Part 5 out of 6
I fret in my gizzard, yet, cautious and sly,
I wish all my friends may be bolder than I:
Yet still they sit snug, not a creature will aim
By losing their money to venture at fame.
'Tis in vain that at niggardly caution I scold,
'Tis in vain that I flatter the brave and the bold:
All play their own way, and they think me an ass,...
'What does Mrs. Bunbury?' ... 'I, Sir? I pass.'
'Pray what does Miss Horneck? take courage, come do,'...
'Who, I? let me see, sir, why I must pass too.'
Mr. Bunbury frets, and I fret like the devil,
To see them so cowardly, lucky, and civil.
Yet still I sit snug, and continue to sigh on,
Till, made by my losses as bold as a lion,
I venture at all, while my avarice regards
The whole pool as my own... 'Come, give me five cards.'
'Well done!' cry the ladies; 'Ah, doctor, that's good!
The pool's very rich,... ah! the doctor is loo'd!'
Thus foil'd in my courage, on all sides perplext,
I ask for advice from the lady that's next:
'Pray, ma'am, be so good as to give your advice;
Don't you think the best way is to venture for't twice!'
'I advise,' cries the lady, 'to try it, I own....
Ah! the doctor is loo'd! Come, doctor, put down.'
Thus, playing, and playing, I still grow more eager,
And so bold, and so bold, I'm at last a bold beggar.
Now, ladies, I ask, if law-matters you're skill'd in,
Whether crimes such as yours should not come before Fielding:
For giving advice that is not worth a straw,
May well be call'd picking of pockets in law;
And picking of pockets, with which I now charge ye,
Is, by quinto Elizabeth, Death without Clergy.
What justice, when both to the Old Bailey brought!
By the gods, I'll enjoy it, tho' 'tis but in thought!
Both are plac'd at the bar, with all proper decorum,
With bunches of fennel, and nosegays before 'em;
Both cover their faces with mobs and all that,
But the judge bids them, angrily, take off their hat.
When uncover'd, a buzz of inquiry runs round,
'Pray what are their crimes?'... 'They've been pilfering found.'
'But, pray, who have they pilfer'd?'... 'A doctor, I hear.'
_'What, yon solemn-faced, odd-looking man that stands near?'_
'The same.'... 'What a pity! how does it surprise one,
_Two handsomer culprits I never set eyes on!'_
Then their friends all come round me with cringing and leering,
To melt me to pity, and soften my swearing.
First Sir Charles advances with phrases wellstrung,
'Consider, dear doctor, the girls are but young.'
'The younger the worse,' I return him again,
'It shows that their habits are all dyed in grain.'
'But then they're so handsome, one's bosom it grieves.
'What signifies _handsome_, when people are thieves?'
'But where is your justice? their cases are hard.'
'What signifies _justice_? I want the _reward_.
"'There's the parish of Edmonton offers forty pounds; there's the parish of
St. Leonard Shoreditch offers forty pounds; there's the parish of Tyburn,
from the Hog-in-the-pound to St. Giles' watch-house, offers forty pounds--I
shall have all that if I convict them!'--
"'But consider their case,... it may yet be your own!
And see how they kneel! Is your heart made of stone!'
This moves!... so at last I agree to relent,
For ten pounds in hand, and ten pounds to be spent.'
"I challenge you all to answer this: I tell you, you cannot. It cuts deep.
But now for the rest of the letter: and next--but I want room--so I believe
I shall battle the rest out at Barton some day next week. I don't value you
We regret that we have no record of this Christmas visit to Barton; that
the poet had no Boswell to follow at his heels, and take note of all his
sayings and doings. We can only picture him in our minds, casting off all
care; enacting the lord of misrule; presiding at the Christmas revels;
providing all kinds of merriment; keeping the card-table in an uproar, and
finally opening the ball on the first day of the year in his spring-velvet
suit, with the Jessamy Bride for a partner.
THEATRICAL DELAYS--NEGOTIATIONS WITH COLMAN--LETTER TO GARRICK--CROAKING OF
THE MANAGER--NAMING OF THE PLAY--SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER--FOOTE'S PRIMITIVE
PUPPET-SHOW, PIETY ON PATTENS--FIRST PERFORMANCE OF THE COMEDY--AGITATION
OF THE AUTHOR--SUCCESS--COLMAN SQUIBBED OUT OF TOWN
The gay life depicted in the two last chapters, while it kept Goldsmith in
a state of continual excitement, aggravated the malady which was impairing
his constitution; yet his increasing perplexities in money matters drove
him to the dissipation of society as a relief from solitary care. The
delays of the theater added to those perplexities. He had long since
finished his new comedy, yet the year 1772 passed away without his being
able to get it on the stage. No one, uninitiated in the interior of a
theater, that little world of traps and trickery, can have any idea of the
obstacles and perplexities multiplied in the way of the most eminent and
successful author by the mismanagement of managers, the jealousies and
intrigues of rival authors, and the fantastic and impertinent caprices of
actors. A long and baffling negotiation was carried on between Goldsmith
and Colman, the manager of Covent Garden; who retained the play in his
hands until the middle of January (1773), without coming to a decision. The
theatrical season was rapidly passing away, and Goldsmith's pecuniary
difficulties were augmenting and pressing on him. We may judge of his
anxiety by the following letter:
"_To George Colman, Esq._
"DEAR SIR--I entreat you'll relieve me from that state of suspense in which
I have been kept for a long time. Whatever objections you have made or
shall make to my play, I will endeavor to remove and not argue about them.
To bring in any new judges, either of its merits or faults, I can never
submit to. Upon a former occasion, when my other play was before Mr.
Garrick, he offered to bring me before Mr. Whitehead's tribunal, but I
refused the proposal with indignation: I hope I shall not experience as
harsh treatment from you as from him. I have, as you know, a large sum of
money to make up shortly; by accepting my play, I can readily satisfy my
creditor that way; at any rate, I must look about to some certainty to be
prepared. For God's sake take the play, and let us make the best of it, and
let me have the same measure, at least, which you have given as bad plays
as mine. I am your friend and servant,
Colman returned the manuscript with the blank sides of the leaves scored
with disparaging comments and suggested alterations, but with the
intimation that the faith of the theater should be kept, and the play acted
notwithstanding. Goldsmith submitted the criticisms to some of his friends,
who pronounced them trivial, unfair, and contemptible, and intimated that
Colman, being a dramatic writer himself, might be actuated by jealousy. The
play was then sent, with Colman's comments written on it, to Garrick; but
he had scarce sent it when Johnson interfered, represented the evil that
might result from an apparent rejection of it by Covent Garden, and
undertook to go forthwith to Colman, and have a talk with him on the
subject. Goldsmith, therefore, penned the following note to Garrick:
"DEAR SIR--I ask many pardons for the trouble I gave you yesterday. Upon
more mature deliberation, and the advice of a sensible friend, I began to
think it indelicate in me to throw upon you the odium of confirming Mr.
Colman's sentence. I therefore request you will send my play back by my
servant; for, having been assured of having it acted at the other house,
though I confess yours in every respect more to my wish, yet it would be
folly in me to forego an advantage which lies in my power of appealing from
Mr. Colman's opinion to the judgment of the town. I entreat, if not too
late, you will keep this affair a secret for some time.
"I am, dear sir, your very humble servant,
The negotiation of Johnson with the manager of Covent Garden was effective.
"Colman," he says, "was prevailed on at last, by much solicitation, nay, a
kind of force," to bring forward the comedy. Still the manager was
ungenerous; or, at least, indiscreet enough to express his opinion, that it
would not reach a second representation. The plot, he said, was bad, and
the interest not sustained; "it dwindled, and dwindled, and at last went
out like the snuff of a candle." The effect of his croaking was soon
apparent within the walls of the theater. Two of the most popular actors,
Woodward and Gentleman Smith, to whom the parts of Tony Lumpkin and Young
Marlow were assigned, refused to act them; one of them alleging, in excuse,
the evil predictions of the manager. Goldsmith was advised to postpone the
performance of his play until he could get these important parts well
supplied. "No," said he, "I would sooner that my play were damned by bad
players than merely saved by good acting."
Quick was substituted for Woodward in Tony Lumpkin, and Lee Lewis, the
harlequin of the theater, for Gentleman Smith in Young Marlow; and both did
justice to their parts.
Great interest was taken by Goldsmith's friends in the success of his
piece. The rehearsals were attended by Johnson, Cradock, Murphy, Reynolds
and his sister, and the whole Horneck connection, including, of course, the
"Jessamy Bride," whose presence may have contributed to flutter the anxious
heart of the author. The rehearsals went off with great applause, but that
Colman attributed to the partiality of friends. He continued to croak, and
refused to risk any expense in new scenery or dresses on a play which he
was sure would prove a failure.
The time was at hand for the first representation, and as yet the comedy
was without a title. "We are all in labor for a name for Goldy's play,"
said Johnson, who, as usual, took a kind of fatherly protecting interest in
poor Goldsmith's affairs. The Old House a New Inn was thought of for a
time, but still did not please. Sir Joshua Reynolds proposed The Belle's
Stratagem, an elegant title, but not considered applicable, the
perplexities of the comedy being produced by the mistake of the hero, not
the stratagem of the heroine. The name was afterward adopted by Mrs. Cowley
for one of her comedies. The Mistakes of a Night was the title at length
fixed upon, to which Goldsmith prefixed the words She Stoops to Conquer.
The evil bodings of Colman still continued; they were even communicated in
the box office to the servant of the Duke of Gloucester, who was sent to
engage a box. Never did the play of a popular writer struggle into
existence through more difficulties.
In the meantime Foote's Primitive Puppet-show, entitled the Handsome
Housemaid, or Piety on Pattens, had been brought out at the Haymarket on
the 15th of February. All the world, fashionable and unfashionable, had
crowded to the theater. The street was thronged with equipages--the doors
were stormed by the mob. The burlesque was completely successful, and
sentimental comedy received its quietus. Even Garrick, who had recently
befriended it, now gave it a kick, as he saw it going down hill, and sent
Goldsmith a humorous prologue to help his comedy of the opposite school.
Garrick and Goldsmith, however, were now on very cordial terms, to which
the social meetings in the circle of the Hornecks and Bunburys may have
On the 15th of March the new comedy was to be performed. Those who had
stood up for its merits, and been irritated and disgusted by the treatment
it had received from the manager, determined to muster their forces, and
aid in giving it a good launch upon the town. The particulars of this
confederation, and of its triumphant success, are amusingly told by
Cumberland in his memoirs.
"We were not over-sanguine of success, but perfectly determined to struggle
hard for our author. We accordingly assembled our strength at the
Shakespeare Tavern, in a considerable body, for an early dinner, where
Samuel Johnson took the chair at the head of a long table, and was the life
and soul of the corps: the poet took post silently by his side, with the
Burkes, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Fitzherbert, Caleb Whitefoord, and a phalanx
of North British, predetermined applauders, under the banner of Major
Mills, all good men and true. Our illustrious president was in inimitable
glee; and poor Goldsmith that day took all his raillery as patiently and
complacently as my friend Boswell would have done any day or every day of
his life. In the meantime, we did not forget our duty; and though we had a
better comedy going, in which Johnson was chief actor, we betook ourselves
in good time to our separate and allotted posts, and waited the awful
drawing up of the curtain. As our stations were preconcerted, so were our
signals for plaudits arranged and determined upon in a manner that gave
every one his cue where to look for them, and how to follow them up.
"We had among us a very worthy and efficient member, long since lost to his
friends and the world at large, Adam Drummond, of amiable memory, who was
gifted by nature with the most sonorous, and, at the same time, the most
contagious laugh that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the
horse of the son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the
theater could not drown it. This kind and ingenious friend fairly
forewarned us that he knew no more when to give his fire than the cannon
did that was planted on a battery. He desired, therefore, to have a flapper
at his elbow, and I had the honor to be deputed to that office. I planted
him in an upper box, pretty nearly over the stage, in full view of the pit
and galleries, and perfectly well situated to give the echo all its play
through the hollows and recesses of the theater. The success of our
maneuver was complete. All eyes were upon Johnson, who sat in a front row
of a side box; and when he laughed, everybody thought themselves warranted
to roar. In the meantime, my friend followed signals with a rattle so
irresistibly comic that, when he had repeated it several times, the
attention of the spectators was so engrossed by his person and performances
that the progress of the play seemed likely to become a secondary object,
and I found it prudent to insinuate to him that he might halt his music
without any prejudice to the author; but alas! it was now too late to rein
him in; he had laughed upon my signal where he found no joke, and now,
unluckily, he fancied that he found a joke in almost everything that was
said; so that nothing in nature could be more malapropos than some of his
bursts every now and then were. These were dangerous moments, for the pit
began to take umbrage; but we carried our point through, and triumphed not
only over Colman's judgment, but our own."
