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LIFE AND WRITINGS
There are few writers for whom the reader feels | villages claim the honour of having given him suck personal kindness as for Oliver Goldsmith. birth: Pallas in the county of Longford; and ElThe fascinating ease and simplicity of his style; phin, in the county of Roscommon. The former the benevolence that beams through every page; is named as the place in the epitaph by Dr. Johnthe whimsical yet amiable views of human life and son, inscribed on his monument in Westminster human nature; the mellow unforced humour, Abbey; but later investigations have decided in fablended so happily with good feeling and good vour of Elphin. sense, throughout his writings; win their way ir- He was the second son of the Rev. Charles resistibly to the affections and carry the author with Goldsmith, a clergyman of the established church, them. While writers of greater pretensions and but without any patrimony. His mother, was more sounding names are suffered to lie upon our daughter of the Rev. Oliver Jones, master of the shelves, the works of Goldsmith are cherished and diocesan school at Elphin. It was not till some laid in our bosoms. We do not quote them with time after the birth of Oliver that his father obostentation, but they mingle with our minds; they tained the living of Kilkenny-West, in the county sweeten our tempers and harmonize our thoughts; of Westmeath. Previous to this period he and his they put us in good humour with ourselves and wife appear to have been almost entirely dependent with the world, and in so doing they make us hap- on her relations for support. pier and better men.
His father was equally distinguished for his liteWe have been curious therefore in gathering to-rary attainments and for the benevolence of his gether all the heterogeneous particulars concerning heart. His family consisted of five sons and two poor Goldsmith that still exist; and seldom have we daughters. From this little world of home Goldmet with an author's life more illustrative of his smith has drawn many of his domestic scenes, works, or works more faithfully illustrative of the both whimsical and touching, which appeal so forauthor's life.* His rambling biography displays cibly to the heart, as well as to the fancy; his fahim the same kind, artless, good humoured, excur- ther's fireside furnished many of the family scenes sive, sensible, whimsical, intelligent being that he of the Vicar of Wakefield; and it is said that the appears in his writings. Scarcely an adventure or learned simplicity and amiable peculiarities of that a character is given in his page that may not be worthy divine have been happily illustrated in the traced to his own parti-coloured story. Many of character of Dr. Primrose. his most ludicrous scenes and ridiculous incidents The Rev. Henry Goldsmith, elder brother of have been drawn from his own blunders and mis- the poet, and born seven years before him, was a chances, and he seems really to have been buffeted man of estimable worth and excellent talents. into almost every maxim imparted by him for the Great expectations were formed of him, from the instruction of his readers.
promise of his youth, both when at school and at Oliver Goldsmith was a native of Ireland, and college; but he offended and disappointed his was ivorn on the 29th of November, 1728. Two friends, by entering into matrimony at the early
age of nineteen, and resigning all ambitious views "The present biography is principally taken from the Scotch for love and a curacy. If, however, we may be. edition of Goldsunith's works, published in 1821.
lieve the pictures drawn by the poet of his brother
domestic life, his lot, though humble, was a happy placed under the care of a village school-master, to
He is the village pastor of the “Deserted be instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Village," so exemplary in his character, and "pass-This pedagogue, whom his scholar afterwards so ing rich with forty pounds a year.” It is to this happily describes in the "Deserted Village,” had brother, who was the guide and protector of Gold- been a quarter-master in the army during the wars smith during his childhood, and to whom he was of Queen Anne, and, in his own estimation, a man tenderly attached, that he addresses those beautiful of no small pith and moment. Having passed lines in his poem of the Traveller :
through various parts of Europe, and being of an Where'er I roam, whatever realms to see,
eccentric turn of mind, he acquired habits of ra My heart untravell’d fondly turns to thee;
mancing that bordered on the marvellous, and, like Still to my brother turns with ceaseless pain,
many other travellers, was possessed with a prodiAnd drags at each remove a length’ning chain.
gious itch for detailing his adventures. He himHis family also form the ruddy and joyous self was most commonly the redoubted hero of his group, and exercise the simple but generous rites own story, and his pupils were always the amazed of hospitality, which the poet so charmingly de- and willing auditory: scribes:
And still they gazed, and still the wonder
That one small head could carry all he knew.
