Page images
PDF
EPUB

few of us a life of untroubled pros and to this calculation we owe some perity, and grants it least of all to its half-dozen letters written to his Irish favourites." At this time were written relatives. " The letters of Goldsmith most of his essays. In a passage of the are so excellent,” says Mr. Mitford, “ Vicar of Wakefield,” George Prim. in his graceful memoir of the poet, rose describes his fortunes_and they " that it is to be hoped his next were Goldsmith's. “I was obliged to biographer will delight us with an write for bread, but I was unqualified increased collection of them.” A for a profession, where mere industry few, not, however, of very important was to insure success. I could not value, have been added both by Mr. subdue my lurking passion for ap- Prior and Mr. Forster. The letters plause, but usually consumed that form a great charm in all these biogratime in efforts after excellence, which phies of Goldsmith. There is in every takes up but little room, when it one of them the sort of pathetic should have been more advantageously gaiety that gives us the truest characemployed in the diffusive productions ter of the man, “ These letters," of fruitful mediocrity. My little piece says Wills, “are admirable for their would therefore come forth in the style, but far more so for the deep midst of periodical publications unno- insight they give into the affections ticed and unknown. The public were and spirit of the writer. A deeper more importantly employed than to and broader range of thought might observe the easy simplicity of my easily be found in many published style or the harmony of my periods. letters, and a more keen and polished Sheet after sheet was thrown off to play of fancy, but never a more oblivion. My essays were buried pure and true expression of the pride among essays upon liberty, eastern and tenderness of our nature. It is tales, and cures for the bite of a mad perhaps a fancy, but there is often in dog; while Philautos, Philalethes, Goldsmith's poetry and letters, a sinPhileleutheros, and Philanthropos, all gular common power of bringing up wrote better, because they wrote the writer's self to the eye and breast faster than I." This passage occars of the reader, in the same way that almost in the same words in the pre- many writers convey graphic touches face to Goldsmith's Essays when he of locality. There is a peculiar reapublished them in a collected form. lity in those unstudied and artless, He adds that Philautos and the rest yet powerful flashes of feeling, which “ have kindly stood sponsors to my come by surprise, and for a moment productions, and to flatter me the seem to recall the past or absent; they more, have always past them as their are, throughout his writings, but more own. As they have partly lived on me especially his poetic writings, charged for some years, let me now try if I can with some undefined attraction, not not live a little upon myself. I would found in other writers, that identifies desire, in this case, to imitate that fat the reader with the poet, and seems man whom I have somewhere heard of to convey the heart and imagination in a shipwreck, who, when the sailors, into the localities he describes or pressed by famine, were taking slices alludes to." from his posteriors to satisfy their Goldsmith's power, felt by the pubhunger, insisted with great justice on lic even before his name was known, having the first cut for himself.” and his industry, on which his bookThe first appearance of those essays sellers could safely rely to supply them were in the periodical magazines rapidly with the ready ware suited to They were not collected till Gold. their customers, secured him continued smith's name was sure to attract a sale. employment in the magazines of the

The Irish book-pirates of the day day. It was not his fault, nor that of reprinted every work that appeared the booksellers, that the rewards of in England, of a size and price not literature were scanty. Such as they beyond their capital. Goldsmith, when were he had his fair share of them. about publishing his “Inquiry," He changes his lodgings for better thought by a subscription for part of apartments, and we find eminent litethe English impression among his rary men at his parties. A joke of Irish friends, that he could secure to Johnson's is recorded by Bishop Percy, himself some part of the profits of as if it were a mighty matter. Percy any Irish sale the work might have, called on Johnson to take him to Gold.

smith's, and found him sprucely drest “ He had on,” says Percy, “a new suit of clothes, a new wig, nicely pow. dered, and everything so dissimilar from his usual habits, that I could not resist the impulse of inquiring into the cause of such rigid regard in him to exterior appearances.. Why sir,' said Johnson, "I hear that Goldsmith, who is a verygreat sloven, justifies his disregard for cleanliness and decency by quoting my practice, and I am desirous this night of showing him a better example.'” Tolerably as all this looks in print, it is quite plain that the man who dresses himself decently, in order to give a moral lesson to another, has been practising a useful lesson of morality him. self. Percy's story, read as it has been by the biographers, tells as much against Johnson as against Goldsmith. The probability is that Johnson replied to a jesting inquiry by a jest; and that, if there was any serious thought at all in his mind when he dressed for supper, it was that of paying some compliment -not very distinctly present before his own mind, nor very possible to be communicated to another without more talk than the thing was worth—to Gold. smith and his guests. Johnson, met in his study, undressed, and Johnson, in full puff for a party, were, we take it, different things. As to the moral les son, its effects were likely, if we are to regard such things as having any effect at all, pretty much what Mr. Forster suggests. “The example," he says, “was not lost, as extracts from tailors' bills will shortly show." In one of Goldsmith's letters to his brother Henry, written two years before this, he had said, “ Though I have never had a day's sickness since I saw you, 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, 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 bag wig, and you have a perfect picture of my present appearance." Of the obscure toils that were breaking down his stubborn health Mr. Forster gives such record as is now attainable. That he was over-worked

