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it was only to say that he did not talk for the reputation of knowledge, but rather of sociality, wit and humor; and nothing could have been more intense than the contrast of motives between himself and Dr. Johnson. The Doctor, filled with facts and definitions, and delighting in them for their own sake, talked with the precision of a lexicographer; and with as evident an intention of displaying his minute acquirements, as of overawing and terrifying his antagonist; his remarks were seldom sound, though almost always antithetical and witty. Goldsmith, on the other hand, entered into conversation from a feeling of sociality, and with a desire, not to set off the extent of his knowledge, but to show the sweetness and bon hommie of his sentiments; but the instant he became entangled in the machinery of the Doctor's antithetical fulling mill, he lost his selfpossession and suffered his ideas to be broken up; as a natural consequence he lost his temper. but did not, like his antagonist, fall to abusing those about him in consequence. In the regions of pure imagination he could soar with unruffled pinions, and strike the fluttering folly as it passed with unerring talons; but with his wings clipped, and set in the conversational cock-pit, to kick and scuffle, to strike and parry, amid a war of syllogisms and contradictions, he made a sorry and a miserable figure.
"The great lexicographer," says Mr. Irving, "spoiled by the homage of society, was still more prone than Goldsmith, to lose temper when the argument went against him he could not brook appearing to be worsted; but would attempt to bear down his adversary by the rolling thunder of his periods, and, when that failed, would become downright insulting. 'There is no arguing with Johnson,' said Goldsmith, 'for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt-end of it.'"
"In several of the intellectual collisions recorded by Boswell, as triumphs of Dr. Johnson," says Mr. Irving, "it really appears to us that Goldsmith had the best, both of the wit and the argument; and especially of the courtesy and good nature. On one occasion he certainly gave Johnson a capital reproof, as to his own colloquial peculiarities. Talking of fables, Goldsmith observed that the animals introduced in them seldom talked in character; 'for in
stance,' said he, the fable of the little fishes who saw birds fly over their heads, and, envying them, petitioned Jupiter to be changed into birds; the skill consists in making them talk like fish.' Just then observing that Dr. Johnson was shaking his sides and laughing, he immediately added, 'why Dr. Johnson, this is not so easy as you seem to think; for if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like whales ?'
"Goldsmith, in conversation, shone most when he least thought of shining; when he gave up all effort to appear wise and learned, or to cope with the oracular sententiousness of Johnson, and gave way to his natural impulses. Many a man delighted in these outpourings of a fertile fancy and a generous heart; in his happy moods, Goldsmith had an artless simplicity and buoyant good humor, that led to a thousand amusing blunders and whimsical confessions, much to the entertainment of his intimates; yet in his most thoughtless garrulity, there was occasionally the gleam of the gold and the flash of the diamond."
Among the most agreeable passages in Goldsmith's works, are his humorous sketches of the London clubs, of which he seems, at various periods of his life, to have been a constant frequenter. One of these was a shilling whist club, which held its meetings at the Devil Tavern, near Temple Bar: the company was of a familiar, unceremonious kind, delighting in that very questionable wit, which consist in playing off practical jokes upon each other: another was a comical club, somewhat in the style of the Three Jolly Pigeons.'
"Songs, jokes, dramatic imitations, burlesque parodies, and broad sallies of humor," says Mr. Irving, "formed a contrast to the sententious morality, pedantic casuistry, and polished sarcasm of the learned circle: Here a huge tun of man, by the name of Gordon, used to delight Goldsmith, by singing the jovial song of Nottingham ale, and looking like a butt of it: here, too, a wealthy pig butcher, charmed no doubt by the mild philanthropy of The Traveller, aspired to be on the most sociable footing with the author; and here was Tom King, the comedian, recently risen to consequence by his performance of Lord Ogleby, in the new comedy of the Clandestine Marriage."
Here, too, was Hugh Kelly, a persecutor and a critic of Goldsmith; and in this club were found his hangers on and admirers; though from the anecdotes transmitted to us, we do not discover that even here, however much admired, he either predominated or dogmatized; on the contrary, the footing of his intercourse was thoroughly social and democratic.
