페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

brity.() He, however, observed to Mr. Malone, that “though he made no great figure in mathetics, which was a study in much repute there, he could turn an Ode of Horace into English better than any

of them.” He afterwards studied physic at Edinburgh, and upon the continent; and, I have been informed, was enabled to pursue his travels on foot, partly by demanding at universities to enter the lists as a disputant, by which, according to the custom of

many

of them, he was entitled to the premium of a crown, when luckily for him his challenge was not accepted; so that, as I once observed to Dr. Johnson, he disputed his passage through Europe. He then came to England, and was employed successively in the capacities of an usher to an academy, a corrector of the press, a reviewer, and a writer for a newspaper. He had sagacity enough to cultivate assiduously the acquaintance of Johnson, and his faculties were gradually enlarged by the contemplation of such a model. To me and many others it appeared that he studiously copied the manner of Johnson, though, indeed, upon a smaller scale.

At this time I think he had published nothing

(1) Goldsmith got a premium at a Christmas examination in Trinity College, Bublin, which I have seen. — Kearney. A premium obtained at the Christmas examination is generally more honourable than any other; because it ascertains the person who receives it to be the first in literary merit. At the other examinations, the person thus distinguished may be only the second in merit; he who has previously obtained the same honorary reward, sometimes receiving a written certificate that he was the best answerer, it being a rule that not more than one premium should be adjudged to the same person in one year. See antè, p.73. — M.

with his name, though it was pretty generally known that one Dr. Goldsmith was the author of « An Inquiry into the present State of Polite Learning in Europe," and of “ The Citizen of the World," a series of letters supposed to be written from London by a Chinese. (') No man had the art of displaying with more advantage as a writer, whatever literary acquisitions he made.

Nihil quod tetigit non ornavit." (2) His mind resembled a fertile, but thin soil. There was a quick, but not a strong vegetation, of whatever chanced to be thrown upon it. No deep root could be struck. The oak of the forest did not grow there; but the elegant shrubbery and the fragrant parterre appeared in gay succession. It has been generally circulated and believed that he was a mere fool in conversation (3); but, in truth, this has been greatly exaggerated. He had, no

(1) He had also published in 1759, “ The Bee; being, Essays on the most interesting Subjects.” - M.

(2) See his Epitaph in Westminster Abbey, written by Dr. Johnson.

(3) In allusion to this, Mr. Horace Walpole, who admired his writings, said he was “an inspired idiot;” and Garrick described him as one

“ for shortness call'd Noll, Who wrote like an angel, and talk'd like poor Poll.” Sir Joshua Reynolds mentioned to me, that he frequently heard Goldsmith talk warmly of the pleasure of being liked, and observe how hard it would be if literary excellence should preclude a man from that satisfaction, which he perceived it often did, from the envy which attended it; and therefore Sir Joshua was convinced that he was intentionally more absurd, in order to lessen himself in social intercourse, trusting that his character would be sufficiently supported by his works. If it indeed was his intention to appear absurd in company, he was often very successful. But, with due deference to Sir Joshua's ingenuity, I think the conjecture too refined.

doubt, a more than common share of that hurry of ideas which we often find in his countrymen, and which sometimes produces a laughable confusion in expressing them. He was very much what the French call un étourdi; and from vanity and an eager desire of being conspicuous wherever he was, he frequently talked carelessly without knowledge of the subject, or even without thought. His person was short, his countenance coarse and vulgar, his deportment that of a scholar awkwardly affecting the easy gentleman. Those who were in any way distinguished, excited envy in him to so ridiculous an excess, that the instances of it are hardly credible. When accompanying two beautiful young ladies (1) with their mother on a tour in France, he was seriously angry that more attention was paid to them than to him ; and once, at the exhibition of the Fantoccini in London, when those who sat next him observed with what dexterity a puppet was made to toss a pike, he could not bear that it should have such praise, and exclaimed with some warmth, “ Pshaw! I can do it better myself.” (2)

He, I am afraid, had no settled system of any sort, so that his conduct must not be strictly scrutinised ; but his affections were social and generous, and when he had money he gave it away very liberally. His desire of imaginary consequence predominated

(1) Miss Hornecks, one of whom is now married to Henry Bunbury, Esq., and the other to Colonel Gwyn.

(2) He went home with Mr. Burke to supper; and broke his shin by attempting to exhibit to the company how much better he could jump over a stick than the puppets.

over his attention to truth. When he began to rise into notice he said he had a brother who was Dean of Durham (1); a fiction so easily detected, that it is wonderful how he should have been so inconsiderate as to hazard it. He boasted to me at this time of the power of his pen in commanding money, which I believe was true in a certain degree, though in the instance he gave he was by no means correct. He told me that he had sold a novel for four hundred pounds. This was his “ Vicar of Wakefield.” But Johnson informed me, that he had made the bargain for Goldsmith, and the price was sixty pounds. “ And, Sir,” said he, “ a sufficient price too, when it was sold; for then the fame of Goldsmith had not been elevated, as it afterwards was, by his · Travel-, ler;' and the bookseller had such faint hopes of profit by his bargain, that he kept the manuscript by him a long time, and did not publish it till after the Traveller' had appeared. Then, to be sure, it was accidentally worth more money."

Mrs. Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins(2) havestrangely mis-stated the history of Goldsmith's situation and

[ocr errors]

(1) I am willing to hope that there may have been some mistake as to this anecdote, though I had it from a dignitary of the church. Dr. Isaac Goldsmith, his near relation, was Dean of Cloyne in 1747.

(2) Anecdotes, p. 119. Life, 420. How Mr. Boswell, who affects such extreme accuracy, should say that Hawkins has strangely mis-stated this affair is very surprising; what Hawkins says (Life, p. 420.), is merely that, under a pressing necessity, he wrote the Vicar of Wakefield, and sold it to Newberry for 401. Hawkins's account is not in any respect inconsistent with Boswell's; and the difference between the prices stated, even it Hawkins be in error, is surely not sufficient to justify the charge of a strange mis-statement. - - C.

Johnson's friendly interference, when this novel was sold. I shall give it authentically from Johnson's own exact narration :

“ I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return; and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.” (1)

(1) It may not be improper to annex here Mrs. Piozzi's account of this transaction, in her own words, as a specimen ot the extreme inaccuracy with which all her anecdotes of Dr. Johnson are related, or rather discoloured and distorted :

“ I have forgotten the year, but it could scarcely, I think, be later than 1765 nr 1766, that he was called abruptly

from our house after dinner, and, returning in about three hours, said he had been with an enraged author, whose landlady pressed him for payment within doors, while the bailifts beset him without; that he was drinking himself drunk with Madeira, to drown care, and fretting over a novel, which, when finished, was to be his whole fortune ; but he could not get it done for distraction, nor could he step out of doors to offer it for sale. Mr. Johnson, therefore, sent away the bottle, and went to the bookseller, recommending the perform. VOL. II.

O

« 이전계속 »