and under-paid, he also gives abundant proof; but for this last the booksellers are not in fault. They can but sell what the public will buy ; and they in truth, in rendering it possible for such men as Johnson and Goldsmith to live, are advancing a capital which may never be repaid. That Goldsmith's health was sinking, and that he was living beyond his means, trifling as his expenses were, is proved by his correspondence with Newbery, for whom he was now compiling “ Arts of Poetry," and - British Plutarchs.”

Change of scene is prescribed, and Goldsmith is traced, about this time, to Tunbridge Wells and Bath. His occupation follows him, and the death of Beau Nash suggests to the book. seller the fitness of a book while the name fills the public ear. Well, he manufactures an octavo of 234 pages, and the following memorandum remains among the papers of Newbery's family; “ Received from Mr. Newbery, at different times, and for which gave receipts, fourteen guineas, which is in full for the copy of the life of Mr. Nash."

"The book," says Mr. Forster, wis neither uninstructive nor unamusing, and it is difficult not to connect some points of the biographer's own history with its oddly-mixed anecdotes of silliness and shrewdness, taste and tawdriness, the blossom-coloured coats, and gambling debts, vanity, carelessness, and good-heartedness. The latter quality in its hero was foiled by a want of prudence which deprived it of half its value; and the extenuation is so frequently and so earnestly set forth in connexion with the fault, as, with what we now know of the writer, to convey a sort of uneasy personal reference.” There is something in all this, but something that Goldsmith would not quite like, or quite assent to. Goldsmith's preface to the book, which Mr. Forster does not quote, mentions that “the reader will have the satisfaction of perusing an account that is genuine, and not the work of imagination, as biographical writings too commonly are. In the year 1762, there is reason to believe that Goldsmith had commenced the “Vicar of Wakefield.”

He was still, however, hard at work with one task of compilation or an. other. Some confusion exists in the mention of his Histories of England, of which he had published several un.

thirty years, and was wife to the former bailiff, often told him that her aunt, Mrs. Tapps, a seventy years' inhabitant of the tower, was accustomed to talk much about Goldsmith and his apartment. It was the old oak-loom on the first floor. Mrs. Tapps affirmed that it was there he wrote his “Deserted Village,' and slept in a large press-bedstead, placed in the eastern corner.”

der several names. This year Newbery took lodgings for him at Isling. ton, and here he wrote what is called « The History of England, in a series of letters from a nobleman to his son.” The authorship was referred to every nobleman whose name the booksellers thought might help to sell the book. Lord Chesterfield, who at one time stood sponsor for the “Whole Duty of Man," did the same service for "The Letters" for awhile. Lord Orrery was named, and then Lord Lyttleton. The book was a good book, notwithstanding was alive and kicking in the days of the Reform Bill, and is likely to live till the repeal of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland. With reference to one of these Ilistories of England (not “The Letters"), Goldsmith says, some years after

this

" I have been a good deal abused in the newspapers for betraying the liberties of the people. God knows, I had no thought for or against liberty in my head-my whole aim being to make up a book of a decent size, that, as Squire Richard says, 'would do no harm to nobody.' However, they set me down as an arrant Tory, and consequently an honest man. When you come to look at any part of it [his letter is to Bennet Langton] you'll say that I am a sour Whig.* Mr. Forster prints this, or his devil prints it, sore Whig.]

