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The reader of this comedy, without being apprised that the writer was Goldsmith, would soon perceive it to be the work of no common mind. Here are contained peculiarities of character, with ideas, observations, and expressions, such as could only come from the pen of a man of genius.
But, with all the merit of this drama, all that knowledge of human nature evinced by the author throughout the composition, it will easily be observed that he might have done more-that something yet is wanting to make the production equal in value to other of his writings; or equal to some dramatic works, of that very period, by men of inferior talents.
The town thought so indifferently of this play, on its first appearance, that it was doubtful whether it would be suffered to appear again; and though, upon consideration, they recanted their unjust opinions, they never recompensed the author by warmly espousing that, which they had once rejected.
The characters, which gave offence on the first night of "The Goodnatured Man," are those which, having been since closely imitated, and brought again
and again upon the stage, have, for several years past, furnished many a pleasant scene in opera, comedy, and farce. In Goldsmith's days, his bailiffs were exploded, as too vulgar to exist in presence of a refined public-the public are become less nice, or bailiffs less inelegant.
The female characters of this comedy gave no offence, neither could they give entertainment to the audience; for Mrs. Croaker and Garnet are uninteresting, and the two young ladies, though deep in love, are inanimate. Authors generally think love a substitute for every other passion, and yet fail of describing that
It is supposed by the rigidly pious, who never frequent a theatre, that the power of love is painted on the stage in the most glowing and bewitching colours-when, alas! the insipidity of lovers, in almost every play, might cure the most romantic youth and damsel of the ardour of their mutual attachment.
The characters of Croaker, of Honeywood, and of Lofty, are those which have been most successful; and they are particularly worthy the attention of the reader. They each deserve this highest praise which fictitious characters can receive-In fiction they are perfectly original, yet are seen every day in real life.
In drawing these three men, of three such different dispositions, had the author but invented greater variety of incident, in which their several humours had been more forcibly displayed, the comedy would then have delighted the careless and
the ignorant spectator, as well as the attentive and judicious.
Croaker is the favourite part in representation, because he is the most comic; but, in reading, a greater degree of amusement will perhaps arise, from the sedater faults of Lofty and Honeywood.
Few are the persons that have resided for any time in London, who have not met with a Mr. Lofty among their acquaintance, though free from the villany of his deceit, and merely possessing the foible of his vanity.
In the propensities of Honeywood, many a reader will meet with his own: and it may be suspected that the author, in writing this character, frequently turned a conscious glance upon the infirmities to which he was subject; and that he made this portrait thus bold and natural, from having viewed himself.
Numberless dramatists have, no doubt, in some one personage of their creation, or in two or three separately, delineated their own most prominent features; and, surely, in that speech of Sir William Honeywood, about the middle of the third act, beginning, “That friendship,”—and, in another he delivers near the conclusion of the play (in which are the sentences next quoted) is accurately described, part of Goldsmith's character.
"A disposition which, though inclined to do right, had not courage to condemn the wrong—those splendid errors, that still took name from some neighbouring duty-charity, that was but injustice; bene
volence, that was but weakness; and friendship, that was but credulity."
The following lines, from a well known fable, written by Garrick, seem to finish the character of this distinguished poet, with as much truth as he has here himself begun it.
"Come, Hermes, says Jove, who with nectar was mellow,
"Go fetch me some clay-I must make an odd fel
"Right and wrong shall be jumbled, much gold and some dross;
"Without cause be he pleas'd, without cause be he
"Be sure as I work to throw in contradiction;
"A great love of truth, yet a mind turned to fiction. "Now mix those ingredients, which, warm'd in the baking,
"Turn to learning and gaming, religion and raking. "Though a mixture so odd, he shall merit great
"And among brother mortals be Goldsmith his name *"
*For events in Goldsmith's Life, see his comedy of "She Stoops to Conquer."