably, even at this early period, had some conscientious misgivings as to his own fitness for the church. In his later life, when asked to read prayers in a friend's house, he always declined to do so, on the plea that "he did not think himself good enough."
The law was now to be his destination — but the want of funds to maintain him at an inn of court presented a formidable difficulty. One year more was spent in idleness, and very much, as may easily be believed, in the enjoyment of such company as might be afforded by "George Conway's inn at Ballymahon," mentioned fondly in a letter of long subsequent date. Here being, as he says of his own Dr. Primrose, "by nature an admirer of happy human faces," he enjoyed the eccentricities and shared the merriment of peasants and beggars; not unconscious even then perhaps of the truth stated in one of his essays, that "in pursuing the humorous we are apt to be led into the recesses of the mean." He was long remembered, among other things, as the gainer of a prize for throwing the sledge-hammer at the fair of Ballymahon!
He next obtained the situation of tutor in the family of a Mr. Flinn, a country gentleman of his uncle Contarine's acquaintance. But the restraints of such a position soon disgusted him; and he took again to his old scheme of emigration. Mounted on a good horse, and with £30 of Squire Flinn's money in his pocket, he proceeded to Cork. At the end of six weeks he returned on a wretched Rosinante, styled by him Fiddle-back, and without a penny. His mother received him with some severity — he withdrew to his brother's, and thence addressed to her a letter, which is now first published, but which must have been before his sister Hudson when she drew up her memorandum for Malone. The letter is exquisite, but as his sister had given the substance of its contents, we shall not extract it.
According to Mrs. Hudson's statement, Mr. Contarine now presented him with £50, and he set forth for Dublin on his way to London, where he was to keep terms at the Temple; but an old acquaintance seduced him into a gaming-house — at one sitting he lost all his money, and returning once more to his mother, found her patience at last exhausted. His brother Henry once more sheltered him — but after a few weeks some new folly produced such remonstrances as Oliver could not brook. He left his brother's and repaired to his uncle Contarine, whose good nature and kindness nothing could ever disturb. Observing the sharpness with which his nephew, while fishing and shooting with him, noted such phenomena of natural history as they encountered, he suggested that medicine would suit his tastes better than law, and that, moreover, the education for that profession was less expensive. Oliver readily agreed. A little purse was made up among his relations, and in October, 1752, he appeared in Edinburgh, at the age of twenty-four, to be entered on the boards of that university as a student of medicine under the elder Monro.
He remained two winters in Scotland, but left it without taking a degree, and, according to his fellow-student there, Mr. Lauchlan Macleane, (one of the many authors of Junius,) his departure was hastened by the danger of being arrested for the debt of a companion, whose security he had become. According to the same testimony, he had led a very dissipated life in Edinburgh, constantly frequenting taverns, and not seldom the gaming table. Only one of his Scotch letters had until now been recovered; Mr. Prior gives some more, from which we find that he made a tour into the Highlands, and that he had by some means found an introduction to the noble family of Hamilton, with whose hospitality, however, his pride took offence. The society of an Irish medical student at Edinburgh is usually so remote from the circles of fashion that this circumstance may seem strange; but the Duke of Hamilton had just about this time married a celebrated Irish beauty, Miss Gunning, and her Grace had perhaps had some casual opportunity of appreciating her young countryman's humour. These Edinburgh letters are all to his uncle Contarine: we extract a few paragraphs:—
"Edinburgh, May 8, 1753.
Here, as recluse as the Turkish Spy at Paris, I am almost unknown to everybody, except some few who attend the professors of physic as I do. — Apropos, I shall give you their names, and, as far as occurs to me, their characters; and first, as most deserving, Mr. Monro, Professor of Anatomy: this man has brought the science he teaches to as much perfection as it is capable of; and not content with barely teaching anatomy, he launches out into all the branches of physic, when all his remarks are new and useful. 'Tis he, I may venture to say, that draws hither such a number of students from most parts of the world, even from Russia. He is not only a skilful physician, but an able orator, and delivers things in their nature obscure in so easy a manner, that the most unlearned may understand him.... You see, then, dear Sir, that Monro is the only great man among them; so that I intend to hear him another winter, and go then to hear Albinus, the great professor at Leyden. I read with satisfaction a science the most pleasing in nature, so that my labours are but a relaxation, and, I may truly say, the only thing here that gives me pleasure. How I enjoy the pleasing hope of returning with skill, and to find my friends stand in no need of my assistance! I have been a month in the Highlands. I set out the first day on foot, but an ill-natured corn I have got on my toe has for the future prevented that cheap method of travelling; so the second day I hired a horse, of about the size of a ram, and he walked away (trot he could not) as pensive as his master. In three days we reached the Highlands; but this letter would be too long if it contained the description I intend giving of that country." — Life, vol. i. p. 145.
"Edinburgh, Dec. 1753.
Since I am upon so pleasing a topic as self-applause, give me leave to say that the circle of science which I have run through, before I undertook the study of physic, is not only useful, but absolutely necessary to the making a skilful physician. Such sciences enlarge our understanding and sharpen our sagacity; and what is a practitioner without both but an empiric? for never yet was a disorder found entirely the same in two patients. A quack, unable to distinguish the particularities in each disease, prescribes at a venture: if he finds such a disorder may be called by the general name of fever for instance, he has a set of remedies which he applies to cure it, nor does he desist till his medicines are run out, or his patient has lost his life. But the skilful physician distinguishes the symptoms, manures the sterility of nature, or prunes her luxuriance; nor does he depend so much on the efficacy of medicines as on their proper application. I shall spend this spring and summer in Paris, and the beginning of next winter go to Leyden. The great Albinus is still alive there, and 'twill be proper to go, though only to have it said that we have studied in so famous a university.
"As I shall not have another opportunity of receiving money from your bounty till my return to Ireland, so I have drawn for the last sum that I hope I shall ever trouble you for; 'tis £20. And now, dear Sir, let me here acknowledge the humility of the station in which you found me; let me tell how I was despised by most, and hateful to myself. Poverty, hopeless poverty, was my lot, and Melancholy was beginning to make me her own. When you — but I stop.
"I have spent more than a fortnight every second day at the Duke of Hamilton's, but it seems they like me more as a jester than as a companion; so I disdained so servile an employment; 'twas unworthy my calling as a physician." — ibid. p. 151.
Goldsmith, by his own account in a subsequent letter, embarked at Leith for Bourdeaux, with the intention of beginning his continental studies, not at Leyden, as he had originally designed, but at the then celebrated school of Montpellier; but being forced by stress of weather into the Tyne, he was arrested at Newcastle, on suspicion of belonging, like most of his fellow-passengers, to a party of Highland Jacobites, recruited for the military service of the French King. His friend Macleane said this was a romance — that he was in fact arrested at Sunderland, on the suit of an Edinburgh tailor, one Barclay, who chanced to hear of the vessel putting into the Tyne — and that he was ultimately set at liberty by the benefaction of himself and another college friend, Mr. Sleigh. However this may have been, (and we incline to adopt Macleane's version,) Goldsmith had shortly afterwards found his way to his original destination, Leyden. Of the letter in which (May, 1754) he communicated his arrival there to his uncle, Malone gave the first biographer only the romantic paragraph; Mr. Prior prints it entire, and we subjoin a specimen of the part that is new:—
"The modern Dutchman is quite a different creature from him of former times; he in everything imitates a Frenchman, but in his easy disengaged air, which is the result of keeping polite company. The Dutchman is vastly ceremonious, and is perhaps what a Frenchman might have been in the reign of Louis XIV. Such are the better bred. But the downright Hollander is one of the oddest figures in nature: upon a head of lank hair he wears a half-cocked narrow hat, laced with black ribbon; no coat, but seven waistcoats, and nine pairs of breeches; so that his hips reach almost up to his arm-pits. This well-clothed vegetable is now fit to see company, or to make love. But what a pleasing creature is the object of his appetite! Why, she wears a large fur cap with a deal of Flanders lace; and for every pair of breeches he carries, she puts on two petticoats.
"A Dutch lady burns nothing about her phlegmatic admirer but his tobacco. You must know, sir, every woman carries in her hand a stove with coals in it, which, when she sits, she snugs under her petticoats; and at this chimney dozing Strephon lights his pipe. I take it that this continual smoking is what gives the man the ruddy, healthful complexion he generally wears, by draining his superfluous moisture, while the woman, deprived of this amusement, overflows with such viscidities as tint the complexion, and give that paleness of visage which low fenny grounds and moist air conspire to cause. A Dutch woman and Scotch will well bear an opposition. The one is pale and fat, the other lean and ruddy: the one walks as if she were straddling after a go-cart, and the other takes too masculine a stride. Their ordinary manner of travelling is very cheap and very convenient: they sail in covered boats drawn by horses; and in these you are sure to meet people of all nations. Here the Dutch slumber, the French chatter, and the English play at cards. For my part, I generally detach myself from all society, and am wholly taken up in observing the face of the country. Nothing can equal its beauty: wherever I turn my eyes, fine houses, elegant gardens, statues, grottoes, vistas, present I themselves; but when you enter their towns, you are charmed beyond description. No misery is to he seen here: every one is usefully employed.
"Scotland and this country bear the highest contrast. There, hills and rocks intercept every prospect; here, 'tis all a continued plain. There, you might see a well-dressed duchess issuing from a dirty close; and here, a dirty Dutchman inhabiting a palace. The Scotch may be compared to a tulip planted in dung; but I never see a Dutchman in his own house, but I think of a magnificent Egyptian temple dedicated to an ox." — ibid. p. 164.
Goldsmith remained nearly a year at Leyden, but left that university also without taking any degree. We have but few anecdotes of his stay there. In one of his essays he tells us that when talking one day with Gaubius about the diminished number of English students, the Doctor asked whether the Edinburgh professors were rich? "Their salaries," said Goldsmith, "seldom exceed £30; all the rest depends on the number of scholars they can attract to pay them fees." "Poor men," said Gaubius; "I heartily wish they were better provided for: while their salaries remain at this rate, they will continue to draw all the English to their lectures." Some other particulars were supplied to Mr. Prior by the late Matthew Weld Hartstonge, of Dublin: — that well-known and amiable enthusiast about literary matters had noted them down from the conversation of Dr. Ellis, one of Goldsmith's Leyden fellow-students, who ultimately became cleric to the Irish House of Commons, and died in 1791. According to Dr. Ellis—
"He was often in great pecuniary distress, and obliged to borrow small sums from anybody that could help him; occasionally he gained a little by giving lessons in English; and sometimes hue resorted to play, the forlorn hope of the necessitous, as well as the amusement of the idle. Such poverty and such habits interfered but little, however, with his good-humour; he was usually gay and cheerful, and when taxed with imprudence for risking such small sums as he possessed, admitted the fact and promised amendment. In all his peculiarities it was remarked that there was about him an elevation of mind, a philosophical tone and manner, which, added to the information of a scholar, made him an object of interest to such as could estimate character."
