ePub 版


der heart and inconsiderate benevolence that characterized his whole life. He had been invited to breakfast by a college friend, and, failing to make his appearance, was visited at his There he was found in bed, buried in feathers up to his chin. The evening before, a woman with five children had told him a pitiful tale of her distress and need. It was too much for his sympathetic nature; and bringing the woman to the college gate, he gave her the blankets off his bed, and a part of his clothing to sell and buy bread. Getting cold in the night, he had ripped open his bed and buried himself in the feathers.

In due course he took his bachelor's degree, and returned to his home. It had been sadly changed by the death of his father. The next two or three years were spent in a desultory way; while ostensibly preparing to take orders, he was in reality spending his time in miscellaneous reading and rustic convivialities. He did dot like the clerical profession. "To be obliged to wear a long wig when I liked a short one," he says in explanation of his antipathy, "or a black coat when I generally dressed in brown, I thought such a restraint upon my liberty that I absolutely rejected the proposal."

His fondness for gay dress was a weakness throughout his life, and more than once exposed him to ridicule. When the time for his examination came, he appeared before the Bishop of Elphin arrayed in scarlet breeches. This silly breach of propriety cost him the good opinion of the bishop, and led to his rejection.

Then followed a succession of undertakings and failures without parallel. He became tutor in a good family, and lost his position on account of a quarrel at cards. He then resolved to emigrate to America, and left for Dublin mounted on a good horse and having thirty guineas in his pocket. In six weeks he returned to his mother's door in a condition not unlike that of the prodigal son. Every penny was gone. He explained that the ship on which he had engaged passage had sailed while he was at a party of pleasure. The ship had been

waiting for a favorable wind; "and you know, mother," he said, "that I could not command the elements."

His uncle Contarine, who was one of the few that had not lost all confidence in him, gave him fifty pounds with which to go to London for the purpose of studying law. He reached Dublin on his way; but unfortunately he met an old acquaintance, who allured him into a gambling-house. He came out penniless.

He was next advised to try medicine; and a small purse having been made up for him, he set out for Edinburgh. He remained there eighteen months, during which he picked up a little medical science. But most of his time was spent in convivial habits. With gaming, feasting, and reckless generosity, he was often brought into financial difficulties.

Then he went to Leyden, ostensibly for the purpose of completing his medical studies, but really, there is reason to believe, for the purpose of gratifying his roving disposition. He spent a year in that city with his usual improvidence. A friend provided him with money to go to Paris. The mania for tulip culture still prevailed in Holland. One day wandering through a garden, Goldsmith suddenly recollected that his uncle Contarine, his steadfast benefactor, was a tulip fancier. Here, then, was an opportunity to show his appreciation. A number of choice and costly bulbs were purchased; and not till after he had paid for them did he reflect that he had spent all the money designed for his travelling expenses. In this extremity he set out on foot with his flute. "I had some knowledge of music," says the Philosophic Vagabond in the "Vicar of Wakefield," "with a tolerable voice; I now turned what was once my amusement into a present means of subsistence. I passed among the harmless peasants of Flanders, and among such of the French as were poor enough to be merry; for I ever found them sprightly in proportion to their wants. Whenever I approached a peasant's house, I played one of my merriest tunes, and that procured me not only a lodging, but subsistence for the next day." In this way he was able to

make the tour of Europe, visiting Flanders, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. At Padua he is said to have taken his medical degree. These travels, as we shall see, were afterwards to be turned to good account.

In 1756 he returned to England. "You may easily imagine," he wrote to a friend afterwards, "what difficulties I had to encounter, left as I was without friends, recommendations, money, or impudence, and that in a country where being born an Irishman was sufficient to keep me unemployed. Many in such circumstances would have had recourse to a friar's cord or the suicide's halter. But, with all my follies, I had principle to resist the one, and resolution to combat the other."

He went to London, where for the next several years he led an existence miserable enough. He became successively an usher in a school, an apothecary's assistant, a practising physician and failed in them all. At last, after other unlucky ventures, he settled down to the drudgery of a literary hack. From this humiliating station he was lifted by the force of genius alone.

He began by writing for reviews and magazines, and compiling easy histories. His first serious undertaking was "An Inquiry into the State of Learning in Europe," with which his career as an author may be said to begin. His work gradually gained recognition, and brought him better pay. His circle of acquaintance widened, and included the most distinguished literary talent of his time. Burke had discovered his genius; Percy, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, sought him out in his garret; and most important of all, Johnson, the great Cham as he has been humorously styled, sought his acquaintance. had met Reynolds and Hogarth. In 1763 he became one of the original nine members of the Club, which included among others Johnson, Reynolds, and Burke, and to which were added subsequently Garrick and Boswell. He was thus brought into intimate fellowship with the choicest minds of the English metropolis.

[ocr errors]

Having attracted their notice by the humor, grace, and picturesqueness of his style in writing, he won their affection by the guilelessness and amiability of his character. There was a charm in his personality that triumphed over his weaknesses, and drew the strongest and best men to him in tender friendship. That same charm exists in his works; and with the possible exception of Addison, he is, what Thackeray claims for him, "the most beloved of English writers."

The lesson of economy he never learned. His growing income had enabled him to take better lodgings. But in 1764 we find him in arrears for his board and in the hands of the sheriff. He sent for Johnson. "I sent him a guinea," says Johnson, "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 rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and 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 return soon; 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." But speedily relenting, he called her to share in a bowl of punch.

The novel in question was no other than the "Vicar of Wakefield "one of the most delicious morsels of fictitious composition," justly observes Sir Walter Scott, "on which the human mind was ever employed." The plot is indeed faulty; but the charm of the characters, the ludicrousness of the situations, the grace of style, and the delicacy of humor, make it a book which we read with delight in youth, and return to with pleasure in maturity and old age. Notwithstanding its high rank as a work of genius, the stupid publisher kept it in hand two years before venturing to give it to the public.

In 1764, while the "Vicar of Wakefield was being held by the publisher, Goldsmith published a poem called the "Traveller." It was the first work to which he attached his name. The time was favorable for its appearance, inasmuch as the British Muse was doing but little. Johnson kindly lent his assistance in bringing it out, reading over the proof-sheets, and adding here and there a line. The merits of the poem were soon recognized, and the general opinion agreed that nothing better had appeared since the time of Pope. Goldsmith dedicated it

to his brother:

"Where'er I roam, whatever realms to see,
My heart untravelled fondly turns to thee;
Still to my brother turns, with ceaseless pain,
And drags at each remove a lengthening chain."

It embodies the observations of his tour on the continent; but

"Vain, very vain, my weary search to find
That bliss which only centres in the mind:
Why have I strayed from pleasure and repose
To seek a good each government bestows?
In every government, though tyrants reign,
Though tyrant kings, or tyrant laws restrain,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure?
Still to ourselves in every place consigned,

Our own felicity we make or find;

With secret course which no loud storms annoy,
Glides the smooth current of domestic joy."

The Earl of Northumberland read the poem and was greatly pleased with it. He sent for Goldsmith; and after stating that he had been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he expressed a willingness to do the poet any kindness in his power. Goldsmith's genius for blundering did not desert him. He said that he had a brother in Ireland that needed help; but as for himself, he did not place much dependence in the promises of the great, and looked to the booksellers for a support.

« 上一頁繼續 »