Page images



The Education, Adventures, and Mischances, of Oliver Goldsmith

from his childhood till he stood friendless and penniless, “ in the lonely terrible streets of London.”

We are met to-night to review the history of OLIVER GOLD-SMITH; to examine how he waged the battle of life—how he succeeded, or why he failed—to measure the size of his understanding, to observe its growth and power—to glance at his writings in prose and in poetry—to consider his character, moralizing on the lesson it affords; and then, while we do homage to his genius, while with grateful hearts we acknowledge the lasting service he has done to literature, religion, and truth, we may drop a tear over the indiscretions and misfortunes which brought the poet to an untimely grave. We must trace the early career of Goldsmith in order correctly to understand his writings. To compose the biography of a celebrated person would be a delightful exercise for the mind qualified to undertake it; next to the achievement of illustrious actions is their felicitous narration—the pen of Tacitus was never used so well as in sketching the virtues and glories of Agricola ; moreover, in the biography of an individual, peculiarities, virtues, foibles, may be noticed, which could not be approached in the grandeur or vastness of historical composition. The Life of Goldsmith has been written by Mr. Prior, by Mr. Forster, by Washington Irving the accomplished American author, by Macaulay the historian, whose brilliant pen is now motionless for ever. Notwithstanding these biographies and many sketches by inferior artists, the right book was not written—at the right time by the right man. That book should have been compiled immediately after the poet's death—it should have been the tribute of friendship-of learning-of kindred genius, and therefore the performance of Dr. Samuel Johnson. The Lives of the Poets attest his fitness for such a task ; his feeling heart would have warmed with the subject, his inflexible adherence to truth would have commanded assent to his statements, his knowledge of Goldsmith's character, his admiration for true genius, his high morality, deep scholarship and familiarity with the writings of Goldsmith, would have given a peculiar charm to his biography of the Poet, and would have been the imperishable tribute which one man of intellect can pay to the memory of another. An autobiography from Goldsmith's pen would have been still more acceptable.

While thankful for what we possess, we must deplore the loss of an invaluable correspondence and of many facts which might have been ascertained immediately after Goldsmith's death, but which are now irrecoverably lost. I may add that as Johnson would have written the best life of Goldsmith, so, it may be said, would Goldsmith have been the best biographer of Johnson.

Oliver Goldsmith was born at Pallas, a short distance from the unclassic village of Ballymahon, in the county of Longford, or, according to Dr. Strean, (who held the Parish of Kilkenny West, for fifteen years,) at Ardnagan, county of Roscommon, ou the 11th November, 1728. He was wont in

after life to say, that he was connected with no less celebrated a personage than the Protector, Oliver Cromwell, (from whom his Christian name was derived,) by his father's side ; he also claimed affinity with Wolfe, the conqueror of Quebec, whose mother was a Goldsmith. If this account be accurate, few persons could boast of ancestors better known, or in their respective spheres more highly distinguished. Of his immediate ancestors, not a few had been ministers of the Church of England. His father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, was a gentleman and a scholar-he had been creditably distinguished in our University, is said to have been acquainted with the Poet Parnell, and with Thomas, grandfather of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, not the least brilliant of our countrymen. His uncle, the Rev. Thomas Contarine, deserves to be particularly noticed ; he was descended from a noble family in Venice; and the singular history of his grandfather, who married a nun, and then fled from persecution, is well worthy of perusal. The grandchild of this strange marriage became a beneficed clergyman, and had been in the University the companion of Bishop Berkeley, one of the best-wisestgreatest prelates of our Church. The enthusiastic Berkeley selected Contarine to attend him in the hazardous operation of ascertaining by experiment the degree of pain suffered during strangulation, on which occasion he saved the life of the philosopher; Contarine, therefore, deserves to be held in the grateful recollection of posterity. This excellent man rebuked the false pride of Oliver, when he murmured at being a sizar, by informing the sensitive youth that he too had been a sizar and that it had not withheld from him the friendship of the learned and good.

Charles Goldsmith settled at Pallas, or Pallasmore, in the county named-married happily-had a numerous familywas pious, industrious, and passing rich,“ with forty pounds


a year.” Shortly after the birth of Oliver, his father succeeded to the rectory of Kilkenny West, in which was situated Lissoy, midway between Ballymahon and Athlone, in the county of Westmeath-there the poet fixed his Auburn—there he saw in childhood the scenes, which when a man he stamped with everlasting beauty. Although we have not his autobiography, we have from Oliver what we may accept as sketch of his father's character, and of the lessons by him imprinted on the mind of his susceptible child-lessons which produced such a remarkable effect on his conduct and opinions through life. In the Citizen of the World, there is given in letter twenty-seven "The History of the Man in Black," whose benevolence, writes Oliver, seemed to be rather the effect of appetite than reason. The Rev. Charles Goldsmith is believed to be truly described in these words, “My father, the younger son of a good family, was possessed of a small living in the Church. His education was almost his fortune, and his generosity greater than his education. Poor he was,

he had his flatterers still poorer than himself, for every dinner he gave them they returned an equivalent in praise, and this was all he wanted. His pleasure increased in proportion to the pleasure he gave-he loved all the world, and fancied all the world loved him."

The early education of the poet was intrusted to a retired quartermaster of an Irish regiment. At six years of age he quitted his first master, who afterwards figured, according to Mr. Forster as the broken soldier," unless, according to Mr. Prior, that character more properly belonged to Major M‘Dermott of Emlagh, in the county of Roscommon. In personal appearance Oliver at this period was a short, thick, pale-faced, pock-marked boy, clumsy in manner, indolent in study, sensitive, good-natured, and kind. In boyish sports, he was active and forward-his limbs were well set, his legs


« PreviousContinue »