for the work. Two or three of those from before the examiners at Surgeon's Hall, to whom he expected most took no notice of his qualify for the office of an hospital mate. application, and verified the playful prediction A single unlucky candidate of all who applied in one of his letters of this date, which dis- that day was too ignorant of the rudiments tinctly prefigures Mr. Forster and Mr. Cun- of surgical science to pass, and that one was ningham. “ T'here will come a day, no doubt it Oliver Goldsmith, Bachelor of Medicine, and will, when the Scaligers and Daciers will vin. late practitioner of physic in Bankside, dicate my character, give learned editions of Southwark. Who is to tell

, after this, what my labors, and bless the times with copious rare qualities of mind may coexist with stamcomments on the text. You shall see how

You shall see how mering ignorance and a plebeian exterior ? they will fish up the heavy scoundrels who His examination at Surgeons' Hall soon disregard me now. How will they bewail involved him in an additional misery. He the times that suffered so much genius to be had no clothes in which he could venture to neglected !" It is true that the experience appear before a tribunal composed of the which these “heavy scoundrels" had had of grandees of the profession. He opened a the use to which Oliver put pecuniary assist- negotiation with his old master, Griffiths, ance was by no means encouraging, true that who, in return for four articles contributed any rumors which reached them of his pro- to the “Monthly Review" of December, beceedings abroad could only have exhibited came security to a tailor for the requisite him as a thoughtless idler or a mendicant suit, which was to be paid for, or returned, vagrant, true that any tidings of his London on a stated day. The stated day came, and vicissitudes must have surrounded bim with found the clothes in pawn, and the four the suspicion which always attends upon a books which Griffiths had sent him to re. man who is everything by turns and nothing view in pledge to a friend. The occasion long ; but they also knew that he was as which reduced him to this breach of his generous as he was improvident; that, if the work was the arrest of the landlord of his situations had been reversed, they would not wretched lodging, to whom he was in arrear. in vain have asked for themselves what they The bookseller sent to demand the goods or denied to him ; that he had supported him their value, and, as Goldsmith could return self now for four years “ without one word neither, Griffiths wrote him word that he of encouragement, or one act of assistance ;” a sharper and a villain.” In an answer and what was most of all to the purpose, to full of woe the miserable debtor begs to be invite subscriptions to a book was to give a consigned to a gaol. “I have seen it,” he practical proof that he was turning his talents says, “inevitable these three or four weeks, to account.

and, by heavens! request it as a favor,-as While Goldsmith was anxiously waiting a favor that may prevent somewhat more for his Irish supplies he had to disburse ten fatal.” He denies the villany, but owns that pounds for the warrant of his appointment he has been guilty of imprudence, and of by the East India Company. To raise the the meannesses which poverty unavoidably money, he wrote articles for the “Critical brings with it.” The wrath of Griffiths was Review," which was superintended by the appeased by Goldsmith undertaking to furgenius Dr. Smollett. Two

from nish a “ Life of Voltaire” for twenty pounds, Oliver's pen appeared in the number for from which the debt was to be subiracted. January, 1795, but before they saw the light The memoir, which was finished in a month, the warrant which was to make his fortune he himself called “ a catchpenny,” and it is was withdrawn. The motive of this pro certainly unworthy both of the author and ceeding never transpired. That it arose from the subject. Here closed for ever his illsome cause which was mortifying to his starred alliance with the bookseller, who was vanity may be inferred from his always avoid the first to start him in his literary career, ing the subject, and from his assuring bis and the first to make him feel the bitter bonbrother Henry, in order to evade inconve- dage of the calling. Griffiths, Mr. Forster nient explanations, that he had met with no relates, retired from his business three or disappointment in the business, though it four years later, and ended by keeping two was then three months since the warrant carriages, and attending regularly at the had been revoked. It was in November, 1758, meeting-house. So prosperous and pious a that he was thus summarily set aside, and, gentleman little dreamt that he was to be lowering bis ambition to his circumstances, known to posterity by his griping insolence the ex-physician to the Coromandel factory to his pauper scribe. presented himself on the 21st of December Goldsmith said of himself that he had “a



knack of hoping,” but the multiplied disas- | Thus in common things he was below medioters which followed close upon one another crity, and he was driven to be either a lihad nearly reduced him to despair . "I have terary genius or nothing.

