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Goldsmith continued to do hack writing for the booksellers, but did not neglect original composition. In 1768 appeared his comedy of "The Good-Natured Man." It was refused by Garrick, notwithstanding the intercession of Reynolds, and was brought out at Covent Garden. It did not gain the applause it merited, but as a financial venture it was a success. It was acted for nine nights; and including the copyright, it brought the author no less than five hundred pounds. That was a dangerous sum for a man of his improvident habits. He at once rented elegant lodgings at a cost of four hundred pounds, and gave dinners to Johnson, Reynolds, and other friends of note. His chambers were often the scene of gay festivities; and Blackstone, who occupied rooms immediately below, and was engaged on his "Commentaries," used to complain of the racket overhead. At this rate his means were of course soon exhausted.
His labors for the booksellers included his "Animated Nature," "History of Rome," "History of England," and "History of Greece." These compilations were hardly worthy of his genius, but they brought him the means of livelihood. "I cannot afford to court the draggle-tail muses," he once said; "they would let me starve; but by my other labors I can make shift to eat, and drink, and have good clothes." But even his compilations bore the trace of his genius in the clear arrangement of facts and in his felicitous mode of treatment. "Whether indeed, we take him as a poet, as a comic writer, or as an historian," declared Johnson, "he stands in the first class."
In 1770 appeared the "Deserted Village." In this he cast a glory around his native village, to which, as he approached the end of his life, his mind reverted with peculiar tenderness. The political economy presented is indeed false; but the pictures the poem brings before us are as enduring as the language. Every one is acquainted with Paddy Byrne :—
"In arguing, too, the parson owned his skill;
For e'en though vanquished, he could argue still."
And then the village preacher - a portrait of Goldsmith's father and his brother Henry. It is one of the most delightful descriptions in the English language, rivalled alone by Chaucer's parson :
"And as a bird each fond endearment tries
To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,
The poem was at once successful, and has since retained, through all changes of taste, its place as a classic.
In 1773 he gave his comedy, "She Stoops to Conquer," to the public. The plot turns on an incident suggested by his blunder as a school-boy. The theatrical manager predicted a complete failure, and Goldsmith was in great distress. But the night of the first presentation the theatre was filled; and the humorous dialogue and the ridiculous incidents kept the audience in a roar of laughter. It has since retained its place on the stage.
During the last years of his life Goldsmith's income was about four hundred pounds a year. With a little economy this would have enabled him to live in comfort and ease. But his extravagance and heedless benevolence left him in debt.
The end came April 3, 1774. When the news was brought to Burke, he burst into tears. Sir Joshua Reynolds laid aside his pencil. But more significant than all was the lamentation of the old and the infirm on his stairs-helpless creatures to whose supplications he had never turned a deaf ear. Johnson wrote his epitaph, in which it is said that he "left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn." In the words of Thackeray, "Think of him reckless, thriftless, vain if you like but merciful, gentle, generous, full of love and pity. He passes out of our life, and goes to render his account beyond it. Think of the poor pensioners weeping at his grave; think of the noble spirits that admired and deplored him; think of the righteous pen that wrote his
epitaph and the wonderful and unanimous response of affec tion with which the world has paid back the love he gave it. His humor delighting us still; his song fresh and beautiful as when he first charmed with it; his words in all our mouths; his very weaknesses beloved and familiar - his benevolent spirit seems still to smile upon us; to do gentle kindnesses; to succor with sweet charity; to caress, soothe, and forgive; to plead with the fortunate for the unhappy and the poor."
THE DESERTED VILLAGE.
SWEET AUBURN! loveliest village of the plain;
And parting summer's lingering blooms delayed:
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
A time there was, ere England's griefs began,
But times are altered; trade's unfeeling train
And every pang that folly pays to pride.
These gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,
Lived in each look, and brightened all the
Sweet Auburn! parent of the blissful hour,