Much of this statement has been condemned as exaggerated or discolored.
Cumberland's memoirs have generally been characterized as partaking of
romance, and in the present instance he had particular motives for
tampering with the truth. He was a dramatic writer himself, jealous of the
success of a rival, and anxious to have it attributed to the private
management of friends. According to various accounts, public and private,
such management was unnecessary, for the piece was "received throughout
with the greatest acclamations."
Goldsmith, in the present instance, had not dared, as on a former occasion,
to be present at the first performance. He had been so overcome by his
apprehensions that, at the preparatory dinner he could hardly utter a word,
and was so choked that he could not swallow a mouthful. When his friends
trooped to the theater, he stole away to St. James' Park: there he was
found by a friend between seven and eight o'clock, wandering up and down
the Mall like a troubled spirit. With difficulty he was persuaded to go to
the theater, where his presence might be important should any alteration be
necessary. He arrived at the opening of the fifth act, and made his way
behind the scenes. Just as he entered there was a slight hiss at the
improbability of Tony Lumpkin's trick on his mother, in persuading her she
was forty miles off, on Crackskull Common, though she had been trundled
about on her own grounds. "What's that? what's that!" cried Goldsmith to
the manager, in great agitation. "Pshaw! doctor," replied Colman,
sarcastically, "don't be frightened at a squib, when we've been sitting
these two hours on a barrel of gunpowder!" Though of a most forgiving
nature Goldsmith did not easily forget this ungracious and ill-timed sally.
If Colman was indeed actuated by the paltry motives ascribed to him in his
treatment of this play, he was most amply punished by its success, and by
the taunts, epigrams, and censures leveled at him through the press, in
which his false prophecies were jeered at; his critical judgment called in
question; and he was openly taxed with literary jealousy. So galling and
unremitting was the fire, that he at length wrote to Goldsmith, entreating
him "to take him off the rack of the newspapers"; in the meantime, to
escape the laugh that was raised about him in the theatrical world of
London, he took refuge in Bath during the triumphant career of the comedy.
The following is one of the many squibs which assailed the ears of the
TO GEORGE COLMAN, ESQ.
ON THE SUCCESS OF DR. GOLDSMITH'S NEW COMEDY
"Come, Coley, doff those mourning weeds,
Nor thus with jokes be flamm'd;
Tho' Goldsmith's present play succeeds,
His next may still be damn'd.
"As this has 'scaped without a fall,
To sink his next prepare;
New actors hire from Wapping Wall,
And dresses from Rag Fair.
"For scenes let tatter'd blankets fly,
The prologue Kelly write;
Then swear again the piece must die
Before the author's night.
"Should these tricks fail, the lucky elf,
To bring to lasting shame,
E'en write _the best you can yourself_,
And print it in _his name_."
The solitary hiss, which had startled Goldsmith, was ascribed by some of
the newspaper scribblers to Cumberland himself, who was "manifestly
miserable" at the delight of the audience, or to Ossian Macpherson, who was
hostile to the whole Johnson clique, or to Goldsmith's dramatic rival,
Kelly. The following is one of the epigrams which appeared:
"At Dr. Goldsmith's merry play,
All the spectators laugh, they say;
The assertion, sir, I must deny,
For Cumberland and Kelly cry.
"_Ride, si sapis_."
Another, addressed to Goldsmith, alludes to Kelly's early apprenticeship to
"If Kelly finds fault with the _shape_ of your muse,
And thinks that too loosely it plays,
He surely, dear doctor, will never refuse
To make it a new _Pair of Stays_!"
Cradock had returned to the country before the production of the play; the
following letter, written just after the performance, gives an additional
picture of the thorns which beset an author in the path of theatrical
"MY DEAR SIR--The play has met with a success much beyond your expectations
or mine. I thank you sincerely for your epilogue, which, however, could not
be used, but with your permission shall be printed. The story in short is
this. Murphy sent me rather the outline of an epilogue than an epilogue,
which was to be sung by Miss Catley, and which she approved; Mrs. Bulkley
hearing this, insisted on throwing up her part" (Miss Hardcastle) "unless,
according to the custom of the theater, she were permitted to speak the
epilogue. In this embarrassment I thought of making a quarreling epilogue
between Catley and her, debating _who_ should speak the epilogue; but
then Mrs. Catley refused after I had taken the trouble of drawing it out. I
was then at a loss indeed; an epilogue was to be made, and for none but
Mrs. Bulkley. I made one, and Colman thought it too bad to be spoken; I was
obliged, therefore, to try a fourth time, and I made a very mawkish thing,
as you'll shortly see. Such is the history of my stage adventures, and
which I have at last done with. I cannot help saying that I am very sick of
the stage; and though I believe I shall get three tolerable benefits, yet I
shall, on the whole, be a loser, even in a pecuniary light; my ease and
comfort I certainly lost while it was in agitation.
"I am, my dear Cradock, your obliged and obedient servant, OLIVER
"P.S.--Present my most humble respects to Mrs. Cradock."
Johnson, who had taken such a conspicuous part in promoting the interests
of poor "Goldy," was triumphant at the success of the piece. "I know of no
comedy for many years," said he, "that has so much exhilarated an audience;
that has answered so much the great end of comedy--making an audience
Goldsmith was happy, also, in gleaning applause from less authoritative
sources. Northcote, the painter, then a youthful pupil of Sir Joshua
Reynolds; and Ralph, Sir Joshua's confidential man, had taken their
stations in the gallery to lead the applause in that quarter. Goldsmith
asked Northcote's opinion of the play. The youth modestly declared he could
not presume to judge in such matters. "Did it make you laugh?" "Oh.
exceedingly!" "That is all I require," replied Goldsmith; and rewarded him
for his criticism by box-tickets for his first benefit night.
The comedy was immediately put to press, and dedicated to Johnson in the
following grateful and affectionate terms:
"In inscribing this slight performance to you, I do not mean so much to
compliment you as myself. It may do me some honor to inform the public that
I have lived many years in intimacy with you. It may serve the interests of
mankind also to inform them that the greatest wit may be found in a
character, without impairing the most unaffected piety."
The copyright was transferred to Mr. Newbery, according to agreement, whose
profits on the sale of the work far exceeded the debts for which the author
in his perplexities had pre-engaged it. The sum which accrued to Goldsmith
from his benefit nights afforded but a slight palliation of his pecuniary
difficulties. His friends, while they exulted in his success, little knew
of his continually increasing embarrassments, and of the anxiety of mind
which kept tasking his pen while it impaired the ease and freedom of spirit
necessary to felicitous composition.
A NEWSPAPER ATTACK--THE EVANS AFFRAY--JOHNSON'S COMMENT
The triumphant success of She Stoops to Conquer brought forth, of course,
those carpings and cavilings of underling scribblers which are the thorns
and briers in the path of successful authors.
Goldsmith, though easily nettled by attacks of the kind, was at present too
well satisfied with the reception of his comedy to heed them; but the
following anonymous letter, which appeared in a public paper, was not to be
taken with equal equanimity:
[FOR THE LONDON PACKET.]
"TO DR. GOLDSMITH.
"_Vous vous noyez par vanite_.
"SIR--The happy knack which you have learned of puffing your own
compositions, provokes me to come forth. You have not been the editor of
newspapers and magazines not to discover the trick of literary
_humbug_; but the gauze is so thin that the very foolish part of the
world see through it, and discover the doctor's monkey face and cloven
foot. Your poetic vanity is as unpardonable as your personal. Would man
believe it, and will woman bear it, to be told that for hours the great
Goldsmith will stand surveying his grotesque orang-outang's figure in a
pier-glass? Was but the lovely H--k as much enamored, you would not sigh,
my gentle swain, in vain. But your vanity is preposterous. How will this
same bard of Bedlam ring the changes in the praise of Goldy! But what has
he to be either proud or vain of? The Traveler is a flimsy poem, built upon
false principles--principles diametrically opposite to liberty. What is The
Good-Natured Man but a poor, water-gruel dramatic dose? What is The
Deserted Village but a pretty poem of easy numbers, without fancy, dignity,
genius, or fire? And, pray, what may be the last _speaking pantomime_,
so praised by the doctor himself, but an incoherent piece of stuff, the
figure of a woman with a fish's tail, without plot, incident, or intrigue?
We are made to laugh at stale, dull jokes, wherein we mistake pleasantry
for wit, and grimace for humor; wherein every scene is unnatural and
inconsistent with the rules, the laws of nature and of the drama; viz., two
gentlemen come to a man of fortune's house, eat, drink, etc., and take it
for an inn. The one is intended as a lover for the daughter; he talks with
her for some hours; and, when he sees her again in a different dress, he
treats her as a bar-girl, and swears she squinted. He abuses the master of
the house, and threatens to kick him out of his own doors. The squire, whom
we are told is to be a fool, proves to be the most sensible being of the
piece; and he makes out a whole act by bidding his mother lie close behind
a bush, persuading her that his father, her own husband, is a highwayman,
and that he has come to cut their throats; and, to give his cousin an
opportunity to go off, he drives his mother over hedges, ditches, and
through ponds. There is not, sweet, sucking Johnson, a natural stroke in
the whole play but the young fellow's giving the stolen jewels to the
mother, supposing her to be the landlady. That Mr. Colman did no justice to
this piece, I honestly allow; that he told all his friends it would be
damned, I positively aver; and, from such ungenerous insinuations, without
a dramatic merit, it rose to public notice, and it is now the ton to go and
see it, though I never saw a person that either liked it or approved it,
any more than the absurd plot of Home's tragedy of Alonzo. Mr. Goldsmith,
correct your arrogance, reduce your vanity, and endeavor to believe, as a
man, you are of the plainest sort; and as an author, but a mortal piece of
"Brise le miroir infidele
Qui vous cache la verite.
It would be difficult to devise a letter more calculated to wound the
peculiar sensibilities of Goldsmith. The attacks upon him as an author,
though annoying enough, he could have tolerated; but then the allusion to
his "grotesque" person, to his studious attempts to adorn it; and, above
all, to his being an unsuccessful admirer of the lovely H--k (the Jessamy
Bride), struck rudely upon the most sensitive part of his highly sensitive
nature. The paragraph, it was said, was first pointed out to him by an
officious friend, an Irishman, who told him he was bound in honor to resent
it; but he needed no such prompting. He was in a high state of excitement
and indignation, and accompanied by his friend, who is said to have been a
Captain Higgins, of the marines, he repaired to Paternoster Row, to the
shop of Evans, the publisher, whom he supposed to be the editor of the
paper. Evans was summoned by his shopman from an adjoining room. Goldsmith
announced his name. "I have called," added he, "in consequence of a
scurrilous attack made upon me, and an unwarrantable liberty taken with the
name of a young lady. As for myself, I care little; but her name must not
be sported with."
Evans professed utter ignorance of the matter, and said he would speak to
the editor. He stooped to examine a file of the paper, in search of the
offensive article; whereupon Goldsmith's friend gave him a signal, that now
was a favorable moment for the exercise of his cane. The hint was taken as
quick as given, and the cane was vigorously applied to the back of the
stooping publisher. The latter rallied in an instant, and, being a stout,
high-blooded Welshman, returned the blows with interest. A lamp hanging
overhead was broken, and sent down a shower of oil upon the combatants; but
the battle raged with unceasing fury. The shopman ran off for a constable;
but Dr. Kenrick, who happened to be in the adjacent room, sallied forth,
interfered between the combatants, and put an end to the affray. He
conducted Goldsmith to a coach, in exceedingly battered and tattered
plight, and accompanied him home, soothing him with much mock
commiseration, though he was generally suspected, and on good grounds, to
be the author of the libel.
Evans immediately instituted a suit against Goldsmith for an assault, but
was ultimately prevailed upon to compromise the matter, the poet
contributing fifty pounds to the Welsh charity.
Newspapers made themselves, as may well be supposed, exceedingly merry with
the combat. Some censured him severely for invading the sanctity of a man's
own house; others accused him of having, in his former capacity of editor
of a magazine, been guilty of the very offenses that he now resented in
others. This drew from him the following vindication:
"_To the Public_.
