1788 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Oliver Goldsmith

James Beattie to William Forbes, 10 July 1788; Forbes, Life and Writings of James Beattie (1806) 2:233-34.



What she [Mrs. Piozzi] says of Goldsmith is perfectly true. He was a poor fretful creature, eaten up with affectation and envy. He was the only person I ever knew, who acknowledged himself to be envious. In Johnson's presence he was quiet enough; but in his absence, expressed great uneasiness in hearing him praised. He envied even the dead; he could not bear that Shakespeare should be so much admired as he is. There might, however, be something like magnanimity in envying Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson; as in Julius Caesar's weeping to think, that at an age at which he had done so little, Alexander should have done so much. But surely Goldsmith had no occasion to envy me; which, however, he certainly did; for he owned it, (though, when we met, he was always very civil); and I received undoubted information, that he seldom missed an opportunity of speaking ill of me behind my back. Goldsmith's common conversation was a strange mixture of absurdity and silliness; of silliness so great as to make me think sometimes that he affected it. Yet he was a great genius of no mean rank: somebody, who knew him well, called him "an inspired idiot." His ballad of Edwin and Angelina, is exceedingly beautiful; and in his two other poems, though there be great inequalities, there is pathos, energy, and even sublimity.