The production of his play, "The Good Natured Man," in which the variety and excellence of the humor, and the grace and truthfulness of the characters have fully established for the author a title to dramatic reputation, as it was one of the most exciting events of his life, is one also of the most interesting to his biographer, as it enlarged his circle of society, and gave him, in addition to his former notoriety, a very superior and desirable reputation. The production of a good comedy, in which the manners of well-bred and high-minded persons are set forth, together with the faults and foibles of their class, entitles its author to a superior place in the society which he describes; and by the production of the good natured man, Goldsmith won it for himself, beyond the reach of envy. He had now become a literary lion: he was the associate of Johnson, Burke, Garrick, and other members of the famous literary club.
And now ensued a partial reconciliation with Garrick, with whom he had long ago fallen into a coldness, through a literary pique. Through the intervention of friends, the play-writer and the actor were brought together, with much ceremony, by the friends of Goldsmith, in order that the "Good Natured Man" might be properly brought forward upon the stage. Goldsmith would make no sacrifice of honor to his interest; and Garrick acted with his usual coquetry: the consequence was a very serious delay, during which the author, for his daily support, undertook several literary jobs.
He now wrote his History of Rome, which is still read by young persons, though, perhaps, with little profit. When at length the piece was brought upon the stage, with a prologue by Johnson, it came within a little of failing utterly at the first presentation. Poor Goldsmith, it is said, left the theatre with his towering hopes completely cut down.
"He endeavored," says Mr. Irving, "to hide his mortification, and even to assume an air of unconcern while among his associates; but the moment he was alone with Dr. Johnson, in whose rough, but magnanimous nature, he reposed unlimited confidence, he threw off all restraint, and gave way to an almost child-like burst of grief. Johnson, who had shown no want of sympathy at the proper time, saw nothing in the partial disappointment of over-rated expectations, to warrant such ungoverned emotions, and rebuked him sternly for what he termed a silly affectation; saying that'No man should be expected to sympathize with the sorrows of vanity.'"
Soon after, however, he entertained a company at which Dr. Johnson was present, with a particular and comic account of all his feeling, both during and after the presentation of the piece.
"How he went, he said, to the literary club, after the failure of the piece; chatted gaily, as if nothing had gone amiss, and, to give a greater idea of his unconcern, sung a favorite comic song; all this while,' he adds, 'I was suffering horrid tortures, and was excessively
ill * but they never perceived my not eating, nor suspected the anguish of my heart: but when all were gone except Johnson, I burst out crying, and even swore that I would never write again.""
Johnson was amazed at Goldsmith's simplicity.
"All this, Doctor," said he, rather drily, "I thought had been a secret between you and me; and I am sure I would not have said anything about it for the world."
The anecdote discovers, more than any other that is related of Goldsmith, the peculiar genius, as well as faults of his mind not only as a man but an author; but we have always felt it a defect in his characters that we are continually put in pain for their dignity. The exposure of their foibles is too unreserved, and proceeds too often from a deficiency in real strength; while, in the eccentricities of a Don Quix otte, and the oddities of a Sancho Panza, there is a reserve in the one of gentlemanly pride, and in the other of practical sense, against which their follies are relieved, and a certain respect for them supported in the reader; while in the comedies of Shakspeare and of Moliere, and we may add, in
the admirable Tuyfelsdroeck of Carlyle, and the Fixlein of Richter, a surpassing keenness and perspicacity shines in the author's management, by which he shows us his own strength and wisdom, though humanely, through the weakness of that which he describes.
In the Vicar of Wakefield, on the contrary, the reader must throw aside his pride, and mingle with the persons of the story in a childish sympathy, which forgives everything in behalf of kind hearted
For his comedy of the "Good Natured Man," Goldsmith received about four hundred pounds from the theatre, and one hundred from his publisher; a sum considerably exceeding, as expenses were in those times, the worth of $3,000. This was the largest sum which he had received for any single work.
