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OBODY,” says Dr. Johnson, “can write the life of a man but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social intercourse with him.” If this be true generally, it is especially true in relation to Oliver Goldsmith—one whose disposition was so impulsive, candid, and simple, that he was ever showing his
inmost nature—its frailties and its foibles, as well as its virtues and its loveliness—to all around him. The glimpses that we get from contemporary writers, above all from Boswell, of this genial, social, shy, irritable, amiable, blundering, witty, vain, and highly endowed man, who was always the deiight, though often the butt of his friends in the club at “the Turk's Head," make us feel that a contemporary hand could alone have produced a true picture of one whose life was made up so much of the picturesque of gesture and manner, and a thousand idiosyncrasies. The value of a contemporary biography is, indeed, admirably enforced by Goldsmith himself. “A poet, while living, is seldom an object sufficiently great to attract much attention ; his real merits are known but to a few, and these are generally sparing in their praises. When his fame is increased by time, it is then too late to investigate the peculiarities of his disposition; the dews of morning are past, and we
; vainly try to continue the chase by the meridian splendour." One there was who could have executed the pious task with the erudition of a scholar, the skill of a critic, the tenderness of a love almost parental, who knew him more thoroughly, and appreciated him more truly than did any other; who guided him in his trials, cheered him in his labours, rejoiced in his fame, mourned over his death, and composed the epitaph for his grave. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the life of Savage, should not have left that of Goldsmith for the hands of strangers. That he meant to write the biography of his friend there is little doubt. Posterity must ever regret the causes that frustrated that design.
Let us pass from the grave to the cradle—from the unknown spot in the Temple burial-ground to the perished homestead at Pallas. Rising gently from the banks of the Inny is a spot where a few humble houses form a hamlet ; one of them has disappeared, that in which Oliver Goldsmith was born.* It passed into the hands of "the fairies," who, in Ireland, at least, do not keep tenements in repair, and are never ejected. And so it crumbled away. Some two hundred years ago the family of Goldsmith migrated from England and settled in Ireland. They had good blood in their veins (it is said even the sangre azul of Spain), they maintained a respectable position in society, and always contributed a minister, and sometimes even a dignitary to the Reformed Church. Family characteristics are usually as distinctively marked and as well preserved in the human as in the lower animals. So it was with the Goldsmiths. They were ever right-hearted and generally wrong-headed ; benevolent, unworldly, improvident, and poor. Shallow people called them oddities, shrewd people called them fools. One of them, Charles, following the family instinct, took holy orders, and then, in 1718, took a wife, the daughter of his schoolmaster, the Rev. Oliver Jones, of Elphin, in the county of Roscommon. The young couple went to reside at Pallas. They were poor enough, eking out with difficulty an annual pittance of about £40 between the profits of farming, the stipend of the chapel of ease of which he was curate, and what Mrs. Goldsmith's uncle, Mr. Green, allowed the young man for assisting him in the discharge of his parochial duties in the neighbouring parish of Kilkenny West. But poor clergymen are generally rich in children, and Charles Goldsmith was no exception to the rule. They came quickly enough ; so that on the roth November, 1728 O.S., Oliver brought up the number born at Pallas to five, which was afterwards increased by three
The death of Mr. Green within two years brought promotion to the struggling curate, who succeeded to the living of Kilkenny West and an income of near £200 a-year; and thereupon the family removed to Lissoy, in Westmeath, about three miles from Ballymahon. He who visits the scene of the poet's early life is still shown the blackened and roofless walls of what a loving faith believes to be the house where he dwelt, and the district is still rife with the memories of the boy. “A dull boy he was,” said Elizabeth Delap, who first put a hornbook into his hand. Ah! it requires some more reliable testimony than that of an old woman--old beyond ordinary longevity—to gain credence for such a statement. Careless and idle he was under the woman's rule, but dull never. The boy that hated the thumbing of a primer and the
The researches of Sir James Prior would seem to have set at rest the rival claims of Leitrim, Roscommon, and Westmeath for the honour of the poet's nativity : nevertheless his mother's family still maintain that he was born at Ardnegown, in Roscommon, his grandiather Jones house, now called Smith Hills 1.1r. Joseph Goldsmith. the poet's great-grandnephew, writes to me (February 20th, 1864. " The late Jones Lloyd, who lived at Smin Huiis, near Elphin, told me that Oliver Goldsmith was born in his house." He had the information from their common grandmother.
confinement of the schoolroom, when, outside, the sun was shining and the birds singing, loved to wander through the haunted scenery of the wild, yet not unlovely district, to commune with his own heart, to gather up the legends from the people, and fill his ears with the melodies of the famous harper Carolan, who then wandered through the country a welcome guest at every homestead. Some little rudimentary education Oliver received from the magnate of the village school of Lissoy, an old veteran who had fought in the Spanish wars. A genius in his own way was Quartermaster Thomas Byrne, a fitting pedagogue for little Noll, now six years old. His soldiering life furnished him with a rich store of strange adventures, which he delighted to recount; he was a votary of the Muses, too; wrote verses and dealt in big words. His head was crammed with all the legends of the county, and he believed devoutly in ghosts and hobgoblins. Tradition has preserved the outlines of his character, but the picture has been filled in with inimitable vividness and humour by his pupil in that exquisite portraiture of the schoolmaster in “The Deserted Village.” Under such a Mentor, book learning, of course, made little progress; but no doubt the native germs of romance and poetry were insensibly nurtured. Young Noll was familiar with the wild raids of robber and rapparee, knew every haunted spot in the county, loitered o' nights about Knock-ruadh, where the fairies danced around the elfin light, and had actually perpetrated rhymes, to the delight of his mother.
