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HIS poem is invested with more than ordinary interest, for
it is the last production of Goldsmith's pen. Written at intervals, during bodily suffering, and while his mind was
often ill at ease-left, indeed, unfinished when the hand of Death was laid upon him -- it still exhibits his genius in
undiminished brightness. Had he not left this composition behind him, posterity could not have formed an adequate estimate
of the powers of Goldsmith. Without it we could not have known what a high order of wit, in its truest sense, he possessed; with what an accurate sense for discriminating character he was endowed, and with what terse and epigrammatic vigour he could delineate it. The portraits are all drawn with force—some of them with the skill and truth of a master. The strokes of satire, interspersed, are, like boreal lightning, luminous yet innocuous; and the praise which he bestows, though occasionally of the highest, is never offensive. A gentler vengeance was never inflicted, a kindlier retaliation never administered.
We cannot better introduce the poem than by transcribing Garrick's account of its origin, first given to the world by Mr. Peter Cunningham in his admirable edition of Goldsmith's works :
At a meeting of a company of gentlemen, who were well known to each other, and diverting themselves, among many other things, with the peculiar oddities of Dr. Goldsmith, who never would allow a superior in any art, from writing poetry down to dancing a hornpipe, the Doctor with great eagerness insisted upon trying his epigrammatic powers with Mr. Garrick, and each of them was to write the other's epitaph. Mr. Garrick immediately said that his epitaph was finished, and spoke the following distich extempore :
“Here lics Nobly Goldsmith, for shortness call'd Noll,
Who wrote like an angel, but talk'd like poor Poll." Goldsmith, upon the company's laughing very heartily, grew very thoughtful, and either would not, or could not, write anything at that time; however, he went to work, and some weeks after produced the following printed pocin, called "RETALIATION,” which has been much admired, and gone through several editions. The publick in general have been mistaken in imagining that this poem was written in anger by the Doctor; it was just the contrary; the whole on all sides was done with the greatest good humour; and the following poems in manuscript were written by several of the gentlemen on purpose to provoke the Doctor to an answer, which came forth at last with great credit to him in “RETALIATION.”
D GARRICK (MS.]
The place referred to was not the “Turk's Head," as sometimes supposed, but “St. James's Coffee House,” frequented by Addison and Stcele; and, in later times, by Goldsmith, Garrick, and their friends. It was the last house but one on the south-west corner of St. James's Street. It was taken down about 1806, and a large pile of buildings, looking down Pall Mall, erected on its site.
SF old, when Scarron' his companions invited,
Each guest brought his dish, and the feast was united;
Our dean shall be venison, just fresh from the plains;
1 Scarron. — Paul Scarron, known by the sobriquet of “Cul de Jatte," from his deformity, was one of the wittiest writers of comedy in France in the seventeenth century. Despite of his physical infirmities and sufferings, he passed through life laughing and making others laugh, and died (1660) with a joke about death on his lips. Goldsmith translated his “Roman Comique."
* Our Dean.-Dr. Thomas Barnard, Dean of Derry, and a member of the Literary Club. He was a student in Trinity College, Dublin, at the same time as Goldsmith, though it does not appear that they were acquainted there. He was a man of wit and learning, and a great friend of Johnson's, whose rudeness to him, notwithstanding, on one occasion, gave rise to some clever verses of Barnard's. He was afterwards Bishop of Killaloe, and, finally, of Limerick.
3 Our Burke.—Edmund Burke, the great statesman, then rising high in public estimation as "the first man in the Commons." He was an original member of the Literary Club.
4 Our Will.-William Burke, a cousin of Edmund's, and a man of considerable learning. He wrote many pieces of merit both in prose and in verse, some of which, under the signature of "Valens," were attributed to Edmund. He died in 1799. See Prior's “Life of Burke."
s And Dick.–Richard Burke, a younger brother of Edmund, distinguished as a wit, a politician, a writer, and a lawyer, of whom Lord Mansfield had a high opinion. He became one of the Secretaries of State in 1782, and afterwards Recorder of Bristol. He was celebrated for his wit and humour, and used to play off practical jokes on Edmund and other friends. Both his leg and arm were fractured. He died in 1794.