We find him now plunging into a variety of expenses: he took expensive apartments, furnished them in elegant style, dressed in the mode, and in the most costly fashion, even to the putting of gold buttons upon his coat; gave dinners to Johnson, Reynolds, Percy, and others; supper parties to young people of both sexes, to which were added rural parties for his friends of low life; a course of extravagance which very soon ran him in debt, and drove him back to the trade of book making. When engaged in regular literary labor, it was his custom to find a pleasant summer retreat in the country, where he would retire for weeks and months together; his recreation being then to stroll along the lanes and hedge-rows, meditating subjects to be wrought up at home.
"Much of the poem of the Deserted Village," says Mr. Irving, "was composed this summer, (1768,) in the course of solitary strolls about the green lanes and beautifully rural scenes of the neighborhood; and thus, much of the softness and sweetness of English landscape, became blended with the ruder scenes of his childhood. It was in these lonely and subdued moments that he poured forth that homage of the heart, rendered, as it were, at the grave of his brother Henry, (who had that year died.) The picture of the village pastor in this poem, which we have already hinted, was taken in part from the character of his father, embodied likewise the recollections |
And, as a bird each fond endearment tries To tempt its new fledged offspring to the skies, He tried each art, reproved each dull delay, Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.'"
From the period of the publication of his great poem, may be dated the decline of Goldsmith's happiness, and the rise of his more serious and permanent reputation. He did not, as he advanced in life, become more careful of his means; his difficulties, on the contrary, seemed rather to increase upon him, in consequence of his efforts to appear fine in polished society, to which he was now freely introduced. He became acquainted with a family named Horneck, with whom he journeyed to Paris, soon after the publication of the Deserted Village. His intercourse with the two Miss Hornecks, at whose home he was a frequent and a welcome guest, is at once the most agreeable and the most painful passage in his history; and it is fully given by Mr. Irving, with all the peculiar elegancies of his style and manner of treating social topics; but, as it was not our intention to give our readers an abstract of the biography of Goldsmith, we may content ourselves with re
ferring them to the volume of Mr. Irving, whose biography of this author is one of the most delightful and satisfactory which we have ever perused. The character of Goldsmith is defended, and cleared from every charge and stain of meanness, gross vanity and vulgarity, fixed upon it by the envious and fulsome pencil of Boswell. We conclude, therefore, with the concluding chapter of Mr. Irving, as it would be in vain to attempt a more complete and elegant eulogium upon his favorite author. "How comes it," says a recent and ingenious critic, "that in all the miry paths of life which he had trod, no speck ever sullied the robe of his modest and graceful muse. How amidst all that love of inferior company, which never to the last forsook him, did he keep his genius so free from every touch of vulgarity?
"We answer that it was owing to the innate purity and goodness of his nature; there was nothing in it that assimilated to vice and vulgarity. Though his circumstances often compelled him to associate with the poor, they never could betray him into companionship with the depraved. His relish for humor and for the study of character, as we have before observed, brought him often into convivial company of a vulgar kind; but he discriminated between their vulgarity and their amusing qualities, or rather wrought from the whole those familiar features of life which form the staple of his most popular writings.
Much, too, of this intact purity of heart may be ascribed to the lessons of his infancy under the paternal roof; to the gentle, benevolent, elevated, unworldly maxims of his father, who 'passing rich with forty pounds a year,' infused a spirit into his child which riches could not deprave nor poverty degrade. Much of his boyhood, too, had been passed in the household of his uncle, the amiable and generous Contarine; where he talked of literature with the good pastor, and practised music with his daughter, and delighted them both by his juvenile attempts at poetry. These early associations breathed a grace and refinement into his mind and tuned it up, after the rough sports on the green, or the frolics at the tavern. These led him to turn from the roaring glees of the club, to listen to the harp of his cousin Jane; and from the rustic triumph of
throwing sledge,' to a stroll with his flute along the pastoral banks of the Inny.
"The gentle spirit of his father walked with him through life, a pure and virtuous monitor; and in all the vicissitudes of his career, we find him ever more chastened in mind by the sweet and holy recollections of the home of his infancy.