Having had a successful run at play one night, Goldsmith called next morning on Ellis, and counted out a considerable sum, which he said would now enable him to travel over the continent in comfort. Ellis congratulated him, and advised him to keep it untouched for the purpose he had in view; but Goldsmith, the same evening, was seduced to the old haunt and lost every guilder. Seeing his penitence and distress, Ellis advanced him something on condition that he should immediately set off, and thus break from his dangerous associates. Goldsmith agreed; but walking into a florist's garden, remembered his uncle Contarine's love of tulips, and purchased on the spot a parcel of roots to be sent to him in Ireland, which "effort of affectionate gratitude," as Mr. Prior calls it, again reduced him so low that he ultimately quitted Leyden "with scarcely any money and but one clean shirt."
These travels, in the course of which Goldsmith is supposed to have taken the degree of bachelor in medicine at Louvain, carried him through a considerable part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and as far as Padua in Italy; and how well he observed nature, both animate and inanimate, in spite of all the disadvantages and distresses to which his progress must have been exposed, we have ample evidence in his beautiful poem of the Traveller, and in various detached passages of his works on Natural History, which Mr. Prior has brought together with considerable skill. Of the letters which he is known to have addressed to his Irish friends during this wandering year Mr. Prior has recovered nothing. We know that he travelled almost always on foot, mainly depended, everywhere but in Italy, on the supplies by which the grateful peasants repaid his flute, and in Italy gained something by maintaining a thesis at a university, but more from the kindness of Irish priests and monks: it seems also to be certain that for a time he acted as tutor to a wealthy young Englishman; he never stated the fact distinctly, but if it had not been so, we should be quite at a loss to understand by what means he could have found access to such distinguished society as he represents himself to have occasionally mixed in while at Paris. In one of his essays, for example, he mentions having dined with Voltaire one day "in a large company at his house at Monrion," when he observed that "the English exhibited prodigies of valour at Dettingen, but soon lessened their well-bought conquest by lessening the merit of those they had conquered;" and again, in his sketch of Voltaire's Life he says:—
"As a companion no man ever exceeded him when he pleased to lead the conversation; which, however, was not always the case. In company which he either disliked or despised, few could be more reserved than he; but when he was warmed in discourse, and had got over a hesitating manner which sometimes he was subject to, it was rapture to hear him. His meagre visage seemed insensibly to gather beauty, every muscle in it had meaning, and his eye beamed with unusual brightness.
"The person who writes this memoir, who had the honour and the pleasure of being his acquaintance, remembers to have seen him in a select company of wits of both sexes at Paris, when the subject happened to turn upon English taste and learning. Fontenelle, who was of the party, and who was unacquainted with the language or authors of the country he undertook to condemn, with a spirit truly vulgar began to revile both. Diderot, who liked the English, and knew something of their literary pretensions, attempted to vindicate their poetry and learning, but with unequal abilities. The company quickly perceived that Fontenelle was superior in the dispute, and were surprised at the silence which Voltaire had preserved all the former part of the night, particularly as the conversation turned upon one of his favourite topics.
"Fontenelle continued his triumph till about twelve o'clock, when Voltaire appeared at last roused from his reverie. His whole frame seemed animated. He began his defence with the utmost elegance, mixed with spirit, and now and then let fall the finest strokes of raillery upon his antagonist; and his harangue lasted till three in the morning. I must confess that, whether from national partiality or from the elegant sensibility of his manner, I never was so much charmed, nor did I ever remember so absolute a victory as he gained in this dispute." — Works, vol. iii. p. 224.
From Switzerland Goldsmith sent his brother Henry the first sketch of his "Traveller," about eighty lines; and he also sent to a friend in Dublin a detailed journal of his excursion, which struck several who read it as a most remarkable performance, but which perished soon after in a fire. He seems to have landed at Dover in a thoroughly forlorn condition on the 1st of February, 1756, and a week later is found wandering about the streets of London, soliciting employment of any kind among the druggists. Ten years afterwards Goldsmith astonished a brilliant company at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, by beginning a story with "When I lived among the beggars of Axe Lane —:" it was most probably to this painful period that he referred. An obscure chemist at last took compassion on him; and the author of the "Traveller" — anno aetatis 28 — was too happy to earn his bread by spreading plasters and pounding in his mortar. The late excellent Richard Sharp, of Park Lane, remembered being carried in his early life by a friend of Goldsmith's (then recently dead) to see the shop, which was at the corner of Bell-yard, near the Monument.
Several months had passed in this way, when, hearing accidentally that his Edinburgh fellow-student, Sleigh, was in London, he went to call on him; and he afterwards told the story in these words to his friend Mr. Cooke: "Notwithstanding it was Sunday, and I had on my best clothes, Sleigh scarcely knew me; such is the tax the unfortunate pay to poverty. However, when he did recollect me, I found his heart as warm as ever, and he shared his purse with me so long as he remained in London." By this gentleman's assistance, Goldsmith was enabled to set up as a physician, somewhere on the Bankside, in Southwark; and one of his Trinity chums already named, the Rev. Mr. Beatty, being in town soon after, met him in the street, "in a suit of green velvet and gold, but with a shirt and neckcloth which he must have worn for a fortnight," when, however, he seemed in excellent spirits, and said he was now practising his profession, and "doing very well." Mr. Prior quotes a lady still living for a story that Sir Joshua Reynolds used to tell of this period. The green velvet coat had been bought second-hand; he discovered presently an unseemly patch, and one of his patients was highly amused when, after several visits, he discovered why the doctor always placed his hat over his left breast while delivering his opinion.
We should think his patients were not likely to be critical as to such matters. One of them, and probably the most useful he had, was a journeyman-printer, in the employment of the author of "Clarissa," and by this man's means he was introduced to Richardson, who, finding that the ill-paid doctor was a scholar, suggested that he might fill up his vacant hours by acting as reader, or last corrector of proof-sheets, in his office. Many good scholars are still found employed in this manner, and more fortunate men of letters must confess their frequent obligations to the intelligence with which such persons discharge their functions.
With Goldsmith's just estimation of himself, however, the employment must have been sufficiently irksome; and it is not surprising that he should have soon abandoned both it and his medical practice even for a situation so humble as that of usher to a school at Peckham, in Surrey. He met in the streets another of his old Edinburgh acquaintance, by name Milner, whose father was at the head of this establishment, and his young friend, discovering the state of the Bankside physician's affairs, easily persuaded lam to go down with him in this capacity. The elder Milner and his wife were kind people, and did what they could to make him comfortable beneath their roof. Mrs. Milner seems to have speedily penetrated his weaker point, for she proposed to take care of his money for him, and he answered placidly, "Indeed, Madam, I have as much need that you should do so as any of the young gentlemen." The trickery of the said young gentlemen, however, with the dulness of his drudgery by day, and last, not least, the misery of being obliged to sleep on the same pillow with "a Frenchman, who stunk him dead with rancid pomatums," presently completed his disgust. He returned to town, made another medical attempt and again failed, and then went back once more to Peckham, where the Milners again found or made room for him. In this way passed another miserable and uncertain year. In the Vicar of Wakefield, and others of his subsequent works, we have many sad and some bitter allusions to the pains of usherdom.
From Mr. Prior's chapter on Peckham we must take a couple of anecdotes:—
"One of the pupils particularly noticed by him for possessing promising talents, and who ever after felt a strong regard for his tutor, was the late Samuel Bishop, Esq., of London, in whose family a few traditional notices of his peculiarities are still remembered. Always sociable and ready to join in whatever was going forward, his good-nature led him to mingle in the sports of the boys, and submit to their wit or even their reproof for occasional want of dexterity. In such a rude community, however, familiarity has its disadvantages, by the opening it affords to youthful insubordination or impertinence, an instance of which is recorded. When amusing his younger companions during play-hours with the flute, and expatiating on the pleasures derived from music, in addition to its advantages in society as a gentlemanlike acquirement, a pert boy, looking at his situation and personal disadvantages with something of contempt, rudely replied to the effect that he surely could not consider himself a gentleman; an offence which, though followed by instant chastisement, disconcerted and pained him extremely.
"Of that simplicity or absence of mind so well known as one of his characteristics, Mr. Bishop mentioned an amusing instance when they met several years afterwards in the streets of London; for which and the preceding anecdote the writer is indebted to his son, the Rev. H. Bishop, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Dublin:—
"'After an interval of some years, my father, while walking in London with my mother, to whom he was just married, met Goldsmith, and addressing him, an immediate recognition took place. The tutor was delighted to see his former pupil, and expressed great pleasure at the introduction to his wife. Still the associations in his mind of their former school connexion were too strong to be overcome. 'Come, my boy,' said he, addressing my father by his Christian name, I am delighted to see you; I must treat you to something; what shall it be? will you have some apples?' and immediately turned to the display of fruit furnished by a basket-woman who stood near.
"'In the course of conversation, he mentioned his picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which had been recently engraved; and immediately added, 'Have you seen it, Sam? Have you got an engraving?' My father, not to appear negligent of the rising fame of his old preceptor, replied that he had not yet procured it; he was just furnishing his house, but had fixed upon the spot the print was to occupy as soon as he was ready to receive it. 'Sam,' he said, with some emotion, 'if your picture had been published, I should not have suffered an hour to elapse without procuring it.' After some further conversation, the sense of this seeming neglect was appeased by apologies.'" — Life, vol. i. p. 218.
The elder Milner was a dissenter, and an occasional contributor to the Monthly Review, then conducted by its projector and proprietor, the bookseller Griffiths. One day Griffiths dined at Peckham, and Goldsmith's conversation made such an impression on him, that he asked hum to try his hand on an article. Goldsmith did so — and Griffiths invited him to come to London, and assist him regularly in his Review, boarding and lodging in his house, and receiving moreover a certain sum by way of salary. The agreement, dated in April, 1757, was for a year; but they parted by mutual consent at the end of half that period. Goldsmith complained that his articles were twisted about and interpolated, not only by the illiterate bookseller himself, but by his still more ignorant and presumptuous wife; and they on their part alleged, that though by his own account he wrote every day from nine till two, and often all the evening besides, he did not produce the stipulated quantity of MS. in the month. Mr. Prior, however, having made prize of Griffiths' own copy of his journal, in which the names of the different authors are regularly inscribed, has now been able to father on Goldsmith various short essays, well deserving a place in his works; they embrace a wide range of subjects, are written uniformly in a candid and generous strain — and, if he did not as yet compose with rapidity, he had mastered the art of concealing his labour. With elegant little papers of the same description he continued from time to time to supply Griffiths after the close of their original paction; but Goldsmith, having no longer his board and lodging provided for, soon fell into straits again; asking petty sums in advance, he was presently in the bookseller's power, and subjected consequently to a long series of humiliating mortifications and perplexing embarrassments — Mr. Prior's detail of which may furnish the materials of another melancholy chapter to the next edition of The Calamities and Quarrels of Authors.