"Lest it should be supposed that I have been willing to correct in others
an abuse of which I have been guilty myself, I beg leave to declare, that,
in all my life, I never wrote or dictated a single paragraph, letter, or
essay in a newspaper, except a few moral essays under the character of a
Chinese, about ten years ago, in the 'Ledger,' and a letter, to which I
signed my name in the 'St. James' Chronicle.' If the liberty of the press,
therefore, has been abused, I have had no hand in it.
"I have always considered the press as the protector of our freedom, as a
watchful guardian, capable of uniting the weak against the encroachments of
power. What concerns the public most properly admits of a public
discussion. But, of late, the press has turned from defending public
interest to making inroads upon private life; from combating the strong to
overwhelming the feeble. No condition is now too obscure for its abuse, and
the protector has become the tyrant of the people. In this manner the
freedom of the press is beginning to sow the seeds of its own dissolution;
the great must oppose it from principle, and the weak from fear; till at
last every rank of mankind shall be found to give up its benefits, content
with security from insults.
"How to put a stop to this licentiousness, by which all are
indiscriminately abused, and by which vice consequently escapes in the
general censure, I am unable to tell; all I could wish is that, as the law
gives us no protection against the injury, so it should give calumniators
no shelter after having provoked correction. The insults which we receive
before the public, by being more open, are the more distressing; by
treating them with silent contempt we do not pay a sufficient deference to
the opinion of the world. By recurring to legal redress we too often expose
the weakness of the law, which only serves to increase our mortification by
failing to relieve us. In short, every man should singly consider himself
as the guardian of the liberty of the press, and, as far as his influence
can extend, should endeavor to prevent its licentiousness becoming at last
the grave of its freedom.
Boswell, who had just arrived in town, met with this article in a newspaper
which he found at Dr. Johnson's. The doctor was from home at the time, and
Bozzy and Mrs. Williams, in a critical conference over the letter,
determined from the style that it must have been written by the
lexicographer himself. The latter on his return soon undeceived them.
"Sir," said he to Boswell, "Goldsmith would no more have asked me to have
wrote such a thing as that for him than he would have asked me to feed him
with a spoon, or do anything else that denoted his imbecility. Sir, had he
shown it to any one friend, he would not have been allowed to publish it.
He has, indeed, done it very well; but it is a foolish thing well done. I
suppose he has been so much elated with the success of his new comedy that
he has thought everything that concerned him must be of importance to the
BOSWELL IN HOLY WEEK--DINNER AT OGLETHORPE'S--DINNER AT PAOLI'S--THE
POLICY OF TRUTH--GOLDSMITH AFFECTS INDEPENDENCE OF ROYALTY--PAOLI'S
COMPLIMENT--JOHNSON'S EULOGIUM ON THE FIDDLE--QUESTION ABOUT
The return of Boswell to town to his task of noting down the conversations
of Johnson enables us to glean from his journal some scanty notices of
Goldsmith. It was now Holy Week, a time during which Johnson was
particularly solemn in his manner and strict in his devotions. Boswell, who
was the imitator of the great moralist in everything, assumed, of course,
an extra devoutness on the present occasion. "He had an odd mock solemnity
of tone and manner," said Miss Burney (afterward Madame D'Arblay), "which
he had acquired from constantly thinking, and imitating Dr. Johnson." It
would seem, that he undertook to deal out some secondhand homilies, _a la
Johnson_, for the edification of Goldsmith during Holy Week. The poet,
whatever might be his religious feeling, had no disposition to be schooled
by so shallow an apostle. "Sir," said he in reply, "as I take my shoes from
the shoemaker, and my coat from the tailor, so I take my religion from the
Boswell treasured up the reply in his memory or his memorandum book. A few
days afterward, the 9th of April, he kept Good Friday with Dr. Johnson, in
orthodox style; breakfasted with him on tea and crossbuns; went to church
with him morning and evening; fasted in the interval, and read with him in
the Greek Testament; then, in the piety of his heart, complained of the
sore rebuff he had met with in the course of his religious exhortations to
the poet, and lamented that the latter should indulge in "this loose way of
talking." "Sir," replied Johnson, "Goldsmith knows nothing--he has made up
his mind about nothing."
This reply seems to have gratified the lurking jealousy of Boswell, and he
has recorded it in his journal. Johnson, however, with respect to
Goldsmith, and indeed with respect to everybody else, blew hot as well as
cold, according to the humor he was in. Boswell, who was astonished and
piqued at the continually increasing celebrity of the poet, observed some
time after to Johnson, in a tone of surprise, that Goldsmith had acquired
more fame than all the officers of the last war who were not generals.
"Why, sir," answered Johnson, his old feeling of good-will working
uppermost, "you will find ten thousand fit to do what they did, before you
find one to do what Goldsmith has done. You must consider that a thing is
valued according to its rarity. A pebble that paves the street is in itself
more useful than the diamond upon a lady's finger."
On the 13th of April we find Goldsmith and Johnson at the table of old
General Oglethorpe, discussing the question of the degeneracy of the human
race. Goldsmith asserts the fact, and attributes it to the influence of
luxury. Johnson denies the fact; and observes that, even admitting it,
luxury could not be the cause. It reached but a small proportion of the
human race. Soldiers, on sixpence a day, could not indulge in luxuries; the
poor and laboring classes, forming the great mass of mankind, were out of
its sphere. Wherever it could reach them, it strengthened them and rendered
them prolific. The conversation was not of particular force or point as
reported by Boswell; the dinner party was a very small one, in which there
was no provocation to intellectual display.
After dinner they took tea with the ladies, where we find poor Goldsmith
happy and at home, singing Tony Lumpkin's song of the Three Jolly Pigeons,
and another called the Humors of Ballamaguery, to a very pretty Irish tune.
It was to have been introduced in She Stoops to Conquer, but was left out,
as the actress who played the heroine could not sing.
It was in these genial moments that the sunshine of Goldsmith's nature
would break out, and he would say and do a thousand whimsical and agreeable
things that made him the life of the strictly social circle. Johnson, with
whom conversation was everything, used to judge Goldsmith too much by his
own colloquial standard, and undervalue him for being less provided than
himself with acquired facts, the ammunition of the tongue and often the
mere lumber of the memory; others, however, valued him for the native
felicity of his thoughts, however carelessly expressed, and for certain
good-fellow qualities, less calculated to dazzle than to endear. "It is
amazing," said Johnson one day, after he himself had been talking like an
oracle; "it is amazing how little Goldsmith knows; he seldom comes where he
is not more ignorant than any one else." "Yet," replied Sir Joshua
Reynolds, with affectionate promptness, "there is no man whose company is
Two or three days after the dinner at General Oglethorpe's, Goldsmith met
Johnson again at the table of General Paoli, the hero of Corsica.
Martinelli, of Florence, author of an Italian History of England, was among
the guests; as was Boswell, to whom we are indebted for minutes of the
conversation which took place. The question was debated whether Martinelli
should continue his history down to that day. "To be sure he should," said
Goldsmith. "No, sir;" cried Johnson, "it would give great offense. He would
have to tell of almost all the living great what they did not wish told."
Goldsmith.--"It may, perhaps, be necessary for a native to be more
cautious; but a foreigner, who comes among us without prejudice, may be
considered as holding the place of a judge, and may speak his mind freely."
Johnson.--"Sir, a foreigner, when he sends a work from the press, ought to
be on his guard against catching the error and mistaken enthusiasm of the
people among whom he happens to be." Goldsmith.--"Sir, he wants only to
sell his history, and to tell truth; one an honest, the other a laudable
motive." Johnson.--"Sir, they are both laudable motives. It is laudable in
a man to wish to live by his labors; but he should write so as he may live
by them, not so as he may be knocked on the head. I would advise him to be
at Calais before he publishes his history of the present age. A foreigner
who attaches himself to a political party in this country is in the worst
state that can be imagined; he is looked upon as a mere intermeddler. A
native may do it from interest." Boswell.--"Or principle."
Goldsmith.--"There are people who tell a hundred political lies every day,
and are not hurt by it. Surely, then, one may tell truth with perfect
safety." Johnson.--"Why, sir, in the first place, he who tells a hundred
lies has disarmed the force of his lies. But, besides, a man had rather
have a hundred lies told of him than one truth which he does not wish to be
told." Goldsmith.--"For my part, I'd tell the truth, and shame the devil."
Johnson.--"Yes, sir, but the devil will be angry. I wish to shame the devil
as much as you do, but I should choose to be out of the reach of his
claws." Goldsmith.--"His claws can do you no hurt where you have the
shield of truth."
This last reply was one of Goldsmith's lucky hits, and closed the argument
in his favor.
"We talked," writes Boswell, "of the king's coming to see Goldsmith's new
play." "I wish he would," said Goldsmith, adding, however, with an affected
indifference, "Not that it would do me the least good." "Well, then," cried
Johnson, laughing, "let us say it would do _him_ good. No, sir, this
affectation will not pass; it is mighty idle. In such a state as ours, who
would not wish to please the chief magistrate?"
"I _do_ wish to please him," rejoined Goldsmith. "I remember a line in
"'And every poet is the monarch's friend,'
"it ought to be reversed." "Nay," said Johnson, "there are finer lines in
Dryden on this subject:
"'For colleges on bounteous kings depend,
And never rebel was to arts a friend.'"
General Paoli observed that "successful rebels might be." "Happy
rebellions," interjected Martinelli. "We have no such phrase," cried
Goldsmith. "But have you not the thing?" asked Paoli. "Yes," replied
Goldsmith, "all our _happy_ revolutions. They have hurt our
constitution, and _will_ hurt it, till we mend it by another HAPPY
REVOLUTION." This was a sturdy sally of Jacobitism that quite surprised
Boswell, but must have been relished by Johnson.
General Paoli mentioned a passage in the play, which had been construed
into a compliment to a lady of distinction, whose marriage with the Duke of
Cumberland had excited the strong disapprobation of the king as a
mesalliance. Boswell, to draw Goldsmith out, pretended to think the
compliment unintentional. The poet smiled and hesitated. The general came
to his relief. "Monsieur Goldsmith," said he, "est comme la mer, qui jette
des perles et beaucoup d'autres belles choses, sans s'en appercevoir" (Mr.
Goldsmith is like the sea, which casts forth pearls and many other
beautiful things without perceiving it).
"Tres-bien dit, et tres-elegamment" (very well said, and very elegantly),
exclaimed Goldsmith; delighted with so beautiful a compliment from such a
Johnson spoke disparagingly of the learning of a Mr. Harris, of Salisbury,
and doubted his being a good Grecian. "He is what is much better," cried
Goldsmith, with a prompt good-nature, "he is a worthy, humane man." "Nay,
sir," rejoined the logical Johnson, "that is not to the purpose of our
argument; that will prove that he can play upon the fiddle as well as
Giardini, as that he is an eminent Grecian." Goldsmith found he had got
into a scrape, and seized upon Giardini to help him out of it. "The
greatest musical performers," said he, dexterously turning the
conversation, "have but small emoluments; Giardini, I am told, does not get
above seven hundred a year." "That is indeed but little for a man to get,"
observed Johnson, "who does best that which so many endeavor to do. There
is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so much as in
playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do something at first.
Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give him a hammer; not so well as
a smith, but tolerably. A man will saw a piece of wood, and make a box,
though a clumsy one; but give him a fiddle and fiddlestick, and he can do
This, upon the whole, though reported by the one-sided Boswell, is a
tolerable specimen of the conversations of Goldsmith and Johnson; the
farmer heedless, often illogical, always on the kind-hearted side of the
question, and prone to redeem himself by lucky hits; the latter closely
argumentative, studiously sententious, often profound, and sometimes
They had an argument a few days later at Mr. Thrale's table, on the subject
of suicide. "Do you think, sir," said Boswell, "that all who commit suicide
are mad?" "Sir," replied Johnson, "they are not often universally
disordered in their intellects, but one passion presses so upon them that
they yield to it, and commit suicide, as a passionate man will stab
another. I have often thought," added he, "that after a man has taken the
resolution to kill himself, it is not courage in him to do anything,
however desperate, because he has nothing to fear." "I don't see that,"
observed Goldsmith. "Nay, but, my dear sir," rejoined Johnson, "why should
you not see what every one else does?" "It is," replied Goldsmith, "for
fear of something that he has resolved to kill himself; and will not that
timid disposition restrain him?" "It does not signify," pursued Johnson,
"that the fear of something made him resolve; it is upon the state of his
mind, after the resolution is taken, that I argue. Suppose a man, either
from fear, or pride, or conscience, or whatever motive, has resolved to
kill himself; when once the resolution is taken he has nothing to fear. He
may then go and take the King of Prussia by the nose at the head of his
army. He cannot fear the rack who is determined to kill himself." Boswell
reports no more of the discussion, though Goldsmith might have continued it
with advantage; for the very timid disposition, which, through fear of
something, was impelling the man to commit suicide, might restrain him from
an act involving the punishment of the rack, more terrible to him than
It is to be regretted in all these reports by Boswell we have scarcely
anything but the remarks of Johnson; it is only by accident that he now and
then gives us the observations of others, when they are necessary to
explain or set off those of his hero. "When in _that presence_," says
Miss Burney, "he was unobservant, if not contemptuous of every one else. In
truth, when he met with Dr. Johnson, he commonly forbore even answering
anything that was said, or attending to anything that went forward, lest he
should miss the smallest sound from that voice, to which he paid such
exclusive, though merited, homage. But the moment that voice burst forth,
the attention which it excited on Mr. Boswell amounted almost to pain. His
eyes goggled with eagerness; he leaned his ear almost on the shoulder of
the doctor; and his mouth dropped open to catch every syllable that might
be uttered; nay, he seemed not only to dread losing a word, but to be
anxious not to miss a breathing; as if hoping from it latently, or
mystically, some information."
On one occasion the doctor detected Boswell, or Bozzy, as he called him,
eavesdropping behind his chair, as he was conversing with Miss Burney at
Mr. Thrale's table. "What are you doing there, sir?" cried he, turning
round angrily, and clapping his hand upon his knee. "Go to the table, sir."
Boswell obeyed with an air of affright and submission, which raised a smile
on every face. Scarce had he taken his seat, however, at a distance, than,
impatient to get again at the side of Johnson, he rose and was running off
in quest of something to show him, when the doctor roared after him
authoritatively, "What are you thinking of, sir? Why do you get up before
the cloth is removed? Come back to your place, sir"--and the obsequious
spaniel did as he was commanded. "Running about in the middle of meals!"
muttered the doctor, pursing his mouth at the same time to restrain his
Boswell got another rebuff from Johnson, which would have demolished any
other man. He had been teasing him with many direct questions, such as What
did you do, sir? What did you say, sir? until the great philologist became
perfectly enraged. "I will not be put to the _question!_" roared he.
"Don't you consider, sir, that these are not the manners of a gentleman? I
will not be baited with _what_ and _why;_ What is this? What is
that? Why is a cow's tail long? Why is a fox's tail bushy?" "Why,
sir," replied pil-garlick, "you are so good that I venture to trouble you,"
"Sir," replied Johnson, "my being so _good_ is no reason why you
should be so _ill_." "You have but two topics, sir," exclaimed he on
another occasion, "yourself and me, and I am sick of both."
Boswell's inveterate disposition to _toad_ was a sore cause of
mortification to his father, the old laird of Auchinleck (or Affleck). He
had been annoyed by his extravagant devotion to Paoli, but then he was
something of a military hero; but this tagging at the heels of Dr. Johnson,
whom he considered a kind of pedagogue, set his Scotch blood in a ferment.
"There's nae hope for Jamie, mon," said he to a friend; "Jamie is gaen
clean gyte. What do you think, mon? He's done wi' Paoli; he's off wi' the
land-louping scoundrel of a Corsican; and whose tail do you think he has
pinn'd himself to now, mon? A _dominie_ mon; an auld dominie: he
keeped a schule, and cau'd it an acaadamy."
We shall show in the next chapter that Jamie's devotion to the dominie did
not go unrewarded.
CHANGES IN THE LITERARY CLUB--JOHNSON'S OBJECTION TO GARRICK--ELECTION OP
The Literary Club (as we have termed the club in Gerard Street, though it
took that name some time later) had now been in existence several years.
Johnson was exceedingly chary at first of its exclusiveness, and opposed to
its being augmented in number. Not long after its institution, Sir Joshua
Reynolds was speaking of it to Garrick. "I like it much," said little
David, briskly; "I think I shall be of you." "When Sir Joshua mentioned
this to Dr. Johnson," says Boswell, "he was much displeased with the
actor's conceit. '_He'll be of us?_' growled he. 'How does he know we
will _permit_ him? The first duke in England has no right to hold such
When Sir John Hawkins spoke favorably of Garrick's pretensions, "Sir,"
replied Johnson, "he will disturb us by his buffoonery." In the same spirit
he declared to Mr. Thrale that if Garrick should apply for admission he
would blackball him. "Who, sir?" exclaimed Thrale, with surprise; "Mr.
Garrick--your friend, your companion--blackball him!" "Why, sir," replied
Johnson, "I love my little David dearly--better than all or any of his
flatterers do; but surely one ought to sit in a society like ours,
"'Unelbowed by a gamester, pimp, or player.'"
The exclusion from the club was a sore mortification to Garrick, though he
bore it without complaining. He could not help continually to ask questions
about it--what was going on there--whether he was ever the subject of
conversation. By degrees the rigor of the club relaxed: some of the members
grew negligent. Beauclerc lost his right of membership by neglecting to
attend. On his marriage, however, with Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of the
Duke of Marlborough, and recently divorced from Viscount Bolingbroke, he
had claimed and regained his seat in the club. The number of members had
likewise been augmented. The proposition to increase it originated with
Goldsmith. "It would give," he thought, "an agreeable variety to their
meetings; for there can be nothing new among us," said he; "we have
traveled over each other's minds." Johnson was piqued at the suggestion.
"Sir," said he, "you have not traveled over my mind, I promise you." Sir
Joshua, less confident in the exhaustless fecundity of his mind, felt and
acknowledged the force of Goldsmith's suggestion. Several new members,
therefore, had been added; the first, to his great joy, was David Garrick.
Goldsmith, who was now on cordial terms with him, had zealously promoted
his election, and Johnson had given it his warm approbation. Another new
member was Beauclerc's friend, Lord Charlemont; and a still more important
one was Mr., afterward Sir William Jones, the famous Orientalist, at that
time a young lawyer of the Temple and a distinguished scholar.
To the great astonishment of the club, Johnson now proposed his devoted
follower, Boswell, as a member. He did it in a note addressed to Goldsmith,
who presided on the evening of the 23d of April. The nomination was
seconded by Beauclerc. According to the rules of the club, the ballot would
take place at the next meeting (on the 30th); there was an intervening
week, therefore, in which to discuss the pretensions of the candidate. We
may easily imagine the discussions that took place. Boswell had made
himself absurd in such a variety of ways, that the very idea of his
admission was exceedingly irksome to some of the members. "The honor of
being elected into the Turk's Head Club," said the Bishop of St. Asaph, "is
not inferior to that of being representative of Westminster and Surrey."
What had Boswell done to merit such an honor? What chance had he of gaining
it? The answer was simple: he had been the persevering worshiper, if not
sycophant of Johnson. The great lexicographer had a heart to be won by
apparent affection; he stood forth authoritatively in support of his
vassal. If asked to state the merits of the candidate, he summed them up in
an indefinite but comprehensive word of his own coining; he was
_clubable_. He moreover gave significant hints that if Boswell were
kept out he should oppose the admission of any other candidate. No further
opposition was made; in fact none of the members had been so fastidious and
exclusive in regard to the club as Johnson himself; and if he were pleased,
they were easily satisfied; besides, they knew that, with all his faults,
Boswell was a cheerful companion, and possessed lively social qualities.
On Friday, when the ballot was to take place, Beauclerc gave a dinner, at
his house in the Adelphi, where Boswell met several of the members who were
favorable to his election. After dinner the latter adjourned to the club,
leaving Boswell in company with Lady Di Beauclerc until the fate of his
election should be known. He sat, he says, in a state of anxiety which even
the charming conversation of Lady Di could not entirely dissipate. It was
not long before tidings were brought of his election, and he was conducted
to the place of meeting, where, besides the company he had met at dinner,
Burke, Dr. Nugent, Garrick, Goldsmith, and Mr. William Jones were waiting
to receive him. The club, notwithstanding all its learned dignity in the
eyes of the world, could at times "unbend and play the fool" as well as
less important bodies. Some of its jocose conversations have at times
leaked out, and a society in which Goldsmith could venture to sing his song
of "an old woman tossed in a blanket," could not be so very staid in its
gravity. We may suppose, therefore, the jokes that had been passing among
the members while awaiting the arrival of Boswell. Beauclerc himself could
not have repressed his disposition for a sarcastic pleasantry. At least we
have a right to presume all this from the conduct of Dr. Johnson himself.
With all his gravity he possessed a deep fund of quiet humor, and felt a
kind of whimsical responsibility to protect the club from the absurd
propensities of the very questionable associate he had thus inflicted on
them. Rising, therefore, as Boswell entered, he advanced with a very
doctorial air, placed himself behind a chair, on which he leaned as on a
desk or pulpit, and then delivered, _ex cathedra_, a mock solemn
charge, pointing out the conduct expected from him as a good member of the
club; what he was to do, and especially what he was to avoid; including in
the latter, no doubt, all those petty, prying, questioning, gossiping,
babbling habits which had so often grieved the spirit of the lexicographer.
It is to be regretted that Boswell has never thought proper to note down
the particulars of this charge, which, from the well known characters and
positions of the parties, might have furnished a parallel to the noted
charge of Launcelot Gobbo to his dog.
DINNER AT THE DILLYS'--CONVERSATIONS ON NATURAL HISTORY--INTERMEDDLING OF
BOSWELL--DISPUTE ABOUT TOLERATION--JOHNSON'S REBUFF TO GOLDSMITH--HIS
APOLOGY--MAN-WORSHIP--DOCTORS MAJOR AND MINOR--A FAREWELL VISIT
A few days after the serio-comic scene of the elevation of Boswell into the
Literary Club, we find that indefatigable Biographer giving particulars of
a dinner at the Dillys', booksellers, in the Poultry, at which he met
Goldsmith and Johnson, with several other literary characters. His
anecdotes of the conversation, of course, go to glorify Dr. Johnson; for,
as he observes in his biography, "His conversation alone, or what led to
it, or was interwoven with it, is the business of this work." Still on the
present, as on other occasions, he gives unintentional and perhaps
unavoidable gleams of Goldsmith's good sense, which show that the latter
only wanted a less prejudiced and more impartial reporter to put down the
charge of colloquial incapacity so unjustly fixed upon him. The
conversation turned upon the natural history of birds, a beautiful subject,
on which the poet, from his recent studies, his habits of observation, and
his natural tastes, must have talked with instruction and feeling; yet,
though we have much of what Johnson said, we have only a casual remark or
two of Goldsmith. One was on the migration of swallows, which he pronounced
partial; "the stronger ones," said he, "migrate, the others do not."
Johnson denied to the brute creation the faculty of reason. "Birds," said
he, "build by instinct; they never improve; they build their first nest as
well as any one they ever build." "Yet we see," observed Goldsmith, "if you
take away a bird's nest with the eggs in it, she will make a slighter nest
and lay again." "Sir," replied Johnson, "that is because at first she has
full time, and makes her nest deliberately. In the case you mention, she is
pressed to lay, and must, therefore, make her nest quickly, and
consequently it will be slight." "The nidification of birds," rejoined
Goldsmith, "is what is least known in natural history, though one of the
most curious things in it." While conversation was going on in this
placid, agreeable and instructive manner, the eternal meddler and busybody
Boswell, must intrude, to put it in a brawl. The Dillys were dissenters;
two of their guests were dissenting clergymen; another, Mr. Toplady, was a
clergyman of the established church. Johnson, himself, was a zealous,
uncompromising churchman. None but a marplot like Boswell would have
thought, on such an occasion, and in such company, to broach the subject of
religious toleration; but, as has been well observed, "it was his perverse
inclination to introduce subjects that he hoped would produce difference
and debate." In the present instance he gamed his point. An animated
dispute immediately arose in which, according to Boswell's report, Johnson
monopolized the greater part of the conversation; not always treating the
dissenting clergymen with the greatest courtesy, and even once wounding the
feelings of the mild and amiable Bennet Langton by his harshness.