He was never been for some years," he said, in the affecting any judge of his own qualifications. He letter to Griffiths, of January, 1759, “strug- volunteered to take a journey to copy the gling with a wretched being, with all that inscriptions on the Written Mountains, which contempt which indigence brings with it, had baffled every traveller, though he was and with all those strong passions which not acquainted with a single letter of any make contempt insupportable. What then oriental language living or dead; and he has a gaol that is formidable? I shall at memorialized Lord Bute to send him out to least have the society of wretches, and such investigate the arts and sciences of the East, is to me true society.” “You scarcely can for the purpose of importing the improveconceive," he wrote to his brother in the ments into England, though Dr. Johnson exFebruary following, “ how much eight years claimed that he was utterly ignorant of the of disappointment, anguish, and study have subject, and would have brought home "a worn me down. I can now neither partake grinding barrow that was to be seen in all of the pleasure of a revel, nor contribute to the streets of London, and fancy he had raise its jollity. I can neither laugh nor furnished a wonderful improvement." drink; have contracted a hesitating, disa- Just before his discomfiture in Surgeons' greeable manner of speaking, and a visage Hall he had removed to a lodging in a pentthat looks ill-nature itself. In short, I have up


square, now levelled with the ground, thought myself into a settled melancholy, which, embosomed in a mass of buildings and an utter disgust of all that life brings between Fleet Street and the Old Bailey, with it.” It was through the very excess of seemed named in mockery “Green Arbor the darkness which had gathered around Court,” and which was approached by a steep him that he worked bis way into day. He flight of stone stairs called “Break-neck ceased to indulge in the tantalizing expecta- Steps.” The houses were tall and tumbling, tions which had balked him so often, and, the inhabitants poor and filthy, the children without further distractions, sullenly re- over-many and over-noisy—in Mr. Forster's signed bimself to the only business for which phrase, “a squalid and squalling colony." In he was fitted. If he had succeeded in en- this retreat he was visited by Percy, the tering the Church, he would soon have sunk well-known editor of the Reliques," and in the eyes of the parishioners to the level of afterwards Bishop of Dromore. Goldsmith his clerk. If he had satisfied the examiners had been introduced to bim at the Temple at Surgeons' Hall that he could set a bone, Exchange Coffee house, by Dr. Grainger, he would still, we may be sure, have been a the author of the Sugar-cane," and one of bungling operator, and the tormentor of his the contributors to Mr. Griffiths' “ Monthly patients. He once threatened, when Mrs. Review," and Percy bad detected sufficient Sidebotham rejected his advice, and adopted merit beneath the unpromising appearance of that of her apothecary, to leave off prescrib- his new-made acquaintance to think him ing for his friends. “Do so, my dear Doctor," worth a call. He found him, at the beginning replied Beauclerk; “whenever you under- of March, 1759, engaged upon his “Enquiry, take to kill, let it be only your enemies." in a dirty room, with only a single chair, This was one of the true words which are which he gave up to his visitor, while he sat spoken in jest. Johnson summed up the himself in the window. As the conversation case when he said that bis genius was great, was proceeding, a rayged little girl appeared but his knowledge was small.

at the door, and, dropping a curtsy to Goldhe remarked again,

was wiser when he had smith, said, “My mamma sends her complia pen in his hand, or more foolish when he ments, and begs the favor of you to lend had not.” He had never been a student, her a chamber-pot full of coals.” A volume and he had not that aplitude for facts, and of description would not convey a more that tenacity of memory, which enables vivid impression of the society of "Green many desultory readers to furnish their minds Arbor Court” than this single trait; and without steady toil. The materials for this ludicrous as is the incident, the respectful charming compilations were hastily gathered address of the messenger is yet a pleasing for the occasion, and, being merely trans- proof of the homage which was paid him planted, as Johnson said, from one place to by the ordinary inhabitants of the square. another without settling in his mind, he was The most complete picture which, perhaps, ignorant of the contents of his own books. we possess of Grub-street life has come

[ocr errors]