By contributions to the Monthly Review and six different magazines (all long since extinct), Goldsmith supported for some mouths this uneasy existence; but ambition was not deadened by his poverty, and he stole time enough to prepare a separate work, by which he hoped to raise a name, and emancipate himself in some measure at least from his bondage. This was the "Enquiry into the State of Polite Literature in Europe;" having finished part of it, he carried the MS. to the benevolent Robert Dodsley, who encouraged him to go on, agreed to publish the book, and advanced him various small sums on account of it. Still his distress was great and urgent; and the letters in which he communicated his views to Irish friends, whom he thought capable of assisting him in procuring subscribers, paint his feelings and struggles in a manner so interesting, that we cannot but extract two or three specimens of them. The first is addressed to the husband of his eldest sister; — but we must explain its allusion to his younger brother, Charles Goldsmith. The poet, when first established under the roof of Griffiths, where he met of course some literary men of established name, appears to have written of his new position in terms of such elation that this young man conceived his literary brother was now not only beyond the reach of difficulties, but able, if he chose, to make the fortune of another. He came over to London to be patronized, he cared not exactly how, by some of Oliver's "great friends," and found this friend of the great scribbling for bread in a garret.
"Dec. 27, 1757. — You may easily imagine what difficulties I have had to encounter, left as I was without friends, recommendations, money, or impudence; and that in a country where being born an Irishman was sufficient to keep me unemployed. Many in such circumstances would have had recourse to the friar's cord, or the suicide's halter. But with all my follies I had principle to resist the one, and resolution to combat the other.
"I suppose you desire to know my present situation. As there is nothing in it at which I should blush, or which mankind could censure, I see no reason for making it a secret. In short, by a very little practice as a physician, and a very little reputation as a poet, I make a shift to live. Nothing is more apt to introduce its to the gates of the Muses than poverty; but it were well if they only left its at the door. The mischief is, they sometimes choose to give us their company at the entertainment; and Want, instead of being gentleman-usher, often turns master of the ceremonies.
"Thus, upon learning I write, no doubt you imagine I starve; and the name of an author naturally reminds you of a garret. In this particular I do not think proper to undeceive my friends; but whether I eat or starve, live in a first floor or four pair of stairs high, I still remember them with ardour; nay, my very country comes in for a share of my affection. Unaccountable fondness for country, this 'maladie du pais,' as the French call it! Unaccountable that he should still have an affection for a place who never, when in it, received above common civility; who never brought any thing out of it except his brogue and his blunders. Surely my affection is equally ridiculous with the Scotchman's, who refused to be cured of the itch, because it made him unco' thoughtful of his wife and bonny Inverary.
"But now to be serious, — let me ask myself what gives me a wish to see Ireland again? The country is a fine one, perhaps? no. There are good company in Ireland? no. The conversation there is generally made up of a toast or a song; the vivacity supported by some humble, cousin, who has just folly enough to earn his dinner. Then perhaps there's more wit and learning among the Irish? Oh, Lord, no! There has been more money spent in the encouragement of the Padareen mare there one season, than given in rewards to learned men since the times of Usher. All their productions in learning amount to perhaps a translation, or a few tracts in divinity; and all their productions in wit to just nothing at all. Why the plague, then, so fond of Ireland? Then, all at once, because you, my dear friend, and a few more who are exceptions to the general picture, have a residence there. Thus it is that gives me all the pangs I feel in separation. I confess I carry this spirit sometimes to the souring the pleasures I at present possess. If I go to the Opera where Signora Coluniba pours out all the mazes of melody, I sit and sigh for Lishoy fireside, and Johnny Armstrong's 'Last Good Night,' from Peggy Golden. If I climb Hampstead Hill, than where nature never exhibited a more magnificent prospect, I confess it fine; but then I had rather be placed on the little mount before Lishoy gate, and there take in — to me — the most pleasing horizon in nature.
"Before Charles came hither, my mind sometimes found refuge from severer thoughts among my friends in Ireland. I fancied strange revolutions at home; but I find it was the rapidity of my own motion that gave an imaginary one to objects really at rest. No alterations there. Some friends, he tells me, are still lean, but very rich; others very fat, but still very poor. Nay, all the news I hear of you is, that you sally out in visits among the neighbours, and sometimes make a migration from the blue bed to the brown. I could from my heart wish that Lishoy and Ballymahon, and all of you, would fairly make a migration into Middlesex." — Life, vol. i. p. 251.
A year later he thus writes to Mrs. Lawder, the daughter of his uncle Contarine:—
"I was, madam, when I discontinued writing to Kilmore, in such circumstances, that all my endeavours to continue your regards might be attributed to wrong motives. My letters might be looked upon, as the petitions of a beggar, and not the offerings of a friend; while all my professions, instead of being considered as the result of disinterested esteem, might be ascribed to venal insincerity. I believe indeed you had too much generosity to place them in such a light, but I could not bear even the shadow of such a suspicion. The most delicate friendships are always most sensible of the slightest invasion, and the strongest jealousy is ever attendant on the warmest regard. I could not — I own I could not — continue a correspondence; for every acknowledgment for past favours might be considered as an indirect request for future ones, and where it might be thought I gave my heart from a motive of gratitude alone, when I was conscious of having bestowed it on much more disinterested principles. It is true, this conduct might have been simple enough, but yourself must confess it was in character. Those who know me at all know that I have always been actuated by different principles from the rest of mankind, and while none regarded the interest of his friend more, no man on earth regarded his own less — for all which no soul cares a farthing about me. Is it to he wondered, that he should once in his life forget you, who has been all his life forgetting himself?
"However, it is probable you may one of those days see me turned into a perfect hunks, and as dark and intricate as a mouse-hole. I have already given my landlady orders for an entire reform in the state of my finances. I declaim against hot suppers, drink less sugar in my tea, and cheek my grate with brick-bats. Instead of hanging my room with pictures, I intend to adorn it with maxims of frugality. Those will make pretty furniture enough, and won't be a bit too expensive; for I shall draw them all out with my own hands, and my landlady's daughter shall frame them with the parings of my black waistcoat. Each maxim is to be inscribed on a sheet of clean paper, and wrote with my best pen; of which the following will serve as a specimen: — 'Look sharp;' 'Mind the main chance;' 'Money is money now;' 'If you have a thousand pounds you can put your hands by your sides, and say you are worth a thousand pounds every day of the year;' 'Take a farthing from a hundred, and it will be a hundred no longer.' — Faith! Madam, I heartily wish to be rich, if it were only for this reason, to say 'without a blush how much I esteem you; but, alas! I have many a fatigue to encounter before that happy time comes, when your poor old simple friend may again give a loose to the luxuriance of his nature, sitting by Kilmore fireside, recount the various adventures of a hard-fought life, laugh over the follies of the day, join his flute to your harpsichord, and forget that ever he starved in those streets where Butler and Otway starved before him.
"And now I mention those great names — My uncle! — he is no more that soul of fire as when once I knew him. Newton and Swift grew dim with age as well as he. But what shall I say? — his mind was too active an inhabitant not to disorder the feeble mansion of its abode; for the richest jewels soonest wear their settings. Yet who but the fool would lament his condition! He now forgets the calamities of life. Perhaps indulgent heaven has given him a foretaste of that tranquillity here, which he so well deserves hereafter.
"But I must come to business; for business, as one of my maxims tells me, must he minded or lost. I am going to publish a book entitled 'The Present State of Taste and Literature in Europe.' The booksellers in Ireland republish every performance without making the author any consideration. I would, in this respect, disappoint their avarice, and have all the profits of my labour to myself. I must therefore request Mr. Lawder to circulate among his friends and acquaintances a hundred of my proposals, which I have given Mr. Bradley in Dame Street directions to send to him. — Now see how I blot and blunder, when I am asking a favour. — Life, vol. i. p. 272.
We must quote also part of a letter of about the same date to his cousin, Mr. Bryanton, of Ballymahon.
"I sate down with an intention to chide, and yet methinks I have forgot my resentment already. The truth is, I am a simpleton with regard to you; I may attempt to bluster, but like Anacreon, my heart is respondent only to softer affections. And yet now I think on't again, I will be angry. Do you know whom you have offended? A man whose character may one of these days he mentioned with profound respect in a German comment or Dutch dictionary; whose name you will probably hear ushered in by a Doctissimus Doctissimorum, or heel-pieced with a long Latin termination. Think how Goldsmithius, or Gubblegurchius, or some such sound, as rough as a nutmeg-grater, will become me! Think of that! I must own my ill-natured cotemporaries have not hitherto paid me those honours I have had such just reason to expect. I have not yet seen my face reflected in all the lively display of red and white paints on any sign-posts in the suburbs. Your handkerchief-weavers seem as yet unacquainted with my merits or physiognomy, and the very snuff-box makers appear to have forgot their respect. Tell them all from me, they are a set of Gothic, barbarous, ignorant scoundrels. There will come a day, no doubt it will — I beg you may live a couple of hundred years longer only to see the day — when the Scaligers and Daciers will vindicate my character, give learned editions of my labours, and bless the times with copious comments on the text. You shall see how they will fish up the heavy scoundrels who disregard me now, or will then offer to cavil at my productions. How will they bewail the times that suffered so much genius to lie neglected! If ever my works find their way to Tartary or China, I know the consequence — Let me, then, stop nay fancy to take a view of my future self; and, as the boys say, light down to see myself on horseback. Well, now I am down, where the d—l is I? Oh, Gods! Gods! here in a garret writing for bread, and expecting to he dunned for a milk-score! However, dear Bob, whether in penury or affluence, serious or gay, I am ever wholly thine,
London, Temple Exchange Coffee-house,
Temple Bar, August 14, 1758.
"Give my — no, not compliments neither, but something the most warm and sincere wish that you can conceive, to your mother, Mrs. Bryanton, to Miss Bryanton, to yourself; and if there be a favourite dog in the family, let me be remembered to it." — Ibid. p. 266.
When the Enquiry was in progress his most intimate companion was Grainger, author of the "Sugar-Cane," then struggling like himself; by whom he was introduced to Smollett — who at this time edited the "Critical Review," the rival of the "Monthly." Smollett enlisted Goldsmith in his troop, but strongly concurred with Milner, in advising him to turn his views to obtain some professional appointment in the army, the navy, or the colonies. Goldsmith applied to some of his Trinity friends who were now prosperously established in life, and he at length obtained a nomination in the East India Company's service. In writing, on this occasion, to request some pecuniary assistance from his brother-in-law, Hudson, he says—
"I am certainly wrong not to be contented with what I already possess, trifling as it is; for should I ask myself one serious question — What is it I want? — what can I answer? My desires are as capricious as the big-bellied woman's, who longed for a piece of her husband's nose. I have no certainty, it is true; but why cannot I do as some men of more merit, who have lived on more precarious terms? Scarron used jestingly to call himself the Marquis of Quenault, which was the name of the bookseller who employed him; and why may not I assert my privilege and quality on the same pretensions?
"Yet, upon deliberation, whatever airs I give myself on this side of the water, my dignity, I fancy, would be evaporated before I reached the other. I know you have in Ireland a very indifferent idea of a man who writes for bread, though Swift and Steele did so in the earliest part of their lives. You imagine, I suppose, that every author by profession lives in a garret, wears shabby clothes, and converses with the meanest company. Yet I do not believe there is one single writer who has abilities to translate a French novel that does not keep better company, wear finer clothes, and live more genteelly, than many who pride themselves for nothing else in Ireland. I confess it again, my dear Dan, that nothing but the wildest ambition could prevail on me to leave the enjoyment of the refined conversation which I am sometimes admitted to partake in, for uncertain fortune and paltry show. You cannot conceive how I am sometimes divided: to leave all that is dear to me gives me pain; but when I consider I may possibly acquire a genteel independence for life; when I think of that dignity which philosophy claims, to raise itself above contempt and ridicule; when I think thus, I eagerly long to embrace every opportunity of separating myself from the vulgar as much in my circumstances, as I am already in my sentiments.