The tales of wonder recounted by this second Or sigh with pity at somo mournful tale;
Pinto are said to have had surprising effects on his Or press the bashful stranger to his food,
youthful hearers; and it has been plausibly conAnd learn the luxury of doing good.
jectured that to the vivid impressions thus made on The whimsical character of the Man in Black, the young imagination of our author, may he asin the "Citizen of the World,” so rich in eccen- cribed those wandering propensities which influtricities and in amiable failings, is said to have enced his after life. been likewise drawn partly from his brother, part- After he had been for some time with this in. ly from his father, but in a great measure from the different preceptor, his mother, with whom he was author himself. It is difficult, however, to assign always a favourite, exerted her influence to perwith precision the originals of a writer's characters. suade his father to give him an education that would They are generally composed of scattered, though qualify him for a liberal profession. Her solicita. accordant traits, observed in various individuals, tions, together with the passionate attachment which which have been seized upon with the discriminat- the boy evinced for books and learning, and his ing tact of genius and combined into one harmoni- early indications of talent, prevailed over all scruous whole. Stil., it is a fact, as evident as it is de- ples of economy, and he was placed under the care lightful, that Goldsmith has poured out the genu- of the Rev. Mr. Griffin, schoolmaster of Elphin. ine feelings of his heart in his works; and has had He was boarded in the house of his uncle, Johın continually before him, in his delineations of simple Goldsmith, Esq., of Ballyoughter, in the vicinity. worth and domestic virtue, the objects of his filial Here the amiableness of his disposition and the and fraternal affection.
amusing eccentricity of his humour rendered him a Goldsmith is said, in his earlier years, to have universal favourite. A little anecdote, preserved been whimsical in his humours and eccentric in his by the family of his uncle evinces the precocity of habits. This was remarked in his infancy. Some his wit. times he assumed the gravity and reserve of riper At an entertainment given by this gentleman to years, at other times would give free scope to the a party of young people in the neighbourhood, a wild frolic and exuberant vivacity suited to his age. fiddler was sent for, and dancing introduced. OliThe singularity of his moods and manners, and ver, although only nine years of age, was permitted the evidences he gave of a precocity of talent, caus- to share in the festivities of the evening, and was ed him to be talked of in the neighbourhood as a called on to dance a hornpipe. His figure was little prodigy. It is said that, even before he was never good, but at this time it was peculiarly short eight years old he evinced a natural turn for poet- and clumsy, and having but recently recovered from ry, and made many attempts at rhymes, to the the small-pox, his features were greatly dishgured. amusenient of his father and friends; and when The scraper of catgut, struck with the oddity of the somewhat older, after he had learned to write, his boy's appearance, thought to display his waggery, chief pleasure was to scribble rude verses on small by likening him to Æsop dancing. This compari. scraps of paper, and then commit them to the son, according to his notions, being uncommoniy tlames.
happy, he continued to harp on it for a considerable His father had strained his slender means in time, when suddenly the laugh of the company was ving a liberal education to his eldest son, and had turned against himself, by Oliver sarcastically re. determined to bring up Oliver to trade. He was marking,
Our herald hath proclaim'd this saying,
On the 11th of June, 1744, Goldsmith, then fifSee Æsop dancing, and his monkey playing.
teen years of age, was admitted a sizer in Trinity So smart a repartee, from so young a boy, was College, Dublin, under the Rev. Theaker Wilder, the subject of much conversation, and perhaps of one of the fellows, a man of violent temper, from itself was decisive of his fortune. His friends im- whose overbearing disposition he suffered much mediately determined that he should be sent to the vexation. The young student was giddy and aniversity; and some of his relations, who belonged thoughtless, and on one occasion invited a number to the church, and possessed the necessary means, of young persons of both sexes to a supper and generously offered to contribute towards the ex- dance in his apartments, in direct violation of the pense. The Rev. Mr. Green, and the Rev. Mr. college rules. The vigilant Wilder became apContarine, both men of distinguished worth and prised of the circumstance, and rushed like a tiger learning, stood forward on this occasion as the to the festive scene. He burst into the apartment, youth's patrons.