The difficulty of ascertaining any precise fact is illustrated by Mr. Fors. ter's account of this residence at Islington. He will have it that here Gold. smith was arrested by Mrs. Fleming, Goldsmith's hostess, and that this was the scene where Johnson, finding him in duress, visited him, and assisted in selling the “ Vicar of Wakefield.” Of this story, the only part that has been, we think, wholly disproved, is that which connects Mrs. Fleming with it ; and this fact of her disconnexion with the matter, established by her great generosity to Goldsmith, as exhibited in her accounts, preserved among Newbery's papers, and utterly irreconcilable with the documents published by Prior, makes it almost certain that the incident occurred not at Islington, but in Goldsmith's town lodgings, to which we know he return. ed. Mr. Prior doubts the place of the occurrence; but for this, we should regard it as free from doubt, and fix the scene in Goldsmith's town. lodgings. Mr. Forster doubts the person; nay, is certain that Mrs. Fleming is the person. Notwithstanding his doubt, or rather certainty, we are quite certain that poor Mrs. Fleming was guiltless of this indignity—whether actually offered, or only meditatedfor this, too, is matter of grave debate. Boswell tells us, that one morning Goldsmith had sent him a message that he had been arrested by his land. lady for rent. He sent him a guinea, and promised to go to him directly. He found him-having changed the guinea_and a bottle of Madeira before him. Johnson considered the means of extricating him ; was shown “ The Vicar of Wakefield,” which he took to a bookseller's, and sold for £60. “I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady for using him so ill.” Mrs. Piozzi, telling the same story, makes the time evening; and represents Goldsmith, when the affair of the arrest was settled,

At this period was instituted the Literary Club-or, « The Club," as it was called-of which we may take some future opportunity of referring our readers to the existing notices. Mr. Forster's is an exceedingly pleasant account of it and Goldsmith's connexion with it; but nothing can supply the place of Boswell. Hogarth is found visiting Goldsinith at Islington; and the portrait, known by the name of " Goldsmith's Hostess," is supposed to have been done for his landlady of Islington in one of these visits. Geof. frey Crayon's poor devil author was afterwards located among Goldsmith's haunts, and a writer, whom neither Mr. Forster nor Mr. Prior seem to have looked at, Mr. Hone, or a contributor of his to - The Every-day Book" in 1831, tells us that Mr. Symes, bailiff of the manor of Isling. ton, says

“ That his mother-in-law, Mrs. Evans, who had lived there three-and

drinking punch with the woman of the through his kindness and liberality, that house. In “ Cumberland's Memoirs," before his reply was brought, I knew I we have an additional incident:

could afford to joke with the rascal who

had me in custody, and did so over a "I have heard Dr. Johnson relate,

pint of adulterated wine, for which, at with infinite humour, the circumstance

that instant, I had no money to pay." of his rescuing Goldsmith from a ridiculous dilemma by the purchase-money

Of the narrators of the story, each of The Vicar of Wakefield.' He had has a different account of the sum paid. run up a score with his landlady of some Hawkins says £40; Boswell, £60; few pounds, and was at his wits'-end Cumberland, £10; and each quotes how to wipe off the score, and keep a Johnson as authority for the sum. Bos. roof over his head, except by closing well's statement of £60 is probably acwith a very staggering proposal on her curate, as he tells of Johnson's entering part, and taking his creditor to wife.”

into a proof that, considering Gold

smith's name not being, at the period It is curious enough that all these

“ The Vicar” was sold, of the same vanarrators of the story, though each

lue on a title-page as after the publicaprofessed to have their information

tion of “The Traveller," the price was from Johnson, tell it differently ; and

not too little. The bookseller did not we have some doubt whether a modern

publish the work for some two or three compiler, weaving a story distinct from

years after, which would look as if he any of the former, by omitting from

was doubtful of its success. each narrative what he finds irrecon

In December, 1764, “ The Travelcilable with the others, is not likely to

ler" was published, the first of Gold. be farther from the actual truth than

smith's works that was printed with if he had adopted even the most im.

his name. We have not left ourselves probable of the conflicting statements.

room to do more than refer to Mr. In narrating a story in Goldsmith's

Forster's discussions on the circumClub, and with Goldsmith as an audi.

stances under which it first appeared. tor, each successive repetition would

It was dedicated to his brother, and the be accompanied with some new inci. dent. Cumberland tells the story in

dedication proves that it had been the connexion with the club and club.

subject of his thoughts for many years.