"I know not how my desire of seeing Ireland, which had so long slept, has again revived with so much ardour. So weak is my temper and so unsteady, that I am frequently tempted, particularly when low-spirited, to return home and leave my fortune, though just beginning to look kinder. But it shall not be. In five or six years I expect to indulge these transports. 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 them." — Life, vol. i. p. 278.
What answer Mr. Hudson made to this application we know not — but when the day of the preliminary examination approached, it found Goldsmith much at a loss how to put his outward man in ease fit to appear at Surgeons' Hall. He applied to Griffiths, their connexion still lingering on, and the bookseller agreed to be his security for the loan of a suit of clothes, to be returned the day after. In these borrowed garments poor Goldsmith underwent the ordeal; but he had, we fear, neglected more important preparations for it. The following is an extract from the books of the college:—
"At a Court of Examiners held at the Theatre, 21st Dec. 1758 — James Barnard, mate to an hospital. Oliver Goldsmith, found not qualified for ditto."
This rejection brought with it other miseries. In his confusion and distress he appears to have been driven to pawn the clothes which he ought to have returned, and Griffiths, who had probably heard, in the meanwhile, of his alliance with Smollett, was not to be pacified by four articles for the "Monthly" which the unfortunate debtor immediately sent to him. He took and printed the papers, but threatened instant arrest unless the whole debt were discharged within a given number of days, and demanded back on the instant some books of his lent to Goldsmith, which also he suspected him of having carried to the pawnbroker. Of several letters which passed between the parties on this occasion, Mr. Prior has recovered one which bears no date of time or residence, but is endorsed by Griffiths, "Received in January, 1759." This touching document is as follows:—
"Sir, — I know of no misery but a gaol to which my own imprudences and your letter seem to point. I have seen it inevitable these three or four weeks, and, by heavens! request it as a favour — as a favour that may prevent somewhat more fatal. I have been some years struggling with a wretched being — with all that contempt that indigence brings with it — with all those strong passions which make contempt insupportable. What, then, has a gaol that is formidable? I shall at least have the society of wretches, and such is, to me, true society. I tell you again and again, I am now neither able nor willing to pay you a farthing, but I will be punctual to any appointment you or the tailor shall make; thus far, at least, I do not act the sharper, since, unable to pay my debts one way, I would willingly give some security another. No, Sir, had I been a sharper, had I been possessed of less good nature and native generosity, I might surely now have been in better circumstances.
"I am guilty, I own, of meannesses which poverty unavoidably brings with it: my reflections are filled with repentance for my imprudence, but not with any remorse for being a villain.; that may be a character you unjustly charge me with. Your books, I can assure you, are neither pawned nor sold, but in the custody of a friend from whom my necessities obliged me to borrow some money whatever becomes of my person, you shall have them in a month. It is very possible both the reports you have heard and your own suggestions may have brought you false information with respect to my character; it is very possible that the man whom you now regard with detestation may inwardly burn with grateful resentment. It is very possible that, upon a second perusal of the letter I sent you, you may see the workings of a mind strongly agitated with gratitude and jealousy. If such circumstances should appear, at least spare invective till my book with Mr. Dodsley shall be published, and then, perhaps, you may see the bright side of a mind, when my professions shall not appear the dictates of necessity, but of choice.
"You seem to think Dr. Milner knew me not. Perhaps so; but he was a man I shall ever honour; but I have friendships only with the dead! I ask pardon for taking up so much time; nor shall I add to it by any other professions than that I am,
Sir, your humble servant,
"P.S. I shall expect impatiently the result of your resolutions." — Ibid. p. 286-288.
The matter was in so far made up with Griffiths, by Goldsmith's executing for him the short but elegant Life of Voltaire, which was published anonymously in February, 1759; and is now at length placed where it ought to he, in the collection of his works. But the "Monthly Review" soon began, and long continued, to insinuate bitter things against Goldsmith's moral character, and he had abundant leisure to lament "the meannesses which poverty unavoidably brings with it."
From a long and most characteristic letter written at this time to his brother Henry, we extract a few paragraphs. It is dated in February, 1759; but he either had not entirely given up his East India scheme, or wanted courage to confess under what circumstances it had been dropped.
"I have met with no disappointment with respect to my East India voyage, nor are my resolutions altered; though at the same time, I must confess, it gives me some pain to think I am almost beginning the world at the age of thirty-one. Though I never had a day's sickness since I saw you, yet I am not that strong active man you once knew me. You scarcely can conceive how much eight years of disappointment, anguish, and study, have worn me down. If I remember right, you are seven or eight years older than me, yet I dare venture to say that if a stranger saw us both, he would pay me the honours of seniority. Imagine to yourself a pale melancholy visage, with two great wrinkles between the eyebrows, with an eye disgustingly severe, and a big wig; and you may have a perfect picture of my present appearance. On the other hand, I conceive you as perfectly sleek and healthy, passing many a happy day among your own children, or those who knew you a child.
"Since I knew what it was to be a man, this is a pleasure I have not known. I have passed my days among a parcel of cool designing beings, and have contracted all their suspicious manner in my civil behaviour. I should actually be as unfit for the society of my friends at home, as I detest that which I am obliged to partake of here. I can now neither partake of the pleasure of a revel, nor contribute to raise its jollity. I can neither laugh nor drink; have contracted a hesitating, disagreeable manner of speaking, and a visage that looks ill-nature itself; in short, I have thought myself into a settled melancholy, and an utter disgust of all that life brings with it. Whence this romantic turn that all our family are possessed with? Whence this love for every place and every country but that in which we reside — for every occupation but our own? — this desire of fortune, and yet this eagerness to dissipate?
"The reasons you have given me for breeding up your son a scholar, are judicious and convincing; I should, however, be glad to know for what particular profession he is designed. If he be assiduous, and divested of strong passions (for passions in youth always lead to pleasure), he may do very well in your college; for it must be owned, that the industrious poor have good encouragement there, perhaps better than in any other in Europe. But if he has ambition, strong passions, and an exquisite sensibility of contempt, do not send him there, unless you have no other trade for him but your own.
"Above all things let him never touch a romance or novel: these paint beauty in colours more charming than nature, and describe happiness that man never tastes. How delusive, how destructive are those pictures of consummate bliss! They teach the youthful mind to sigh after beauty and happiness which never existed; to despise the little good which fortune has mixed in our cup, by expecting more than she ever gave; and in general, take the word of a man who has seen the world, and has studied human nature more by experience than precept — take my word for it, I say, that books teach us very little of the world. The greatest merit in a state of poverty would only serve to make the possessor ridiculous — may distress but cannot relieve hint Frugality, and even avarice, in the lower orders of mankind, are true ambition. These afford the only ladder for the poor to rise to preferment. Teach then, my dear Sir, to your son, thrift and economy. Let his poor wandering uncle's example be placed before his eyes.
"My mother, I am informed, is almost blind; even though I had the utmost inclination to return home, under such circumstances I could not, for to behold her in distress without a capacity of relieving her from it would add too much to my splenetic habit. Your last letter was much too short; it should have answered some queries I had made in my former. Just sit down as I do, and write forward until you have filled all your paper. It requires no thought, at least from the ease with which my own sentiments rise when they are addressed to you. For, believe me, my head has no share in all I write; my heart dictates the whole. Pray, give my love to Bob Bryanton, and entreat him from me not to drink. My dear Sir, give me some account about pout Jenny. Yet her husband loves her; if so, she cannot be unhappy." — Ibid. p. 301.
About the date of this inimitable letter, he was introduced by Grainger to the Rev. Thomas Percy, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, who soon formed for him a lively affection, which lasted with their lives, but was at this period hardly better provided with worldly goods than himself. Many years afterwards the bishop thus described to Malone his first visit to Goldsmith at his lodgings in Green-Arbour Court, a little nest of poverty-stricken tenements, near the Old Bailey.
"The Doctor 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 courtesy, said, 'My mamma sends her compliments, and begs the favour of you to lend her a chamber-pot full of coals.'" — Life, vol. i. p. 325.
Mr. Prior has given some further particulars of Green-Arbour Court from a humbler source. Seeing a few years ago the first edition of Goldsmith's Essays (1765) in the window of a little shop on the Clapham Road, he entered into talk with a fresh old woman who attended at the counter.
"By her account she was a near relative of the woman who kept the house in Green-Arbour Court, and at the age of seven or eight years 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 gifts of one so eminent, the recollection became a 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. He was usually, as she heard when older and induced to inquire about him, shut up during the day, went out in the evenings, and preserved regular hours. His habits otherwise were sociable, and he had several visiters. 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. His benevolence, as usual, flowed freely, according to my informant, whenever he had anything to bestow, and even when he had not, the stream could not always be checked in its current; an instance of which tells highly to his honour. The landlord of the house having fallen into difficulties, was at length arrested; and Goldsmith, who owed a small sum 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. It would be a singular though not an improbable coincidence, if this story, repeated to the writer by the descendant of a person who afterwards became his tailor, and who knew not that it had been previously told, should apply to that identical suit of apparel for which he incurred so much odium and abuse from Griffiths; and that an effort of active benevolence to relieve a debtor from gaol, should have given rise to a charge against him resembling dishonesty." — ibid. p. 328.
The Enquiry, though he had taken too wide a field, and betrayed, of course, incompetent resources as to fact, and considerable crudeness here and there of speculation, was still a performance exhibiting such easy strength both of thought and expression, that it might well have excited curiosity. It can hardly he said to have done so; but in the same humble lodgings Goldsmith wrote various pieces which fared considerably better. Those miscellaneous Essays, now classed with the happiest even of Addison's and Steele's, began to appear about the close of 1759 in sundry vehicles, particularly in a weekly sheet entitled The Bee, the Lady's Magazine, the Literary Magazine, and the British Magazine — this last a speculation of Smollett's, in which the chapters of his Sir Lancelot Greaves were originally published. Goldsmith's contributions to these works were plundered liberally by others of the same class, and by newspapers; but though the ability of the hand was thus recognised, the author's name still remained obscure; and there are several circumstances which lead us to agree with Mr. Prior, that Goldsmith painted himself at this period when he put the following words into the mouth of his George Primrose. After mentioning the old but by no means exploded trick of soliciting subscriptions for books never meant to be printed, this adventurer is made to say—
"Having a mind too proud to stoop to such indignities, and yet a fortune too humble to hazard a second attempt for fame, I was now obliged to take a middle course, and write for bread. But I was unqualified for a profession where mere industry alone was to insure success. I could not suppress my lurking passion for applause, but usually consumed that the in efforts after excellence which takes up but little room, when it should have been more advantageously employed in the diffusive productions of fruitful mediocrity. My little piece would therefore come forth in the midst of periodical publications, unnoticed and unknown. The public were more importantly employed, than to observe the easy simplicity of my style, or the harmony of my periods. Sheet after sheet was thrown off to oblivion. My essays were buried among essays upon liberty, eastern tales, and cures for the bite of a mad dog; while Philautos, Philalethes, Philelutheros, and Philanthropos, all wrote better, because they wrote faster than I."
