1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Oliver Goldsmith

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:107-09.



DR. OLIVER GOLDSMITH. This pleasing, if not great poet and admirable prose writer, I never knew. He may be said to have died before my time, but not before I had begun to turn my attention towards literary pursuits. I once volunteered the delivery of a letter to him in the Temple, from a friend of my father, in order to have a chance of seeing his person; but he either was not at home, or thought it prudent to deny himself even to a boy, as his circumstances were probably quite poetical. My old friend Mr. Cooke, the barrister, who brought letters to him from Cork, in the year 1766, used to speak of his benevolence and simplicity in the highest terms.

Goldsmith's life and character are so well known to the world, that it would be wasting time to enter on particulars. I shall therefore content myself with relating one anecdote, as it marks his character and has not been printed. Mr. Cooke had engaged to meet a party at Marylebone-gardens. He had cash enough to pay for admission, but not for the necessity of coach-hire and the casualty of a supper. He therefore applied to his friend Goldsmith for the loan of a guinea. Poor Goldsmith was in the same Parnassian predicament, but undertook to borrow the sum of a friend, and to bring it to Cooke before he departed for the gardens. Cooke waited in expectation to the last moment that allowed him a chance of witnessing the entertainments of the place, but no Goldsmith appeared. He therefore trusted to fortune, and sallied forth. Meeting some hospitable Irish countrymen at the place, he partook of a good supper, and did not return to his chambers till five in the morning. Finding some difficulty in opening his door, he stooped to remove the impediment, and found it was the guinea that Goldsmith had borrowed for him, wrapped in paper, which he had attempted to thrust under the door, not observing the hole in the letter-box, obvious to everybody else. Cooke thanked him in the course of the day, but observed that he ought not to have exposed the sum to such danger in so critical a state of their finances, as the laundress, coming early in the morning, or any casual stranger, might have seized the precious deposit. At what time Goldsmith had left the money, he could not recollect; but he might naturally have thought that he brought it too late, as Cooke had left the chambers. In answer to Cooke's observation as to the danger of losing the guinea, he said, "In truth, my dear fellow, I did not think of that." The fact is, he probably thought of nothing but serving a friend.

Goldsmith in the midst of all his luxuriant playfulness, was easily put out of countenance. The Miss Clara Brooke, whom I have mentioned before as one of my earliest and dearest playmates, who lived some time in my father's family, being once annoyed at a masquerade by the noisy gaiety of Goldsmith, who laughed heartily at some of the jokes with which he assailed her, was induced in answer to repeat his own line in The Deserted Village, "And the loud laugh which spoke the vacant mind." Goldsmith was quite abashed at the application, and retired, as if by the word vacant he rather meant barren, than free from care. Dr. Johnson wrote the prologue to Goldsmith's comedy of The Good-natured Man, to which comedy the public have never done justice. In the copy of this prologue which appeared in the Public Advertiser, in 1769, the following couplet was inserted,

Amidst the toils of this returning year,
When senators and nobles learn to fear;

but it was omitted in the copy which accompanied the play, either from Goldsmith's or Johnson's caution, but probably the former. Johnson, mentioning the author in the prologue, had styled him "our little bard," but the pride of Goldsmith revolted at this epithet, and it was changed to "anxious."