« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
NE of the results of that sudden literary importance,
which excited so much astonishment in the minds of the less discriminating of Goldsmith's contemporaries, was the inevitable revival of his earlier productions; and in June, 1765, Griffin of Fetter Lane put forth a threeshilling duodecimo of some two hundred and thirty pages under the title of “Essays: By Mr. Goldsmith.” It bore the motto “ Collecta revirescunt," and was bellished by a vignette from the hand of Bewick's friend and Stothard's rival, the engraver Isaac Taylor. In a characteristic preface Goldsmith gave his reasons for its publication. “Most of these essays," he said, “have been regularly reprinted twice or thrice a year, and conveyed to the public through the kennel of some engaging compilation. If there be a pride in multiplied editions, I have seen some of my labours sixteen times reprinted, and claimed by different parents as their own.” And then he goes on, in a humourous anecdote, to vindicate his prior claim to any profit arising from his performances, finally winding up by a burlesque draft upon Posterity, which, as it is omitted in the second edition of 1766, may be reprinted here:
“Mr. Posterity. Sir, Nine hundred and ninety-nine years after sight hereof, pay the bearer, or order, a thousand pounds' worth of praise, free from all deductions whatsoever, it being a commodity that will then be very serviceable to him, and place it to the accompt of, &c.”
Most of the papers contained in this volume have already been referred to in the preceding pages. Such
Reverie at the Boar’s Head," the “ Adventures of a Strolling Player," the “ Distresses of a Common Soldier,” and the “Beau Tibbs” sequence, only two of which it reproduces. There are others from The Bee, The Busy Body, and The Lady's Magazine. But the freshest contribution consists of a couple of poems, which figure at the end as Essays xxvi. and xxvii. One is “ The Double Transformation,” an obvious imitation of that easy manner of tale-telling, which Prior had learned from La Fontaine. Prior's method, however, is more accurately copied than his manner, for nothing is more foreign to Goldsmith's simple style than the profusion of purely allusive wit with which the author of “Alma” decorated his Muse. The other is an avowed imitation of Swift, entitled "A New Simile"; but it is hardly as good as "The Logicians Refuted," while indirectly it illustrates the inveteracy of that brogue which Goldsmith never lost, and, it is asserted, never cared to lose. No one but a confirmed Milesian would, we imagine, rhyme “stealing” and “failing.” Elsewhere he scans “Sir Charles,” “Sir Chorlus," after the manner of Captain Costigan; and more than once he pairs sounds like “sought” and “fault,” a peculiarity only to be explained by a habit of mispronunciation.
One of the friends he had made by “The Traveller" was, like himself, an Irishman. This was Robert Nugent of Carlanstown, in Goldsmith's own county of Westmeath (not to be confounded with Dr. Nugent, Burke's father-inlaw), who, two years later, was to be created Viscount Clare. Nugent was a poet in his way,—there are a number of his early verses in vol. ii. of Dodsley's “Collection;" and his ode to William Pulteney was good enough to be quoted by Gibbon. His Essex seat became a frequent asylum to Goldsmith, who wrote for his friend a charming occasional poem, to which reference will be made hereafter. But for the present the most notable thing connected with Nugent is that he introduced Goldsmith to the notice of the Earl of Northumberland, then Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, who, says Percy, being newly returned from that country in 1764, "invited our poet to an interview.” It is supposed, though the “Percy Memoir” is here a little confusing, that this interview was the same as one of which Sir John Hawkins gives the following account in his “Life of Johnson":"Having one day," he says,
a call to wait on the late Duke, then Earl, of Northumberland, I found Goldsmith waiting for an audience in an outer room; I asked him what had brought him there : he told me, an invitation from his lordship. I made my business as short as I could, and, as a reason, mentioned that Doctor Goldsmith was waiting without. The Earl asked me if I was acquainted with him: I told him I was, adding what I thought likely to recommend him. I retired and staid in the outer room to take him home. Upon his coming out, I asked him the result of his conversation. “His lordship,' says he,
'told me he had read my poem' meaning "The Traveller,' “and was much delighted with it; that he was going Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and that, hearing that I was a native of that country, he should be glad to do me any kindness.' 'And what did you answer,' asked I, 'to this gracious offer?' 'Why,' said he, 'I could say nothing but that I had a brother there, a clergyman, that stood in need of help: as for myself, I have no dependence on the promises of great men: I look to the booksellers for support; they are my best friends, and I am not inclined to forsake them for others.” One can imagine what kind of effect this entirely unsophisticated proceeding would have upon the time-serving narrator of the anecdote; and indeed, his indignation blazes out in the comment with which he concludes his story. “Thus," he exclaims, "did this idiot in the affairs of the world trifle with his fortunes, and put back the hand that was held out to assist him! Other offers of a like kind he either rejected, or failed to improve, contenting himself . with the patronage of one nobleman, whose mansion afforded him the delight of a splendid table, and a retreat for a few days from the metropolis."
Few people, probably, will take Hawkins's view of the matter, or, at all events, they will find it difficult to conceive that Goldsmith, being Goldsmith, could have acted in any different way. His acquaintanceship with the Earl and Countess does not however seem to have suffered on this account. Possibly it was fostered by Percy, who, as their
Nugent, as yet, was only “Mr.” But Hawkins wrote his “Life of Johnson ” many years after this date.
kinsman, should, one would think, have been the first to introduce the poet to his illustrious relatives. But the “Percy Memoir,” as stated above, distinctly assigns this office to Nugent. Percy's "Reliques of Ancient Poetry," upon which he was then engaged, nevertheless, afforded opportunity for a further recognition of the poet by the Northumberlands. Out of many metrical discussions with Percy had grown a ballad in old style, to which Goldsmith gave the name of “Edwin and Angelina,” although it was afterwards known as “The Hermit.” The Countess of Northumberland admired it so much, that a few copies, now of the rarest, were struck off for her benefit, and it was afterwards included in “The Vicar of Wakefield.” Goldsmith took immense pains with this poem. The privately printed version differs considerably from that in the “Vicar”; the text in the “Vicar” varies in the successive editions; and there are other variations in the volume of selections in which he afterwards included it. With its author, “Edwin and Angelina” was always a favourite. “As to my 'Hermit,' that poem,” he told Cradock, cannot be amended.” And Hawkins only echoed contemporary opinion when he called it
one of the first poems of the lyric kind that our language has to boast of.” We, who have heard so many clearvoiced singers since Goldsmith's time, can scarcely endorse that judgment, nor can we feel for it the enthusiasm which it excited when Percy's “Reliques" were opening new realms of freedom to those who had hitherto been prisoned in the trim parterres of Pope. At most we can allow it accomplishment and ease. But its sweetness has grown a little insipid, and its simpļicity, to eyes