Goldsmith mingled a little in the dispute and with some advantage, but was
cut short by flat contradictions when most in the right. He sat for a time
silent but impatient under such overbearing dogmatism, though Boswell, with
his usual misinterpretation, attributes his "restless agitation" to a wish
to _get in and shine_. "Finding himself excluded," continued Boswell,
"he had taken his hat to go away, but remained for a time with it in his
hand, like a gamester, who, at the end of a long night, lingers for a
little while to see if he can have a favorable opportunity to finish with
success." Once he was beginning to speak when he was overpowered by the
loud voice of Johnson, who was at the opposite end of the table, and did
not perceive his attempt; whereupon he threw down, as it were, his hat and
his argument, and, darting an angry glance at Johnson, exclaimed in a
bitter tone, "_Take it._"
Just then one of the disputants was beginning to speak, when Johnson
uttering some sound, as if about to interrupt him, Goldsmith, according to
Boswell, seized the opportunity to vent his own _envy and spleen_
under pretext of supporting another person. "Sir," said he to Johnson, "the
gentleman has heard you patiently for an hour; pray allow us now to hear
him." It was a reproof in the lexicographer's own style, and he may have
felt that he merited it; but he was not accustomed to be reproved. "Sir,"
said he sternly, "I was not interrupting the gentleman; I was only giving
him a signal of my attention. Sir, _you are impertinent_." Goldsmith
made no reply, but after some time went away, having another engagement.
That evening, as Boswell was on the way with Johnson and Langton to the
club, he seized the occasion to make some disparaging remarks on Goldsmith,
which he thought would just then be acceptable to the great lexicographer.
"It was a pity," he said, "that Goldsmith would, on every occasion,
endeavor to shine, by which he so often exposed himself." Langton
contrasted him with Addison, who, content with the fame of his writings,
acknowledged himself unfit for conversation; and on being taxed by a lady
with silence in company, replied, "Madam, I have but ninepence in ready
money, but I can draw for a thousand pounds." To this Boswell rejoined that
Goldsmith had a great deal of gold in his cabinet, but was always taking
out his purse. "Yes, sir," chuckled Johnson, "and that so often an empty
By the time Johnson arrived at the club, however, his angry feelings had
subsided, and his native generosity and sense of justice had got the
uppermost. He found Goldsmith in company with Burke, Garrick, and other
members, but sitting silent and apart, "brooding," as Boswell says, "over
the reprimand he had received." Johnson's good heart yearned toward him;
and knowing his placable nature, "I'll make Goldsmith forgive me,"
whispered he; then, with a loud voice, "Dr. Goldsmith," said he, "something
passed to-day where you and I dined--_I ask your pardon_." The ire of
the poet was extinguished in an instant, and his grateful affection for the
magnanimous though sometimes overbearing moralist rushed to his heart. "It
must be much from you, sir," said he, "that I take ill!" "And so," adds
Boswell, "the difference was over, and they were on as easy terms as ever,
and Goldsmith rattled away as usual." We do not think these stories tell to
the poet's disadvantage, even though related by Boswell.
Goldsmith, with all his modesty, could not be ignorant of his proper merit;
and must have felt annoyed at times at being undervalued and elbowed aside
by light-minded or dull men, in their blind and exclusive homage to the
literary autocrat. It was a fine reproof he gave to Boswell on one
occasion, for talking of Johnson as entitled to the honor of exclusive
superiority. "Sir, you are for making a monarchy what should be a
republic." On another occasion, when he was conversing in company with
great vivacity, and apparently to the satisfaction of those around him, an
honest Swiss, who sat near, one George Michael Moser, keeper of the Royal
Academy, perceiving Dr. Johnson rolling himself as if about to speak,
exclaimed, "Stay, stay! Toctor Shonson is going to say something." "And are
you sure, sir," replied Goldsmith, sharply, "that _you_ can comprehend
what he says?"
This clever rebuke, which gives the main zest to the anecdote, is omitted
by Boswell, who probably did not perceive the point of it.
He relates another anecdote of the kind, on the authority of Johnson
himself. The latter and Goldsmith were one evening in company with the Rev.
George Graham, a master of Eton, who, notwithstanding the sobriety of his
cloth, had got intoxicated "to about the pitch of looking at one man and
talking to another." "Doctor," cried he in an ecstasy of devotion and
good-will, but goggling by mistake upon Goldsmith, "I should be glad to see
you at Eton." "I shall be glad to wait upon you," replied Goldsmith. "No,
no!" cried the other eagerly, "'tis not you I mean, Doctor _Minor_,
'tis Doctor _Major_ there." "You may easily conceive," said Johnson in
relating the anecdote, "what effect this had upon Goldsmith, who was
irascible as a hornet." The only comment, however, which he is said to have
made, partakes more of quaint and dry humor than bitterness: "That Graham,"
said he, "is enough to make one commit suicide." What more could be said to
express the intolerable nuisance of a consummate bore?
We have now given the last scenes between Goldsmith and Johnson which stand
recorded by Boswell. The latter called on the poet a few days after the
dinner at Dillys', to take leave of him prior to departing for Scotland;
yet, even in this last interview, he contrives to get up a charge of
"jealousy and envy." Goldsmith, he would fain persuade us, is very angry
that Johnson is going to travel with him in Scotland; and endeavors to
persuade him that he will be a dead weight "to lug along through the
Highlands and Hebrides." Any one else, knowing the character and habits of
Johnson, would have thought the same; and no one but Boswell would have
supposed his office of bear-leader to the ursa major a thing to be envied.
[Footnote: One of Peter Pindar's (Dr. Wolcot) most amusing _jeux
d'esprit_ is his congratulatory epistle to Boswell on his tour, of which
we subjoin a few lines.
"O Boswell, Bozzy, Bruce, whate'er thy name,
Thou mighty shark for anecdote and fame;
Thou jackal, leading lion Johnson forth,
To eat M'Pherson 'midst his native north;
To frighten grave professors with his roar,
And shake the Hebrides from shore to shore.
* * * * *
"Bless'd be thy labors, most adventurous Bozzy,
Bold rival of Sir John and Dame Piozzi;
Heavens! with what laurels shall thy head be crown'd!
A grove, a forest, shall thy ears surround!
Yes! whilst the Rambler shall a comet blaze,
And gild a world of darkness with his rays,
Thee, too, that world with wonderment shall hail,
A lively, bouncing cracker at his tail!"]
PROJECT OF A DICTIONARY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES--DISAPPOINTMENT--NEGLIGENT
AUTHORSHIP--APPLICATION FOR A PENSION--BEATTIE'S ESSAY ON TRUTH--PUBLIC
ADULATION--A HIGH-MINDED REBUKE
The works which Goldsmith had still in hand being already paid for, and the
money gone, some new scheme must be devised to provide for the past and the
future--for impending debts which threatened to crush him, and expenses
which were continually increasing. He now projected a work of greater
compass than any he had yet undertaken; a Dictionary of Arts and Sciences
on a comprehensive scale, which was to occupy a number of volumes. For this
he received promises of assistance from several powerful hands. Johnson was
to contribute an article on ethics; Burke, an abstract of his Essay on the
Sublime and Beautiful, an essay on the Berkleyan system of philosophy, and
others on political science; Sir Joshua Reynolds, an essay on painting; and
Garrick, while he undertook on his own part to furnish an essay on acting,
engaged Dr. Burney to contribute an article on music. Here was a great
array of talent positively engaged, while other writers of eminence were to
be sought for the various departments of science. Goldsmith was to edit the
whole. An undertaking of this kind, while it did not incessantly task and
exhaust his inventive powers by original composition, would give agreeable
and profitable exercise to his taste and judgment in selecting, compiling,
and arranging, and he calculated to diffuse over the whole the acknowledged
graces of his style.
He drew up a prospectus of the plan, which is said by Bishop Percy, who saw
it, to have been written with uncommon ability, and to have had that
perspicuity and elegance for which his writings are remarkable. This paper,
unfortunately, is no longer in existence.
Goldsmith's expectations, always sanguine respecting any new plan, were
raised to an extraordinary height by the present project; and well they
might be, when we consider the powerful coadjutors already pledged. They
were doomed, however, to complete disappointment. Davies, the bibliopole of
Russell Street, lets us into the secret of this failure. "The booksellers,"
said he, "notwithstanding they had a very good opinion of his abilities,
yet were startled at the bulk, importance, and expense of so great an
undertaking, the fate of which was to depend upon the industry of a man
with whose indolence of temper and method of procrastination they had long
Goldsmith certainly gave reason for some such distrust by the heedlessness
with which he conducted his literary undertakings. Those unfinished, but
paid for, would be suspended to make way for some job that was to provide
for present necessities. Those thus hastily taken up would be as hastily
executed, and the whole, however pressing, would be shoved aside and left
"at loose ends," on some sudden call to social enjoyment or recreation.
Cradock tells us that on one occasion, when Goldsmith was hard at work on
his Natural History, he sent to Dr. Percy and himself, entreating them to
finish some pages of his work which lay upon his table, and for which the
press was urgent, he being detained by other engagements at Windsor. They
met by appointment at his chambers in the Temple, where they found
everything in disorder, and costly books lying scattered about on the
tables and on the floor; many of the books on natural history which he had
recently consulted lay open among uncorrected proof-sheets. The subject in
hand, and from which he had suddenly broken off, related to birds. "Do you
know anything about birds?" asked Dr. Percy, smiling. "Not an atom,"
replied Cradock; "do you?" "Not I! I scarcely know a goose from a swan:
however, let us try what we can do." They set to work and completed their
friendly task. Goldsmith, however, when he came to revise it, made such
alterations that they could neither of them recognize their own share. The
engagement at Windsor, which had thus caused Goldsmith to break off
suddenly from his multifarious engagements, was a party of pleasure with
some literary ladies. Another anecdote was current, illustrative of the
carelessness with which he executed works requiring accuracy and research.
On the 22d of June he had received payment in advance for a Grecian History
in two volumes, though only one was finished. As he was pushing on doggedly
at the second volume, Gibbon, the historian, called in. "You are the man of
all others I wish to see," cried the poet, glad to be saved the trouble of
reference to his books. "What was the name of that Indian king who gave
Alexander the Great so much trouble?" "Montezuma," replied Gibbon,
sportively. The heedless author was about committing the name to paper
without reflection, when Gibbon pretended to recollect himself, and gave
the true name, Porus.
This story, very probably, was a sportive exaggeration; but it was a
multiplicity of anecdotes like this and the preceding one, some true and
some false, which had impaired the confidence of booksellers in Goldsmith,
as a man to be relied on for a task requiring wide and accurate research,
and close and long-continued application. The project of the Universal
Dictionary, therefore, met with no encouragement, and fell through.
The failure of this scheme, on which he had built such spacious hopes, sank
deep into Goldsmith's heart. He was still further grieved and mortified by
the failure of an effort made by some of his friends to obtain for him a
pension from government. There had been a talk of the disposition of the
ministry to extend the bounty of the crown to distinguished literary men in
pecuniary difficulty, without regard to their political creed: when the
merits and claims of Goldsmith, however, were laid before them, they met no
favor. The sin of sturdy independence lay at his door. He had refused to
become a ministerial hack when offered a _carte blanche_ by Parson,
Scott, the cabinet emissary. The wondering parson had left him his poverty
and "_his garrets_" and there the ministry were disposed to suffer him
In the meantime Dr. Beattie comes out with his Essay On Truth, and all the
orthodox world are thrown into a paroxysm of contagious ecstasy. He is
cried up as the great champion of Christianity against the attacks of
modern philosophers and infidels; he is feted and flattered in every way.
He receives at Oxford the honorary degree of doctor of civil law, at the
same time with Sir Joshua Reynolds. The king sends for him, praises his
Essay, and gives him a pension of two hundred pounds.
Goldsmith feels more acutely the denial of a pension to himself when one
has thus been given unsolicited to a man he might without vanity consider
so much his inferior. He was not one to conceal his feelings. "Here's such
a stir," said he one day at Thrale's table, "about a fellow that has
written one book, and I have written so many!"
"Ah, doctor!" exclaimed Johnson, in one of his caustic moods, "there go two
and forty sixpences, you know, to one guinea." This is one of the cuts at
poor Goldsmith in which Johnson went contrary to head and heart in his love
for saying what is called a "good thing." No one knew better than himself
the comparative superiority of the writings of Goldsmith; but the jingle of
the sixpences and the guinea was not to be resisted.
