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GOLDSMITH's comedy of the Good-natured Man was first acted in January, 1768 ; his other comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, in March, 1773. Goldsmith died on the 4th of April, 1774, at the age of forty-six, his first play having been produced at the age of forty.
The character of Croaker in the Good-natured Man was suggested by the character of Suspirius in No. 59 of Johnson's Rambler. Garrick, who had let the Good-natured Man pass out of his hands, produced a play of False Delicacy, by Hugh Kelly, on the 23rd of January, 1768, himself writing for it the Prologue and Epilogue. This new play was in its sixth night, and drawing full houses at Drury Lane, when George Colman, who had just become one of the joint patentees, produced Goldsmith's comedy, on Friday, the 29th of January, at Covent Garden. On the first night the success of the play was doubtful, until the reading of the incendiary letter by the actor who represented Mr. Croaker, which roused the house to an enthusiasm of enjoyment, after which all went merrily. Goldsmith's play was repeated eleven times, Kelly's more than
twenty times during the season. False Delicacy is now forgotten, and the Good-natured Man stands firm with She Stoops to Conquer among the best comedies in English literature. Goldsmith's first comedy did, however, produce him the five hundred pounds with which he bought and furnished chambers in the Middlo Temple.
The production at Covent Garden of She Stoops to Conquer, on the 15th of March, 1773, was under conditions still more trying to the author. George Colman, the manager, who had yielded slowly to the compulsion of Goldsmith's friends, did not believe in the play, and infected the actors with his own distrust. One or two of them threw up their parts. It was first called The Mistakes of a Night, but Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith himself, and others, were not satisfied with the öitle. Sir Joshua Reynolds wished to call it The Belle's Stratagem, but all were content when Goldsmith himself hit upon the title it now bears. There was an artificial dread in those days of incidents that could be dubbed “low.” The Good-natured Man had been cried out against for the scene in which Honeywood dresses the bailiffs as his gentlemen friends. Their low humour, in deference to the critics, had to be omitted. Fielding and Goldsmith had both ridiculed this false delicacy. Stoops, indeed !” said Horace Walpole of She Stoops to Conquer ; so she does ! that is, the
she is draggled up to the knees, and has trudged
pole, present at the first night, had to report next je morning a prodigious success.” The day of artificial id dignity was drawing to its close.
The story of She Stoops to Conquer is said to have emerlang II
been suggested to Goldsmith by a youthful blunder of
his own, in believing the direction given by Mr. ti
Cornelius Kelly, the wag of the place, when he had
said, to a Squire Featherstone, who, as he happened id
to know Goldsmith's father, humoured the joke.
When Goldsmith entered the theatre on the first night of She Stoops to Conquer, his ear caught a solitary hiss, and he expressed alarm. “Psha, doctor!” said Colman, “don't be afraid of a solitary squib when we have been sitting these two hours on a barrel of gunpowder!” But after the great success of the play, Colman had to ask Goldsmith for defence against wits, wise after the event, who laughed at the melancholy doubts which they had been quite ready to share. Indeed, Goldsmith's healthy good-humour came into successful battle with a social compact of stupidity that was accepted, as usual, even by the good wits of the polite world when they failed to shake themselves loose from current forms of prejudice. Thus, for example, Horace Walpole criticised She Stoops to
Conquer : “Dr. Goldsmith has written a comedy-no, it is the lowest of all farces; it is not the subject I condemn, though very vulgar, but the execution. The drift tends to no moral-no edification of any kind; the situations, however, are well imagined, and make one laugh in spite of the grossness of the dialogue, the forced witticisms, and total improbability of the whole plan and conduct. But what disgusts me most is, that though the characters are very low, and aim at low humour, not one of them says a sentence that is natural, or marks any character at all.” It was Goldsmith's sad fortune to be lowered by habitual association with persons of the highest intellect in London. It was Horace Walpole's happy fortune to be elevated by habitual association with persons of the highest fashion. Fashion, however, is short-lived. But it must not be forgotten that there was intellect enough in Horace Walpole to keep his name also in lasting remembrance, although he weakly chose to draggle in the train of fashion.