Page images
PDF
EPUB

up in a manner so captivating, that the booksellers engaged him to compile a · History of the Earth and Animated Nature,' in eight volumes, 8vo. This, his last publication, appeared early in 1774; and though distinguished by it's elegance and purity of stile, it's interesting inferences, and it's striking descriptions, realised too fully by it's want of original information and it's numerous errors the prediction of Johnson, that · he would make his Natural History as entertaining as a Persian tale. He received for it however from his bookseller, it is said, not less than 8501.

He died April 4, 1774, in the forty fifth year of his

age, of a nervous fever * consequent upon his old complaint, the strangury (in which he had taken James' fever-powder contrary to the advice of Dr. Hawes, who afterward published an account of his case) and was interred in the Temple buryingground. A monument, executed by Nollekens, was subsequently erected for him, by a subscription among his friends of the Literary Club, in Westminster Abbey. This consists of a large medallion,

* Exasperated, it is to be feared, by uneasiness of mind under embarrassments brought on by his prodigalities, especially to needy Irish authors. « Sir Joshua Reynolds is of opinion (says Boswell) that he owed no less than 2,0001.! Was ever poet so trusted before ?" He would sometimes even give away his whole breakfast to poor housekeepers; saying with a smile, after they were gone, “ Now let me suppose I have eaten a heartier meal than usual, and am nothing out of pocket." No wonder he was embarrassed, though in fourteen years he is supposed to have received for his writings, at least, 8,0001.! Among other objects of his benevolence, we find a well-known name of later days. His biographer has published a very curious letter from Thomas Paine, soliciting the poet's interest in procuring an addition to the

pay of excisemen!'

with a good resemblance of the Doctor in profile, and appropriate ornaments; and bears, on a tablet of white marble, the following inscription from the pen of Johnson :

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

OLIVARII GOLDSMITH,

Poeta, Physici, Historici,
Qui nullum ferè scribendi genus non tetigit,
Nullum, quod tetigit, non ornavit ;
Sive risus essent movendi,

sive lacryma,
Affectuum potens, at lenis dominator:
Ingenio sublimis, vividus, versatilis;
Oratione grandis, nitidus, venustus:
Hoc Monumento memoriam coluit

Sodalium amor,

Amicorum fides,

Lectorum Veneratio.
Natus in Hibernia Forniæ Long fordiensis,

In loco cui nomen Pallas,
Nov. xxix. M DCC XXXI.*
Eblanæ literis institutus,

Obiit Londini
April iv. M DCC LXXIV.

His stature was under the middle size, his body strongly built, his limbs more sturdy than elegant, his complexion pale, his forehead low, and his face almost round and pitted with the small-pox, but marked with strong lines of thinking. His first appearance was not captivating; but, when he grew easy and cheerful in company, he relaxed into such a

* By mistake for 1728. In addition to this Latin epitaph Johnson honoured the memory of his friend with the following Greek tetrastich :

Τον ταφον εισοραας τον Ολιβαριοιο κονεην

Αφρoσι η σεμωνην, ξεινε, ποσεσσι πατει:
Οισι μεμοηλε φυσις, μετρων χαρις, εργα παλαιων,

Κλαιετε ποιητης, ισορικο", φυσικο».

display of good humour, as speedily removed every unfavourable impression.

The poetical and dramatic compositions of Goldsmith possess great merit. No man indeed, as Mr. Boswell remarks, had the art of displaying to more advantage, as a writer, whatever literary acquisitions he made. Nihil, quod tetigit, non ornavit. His mind resembled a fertile, but thin soil. There was a quick, but not a strong, vegetation of whatever chanced to be thrown upon it. No deep root could be struck. The oak of the forest did not grow there; but the elegant shrubbery, and the fragrant parterre, appeared in gay succession. It has been generally believed, that he was a mere fool in conversation ;* but, in truth, this has been greatly exaggerated. He had, no doubt, a more than common share of that hurry of ideas, which we often find in his countrymen, and which sometimes produces a laughable confusion in expressing them. He was very much what the French call un étourdi; and from vanity,t and an eager desire of

* “ His common conversation,” said Beattie," was a strange mixture of absurdity and silliness; of silliness so great, as to make me think sometimes, and so too thought Sir Joshua Reynolds, that he affected it. Yet he was a genius of no mean rank: somebody (Lord Orford) who knew him well, called him an inspired idiot!' His ballad of · Edwin and Angelina' is exceedingly beautiful; and in his two other poems, though there be great inequalities, there is pathos, energy, and even sublimity.” Garrick described him as

' for shortness called · Noll,' Who wrote like an angel, and talk'd like“ + This was so excessive, that though his maternal grandfather was called Oliver, he used to assert his own Christian name was in

poor Poll."

[ocr errors]

ex:

being conspicuous wherever he was, he frequently talked carelessly,* without knowledge of the subject, or even without thought. Those, who were in any way distinguished, excited envy in him to so ridiculous an excess, that the instances of it are hardly credible. On his French tour, he was seriously angry that more attention was paid to the Miss Hornecks, than to their beau companion; and once at the exhibition of the Fantoccini in London, when those who sat next him observed with what dexterity a puppet was made to tošs a pike, he could not bear that it should have such praise, but claimed with some warmth ; " Pshaw! I can do it better myself!"

With all his defects, as a writer, he was of the most distinguished abilities. Whatever he composed, he did it better than any other man could. He had the art of being minute without tediousness, and general without confusion; copious without exuberance, exact without constraint, and easy without weakness. His · Vicar of Wakefield? in particular, which deservedly ranks in the first class of English novels, is drawn up in language which “ angels might have heard, and virgins told.” His enchanting prose is said to have received from him very few correc: tions: but in his verses, particularly his two great ethic poems, nothing could exceed his patient and incessant revisal.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

troduced by some affinity or connexion with the family of the
Protector; and he, also, claimed kindred with that of General
Wolfe.
* “ No man,” said Johnson,

was more foolish when he had not a a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had.”

[merged small][ocr errors]

By Garrick he was severely, but not very inaccurately, characterised in his fable of “ Jupiter and Mercury.'

“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 to learning and gaming, religion and raking.
With the love of a wench, let his writings be chaste;
Tip his tongue with strange matter, his

pen

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 mixture no more shall appear,
You, Hermes, shall fetch him to make us sport here."

That he was, like Pope, however, a poet rather of reason than of fancy or pathos, appears to have resulted not merely from the character of his genius, but from the conviction of his judgement that it was the best : * as may be inferred from his commendation of Parnell's Poems in his Life of that poet, who “ considers the language of poetry as the language of life, and conveys the warmest thoughts in the simplest expression.” This, applying as it does rather to the outwardness than to the substance and essence of poetry, became on every occasion the cant both of Goldsmith and Johnson, with a view to depress and degrade the compositions of Gray,

* See the Censura Literaria,' by Sir Egerton Brydges, V.68.

« PreviousContinue »