put the gay assembly to the rout, but previous to To qualify him for the university, he was now their dispersion, seized on the unfortunate delinsent to Athlone school, and placed under the tui- quent, and inflicted corporal chastisement on him, tion of the Rev. Mr. Campbell. There he re- in presence of the party. mained two years; but the ill health of the master The youthful poet could not brook this outraye having obliged him to resign his situation, Oliver and indignity. He could not look his acquaintances was consigned to the care of the Rev. Patrick in the face without the deepest feeling of shame and Hughes, at Edgeworthstown, in the county of mortification. He determined, therefore, to escape Longford, under whom he continued his studies till altogether from his terrible tutor, by abandoning his finally fitted for the university. Under this re- studies, and flying to some distant part of the globe. spectable teacher and excellent man, he is said to With this view he disposed of his books and clothes, have made much greater progress than under any and resolved to embark at Cork : but here his usual of the rest of his instructors.
thoughtless and improvident turn was again disA short time before leaving the school of Mr. played, for he lingered so long in Dublin after his Hughes, our poet had an adventure which is be- resolution had been taken, that his finances were lieved to have suggested the plot of his comedy of reduced to a single shilling when he set out on the "She Stoops to Conquer, or the Mistakes of a journey. Night."
He was accustomed afterwards to give a ludiHis father's house was distant about twenty crous account of his adventures in this expedition, miles from Edgeworthstown, and when on his jour- although it was attended by many distressful cirney thither for the last time, he had devoted so cumstances. Having contrived to subsist three much time to amusement on the road, that it was whole days on the shilling he set out with, he was almost dark when he reached the little town of Ar- then conrpelled by necessity to sell the clothes off Jagh. Some friend had given him a guinea, and his back, and at last was so reduced by famine, that Oliver, who was never niggard of his purse, re- he was only saved from sinking under it by the solved to put up here for the night, and treat him-compassion of a young girl at a wake, from whom self to a good supper and a bed. Having asked he got a handful of gray peas. This he used to say for the best house in the village, he was conducted was the most delicious repast he had ever made. to the best house, instead of the best inn. The While in this state of hunger and wretchedness, owner, immediately discovered the mistake, but be- without money and without friends, the rashness ing a man of humour, resolved to carry on the joke, and folly of his undertaking became every moment Oliver was therefore permitted to order his horse more apparent, and, in spite of his lacerated feel. to the stable, while he himself walked into the par- ings, and the dread of Wilder, he resolved to prolour, and took his seat familiarly by the fire-side. pose a reconciliation with his friends, and once The servants were then called about him to receive more to return to the college. Before he had his orders as to supper. The supper was soon reached the place of embarkation, therefore, he conproduced; the gentleman, with his wife and daugh- trivel to get notice conveyed to his brother of his ters, were generously invited to partake; a bottle miserable condition, and hinted that if a promise of wine was called for to crown the feast, and at of milder treatment were obtained from his tutor, going to bed, a hot cake was ordered to be prepared he should be inclined to return. His affectionate for his breakfast. The laugh, to be sure, was ra- brother instantly hastened to relieve his distress, ther against our hero in the morning, when he equipped him with new clothing, and carried him called for his bill, and found he had been hospitably back to college. A reconciliation was also in some entertained in a private family. But finding that degree effected with Wilder, but there was never his host was an acquaintance of his father's, he en- afterwards between them any interchange of friendtered into the humour of the scene, and laughed as ship or regard. heartily as the rest.
From the despondency resulting from his tutor's
ill treatment, Goldsmith is said to bave sunk into Week after week passed away, and no tidings habitual indolence; yet his genius sometimes dawn- of the fugitive. At last, when all hope of his reed through the gloom, and translations from the turn had been given up, and when they concluded classics made by him at this period were long re- he must have left the country altogether, the fami. membered by his cotemporaries with applause. He ly were astonished by his sudden reappearance at was not, however, admitted to the degree of Bache- his mother's house; safe and sound, to be sure, but lor of Arts till February 27, 1749, 0. S. two years not exactly in such good trim as when he had left after the regular time.