"It has been questioned whether he really had any religious feeling. Those who raise the question have never considered well his writings; his Vicar of Wakefield, and his pictures of the Village Pastor, present religion under its most endearing forms, and with a feeling that could only flow from the deep convictions of the heart. When his fair travelling companions at Paris urged him to read the Church Service on a Sunday, he replied that 'he was not worthy to do it.' He had seen in early life the sacred offices performed by his father and his brother, with a solemnity which had sanctified them in his memory; how could he presume to undertake such functions? His religion has been called in question by Johnson and Boswell: he certainly had not the gloomy hypochondriacal piety of the one, nor the babblingmouth piety of the other; but the spirit of Christian charity breathed forth in his writings and illustrated in his conduct, give us reason to believe he had the indwelling religion of the soul.
"We have made sufficient comments in the preceding chapters on his conduct in elevated circles of literature and fashion. The fairy gifts which took him there, were not accompanied by the gifts and graces necessary to sustain him in that artificial sphere. He can neither play the learned sage with Johnson, nor the fine gentleman with Beauclerc: though he has a mind replete with wisdom and natural shrewdness, and a spirit free from vulgarity. The blunders of a fertile but hurried intellect, and the awkward display of the student assuming the man of fashion, fix on him at character for absurdity and vanity which, like the charge of lunacy, is hard to disprove, however weak the grounds of the charge and strong the facts in opposition to it.
"In truth, he is never truly in his place in these learned and fashionable circles, which talk and live for display. It is not the kind of society he craves.
yearns for domestic life; it craves familiar, confiding intercourse, family firesides, the guileless and happy company of children; these bring out the heartiest and sweetest sympathies of his nature.
"Had it been his fate,' says the critic we have already quoted, to meet a woman who could have loved him, despite his faults, and respected him despite his foibles, we cannot but think that his life and his genius would have been concentrated, his craving self-love appeased, his pursuits more settled, his character more solid. A nature like Goldsmith's, so affectionate, so confiding-so susceptible to simple, innocent enjoyments-so dependent on others for the sunshine of existence, does not flower if deprived of the atmosphere of home.
"The cravings of his heart in this respect are evident, we think, throughout his career; and if we have dwelt with more significancy than others, upon his intercourse with the beautiful Horneck family, it is because we fancied we could detect, amid his playful attentions to one of its members, a lurking sentiment of tenderness, kept down by a conscious poverty and a humiliating idea of personal defects. A hopeless feeling of this kind-the last a man would communicate to his friends might account for much of that fitfulness of conduct, and that gathering melancholy, remarked, but not comprehended by his associates, during the last year or two of his life; and may have been one of the troubles of the mind which aggravated his last illness, and only terminated with his death.
"We shall conclude these desultory re
marks, with a few which have been used by us on a former occasion. From the general tone of Goldsmith's biography, it is evident that his faults, at the worst, were but negative, while his merits were great and decided. He was no one's enemy but his own; his errors, in the main, inflicted evil on none but himself, and were so blended with humorous, and even affecting circumstances, as to disarm anger and conciliate kindness. Where eminent talent is united to spotless virtue, we are awed and dazzled into admiration, but our admiration is apt to be cold and reverential; while there is something in the harmless infirmities of a good and great, but erring individual, that pleads touchingly to our nature; and we turn more kindly towards the object of our idolatry, when we find that, like ourselves, he is mortal and is frail. The epithet so often heard, and in such kindly tones, of 'poor Goldsmith,' speaks volumes. Few, who consider the real compound of admirable and whimsical qualities which form his character, would wish to prune away its eccentricities, trim its luxuriance, and clip it down to the decent formalities of rigid virtue. 'Let not his frailties be remembered,' said Johnson; he was a very great man.' But for our part, we rather say 'Let them be remembered,' since their tendency is to endear; and we question whether he himself would not feel gratified in hearing his reader, after dwelling with admiration on the proofs of his greatness, close the volume with the kind-hearted phrase, so fondly and familiarly ejaculated, of 'Poor GOLDSMITH.""