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THE eccentricities of Goldsmith's character, and his unsettled habits, have imparted to his history an air of romance, which seldom belongs to the record of scholar's life. A restless love of adventure, joined with incorrigible imprudence, was perpetually involving him in difficulties; while he alternately extorted the admiration of the world by the excellence of his writings, and exposed himself to general ridicule by the absurdity of his conduct. The story of his life has acquired additional interest for the lovers of the marvellous, through the carelessness or credulity of his earlier biographers, who have sometimes admitted into their narrative adventures which are either purely imaginary, or which properly belong to some other hero. Such idle stories are readily circulated of those who have attained sufficient eminence to make them the objects of public curiosity; and Goldsmith's high reputation as an author, together with his remarkable peculiarities, and the uncertainty which prevailed in regard to several events of his life, made him a valuable subject for those
ingenious gentlemen who manufacture biographical sketches for the magazines, or draw upon a lively imagination for literary anecdotes to enliven the columns of a newspaper. For the present memoir, less questionable authorities have been consulted. In the general narrative we have principally followed the account written by Dr Percy, late Bishop of Dromore, who was himself a personal friend of Goldsmith, and who derived a great part of his materials from the poet'ş own family and relations ;* and such anecdotes as we have intro duced, illustrative of his peculiar habits and temper, are extracted from the pages of those among his literary acquaintance with whom he lived on terms of the most intimate familiarity. Fortunately such notices are pretty numerous ; his literary reputation, and the singularity of his appearance and manners, secured for him a niche in almost every volume of contemporary biography ; yet every lover of polite literature must regret that still more minute details have not been recorded of an author so distinguished for the variety and excellence of his writings. A genius all but universal enabled him to cultivate almost every branch of study, with a success which proves that there is no necessary connection between versatility and mediocrity of talent; and which amply justifies the eulogium of Dr Johnson, that he left scarcely any species of writing upattempted or unadorned by his pen.f
* We allude to the Life prefixed to the genuine edition of Goldsmith's Miscellaneous Works, in 4 vols. 8vo. published by the London booksellers in 1801, which, though anonymous, is known to have been principally contributed by Bishop Percy. This account has been abridged, for his edition of the English Poets, by Chalmers, and also by the editors of the Encyclopædia Edinensis.
+ Nullum fere scribendi genus non tetigit, nullum quod tetigit non ornavit.
See his Epitaph.
Oliver Goldsmith was born November 29, 1728, at Pallas, in the parish of Ferney, and county of Longford, in Ireland. His father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, was a clergyman of the established church, and had received his education at Dublin College. This gentleman was a native of Roscommon, which has led to the common mistake that our poet was born in that county. By an early marriage he sacrificed his hopes of college preferment, and burdened himself with a family before he had secured the means of supporting one.
His wife was Anne, daughter of the Rev. Oliver Jones, master of the diocesan school of Elphin, and by her he had five sons, of whom Oliver was the second, and two daughters. For some time after their marriage, Mr Charles Goldsmith and his wife lived at the house of her uncle, the Rev. Mr Green, who was rector of Kilkenny West, in the county of Westmeath, to which living he himself was afterwards presented. To the virtues of this parent, his son has borne affectionate testimony in his sketch of the Preacher in the Deserted Village, where he is generally supposed to have described the character of his brother Henry, but according to the tradition in his own family, the poet intended it for a portrait, and it is said to be a faithful one, of his father. * Such a tribute is alike creditable to the filial piety of Goldsmith, and to the man whose worth originally suggested so exquisite a model of primitive simplicity and Christian charity. He is also understood to have been the archetype of the Man in Black, mentioned in the Citizen of the World ;and, perhaps, some additional
See Life by Percy.
* Narrative of Mrs Hodson, Goldsmith's sister. + Letters 13, 26, &c.