“No man,'

[ocr errors]

down to us in connection with Goldsmith. plausible argument. The fact is, that he put The majority of distressed authors were too his private life into his books beyond any obscure to find a biographer. Those of the other genius whom we can call to mind, and greater pretentions had either started from a he had not derived his doctrines from a surrespectable position, or had quickly reached vey of Europe, but from his personal expea higher eminence. A single unwieldy rience of Mr. Griffiths' establishment. It is figure, in the person of Johnson, was seen this, in conjunction with the pleasing style, moving for years among the crowd of ill- and some scattered observations of a lively dressed, ill-fed, badly-lodged, and insulted truth, which gives an interest to the work, in tribe who provided the ephemeral literature spite of its imperfections as a critical and and party pamphlets of the day, but main- philosophic disquisition. He had seen that taining in the midst of his poverty such un- the praise and blame of the “ Monthly Reshaken fortitude, such lofty principles, and view” were dispensed in accordance with the such rugged independence, that the charac- mercantile interests and vindictive passions of teristics of the class were very imperfectly Griffiths. He had become acquainted with shadowed forth in him. The portrait drawn the ignorance of the starving scribblers who by Mr. Forster of the moral

' heroism and hung about the shop, eager, for the sake of robust benevolence of this illustrious man is a job, to do the bidding of their master, and one of the most attractive episodes in his who, when left to their own discretion, misbook. Goldsmith, on the contrary, had the took railing for wit. He had witnessed the habits and tastes of the class. After he had pain which their censures inflicted, and the acquired celebrity, and was admitted to the injury done to books by their oracular abuse. society of men like Burke, Fox, Reynolds, No man, nevertheless, was ever written down and Beauclerk, he looked back with regret except by himself, and the worst that the upon

his former haunts. “In truth,” he said ablest and most wrong headed critic can effect to Mr. Cooke, “one sacrifices something for is to retard for a little space a reputation the sake of good company, for here I'm shut which is not fully formed, or to shorten the out of several places where I used to play existence of some flimsy publication which if the fool very agreeably.” He did not per left to itself would die a natural death. severe long in resisting his inclinations out He dwelt with equal emphasis upon the of regard to appearances, nor did he ever wrongs of authors,-complained of the conget clear of the shifts and expedients which tempi which was shown to them,--pointed attended his earlier struggles.

out the evils of their bondage to booksellers, merely destined to exhibit in his single per: -and asked the great to renew the patronson, as he rose, all the gradations in the lot age of the preceding generation, when a of a bookseller's dependant, from the poorest dinner with Lord Somers, procured invitato the best-esteemed.

tions to Young the poet for the rest of the At the commencement of April appeared week. These opinions were natural to one the "Enquiry into the Present State of Polite who judged of booksellers from Griffiths,-Learning in Europe,” upon which Percy had of the respect paid to authors from the treatfound him engaged in the preceding month. ment experienced by the ragged tenant in If the work were to be judged by the pro- “Green Arbor Court,”—and of the advanmise held out in the title, a more superficial tage to be derived from the countenance of and unsatisfactory production has seldom is the nobility by the number of feasts which sued from the press. Though he had tra. he hoped would accrue to men who were sufvelled through Italy, Germany, and Holland, fering, like himself, from hunger and neglect. his account of the literature in these coun- But it is not now, nor, probably, was it then, tries, to which he devoted distinct chapters, in the power of any Mr. Griffiths to keep an was so extremely meayre that it really con- author from fame who had the talent to de. veyed no information at all. He enlarged serve it; and as for a system of patronizing but a very little more on the books and dinners, it has two fatal objections,—that it authors of England and France. He took is not the needy, the obscure, and the strugup the paradox that the decay of learning gling who would receive the invitations ;

; had in every age been produced by criticism, and that any companionship of the kind and stated that the chief design of his Essay which does not come about naturally from was to pursuade people to write what they | personal likings or sympathy of tastes, is a thought, regardless of reviewers. Yet the degradation instead of an honor. bulk of his treaties had no relation to this “The Enquiry" attracted little attention. position, which he has not supported by any None of his other productions in the first nine

