Page images

en ;

moralist and a poet, than he would have gained as a physician by a longer residence amid the dangers of a crowded city. Few persons would have had the courage to undertake a journey such as that which he contemplated, with means considerably better than those he possessed : but Goldsmith had at the same time a stronger, as well as tenderer spirit than most and he passed, without money in his pocket, over France, Italy, and the greater part of Germany. At one time his flute, at another his learning, furnished him with support; and he was now a poor minstrel labouring hard to amuse a rustic audience, and now a scholar possessed of sufficient erudition and hardihood to seek board and shelter in the monasteries, by daring to dispute on the most abstruse themes with their holy inmates. At Louvain he is reported to have taken a degree ; and he contrived to reside several months at Padua, at this time one of the most distinguished seminaries of education on the Continent.

But this mode of life could not long present the fascinating attractions, with which it may for a short time allure a man of Goldsmith's habits and temperament. After spending, therefore, about twelve months in his travels, he returned to England; and, having neither money nor friends, was obliged, as the only immediate resource at hand, to accept a situation as usher in a school at Peckham. This was the darkest period of his life; and the narrative which he has put into the mouth of George seems to have been in every respect a faithful picture of the miseries he endured in his new employment. It was with great joy, consequently, that he obtained the situation of journeyman to a chemist on Fish-street Hill, where he might have remained in obscurity for years, but for the providential visit of Dr. Sleigh, his friend and fellow-student, to the shop, in which he was performing the part of what might be considered porter to the establishment. The kindness and liberality of the doctor, and his respect for Goldsmith's talents, induced him to take immediate steps for placing him in a better situation; and through his exertions our poet was in a short time respectably settled as a physician, first on Bankside, and afterwards in the neighbourhood of the Temple.

Improved, however, as his circumstances apparently were by this change, they were not considerably so in reality. The fees he received were few and rare ; and he was at length obliged to have recourse to his genius, as the only means in England, as it had been on the Continent, of obtaining bread. His first great literary speculation was the publication of an Essay on Polite Literature in Europe, by subscription; the profits of which he expected would be sufficient to enable him to proceed to India, where he had obtained an appointment as physician at one of the Company's factories.

But this undertaking failed; and he was constrained to pursue the profession of an author, seeking employment among the booksellers and the conductors of periodicals. In this manner it was that he became an essayist; and his excellent little work, the Citizen of the World, was the result of his lucubrations, while at this stage of his literary career.

At that period a higher value was set upon an ingenious essay than in the present; and we find that Goldsmith's talents had become sufficiently well known in the year 1761, to render his acquaintance acceptable to Dr. Johnson. The Vicar of Wakefield was produced some time after their friendship commenced ; and it was mainly owing to the kindness of Johnson that it found its way into the world. "I received,” says he, as his words are recorded by his biographer, " a message one morning from poor Goldsmith, that he was in great distress; and as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly : I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me, that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return; and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.”

It is worthy of mention, however, that Newberry, to whom the work was sold, had so little hope of its success, that he allowed the manuscript to remain unpublished till the appear. ance of the Traveller, which so increased the fame of the author, that he no longer feared the possibility of obtaining the attention of the public for his novel. The success of both the poem and the tale were of the most encouraging kind; and the author, on the strength of that success, assumed the scarlet cloak, and other insignia of his honourable profession; became a member of the celebrated Literary Club, which consisted of the first men of the age ; and lived in a style altogether becoming the change which he had made in his external appearance. But this involved him in difficulties, which kept him continually toiling at the oar; and his fine mind was thus employed in making abridgments and compilations, while it was so well able to produce works which might have improved his age and delighted posterity. The Letters on the History of England,

. originally ascribed to Lord Littleton, the abridgments of the histories of Rome, Greece, and England, and a collection of miscellaneous pieces, were the result of his labours at this period. But the lively little poem of Retaliation, the comedy of She Stoops to Conquer, that of the Good-natured Man, and the History of the Earth and Animated Nature, afford the most convincing proofs how fertile and active his genius remained under all the bindrances which opposed its fair exertion. The termination of Goldsmith's career and life, which was accelerated by his improperly administering to himself a dose of James's powders, took place April 4th, 1771.

In his person he exhibited few indications of the excellence of his mind. He was low and stout; and his face, which was strongly marked with the small-pox, would have been positively disagreeable, but for the strong marks which it bore of that habit of reflection, which, unpromising as it was, it could not wholly conceal. Of his temper, all who have spoken of him are agreed in saying, that he was inconsiderate in pecuniary matters, and warm in his feelings; but faithful in his friendships, generous even beyond his means, and gentle and benevolent in all his actions and dispositions. His works are too widely circulated to render it necessary that we should eulogise him as an author. The Vicar of Wakefield, with which we are at present only concerned, is allowed by all persons of taste to be one of the brightest gems of the whole circle of modern fiction. It can never be read without emotion and profit : it is as beautiful as it is true, and as true as it is beautiful.


There are a hundred faults in this thing, and a hundred things might be said to prove them beauties : but it is needless. A book may be amusing with numerous errors, or it may be very dull without a single absurdity. The hero of this piece unites in himself the three greatest characters upon earth; he is a priest, a husbandman, and the father of a family. He is drawn as ready to teach, and ready to obey; as simple in affluence, and majestic in adversity. In this age of opulence and refinement, how can such a character please? Such as are fond of high life, will turn with disdain from the simplicity of his country fire-side; such as mistake ribaldry for humour, will find no wit in his harmless conversation ; and such as have been taught to deride religion, will laugh at one, whose chief stores of comfort are drawn from futurity.


« PreviousContinue »