« PreviousContinue »
THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD."
to it since the death of Pope. The sister of Reynolds said, after hearing the poem read aloud, that she would never more think Dr. Goldsmith ugly. A simple saying, but very true, and very natural. The world has indorsed the utterance of that fussy, middleaged lady. The bull-dog face, with its rugged skin, and coarse, blunt features, shines with a beauty from within, above all loveliness of flesh and blood, as we close the pages of “The Traveller," “The Deserted Village," or "The Vicar of Wakefield," and think of the little man who wrote these works. We forget that he delighted to array his small person in sky-blue and bloom-coloured coats, and to exhibit himself, as if pinned through with a long sword, in the glittering crowds that filled the gardens at Vauxhall; or, if we remember these things, it is only to smile good-naturedly at the weakness of a great man. The Vicar of Wakefield needs no description. An exquisite naturalness is its prevailing charm. No bad man could write a book so full of the soft sunshine and tender beauty of domestic life,--so sweetly wrought out of the gentle recollections of the old home at Lissoy. It was coloured with the hues of childhood's memory; and the central figure in
of shadows from the past, that came to cheer the poor London author in his lonely garret, was the image of his dead father. “ For,” says John Forster in his Life of Goldsmith, not more truly than beautifully," they who have loved, laughed, and wept with the Man in Black of the Citizen of the World, the Preacher of the Deserted Village, and Doctor Primrose in the Vicar of Wakefield, have given laughter, love, and tears to the Reverend Charles Goldsmith.”
Still the busy pen worked on, for the wolf was always at the door. Among the minor tasks of the quondam usher we find an English Grammar, written for five guineas; and in later days some School Histories, abridgments of his larger volumes. But more famous works claim our notice.
His comedy of The Good-Natured Man, acted in 1768, brought him nearly £500; which, with the true Grub Street improvidence, he scattered to the winds at once. He bought 1768 those chambers in Brick Court, Middle Temple, where
"THE DESERTED VILLAGE.”
the last act of his life-drama was played out. He furnished them in mahogany and blue moreen. He gave frequent dinners and suppers, startling all the quiet barristers round him with noisy games at blind-man's buff and the choruses of jovial songs. He was constantly in society with Johnson, Burke, and Reynolds, and lived far beyond his means. In May 1770 appeared his finest poem, The Deserted Village.
Before August closed, a fifth edition was nearly ex1770 hausted. The village, “sweet Auburn,” whose present A.D. desolation strikes the heart more painfully from the lovely
pictures of vanished joy the poet sets before us, was that hamlet of Lissoy where his boyhood had been spent. The soft features of the landscape, -the evening sports of the village train, the various noises of life rising from the cottage homes,-the meek and earnest country preacher,—the buzzing school,-the white-washed ale-house,-attract by turns our admiration as we read this exquisite poem. And not least touching is this yearning utterance, spoken from the literary toiler's deep and solitary heart :
In all my wanderings round this world of care,
The emphatic words of poor dying Gray, who heard “The Deserted Village” read at Malvern, where he spent his last summer in a vain search for health, must be echoed by every feeling heart, — “ That man is a poet.”
Debt now had Goldsmith fast in its terrible talons. He worked on, but was forced to trade upon his future,—to draw heavy ad
DEATH OF GOLDSMITU.
vances from his booksellers in order to meet the pressing wants of the hour. He undertook a History of England, in four volumes; a History of the Earth and Animated Nature, largely a translation from Buffon; Histories of Greece and Rome; and wrote a second successful comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, which was first acted in 1773.
The last flash of his genius was the short poem, Retaliation, written in reply to some jibing epitaphs, which were composed on him by the company met one day at dinner in the St. James's Coffee-house. Garrick’s couplet ran thus :
“Here lies poct Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll,
Who wrote like an angel, but talked like poor Poll." And certainly in the reply poor Garrick suffers for his unkindness; for never with so light but so perfect a touch was the skin peeled from any character.
With hands yet full of unfinished work, Goldsmith lay down to die. An old illness seized him. Low fever set in. He took powders against the advice of his doctors, and died, after nine days' sickness, on the 4th of April 1774. “Is your mind at ease ?” asked the doctor by his bed-side. “No, 1774 it is not," was the sad reply. At last the spendthrift author had lost“ his knack of hoping,” as he used to call the unthinking joyousness of his nature. His debts and the memory of his reckless life cast heavy shadows on his dying bed. In the spirit of that sublime prayer, which we learn to say at our mother's knee in the season of life when, in truth, “ we take no thought for the morrow," let us hope that the gentle, thoughtless, erring nature, which gave and forgave so much on earth, found in Heaven that mercy which
every human spirit needs.