them. His horse was metamorphosed into a The chagrin and vexation attending his unlucky shabby little pony, not worth twenty shillings; disputes with his tutor, were soon after succeeded and instead of thirty pounds in his pocket, he was by a calamity of deeper moment, and more lasting without a penny. On this occasion the indignation consequences to our poet. This was the death of of his mother was strongly expressed; but his his worthy and amiable father. He had now lost brothers and sisters, who were all tenderly attachhis natural guardian and best friend, and founded to him, interfered, and soon effected a reconhimself young in the world, without either protector ciliation. or guide. His uncle Contarine, however, in this Once more reinstated in the good graces of his emergency kindly interfered, and, with almost pa- family, our poet amused them with a detail of rental anxiety, took the charge of advising and di- his adventures in this last expedition. He prerecting his future progress. When had com- mised that he had long felt a strong inclination to pleted his studies at the university,* Mr. Contarine visit the New World, but knowing that his friends advised him to prepare for holy orders; but this was would throw obstacles in the way of his departure, a measure always repugnant to his inclinations. he had determined to set out unknown to any of An unsettled turn of mind, an unquenchable de-them. Intending to embark at Cork, he had gone sire of visiting other countries, and perhaps an in- directly thither, and immediately after he arrived genuous sense of his unfitness for the clerical pro- disposed of his horse, and struck a bargain with a fession, conspired to disincline him to the church; captain of a ship bound for North America. For and though at length he yielded to the pressing so- three weeks after his arrival, the wind continued licitations of his uncle and friends, by applying to unfavorable for putting to sea ; and the vessel rethe bishop for ordination, it is thought he was more mained wind-bound in the harbour. In the mean pleased than disappointed when rejected by his time, he amused himself by sauntering about the lordship, on account of his youth. He was now city and its environs, satisfying his curiosity, and anxious, however, to be employed in some way or examining every object worthy of notice. Have other, and when the office of private tutor in the ing formed some acquaintances by means of the family of a neighbouring gentleman was offered to captain, he accompanied a party on an excursion him, he willingly accepted it. In this situation he into the country. The idea never occurred to him, remained about a year; but finding the employment that the wind, which had blown so perversely much more disagreeable than he had been taught a-head during there weeks, might change in a sinto believe it, and the necessary confinement pain- gle day; he was not less surprised than chagrined, fully irksome, he suddenly gave up his charge, pro- therefore, on his return next morning, to find the cured a good horse, and, with about thirty pounds vessel gone. This was a death-blow to his scheme which he had saved, quitted his friends, and set of emigration, as his passage-money was already out nobody knew whither.
in the pocket of the captain. As this singular unpremeditated step had been
Mortified and disappointed, he lingered about taken without consulting any of his friends, and Cork, irresolute what to do, until the languishing as no intelligence could be obtained either of him- state of his purse, which was reduced to two guiself or the motives which had prompted his de- neas, admonished him to make the best of his way parture, his family became much alarmed for his home. He accordingly bought a poor little pony, safety, and were justly offended at his conduct. which he called Fiddleback, and found that he had
just five shillings left to defray the travelling expen*During his studies at the university, he was a contempo- ses of himself and his steed. This pittance, howrary with Burke; and it has been said that neither of them ever, was rather too scanty for a journey of a hungave much promise of future celebrity Goldsmith, however, dred and twenty miles, and he was at a loss how got a premium at a Christmas examination; and a premium obtained at such exajnination is more honourable than any
to procure a further supply. He at last bethought other, because it ascertains the person who receives it to be himself of an old college friend, who lived on the the first in literary merit
. At the other examinations, the road, not far from Cork, and determined to apply person thus distinguished may be only the second in merit;' to him for assistance. Having been often pressed he who has previously obained the same honorary reward, by this person to spend a summer at his house, he sometimes receiving a written certificate that he was the best answerer; i' being a rule, that not more than one premium had the less hesitation in paying him a visit under 'nculd be adjudged to the same pereon in ene year. This present circumstances, and doubted not that he would at once obtain all the aid his situation re-"return home immediately. You can never do withquired. When on the road to the house of his out the assistance of your friends; and if you keep friend, a poor woman with eight children, whose them longer in suspense and alarm by remaining husband had been thrown into jail for rent, threw away, you will only widen the breach which your herself in his way and implored for relief. The rashness must have already occasioned, and perhaps feelings of humanity being ever most easily awak-induce them to throw you off altogether.” “But," ened in Oliver's bosom, he gave her all that re- rejoined Oliver, “how am I to get on without momained in his purse, and trusted his own wants to ney? I told you I had not a shilling left, and it is the expected liberality of his old fellow-collegian. quite impossible for me to proceed on the journey,