Next year, however, one series of Essays, to which a regular plan gave unity and cohesion, by degrees fixed general attention; and before the close of 1760 the Chinese Philosopher — the Citizen of the World — had greatly enlarged the estimate of his friends, and not less excited the curiosity of strangers. Goldsmith now found himself courted by several of the men of letters who enjoyed established reputation; and Johnson above the rest was eager to show his admiration of his talents, and to cultivate his friendship. Through him the access to Reynolds, Burke, Garrick, and the rest of that memorable society was easy, and, though Goldsmith's pecuniary difficulties never ceased, he was thenceforth cheered by the confidence of minds stronger than his own. Doomed still to earn the bread of the passing day by compilations to which even his genius could rarely give any dignity, his self-respect was sustained by their approbation and authority; and he gallantly rescued from repose and relaxation sufficient the to produce at intervals the various original works in prose and verse to which, after and above the Chinese Letters, he owes his station among our classics.
In May, 1761, he exchanged his garret in Green-Arbour Court for lodgings of a better description in Fleet Street, and it seems that the first visit Johnson paid him was at a supper which he gave on taking possession of them. Percy, as their chief mutual acquaintance, conducted Johnson, and was struck with the then unusual trimness of his attire:—
"He had on, said the Bishop, a new suit of clothes, a new wig nicely powdered, and everything so dissimilar from his usual habits, that I could not resist the impulse of inquiring the cause of such rigid regard in him to exterior appearance. 'Why, Sir,' said he, '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.'" — vol. i. p. 317.
In the course of that year Goldsmith formed his first connection with Mr. Newbery, a kindhearted bookseller of St. Paul's Church-yard, now chiefly remembered for the multiplicity of his little publications for children. Setting up the newspaper which still exists under its original name of The Public Ledger, he applied to Goldsmith for occasional literary contributions, and found him so adroit and withal so diligent, that he charged himself thenceforth for several years with providing occupation for his pen. In the course of 1762, Goldsmith produced for him a pamphlet on the Cock Lane Ghost, for which he received three guineas; a History of Mecklenburg, 8vo. (suggested by the marriage of good Queen Charlotte,) £20; seven volumes, 12mo., of an English Plutarch, £45; an abridgment of the History of England (the first and tiniest of four such abridgments from this pen), two guineas; a Life of Beau Nash, 8vo., fourteen guineas; and miscellaneous papers sufficient to raise his revenue, from St. Paul's Church-yard, in all to £120. These items would prove this to have been a year of severe exertion: yet there seems good reason to believe that they do not exhaust the list of its performances; and we have plentiful evidence that all its industry had not relieved him from the most tangible degradations of penury. We need not repeat the story of Johnson's finding him in a spunging-house for a petty debt, and releasing him by the sale of his Vicar of Wakefield for £60 to Newbery. Boswell fixes the incident in the spring of 1763. That delicious little novel had been no hasty effort. Every version of the anecdote shows that he had kept it by him to be taken up as his "Labour of Love," whenever he could shift off the yoke of translation or compilation for an evening during the preceding year — perhaps during 1761 also.
Newbery had probably been offered the tale before, and when he did give £60 for a copyright which must have put thousands into his pocket or that of his heirs, did so in deference merely to the favourable opinion of the Dictator Johnson. And he still clung to his own doubts — for the novel lay near two years in his desk, and was not published until after the poem of the Traveller, put forth with the author's name in 1765, had been crowned with universal applause, and there was a rush among what is called the trade to collect his fugitive essays, and partake "per fas aut nefas" in the lucre of a new celebrity. However, Newbery was also the publisher of the poem, and the sum he gave for it was twenty guineas! — to which Goldsmith stooped not to solicit any addition in the then usual shape of a dedication fee, for he inscribed it to his affectionate brother, the obscure curate contented with his obscurity—
And passing rich with forty pounds a year.
We extract, as a favourable specimen of Mr. Prior's manner, part of the chapter which he devotes to the Vicar of Wakefield—
"The Vicar secured friends among every description of readers; with the old by the purity of its moral lessons, and with the young by the interest of the story. With the popular productions before him of Fielding and Smollett, he studiously avoided their track by excluding variety of adventures, immoral scenes, and licentious intrigues, which, under the plausible plea of exhibiting human nature, almost necessarily corrupt the minds of youth by familiarizing what it is never prudent wantonly to display. He was equally regardless of the example of Richardson, of his prolixity and sentimental refinements, however he may have honoured his morality . But its great charm, as of all the productions of Goldsmith, is close adherence to nature — nature in its commendable, not vicious, points of view. The Primrose family is a great creation of genius; such a picture of warm-hearted simplicity, mingled with the little foibles and weaknesses common to the best specimens of humanity, that we find nothing like it in the whole range of fiction. Each of the individuals is nicely discriminated without apparent art or effort; we can anticipate what either will do, and almost will say, on any given occasion. The unwearied benevolence and submission to the will of Providence under all his distresses of the good pastor; the self-satisfied cleverness and little female devices to accomplish favourite purposes, of his wife; the liveliness and indiscretion of Olivia; the more considerate and sedate turn of Sophia; the pedantry yet simplicity of Moses; and goodness of heart of all, present a piece of moral painting of great beauty and of rare skill. The conduct of the story has the merit of never once leading us from the main design of exhibiting the family in all their trials from the commencement to the conclusion, excepting the episode of the adventures of the son. The style is peculiarly easy, perspicuous, and simple, free from all attempt at fine writing or ambitious ornament, and without even one of those epigrammatic smartnesses which the apprehension of being considered dull led him occasionally to introduce into his Essays. This, among its other merits, has contributed to render the Vicar of Wakefield perhaps the most popular of all English books on the continent of Europe.
"For some of the incidents he unquestionably taxed his recollections of early life. The primitive habits of Lissoy and Kilkenny-West furnished hints which, when applied to the interior of an English vicarage, were thought, and perhaps truly, inappropriate or overcharged. As usual also we find much of himself. The adventures of George Primrose were without doubt nearly similar to his own. He makes Sir William Thornhill also travel over the continent of Europe on foot and return about the age of thirty, his own age nearly when the same feat was performed. The character of the vicar is a more extended draught of the pastor in the "Deserted Village," and meant, as was said by the family, for his father. The private marriages of two of his sisters may have supplied hints in detailing the conduct of Olivia. Burchell was the name of one of his connexions by marriage." — Life, vol. ii. p. 17.
When these beautiful performances at length placed Goldsmith in that high station which the lapse of time has left undisturbed, he was in the 37th year of his age, and had struggled for nine years with the worst miseries of an author militant. The attainment of fame, had it come earlier, might perhaps have found character and manners comparatively plastic, and he might have emerged into the upper world with the ability, as well as the desire, to adopt its habitudes; as it was, the boon came too late for this. Such as he had been in the darkest periods of his humiliation, he now and ever after continued to be; or if he changed in anything, it was but to resume some of those lighter features of his own original temper and taste which had been for a time obliterated under the pressure of calamitous anxiety. He was spoken of and invited out; but though many did justice to his worth and kindness, his manners carried the broad stamp of a prime chequered with mean sorrows and cheap indulgences; and his amiable simplicity itself, furnishing easy merriment to intellectual inferiors, was as easily connected in the mind of his social superiors with the notion of a sort of moral imbecility that would of itself frustrate any efforts of protection. It will always, however, be a deep stain on the dispensers of royal patronage in that age, that Goldsmith, after he had so nobly vindicated his right to their favour, was permitted to consume so great a part of the brief remainder of his life in the actual servitude of literature. The excuse that ease induces indolence, — that he who toiled because he must have bread sinks into listless inexertion when secured against the iron gripe of necessity, — this excuse, so often repeated, and, it must be owned, countenanced by some sad examples in our own literary history, can never be more idly alleged than in the case of Goldsmith. He had in his mature years thrown off all, or almost all, the vicious irregularities which distracted his youth. He had, as all who have left any records of their acquaintance with him in the latter period agree, entirely abandoned excess in drinking. He had subdued an even more perilous propensity; he continued to like a hand at whist, and lost and won like other people among friends; but there is no trace of his ever having tampered with games of hazard, entered a gaming-house in London, or, in short, as "the" Dr. Goldsmith, done anything to bring him within the category of gamester; even in this matter therefore we must allow him to have exhibited considerable fortitude, though less than as to the pleasures of the table, which he continued to enjoy keenly, and yet had learned to partake in blameless moderation. For society he ever had a lively appetite, but it was only as the relaxation from labour; he never considered it as the serious business of life. But the solid and unanswerable argument remains; his greatest works, all those which one has no pang in connecting with his name, were produced in obedience to pure and generous love of literature and ambition of fame, in the midst of the grievous round of task-work to which he looked for provision against positive want. Who will believe that if he wrote his novel, his poems, and his comedies for the sake of his genius and his name, when beleaguered by printers' devils for the daily dole of compilation, he would not have left us many novels, many poems, and many plays, had his mornings and evenings, during the ten last years of his life, been his own, to do with as he listed? It is hard to say anything for the excisemanship of Burns; but it is harder still to turn over any page of any pension-list (Whig or Tory) and remember without worse than indignation the long library of booksellers' catchpennies on which the inoffensive and unrepining Goldsmith wore out his strength, until exhausted nature gave way at forty-five.
We have quoted so largely from Mr. Prior's first volume, that we must not attempt to follow him minutely through the second, in which he details the history of these later years with the same accuracy of research. Until we perused the book, we had formed a most inadequate conception of the amount of drudgery to which Goldsmith submitted after he had come to be the established favourite of the public — filling after all a place only second to Johnson, even in the pages of Boswell. A mere list of the works which Mr. Prior affiliates on him, by the sure evidence of his own and his booksellers' accounts and receipts, would fill several of our pages, and prove incontestibly that he who, had no biographers told his personal story, would probably have passed with posterity for some gay lounger who diverted his leisure by half-a-dozen brilliant master-pieces, was in truth the most diligent slave that ever toiled in the mill of Grub-street. It is true that even in the execution of tasks so unworthy of him, he displayed — he could not but display — occasional flashes of the genius which shines clear and unbroken in the unforced effusions of his happier hours; but the consolation is a sad one; indeed, the more varied the evidence of his genius, the more melancholy must be our regret for its perversion.
He went through all this sort of labour, no doubt, with far greater ease to himself than will ever attend the penman incapable of higher things. His MSS., of which Mr. Prior has examined many, confirm Bishop Percy's statement that "his sweet prose flowed from him with such happy facility that sometimes there was hardly a correction from the beginning to the end of a quire." Even in his case, however, this was, and could only have been, the result of much discipline; and sweet as the prose is which he could at length produce with such rapidity, we must not think that it would stand comparison with that over which he passed and re-passed at intervals a cool eye and a correcting pen. The "curiosa felicitas" of such apparently artless narrative as we have in The Vicar is a thing of another class. No man kept his verses longer by him, and retouched them with more anxious carefulness than Goldsmith; and could he have done as he liked with his prose, we may be sure he would have bestowed corresponding attention upon it all. He used to say that he owed his early ambition of neat and elegant execution to a rebuke which a slovenly school-boy's letter produced him from his elder brother. "Dear Oliver," Henry's answer began, "the less you have to say, there is the more reason that you should try to say it well." And how reluctantly he followed the dictates of necessity in abstaining from revision of his larger works for the press, may be gathered from a casual expression of his to a young gentleman of fortune, who showed him a MS. towards the close of his life. The sheets were covered with interlineations and minute amendments. "Ah!" said Goldsmith, "while you can take all this pains to do yourself justice, think of me, that must write a volume every month."
