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PERSONAL History of Goldsmith-Struggles of an Author in London—The
Prose of Poets—Selections from Goldsmith's Prose—The Lawyers and the Doctors-He ascends to Wine Arbour Court-Is discovered to be a man of genius--Gives a supper to Doctor Johnson-Is introduced to the wits of the time-Is elected by “ The Club”—Notices of its leading members—Johnson, Burke, Gibbon, Reynolds, Garrick, Boswell — “ Immortal Conclave"-Intellectual contests between Johnson and Burke-Sir Bulwer Lytton's brilliant criticisms in verse.
" THE LONELY TERRIBLE STREETS OF LONDON !”An account of his feelings and of his condition at that epoch of his life may be had from a letter to his brother-in-law.
6 You may easily imagine what difficulties I had to encounter, left as I was without friends, recommendation, money or impudence, and that in a country where being born an Irishman was sufficient to keep me unemployed. Many in such circumstances, would have had recourse to the Friar's cord, or the suicide's halter, but with all my follies, I had principle to resist the one, and resolution to combat the other!!”
Authors, artists, and professional men, describe in harrowing terms their early struggles in London, and their painful narrative, should warn the youth of our country not rashly to plunge into difficulties from which death alone can release them, nor presumptuously to imagine from the praises of partial friends, that they are capable of at once directing the public mind, or influencing the public opinion in the metropolis of the world.
Goldsmith never accurately described his sufferings and his degradation whilst a penniless stranger in the vastness of London — he sounded the depths of human misery. A chemist took him as an assistant, then he tried to practise as a doctor in Southwark dressed up in faded finery, then he was luckily engaged as usher in a respectable academy kept in Surrey by Dr. Milner, whose son had been a fellow student with Goldsmith in Edinburgh, and liked him. By this connexion he gained a respectable employment, abandoned physic, and became a teacher. He was assisted by other friends, and now had the honor of meeting the author of “ Night Thoughts,” called by Washington Irving “the literary lion of the day,” this literary lion is now undisturbed, for one reader of “ Night Thoughts” there are ten thousand of “ The Deserted Village.”
Goldsmith always abhorred the drudgery of an usher's life. At the table of Dr. Milner sat in April, 1757, Griffiths, the bookseller and publisher of the Monthly Review. Having heard the conversation of the modest usher, he struck a bargain with Goldsmith, that he would eat, drink, and sleep in his house; and in return for a poor stipend, furnish daily supplies of wisdom and wit to be approved by a remorseless taskmaster, and his odious wife. He remained five months in this horrid apprenticeship, and then escaped to a dismal garret and independence.
We now find Goldsmith at the mature age of thirty years irrevocably committed to the profession of an author. It is our business to inquire what work he did, and how he did it. Before we commence the inquiry however, as we have dwelt fully on the disadvantages of his position, including his blunders and his brogue, let us consider the advantages he possessed in his new and noble pursuit. He had studied in at least four universities, had visited many kingdoms not in post-chaises, or railways, but on foot—had seen, and studied character in every walk of life except the highest—had gained a large experience and a considerable stock of miscellaneous knowledge. Before we open his delightful volumes, could we from his character and adventures anticipate their subjects, or the charming language in which those subjects would be clothed? Could we suppose that in his original compositions, contra-distinguished from his task-work done to order for the trade, native humourunalloyed with malice would be shown? that his sketches of life and manners would present realities, not caricatures ? that his descriptions would be brightened by fancy and have the freshness of novelty ? that his wit would always charm never offend, that his essays and narratives would evince sympathy with the virtuous, the afflicted, the unfortunate, the oppressed ? that enchanting fictions would by him be disregarded ? that his pen and his heart would be dedicated to the service of truth? We find described throughout his writings the scenes of his childhood, what he has himself known, seen and suffered, the characters he has filled, the Player, the Author, the Doctor, the Usher, the Traveller, the Dupe, the Good-natured Man, the Tony Lumpkin of Lissoy, the Village Schoolmaster, the modest preacher of everlasting fame.
We must distinguish his poetry from his prose--and here we may observe that there is no opposition between poetry and prose, poetry and mathematics may be repugnant, but the best poets have written the best prose. Milton's prose, though laboured, is equal to his sublimest verse, of Dryden's prose it has been said 66
every word seems to drop by chance though it falls into its proper place, nothing is cold or languid, the whole is airy, animated, and vigorous, what is little is gay, what is great is splendid.” Addison, Dr. Johnson, Sir Walter Scott, Southey, Moore, Macaulay, all attest
the truth, that the imagination of the poet, however rich however brilliant, may be combined with the exact judgment required for prose composition.
There is nothing remarkable therefore in the fact that Oliver Goldsmith was a great poet and a great prose author. The office of the poet, the influence of poetry on prose composition have been well described by Goldsmith in his essay entitled “ The Present State of Polite Learning.” " It was the “ poet who harmonized the ungrateful accents of his native
dialect, who lifted it above common conversation and shaped " its rude combinations into order. From him the orator 6 formed a style and though poetry first rose out of prose, in “ turn it gave birth to every prosaic excellence; musical period, - concise expression, and delicacy of sentiment, were all excel“ lences derived from the poet. In short he not only preceded “ but founded the orator, philosopher and historian.” We must also notice the activity of Goldsmith's pen from the time he began to write—the variety of his compositions is not more surprising than their excellence. Biography, history, reviews, essays, animated nature, plays and poetry, were successively handled with masterly ability.
We ought to recollect that the duration of Goldsmith's literary life was but sixteen years; and, although he wrote much, we must lament that his pecuniary difficulties and the hard necessity of toiling for his daily bread, restricted him in the execution of original compositions which were few, in comparison with the quantity of literary task-work he was compelled to perform. Moreover, occupations which are distasteful to a man of genius, must have a disheartening effect upon his mind, must overshadow his fancy, and
the lively sallies of his imagination. In order to comprehend, if that be possible, the wretchedness which Goldsmith had to endure, we must remember the condition in which literature
as a profession then stood. There were noble patrons whose vanity was to be pampered, there were worldly politicians whose favour or whose money,
money of the public, might be got in exchange for the services of a pen prostituted to faction, there were grinding booksellers, but no great independent reading public.
Mr. Forster with no less acuteness than truth remarks, “ if any one had told William Pitt, that a new man of merit, “named Goldsmith, was about to try the profession of literature, he would have turned away
It had been " sufficient to throw doubt
the career of Edmund Burke " that in this very year he opened it with the writing of a 6 book.” What Goldsmith felt upon this subject may be collected from the words he puts into the mouth of George Primrose—“Honest men, who write politics, prosper; had they “ been bred cobblers, they would all their lives have mended shoes, but never made them.”
We must revert for a moment to the personal history of our author. Under the pressure of absolute want, Goldsmith had to return for shelter to Dr. Milner's, and resume the occu. pation (to him hateful) of an usher. Then he struggled to pass as a surgeon in order to fill a small appointment in India —failed in his examination-fell back
the occupation of a starving author-got some advances-books and a suit of clothes as tools from a griping bookseller-pawned the clothes and books to rescue the husband of his miserable landlady from the bailiffs, was threatened by the bookseller with a prosecution, and wrote in reply the words which when read make us thrill with horror. “Sir," wrote Goldsmith, “ I know of no misery but a gaol to which my own imprudence and your letter seem to point. I have seen it inevitable these three or four weeks, and by heavens! request it