@ Our Cumberland. - Richard Cumberland, dramatist, novelist, and poet. He accompanied Lord Halifax to Ireland, and was subsequently sent on a mission to Spain. He is now best known by his memoirs. He was a generous and honourable man, but vain and irritable, and was the original of Sir Fretful Plagiary, in Sheridan's “Critic." He died in 1811.
7 Douglas. - John Douglas, afterwards Bishop of Carlisle, whence he was translated to Salisbury. He was a good scholar, and possessed of taste and a sound, logical understanding. He published an able defence of Milton, against Lauder's charge of plagiary : a powerful essay, in answer to Hume, on the subject of miracles : and many miscellaneous works. Не died in 1807
8 Our Garrick.—David Garrick, the greatest histrionic genius that England has produced. To him the Stage owes, in a great measure, the restoration of Shakespeare, and its purification from the gross licentiousness which disgraced it from the time of Charles II. He was for many years manager of Drury Lane ; and besides some farces and prologues, he wrote occasional pieces, songs, and epigrams. He died in 1799.
9 Ridge.- John Ridge was called to the Irish Bar in 1762, and retired from practice in 1776. As he disappears from the list of the profession in 1778, I presume that he was then dead.
19 Reynolds.—Sir Joshua Reyno!ds, the founder of the English School of Painting, the first President of the Royal Academy, the Romulus of the Literary Club, and the affable host of the celebrated Leicester Square dinners. "One of the most memorable men of his time. There was no more amiable man or delightful companion than Reynolds." When studying
That Hickey's' a capon, and by the same rule,
in Rome he caught cold, which resulted in permanent deafness, and obliged him to use an ear-trumpet. This, and his habit of taking snuff, are pleasantly alluded to in the last lines that Goldsmith ever wrote. Sir Joshua was a distinguished art-writer, and left fifteen discourses delivered at the Academy, and some contributions to general literature. He died in 1792.
1 Hickey - Thomas Hickey, an Irishman, and an attorney and friend of Goldsmith, at whose expense he was in the habit of indulging his somewhat coarse raillery. He joined Goldsmith at Paris in 1770, and did not fail to bring back some ludicrous stories of the poet. I cannot find his name amongst the Irish practitioners, I presume he was a member of the session in England.
If he had any faults, he has left us in doubt ;
Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such,
Here lies honest William, whose heart was a mint,
Here lies honest Richard, whose fate I must sigh at;
i Tommy Townshend. “One of the most active of the second-rate politicians, and the great go-between of the attempted alliance between the Chatham and Rockingham Whigs. Tommy Townshend - so called, nut satirically, but to distinguish him from his father."- Forster. He sat for Whitchurch, and was afterwards Lord Sidney,
In short, so provoking a devil was Dick,
Here Cumberland lies, having acted his parts,
Here Douglas retires from his toils to relax, The scourge of impostors, the terror of quacks: Come, all ye quack bards, and ye quacking divines, Come and dance on the spot where your tyrant reclines. When satire and censure encircled his throne, I fear'd for your safety, I fear'd for my own; But now he is gone, and we want a detector, Our Dodds shall be pious, our Kenricks’ shall lecture; Macpherson? write bombast, and call it a style, Our Townshend make speeches, and I shall compile;
1 Our Dodds.- The Rev. Wm. Dodd, LL.D., a man of learning and eloquence, but without principle or integrity. He was a popular preacher, wrote a novel of doubtful morality, published numerous compilations, and edited the “ Christian Magazine." He ended a discreditable life on the gallows, for forgery, on the 24th of February, 1777.
* Our Kinricks.-William Kenrick, a hack-writer of moderate ability and immoderate malignity. He assailed Johnson, who treated him with silent contempt; and attacked Goldsmith on several occasions, in reviews and magazines. Bickerstalt describes him as “the vilest miscreant that ever dishonoured a pretension to literature." Boswell says he obtained his degree of LL.D. from a Scotch university. “He used to lecture,” says Mr. Forster, “on every conceivable subject, from Shakespeare to perpetual motion.” Finally, he took to drinking, destroyed his constitution, and died in 1779. 3 Macpherson.-- James Macpherson, the author of the poems of Ossian, of a prose translation of the “ Ilind" of Homer,