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BUFFon's well-known saying, “Le style est l'homme,” is by no mar. better illustrated than by Oliver Goldsmith. A guileless goodnature, a kind and tender love for all his human brotherhood, a gay, unthinking hopefulness, shine clearly out from every page he wrote. The latter half of his short life of forty-five years was spent in a continuous struggle for daily bread; his earlier years were full of change and hardship. Yet sneers and buffets, drudgery and debt, had no power to curdle the milk of human kindness in this gentle heart.
Charles Goldsmith, a Protestant clergyman, was trying to live on £40 a year at the little village of Pallas or Pallasmore, in the county of Longford, when in 1728 his famous son Oliver was bom. Be. fore the child was two years old, the living of Kilkenny West, worth nearly £200 a year, rewarded this good parson for his virtues and his toils; and the family in consequence removed to a commodious house at Lissoy, in the county of Westmeath. Here little Oliver grew up, went to the village school, and had a severe attack of smallpox, which left deep pits in his poor face. When he went to higher schools, at Elphin, Athlone, and Edgeworthstown, the thick, awkward, pale, and pock-marked boy was knocked about and made fun of by his cruel seniors, until the butt began to retort sharp arrowy wit upon those who sneered at his ugly face or uncouth movements.
In 1745 he passed the sizarship examination at Trinity Col
lege, Dublin, being placed last on the list of the eight successful candidates. The sizar of those days, marked by a coarse black sleeveless
cap, had to do much servile worksweeping the courts, carrying the dishes up from the college kitchen, and waiting upon the Fellows as they dined. The kindness of his uncle Contarine, who had paid most of his school bills, followed him to college too; but even with this aid, when the Reverend Charles Goldsmith died in 1747, his son Oliver was left not far from starvation in the top room of No. 35. Here we detect his first literary performances. Writing street-ballads for five shillings apiece, he used to steal out at night to hear them sung and watch their ready sale in the dimly lighted streets. Here, too, we see the early symptoms of that benevolence, which was almost a mental disease, for it was seldom that the five shillings came home with the hungry student,—some of the hard-earned money had gone to the beggars he had met upon the
Hated and discouraged by his tutor, he grew idler than ever,—took his full share in the ducking of a bailiff,—tried for a scholarship, and failed,—was knocked down by his tutor, - ran away,—was brought back to college by his brother,—took a very low 1749 B.A. in 1749,—and then went home to his mother's little cottage at Ballymahon for two years.
We cannot trace minutely his attempts to be a tutor, a clergyman, a lawyer, a physician. During his stay in Edinburgh, whither he went in 1752 to study medicine, his name was better known among his fellow-students as a good story-teller, and one who sang a capital Irish song, than for any distinctions he won in the class-rooms of the professors. His two winters in the Scottish capital were followed by a winter at Leyden, where he lived chiefly by teaching English. One day, after spending nearly all the money he had just borrowed from a friend, in buying a parcel of rare tulip-roots for his uncle Contarine, he left Leyden “with a guinea in his pocket, but one shirt to his back, and a flute in his hand,” to make the grand tour of Europe, and seek for his medical degree.
Between February 1755 and February 1756 he travelled
STRUGGLES FOR BREAD.
through Flanders, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy-very often trudging all day on foot, and at night playing merry tunes on his flute before a peasant's cottage, in the hope of a supper and a bed—for a time acting as companion or governor to the rich young nephew of a pawnbroker-and in Italy winning a shelter, a little money, and a plate of macaroni by disputing in the Universities. His degree of M.B., on which his claim to be called Doctor Goldsmith rests, was probably received during these wanderings either at Louvain or at Padua. No one can regret this twelvemonth's walk, who has read The Traveller, or those chapters in the Vicar of Wakefield which depict the career of a Philosophic Vagabond.
And then began that struggle in the troubled waters of London life, which closed only when the struggler lay coffined in Brick Court. Before he settled down to the precarious work of making a livelihood by his pen, he made a desperate attempt to gain a footing in his own profession. In a shop on Fish Street Hill he worked for a while with mortar and pestle as an apothecary's drudge. He then commenced practice among the poor of Southwark; a scene of his life during which we catch two glimpses of his little figure, -once, in faded green and gold, talking to an old school-fellow in the street; and again, in rusty black velvet, with second-hand cane and wig, concealing a great patch in his coat by pressing his old hat fashionably against his side, while he resists the efforts of his poor patient to relieve him of the encumbrance. In the printing-office of Richardson the novelist he was for a time reader and corrector to the press; and he was afterwards usher in Dr. Milner's school at Peckham,-a position in which
he was far from being happy. One day Griffiths the book1757 seller, dining at Milner's, proposed to give him board
and a small salary if he would write for the Monthly
Review. Accepting the offer, he contributed many papers to that periodical; but he complained that the bookseller, or the bookseller's old wife, tampered with every one of them. Returning in a few months to the old usher-life at Dr. Milner's, he felt a passing gleam of prosperity, when he received his appointment
GREEN ARBOUR COURT.