We are not, however, to confound with the humbler productions of Goldsmith the "Letters on English History, from a Nobleman to his Son," — the question as to the authorship of which has at last been settled by Mr. Prior. The clap-trap title-page had full effect, and these admirable letters, at first ascribed to Lord Chesterfield and subsequently to Lord Lyttleton, were never disowned by the latter nobleman, and still go by his name. Our biographer, however, has clearly proved, from the publisher's books, that they were wholly Goldsmith's, and adduces also a note of Bishop Percy, in which he describes Goldsmith as laughing at the title-page at the time, but adding that "he hoped this book would live." It has lived, and will continue to do so. Within similar compass no equally clear, comprehensive, and instructive survey of our annals ever has been, or is ever likely to be, written.
Goldsmith wrote it in 1764, at a widow's house at Islington, where he had taken a lodging near the country-residence of his friend Newbery, who settled with the good woman quarterly, exactly as if the author had been in a condition of pupilage. Mr. Prior does not disdain to quote several of their accounts — from which it appears that Goldsmith's board and lodging cost £12 per quarter; that his extra expenses were quite trivial; and that the landlady, from the regard she soon conceived for him, allowed him now and then to invite a poor brother-author to dinner, without making any claim for his entertainment. When wine was produced, which did not happen above once or twice in a month, Goldsmith was charged 1s. 6d. per bottle, and no one evening is burdened with two bottles. His usual beverage in this retreat was a slight decoction of sassafras, "which had at that time a fashionable reputation as a purifier of the blood;" and his supper was uniformly a dish of boiled milk. Except when he went to dine in town on Fridays, with The Club, such was his simple fare. He read in the morning certain chapters of Carte, Rapin, &c., strolled away into the fields to arrange his reflections, came home to his early dinner, and then sat down to write for the evening. His chief amusement seemed to be playing with the children, who had always free access to his only room, and teaching the dog to beg. Whenever he had done enough of the letters to keep the press a-going for a day or two, he turned to some child's book for his employer; and if the author of Caleb Williams, himself long a children's bookseller, was not misinformed, one of these "opera subseciva" was the tale of "Goody Two-Shoes."
Goldsmith made two attempts to escape from this mode of existence. He drew up a memorial to the prime-minister, suggesting that if a competently qualified traveller were provided with the means of spending three or four years in the East, he might bring back some useful practical hints as to mechanical arts, and especially some chemical secrets serviceable to our manufactures; and tendered his own services for such an expedition. Lord Bute appears to have taken no notice of his application. Johnson's sarcastic observation, "that if Goldy had gone he would probably have brought back a harrow or a hand-loom," is condemned by Mr. Prior as unjustly severe; but he has nothing to say as to a subsidiary point in Goldsmith's programme, which referred to transcribing the sculptured characters of what are called time "Written Mountains." Goldsmith was ignorant of all the living as well as dead tongues of the East; and neither he, nor any other man, could ever guess to what language those mysterious inscriptions might belong. It has been reported that he received soon after an invitation to write for the ministry, and that being, though on principle a Tory, old and wise enough to shrink from the tumults of partizanship, he at once declined any such service; but Mr. Prior leaves this matter much in the dark. The other attempt was, once more to establish himself in his profession in London. This occurred in June, 1765, and was, it is said, advised strongly by Sir Joshua Reynolds. He took apartments in the Temple, hired a man-servant, (a Patlander, of course,) and appeared suddenly metamorphosed into "a smart physician, with a professional wig and cane, purple silk small-clothes, and a scarlet roquelaire buttoned to the chin, charged in his tailor's bill at four guineas and a half" (vol. ii. p. 104); but imposing as was this attire, it earned the Doctor more jests than fees, and he soon retreated again to his Islington lodging and Goody Two-shoes. He ever afterwards, however, retained his chambers in the Temple (No. 2, Brick Court, up two pair of stairs). His subsequent works were produced partly here and partly in different country lodgings — and here he died.
The next of Goldsmith's classical works was the comedy of The Good-natured Man, which Garrick declined, and which the rival manager, Colman, was with much difficulty persuaded to risk upon the stage of Covent Garden. Its success justified Johnson's prognostic, and covered both managers with confusion. Boswell gives some amusing particulars about the author's simple display of anxiety on the occasion of its first performance, and he is quite corroborated by Mrs. Piozzi.
"Dr. Johnson, who had been in his company the evening on which the play was performed and witnessed his distress, heard the avowal of that distress with surprise at the Chaplain's table at St. James's Palace, when both were dining with Dr. Percy, amid censured it as silly, saying that 'no man should be expected to sympathize with the sorrows of vanity,' a harsher remark than the matter deserved. Most dramatic writers would have felt as acutely as Goldsmith, though few might so unreservedly have avowed it.
"Returning home one day from dining at the Chaplain's table, says Mrs. Piozzi, Johnson told me that Dr. Goldsmith had given a very comical and unnecessarily exact recital there of his own feelings when his play was hissed; telling the company how he went to the Literary Club at night and chatted gaily among his friends as if nothing had happened amiss; that to impress them still more forcibly with an idea of his magnanimity, he even sung his favourite song about 'an old woman tossed in a blanket seventeen times as high as the moon;' but 'all this while I was suffering horrid tortures,' said he, 'and verily believe that if I had put a bit into my mouth it would have strangled me on the spot, I was so excessively ill; but I made more noise than usual to cover all that; and so they never perceived my not eating, nor I believe at all imaged to themselves the anguish of my heart; but when all were gone except Johnson here, I burst out a-crying, and even swore that I would never write again.' 'All which, Doctor,' said Johnson, amazed at his odd frankness, 'I thought had been a secret between you and me; and I am sure I would not have said anything about it for the world.'" — Ibid. pp. 166-168.
We must leave untouched Mr. Prior's remarks on this comedy, and also his historical and critical chapters on the subsequent works which sustained and increased Goldsmith's reputation: — the Hermit; the Deserted Village, Mr. Prior's account of which will be particularly interesting to all Irish readers; the comedy of She Stoops to Conquer; the admirable compendiums of Greek and Roman History; and the View of Animated Nature, which, as Johnson predicted, he had rendered "as interesting as a Persian tale," and which — though undertaken, unlike his novel and poems, with little higher ambition than that of earning a certain number of pounds — from the subject happily coinciding with the author's habitual tastes, engaged such a share of his better enthusiasm, that it is, in all respects, worthy to be ranked among the permanent monuments of his genius. A good edition of this work, in which minor inaccuracies should be corrected, and subsequent information shortly and distinctly conveyed, would secure its popular usefulness, in spite of all the more pompous performances now-a-days puffed and placarded. This was the only one of Goldsmith's heavier exertions for which he received even a decent remuneration from the booksellers. For the eight volumes he got 800 guineas. His Deserted Village brought him only £100 — the same sum that Hannah More received about the same time for her worthless ballad, Sir Eldred of the Bower. By his first comedy, between theatrical profits and copyright, he appears to have netted about £500. Upon the whole, during the last eight brilliant years of his established fame and unwearied diligence, his income, does not seem to have averaged more than from £200 to £300. His first biographer (the preface writer) speaks quite at random when he talks of his having made in one year, £1800.
But if poor Goldsmith had gained sums much larger than it ever entered his head to dream of, his open and reckless generosity would have prevented them from making him, at the end of any one of these years, a richer man than he had been at the beginning. He was, in truth, in his own exquisite expression, "a machine of pity." Mr. Prior, among numberless pretty anecdotes, tells one of his rising abruptly from a dinner table, and running out into the street to give all he had in his pocket to a ballad-singer. Some of the company observed and remarked on his lavish bountifulness. "Oh," said he, "you were all saying she sung sweetly — but you did not perceive the misery of her notes." He was continually practised upon by fraudulent mendicants; the hour after he detected an impostor found him as ready as ever to be imposed upon; and his natural compassionateness, quickened, no doubt, by the remembrance of unrelieved distresses of his own, gave rise to the only bitter strain of sentiment that pervades his writings. His verse and his prose have very often for their burden, "Man's inhumanity to man;" and Mr. Prior quotes with more disapprobation than we should have expected, even such passages as the following:—
"There are many of our peasantry that have no other possession but a cow; and even of the advantages resulting from this most useful creature, the poor are but the nominal possessors. Its flesh they cannot pretend to taste, since then their whole riches are at once destroyed; its calf they are obliged to fatten for sale, since veal is a delicacy they could not make any pretensions to; its very milk is wrought into butter and cheese for the tables of their masters; whilst they have no share even in their own possession, but the choice of their market. I cannot bear to hear the rich crying out for liberty, while they thus starve their fellow-creatures, and feed them up with an imaginary good, while they monopolize the real benefits of nature." — Animated Nature, vol. iii. p. 8. Ed. 1774.
Whatever money Goldsmith had was always kept lying loose in an open drawer. When a laundress's bill was brought to him one morning at breakfast, a friend heard him say, pointing to the drawer, "Well, Dennis, why don't you pay the poor woman?" — and ventured, when the man withdrew, to suggest that this was exposing a servant to undue temptation — "What!" cried Goldsmith, "my dear fellow, would you take Dennis for a thief?"
But the great and eternal drain was his compassion for the humbler serfs of literature — and especially the ragged adventurers from Ireland, who, now that his name was up, flocked to him for countenance and support. Mr. Prior has himself conversed with several persons, subsequently holding respectable stations in different professions, who told, with gratefulness, anecdotes of this description. But for the following, which illustrates his simplicity as well as his generosity, we are indebted to the late Mr. Richard Sharp, who had it from the lips of Mr. William Cooke, known from the title of a poem he wrote, as Conversation Cooke. That Conversation Sharp should have preserved Conversation Cooke's story, is an amusing coincidence. He says—
"To this gentleman, while yet but a stranger in town and his supplies occasionally short, Goldsmith had more than once offered the use of his purse, which Cooke at length accepted, the temptation of an evening at Marylebone or Ranelagh Gardens with several companions being irresistible. On applying to the poet, however, he was told very seriously and no doubt truly, that he had not a guinea in his possession. This being considered an evasion, something like a reproach escaped the applicant, that he regretted having made such a request where, notwithstanding voluntary offers of assistance, there existed so little disposition to afford it. Nettled by the remark, Goldsmith, as evidence of his desire to oblige, borrowed the money. In the mean time, Cooke, provided from another quarter, had locked his chambers and proceeded to his amusement, but returning at an early hour in the morning, found a difficulty in opening the door, which on examination proved to arise from the sum he had requested, in silver, being wrapped in paper and thrust underneath. On being thanked for this proof of sincerity on the following day, but told that the money might as readily have fallen into strange hands as those of him for whom it was meant, he characteristically replied, in truth, my dear fellow, I did not think of that.'" — Life, vol. ii. pp. 139, 140.
