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MEMOIR OF GOLDSMITH.
THE Life of Oliver Goldsmith by Mr. (now Sir James) Prior, published in 1837, in two volumes 8vo, was the first really careful biography of a writer who had already for seventy years been among the most popular and fascinating of our English classics. To the results of Mr. Prior's researches it can hardly be said that there has been any material addition. Mr. John Forster's well known Life and Adventures of Oliver Goldsmith, published in 1848, superseded, however, for most purposes, the work of Mr. Prior, and, from its greater vivacity and its abundant deliciousness of literary anecdote, will probably remain the standard biography of Goldsmith to all time coming. Washington Irving's Oliver Goldsmith: A Biography, published in 1849, was avowedly a compilation from Prior and Forster, but has an independent interest, as the work of one who delighted, all his life, in acknowledging Goldsmith as his literary master, and has been named, in consequence, "The American Goldsmith." Of smaller Memoirs of Goldsmith the number is past counting. Perhaps, therefore, no better reason can be given for here adding one more than that it will be convenient for possessors of this edition of Goldsmith's Works to have some account of the Author bound up with it.
Oliver Goldsmith was born, on the 10th of November, 1728, at the obscure, and then almost inaccessible, village of Pallas, or Pallasmore, in the county of Longford, in the very midmost solitude of Ireland. His father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, was the poor Protestant clergyman of that Irish parish. He was one of a family of Goldsmiths, noted for worth and goodness of heart rather than worldly prudence, who were originally from the South of England, and in whom, since their first coming to Ireland, the clerical profession, in its Protestant form, had been almost hereditary. Goldsmith's mother, Ann Jones, was also of a clerical and
Protestant family that had been naturalized in Ireland. She was one of the daughters of the Rev. Oliver Jones, master of the diocesan school of Elphin in Roscommon. From this maternal grandfather young Oliver derived his Christian name. He used afterwards to maintain, however, that it had come into the line of his maternal ancestry through some connexion with Oliver Cromwell.
Four children, three of them daughters, and one a son, named Henry, had been
born to the clergyman of Pallasmore and his wife before the appearance of the
"Oliver" that was to make them famous; and the family was ultimately completed by the birth of three sons younger than Oliver, named Maurice, Charles, and John. The eldest of this family of eight (a daughter), and this last-named John, died in childhood. Effectively, therefore, Oliver grew up as one of a family of six, three of whom were older, and two younger, than himself.
A native of the rural heart of Ireland, Goldsmith, till his seventeenth year, received his entire education, whether of scenery and circumstance, or of more formal schooling, within the limits of that little-visited region. Not, however, without some changes of spot and society within those limits. In 1730, while he was yet but an infant, his father, after having been about twelve years minister of Pallas, removed to the better living of Kilkenny West, a parish some miles south of Pallas, and situated not in the county of Longford, but in the adjacent county of West Meath. Thenceforward, accordingly, the head-quarters of the family were no longer at Pallas, but at Lissoy, a quaint Irish village within the bounds of the new parish. Here, in a pretty and rather commodious parsonage-house, on the verge of the village, and on the road between Athlone and Ballymahon, the good clergyman set himself to bring up his children on his paltry clerical income, eked out by the farming of some seventy acres of land. He was himself a mild eccentric of the Dr. Primrose type, kindly to all about him, and of pious, confused ways. But the immortal oddity of Lissoy, and the incarnation of all that had been peculiar for some generations in the race of the Goldsmiths, was the parson's young son, Oliver. In book-learning, for one thing, he was, from the first, a little blockhead. "Never was so dull a boy" was the report of a kinswoman, who, having lived in the Lissoy household, had been the first to try to teach him his letters, and who afterwards, under her married name of Elizabeth Delap, kept a small school at Lissoy, and survived to be proud of her pupil, and to talk of him in her extreme old age, after he was dead. Hardly different seems to have been the report of the Lissoy schoolmaster, Thomas Byrne, more familiarly known as "Paddy Byrne," -a veteran who had returned to his original vocation of teaching after having served in the wars under Marlborough and risen to the rank of quartermaster to a regiment in Spain. And yet of this "Paddy Byrne" Goldsmith seems to have retained to the last an affectionate recollection:
