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“ short time,” says Boswell, “ the moral pious Johnson and the gay dissipated Beauclerc were companions.”
The intimacy begun in college chambers was continued when the youths came to town during the vacations. The uncouth, 5 unwieldy moralist was flattered at finding himself an object of
idolatry to two high-born, high-bred, aristocratic young men, and throwing gravity aside, was ready to join in their vagaries and play the part of a “ young man upon town.” Such at least
is the picture given of him by Boswell on one occasion when 10 Beauclerc and Langton, having supped together at a tavern,
determined to give Johnson a rouse at three o'clock in the morning. They accordingly rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the Temple. The indignant sage sallied forth in
his shirt, poker in hand, and a little black wig on the top of his 15 head, instead of helmet; prepared to wreak vengeance on the
assailants of his castle; but when his two young friends Lanky and Beau, as he used to call them, presented themselves, summoning him forth to a morning ramble, his whole manner
changed. What, is it you, ye dogs ?” cried he. Faith, I'll 20 have a frisk with you!”
So said so done. They sallied forth together into CoventGarden; figured among the green-grocers and fruit-women, just come in from the country with their hampers; repaired to a
neighboring tavern, where Johnson brewed a bowl of bishop, a 25 favorite beverage with him, grew merry over his cups, and
anathematized sleep in two lines, from Lord Lansdowne’so drinking-song :
Short, very short, be then thy reign,
For I'm in haste to laugh and drink again.” 30 They then took boat again, rowed to Billingsgate, and Johnson nd Beauclerc determined, like “
keep it up” for the rest of the day. Langton, however, the most soberminded of the three, pleaded an engagement to breakfast with
some young ladies; whereupon the great moralist reproached 35 him with “ leaving his social friends to go and sit with a set of wretched un-idea'd girls."
This madcap freak of the great lexicographer made a sensation, as may well be supposed, among his intimates. “ I heard
wags,” to “
of your frolic t'other night,” said Garrick to him ; "you'll be in the Chronicle.” He uttered worse forebodings to others. “I shall have my old friend to bail out of the round-house,” said he. Johnson, however, valued himself upon having thus enacted a chapter in the Rake's Progress,o and crowed over Garrick on 5 the occasion. “ He durst not do such a thing !” chuckled he; “ his wife would not let him!”
When these two young men entered the club, Langton was about twenty-two, and Beauclerc about twenty-four years of age, and both were launched on London life. Langton, how- 10 ever, was still the mild, enthusiastic scholar, steeped to the lips in Greek, with fine conversational powers, and an invaluable talent for listening. He was upwards of six feet high, and very spare. “ Oh! that we could sketch him," exclaims Miss Hawkins, in her Memoirs, “ with his mild countenance, his elegant 15 features, and his sweet smile, sitting with one leg twisted round the other, as if fearing to occupy more space than was equitable ; his person inclining forward, as if wanting strength to support his weight, and his arms crossed over his bosom, or his hands locked together on his knee.” Beauclerc, on such occa- 20 sions, sportively compared him to a stork in Raphael's Cartoons, standing on one leg. Beauclerc was more a “man upon town,” a lounger in St. James's Street, an associate with George Selwyn, with Walpole, and other aristocratic wits; a man of fashion at court; a casual frequenter of the gaming-table; yet, 25 with all this, he alternated in the easiest and happiest manner the scholar and the man of letters ; lounged into the club with the most perfect self-possession, bringing with him the careless grace and polished wit of high-bred society, but making himself cordially at home among his learned fellow-members.
The gay yet lettered rake maintained his sway over Johnson, who was fascinated by that air of the world, that ineffable tone of good society in which he felt himself deficient, especially as the possessor of it always paid homage to his superior talent. “ Beauclerc,” he would say, using a quotation from Pope, “ has 35 a love of folly, but a scorn of fools ; everything he does shows the one, and everything he says, the other.” Beauclerc delighted in rallying the stern moralist of whom others stood in awe, and no one, according to Boswell, could take equal liberty
with him with impunity. Johnson, it is well known, was often shabby and negligent in his dress, and not overcleanly in his person. On receiving a pension from the crown, his friends vied with each other in respectful congratulations. Beauclerc 5 simply scanned his person with a whimsical glance, and hoped that, like Falstaff," " he'd in future purge and live cleanly like a gentleman.” Johnson took the hint with unexpected goodhumor, and profited by it.
