페이지 이미지

be arrived. He explains, rather confusedly, how this occurred, in a letter to his uncle from Leyden, in April or May 1754, in which he draws a humorous contrast between the Hollanders he was now among and the Scotch he had just lest. “ Scotland and this country bear the highest contrast. There hills and rocks intercept every prospect ; here 'tis all a continued plain. There you might see a well-dressed duchess issuing from a dirty close, and here a dirty Dutchman inhabiting a palace.” The “great Albinus,” it would appear, had dwindled in Goldsmith's view on nearer inspection ; for he goes on to say, “ Physic is by no means taught so well here as in Edinburgh ; and in Leyden there are but four British students, owing to all necessaries being so extremely dear, and the professors so very lazy, the chemical professor excepted.' With this chemical professor, numed Gaubius, he formed some real acquaintance. But, though he remained about en months in Leyden, and learnt something there, it was only to set out from that town on a strange roving tour through the Continent. The notion of the possibility of such a tour to one without finances appears to have been put into his head by accident. Just before his arrival in Leyden there had died in that town the famous Danish humorist and miscellaneous author, Baron Holberg (1684-1754), and there seems to have been much talk in Leyden circles about this remarkable man, the reputed creator of modern Danish literature, and especially about the hardships and adventures of his early life. A Norwegian by birth, he had come, after a boyhood of great privation, to Copenhagen, and had struggled on there in singular

" But his ambition," as Goldsmith himself tells us, was not to be restrained, et his thirst of knowledge satisfied, till he had seen the world. Without money, recommendations, or friends, he undertook to set out upon his travels and make the cur of Europe on foot. A good voice and a trifling skill in music were the only Frances he had to support an undertaking so extensive ; so he travelled by day, and at night sang at the doors of peasants' houses, to get himself a lodging.” With great admiration Goldsmith goes on to tell what countries young Holberg travelled through, and how at length, returning to Copenhagen, he became popular as an zuthor, was honoured with a title and enriched by the king, “so that a life begun in contempt and penury ended in opulence and esteem.” What Holberg had done Goldsmith resolved to do; and the description he gives of Holberg's tour and his means of subsistence during it is almost an exact description of his own tour and its shifts. Leaving Leyden in February 1755, he contrived, we cannot tell how, to visit Louvain, Antwerp, Brussels, and Maestricht, and other towns of Flanders, remaining some little while in each. Then, passing into France, he seems to have futed his way through the provincial villages of that country, much as Holberg had done, greatly charmed with the gay and simple sociability of the poor French peasants, and making himself at home among them with Irish ease. Reaching Paris, he ' remained there some time, attending the chemical lectures of M. Rouelle, and had the honour of seeing Voltaire, and listening to a splendid conversation in which the great Frenchman, then past his sixtieth year, took the chief part. It was an argument about England and the English, in which Voltaire, after being long silent,


6« his

burst into a magnificent defence of them against Diderot and Fontenelle, meagre face” gathering beauty as he spoke, “his eye beaming with unusual brightness," and "strokes of the finest raillery falling from him thick and fast.” So Goldsmith afterwards described the interview, the scene of which he certainly makes to have been Paris, though Mr. Forster thinks this a mistake, and that it must have been in Switzerland. Through Switzerland, at all events, with a touch of Germany on the way, Goldsunith did go, visiting Geneva, Basle, and Berne, and making foot. excursions among the hills and valleys. Then, crossing the Alps, he descended into Italy by Piedmont and went to Florence, Verona, Mantua, Milan, Venice, and Padua ; at which last city, on account of the reputation of its medical school, he remained some time. In Italy, he gives us incidentally to understand, his flute. playing stood him in less stead than in France, every peasant in Italy being a better musician than himself ; but he had another resource in the old custom of philosophical disputations at universities and convents, followed by dinner, a night's lodging, and a small gratuity to the successful disputant. But, indeed, the mode of Goldsmith's existence during his extraordinary tour is a mystery. Letters he had sent to Ireland once or twice for remittances appear to have brought no reply ; ) borrowings from Irish friends, met casually in Paris or elsewhere, may have helped ; gambling, in which Goldsmith always did a little, is mentioned as probably helping too; and once or twice he seems to have hooked himself on to somebody, travelling like himself, who did not object to a companion. There is a dim tradition that he || had committed to him in Switzerland the charge of a young gentleman, the son of a wealthy London pawnbroker, who had been sent abroad for mental improvement, and that the young gentleman, preferring cash to the mental improvement he was getting, cut the connexion rather suddenly. Back through France, at any rate, Goldy seems to have made his return journey quite alone, fluting gaily as he had

On the 1st of February, 1756, he landed at Dover, after an absence of nearly two years in all. Having, it is believed, not a farthing in his pockets, it took him about a fortnight, and some comic singing in country barns, to pull himself on to London. He was twenty-seven years and three months old when he first set his foot in the London streets, and he was to be a Londoner and nothing else all the rest of his life.

