« PreviousContinue »
were good and proved highly serviceable to him in manhood; they enabled him to walk over a good part of Europe before railways existed, and qualified him to endure privations and fatigue when he had too often an empty stomach and an empty purse. The schools to which Goldsmith was afterwards sent were good, and although he showed a distaste for the exact sciences, he got a sound classical education; his fellowstudents were in the rank of gentlemen, and had he been industrious or had he been appreciated, a fair prospect was before him of success in life. His musical propensities were fostered by the melodies of Carolan, who tuned the harp to his original songs, and whose memory lives in a biography by his pupil. The poetical tastes of Oliver were nurtured by a local versifier named White, who appears, from the quotations given by Prior, to have suggested the idea of a poem afterwards developed in the Deserted Village. That the nature of young Oliver was generally misunderstood is certain. The good uncle Contarine appears to have penetrated somewhat deeper than others below the surface of his character, and to have had hopes, long maintained, of his future distinction. Oliver must have been a fair classical scholar, because he obtained a sizarship in our University ; however the inferiority of his position produced a painful effect upon his sensitive nature. Moreover, he was deficient in the energy requisite to attain success against active competition ; he would not read what he did not like, and without industry nothing could be gained then or now in the University of Dublin. The college life of Goldsmith was irregular and unhappy; careless, desponding, and idle, he never could extricate himself from pecuniary difficulties, nor exhibit in his studies diligence and application. When his pocket was empty, he composed ballads, for which he received a few shillings, and enjoyed the luxury of fame, by listening to the singers of his verses in the streets and to the applause of the crowd—then, on his way home he would bestow the price of his poetic effusions on the first beggar who would piteously demand his alms. Washington Irving relates an anecdote indicative of that prompt, but thoughtless and often whimsical benevolence, which throughout life formed one of the most eccentric yet endearing points of his character. Being engaged to breakfast with a college intimate, he failed to make his appearance ; his friend repaired to his room, knocked at the door, and was bidden to enter; to his surprise he found Goldsmith in bed, immersed to his chin in feathers. A serio-comic story explained the circumstance. In the course of the preceding evening's stroll he had met a woman who implored his charity, exclaiming that her husband was in the hospital ! she was just from the country! a stranger and destitute ! without food or shelter for her five helpless children! This was too much for the kind heart of Goldsmith. He was almost as poor as herself, and had therefore no money to give; but he brought her to the college gate, gave her the blankets from his bed to cover her little children, and part of his clothes to sell and purchase food; and, finding himself cold during the night, had cut open his bed and buried himself among the feathers. The college tutor of Goldsmith is described as a ruffianly person, who in his fury on one occasion, personally chastised his unfortunate pupil; the pupil grew obdurate—then was present at (though not engaged in) disgraceful riots, for which he was censured by the Provost; and thus, scrambling through his course, eventually in February, 1749, obtained his degree of Bachelor of Arts. We have a short letter given by Prior from Dr. Thomas Wilson, a Fellow of the University, dated 24th February, 1776, which tells the whole truth, so far as it could then be ascertained, as to the college career of Oliver Goldsmith.
“I send you,” writes Dr. Wilson, "all the intelligence I can derive from the College Registry relating to Dr. Goldsmith. I will clear up one point, which will prove a satisfaction to his surviving friends, as it will show that he was never expelled, and that the offence for which he was censured was only a juvenile indiscretion, and did not in the least affect his moral character. While he resided in the college he exhibited no specimens of that genius which in his maturer years raised his character so high. Squalid poverty and its concomitants, idleness and despondence, probably checked every aspiring hope, and repressed the exertion of his talents; and the savage brutality that shone so conspicuous in the truly amiable gentleman (Mr. Wilder) who was to rule his studies under the notion of a tutor, was better calculated to frighten than allure. The world is obliged for Goldsmith's works to his idleness and miscarriages in College, which deprived him of all hope of rising in the Church to a curacy, on which he might have comfortably starved to a good old age.”
Many persons subsequently celebrated were about that period commencing their career of fame ; amongst others two great Irishmen, Flood and Burke, studied in our University.
The stately Flood does not appear to have noticed the humble Goldsmith, yet the subsequent success in London of the starving poet was greater in literature, than the success of Flood in politics. Grattan eloquently explained the cause of Flood's comparative failure in the English Parliament, notwithstanding his reputation in the Irish Senate—“He was an oak of the forest too old to be transplanted.” Burke, though not pre-eminently distinguished in his academic career, yet was successful-studious—correct—thoughtful—laying deep the foundations in knowledge and philosophy upon which he built up a reputation wide as the world. Burke
and Goldsmith, at first merely acquaintances, were thrown together at a later period of life, and became associates and friends.
The subsequent career of Goldsmith, down to his settlement as a literary man in London, was more chequered, unaccountable, and I must add provoking, than that of any eccentric author of whom we read in modern times. Having returned to the country from the University, he dwelt amongst his friends for two years, awaiting his arrival at the age of twenty-three, when it was hoped he would take holy orders. He seems to have spent this interval in follies which
may described as innocent, resembling those of Tony Lumpkin in the play; that is, in singing, joking, rhyming, sporting, and sometimes, though reluctantly, teaching in his brother Henry's village school—that brother was a man of piety and learning; having married early and settled down upon an humble preferment, he practised the virtues he taught, and was by all who witnessed his useful labours respected and beloved. It is not surprising that the character of the true minister of Christ should have made an indelible impression on the mind of young Oliver ; he beheld in his father, in his uncle, in his brother, that character exemplified in its purity, in its simplicity, and almost in its apostolic perfection-so, he delighted in describing such a character, and his delineations will live for ever. That Goldsmith read tales—novels—travels,plays that he studied such specimens of animated nature as were within his reach-that he picked up a smattering of French and a knowledge of music is certain; but these were not the studies to qualify him for the Church; and accordingly, when at the earnest solicitations of his uncle Contarine, he presented himself to the Bishop of Elphin for ordination, he was rejected-some say because he appeared before the Bishop in scarlet breeches. But the fact was, he was not fitted for the Church, and always himself so asserted. We next find him in a gentleman's family as tutor-a situation he disliked, because dependent. After some months he quarrelled with his host while at cards, vowed the gentleman cheated, received his stipend of thirty pounds-mounted a horse and rode off to Cork with the notion of emigrating to America—prudently secured his passage; but the wind proving unfavourable he went pleasuring in the country, whereupon the captain sailed without him; and then, having sold his horse and spent his money, he presented himself suddenly to his widowed mother hungry and penniless. The good woman being justly incensed at his imprudence, he tries to soothe her indignation by a narration of his adventures, so whimsical and so humorous, that Washington Irving thinks it was touched up a little with the fanciful pen of the future essayist; it opens thus early his “happy knack of extracting sweets from that worldly experience which to others yields nothing but bitterness.” What next was to be done with the wayward youth ? He was advised to become, according to his own expression, “a counsellor.” Accordingly the good uncle supplies Oliver with fifty pounds, and sends him to Dublin on his way to London, there to study the law. Unhappy Oliver—why were you seduced into a gaming-house ; why did you in a single evening lose your money; why were you once more thrown upon your friends, wearied by your follies and extravagance ? In justice to his memory I must quote the words of Prior on this sad circumstance. 66 The shame and mortification occasioned by this imprudence were very sincere ; for however prone to fall into error, few felt more accutely or lamented more strongly when too late, its usual results. He continued some time in Dublin without having courage to communicate his loss. The good uncle, indefatigable in affectionate zeal for his unfortunate nephew, again appears, and after consul