He was

[ocr errors]

months of 1759 have been identified, except | is an exceptional gift, and as justly prized as a few contributions to the “Critical Review;" it is rare. The fault, or rather the misforbut in October he is found exerting himself tune, of Goldsmith, is, that his necessities with unwonted diligence, furnishing essays to seldom allowed him to take care enough“The Busy-Body” and “ The Ladies' Maga- that incongruous words, careless phrases, zine," and writing the whole of a weekly and weak and slovenly sentences, blot his paper called The Bee, which alone con

beautiful prose. sisted of thirty-two pages. The Bee ex- On the 1st of January, 1760, appeared pired after a brief existence of eight weeks. the opening number of the “ British MagaThough he had aimed at variety in his sub- zine," a monthly publication, edited by Dr. jects, there was a uniformity in the treatment, Smollett; and on the 12th the “ Public and the objection made in “The Monthly Ledger," a daily newspaper, which was Review," that "the observations were fre- started by Mr. Newberry, the bookseller. quently trite and common,” is not unfounded. Goldsmith was invited to contribute to both. The best portions of the work appear to us

He furnished about twenty essays to the to be the remarks upon acting, and on the magazine, and for the newspaper he wrote habits of the spider. Quantity and quality bis well-known“ Citizen of the World." He both considered, it is very creditable to the usually provided two letters a week, and for fertility of his mind, the readiness of his pen, these he was paid a guinea apiece. They and the elegance of his style. He must soon attracted a certain degree of attention; have had much ado to keep up with the but we infer from his own later language press, and we are not surprised to learn that on the little notice which his essays oba visitor one evening entered the lodging in tained, that their popularity was not great. Green Arbor Court, turned the key of the “ Whenever I write anything," he ludicrously door, commenced upbraidings, which were said to Johnson at some period which prefollowed by a three hours' silence, at the ceded the publication of “The Traveller,” close of which he came forth in good humor, " the public make u point to know nothing and ordered in a supper from a neighboring about it.” The plan which Goldsmith tavern, to reward the poor author, who had adopted in “ The Citizen of the World” just completed his arrears under the surveil- of introducing an Oriental, commenting upon lance of his employer. In later days he was manners so different from his own had been a rapid composer, and whole quires of his frequently tried, and in the case of MontesHistories and “Animated Nature” flowed quieu with distinguished success. The abfrom his pen with such facility, that, accord surdity of usages which only appear rational ing to Bishop Percy, he had seldom occasion because they are familiar, becomes strikingly to correct a single word. “Ah," said he to apparent when they are described by a stranMr. Cradock, who was anxiously weighing ger with the wonder of novelty. This happy phrases, “ think of me who must write a artifice comes to nothing in the hands of volume a month.” But, at this earlier pe- Goldsmith. His Chinese is, to all intents riod, he had an inconvenient propensity to and purposes, an Englishman; and, whenlinger over his work. “I could not suppress ever he attempts to make him speak in charmy lurking passion for applause,” he makes acter, the failure is complete. It is simply George Primrose (who is the alias of Oliver as a collection of light papers upon the vices Goldsmith) say, “ but usually consumed that and follies of the day that the work must be time in efforts after excellence, when it regarded. As in all his speculations, there should have been more advantageously em- is much that is commonplace; but he skims ployed in the diffusive productions of fruitful pleasantly over the surface of things, gives mediocrity. The public were more import- picturesque sketches of the men he met and antly employed than to observe the easy the haunts he frequented, and intermingles simplicity of my style, or the harmony of my observations which, whether grave or gay, periods. Sheet after sheet was thrown off bear the stamp of his kindly nature. The to oblivion. All wrote better, because they series, consisting of one hundred and twentywrote faster than I.” It was to this very three letters, was brought to a conclusion pains, which seemed at the outset to curtail about the middle of 1761, and was repubhis profits without advancing his reputation, lished in two small volumes at the beginning that be owed much of his subsequent fame. of 1762. The power to glean knowledge is a common In the gracefully told story of the "Man accomplishment, which is shared by the dull; in Black,” which derives additional interest the power to clothe it in felicitous language from its being in the main an epitome of the life of the essayist himself, he talks of his offering enormous sums for a second. Pilimprovident generosity, and his discovery kington had commissioned a friend in India that the way to assist the needy was first to to send him two from the East; they were secure independence. “My immediate care, now in the river on board the good ship therefore," he says, was to leave my pre- “Earl of Chatham," and, in proof of his sent habitation, and make an entire reforma- story, he pulled out the letter advising him tion in my conduct and behavior.” He re