Ah! London, London ! thou breaker of hearts from of old, thou wrecker of 1 generations of lives, thou insatiable maw of the bones and brains of men, vast over thy flat acres, then as now, spread thy fabric of brick and stone, of squares and alleys and streets, with rising steeples among them and iron-railed church. yards--divided, then as now, by the flowing and ebbing river, and on either side the river the same roar of traffic and wheels, and the same rush and skurry of myriads, all competing for existence, and some for its prizes and sweets ! Didst thou note, thou half-brutal London of that day, a certain few of those myriads, on either bank of the river, whose occupation seemed to be the most foolish and peculiar of any—a constant coming down to the river with lighted matches, papers, tapers, torches, oil-pots, and all sorts of combustibles, in their


hands, and trying to set the moving tide on fire? Not one of them succeeded; and the Thames flows yet an unburnt, and apparently unburnable, river, hissing at the biggest torch that can be Aung into it. But the attempt to set it on fire has been a traditional employment from time immemorial, and so fascinating

that Englishmen born far away from London, and even Scotchmen and Irishmen, I have left their own native, and probably more combustible, streams, and set

themselves down, each with his new trick for inflaming water, on the banks of this large one. Poor fellows ! it does the Thames no harm, and it amuses them! Strange, however, that it is precisely those Londoners, native or naturalized, who bave been engaged in this hopeless occupation, that the world cares to remember afterwards! All their contemporary myriads, otherwise occupied, are forgotten ; and the very history of London is a record of the successive groups of men that have laboured at setting fire to the Thames. Well, thou big halfbrutal London of February 1756, here is another young fellow, footsore from Dorer, on his return from a wild continental tour, who enters thee on thy south side, and is staring about him confusedly. He has himself no notion in the world that he is to do; but, from his looks, one may prophesy that he will have to attach himself to your existing group of Thames-kindlers. He seems fit for Dothing else. True, he has a diploma of M.B. from some foreign University (whether Leyden, Louvain, or Padua, no one knows), and may practise medicine, and even call himself, by courtesy, “Dr.” Goldsmith. But who would trust such a short, mean-visaged, odd-looking fellow, to bleed him or prescribe for hinn? Clearly, whatever he may try, he can be nothing else eventually than one of the lucifer-match brigade. Meanwhile receive him as gently as you can ! : He is one of the best-hearted creatures that ever came out of Ireland, without a bit of harm in him, and indeed a great deal wiser and cleverer than he looks.

A little information will be more welcome than farther exclamation or the overworking of a hackneyed image.--Well, the population of London in 1756 was about 700,000. The reign of George II., which had already extended over nearly thirty years, was approaching its close. In home-politics what was chiefly interesting was the persistence in office of the Duke of Newcastle's unpopular ministry-opposed, however, by Pitt (afterwards Lord Chatham), and soon to give way before the genius of that statesman, and to be succeeded by that blaze of Pitt's ascendancy which makes the last years of George II. so brilliant a period in British annals. For Britain and Frederick the Great of Prussia were already on an understanding with each other, and the Seven Years' War was beginning. Not till 1757, indeed, when Pitt became Prime Minister, did the alliance begin to promise its splendid results ---Clive's conquests in India, Wolfe's in America, &c. Just at present, while Newcastle was in power, things had a blacker look. Byng's blundering at Minorca, the all but certain loss of Hanover, and the like--these were the topics for the 700,000 Londoners ; unless they chose to talk rather of such matters nearer home, as the building of the new chapel for Whitefield in Tottenham Court Road, or the opening of the Foundling Hospital, or the proposed taking down of the old

[ocr errors]