Another anecdote was told by Dr. Veagh M'Donnell, a physician of some reputation in St. Marylebone, who died but a year or two ago—
"It was," said Dr. M'Donnell, "in the year 1772, that the death of my elder brother in London, on our way to Ireland, left me in a most forlorn situation; I was then about eighteen; I possessed neither friends nor money, nor the means of getting to Ireland, of which or of England I knew scarcely anything from having long resided in France. In this situation I had strolled about for two or three days considering what to do, but unable to come to any determination, when Providence directed me to the Temple Gardens. I threw myself on a seat, and willing to forget my miseries for a moment drew out a volume of Boileau. I had not been there long when a gentleman strolling about passed near me, and observing perhaps something Irish or foreign in my garb or countenance addressed me, 'Sir, you seem studious; I hope you find this a favourable place to pursue it.' 'Not very studious, sir, I fear; it is the want of society that brings me hither; I am solitary and unknown in this metropolis;' and a passage from Cicero, — 'Oratio pro Archia,' — occurring to me, I quoted it. — 'Haec studia pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.' 'You are a scholar too, sir, I perceive.' 'A piece of one, sir; but I ought still to have been in the college where I had the good fortune to pick up the little I know.' A good deal of conversation ensued; I told him part of my history, and he in return gave his address in the Temple, desiring me to call soon, from which, to my infinite surprise and gratification, I found that the person who thus seemed to take an interest in my fate was my countryman, and a distinguished ornament of letters.
"I did not fail to keep the appointment, and was received in the kindest manner. He told me smilingly, that he was not rich; that he could do little for me in direct pecuniary aid, but would endeavour to put me in the way of doing something for myself; observing that he could at least furnish me with advice not wholly useless to a young man placed in the heart of a great metropolis. 'In London,' he continued, 'nothing is to be got for nothing; you must work; and no man who chooses to be industrious need be under obligations to another, for here labour of every kind commands its reward. If you think proper to assist me occasionally as amanuensis I shall be obliged and you will be placed under no obligation, until something more permanent can be secured for you.' This employment which I pursued for some time was to translate passages from Buffon, which he abridged or altered according to circumstances, for his Natural History.
"It has been said he was irritable. Such may have been the case at times; nay, I believe it was so; for what with the continual pursuit of authors, printers, and booksellers, and occasional pecuniary embarrassments, few could have avoided exhibiting similar marks of impatience. But it was never so towards me. I saw him only in his bland and kind moods, with a flow, perhaps an overflow, of the milk of human kindness for all who were in any manner dependent upon him. I looked upon him with awe and veneration, and he upon me as a kind parent upon a child.
"I was abroad at the time of his death, and wept bitterly when the intelligence first reached me. A blank came over my heart as if I had lost one of my nearest relatives, and was followed for some days by a feeling of despondency. — Poor Goldsmith was himself subject to frequent fits of depression, as I heard from those around him." — Life, vol. ii. p. 344.
Among these young Irishmen Goldsmith was usually styled "Our Doctor;" he appears to have had a levee of them almost every morning at breakfast; he did what he could to get work for them among the booksellers; and whatever they wanted, and he had, was always at their command. To the worst sufferings of their tribe he had been himself no stranger; but Mr. Prior is of opinion that he refers particularly in the following touching page of his "Animated Nature" to the fate of an old associate of his, the translator of the Henriade, on whom he wrote the well-known epitaph — "Here lies poor Ned Purdon, a bookseller's hack, &c."
"The lower race of animals, when satisfied for the instant moment, are perfectly happy; but it is otherwise with man: his mind anticipates distress, and feels the pangs of want even before it arrests him. Thus the mind being continually harassed by the situation, it at length influences the constitution, and unfits it for all its functions. Some cruel disorder, but no way like hunger, seizes the unhappy sufferer; so that almost all those men who have thus long lived by chance, and whose every day may be considered as a happy escape from famine, are known at last to die in reality of a disorder caused by hunger, but which, in common language, is often called a broken heart. Some of these I have known myself when very little able to relieve them."
The truth is, however, that Goldsmith found the amusement most to his mind in the society of these poor dependents. "Whenever he felt himself at his ease, and with a little money in his pocket, he used to say, "Come now, my lads, let us have a shoemaker's holiday." This ever welcome signal meant that the day was to be spent in a long ramble about the beautiful lanes to the north of London — and that the whole party should dine at his expense on bacon and eggs at some little ale-house of Kilburn, Islington, Hendon, or Hornsey. In such haunts and with such companions Goldsmith probably enjoyed himself greatly more than he would have done at the best table that was ever enlivened by the wit and eloquence of his Johnsons and Burkes. Here "OUR DOCTOR" (not "Goldy," or at best "little Goldsmith") was the king of the club — his jokes were sure to shake every side, his songs to be chorussed and encored — and his wildest rhapsodies (even Boswell confesses that he liked to hear Goldy rattle on) were received as the oracles of a wisdom above criticism.
The weakness that leads one man to delight in low company, is not, after all, so pitiable, as that which tempts another to haunt the society of those who, he must feel, consider their admittance of him as a condescension and a boon. The frailties are however kindred, and they are often combined in the same person; but though Goldsmith had his part in most of the follies of vanity, there was a touch of pride about him, sufficient, with the genuine tenderness of his heart, to make him prefer taking his ease in his inn among eager feeders who but for him must have had short commons.
Boswell's story of the new bloom-coloured coat in which Goldsmith exhibited himself on the 16th October, 1769 — Garrick's merriment upon his self-satisfaction therein — and his indignant rebuke of Garrick, ending with the assurance that the tailor had particularly requested him, if anybody admired the coat, not to forget that it was made by John Filby of Water-Lane; this is only one out of many which compel Mr. Prior to admit the vanity of dress among the foibles of Goldsmith's later years. We see in them all, the same man that appeared in scarlet breeches before the bishop of Elphin, and are only amused with the anxious minuteness with which our biographer has examined the details of his hero's wardrobe. He has fished out the son of the said Filby, and, reprehending Bozzy for calling him John, whereas he really was William, is obliged to confess that the records of Water-Lane, touching the bloom-coloured garment, are "creditable to his accuracy!" (vol. ii. p. 231.) It is a truth no longer doubtful that Goldsmith was debited, that very 16th of October, for
"A half dress suit of ratteen lined with satin, £12 12s. 0p.
A pair of bloom-coloured silk stocking breeches, £1 4s, 6d."
And a few weeks later the book of Filby presents:—
"To your blue velvet suit, £21.10s. 9d."
Mr. Prior fills no less than three pages with extracts from this important document — which proves that Goldsmith died £79 in Mr. William Filby's debt; and concludes with copying an autograph note with which he has been favoured by Filby fils, viz.: — "My father, though a loser to that amount, attributed no blame to the doctor, who had been a good customer, and would have paid him every farthing had he lived. Half the sum was for clothes supplied to a nephew." We trust Mr. Upcott may find means to add this note — and the ledger of Water-Lane itself — to his collection of Literary Curiosities; and we think we could point out one or two members of the Roxburgh Club, whose views it might suit to superintend a limited impression, illustrated with portraits of the two tailors, and fac-similes of their hand-writing. But, perhaps, the accounts of Goldsmith's Temple laundress, which, from some delicate scruple, Mr. Prior has not inserted in his work, might furnish a still more piquant contribution to that Club's valuable collection.
Goldsmith himself was conscious of this weakness, and could smile at it. In one of several interesting letters to Sir Joshua Reynolds, written during an excursion to Paris shortly before his death, he tells that kindest and most tolerant of his eminent friends, "I have bought me a silk dress here, which makes me look like a fool." Anything at all noticeable in dress does undoubtedly make any man above five and twenty look, at the best, like a fool; but we have dwelt too long on this folly, in which many wiser men than Goldsmith have had their share.
Mr. Prior, as we hinted at the beginning of our article, is very anxious to vindicate Goldsmith, respecting the charge so often repeated, of his exhibiting a fretful uneasiness when he witnessed the applause called forth by the accomplishments, even the meanest accomplishments, of other competitors for public favour. We have no doubt that most of the anecdotes connected with this allegation are greatly exaggerated; and can well believe, that in many of the cases to which they refer, Goldsmith's companions erred from not understanding a prevalent feature of his humour — namely, the assumption of a mock solemnity of look in order to heighten the effect of drollery. Nobody can have forgotten, for example, the story of his taking offence when, standing at the window of a hotel in Antwerp, he found some young ladies in his company were attracting the admiration of the passers by, and exclaimed, that they seemed unconscious of his presence. One of the "young ladies" in question still survives — and she has assured Mr. Prior that it shocked all the party when they saw the story in print; that some one in the room must have misinterpreted Goldsmith, but that she knew his humour, and quite understood him at the moment to mean nothing but an additional compliment to his fair friends. All this we can easily believe; but still not a few of the stories in question rest on the authority of Johnson, and Burke, and Reynolds; and that so many stories should be told by so many such persons, all pointing to the same impression, is, it must be allowed, a fact hard to be got over by any such explanation as Mr. Prior offers. Mr. Prior himself gives some new ones too in the same line — his friend, the Rev. Samuel Hoole, of Poplar, for instance, son of the translator of Tasso remembers being carried into the country when a boy, in a coach, along with his father and Johnson. The "Great Cham," always delighted with rapid locomotion, looked out at the window, and said — "This fellow drives well and fast — were Goldy here now, he would tell us he could do it better." But the best story of the sort that has ever been recorded, is one which was told to Mr. Croker by Colonel O'Moore, and which he gave us accordingly in a note to his Boswell. It is in all its parts perfect — and if not true is at least most happily "trovato":—
"As the Colonel and Mr. Burke were proceeding to dine with Sir Joshua, they observed Goldsmith also on his way thither, standing near a crowd who were staring and shouting at some foreign women in the windows of a house in Leicester Square. 'Observe Goldsmith,' said Burke to his companion, 'and mark what passes between him and me by and by at Sir Joshua's.' Proceeding forward, they reached the house before him, and when the poet came up to Mr. Burke, the latter affected to receive him coolly, when an explanation of the cause of offence was with some urgency requested. Burke appeared reluctant to speak, but after some pressing said, that he almost regretted keeping up an intimacy with one who could be guilty of such indiscretions as he had just exhibited in the square. The Poet with great earnestness protested he was unconscious of what was meant. 'Why,' said Mr. Burke, 'did you not exclaim, as you were looking up at those women, what stupid beasts the people must be for staring with such admiration at those painted jezebels while a man your talents passed by unnoticed?' Goldsmith was astonished. 'Surely, surely, my dear friend, I did not say so.' 'Nay,' replied Mr. Burke, 'if you had not said so how should I have known it?' 'That's true,' answered Goldsmith with great humility; 'I am very sorry — it was very foolish; I do recollect that something of the kind passed through my mind, but I did not think I had uttered it.'" — Croker's Boswell, vol. i. p. 423.
