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LIFE OF GOLDSMITH,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
The materials for a life of Dr. Goldsmith are very copious, although, not perhaps uniformly authentic. Ilis acquaintance was extensive, and his memory so much respected, that his friends have been eager to accumulate anecdotes of his many peculiarities; but of all the regular accounts, that prefixed to the genuine edition of his Prosc and Poetical Works, in 4 vols. 8vo. published by the London book. sellers in 1801, and again in 1807, seems entitled to preference. The greater part, it is now no secret, was contributed by Dr.Percy, the present bishop of Dromore, and what follows is a mere abridgment of that very curious and entertaining me. moir.
Oliver Goldsmith was born on Nov. 29, 1728, at a place called Pallas, in the parish of Forney, and county of Longford, in Ireland. His father, the rev. Charles Goldsmith, a native of the county of Roscommon, was a clergyman of the established church, and had been educated at Dublin College. He afterwards held the living of Kilkenny West, in the county of Westmeath. By his wife, Anne, the daughter of the rev. Oliver Jones, master of the diocesan school of El. phin, he had five sons, and two daughters. His eldest son, Henry, went into the church, and is the gentleman to whom our poet dedicated his Traveller. Olirer was the second son, and is supposed to have faithfully represented his father in the character of the Village Preacher in the Deserted Village.
Oliver was originally intended for some mercantile employment, as his father found his income too scanty for the expenses of the literary education which he had bestowed on his eldest son. With this view he. was instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, at a common school, the master of which was an old soldier, of a romantic turn, who entertained his pupil with marvellous stories of his travels and feats, and is supposed to have imparted somewhat of that wandering and unsettled turn which so much appears in his future life. It is certain that Oliver had not been long in this humble school before he proved that he was no vulgar boy.” He made some attempts in poetry when he was scarcely eight years
old, and by the irregularities of his temper and conduct, betrayed a disposition more favourable to the flights of genius than the regularity of business. This after some time became so obvious, that his friends, who had at first pleaded for his be. ing sent to the university, now determined to contribute towards the expense, and by their assistance he was placed at a school of reputation where he might be qualified to enter the college with the advantages of preparatory learning.
lo June 1744, when in his fifteenth year, he was sent to Dublin College, and entered as a sizer, under the rer. Mr. Wilder, one of the fellows, but a man of harsh temper and violent passions, and consequently extremely unfit to wia the affections and guide the disposition of a youth, simple, ingenuous, thoughtless and unguarded. His pupil, however, made some progress, although slow, in academical studies. In 1747, he was elected one of the exhibitioners on the foundation of Erasmus Smyth; and in 1749, two years after the regular time, he was ad. mitted to the degree of bachelor of arts. His indolence and irregularities may in part account for this tardy advancemeat to the reputation of a scholar, but much may likewise be attributed to the unfeeling neglect of his tutor, who contended only for the preservation of certain rules of discipline, while he gave himself little trouble with the cultivation of the mind. On one occasion he thought proper to chastise Oliver before a party of young friends of both sexes, whom, with his usual imprudence, he was entertaining with a supper and dance in his
Oliver immediately disposed of his books and clothes, left college, and commenced a wanderer, without any prospect,' without friends, and without money. At length, after suffering such extremity of hunger, that a handful of grey peas, which a girl gave him at a wake, appeared a luxurious meal, he contrived to acquaint his brother with his situation, who immediately clothed him and car. ried him back to college, effecting at the same time a reconciliation between him and his tutor, which it may be supposed was more convenient than cordial on ei. ther side.
Soon after this event, his father died, and his friends wished him to prepare for holy orders ; but to this he declared his dislike; and finding himself equally uncomfortable as tutor in a private family to which he had been recommended, he again left the country with about thirty pounds in his pocket. After an absence of six wceks, he returned to his mother's house without a penny, having expended the whole in a series of whimsical adventures, of which the reader will find a very en. tertaining account in the Life above-mentioned. His mother and friends being reconciled to him, his uncle the rev. Thomas Contarine, resolved to send him to the Temple to study law; but in his way to London, he met, at Dublin with a sharper who tempted him to play, and stript him of fifty pounds, with which he had been fùrnished for his voyage and journey. His youth must furnish the only apology that can be made for this insensibility to the kindness of his friends, who could ill afford the money thus wantonly lost. Again, however, they received him into favour, and it being now decided that he should study physic, he was sent to Edinburgh for that purpose.
This appears to have taken place about the year 1752 or 1753 ; but still his thoughtless and eccentric disposition remained, and betrayed him into many ludi.
crous situations. He formally indeed attended the lectures of the medical pro. fessors, but his studies were neither regular nor profound. There was always something he liked better than stated application. Among his fellow students he wished to recommend himself, and he was not unsuccessful, by his stories and songs, as a social companion, and a man of humour; and this ambition to shine in company by such means never wholly left him when he came to associate with men who are not charmed by noisy vivacity.
After he had gone through the usual course of lectures, his uncle, who appears to have borne the principal expenses of his education, equipped him for the me. dical school of Leyden, at which, however, he did not arrive without meeting with some of those incidents which have given an air of romance to his history.
At Leyden he studied chemistry and anatomy for about a year; but a taste for gaming, which he appears to have caught very early, frequently stript him of his money, and plunged him into difficulties, without any of the benefits of experience. Even the
money which he was compelled to borrow in order to enable him to leave Holland, was expended on some costly flowers which he bought of a Dutch florist, as a present to his uncle ; and when he set out on his travels he “ had only one clean shirt, and no money in his pocket.”
Any other man would have laid his account with starving ; but Goldsmith had
a knack of hoping," and, however miserably provided, determined to make the tour of Europe on foot. In what manner he performed this singular under. taking, he is supposed to have informed us in “ The history of a philosophic Va. gabond,” in chap. xx. of the Vicar of Wakefield. He had some knowledge of music, and charmed the peasants so much as to procure a lodgiag, and a şub. sistence. He also entered the foreign universities and convents, where upon certain days theses are maintained against any adventitious disputant, for which, if the champion opposes with some dexterity, he may claim a gratuity in money, a dioner, and a bed for the night. At one time, he is said to have accompanied a young Englishman as a tutor ; but his biographer doubts whether this part of the Philosophic Vagabond's story was not a fiction. It is certain, however, that in the manner above related, and with some assistance from his uncle, he contrived to travel through Flanders, and part of France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. It was probably at Padua that he took a medical degree, as he remained here about six months ; but one of his earliest biographers thinks he took the degree of bachelor of medicine at Louvain. His generous uncle dying while he was in Italy, he was obliged to travel through France to England on foot, and landed at Dover in 1756.
He arrived in London in the extremity of distress, and first tried to be admitted as an usher in a school or academy, and having with difficulty obtained that situation, he remained for some time in it, submitting to mortifications of which he has given probably an exaggerated account, in the story of the Philosophic Vagabond. He next procured a situation in the shop of a chemist, and, while here, was found out by Dr. Sleigh, one of his fellow students at Edinburgh, who liberally shared his purse with him, and encouraged him to commence practitioner. With this vicw, he settled, if any measure of our poet deserves that epithet, in