Page images

One of Iris last publications was the History of the Earth and Animated Nature, before mentioned, in 8 volumes octavo, for which he received the sum of £850, and during the time he was engaged in this undertaking, he had received the copy money for his comedy, and the profits of his third nights; but his biographer informs us," he was so liberal in his donations, and profuse in his disbursements, he was unfortunately so attached to the pernicious practice of gaming; and from his unsettled babits of life, his supplies being precarious and uncertain, he had been so little accustomed to regulate his expenses by any system of economy, that his debts far exceeded his resources; and he was obliged to take up money in advance from the managers of the two theatres, for comedies which he engaged to furnish to each ; and from the booksellers, for publications which he was to finish for the press. All these engagements he fully intended, and doubtless would have been able to fulfil with the strictest honour, as he had done on former occa. sions in similar exigences; but his premature death unhappily prevented the exc. cution of his plans, and gave occasion to malignity to impute these failures to de. liberate intention, which were merely the result of inevitable mortality.”

Some time before his death, although they were not printed until after that event, he wrote his poems, The Haunch of Venison, Retaliation, and some of the smaller pieces admitted into his works. But the chief project he had at heart was an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, in the execution of which it is said he had engaged all his literary friends and the members of the literary club, but this was prevented by his death, which is thus related by his bio. grapher:

"He was subject to severe fits of the strangury,owing probably to the intemperate manner in which he confined himself to the desk, when he was employed in his compilations, often indeed for several weeks successively without taking exercise. On such occasions he usually hired lodgings in some farm-house a few miles from London, and wrote without cessation till he had finished his task. He then carried his copy to the bookseller, received his compensation, and gave him. self up perhaps for months without interruption, to the gaieties, amusements, and societies of London.

6. And here it may be observed, once for all, that his elegant and enchanting style in prose flowed from him with such facility, that in whole quires of his histories, Animated Nature, &c. he had seldom occasion to correct or alter a single word ; but in his verses, especially his two great ethic poems, nothing could exceed the patient and incessant revisal which he bestowed upon them. To save himself the trouble of transcription, he wrote the lines in his first copy very wide, and would so fill up the intermediate space with reiterated corrections, that scarcely a word of his first effusions was left unaltered.

" In the spring of 1774, being embarrassed in his circumstances, and attacked with his usual malady, his indisposition, aggravated too by mental distress, terminated in a fever, which on the 25th of March had become exceedingly violent, when he called in medical assistance. Although he had then takon ipecacuanha to promote a vomit, he would proceed to the use of James's fever powder, contrary to the advice of the medical gentlemen who attended him. From the application of these powders he had received the greatest benefit in a similar at, tack nearly two years before, but then they were administered by Dr. James himself in person. This happened in September 1772. But now the progress of the disease was as unfavourable as possible; for from the time above mentioned every symptom became more and more alarming, till Monday, April 4th, when he died, aged forty-five."

His remains were privately interred in the Temple burial.ground, on Saturday, April 9th ; but afterwards, by a subscription raised among his friends, and chiefly by his brethren of the club, a marble monument was erected to his memory in West. minster Abbey, with an inscription by Dr. Johnson, the history of which the reas der may find in Boswell's Life, where are likewise many curious traits of our poet's variegated character.

“ He was,” adds his biographer, “ generous in the extreme, and so strongly affected by compassion, that he has been known at midnight to abandon bis rest, in order to procure relief and an asylum for a poor dying object who was left destitute in the streets. Nor was there ever a mind whose general feelings were more benevolent and friendly. He is kowever supposed to have been often soured by jealousy or envy, and many little instances are mentioned of this tendency in his character : but whatever appeared of this kind was a mere momen• tary sensation, which he knew not how like other men to conceal: it was never the result of principle, or the suggestion of reflection : it never em bittered his heart, nor influenced his conduct. Nothing could be more amiable than the ge. neral features of his mind : those of his person were not perhaps so engage ing.

66 His stature was under the middle size, his body strongly built, and his limbs more sturdy than elegant; his complexion was pale, his forehead low, his face almost round and pitted with the small-pox, but marked with strong lines of thinking. His first appearance was not captivating : but when he grew easy and cheerful in company, he relaxed into such a display of good-humour as soon remored every unfavourable impression.