We must now draw to a conclusion; but we shall make room for one more extract — it is from a letter addressed to Mr. Prior by the venerable Judge Day, of Dublin; and which, next to Goldsmith's own correspondence with his relations, with Langton, and with Reynolds, we consider as the most valuable document included in these volumes. We incline to believe that the Judge's hasty sketch embraces, on the whole, the most true and complete portraiture of Goldsmith in his latter days that the world is ever likely to see. He appears to have formed his acquaintance when a young Templar in 1769:—
"The Poet frequented much the Grecian Coffee-house, then the favourite resort of the Irish and Lancashire Templars; and delighted in collecting around him his friends, whom he entertained with a cordial and unostentatious hospitality. Occasionally he amused them with his flute or with whist, neither of which he played well, particularly the latter, but in losing his money he never lost his temper. In a run of bad luck and worse play, he would fling his cards upon the floor and exclaim, 'Bye-fore George I ought for ever to renounce thee, fickle, faithless Fortune!'
"In person he was short, about five feet five or six inches; strong, but not heavy in make; rather fair in complexion, with brown hair, such at least as could be distinguished from his wig. His features were plain, but not repulsive, — certainly not so when lighted up by conversation. His manners were simple, natural, and perhaps on the whole we may say not polished, at least without that refinement and good breeding which the exquisite polish of his compositions would lead us to expect. He was always cheerful and animated, often indeed boisterous in his mirth; entered with spirit into convivial society; contributed largely to its enjoyments by solidity of information and the naivete and originality of his character; talked often without premeditation and laughed loudly without restraint.
"Being then a young man I felt myself much flattered by the notice of so celebrated a person. He took great delight in the conversation and society of Grattan, whose brilliancy in the morning of life furnished full earnest of the unrivalled splendour which awaited his meridian; and finding us dwelling together in Essex Court, near himself, where he frequently visited my immortal friend, his warm heart became naturally prepossessed towards the associate of one whom he much admired.
"Just arrived as I then was from College, full freighted with academic gleanings, our author did not disdain to receive from me some opinions and hints towards his Greek and Roman histories, light and superficial works, not composed for fame, but compiled for the more urgent purpose of recruiting his exhausted finances. So in truth was his 'Animated Nature.' His purse replenished by labours of this kind, the season of relaxation and pleasure took its turn in attending the theatres, Ranelagh, Vauxhall, and other scenes of gaiety and amusement, which he continued to frequent as long as his supply held out. He was fond of exhibiting his muscular little person in the gayest apparel of the day, to which was added a bag wig and sword.
"This favourite costume involved him one morning in a short but comical dialogue in the Strand with two coxcombs, one of whom pointing to Goldsmith called to his companion in allusion to the Poet's sword 'to look at that fly with a long pin stuck through it.' Goldsmith instantly cautioned the passengers aloud against 'that brace of disguised pickpockets,' and having determined to teach those gentlemen that he wore a sword as well for defence from insolence as for ornament, he retired from the footpath into the coachway, which admitted of more space and freedom of action, and half-drawing his sword beckoned to the witty gentleman armed in like manner to follow him; but he and his companion, thinking prudence the better part of valour, declined the invitation and sneaked away amid the hootings of the spectators.
"Whenever his funds were dissipated, and they fled more rapidly from his being the dupe of many artful persons, male and female, who practised upon his benevolence, he returned to his literary labours, and shut himself up from society to provide fresh matter for his bookseller and fresh supplies for himself.
"I was in London when the Deserted Village came out. Much had been expected from the author of the Traveller, and public expectation and impatience were not disappointed. In fact it was received with universal admiration, as one of the most fascinating and beautiful effusions of British genius.
"His beautiful little 'Hermit,' which by some persons had been fathered upon Johnson, and reputed to have been given by him to his protege to help the Vicar of Wakefield into popularity, was by this time restored to the owner by the public, who had discovered ere now that he excelled in the art of poetry even his eminent patron.
"His broad comedy 'She Stoops to Conquer' was received with scarcely less applause, though his friends Garrick and Colman had many misgivings of its success. His friends, of whom I was one, assembled in great force in the pit to protect it; but we had no difficulty to encounter; for it was received throughout with the greatest acclamations, and had afterwards a great run.
"I also attended his funeral, along with a few others who were summoned together rather hastily for the purpose. It had been intended that this ceremony should be of an imposing kind, and attended by several of the great men of the time, Burke, Reynolds, Garrick, and others. This determination was altered, I imagine, from the pecuniary embarrassments of the deceased poet; the last offices were therefore performed in a private manner, without the attendance of his great friends. He was interred in the Temple burial-ground. Hugh Kelly, with whom he had not been on terms of intercourse for some years, shed tears over his grave, which were no doubt sincere; he did not then know that he had been slightingly mentioned in 'Retaliation;' nor would he have been so noticed there, could the deceased have anticipated thus proof of good feeling. Slight circumstances often separate even the most deserving persons; nor are they perhaps conscious of the worth of each other until accidental circumstances produce the discovery." — Life, vol. ii. pp. 361.
After a long and melancholy chapter on Goldsmith's pecuniary difficulties, which produced a visible change in his aspect and manners during the last two years of his life, and on the medical details of his death-bed, Mr. Prior proceeds as follows:—
"Thus, on April the 4th, 1774, terminated the life of an admirable writer and estimable man at the early age of forty-five, when his powers were in full vigour and much was to be expected from their exertion. The shock to his friends appears to have been great, from the unexpected loss of one whose substantial virtues, with all his foibles and singularities, they had learned to value. Burke, on hearing of it, burst into tears. Sir Joshua Reynolds, as Northcote informed the writer, relinquished painting for the day — an unusual forbearance, it was considered, of one who under all common circumstances rarely permitted himself to he diverted from the exercise of his art. Dr. Johnson, though little prone to exhibit strong emotions of grief, seems to have felt sincerely on this occasion, for three months afterwards he thus wrote to Boswell — 'Of poor dear Goldsmith there is little to he told more than the papers have made public. He died of a fever, I am afraid more violent from uneasiness of mind. His debts began to be heavy, and all his resources were exhausted. Sir Joshua is of opinion that he owed not less than two thousand pounds. Was ever poet so trusted before?' And again, 'Chambers, you find, is gone far, and poor Goldsmith is gone much further. He died of a fever, exasperated as I believe by the fear of distress. Let not his frailties be remembered; he was a very great man.'"
That he was "a very great man" is the fond expression of Johnson's tender friendship; — he was himself, as we have seen, aware that he wanted "that strong steady disposition which alone makes men great;" but that he was a most amiable one there can be no doubt. Indeed the native purity of heart and mind which could survive all the struggles and mishaps of the precarious life he led in London, is a feature, in as far as we know literary history, unique.
We have been seduced into such an examination of the biography, that we have no space left for doing justice to the edition. It must suffice for the present to say, that we believe no author has found a more diligent and honest editor than Goldsmith has at last done; that Mr. Prior's specimens of his criticism on his distinguished contemporaries, especially those on Burke and Gray, appear to us highly-interesting acquisitions — hardly less so than various new songs and poetical jeux-d'esprit, some of which last will henceforth share the celebrity of the Retaliation; and that though the notes are brief, and unburthened with any pretences of disquisition, they seem to us to compress a great deal of accurate information, and to throw much light on the temporary allusions in which Goldsmith largely indulged, and very many of which, if left unexplained in the course of our generation, could hardly have been expected to receive any elucidation hereafter.
It would be idle to close such a paper as this with anything like a formal summary of Goldsmith's merits as an English author; but we may be pardoned for observing that Mr. Prior himself concludes his biography with two extracts from this Journal, which in his opinion condense the essence of just criticism on his favourite. He has been enabled to give the names of the two distinguished associates from whom the articles he cites proceeded, and certainly they will lose none of their weight by being thus affiliated. In our 8th Number, commenting on some ridiculous comparisons instituted between Goldsmith and a then living rhymer, Sir Walter Scott expressed himself in these words:—
"In a subsequent poem Mr. Pratt is informed (for he probably never dreamt of it) that he inherits the lyre of Goldsmith. If this be true, the lyre is much the worse for wear; and for our parts, we should as soon take the bequest of a Jew's-harp as the reversion of so worthless an instrument.
"This is the third instance we remember of living poets being complimented at the expense of poor Goldsmith. A literary journal has thought proper to extol Mr. Crabbe as far above him; and Mr. Richards (a man of genius also, we readily admit) has been said, in a note to a late sermon, famous for its length, to unite 'the nervousness of Dryden with the ease of Goldsmith.' This is all very easily asserted. The native ease and grace of Goldsmith's versification have probably led to the deception; but it would be difficult to point out one among the English poets less likely to be excelled in his own style than the author of the 'Deserted Village.' Possessing much of the compactness of Pope's versification, without the monotonous structure of his lines; rising sometimes to the swell and fulness of Dryden, without his inflations; delicate and masterly in his descriptions; graceful in one of the greatest graces of poetry, its transitions; alike successful in his sportive or grave, his playful or melancholy mood; he may long bid defiance to the numerous competitors whom the friendship or flattery of the present age is so hastily arraying against him."
And again, in the 11th Number of this Journal, the late Earl of Dudley, reviewing the Life of Lord Charlemont, found occasion to allude to Goldsmith's exquisite prose style, the perfect purity and grace of which must ever, as Judge Day observes, be considered with wonder by those acquainted with the personal tastes and habits of the man; and the hints which our noble friend then administered to Irish writers in general would certainly not have been less pointed had he discharged the function of a reviewer in 1836.
"The Irish are much beyond most other nations in natural endowments, and they are daily advancing in education and knowledge. Their great defect is bad taste. This is the rock upon which the best talents among them are wrecked; and this will continue to be the case as long as they insist upon decoration and sublimity in works which properly belong to the 'middle style.' As a first step towards improvement we would heartily recommend them to choose some safer and less brilliant object of imitation. If they seek it among their own countrymen, the name of Swift will at once occur; and in more recent times, they will find in the prose of Goldsmith as perfect a model as any that exists in our language of purity, facility, and grace; of clear lively narration, of the most exhilarating gaiety, of the most touching pathos; in short, of almost every merit that style can possess, except in those comparatively few instances in which the subject calls for a display of higher and impassioned eloquence."
On the whole, we expect that the effect of Mr. Prior's exertions will be to rescue Goldsmith from the comparative obscurity into which so many of our best old writers are falling among the readers to whom they would he of most use. We seldom find ourselves in a company of young gentlemen of the present day without being confounded and grieved to observe how ignorant they are, even those of them who betray a real love of letters, concerning the lives end works of the English classics even of the last century; and are often tempted to hazard a sermon on a certain pithy text of their own chief favourite about "Horace then, and Claudian now." Nor is there the slightest excuse in this case, as there is in many others, from anything like indelicacy of thought or word. Goldsmith's happy taste anticipated the coming age; there is no classic of any time whose "opera omnia" may be placed with more confidence in the hands of that sex for whom every author that now aspires to general and lasting success must on all occasions consider himself as writing. In his prose and in his verse "Virginibus puerisque" was always the motto of this benevolent and gentle-hearted man. His humour was without coarseness — his merriment without extravagance — his wit without spleen; and the volumes which we now close will ever constitute one of the most precious "wells of English undefiled."