houses on London Bridge. To assist them to proper opinions on these and all other subjects, there were the London newspapers of that date_daily, weekly, and bi-weekly, Whig, Tory, and what not; and, in addition to the newspapers, quite an abundance of critical journals, reviews, and magazines. For it was beginning to be a very busy time in British literature. That organization of literature into a commerce which the Tonsons may be said to have commenced had now been pretty well improved and regularized. It was no longer on the Court, or on Whig and Tory Ministers, or on the casual patronage of noblemen of taste, that men letters depended, but on the demand of the general public of readers and bookpurchasers, as it could be ascertained and catered for by booksellers making publishing their business. The centre of this book-trade was naturally London ; and here, accordingly, hanging on the booksellers, and writing for the newspapers and magazines, but with side-glances also to the theatres and their managers, were now congregated such a host of authors and critics by profession as had never been known in London before. To borrow from Mr. Forster a convenient list of those whom we have now dismissed into oblivion as the smaller fry of this Grub Street world of London in the latter days of George II., there were the “Purdons, Hills, Willingtons, Kenricks, Kellys, Shiels, Smarts, Bakers, Guthries, Wotys, Ryders, Collyers, Joneses, Francklins, Pilkingtons, Huddleston Wynnes, and Hiffernans.” They did not consider themselves small sry, but were busy and boisterous enough-the Irish among them fighting with the Scotch, and both with the English; and perhaps the last-named Irishman, Hiffernan, ought to have a place in literary history still, as the inventor of the grand word “impecuniosity.” But in the midst of these less-known or forgotten one would seek out now the figures of those who were undoubtedly the Thames-kindlers in chief. And first among these comes Johnson, now forty-seven years of age, and a Londoner already for nearly twenty years—not yet “Dr.,” and not in possession of his literary dictatorship, though advancing towards it. The poet Young was alive in old age, and at least occasionally in London ; and Londoners confirmed were Richardson, approaching his seventieth year, and with all his novels published, and Smollett, not past his thirty-seventh year, but with some of his best novels published, and now working hard at histories, reviews, and all sorts of things. Fielding had been dead two years, and Sterne, though some years over forty, had not yet been heard of. The poet Collins was dying, in madness, at Chichester. Slump together the veteran and not much-liked Mallet, and Armstrong, Glover, Akenside, Garrick, Foote, Murphy, and the Wartons, without being too particular in inquiring whether they were all in London habitually at the exact time under consideration ; remember also that Chesterfield, Warburton, Dyer, Shenstone, Gray, Horace Walpole, and Mason were alive here or there in England, and could be in London if they liked, and that away in Scotland, only dreaming of London in the distance, were a few northern lights, with Allan Ramsay still surviving among them ; finally imagine Burke, who was Goldsmith's junior, already an adventurer in London, and such other men of about Goldsmith's own age as Percy of the Ballads, the satirist


Churchill, and the elder George Colman, either come to London or tending thither;—and you will have an idea of the state of the world of British letters at the end of the Second George's reign, and also some rough notion of the extent to which that world and its interests interpenetrated London when Goldsmith first gazed about in the crowded streets. And who was the nominal chief or laureate? Who but Colley Cibber, of whom Johnson had written

Great George's acts let tuneful Cibber sing,

For Nature formed the poet for the king. But Cibber, who was now eighty-four years of age, did not live beyond 1757. He 35 succeeded by a William Whitehead, whose laureateship extended from 1757 to 1:38. The whole of Goldsmith's literary career, as it happened, and large portions alen of the lives of Johnson, Smollett, Burke, Garrick, Reynolds, and others whom we now associate with Goldsmith, fell within the laureateship of this memorable Whitehead.

We have been attaching Goldsmith to the London world of letters somewhat in anticipation of his own efforts at any such connexion. Not to set the Thames on fire, but to get anything whatever to do by which he could earn sheer bread for his own teeth and mouth, with a daily gulp of beer, was the poor fellow's one object during a whole year after his arrival in London. It was desperate work, and the 'details were locked up, for the most part, in his own memory, and never told connectedly to anybody. When I lived among the beggars in Axe Lane,” he would sometimes afterwards say with a laugh; and there are traces of him in various capacities just above Axe Lane and its beggars. He was, for some time, an usher somewhere under a false name; he was then employed in the shop of a druggist in Fish-street Hill; next he is heard of as having set up for himself as a physician among the poor of Bankside, and as wearing a miserable second-hand suit of green and gold; and again he is found as reader for the press to Richardson, the novelist and printer, in his printing-office in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street. of this last connexion, in which one might have fancied some likelihood, nothing more came than some acquaintance with Richardson himself and a sight of the poet Young; and Goldsmith had some glorious project of getting appointed to go out to the East, on a salary of 3001. a year, to decipher the inscriptions on “the Written Mountains” |(the necessary Arabic to be learnt in the process), when an ushership in a boardingschool of the better sort turned up at Peckham. Here he lived for some time with Dr. Milner, a Dissenting minister, the proprietor of the school, and was apparently not worse off than other ushers. One day, however, Griffiths, the bookseller of Paternoster Row, dined with the Milners, and, from something he saw or had heard of the Irish usher, fancied he might be useful for hackwork on the Monthly Review - periodical which had been started by Griffiths in 1749 on Whig principles, but against which a Tory rival had recently been set up in the Critical Review, edited by Smollett. After getting some specimens of what Goldsmith could do in the kind of work wanted, Griffiths was discerning enough to engage him. Accordingly, in April 1757, he took up his quarters in the house of Griffiths, over the shop in

« 이전계속 »