페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

good Elizabeth Delap, when she bored her friends about the celebrated Doctor Goldsmith. He was a plant that 'flowered late,' said Johnson to Boswell: there was ‘nothing remarkable about him when young. And this was probably true. It is said that the richer a nature is, the harder and more slow its development is like to be. At the

age

of six, Oliver was handed over to the village school, kept by Mr. Thomas Byrne. Looking back from this distance of time, and penetrating through greate obscurity than its own cabin-smoke into that Lissoy academy, it is to be discovered that this excellent Mr. Byrne, retired quarter-master of an Irish regiment that had served in Marlborough's wars, was more given to shoulder a crutch and show how fields were won,' and certainly more apt to teach wild legends of an Irish hovel, or tell of Carolan the Blind, James Freeny, Rogues and Rapparrees, than to inculcate what are called the Humanities. He seems to have preferred a Virgil in Irish verse to a Roman Virgil, and to have had more faith in fairies than in fluxions. Little Oliver came away from him much as he went: but for certain wandering unsettled tastes, which his friends thought to have been here implanted in him, and the enduring effects of a terrible disease.

An attack of confluent small-pox which nearly proved mortal, had left deep and indelible traces on his face, for ever settled his small pretension to good looks, and exposed him to jest and sarcasm. Kind-natured Mr. Byrne might best have reconciled him to it, used to his temper as no doubt he had become; and it was doubly unfortunate to be sent at such a time away from home, to a school among strangers, at once to taste the bitterness of those school experiences which too early and sadly teach the shy, ill-favoured, backward boy, what tyrannies the world has to inflict, and what sufferings to endure. But to the Reverend Mr. Griffin's superior school of Elphin, in Roscommon, it was resolved to send him; and at the house of an uncle John, at Ballyoughter, in the neighbourhood of Elphin, he was lodged and boarded. The knowledge of Ovid and Horace, introduced to him here, was the least and pleasantest, though the most difficult it might be, of what he had now to learn. It was the learning of bitter years : not by the schoolmaster, but by the school-fellows, of this poor little, 'thick,' 'pale'faced, pock-marked boy, administered. I have often conversed with his contemporaries and school-fellows,' said Doctor Strean, who succeeded, on the death of Charles Goldsmith's eldest son, to the Pallasmore pastoral duties and munificent rewards, and they all considered him a ' stupid, heavy blockhead, little better than a fool, whom every one made fun of.'

It was early to trample fun out of a child; and he bore marks of it to his dying day. It had not been his least qualification as game for laughter, that all confessed his nature to be kind and affectionate,' and his temper 'cheerful and agreeable.' But much 'fun' extracted, some change appeared ; and 'solemn yet gay, good-natured yet 'irritable, petulant yet appeased by the smallest concession,' were the terms in which people spoke of him then. In those words, as he afterwards appeared to his acquaint

ances in London,' his elder sister described his school-days to Doctor Percy, Bishop of Dromore, when those great acquaintances were seeking materials for his Life. He

seemed to possess two natures,' was the learned comment, at once upon his childhood and his manhood. And there was sense in it. For struggling ever, though always unavailingly, against feelings which God had given him, were fears he had to thank the World for.

Why Noll l'exclaimed a visitor at uncle John's, you ' are become a fright! When do you mean to get band' some again ?' Oliver moved in silence to the window. The speaker, a thoughtless and notorious scapegrace of the Goldsmith family, repeated the question with a worse sneer : and · I mean to get better, sir, when

you the boy's retort, which has delighted his biographers for its quickness of repartee. Probably it was something more than smartness. Other like evidences of precocious wit describe the poor lad, while dancing a hornpipe in the house of uncle John, held up to ridicule by the musician of the party as Ugly Æsop, and retorting on his opponent the name of Æsop's Monkey. The couplet was thought worth preserving, as the first formal effort of Oliver's genius, by Percy, Malone, and the rest, who compiled that

do !' was

biographical preface to the Miscellaneous Works on which the subsequent biographies have been founded.

Our herald hath proclaimed this saying,
See Æsop dancing, and his monkey playing.

But these things may stand for more than quickness of repartee. It is even possible that the secret might be found in them, of much that has been virtuously condemned for vanity in Goldsmith. Vanity it may have been; but it sprang from the opposite source to that in which its ordinary forms have birth. Fielding describes a class of men who feed upon their own hearts : who are egotists, as he says, the wrong way. If Goldsmith was vain, it was the wrong way. It arose, not from overweening self-complacency in supposed advantages, but from what the world had forced him since his earliest youth to feel, intense uneasy consciousness of supposed defects. His resources of boyhood went as manhood

There was no longer the cricket-match, the hornpipe, an active descent upon an orchard, or a game of fives or foot-ball, to purge unhealthy humours and clear out the mind.' There was no old dairy-maid, no Peggy Golden, to beguile childish sorrows, or, as he mournfully recalls in one of his delightful Essays, to sing him into pleasant tears with Johnny Armstrong's Last Good Night, or the Cruelty of Barbara Allen. It was his ardent wish in later years, the years when those Essays were written, to be on good terms with the society around him; and, finding it essential first of all to be on good terms with himself, would have restored by fantastic dress and other innocent follies, what the world had all his life done its best to banter him out of. It was to no purpose he made the attempt. It could but assume a greater absurdity with him : so unwitting a contrast to gentleness, to simplicity, to an utter absence of disguise, in his real nature. "My dear Doctor,' said Johnson, how is a man the worse, I wonder, in his health, purse, or character, for being called Holofernes ?' 'How you 'may relish being called Holofernes,' replied Goldsmith, 'I do not know: but I do not like at least to play Good'man Dull! It was the part he was, much against his will, set down for from the first.

came.

But was there not still the means, at the fireside of his good-hearted father, of turning these childish rebuffs to something of a wholesome discipline ? Alas ! little. There was little of worldly wisdom in the home circle of the kind but simple preacher, to make a profit of this worldly experience. L. My father's education,' says the Man in Black, 'was above his fortune, and his generosity greater than his education. He told the story of the ivy-tree, and that was laughed at; he repeated the jest of the two scholars and one pair of breeches, and the company * laughed at that; but the story of Taffy in the Sedan-chair

was sure to set the table in a roar : thus his pleasure in'creased in proportion to the pleasure he gave; he loved all the world ; and he fancied all the world loved him.

« 이전계속 »