This dear friend, whose promised hospitalities unless you should be so obliging as to lend me a were so securely relied on, received him with much guinea for the purpose.” Here again his friend's apparent satisfaction, and only appeared anxious countenance fell. He pleaded his inability to lend, to learn the motive which could have prompted in consequence of having spent all his ready cash this chance visit. Charmed with this seeming cor- during his late illness, interlarding this apology diality with which he was received, Oliver gave with many sage aphorisms on the disadvantages of him an artless and honest account of his whole ex. borrowing, and the sin of running into debt. “But pedition; and did not even conceal the offence my dear fellow,” resumed he, “I'll tell you how which his departure must have given to his friends. you may get over the difficulty. May you not His good host listened with profound attention, sell the little horse you brought with you last and appeared to take so much interest in the detail night? The price of it will be sufficient for all of our poet's adventures, that he was at length in- your expenses till you arrive among your friends, duced to disclose the immediate object of his visit. and, in the mean time, I think I can furnish you This chanced to be the true touch-stone for try- with another to help you forward on the jouring the liberality of so honest a friend. A profound ney.” Oliver could discover no objection to a plan sigh, and querulous declamation on his own in- so feasible, and therefore agreed to it at once; but firm state of health, was the only return to his hint when he asked for a sight of the steed which was for assistance. When pressed a little further, this to carry him home, his host, with solemn gravity, kind friend drily remarked, that for his part he drew from under the bed a stout oaken stafl, which could not understand how some people got them- he presented to him with a grin of self-approbaselves into scrapes; that on any other occasion he tion. Our poor poet now lost all patience, and was would have been happy to accommodate an old just about to snatch it from him, and apply it to comrade, but really he had been lately so very ill, his pate, when a loud rap announced a visiter. A and was, even now, in such a sickly condition, person of interesting appearance was immediately that it was very inconvenient to entertain compa- afterwards ushered into the room, and, when the usny of any kind. Besides, he could not well ask a ual compliments were over, Oliver was presented to person in health to share in his slops and milk him by his host, as if nothing had happened, and diet. If, however, Mr. Goldsmith could think of described as the learned and ingenious young man putting up with the family fare, such as it was, he of whom he had heard so much while at college. would be made welcome; at the same time he The agreeable manners of this gentleman soon must apprise him that it might not soon be got gave an interesting turn to the conversation. Harready. The astonishment and dismay of our poet mony appeared to be once more restored between at the conclusion of this speech was sufficiently Oliver and his host, and the stranger invited them visible in his lengthened visage. Nothing but the both to dine with him the following day. This atter emptiness of his purse, and his great distance was not acceded to on the part of the poet, withfrom home, could have induced him to pocket the out considerable reluctance; but the gentleman's insult
, or accept so inhospitable an invitation. No pressing solicitations prevailed on him to consent. better, however, could be made of it in his present The hospitality and kindness displayed at this percircumstances; so without showing his chagrin, he son's table was a striking contrast to the penury good-humouredly partook of a miserable supper of and meanness exhibited by his fellow-collegian, brown bread and butter milk, served up at a late and Oliver could hardly refrain from making some hour by a miserable looking old woman, the fit sarcastic remarks on the difference. The hints on handmaid of so miserable a master.
this subject which were occasionally hazarded by Notwithstanding the base colours in which our the poet, led the gentleman to suspect that the two poet's host had exhibited himself, the former had too friends were not on the most cordial terms. He much good-nature to harbour resentment. When was therefore induced to invite our poet to spend a they met in the morning, therefore, he entered fa- few days at his house. An invitation of this kind, miliarly into conversation, and even condescended so opportunely and handsomely given, was a for. to ask what he would advise him to do in his pre- tunate circumstance for Oliver. He did not hesisent difficulty. “My dear fellow,” said his host, Itate a moment to accept it, and at parting with his