He re of their despatch. Nothing stood between moved, accordingly, towards the close of him and independence except the want of a 1760, into better lodgings in Wine Office suitable cage in which to present them, and Court, Fleet Street, but the reformation in he could no more raise the two guineas for his conduct did not ensue. In every thing the purpose than pay off the national debt. which he wrote at this period, he dwells Goldsmith protested that a single half-guinea upon the superiority of economy and justice was all he had in the world. “Ay," says over the misplaced liberality which puts the Pilkington," but you have a watch : if you donor into the indigent circumstances of the could let me have that, I could pawn it across person he relieves, for he had been smarting the way for two guineas, and be able to repay from the effects of discharging the debts of you with heart-felt gratitude in a few days." others with the money which should have Pilkington must have resolved to have his gone to defray his own. In furtherance of jest as well as his guineas, when he made his design, he boasted that he had exchanged poor Oliver the dupe of so gross a hoax. his free and open mapner for a close, sus- Two years elapsed, when he suddenly reappicious air, and that he was now on his guard peared in a state of semi-intoxication at Goldagainst the needy sharpers who, instead of smith's rooms, and greeted him in the lanpicking his pockets, prevailed on him to guage of familiar friendship, at the unlucky empty them of his own accord into their moment when Topham Beauclerk and Genhands. But he rightly called himself a mere eral Oglethorpe were honoring him with their machine of pity, incapable of withstanding company, and he was ashamed to seem intithe slightest exhibition of real or fictitious mate with the vulgar and disreputable imdistress, and, however knowing his looks, his porter of white mice. Pilkington had come power to see through the clumsiest fraud to pay, not the guineas, but the “ heart-felt was on a par with his firmness. He seems gratitude.” “Here, my dear friend,” be to have smiled at his own impotent resola- suddenly exclaimed, as he pulled a couple of tions in the moment of forming them. “One little parcels out of his pocket, “is a quarter of the most heroic actions I ever performed," of a pound of tea and half a pound of sugar, says the Man in Black, “ and for which I for, though it is not in my power at present shall praise myself as long as I live, was the to return you the two guineas, you por any refusing half-a-crown to an old acquaintance man else shall ever have it say

that I want at the time when he wanted it and I had it gratitude.” Oliver, roused to anger, bid him to spare.” This does not promise much con begone, and he departed, carrying bis tea stancy in the course, and no indication ever and sugar with him. They never met again; appeared that he had left his im providence but when Pilkington was dying, a messenger or his simplicity in his Green Arbor Court took, says Mr. Forster, " to the poor starvlodging. Among other good deeds, he re- ing creature's death-bed a guinea from Mr. membered the landlady to the day of his Goldsmith.” death, supplied her from time to time with Mr. Cooke, who relates the anecdote of food from his table, and frequently returned the white mice, has coupled with it another to the scene of his old one.chaired apartment illustration of the extreme credulity of his to cheer and assist her.

friend. He appeared late and hungry at a In evidence of his progress in detecting club, and, having eaten no dinner, ordered a imposition, we are told that one Pilkington, dish of mutton chops for supper. His comwho had long preyed upon the easiness of panions, to balk his eager appetite, drew his nature, and had exasperated him by his their chairs from the table on the appearance conduct, burst into his room in ecstacies of of the dish, and gave sundry symptoms of joy. He apologized for the liberty, but his disgust. Goldsmith asked anxiously if any. fortune was made, and he could not resist thing was the matter with the chops ; but hurrying to impart the glad tidings to his they evaded the question, and it was only best and earliest benefactor. The Duchess with much pressing that they were brought of Manchester had a mania for wbite mice. to tell him that the smell was offensive. He She possessed a pair, and for years had been rang the bell, covered the waiter, who quickly

« VorigeDoorgaan »