66 Yet it must be acknowledged that in company he did not appear to so much advantage as might have been expected from his genius and talents. He was too apt to speak without reflection, and without a sufficient knowledge of the subject: which made Johnson observe of him, " No man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had.” Indeed with all his defects, (to conclude nearly in the words of that great critic) “ as a writer he was of the most distinguished abilities. Whatever he composed he did it better than any other man could. And whether we consider him as a poet, as - comic writer, or as an historian (so far as regards his powers of composition), he was one of the first writers of his time, and will ever stand in the foremost class."

Although this character may be thought in some respects exaggerated, it cannot be denied that the indelible stamp of genius rests on his Vicar of Wakefield; and on his poems, The Traveller, Deserted Village, and Edwin and Angelina, la description, pathos, and even sublimity, he has not been exceeded by any of the poets of his age, except that in the latter quality he must yield to Gray. But it is une necessary to enter into a minute examination of poems whose popularity for sa many years has known no abatement. Those who wish to ascertain his precise sank among English poets will find many valuable remarks in an Essay on the Poetry of Goldsmith, by Dr. Aikin, prefixed to a beautiful edition of his poems published in 1804; and in a Critica! Life of Dr. Goldsmith, by Mr.Egerton Brydges, in the fifth volume of his Censura Literaria.

The present edition of his poems is copied from the octavo principally, with the addition of the Threnodia Augustalis, a piece which has hitherto escaped the re. Searches of his editors. It is now printed from a copy given by the author to his friend Joseph Cradock, esq. of Gumley, author of Zobeide, &c. and obligingly lent to me by Mr. Nichols. If it adds little to his fame, it exhibits a curious instance of the facility with which he gratified bis employers on a very short notice.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

| the powerful, it is still in greater danger from THE TRAVELLER: OR, A PRO. the mistaken efforts of the learned to improve SPECT OF SOCIETY.

it. What criticisms have we not heard of late

in favour of blank verse, and Pindaric odes, FIRST PRINTED IN 1765.

chorusses, anapests and jambics, alliterative care, and happy negligence! Every absurdity has

now a champion to defend it; and as he is geTO THE REV. HENRY GOLDSMITH. * nerally much in the wrong, so he has always

much to say; for errour is ever talkative. DEAR SIR,

But there is an enemy to this art still more LAM sensible that the friendship between us dangerous, I mean party. Party entirely distorts can acquire no new force from the ceremonies the judgment, and destroys the taste. When of a dedication; and perhaps it demands an the mind is once infected with this disease, it excuse thus to prefix your name to my attempts, can only find pleasure in what contributes to which you decline giving with your own. But increase the distemper. Like the tiger, that as a part of this poem was formerly written to seldom desists from pursuing man after having you from Switzerland, the whole can now, with once preyed upon human flesh, the reader, who propriety, be only inscribed to you. It will also has once gratified his appetite with calumny, Throw a light upon many parts of it, when the makes ever after the most agreeable feast upon reader understands that it is addressed to a man, murdered reputation. Such readers generally who, despising fame and fortune, has retired admire some half-witted thing, who wants to be early to happiness and obscurity, with an income thought a bold man, having lost the character of forty pounds a year.

of a wise one. Him they dignify with the name I now perceive, my dear brother, the wisdom of poet: bis tawdry lampoons are called satires, of your humble choice. You have entered upon his turbulence is said to be force, and his phrenzy a sacred office; where the harvest is great, and fire. the labourers are but few ; while you have left 1 What reception a poem may find, which has the field of ambition, where the labourers are neither abuse, party, nor blank verse, to support many, and the harvest not worth carrying away. it, I cannot tell, nor am I solicitous to know. But of all kinds of ambition, what from the re- My aims are right. Without espousing the cause finement of the times, from different systems of of any party, I have attempted to moderate the criticism, and from the divisions of party, that rage of all. I have endeavoured to show, that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest. there may be equal happiness in states that are

Poetry makes a principal amusement among differently governed from our own ; that every unpolished nations; but in a country verging state has a particular principle of happiness, and to the extremes of refinement, painting and mu that this principle in each may be carried to a sic come in for a share. As these offer the fee mischievous excess. There are few can judge ble mind a less laborious entertainment, they at better than yourself how far these positions are first rival poetry, and at length supplant her, illustrated in this poem. they engross all that favour once shewn to her,

I am, and, though but younger sisters, seize upon the

dear sir, elder's birth-right.

your most affectionate brother, Yet, bowever this art may be neglected by


« EelmineJätka »