"Everybody," exclaimed Mrs. Thrale, "loves Dr. Beattie, but Goldsmith, who
says he cannot bear the sight of so much applause as they all bestow upon
him. Did he not tell us so himself no one would believe he was so
He told them so himself because he was too open and unreserved to disguise
his feelings, and because he really considered the praise lavished on
Beattie extravagant, as in fact it was. It was all, of course, set down to
sheer envy and uncharitableness. To add to his annoyance, he found his
friend, Sir Joshua Reynolds, joining in the universal adulation. He had
painted a full-length portrait of Beattie decked in the doctor's robes in
which he had figured at Oxford, with the Essay on Truth under his arm and
the angel of truth at his side, while Voltaire figured as one of the demons
of infidelity, sophistry, and falsehood, driven into utter darkness.
Goldsmith had known Voltaire in early life; he had been his admirer and his
biographer; he grieved to find him receiving such an insult from the
classic pencil of his friend. "It is unworthy of you," said he to Sir
Joshua, "to debase so high a genius as Voltaire before so mean a writer as
Beattie. Beattie and his book will be forgotten in ten years, while
Voltaire's fame will last forever. Take care it does not perpetuate this
picture to the shame of such a man as you." This noble and high-minded
rebuke is the only instance on record of any reproachful words between the
poet and the painter; and we are happy to find that it did not destroy the
harmony of their intercourse.
TOIL WITHOUT HOPE--THE POET IN THE GREEN-ROOM--IN THE FLOWER GARDEN--AT
VAUXHALL--DISSIPATION WITHOUT GAYETY--CRADOCK IN TOWN--FRIENDLY SYMPATHY--A
PARTING SCENE--AN INVITATION TO PLEASURE
Thwarted in the plans and disappointed in the hopes which had recently
cheered and animated him, Goldsmith found the labor at his half-finished
tasks doubly irksome from the consciousness that the completion of them
could not relieve him from his pecuniary embarrassments. His impaired
health, also, rendered him less capable than formerly of sedentary
application, and continual perplexities disturbed the flow of thought
necessary for original composition. He lost his usual gayety and
good-humor, and became, at times, peevish and irritable. Too proud of
spirit to seek sympathy or relief from his friends, for the pecuniary
difficulties he had brought upon himself by his errors and extravagance;
and unwilling, perhaps, to make known their amount, he buried his cares and
anxieties in his own bosom, and endeavored in company to keep up his usual
air of gayety and unconcern. This gave his conduct an appearance of
fitfulness and caprice, varying suddenly from moodiness to mirth, and from
silent gravity to shallow laughter; causing surprise and ridicule in those
who were not aware of the sickness of heart which lay beneath.
His poetical reputation, too, was sometimes a disadvantage to him; it drew
upon him a notoriety which he was not always in the mood or the vein to act
up to. "Good heavens, Mr. Foote," exclaimed an actress at the Haymarket
Theater, "what a humdrum kind of man Dr. Goldsmith appears in our
green-room compared with the figure he makes in his poetry!" "The reason of
that, madam," replied Foote, "is because the muses are better company than
Beauclerc's letters to his friend, Lord Charlemont, who was absent in
Ireland, give us now and then an indication of the whereabout of the poet
during the present year. "I have been but once to the club since you left
England," writes he; "we were entertained, as usual, with Goldsmith's
absurdity." With Beauclerc everything was absurd that was not polished and
pointed. In another letter he threatens, unless Lord Charlemont returns to
England, to bring over the whole club, and let them loose upon him to drive
him home by their peculiar habits of annoyance--Johnson shall spoil his
books; Goldsmith shall _pull his flowers;_ and last, and most
intolerable of all, Boswell shall--talk to him. It would appear that the
poet, who had a passion for flowers, was apt to pass much of his time in
the garden when on a visit to a country seat, much to the detriment of the
flowerbeds and the despair of the gardener.
The summer wore heavily away with Goldsmith. He had not his usual solace of
a country retreat; his health was impaired and his spirits depressed. Sir
Joshua Reynolds, who perceived the state of his mind, kindly gave him much
of his company. In the course of their interchange of thought, Goldsmith
suggested to him the story of Ugolino, as a subject for his pencil. The
painting founded on it remains a memento of their friendship.
On the 4th of August we find them together at Vauxhall; at that time a
place in high vogue, and which had once been to Goldsmith a scene of
Oriental splendor and delight. We have, in fact, in the Citizen of the
World, a picture of it as it had struck him in former years and in his
happier moods. "Upon entering the gardens," says the Chinese philosopher,
"I found every sense occupied with more than expected pleasure; the lights
everywhere glimmering through the scarcely-moving trees; the full-bodied
concert bursting on the stillness of the night; the natural concert of the
birds in the more retired part of the grove, vying with that which was
formed by art; the company gayly dressed, looking satisfaction, and the
tables spread with various delicacies, all conspired to fill my imagination
with the visionary happiness of the Arabian lawgiver, and lifted me into an
ecstasy of admiration." [Footnote: Citizen of the World, Letter xxi]
Everything now, however, is seen with different eyes; with him it is
dissipation without pleasure; and he finds it impossible any longer, by
mingling in the gay and giddy throng of apparently prosperous and happy
beings, to escape from the carking care which is clinging to his heart.
His kind friend, Cradock, came up to town toward autumn, when all the
fashionable world was in the country, to give his wife the benefit of a
skillful dentist. He took lodgings in Norfolk Street, to be in Goldsmith's
neighborhood, and passed most of his mornings with him. "I found him," he
says, "much altered and at times very low. He wished me to look over and
revise some of his works; but, with a select friend or two, I was more
pressing that he should publish by subscription his two celebrated poems of
the Traveler and the Deserted Village, with notes." The idea of Cradock was
that the subscription would enable wealthy persons, favorable to Goldsmith,
to contribute to his pecuniary relief without wounding his pride.
"Goldsmith," said he, "readily gave up to me his private copies, and said,
'Pray do what you please with them.' But while he sat near me, he rather
submitted to than encouraged my zealous proceedings.
"I one morning called upon him, however, and found him infinitely better
than I had expected; and, in a kind of exulting style, he exclaimed, 'Here
are some of the best of my prose writings; _I have been hard at work
since midnight,_ and I desire you to examine them.' 'These,' said I,
'are excellent indeed.' 'They are,' replied he, 'intended as an
introduction to a body of arts and sciences.'"
Poor Goldsmith was, in fact, gathering together the fragments of his
shipwreck; the notes and essays and memoranda collected for his dictionary,
and proposed to found on them a work in two volumes, to be entitled A
Survey of Experimental Philosophy.
The plan of the subscription came to nothing, and the projected survey
never was executed. The head might yet devise, but the heart was failing
him; his talent at hoping, which gave him buoyancy to carry out his
enterprises, was almost at an end.
Cradock's farewell scene with him is told in a simple but touching manner.
"The day before I was to set out for Leicestershire I insisted upon his
dining with us. He replied, 'I will, but on one condition, that you will
not ask me to eat anything.' 'Nay,' said I, 'this answer is absolutely
unkind, for I had hoped, as we are supplied from the Crown and Anchor, that
you would have named something you might have relished.' 'Well,' was the
reply, 'if you will but explain it to Mrs. Cradock, I will certainly wait
"The doctor found, as usual, at my apartments, newspapers and pamphlets,
and with a pen and ink he amused himself as well as he could. I had ordered
from the tavern some fish, a roasted joint of lamb, and a tart; and the
doctor either sat down or walked about just as he pleased. After dinner he
took some wine with biscuits; but I was obliged soon to leave him for a
while, as I had matters to settle prior to my next day's journey. On my
return coffee was ready, and the doctor appeared more cheerful (for Mrs.
Cradock was always rather a favorite with him), and in the evening he
endeavored to talk and remark as usual, but all was forced. He stayed till
midnight, and I insisted on seeing him safe home, and we most cordially
shook hands at the Temple gate." Cradock little thought that this was to be
their final parting. He looked back to it with mournful recollections in
after years, and lamented that he had not remained longer in town at every
inconvenience, to solace the poor broken-spirited poet.
The latter continued in town all the autumn. At the opening of the Opera
House, on the 20th of November, Mrs. Yates, an actress whom he held in
great esteem, delivered a poetical exordium of his composition. Beauclerc,
in a letter to Lord Charlemont, pronounced it very good, and predicted that
it would soon be in all the papers. It does not appear, however, to have
been ever published. In his fitful state of mind Goldsmith may have taken
no care about it, and thus it has been lost to the world, although it was
received with great applause by a crowded and brilliant audience.
A gleam of sunshine breaks through the gloom that was gathering over the
poet. Toward the end of the year he receives another Christmas invitation
to Barton. A country Christmas! with all the cordiality of the fireside
circle, and the joyous revelry of the oaken hall--what a contrast to the
loneliness of a bachelor's chambers in the Temple! It is not to be
resisted. But how is poor Goldsmith to raise the ways and means? His purse
is empty; his booksellers are already in advance to him. As a last
resource, he applies to Garrick. Their mutual intimacy at Barton may have
suggested him as an alternative. The old loan of forty pounds has never
been paid; and Newbery's note, pledged as a security, has never been taken
up. An additional loan of sixty pounds is now asked for, thus increasing
the loan to one hundred; to insure the payment, he now offers, besides
Newbery's note, the transfer of the comedy of the Good-Natured Man to Drury
Lane, with such alterations as Garrick may suggest. Garrick, in reply,
evades the offer of the altered comedy, alludes significantly to a new one
which Goldsmith had talked of writing for him, and offers to furnish the
money required on his own acceptance.
The reply of Goldsmith bespeaks a heart brimful of gratitude and
overflowing with fond anticipations of Barton and the smiles of its fair
residents. "My dear friend," writes he, "I thank you. I wish I could do
something to serve you. I shall have a comedy for you in a season, or two
at furthest, that I believe will be worth your acceptance, for I fancy I
will make it a fine thing. You shall have the refusal.... I will draw upon
you one month after date for sixty pounds, and your acceptance will be
ready money, _part of which I want to go down to Barton with_. May God
preserve my honest little man, for he has my heart. Ever,
And having thus scrambled together a little pocket-money, by hard
contrivance, poor Goldsmith turns his back upon care and trouble, and
Temple quarters, to forget for a time his desolate bachelorhood in the
family circle and a Christmas fireside at Barton.
A RETURN TO DRUDGERY--FORCED GAYETY--RETREAT TO THE COUNTRY--THE POEM OF
RETALIATION--PORTRAIT OF GARRICK--OF GOLDSMITH--OF REYNOLDS--ILLNESS OF THE
POET--HIS DEATH--GRIEF OF HIS FRIENDS--A LAST WORD RESPECTING THE JESSAMY
The Barton festivities are over; Christmas, with all its home-felt revelry
of the heart, has passed like a dream; the Jessamy Bride has beamed her
last smile upon the poor poet, and the early part of 1774 finds him in his
now dreary bachelor abode in the Temple, toiling fitfully and hopelessly at
a multiplicity of tasks. His Animated Nature, so long delayed, so often
interrupted, is at length announced for publication, though it has yet to
receive a few finishing touches. He is preparing a third History of
England, to be compressed and condensed in one volume, for the use of
schools. He is revising his Inquiry into Polite Learning, for which he
receives the pittance of five guineas, much needed in his present
scantiness of purse; he is arranging his Survey of Experimental Philosophy,
and he is translating the Comic Romance of Scarron. Such is a part of the
various labors of a drudging, depressing kind, by which his head is made
wrong and his heart faint. "If there is a mental drudgery," says Sir Walter
Scott, "which lowers the spirits and lacerates the nerves, like the toil of
a slave, it is that which is exacted by literary composition, when the
heart is not in unison with the work upon which the head is employed. Add
to the unhappy author's task sickness, sorrow, or the pressure of
unfavorable circumstances, and the labor of the bondsman becomes light in
comparison." Goldsmith again makes an effort to rally his spirits by going
into gay society. "Our club," writes Beauclerc to Charlemont, on the 12th
of February, "has dwindled away to nothing. Sir Joshua and Goldsmith have
got into such a round of pleasures that they have no time." This shows how
little Beauclerc was the companion of the poet's mind, or could judge of
him below the surface. Reynolds, the kind participator in joyless
dissipation, could have told a different story of his companion's
In this forced mood Goldsmith gave entertainments in his chambers in the
Temple; the last of which was a dinner to Johnson, Reynolds, and others of
his intimates, who partook with sorrow and reluctance of his imprudent
hospitality. The first course vexed them by its needless profusion. When a
second, equally extravagant, was served up, Johnson and Reynolds declined
to partake of it; the rest of the company, understanding their motives,
followed their example, and the dishes went from the table untasted.
