We leave it to some of our sagacious brethren to write the Life of a man who is still in the prime of it; we leave to them also biographical anecdotes of every kind, whether of panegyric or of scandal. We exhibit the head of this gentleman solely as that of a man with whose studies the public are well acquainted. We meddle with him, not upon his own account, but upon account of his writings: whatever we shall say, therefore, will be relative to those.
The province of Dr. Goldsmith's genius may be said to be speculation. In his prose as well as in his poetical works, fancy is predominant. Hence, perhaps, his taste is superior to his judgment. He is not equal to the labour of grave researches and deep disquisitions; and for this reason he ought not to have attempted to write History.
Even in his moral writings he seldom pursues a series of argumentation. The imagination breaks in upon the chain of his reasoning. — Hence his Essays present to us many good precepts blended with much anecdote. He writes morality more like a poet than a philosopher.
But this fancy which never forsakes him appears with great advantage in his poetical works. We speak this in reference to his descriptive and other poems, not to his dramatic.
Were a profound theologist to write lectures upon practical commerce, or the professed merchant to give the world a new system of metaphysics, we should probably regard them in the same point of view in which we see Dr. Goldsmith writing a Comedy. Their dispositions would be the same, and probably their success would not be very different.
We are not doing an injury to the poets of our time, when we assert that Dr. Goldsmith's verses are at least as pleasing as the best of theirs: we are not treating Dr. Goldsmith with injustice when we believe his drama to be very indifferent.
Those writings of Dr. Goldsmith which have been most successful have been evidently the produce of a speculative study; but the path of a comic writer lies in the opposite extreme. The doctor's genius is happiest when in the closet; now, a comic writer ought to be in his closet but seldom. Dr. G. ought therefore to have avoided Comedy.
Dr. Goldsmith's poems are full of delicate thinking, elegant painting, and harmony; his comedy is destitute of character, of spirit, of business. His Poems open our hearts; his Comedy shuts our eyes.