as surgeon to a factory on the Coromandel coast; but, for some unexplained reason, this hope of permanent employment came to nothing. As a last chance, he presented himself at Surgeons' Hall in a suit of clothes obtained on Griffiths' security, in order to pass as a surgeon's mate in the navy; but fortunately for the readers of the “ Vicar" and "Sweet Auburn," he was plucked. This last hope broken in his eager grasp, he was driven to the pen once more. His rejection at 1758 Surgeons' Hall may thus be viewed as marking his real A.D. entrance upon the literary profession,
A garret in a miserable, tottering square, called Green Arbour Court, which was approached by a flight of stone stairs, styled suggestively “Break-Neck-Steps," had lately become his home. This dirty room, furnished with a mean bed and a single wooden chair, witnessed the misery of the would-be surgeon's mate on the night of his rejection, and saw him, thoughtless of all but burning pity, go out, four days later, to pawn the clothes he had got on the bookseller's security, in order to help his poor landlady, whose husband had just been seized by bailiffs. There he wrote reviews and memoirs for Smollett's periodical. There he was visited by Percy of the “Reliques," who found him writing his first important work, An Inquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning 1759 in Europe. He was soon engaged to write a three-penny A.D. periodical, which was to appear every Saturday under the title of The Bee. It was a blue book, utterly unlike the ponderous tomes so called now, for it was full of wit and graceful writing. But it did not take. Still the busy pen worked on. “ The British Magazine," edited by Smollett, was enriched with several Essays by Goldsmith. Among these we find some of his most charming shorter pieces; of which the Reverie in the Boar’s Head at Eastcheap, and the story of the Shabby Actor, picked up in St. James's Park, are oftenest read and best liked. Soon in the" Public Ledger,” a newly sprung paper, there appeared a series of Letters, describing a Chinaman's impressions of English life, which attracted considerable notice. These productions of Goldsmith's pen were afterwards published in a collected form as The Citizen of the
GOLDSMITH AND JOHNSON.
World. And if the hack of Green Arbour Court had written no more than these Letters, contributed twice a week to the “Ledger” for a guinea apiece, he might, as the creator of Beau Tibbs and the Man in Black, claim a high place among our English classics.
The night of the 31st of May 1761 was memorable in Wine Office Court, where Goldsmith then lived; for on that night the great Johnson ate his first supper at Goldsmith's table. Percy brought about the meeting; and Johnson, in honour of the occasion, as well as to disabuse his entertainer's mind of the idea that he was a sloven, went through the unusual ceremonies of powdering his wig and putting on clean linen.
Another visit from Johnson to Goldsmith, in the country lodging at Islington, where the latter had taken refuge from the din and dinginess of Fleet Street, stands out in violent contrast to this social evening. It was three years later. The little Irishman and the big Englishman had grown to be firm friends. Many a Monday night at seven had they shaken hands at the Turk’s Head in Soho, where the
famous weekly suppers of the Literary Club had already 1764 begun. One morning in 1764 an urgent message arrived
from Goldsmith, begging Johnson to come to him as
soon as possible. Johnson sent him a guinea, and went out to. Islington immediately afterwards.
He found that poor Goldsmith had been arrested by his landlady for the rent. A newly opened bottle of Madeira stood on the table, which Johnson wisely corked before he began to talk of what was to be done. Goldsmith producing a manuscript novel from his desk, down sat his friend to look over The Vicar of Wakefield. Struck at once with the merit of the work, Johnson went out and sold it to a bookseller for sixty pounds, with which the now triumphant Goldsmith discharged the debt he owed.
Fifteen months passed before an advertisement in the “ St. James's Chronicle” announced The Vicar of Wakefield in two duodecimo volumes. The interval between sale and publication had made its author famous; for his beautiful poem of The Traveller had appeared not long after the distressful day at Islington. Johnson declared that it would not be easy to find anything equal