THE FAMILY PICTURE.
(FROM "THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD.”) My wife and daughters, happening to return a visit at neighbour Flamborough's, found that family had lately got their pictures drawn by a limner, who travelled the country, and took likenesses for fifteen shillings a head. As this family and ours had long a sort of rivalry in point of taste, our spirit took the alarm at this stolen march upon us, and, notwithstanding all I could say, and I said much, it was resolved that we should have our pictures done too. Having, therefore,
SPECIMEN OF GOLDSMITH'S PROSE.
engaged the limner, (for what could I do?) our next deliberation was to show the superiority of our taste in the attitudes. As for our neighbour's family, there were seven of them, and they were drawn with seven oranges,-a thing quite out of taste, no variety in life, no composition in the world. We desired to have something in a brighter style, and, after many debates, at length came a unanimous resolution of being drawn together, in one large historical familypiece. This would be cheaper, since one frame would serve for all; and it would be infinitely more genteel, for all families of any taste were now drawn in the same manner. As we did not immediately recollect an historical subject to hit us, we were contented each with being drawn as independent historical figures. My wife desired to be represented as Venus; and the painter was requested not to be too frugal of his diamonds in her stomacher and hair. Her two little ones were to be as Cupids by her side ; while I, in my gown and bands, was to present her with my books on the Whistonian Controversy. Olivia would be drawn as an Amazon, sitting upon a bank of flowers, dressed in a green joseph, richly laced with gold, and a whip in her hand. Sophia was to be a shepherdess, with as many sheep as the painter could put in for nothing ; and Moses was to be dressed out with a hat and white feather.
Our taste so much pleased the squire, that he insisted on being put in as one of the family, in the character of Alexarder the Great at Olivia's feet. This was considered by us all as an indication of his desire to be introduced into the family, nor could we refuse his request. The painter was therefore set to work, and, as he wrought with assiduity and expedition, in less than four days the whole was completed. The piece was large, and it must be owned he did not spare his colours; for which my wife gave him great encomiums. We were all perfectly satisfied with his performance; but an unfortunate circumstance, which had not occurred till the picture was finished, now struck us with dismay. It was so very large that we had no place in the house to fix it! How we all came to disregard so material a point is inconceivable; but certain it is we had all been greatly remiss. This picture, therefore, instead of gratifying our vanity, as we hoped, leaned in a most mortifying manner against the kitchen wall, where the canvas was stretched and painted, much too large to be got through any of the doors, and the jest of all our neighbours. One compared it to Robinson Crusoe's long-boat, too large to be removed ; another thought it more resembled a reel in a bottle ; some wondered how it could be got out, but still more were amazed how it ever got in.
A HUGE and slovenly figure, clad in a greasy brown coat and coarse black worsted stockings, wearing a grey wig with scorched foretop, rolls in his arm-chair long past midnight, holding in a dirty hand his nineteenth cup of tea. As he pauses to utter one of his terrible growls of argument, or rather of dogmatic assertion, commencing invariably with a thunderous “Sir,” we have leisure to note the bitten nails, the scars of king's evil that mark his swollen face, and the convulsive workings of the muscles round mouth and eyes, which accompany the puffs and snorts foreboding a coming storm of ponderous English talk. Such was the famous Doctor Samuel Johnson in his old age, when he had climbed from the most squalid cellars of Grub Street to the dictatorial throne of English criticism—such the man who wrote Rasselas and London, who compiled the great English Dictionary, and composed the majestically moral pages of the Rambler.
This celebrated son of a poor man, who used to spread his little book-stall on market-day in Lichfield to tempt the louts of Staffordshire, was born in that town on the 18th of September 1709. From infancy the child struggled with constitutional disease, which weakened his eyes and left indelible seams across his little face. The father
poor afflicted boy all he could—a liberal education; and upon this foundation—the best for fame that can ever be laid--the work of a great and noble lifetime began to rise.
Slowly, obscurely, and with many heavy falls, did the ill