But these pleasant days soon came to an end. He was smitten down in his eighth year with a terrible malady in its severest form, and he escaped with difficulty the jaws of death to rise scarred and pitted with the small-pox. Poor boy! disfigured for life, awkward, ungainly, and odd, he was sent forth to that microcosm of probation and suffering, a public school. John Goldsmith, his uncle, resided at Ballyoughter, in the neighbourhood of Elphin, and thither he was sent to attend Mr. Griffin's school in that town. These were changed times for Oliver. His uncle, it is true, had discernment enough to see that there was something beyond the common in the boy, and pronounced him “a prodigy for his age,” but his school-mates pronounced him a blockhead-little better than a fool; he was accordingly a butt for their practical jokes, and one whom everybody made fun of. A blockhead! So he seemed to the thoughtless mates that cuffed and jeered him. But genius in its abstractions, its moodiness, its solitariness, its shyness, often eludes the observation of ordinary intellect, working all the more inwardly that its outward exhibition is impeded. Yet would the sense of injury or insult at times arouse the indolent and kindly nature of the lad to resist an affront with a promptness of wit that told of a power which could make itself felt; and several anecdotes are preserved which display the same spirit in the boy that flashed out in the “Retaliation"—the last light of the genius of the man.
After about three years Oliver was removed to a school in Athlone, kept by a clergyman named Campbell, and thence he was transferred to a similar institution in Edgeworthstown—that of the Rev. Patrick Hughes. We are not without some memorials of him during those days, derived from fellowstudents. Idle, and desultory in his application, he yet evinced a love for the Latin poets and historians. His shyness would at times give place to the dash of one who loved fun and adventure ; and he was often the ringleader in some boyish exploit, and as often the victim of the frolics of his playmates. There can be no doubt that by the time he had reached his fifteenth year, his family were convinced there was too much good stuff in the young man to be used up in the drudgery of a trade. A mother's instincts told her he was destined for better things, and she pleaded not in vain with the good pastor. He must be sent to college. But how was this to be compassed ? His brother Henry had already entered as a pensioner, and the family purse, drawn upon by other domestic events, could ill bear any further depletion. A charter of Charles I. allowed the Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin, to appoint a certain number of sizars-poor scholars; these were educated without expense, had free lodgings in the garrets, and were permitted to "batten on cold bits," the remnants that left the commons'-table, where in return they were obliged to attend and to discharge other menial duties.* To educate, even on such terms, those who could not afford to pay, was not undeserving of praise ; but, to the credit of the college, everything degrading in the position of a sizar has been dispensed with, and to-day it is looked on as an honourable evidence of superior scholarship. As a sizar, then, must Oliver enter. So distasteful was the proposition to him, that for a year, he refused to obey, and was only persuaded at last by one who had been himself a sizar—that “Uncle Contarine” who appears so often in his after life as his best friend; and so, on the 11th June, 1744, he was admitted a sizar of Trinity College, Dublin. It is deeply interesting to look over the names that occur in the records of the college as contemporary students with Goldsmith: Barnard, afterwards Bishop of Limerick; Marlay, who filled the See of Water
ford; Richard Malone; and the learned Dr. Michael Kearney, who became a senior Fellow of his college and Professor of History; and above all, the great Edmund Burke, who was destined in after years to be his friend and companion in the Literary Club. The poor boy knew none of these at the time. Another Edgworthstown pupil, John Beatty, obtained a sizarship at the same time, and the two were occupants of the same garrets in No. 35, the extreme southern chambers of a range of buildings that formed the eastern side of Parliament Square, which has long since been taken down. On one of the window panes Goldsmith cut his name, and the relic is still preserved in the college. A couple of relatives, too, there were ; and these, with Beatty and
* I can find no evidence of the sizars having ever worn red caps, as stated by Mr. Forster; and the universal belief of the authorities is against it.
+ Sir James Prior has fallen into an error (adopted by Mr. Forster) in assuming that the entry of June, 1744, in the college books, represents the year 1745. Though for some purposes the college year commenced in July, the date of the civil year was invariably followed in all entries in the books. At that period, and until 1752, the civil year commenced on the 25th March. The entry in the register, which I have carefully examined, is, therefore, correct both as to the year of Goldsmith's admission into college, 1744, and as to his age, “Lanum agens, 15." He was not sixteen till the November following.
• Mr. Forster erroneously states, in his “Life of Goldsmith" (in which he is followed by Macaulay), that the name may still be seen in the room, and quotes Prior as his authority. What was correct when Prior wrote in 1836, was not so when