Goldsmith felt sensibly this silent and well-intended rebuke.
The gayeties of society, however, cannot medicine for any length of time a
mind diseased. Wearied by the distractions and harassed by the expenses of
a town life, which he had not the discretion to regulate, Goldsmith took
the resolution, too tardily adopted, of retiring to the serene quiet and
cheap and healthful pleasures of the country, and of passing only two
months of the year in London. He accordingly made arrangements to sell his
right in the Temple chambers, and in the month of March retired to his
country quarters at Hyde, there to devote himself to toil. At this
dispirited juncture, when inspiration seemed to be at an end, and the
poetic fire extinguished, a spark fell on his combustible imagination and
set it in a blaze.
He belonged to a temporary association of men of talent, some of them
members of the Literary Club, who dined together occasionally at the St.
James' Coffee-house. At these dinners, as usual, he was one of the last to
arrive. On one occasion, when he was more dilatory than usual, a whim
seized the company to write epitaphs on him, as "The late Dr. Goldsmith,"
and several were thrown off in a playful vein, hitting off his
peculiarities. The only one extant was written by Garrick, and has been
preserved, very probably, by its pungency:
"Here lies poet Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll,
Who wrote like an angel, but talked like poor poll."
Goldsmith did not relish the sarcasm, especially as coming from such a
quarter. He was not very ready at repartee; but he took his time, and in
the interval of his various tasks concocted a series of epigrammatic
sketches, under the title of Retaliation, in which the characters of his
distinguished intimates were admirably hit off, with a mixture of generous
praise and good-humored raillery. In fact, the poem for its graphic truth;
its nice discrimination; its terse good sense, and its shrewd knowledge of
the world, must have electrified the club almost as much as the first
appearance of The Traveler, and let them still deeper into the character
and talents of the man they had been accustomed to consider as their butt.
Retaliation, in a word, closed his accounts with the club, and balanced all
his previous deficiencies.
The portrait of David Garrick is one of the most elaborate in the poem.
When the poet came to touch it off, he had some lurking piques to gratify,
which the recent attack had revived. He may have forgotten David's cavalier
treatment of him, in the early days of his comparative obscurity; he may
have forgiven his refusal of his plays; but Garrick had been capricious in
his conduct in the times of their recent intercourse; sometimes treating
him with gross familiarity, at other times affecting dignity and reserve,
and assuming airs of superiority; frequently he had been facetious and
witty in company at his expense, and lastly he had been guilty of the
couplet just quoted. Goldsmith, therefore, touched off the lights and
shadows of his character with a free hand, and, at the same time, gave a
side hit at his old rival, Kelly, and his critical persecutor, Kenrick, in
making them sycophantic satellites of the actor. Goldsmith, however, was
void of gall, even in his revenge, and his very satire was more humorous
"Here lies David Garrick, describe him who can,
An abridgment of all that was pleasant in man;
As an actor, confess'd without rival to shine;
As a wit, if not first, in the very first line:
Yet, with talents like these, and an excellent heart.
The man had his failings, a dupe to his art.
Like an ill-judging beauty, his colors he spread,
And beplaster'd with rouge his own natural red.
On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting;
'Twas only that when he was off he was acting.
With no reason on earth to go out of his way,
He turn'd and he varied full ten times a day:
Though secure of our hearts, yet confoundedly sick
If they were not his own by finessing and trick:
He cast off his friends as a huntsman his pack,
For he knew, when he pleased, he could whistle them back.
Of praise a mere glutton, he swallow'd what came,
And the puff of a dunce he mistook it for fame;
Till his relish, grown callous almost to disease,
Who pepper'd the highest was surest to please.
But let us be candid, and speak out our mind,
If dunces applauded, he paid them in kind.
Ye Kenricks, ye Kellys, and Woodfalls so grave,
What a commerce was yours, while you got and you gavel
How did Grub Street re-echo the shouts that you raised,
While he was be-Rosciused and you were be-praised!
But peace to his spirit, wherever it flies,
To act as an angel and mix with the skies;
Those poets who owe their best fame to his skill,
Shall still be his flatterers, go where he will;
Old Shakespeare receive him with praise and with love,
And Beaumonts and Bens be his Kellys above."
This portion of Retaliation soon brought a retort from Garrick, which we
insert, as giving something of a likeness of Goldsmith, though in broad
"Here, Hermes, says Jove, who with nectar was mellow,
Go fetch me some clay--I will make an odd fellow:
Right and wrong shall be jumbled, much gold and some dross,
Without cause be he pleased, without cause be he cross;
Be sure, as I work, to throw in contradictions,
A great love of truth, yet a mind turn'd to fictions;
Now mix these ingredients, which, warm'd in the baking,
Turn'd to _learning_ and _gaming_, _religion_, and
With the love of a wench, let his writings be chaste;
Tip his tongue with strange matters, his lips with fine taste;
That the rake and the poet o'er all may prevail,
Set fire to the head and set fire to the tail;
For the joy of each sex on the world I'll bestow it,
This scholar, rake, Christian, dupe, gamester, and poet.
Though a mixture so odd, he shall merit great fame,
And among brother mortals be Goldsmith his name;
When on earth this strange meteor no more shall appear,
You, _Hermes_, shall fetch him, to make us sport here."
The charge of raking, so repeatedly advanced in the foregoing lines, must
be considered a sportive one, founded, perhaps, on an incident or two
within Garrick's knowledge, but not borne out by the course of Goldsmith's
life. He seems to have had a tender sentiment for the sex, but perfectly
free from libertinism. Neither was he an habitual gamester. The strictest
scrutiny has detected no settled vice of the kind. He was fond of a game of
cards, but an unskillful and careless player. Cards in those days were
universally introduced into society. High play was, in fact, a fashionable
amusement, as at one time was deep drinking; and a man might occasionally
lose large sums, and be beguiled into deep potations, without incurring the
character of a gamester or a drunkard. Poor Goldsmith, on his advent into
high society, assumed fine notions with fine clothes; he was thrown
occasionally among high players, men of fortune who could sport their cool
hundreds as carelessly as his early comrades at Ballymahon could their half
crowns. Being at all times magnificent in money matters, he may have played
with them in their own way, without considering that what was sport to them
to him was ruin. Indeed part of his financial embarrassments may have
arisen from losses of the kind, incurred inadvertently, not in the
indulgence of a habit. "I do not believe Goldsmith to have deserved the
name of gamester," said one of his contemporaries; "he liked cards very
well, as other people do, and lost and won occasionally; but as far as I
saw or heard, and I had many opportunities of hearing, never any
considerable sum. If he gamed with any one, it was probably with Beauclerc,
but I do not know that such was the case."
Retaliation, as we have already observed, was thrown off in parts, at
intervals, and was never completed. Some characters, originally intended to
be introduced, remained unattempted; others were but partially
sketched--such was the one of Reynolds, the friend of his heart, and which
he commenced with a felicity which makes us regret that it should remain
"Here Reynolds is laid, and to tell you my mind,
He has not left a wiser or better behind.
His pencil was striking, resistless, and grand;
His manners were gentle, complying, and bland;
Still born to improve us in every part,
His pencil our faces, his manners our heart.
To coxcombs averse, yet most civilly steering,
When they judged without skill he was still hard of hearing:
When they talked of their Raphaels, Correggios, and stuff,
He shifted his trumpet and only took snuff.
By flattery unspoiled--"
The friendly portrait stood unfinished on the easel; the hand of the artist
had failed! An access of a local complaint, under which he had suffered for
some time past, added to a general prostration of health, brought Goldsmith
back to town before he had well settled himself in the country. The local
complaint subsided, but was followed by a low nervous fever. He was not
aware of his critical situation, and intended to be at the club on the 25th
of March, on which occasion Charles Fox, Sir Charles Bunbury (one of the
Horneck connection), and two other new members were to be present. In the
afternoon, however, he felt so unwell as to take to his bed, and his
symptoms soon acquired sufficient force to keep him there. His malady
fluctuated for several days, and hopes were entertained of his recovery,
but they proved fallacious. He had skillful medical aid and faithful
nursing, but he would not follow the advice of his physicians, and
persisted in the use of James' powders, which he had once found beneficial,
but which were now injurious to him. His appetite was gone, his strength
failed him, but his mind remained clear, and was perhaps too active for his
frame. Anxieties and disappointments which had previously sapped his
constitution, doubtless aggravated his present complaint and rendered him
sleepless. In reply to an inquiry of his physician, he acknowledged that
his mind was ill at ease. This was his last reply; he was too weak to talk,
and in general took no notice of what was said to him. He sank at last into
a deep sleep, and it was hoped a favorable crisis had arrived. He awoke,
however, in strong convulsions, which continued without intermission until
he expired, on the fourth of April, at five o'clock in the morning; being
in the forty-sixth year of his age.
His death was a shock to the literary world, and a deep affliction to a
wide circle of intimates and friends; for with all his foibles and
peculiarities, he was fully as much beloved as he was admired. Burke, on
hearing the news, burst into tears. Sir Joshua Reynolds threw by his pencil
for the day, and grieved more than he had done in times of great family
distress. "I was abroad at the time of his death," writes Dr. M'Donnell,
the youth whom when in distress he had employed as an amanuensis, "and I
wept bitterly when the intelligence first reached me. A blank came over my
heart as if I had lost one of my nearest relatives, and was followed for
some days by a feeling of despondency." Johnson felt the blow deeply and
gloomily. In writing some time afterward to Boswell, he observed, "Of poor
Dr. Goldsmith there is little to be told more than the papers have made
public. He died of a fever, made, I am afraid, more violent by uneasiness
of mind. His debts began to be heavy, and all his resources were exhausted.
Sir Joshua is of opinion that he owed no less than two thousand pounds.
Was ever poet so trusted before?"
Among his debts were seventy-nine pounds due to his tailor, Mr. William
Filby, from whom he had received a new suit but a few days before his
death. "My father," said the younger Filby, "though a loser to that amount,
attributed no blame to Goldsmith; he had been a good customer, and had he
lived would have paid every farthing." Others of his tradespeople evinced
the same confidence in his integrity, notwithstanding his heedlessness. Two
sister milliners in Temple Lane, who had been accustomed to deal with him,
were concerned, when told, some time before his death, of his pecuniary
embarrassments. "Oh, sir," said they to Mr. Cradock, "sooner persuade him
to let us work for him gratis than apply to any other; we are sure he will
pay us when he can."
On the stairs of his apartment there was the lamentation of the old and
infirm, and the sobbing of women; poor objects of his charity to whom he
had never turned a deaf ear, even when struggling himself with poverty.
But there was one mourner, whose enthusiasm for his memory, could it have
been foreseen, might have soothed the bitterness of death. After the coffin
had been screwed down, a lock of his hair was requested for a lady, a
particular friend, who wished to preserve it as a remembrance. It was the
beautiful Mary Horneck--the Jessamy Bride. The coffin was opened again, and
a lock of hair cut off; which she treasured to her dying day. Poor
Goldsmith! could he have foreseen that such a memorial of him was to be
One word more concerning this lady, to whom we have so often ventured to
advert. She survived almost to the present day. Hazlitt met her at
Northcote's painting-room, about twenty years since, as Mrs. Gwyn, the
widow of a General Gwyn of the army. She was at that time upward of seventy
years of age. Still, he said, she was beautiful, beautiful even in years.
After she was gone, Hazlitt remarked how handsome she still was. "I do not
know," said Northcote, "why she is so kind as to come to see me, except
that I am the last link in the chain that connects her with all those she
most esteemed when young--Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith--and remind her of
the most delightful period of her life." "Not only so," observed Hazlitt,
"but you remember what she was at twenty; and you thus bring back to her
the triumphs of her youth--that pride of beauty, which must be the more
fondly cherished as it has no external vouchers, and lives chiefly in the
bosom of its once lovely possessor. In her, however, the Graces had
triumphed over time; she was one of Ninon de l'Enclos' people, of the last
of the immortals. I could almost fancy the shade of Goldsmith in the room,
looking round with complacency."