Part of the poem had been formerly jokes, and is, with the privilege of a

sent him from Switzerland. Johnson comic author, heightening a little the liveliness. Goldsmith, in his review

reviewed the poem. The biography

prefixed to an edition of the Miscel. of a new edition of “The Fairy Queen,”

laneous Works, printed at Edinburgh had said

in 1821, complains of Johnson's re

view of “The Traveller,” in his Cri“ There is a strong similitude in the lives of almost all our English poets.

tical Review, as not being just to its The ordinary of Newgate, we are told,

merits. " It is,” said Johnson, “the has but one story, which serves for the

finest poem that has appeared since life of every hero that happens to come the time of Pope." within the circle of his pastoral care; and, however unworthy the resemblance “This," says the biographer, "is appears, it may be asserted that the undoubtedly a very measured encohistory of one poet might serve, with as mium; but it is fair to presume that, in little variation, for that of any other." according the meed of praise, he must

have been limited and constrained by Steevens tells a story of Johnson the general notoriety of his friendship himself, very like this of Goldsmith: for the author."

This sentence seems very like non“ Johnson confessed to have been

sense ; for it is plain that Johnson insometimes in the power of bailiffs. Richardson, the author of Clarissa,'

tended, in the words quoted, to give was his constant friend on such occa

the very highest praise. The review sions. “I remember writing to him,' was written to announce the fact of said Johnson, from a sponging-house, the publication. It did it cordially and was so sure of my deliverance, and perfectly. It did it in the best

[ocr errors]

manner-in the only manner that could be truly useful. “He left the poem to speak for itself in the quotations, which amount to a fourth part of its number of lines."*

At first, people would not believe Goldsmith to be the author_it could be no other than Johnson himself, was the cry. At the club, Goldsmith was actually examined as to the meaning of particular passages, and his answers were relied on as proofs that he could

not be the author. • “Mr. Goldsmith,” asked Chamier,

“ what do you mean by the last word in the first line of your Traveller'

"Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow ?" Do you mean tardiness of locomotion ?"

Goldsmith,who would say something without consideration, answered“Yes."

"I" - Johnson is the narrator "was sitting by, and said, “No, sir, you did not mean tardiness of locomotion ; you meant that slugglishness of mind which comes upon a man in solitude.' Ah, exclaimed Goldsmith, that was what I meant. Chamier believed then that I had written the line as much as if he had seen me write it.” Poor Goldsmith! It must have been a dreadful thing to be thus talked down. The language of poetry is always, when poetry is exquisite, that of latent association. Goldsmith did mean tardiness of locomotion, though he probably would have shrunk from such a phrase, but he meant it without nega tiving the thought which Johnson expressed, and which is suggested, and merely suggested in Goldsmith's language. Poets are the only commentators on poetical language ; and in Mitford's classical edition of Goldsmith's poems-a beautiful book- the line is illustrated by passages not unlikely to have been in Goldsmith's mind “Solus, inops, exspes, leto pænisque relictus."

Ovid Met. xiv. 217. “ Exsul, inops erres alienaque limina lustres."

Ovid Ibis, iii. And compare Petrarch, Son. xxviii.

mour of Goldsmith has been the chief cause of the depreciating estimate in which he was held at the club. Johnson had fought his way to social dis. tinction in much the same way as Goldsmith, but Johnson's was now a fixed and recognised position. Goldsmith was regarded as a sort of Irish adven. turer ; had claims distrusted till proved, and their proof in every possible way resisted. Johnson had suffered most of Goldsmith's difficulties, and wished to smooth the way for Goldsmith. Boswell who loved Johnson, and who had no love for Goldsmith, in spite of his record of some perhaps misunderstood phrases of Johnson's, has preserved for us evidences of his admiration, exhibited in every possible way. The very extent to which the club joked with Goldsmith was a proof how he had won on their affections. We regard as evidence of Goldsmith's good humour and good nature the kind of stories that Boswell tells with grave impertinence.

ir When accompanying two beauti. ful young ladies in France, he was se. riously angry," says Boswell, “ that more attention was paid to them than to him ; and, once at the exhibition of the Fantoccini, when those who sat next him observed with what dexterity a puppet could top a pike, he could not bear that it should have such praise, and exclaimed, with warmth * Pshaw! I can do it better myself.”” He went home “ to supper with Mr. Burke, and broke his shin by attempt. ing to exhibit to the company how much better he could jump over a stick than the puppets."Northcote told the story of the young ladies, fixing time and place—one of the ladies read the story in his “Memoirs of Rey. nolds,” and complained of the circulation of a story founded on circumstances wholly misunderstood. She afterwards mentioned to Prior the actual facts. At Lisle, Goldsmith and these English girls were at the window of their hotel, looking at some military maneuvres, when the gallantry of the officers broke forth into a variety of compliments, intended for the ears of the Irish ladies. Goldsmith seemed amused, but at length, assuming something of severity of countenance, which was a peculiarity of his humour often

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »