vent so childishly to such feelings, but this sprung from the spontaneous honesty of his nature. He felt as thousands have felt under similar circumstances, but, unlike the most of men, " he knew not the art of concealment.” Indeed, this freespoken and candid disposition was inimical to his success in more than one respect. He was ever a careless talker, unable to play the great man, and instinctively preferring the spontaneous to the formal, and “ thinking aloud” to studied and circumspect speech. The "exquisite sensibility to contempt," too, which he confesses belonged to him, frequently induced an appearance of conceit, when no undue share existed. The truth is, the legitimate pride of talent, for want of free and natural scope, often exhibited itself in Goldsmith greatly to his disadvantage. The fault was rather in his destiny than himself. He ran away from college with the design of embarking for America, because he was reproved by an unfeeling tutor before a convivial party of his friends; and descended to a personal rencontre with a printer, who impudently delivered Dodsley's refusal that he should undertake an improved edition of Pope. He concealed his name when necessity obliged him to apply for the office of Usher; and received visits and letters at a fashionable coffee-house, rather than expose the poorness of his lodgings. He joined the crowd to hear his own ballads sung when a student; and openly expressed his wonder at the stupidity of people, in preferring the tricks of a mountebank to the society of a man like himself. While we smile at, we cannot wholly deride such foibles, and are constrained to say of Goldsmith as he said of the Village Pastor

“ And e'en his failings leaned to virtue's side.”

It is not easy to say, whether the improvidence of our poet arose more from that recklessness of the future, characteristic of the Irish temperament, or the singular confidence in destiny which is so common a trait in men of ideal tendencies. It would naturally be supposed, that the stern lesson of severe experience would have eventually corrected this want of foresight. It was but the thoughtlessness of youth which lured him to forget amid the convivialities of a party, the vessel on board which he had taken passage and embarked his effects, on his first experiment in travelling; but later in life, we find him wandering out on the first evening of his arrival in Edinburgh, without noting the street or number of his lodgings; inviting a party of strangers in a public garden to take tea with him, without a sixpence in his pocket; and obstinately persisting, during his last illness, in taking a favorite medicine, notwithstanding it aggravated his disease. A life of greater vicissitude it would be difficult to find in the annals of literature. Butler and Otway were, indeed, victims of indigence, and often perhaps, found themselves, like our bard, “in a garret writing for bread, and expecting every moment to be dunned for a milk-score,” but the biography of Goldsmith displays a greater variety of shifts resorted to for subsistence. He was successively an itinerant musician, a halfstarved usher, a chemist's apprentice, private tutor, law-student, practising physician, eager disputant, hack-writer, and even, for a week or two, one of a company of strolling players. In the History of George Primrose, he is supposed to have described much of his personal experience prior to the period when he became a professed litterateur. We canrot but re:spect the independent spirit he maintained through all thesa

[ocr errors]

struggles with adverse fortune. Notwithstanding his poverty, the attempt to chain his talents to the service of a political faction by mercenary motives was indignantly spurned, and when his good genius proved triumphant, he preferred to inscribe its first acknowledged offspring to his brother, thar, according to the servile habits of the day, dedicate it to any aristocratic patron, “ that thrift might follow fawning.” With ah his incapacity for assuming dignity, Goldsmith never seems to have forgotten the self-respect becoming one of nature's nobility

The high degree of excellence attained by Goldsmith in such various and distinct species of literary effort, is worthy of remark. As an essayist he has contributed some of the most pure and graceful specimens of English prose discoverable in the whole range of literature. His best comedy continues to maintain much of its original popularity, notwithstanding the revolutions which public taste has undergone since it was first produced; and “ The Hermit” is still an acknowledged model in ballad-writing. If from his more finished works, we turn to those which were thrown off under the pressing exigencies of his life, it is astonishing what a contrast of subjects employed his pen. During his college days, he was constantly writing ballads on popular events, which he disposed of at five shillings each, and subsequently, after his literary career had fairly commenced, we find him sedulously occupied in preparing prefaces, historical compilations, translations, and reviews for the booksellers ; one day throwing off a pamphlet on the Cock-lane Ghost, and the next inditing Biographical Sketches of Beau Nash; at one moment, busy upon a festive song, and at another deep in composing the words of an Oratorio. It is curious, with the intense sentiment and finished pictures of fashionable life with which the fictions of our day abound, fresh in the memory, to open the Vicar of Wakefield. We seem to be reading the memoirs of an earlier era, instead of a different sphere of life. There are no wild and improbable incidents, no startling views, and with the exception of Burchell's incognito, no attempt to excite interest through the attraction of mystery. And yet, few novels have enjoyed such extensive and permanent favor. It is yet the standard work for introducing students on the continent to a knowledge of our language, and although popular taste at present demands quite a different style of entertainment, yet Goldsmith's novel is often reverted to with delight, from the vivid contrast it presents to the reigning school; while the attractive picture it affords of rural life and humble virtue, will ever render it intrinsically dear and valuable.

But the “ Deserted Village” is, of all Goldsmith's productions, unquestionably the favorite. It carries back the mind to the early seasons of life, and re-asserts the power of unsophisticated tastes. Hence, while other poems grow stale, this preserves its charm. Dear to the heart and sacred to the imagination, are those sweet delineations of unperverted existence. There is true pathos in that tender lament over the superseded sports and ruined haunts of rustic enjoyment, which never fails to find a response in every feeling breast. It is an elaborate and touching epitaph, written in the cemetery of the world, over what is dear to all humanity. There is a truth in the eloquent defence of agricultural pursuits and natural pastimes, that steals like a well-remembered strain over the heart immersed in the toil and crowds of cities, There is an unborn beauty in the similes of the bird and her

"unfledged offspring,” the hare that “pants to the place from whence at first he flew," and the “ tall cliff that lifts its awful form,” which, despite their familiarity, retain their power to delight. And no clear and susceptible mind can ever lose its interest in the unforced, unexaggerated and heart-stirring numbers, which animate with pleasure the pulses of youth, gratify the mature taste of manhood, and fall with soothing sweetness upon the ear of age.

We are not surprised at the exclamation of a young lady who had been accustomed to say, that our poet was the homeliest of men, after reading the “Deserted Village” _“I shall never more think Dr. Goldsmith ugly!” This poem passed through five editions in as many months, and from its domestic character became immediately popular throughout England. Its melodious versification is doubtless, in a measure, to be ascribed to its author's musical taste, and the fascinating ease of its flow is the result of long study and careful revision. Nothing is more deceitful than the apparent facility observable in poetry. No poet exhibits more of this characteristic than Ariosto, and yet his manuscripts are filled with erasures and repetitions. Few things appear more negligently graceful than the well-arranged drapery of a statue, yet how many experiments must the artist try before the desired effect is produced. So thoroughly did the author revise the “ Deserted Village,” that not a single original line remained. The clearness and warmth of his style is, to my mind, as indicative of Goldsmith's truth, as the candor of his character or the sincerity of his sentiments. It has been said of Pitt's elocution, that it had the effect of impressing one with the idea that the man was greater than the orator. A similar

« ElőzőTovább »