A man severe he was, and stern to view;
Better than all, he had a stock of tales, not only of his own campaigning adventures, but also from old Irish ballads, chap-books, and fairy lore, and a knack of versifying, which he was fond of exercising in the form of extempore Irish translations from Virgil. From this "Paddy Byrne," in short, if from any one, Goldsmith caught his first notions, of literary invention and rhyming. But the poor ttle fellow was always unfortunate. Hardly had he become aware of the wealth that was in Paddy Byrne, and hardly had Paddy Byrne had time to discern the spark of genius that lay somewhere in his awkward little pupil, when the two were separated. The boy was not more than nine years of age when an attack of confluent small-pox stopped his attendance, at Lissoy school; and, when he recovered, it was with his naturally plain face disfigured into such a grotesque of ugliness that it was difficult to look at him without laughing. Whether to get him out of sight for a time, or because better instruction than Paddy Byrne's was now thought necessary for him, he was sent away from Lissoy to Elphin, a distance of about thirty miles. The purpose was that he should attend the school at Elphin which had formerly been taught by his grandfather, the Rev. Oliver Jones, but was now under the care of a Rev. Mr. Griffin. For about two years, accordingly, he did attend this school, boarding all the while with his uncle, Mr. John Goldsmith of Ballyoughter, who lived near Elphin. But in 1739, when he was eleven years old, he was brought back to a school of some reputation nearer home-one which had been set up in Athlone, about five miles from Lissoy, by a Rev. Mr. Campbell. Two years here, and four years more at the school of a Rev. Patrick Hughes at Edgeworthstown, county Longford, some seventeen miles from Lissoy, completed his school education and brought him to his seventeenth year.
The accounts of young Goldsmith during this time when he was tossed about from school to school in his native part of Ireland, generally coming home to Lissoy and its neighbourhood for the holidays, correspond singularly with what he was all through life. At every school we hear of him as a shy, thick, awkward boy, the constant butt of his companions because of his comically ugly face, and thought by most of them to be "little better than a fool." And yet everywhere there seems to have been a liking for him as an innocent simple-hearted fellow, who, though sensitive to the jokes made at his expense, and liable to fits of the sulks on account of them, would be all right again on the least beckoning of kindliness, and capital company in the playground at fives or ball with those who had been his tormentors. Of his success in school-work we hear little. We are to suppose him gradually getting on in Latin and other things in preparation for the University; and something is said as to his fondness for Ovid and Horace, his peculiar delight in Livy, his liking for Tacitus after a while, and his little care for Cicero. There are hints also to the effect that he excelled in the style of his translations, and that he had more credit for talent with the masters than among the boys. On the whole, Johnson's often-quoted saying about Goldsmith, "He was a plant that flowered late: there was nothing remarkable about him when young," seems true only in a very obvious and rough sense. The "flower" of Goldsmith was the
exquisite variety of English writing which eventually he gave to the world; and, till this came, there was nothing "remarkable" about him to those who could not discern that it might come, unless they chose, with his schoolfellows, to think his very queerness and confused-headedness remarkable. What Goldsmith was as a man, we repeat, he was as a boy. The amount of difference produced in his case by growth and experience was even less than is usual. What was the opinion of him among his schoolfellows at Elphin, Athlone, and Edgeworthstown, but an anticipation, even to identity in the mode of its expression, of that opinion which Johnson, Burke, Garrick, and others avowed they would have been obliged to form of Goldy in all his glory, if they had judged of him personally and apart from his writings? "He is little better than a fool," they all said; and yet they liked him. Nor were there wanting, in his boyhood, any more than in his manhood, those occasional gleams and flashes which challenged the current verdict, drew sudden attention to the absurd creature with the scarred face, and made people wonder whether, if he were a fool, he might not be a fool extraordinary, an inspired fool, one of Shakespeare's fools. Without insisting on the fact that the earliest letters of Goldsmith extant (not written till several years after our present date) have all the easy humour and grace of style of his later writings, we might revert to the tradition of the superior finish of his boyish exercises in translation. But there is more than this. All through his school-days, it