Still Beauclerc's satirical vein, which darted shafts on every 10 side, was not always tolerated by Johnson. “Sir,” said he on
one occasion, “you never open your mouth but with intention to give pain; and you have often given me pain, not from the power of what you have said, but from seeing your intention.”
When it was at first proposed to enroll Goldsmith among the 15 members of this association, there seems to have been some
demur; at least so says the pompous Hawkins. “As he wrote for the booksellers, we of the club looked on him as a mere literary drudge, equal to the task of compiling and translating,
but little capable of original and still less of poetical composi20 tion.”
Even for some time after his admission he continued to be regarded in a dubious light by some of the members. Johnson and Reynolds, of course, were well aware of his merits, nor was
Burke a stranger to them; but to the others he was as yet a 25 sealed book, and the outside was not prepossessing. His un
gainly person and awkward manners were against him with men accustomed to the graces of society, and he was not sufficiently at home to give play to his humor and to that bon
homie which won the hearts of all who knew him. He felt 30 strange and out of place in his new sphere; he felt at times the
cool satirical eye of the courtly Beauclerc scanning him, and the more he attempted to appear at his ease, the more awkward he became,
Johnson a Monitor to Goldsmith ; Finds him in Distress with his Land
lady; Relieved by The Vicar of Wakefield. — The Oratorio. - Poem of The Traveller. – The Poet and his Dog. — Success of the Poem. Astonishment of the Club. – Observations on the Poem.
JOHNSON had now become one of Goldsmith's best friends and advisers. He knew all the weak points of his character, but he knew also his merits; and while he would rebuke him like a child, and rail at his errors and follies, he would suffer no one else to undervalue him. Goldsmith knew the soundness of his 5 judgment and his practical benevolence, and often sought his counsel and aid amid the difficulties into which his heedlessness was continually plunging him.
“I received one morning,” says Johnson, “a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not 10 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 15 already changed my guinea, and had 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 he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it and 20 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.”
The novel in questiono was The Vicar of Wakefield; the book- 25 seller to whom Johnson sold it was Francis Newbery, nephew to John. Strange as it may seem, this captivating work, which has obtained and preserved an almost unrivalled popularity in various languages, was so little appreciated by the bookseller, that he kept it by him for nearly two years unpublished ! 30
Goldsmith had, as yet, produced nothing of moment in poetry. Among his literary jobs, it is true, was an Oratorio entitled The Captivity, founded on the bondage of the Israelites in Babylon. It was one of those unhappy offsprings of the Muse 5 ushered into existence amid the distortions of music. Most of the Oratorio has passed into oblivion; but the following song from it will never die.
“The wretch condemned from life to part,
Still, still on hope relies,
Bids expectation rise.
Illumes and cheers our way ;
And still, as darker grows the night, 15
Emits a brighter ray.” Goldsmith distrusted his qualifications to succeed in poetry, I and doubted the disposition of the public mind in regard to it. “I fear,” said he, “I have come too late into the world ; Pope
and other poets have taken up the places in the temple of Fame; 20 and as few at any period can possess poetical reputation, a man
of genius can now hardly acquire it.” Again, on another occasion, he observes: “Of all kinds of ambition, as things are now circumstanced, perhaps that which pursues poetical fame
is the wildest. What from the increased refinement of the 25 times, from the diversity of judgment produced by opposing
systems of criticism, and from the more prevalent divisions of opinion influenced by party, the strongest and happiest efforts can expect to please but in a very narrow circle.”
At this very time he had by him his poem of The Traveller. 30 The plan of it, as has already been observed, was conceived
many years before, during his travels in Switzerland, and a sketch of it sent from that country to his brother Henry in Ireland. The original outline is said to have embraced a wider
scope; but it was probably contracted through diffidence, in 35 the process of finishing the parts. It had lain by him for sereral
years in a crude state, and it was with extreme hesitation and after much revision that he at length submitted it to Dr. Johnson. The frank and warm approbation of the latter en.