« PreviousContinue »
throws Horatius Cocles into insignificance. The victory over sin and death eclipses the puny battle on the bridge, while the “tall cliff,” towering into sunshine above the clouds and storms, grandly exemplifies the serene triumph of Christianity over the sins, follies, passions and crimes of man. Goldsmith will outlive the criticism, and perhaps, the critic.
Our discourse draws to an end, not without a moral. Improvidence was the failing of Goldsmith; he could neither economize time nor money. No certain income belonged to him. Johnson had a pension; Burke had a pension ; Beattie had a pension ; Hume had a pension ; Robertson contrived to get £4500 for “The History of Charles V."; while Goldsmith had no pension ; received £20 for “The Traveller," £60 for “The Vicar of Wakefield," and thought himself overpaid with £100 for “The Deserted Village." True, his weighty undertakings, such as “ The Histories” and “The Animated Nature” were more amply remun
unerated ; but the drudgery of these labours oppressed his spirits and engrossed his time; he became disheartened and unhappy, and to alleviate his trials and troubles, be sought to drown reflection in a society not always suited to his position and character.
The misfortunes of authors in other days have been proverbial; and what a censure does not the fact pronounce upon the ingratitude of society! The other professions enrich--authorship impoverishes.
“The rich physician, honored lawyers ride,
Poverty has been the muse's patrimony; and as that poetical divinity teachetb us, when Jupiter's daughters were each of them married to the gods, the niuses alone were left solitary,
Helicon forsaken of all suitors, the humorist, old Burton, adds, “I believe it was because they had no portion.”
“Why did Calliope live so long a maid ?
So the followers of the Muses may, like Goldsmith, have gained fame and an early grave. Oliver Goldsmith, in his forty-sixth year, died—a broken-hearted man! This sad history has reminded us of the poets who lived and died in circumstances of wretchedness. A dismal record might be drawn up of those who wrote well and lived ill. Authors have sacrificed happiness, reason, life, in their ennobling pursuits; they have not been understood by those around them; the bent of their genius has not been found out in time; friendly help has been wanting in the sad hour of need, or has only been exerted to inscribe the epitaph or elevate the tomb. Otway died devouring a roll of bread, in an agony of hunger. The life of Savage, a man of unquestionable genius, makes us shudder. Johnson was stirred to the depths of his soul when he penned the biography of his early friend. Chatterton, having eaten nothing for three days, swallowed arsenic, and was buried in a shell in the ground of Shoe-lane workhouse. In the Manchester Exhibition of Art, my attention was arrested by a picture, the design of which I did not at first comprehend. In a narrow chamber there lay stretched on a pallet, a youth over whose gentle countenance the paleness of death was spread ; the dim light of dawn stole in through an open casement ; the manuscript poem lay near; the phial of poison was clutched in the hand it had done its work.
The artist, himself a young man of genius, thus told the history of Chatterton. I deny not he was, at the age of eighteen, a sceptic, proud, and reserved; but his fate was sad and
awful. Can we guess the maddened feelings with which a man of genius, whose early hope has been blasted, takes refuge from misery in suicide ? Twice in his life the thought so horrible occurred to Goldsmith; he was restrained by his belief in Christianity, and lived to immortalize his
But we must look to the other side of the picture. Sad as the life of Goldsmith was—painful as is the history of the calamities of authors, yet in all their struggles and sufferings, they have their hours of intensest joy. D'Israeli imagines this time of happiness to come when the solitary author is in his study. “The solitary man of genius is arranging the materials of instruction and curiosity from every age. He is striking out, in the concussion of new light, a new order of ideas for his own times. View him in the stillness of meditation, his eager spirit busied over a copious page, and his eye sparkling with gladness. He has concluded what his countrymen will hereafter cherish as the legacy of genius.”
These are just reflections. We can comprehend what men of sensitive feelings suffer -can we even imagine the degree of their happiness ? Can we even guess the joys of Milton, as, blind in the body, he saw with the eye of the mind heavenly visions, and sung enraptured his seraphic song? Can we guess the felicity of men of genius in a garret, exercising their faculties for the good of their fellow-creatures, or for the glory of God? So sure as the pleasures of the intellect exceed the pleasures of the senses, do their enjoyments exceed those of the busy herd of vulgar men who deride their foibles and despise their labours. Can we compass the feelings of Oliver Goldsmith, as he laid down his pen, having finished his character of The Vicar of Wakefield ? Can you guess his sober delight as he reviewed his sketch in The Deserted Village, of the true minister of Christ here below? In fact, he had done a good work—taught mankind a great lesson-set up the village Preacher to be a pillar of light in our land for ever-redeemed hours misspent, energy wasted, by recording in the language of poetry and of truth how bright and beautiful is the character of the Christian Pastor in its perfection-how Christianity can enable the believer to endure to the end, and triumph. For us, for the Christian world, Goldsmith did this blessed work.
I might here stop, and refuse to draw “ his frailties from their dread abode," but I dare not. The biographers of Oliver Goldsmith have written kindly of his genius as they ought. Mr. Prior and Washington Irving have written kindly of the country of his birth. Mr. Forster,* a faithful chronicler, excuses Goldsmith's indiscretions, as “ well by the nature to which he was born as the land in which he was raised !” He requires the reader“ not to separate his mirth and heedlessness from the Irish soil in which they grew-in which impulse still reigns predominant over conscience and reflection-where unthinking benevolence yet passes for considerate goodness, and the gravest duties of life are overborne by social pleasure, or sunk in mad excitement.” Against the justice, against the fairness of that sweeping censure on our country, I protestnot the less strongly because the writer was an old companion and friend. That sentence was not penned in the genial spirit which belongs to a man of letters. But weigh it well-remember the character erroneously ascribed to your country in a work of high authority; and prove by your conduct that you are as thoughtful and industrious as the writer
* Mr. Forster's “Goldsmith” is not only the most complete but the most delightful biographical work of modern times. I subscribe cordially to Macaulay's opinion, “ that the highest place must be assigned to the eminently interesting work of Mr. Forster,” at he same time regretting that the noble critic failed to catch its spirit.
would wish you to be, but does not believe that as a nation, your are.
Macaulay contemptuously proclaims Oliver Goldsmith to have been “ vain, sensual, frivolous, profuse, improvident.” Having charged that he was extravagant in dress, in feasting, in promiscuous charities, and worse, he adds, with increasing bitterness, that it was not in these extravagancies his chief expense lay—“ he had been from boyhood a gambler, and at once the most sanguine and the most unskilful of gamblers.” He further computes that Goldsmith's income latterly amounted to the vast proportions of £400 per annum. The charge of gambling, Mr Forster, the best authority on the subject, declares to be founded upon a trifling indiscretion; and I do not believe it to have been justly imputed to the associate and the friend of Johnson, of Reynolds, and of Burke. The charge of possessing at the close of a literary life of agonizing toil £400 per annum comes well from a literary man who held an office in India worth £10,000 a year; and I may add that it is probable Lord Macaulay received for every line he wrote one hundred times a greater reward than fell to the lot of the unfortunate Goldsmith. But you must understand that poverty in England has been viewed almost as a crime. Being self-reliant, resolute, persevering, and successful in their industry, the English despise the poverty which they think springs from idleness and improvidence, and they accordingly despised in Goldsmith and despised in his country, the poverty they imagine to exist through the incorrigible propensities of the Irish people. Until, therefore, through your own laborious exertions, you want nothing from them, and ask for nothing save the sweet rewards of industry, you will not be respected as a nation. I speak as your friend, and because I feel keenly the injustice of an indiscriminate imputation upon a people whom I