is known, young Goldsmith remembered the trick of rhyming which he had learnt from Paddy Byrne, and not only read such English poetry as came in his way, but wrote verses of his own, which made his mother and others think that something after all might be made of "Noll." None of these verses, of any value for comparison with what he wrote afterwards, have been preserved. But there is an extempore metrical repartee of his, attributed to the time when he was at Elphin, and not more than eleven years of age, which shows that there was wit in the little fellow even thus early. At his uncle's house, it seems, as Oliver was dancing a hornpipe to the violin-playing of a certain Mr. Cumming, his droll face and figure so struck the player that he burst into laughter and pointed to the dancer as a fac-simile of "ugly Æsop." Æsop at once retorted by calling out this couplet :
Now that he was come to the age of seventeen, what was to be done with this lumpish, ill-favoured lad, whom everybody laughed at as a fool, and who yet was evidently no fool? The understanding had been that he was to go to the University of Dublin, where his elder brother, Henry, had already concluded his course with credit. But there were difficulties in the way. The family circumstances, never very good, had been recently much straitened by a particular cause. Goldsmith's eldest sister, Catherine, having been privately married to a Mr. Daniel Hodson, to whom Henry Goldsmith was then acting as tutor, and who was the son of a gentleman of good property, her father thought himself bound to prove that her family had not meanly brought about the match for their own interests. Accord
ingly, he entered into an engagement, Sept. 1744, to pay 400l. as her marriageportion. By this arrangement for the credit of Mrs. Hodson all the rest of the family were pinched at the time, and some of them permanently. If Oliver were to go to the University now, it must be not as a pensioner," like his brother Henry, but in the lower grade of a "sizar" or 66 poor scholar," wearing a coarse stuff gown and a red cap, and performing menial offices about college in return for his tuition and board. At this prospect Goldsmith recoiled. He would rather, he declared, be bound to some trade. At length, however, the remonstrances of a relative, whom he had every reason to respect, persuaded him to yield. This was "Uncle Contarine"-i.e. the Rev. Thomas Contarine (originally Contarini, for his grandfather was a refugee from Venice), clergyman of Oran, near Roscommon. This worthy man, who had been the college-companion of Bishop Berkeley, had married a sister of Goldsmith's father; and, during her life, Oliver had been a frequent visitor at their house. No one had liked the boy better all │ along, or better discerned what was in him, than Uncle Contarine. Already he had helped to maintain him at school; and, the recent death of his wife having left him a widower with one daughter, whatever affection would have gone to a son of his own was transferred to his nephew Oliver. He insisted that Oliver must go to college. What mattered being a sizar? He had been a sizar himself, and had he fared the worse for it?
After some kind of examination, Goldsmith was admitted at Trinity College, Dublin, on the 11th of June, 1745, the last in a list of eight sizars, of whom a John Beatty, his schoolfellow at Edgeworthstown, was another. These two chummed together during the entire four years of Goldsmith's college-course. Among fellowstudents who knew him well at college were Lauchlan Macleane, and some others who afterwards rose to some distinction in politics or in the church: Flood and Edmund Burke were both then in the college, but barely remembered, in after life, having seen Goldsmith there. No contrast can have been greater than between the college-life of Burke and that of Goldsmith. There was nothing, indeed, very distinguished, according to formal academic estimation, in Burke's college-career; but we have glimpses of him as a "terrible fellow" in a set of his own, domineering in a private debating society, and storing his ample mind with all sorts of information, acquired in his own way. In poor Goldy's case we find what might have been expected-"no specimens of genius," according to the report of one of his collegeacquaintances, but "only squalid poverty, and its concomitants, idleness and despondence." He was better known as "lounging about the college-gates," and getting into any row that was at hand, or as playing the flute and singing Irish songs in his rooms, than as making any figure in the classes. Two causes probably contributed to make his college-career more reckless and miserable than it need have been. One was that he had for his tutor a strong-bodied brute, named Wilder, of whose savageness to all about him there are yet traditions, and who seems to have had all the more delight in tormenting the poor sizar because he had come from his own part of the country and had been specially recommended to him. "Male,