The Jessamy Bride survived her sister upward of forty years, and died in
1840, within a few days of completing her eighty-eighth year. "She had gone
through all the stages of life," says Northcote, "and had lent a grace to
each." However gayly she may have sported with the half-concealed
admiration of the poor awkward poet in the heyday of her youth and beauty,
and however much it may have been made a subject of teasing by her youthful
companions, she evidently prided herself in after years upon having been an
object of his affectionate regard; it certainly rendered her interesting
throughout life in the eyes of his admirers, and has hung a poetical wreath
above her grave.
THE FUNERAL--THE MONUMENT--THE EPITAPH--CONCLUDING REMARKS
In the warm feeling of the moment, while the remains of the poet were
scarce cold, it was determined by his friends to honor them by a public
funeral and a tomb in Westminster Abbey. His very pall-bearers were
designated: Lord Shelburne, Lord Lowth, Sir Joshua Reynolds; the Hon. Mr.
Beauclerc, Mr. Burke, and David Garrick. This feeling cooled down, however,
when it was discovered that he died in debt, and had not left wherewithal
to pay for such expensive obsequies. Five days after his death, therefore,
at five o'clock of Saturday evening, the 9th of April, he was privately
interred in the burying-ground of the Temple Church; a few persons
attending as mourners, among whom we do not find specified any of his
peculiar and distinguished friends. The chief mourner was Sir Joshua
Reynolds' nephew, Palmer, afterward Dean of Cashel. One person, however,
from whom it was but little to be expected, attended the funeral and
evinced real sorrow on the occasion. This was Hugh Kelly, once the dramatic
rival of the deceased, and often, it is said, his anonymous assailant in
the newspapers. If he had really been guilty of this basest of literary
offenses, he was punished by the stings of remorse, for we are told that he
shed bitter tears over the grave of the man he had injured. His tardy
atonement only provoked the lash of some unknown satirist, as the following
lines will show:
"Hence Kelly, who years, without honor or shame,
Had been sticking his bodkin in Oliver's fame,
Who thought, like the Tartar, by this to inherit
His genius, his learning, simplicity, spirit;
Now sets every feature to weep o'er his fate,
And acts as a mourner to blubber in state."
One base wretch deserves to be mentioned, the reptile Kenrick, who, after
having repeatedly slandered Goldsmith while living, had the audacity to
insult his memory when dead. The following distich is sufficient to show
his malignancy, and to hold him up to execration:
"By his own art, who justly died,
A blund'ring, artless suicide:
Share, earthworms, share, since now he's dead,
His megrim, maggot-bitten head."
This scurrilous epitaph produced a burst of public indignation that awed
for a time even the infamous Kenrick into silence. On the other hand, the
press teemed with tributes in verse and prose to the memory of the
deceased; all evincing the mingled feeling of admiration for the author and
affection for the man.
Not long after his death the Literary Club set on foot a subscription, and
raised a fund to erect a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey. It
was executed by Nollekins, and consisted simply of a bust of the poet in
profile, in high relief, in a medallion, and was placed in the area of a
pointed arch, over the south door in Poets' Corner, between the monuments
of Gay and the Duke of Argyle. Johnson furnished a Latin epitaph, which was
read at the table of Sir Joshua Reynolds, where several members of the club
and other friends of the deceased were present. Though considered by them a
masterly composition, they thought the literary character of the poet not
defined with sufficient exactness, and they preferred that the epitaph
should be in English rather than Latin, as "the memory of so eminent an
English writer ought to be perpetuated in the language to which his works
were likely to be so lasting an ornament." These objections were reduced to
writing, to be respectfully submitted to Johnson, but such was the awe
entertained of his frown that every one shrank from putting his name first
to the instrument; whereupon their names were written about it in a circle,
making what mutinous sailors call a Round Robin. Johnson received it half
graciously, half grimly. "He was willing," he said, "to modify the sense of
the epitaph in any manner the gentlemen pleased; _but he never would
consent to disgrace the walls of Westminster Abbey with an English
inscription_." Seeing the names of Dr. Wharton and Edmund Burke among
the signers, "he wondered," he said, "that Joe Wharton, a scholar by
profession, should be such a fool; and should have thought that Mund Burke
would have had more sense." The following is the epitaph as it stands
inscribed on a white marble tablet beneath the bust:
Poetae, Physici, Historici,
Qui nullum fere scribendi genus
Nullum quod tetigit non ornavit
Sive risus essent movendi,
Affectuum potens ac lenis dominator:
Ingenio sublimis, vividus, versatilis,
Oratione grandis, nitidus, venustus:
Hoc monumento memoriam coluit
Natus in Hibernia Forniae Longfordiensis,
In loco cui nomen Pallas,
Nov. xxix. MDCCXXXI.;
Eblanse literis institutus;
April iv. MDCCLXXIV.
The following translation is from Croker's edition of Boswell's Johnson:
OF OLIVER GOLDSMITH--
A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian,
Who left scarcely any style of writing untouched,
And touched nothing that he did not adorn;
Of all the passions,
Whether smiles were to be moved or tears,
A powerful yet gentle master;
In genius, sublime, vivid, versatile,
In style, elevated, clear, elegant--
The love of companions,
The fidelity of friends,
And the veneration of readers,
Have by this monument honored the memory.
He was born in Ireland,
At a place called Pallas,
[In the parish] of Forney, [and county] of Longford,
On the 29th Nov., 1731,[*]
Educated at [the University of] Dublin,
And died in London,
4th April, 1774.
[Footnote *: Incorrect. See page 12.]
* * * * *
We shall not pretend to follow these anecdotes of the life of Goldsmith
with any critical dissertation on his writings; their merits have long
since been fully discussed, and their station in the scale of literary
merit permanently established. They have outlasted generations of works of
higher power and wider scope, and will continue to outlast succeeding
generations, for they have that magic charm of style by which works are
embalmed to perpetuity. Neither shall we attempt a regular analysis of the
character of the poet, but will indulge in a few desultory remarks in
addition to those scattered throughout the preceding chapters.
Never was the trite, because sage apothegm, that "The child is father to
the man," more fully verified than in the case of Goldsmith. He is shy,
awkward, and blundering in childhood, yet full of sensibility; he is a butt
for the jeers and jokes of his companions, but apt to surprise and confound
them by sudden and witty repartees; he is dull and stupid at his
tasks, yet an eager and intelligent devourer of the traveling tales and
campaigning stories of his half military pedagogue; he may be a dunce, but
he is already a rhymer; and his early scintillations of poetry awaken the
expectations of his friends. He seems from infancy to have been compounded
of two natures, one bright, the other blundering; or to have had fairy
gifts laid in his cradle by the "good people" who haunted his birthplace,
the old goblin mansion on the banks of the Inny.
He carries with him the wayward elfin spirit, if we may so term it,
throughout his career. His fairy gifts are of no avail at school, academy,
or college; they unfit him for close study and practical science, and
render him heedless of everything that does not address itself to his
poetical imagination and genial and festive feelings; they dispose him to
break away from restraint, to stroll about hedges, green lanes, and haunted
streams, to revel with jovial companions, or to rove the country like a
gypsy in quest of odd adventures.
As if confiding in these delusive gifts, he takes no heed of the present
nor care for the future, lays no regular and solid foundation of knowledge,
follows out no plan, adopts and discards those recommended by his friends,
at one time prepares for the ministry, next turns to the law, and then
fixes upon medicine. He repairs to Edinburgh, the great emporium of medical
science, but the fairy gifts accompany him; he idles and frolics away his
time there, imbibing only such knowledge as is agreeable to him; makes an
excursion to the poetical regions of the Highlands; and having walked the
hospitals for the customary time, sets off to ramble over the Continent, in
quest of novelty rather than knowledge. His whole tour is a poetical one.
He fancies he is playing the philosopher while he is really playing the
poet; and though professedly he attends lectures and visits foreign
universities, so deficient is he on his return, in the studies for which he
set out, that he fails in an examination as a surgeon's mate; and while
figuring as a doctor of medicine, is outvied on a point of practice by his
apothecary. Baffled in every regular pursuit, after trying in vain some of
the humbler callings of commonplace life, he is driven almost by chance to
the exercise of his pen, and here the fairy gifts come to his assistance.
For a long time, however, he seems unaware of the magic properties of that
pen; he uses it only as a makeshift until he can find a _legitimate_
means of support. He is not a learned man, and can write but meagerly and
at second-hand on learned subjects; but he has a quick convertible talent
that seizes lightly on the points of knowledge necessary to the
illustration of a theme; his writings for a time are desultory, the fruits
of what he has seen and felt, or what he has recently and hastily read; but
his gifted pen transmutes everything into gold, and his own genial nature
reflects its sunshine through his pages.
Still unaware of his powers he throws off his writings anonymously, to go
with the writings of less favored men; and it is a long time, and after a
bitter struggle with poverty and humiliation, before he acquires confidence
in his literary talent as a means of support, and begins to dream of
From this time his pen is a wand of power in his hand, and he has only to
use it discreetly, to make it competent to all his wants. But discretion is
not a part of Goldsmith's nature; and it seems the property of these fairy
gifts to be accompanied by moods and temperaments to render their effect
precarious. The heedlessness of his early days; his disposition for social
enjoyment; his habit of throwing the present on the neck of the future,
still continue. His expenses forerun his means; he incurs debts on the
faith of what his magic pen is to produce, and then, under the pressure of
his debts, sacrifices its productions for prices far below their value. It
is a redeeming circumstance in his prodigality, that it is lavished oftener
upon others than upon himself; he gives without thought or stint, and is
the continual dupe of his benevolence and his trustfulness in human nature.
We may say of him as he says of one of his heroes, "He could not stifle the
natural impulse which he had to do good, but frequently borrowed money to
relieve the distressed; and when he knew not conveniently where to borrow,
he has been observed to shed tears as he passed through the wretched
suppliants who attended his gate."....
"His simplicity in trusting persons whom he had no previous reasons to
place confidence in, seems to be one of those lights of his character
which, while they impeach his understanding, do honor to his benevolence.
The low and the timid are ever suspicious; but a heart impressed with
honorable sentiments expects from others sympathetic sincerity." [Footnote:
Goldsmith's Life of Nashe.]
His heedlessness in pecuniary matters, which had rendered his life a
struggle with poverty even in the days of his obscurity, rendered the
struggle still more intense when his fairy gifts had elevated him into the
society of the wealthy and luxurious, and imposed on his simple and
generous spirit fancied obligations to a more ample and bounteous display.
"How comes it," says a recent and ingenious critic, "that in all the miry
paths of life which he had trod, no speck ever sullied the robe of his
modest and graceful muse. How amid all that love of inferior company, which
never to the last forsook him, did he keep his genius so free from every
touch of vulgarity?"
We answer that it was owing to the innate purity and goodness of his
nature; there was nothing in it that assimilated to vice and vulgarity.
Though his circumstances often compelled him to associate with the poor,
they never could betray him into companionship with the depraved. His
relish for humor and for the study of character, as we have before
observed, brought him often into convivial company of a vulgar kind; but he
discriminated between their vulgarity and their amusing qualities, or
rather wrought from the whole those familiar features of life which form
the staple of his most popular writings.
Much, too, of this intact purity of heart may be ascribed to the lessons of
his infancy under the paternal roof; to the gentle, benevolent, elevated,
unworldly maxims of his father, who "passing rich with forty pounds a
year," infused a spirit into his child which riches could not deprave nor
poverty degrade. Much of his boyhood, too, had been passed in the household
of his uncle, the amiable and generous Contarine; where he talked of
literature with the good pastor, and practiced music with his daughter, and
delighted them both by his juvenile attempts at poetry. These early
associations breathed a grace and refinement into his mind and tuned it up,
after the rough sports on the green, or the frolics at the tavern. These
led him to turn from the roaring glees of the club, to listen to the harp
of his cousin Jane; and from the rustic triumph of "throwing sledge," to a
stroll with his flute along the pastoral banks of the Inny.
The gentle spirit of his father walked with him through life, a pure and
virtuous monitor; and in all the vicissitudes of his career we find him
ever more chastened in mind by the sweet and holy recollections of the home
of his infancy.
It has been questioned whether he really had any religious feeling. Those
who raise the question have never considered well his writings; his Vicar
of Wakefield, and his pictures of the Village Pastor, present religion
under its most endearing forms, and with a feeling that could only flow