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Wilder's insults, and anxious to wipe out a disgrace that seemed not so undeserved, Goldsmith tried next month for a scholarship. He lost the scholarship, but got an exhibition : a very small exhibition truly, worth some thirty shillings, of which there were nineteen in number, and his was seventeenth in the list. It was trifling enough ; but, little used to anything in the shape of even such a success, he let loose his unaccustomed joy in a small dancing party at his rooms, of humblest sort. .
Wilder heard of the affront to discipline, suddenly showed himself in the middle of the festivity, and knocked down the poor triumphant exhibitioner. It seemed an irretrievable disgrace. Goldsmith sold his books next day; got together a trifling sum; ran away from college; lingered fearfully about Dublin till his money was spent; and then, with a shilling in his pocket, set out for Cork. He did not know where he would have gone, he said, but he thought of America. For three days he lived upon the shilling; parted by degrees with nearly all his clothes to save himself from famine; and long afterwards told Sir Joshua Reynolds, that of all the exquisite meals he had ever tasted, the most delicious was a handful of grey peas given him by a girl at a wake after twenty-four hours' fasting. The vision of America sank before this reality, and he turned his feeble steps to Lissoy. His brother had private intimation of his state, went to him, clothed him, and carried him back to college. 'Something of a recon'ciliation,' say the biographers, was effected with the tutor. Probably the tutor promised not to strike him to the ground again. Certainly no other improvement is on record. The insults, the merciless jests, the Oliver Goldsmith turned down,' continue as before. We still trace him less by his fame in the class-room than his fines in the buttery-books. The change is in that greater submission of the victim which marks unsuccessful rebellion. He offers no resistance: makes no effort of any kind: sits, for the most part, indulging day-dreams. A Greek Scapula has been identified, which he used at this time, scrawled over with his writing. Free. Oliver Goldsmith ;' 'I promise to pay, &c. Oliver Goldsmith ;' are among the autograph's musing shapes. Perhaps one half the day he was with Steele or Addison in parliament; perhaps the other half in prison, with Collins or with Fielding. We should be thankful, as I have said, that a time so dreary and dark bore no worse fruit than that. The shadow cast over his spirit, the uneasy sense of disadvantage which obscured his manners in later years, affected himself singly. But how many they are, whom such suffering, and such idleness, would have wholly and for ever corrupted. The spirit hardly less generous, cheerful, or self-supported than Goldsmith's, has been broken by them utterly.
He took his degree of Bachelor of Arts on the 27th February, 1749. He was lowest in the list. But it would be needless to recount the names that appear above his. The public merits of their owners ended with their college course, and oblivion has received them. Mr. Wilder and his pupil parted for ever : and when the friend of Burke, of Johnson, and of Reynolds, next heard the name of his college tyrant, a violent death had overtaken him in a dissolute brawl.
Goldsmith returned to his mother's house. There were great changes. She had removed, in her straitened circumstances, to a cottage at Ballymahon, in a corner of the ‘road to Edgeworthstown. His brother Henry had gone back to his father's original parsonage of Pallasmore; and, with his father's old pittance of forty pounds a year, was master of the village school. His eldest sister, Mrs. Hodson, for whom the sacrifice was made that impoverished the family resources, was mistress of the old house at Lissoy. All entreated Oliver to qualify himself for orders : and when they joined uncle Contarine's request, his own objection was withdrawn. But he is only twenty-one; he must wait two years; and they are passed at Ballymahon.
It is the sunny time between two dismal periods of his life. He has escaped one scene of misery; another is awaiting him; and what possibilities of happiness lie in the interval, it is his nature to seize and make the most of. He assists his brother Henry in the school; runs household errands for his mother; writes scraps of verses to please his uncle Contarine; and, to please himself, gets cousin Bryanton and Tony Lumpkins of the district, with wandering bearleaders of genteeler sort, to meet at an old Inn by his mother's house, and be a club for storytelling, for an occasional game of whist, and for the singing of songs. First in these three accomplishments, great at Latin quotations, as admirer of happy human faces greatest of all: Oliver presides. Cousin Bryanton had seen his disgrace in college, and thinks this a triumph indeed. So seems it to the hero of the triumph, on whose taste and manners, still only forming as yet in these sudden and odd extremes, many an amusing shade of contrast must have fallen in after-life, from the storms of Wilder's Class-room and the sunshine of George Conway's Inn. Thus the two years passed. In the daytime occupied, as I have said, in the village school; on the winter nights, at Conway's; in the evenings of summer, strolling up the Inny's banks to fish or play the flute, otter-hunting by the course of the Shannon, learning French from the Irish priests, or winning a prize for throwing the sledge-hammer at the fair of Ballymahon.
Two sunny years, with sorrowful affection long remembered : but hardly better than his college course to help him through the world. So much even occurred to himself when eight years were gone, and, in the outset of his London distresses, he turned back with wistful looks to Ireland. Unaccountable fondness,' he exclaimed, writing to his brother-in-law Hodson: Unaccountable that he
should still have an affection for a place who never, when ' in it, received above common civility; who never brought 'anything out of it except his brogue and his blunders. What gives me a wish to see Ireland again? There are 'good company in Ireland ? No. The conversation there is 'generally made up of a smutty toast or a bawdy song; the