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I. LIFE OF GOLDSMITH
Oliver Goldsmith, one of the most delightful figures in English literature, was born in the middle of Ireland, November 10, 1728. His father, Reverend Charles Goldsmith, was at the time living in a tumble-down farmhouse at Pallas, or Pallasmore, near Ballymahon, in the county of Longford. There he farmed a few fields and assisted the Reverend Mr. Green, rector at Kilkenny West. When little Oliver was two his father succeeded Mr. Green as rector and moved to Lissoy, a little village on the road from Ballymahon to Athlone. Looking back through the idealizing mist of years, Oliver at forty-two described in "The Deserted Village" the quiet rural surroundings of his childhood. The kindly hospitality of his father is suggested by the picture of the village preacher. The schoolmaster in the poem was probably a reminiscence of Thomas Byrne, who had been a soldier in Spain and had wonderful stories to recount of pirates, robbers, and smugglers, of ghosts and banshees and the fairy lore of Ireland.
These romantic days were interrupted by a violent attack of smallpox, which left Oliver so pitted that one of his relatives told him he had "become a fright." Naturally sensitive, he suffered thereafter many hours from fancied contempt. Indeed, though his family thought him bright, his schoolfellows regarded him as "a stupid, heavy blockhead, little better than a fool, whom everyone made fun of." But he was remarkably active and athletic, and was fond of ball-playing, which he practiced whenever he could. In those far-off days a boy studied little but Latin. Oliver hated Cicero as much as some modern pupils do, but he liked authors now seldom read till one gets to college — Ovid and Horace and Livy and Tacitus. j The best-known story of his youth relates to his fifteenth year. He was at the time attending school at Edgeworthstown, some fifteen miles from home. Setting out after his last vacation, on a borrowed mount, with unexpected wealth in his pocket in the shape of a guinea given him by a friend, he rode so slowly that at nightfall he was little more than halfway to his destination. Nothing pleased his boyish fancy better than to put up at an inn like a gentleman. With much importance he asked where he could find " the best house " in the neighborhood. He happened to address the confirmed practical joker of the place, who, amused by his youthful swagger, gravely directed him to the mansion of the squire, Mr. Featherston. To the squire's Oliver accordingly went, called loudly for someone to take his horse, and was ushered into the presence of the supposed landlord and his family. He ordered supper, invited his host to share a bottle of wine with him, and before going to bed left directions for a hot cake for his breakfast. The squire, who knew something of the lad's father, acted out his part perfectly. It was not till Oliver was leaving the next morning that he learned that he had been entertained in a private house. Thus early was he preparing for the production of "She Stoops to Conquer." t
The family wanted Oliver to go to college — to Trinity College, Dublin. He was to go as a poor scholar, a sizar, with free lodgings in the college garrets and free board from the leavings of the commons table. But he had to wear for these favors a distinctive costume and to discharge certain menial duties. To a youth so sensitive as Oliver these circumstances were very humiliating. He fought against going to college at all until his uncle Contarine, who had passed through the same ordeal, at length persuaded him to yield. He did not do at all well at Trinity, where he remained from June, 1744, to February, 1749. He hated mathematics and logic, and got into several college scrapes. Once he even tried to run away to America. He\ made a reputation chiefly for playing the German flute and for writing ballads at five shillings apiece, to be sung in the street by wandering minstrels.
On returning home he led an aimless existence, visiting one relative after another. He must have presided often at convivial meetings at the inn at Ballymahon, where he probably sang drinking songs like that put into the mouth of Tony j Lumpkin in the first act of "She Stoops to Conquer." He was rejected for ordination as a clergyman. He squandered his slender funds when he tried again to reach America. His uncle Contarine gave him fifty pounds to study law in London, but he soon returned penniless because he lost all to a sharper in Dublin. In 1752 his uncle once more sent him forth, this time to Edinburgh to study medicine. He arrived safely, but after engaging a lodging he set out to see the city without noting the locality of his new abode. If he had not run across the porter who had carried his baggage, he might never have begun his studies. After two years he journeyed to Leyden, where famous lecturers were to be found. Thence he wandered afoot through Flanders, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. he account of George Primrose in " The Vicar of Wakefield" shows how he supported himself by his flute; and "The Traveller," which he published nine years later, in 1764, was sketched at this time and sent to his brother Henry in Ireland. In 1756, at the age of twenty-seven, he landed at Dover with only a few halfpence in his pocket.
During some years spent in and about London he was in sore straits. He served as apothecary's assistant, as physician, as proofreader, as usher in a " classical academy," and at length as assistant in the shop of a magazine proprietor. Thus by accident he entered the literary career which was to make him one of the best-loved writers of our English tongue. But to the end of his life he remained in bondage to the publishers, or booksellers, as they were then called. He would run in debt to them and as a result would have to complete many pieces of hack work to meet his obligations. In the midst of these toilsome years, however, he made the acquaintance of the most distinguished men of his age: Dr. Johnson, the great literary dictator of his day; David Garrick, the foremost actor of the century; Edmund Burke, the political philosopher and statesman; Sir Joshua Reynolds, the celebrated painter; Edward Gibbon, the historian of the Roman Empire; and others now not so well known. Indeed, he was so eminent that he became one of the original members of the famous " Club " which included all these men. Many of them you will find sketched to the life in his poem " Retaliation," published in the year of his death.
He found time, too, to compose those works which have won him friends in three centuries and spread his fame throughout the civilized world. "The Traveller," a poem based upon his wanderings on the Continent, which appeared in 1764, was an immediate success. "The Vicar of Wakefield " (1766), a novel, embodies not merely his own early experiences, but chiefly memories of the family group of his childhood, "all equally generous, credulous, simple, and inoffensive." On January 29, 1768, his first comedy, "The Good-Natured Man," was brought out at the Covent Garden Theater. From the benefit nights he received four hundred pounds, and from the sale of the play in book form, another hundred. This prosperity was too much for Goldsmith, who moved into expensive apartments, which he furnished elegantly. He had great difficulty in making his income equal the demands of this style of life. In fact, he went deeper into debt each year. "The Deserted Village," a poem inspired, as we have seen, by his childhood home, was published in 1770. The charm of its characters and the tender melancholy of the recital have made it the favorite of Goldsmith's works, but in his own day "The Traveller" was better liked. On March 15, 1773, "She Stoops to Conquer" was triumphantly presented at Covent Garden.
Little more than a year later, April 4, 1774, he died of a nervous fever, which he had made worse by taking a patent medicine. He was only forty-six and was at the height of his achievement as a writer. As Dr. Johnson, who perhaps knew him better than did any other of his friends, wrote in a letter: "Let not his frailties be remembered; he was a very great man."
II. "SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER"
Although Goldsmith was a famous man and a successful playwright when he wrote " She Stoops to Conquer," he had to wait a long time for it to be produced. That was partly owing to the fact that during his life in London only two regular theaters were permitted by law. At each house a permanent stock company presented a large number of different plays, most of them old, such as those of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Congreve, and Rowe. The chief interest of the audiences was not so much in the story of the piece as in the characters and, above all, in the acting. Consequently a fresh company was not organized for each production, with the expectation that it would run for six months or a year. On the contrary, for a new play to hold the boards nine nights was a proof of great popularity, and for it to remain in the repertory year after year was rare success. Of the two theaters the more famous was Drury Lane, whose manager was Garrick, the greatest actor of his time and probably in the history of the English stage. He was a member of the "Club" with Goldsmith, but they were not always on the