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•The misfortune of Goldsmith in conversation is this : he gces on without knowing how he is to get off. His genius is great, but his knowledge is small. As they say of a generous man, it is a pity he is not rich, we may say of Goldsmith, it is a pity he is not knowing. He would not keep his knowledge to himself.
I told him that Goldsmith had said to me a few days before, • As I take my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the tailor, so I take my religion from the priest.' I regretted this loose way of talking. Johnson: “Sir, he knows nothing; he has made up his mind about nothing.'
He owned that he thought Hawkesworth was one of his imitators, but he did not think Goldsmith was. Goldsmith, he said, had great merit. Boswell; “ But, sir, he is much indebted to you for his getting high in the public estimation.' Johnson: “Why, sir, he has perhaps got sooner to it by his intimacy with me.'
Goldsmith, though his vanity often excited him to occasional competition, had a very high regard for Johnson, which he at this time expressed in the strongest manner in the dedication of his comedy, entitled, “She Stoops to Conquer.'
We talked of the king's coming to see Goldsmith's new play. “I wish he would,' said Goldsmith; adding, however, with an affected indifference, .Not that it would do me the least good.' Johnson: Well then, sir, let us say it would do him good (laughing). No, sir, this affectation will not pass; it is mighty idle. In such a state as ours, who would not wish to please the chief magistrate?' Goldsmith I do wish to please him. I remember a line in Dryden,
“And every poet is the monarch's friend.”
It ought to be reversed.' Johnson: • Nay, there are finer lines in Dryden on this subject:
“For colleges on bounteous kings depend,
General Paoli observed, that successful rebels might. Martinelli: Happy rebellions.' Goldsmith: • We have no such phrase.' General Paoli: • But have you not the thing ?' Goldsmith: Yes : all our happy revolutions.
They have hurt our constitution, and will hurt it, till we mend it by another happy revolution.' I never before discovered that my friend Goldsmith had so much of the old prejudice in him.
General Paoli, talking of Goldsmith's new play, said, 'Il a fait un compliment très-gracieux à une certaine grande dame;' meaning a duchess of the first rank.
I expressed a doubt whether Goldsmith intended it, in order that I might hear the truth from himself. It, perhaps, was not quite fair to endeavour to bring him to a confession, as he might not wish to avow positively his taking part against the court. He smiled and hesitated. The General at once relieved him, by this beautiful image: • Monsieur Goldsmith est comme la mer, qui jette des perles et beaucoup d'autres belles choses, sans s'en appercevoir.' Goldsmith: “Très bien dit, et très élégamment.'
He said, Goldsmith should not be for ever attempting to shine in conversation: he has not temper for it, he is so much mortified when he fails. Sir, a game of jokes is composed partly of skill, partly of chance, as a man may be beat at times by one who has not the tenth part of his wit. Now Goldsmith's putting himself against another, is like a man laying a hundred to one who cannot spare the hundred. It is not worth a man's while. A man should not lay a hundred to one, unless he can easily spare it, though he has a hundred chances for him: he can get but a guinea, and he may lose a hundred Goldsmith is in this state. When he contends, if he gets the better, it is a very little addition to a man of his literary reputation: if he does not get the better, he is miserably vexed.'
Goldsmith, however, was often very fortunate in his witty contests, even when he entered the lists with Johnson himself. Sir Joshua Reynolds was in company with them one day, when Goldsmith said that he thought he could write a good fable, mentioned the simplicity which that kind of composition requires, and observed that in most fables the animals introduced seldom talk in character. • For instance (said he), the fable of the little fishes, who saw birds fly over their heads, and, envying them, petitioned Jupiter to be changed into birds. The skill (continued he) consists in making them talk like little fishes.' While he indulged himself in this fanciful reverie, he observed Johnson shaking his sides, and laughing. Upon which he smartly proceeded, Why, Dr. Johnson, this is not so easy as you seem to think; for if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like whales.'
During this argument, Goldsmith sat in restless agitation, from a wish to get in and shine. Finding himself excluded, he had taken his hat to go away, but remained for some time with it in his hand, like a gamester, who, at the close of a long night, lingers for a little while, to see if he can have a favourable opening to finish with success. Once when he was beginning to speak, he found himself overpowered by the loud voice of Johnson, who was at the opposite end of the table, and did not perceive Goldsmith's attempt. Thus disappointed of his wish to obtain the attention of the company, Goldsmith in a passion threw down his hat, looking angrily at Johnson, and exclaiming in a bitter tone, Take it.' When Toplady was going to speak, Johnson uttered some sound, which led Goldsmith to think that he was beginning again, and taking the words from Toplady. Upon which he seized this opportunity of venting his own envy and spleen, under the pretext of supporting another person : "Sir,' said he to Johnson, the gentleman has heard you patiently for an hour; pray allow us now to hear him.' Johnson (sternly): “Sir, I was not interrupting the gentleman; I was only giving him a signal of my attention. Sir, you are impertinent.' Goldsmith made no reply, but continued in the company for some time.
He and Mr. Langton and I went together to the club, where we found Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick, and some other members, and amongst them our friend Goldsmith, who sat silently brooding over Johnson's reprimand to him after dinner. Johnson perceived this, and said aside to some of us, “I'll make Goldsmith forgive me;' and then called to him in a loud voice, Dr. Goldsmith, something passed today where you and I dined: I ask your pardon.' Goldsmith answered placidly, “It must be much from you, sir, that I take ill.' And so at once the difference was over, and they were on as easy terms as ever, and Goldsmith rattled away as usual.
In our way to the club to-night, when I regretted that Goldsmith would, upon every occasion, endeavour to shine, by which he often exposed himself, Mr. Langton observed that he was not like Addison, who was content with the fame of his writings, and did not aim also at excellency in conversation, for which he found himself unfit; and that he said to a lady, who complained of his having talked little in company, Madam, I have but ninepence in ready money, but I can draw for a thousand pounds.' I observed that Goldsmith had a great deal of gold in his cabinet, but, not content with that, was always taking out his purse. Johnson: "Yes, sir, and that so often an empty purse.'
Goldsmith's incessant desire of being conspicuous in company was the occasion of his sometimes appearing to such disadvantage as one should hardly have supposed possible in a man of his genius.
When his literary reputation had risen deservedly high, and his society was much courted, he became very jealous of the extraordinary attention which was everywhere paid to Johnson. One evening, in a circle of wits, he found fault with me for talking of Johnson as entitled to the honour of unquestionable superiority. “Sir,' said he, ‘ you are for making a monarchy of what should be a republic.'
He was still more mortified, when, talking in a company with fluent vivacity, and, as he flattered himself, to the admiration of all who were present, a German, who sat next him, and perceived Johnson rolling himself as if about to speak, suddenly stopped him, saying, “Stay, stay, Doctor Johnson is going to say something.' This was, no doubt, very provoking, especially to one so irritable as Goldsmith, who frequently mentioned it with strong expressions of indignation.
It may also observed, that Goldsmith was sometimes content to be treated with an easy familiarity, but, upon occasions, would be consequential and important. An instance of this occurred in a small particular. Johnson had a way of contracting the names of his friends ; as Beauclerc, Beau ; Boswell, Bozzy ; Langton, Lanky; Murphy, Mur; Sheridan, Sherry. I remember one day, when Tom Davies was telling that Dr. Johnson said, “We are all in labour for a name to Goldy's play,' Goldsmith seemed displeased that such a liberty should be taken with his name, and said, I have often desired him not to call me Goldy.'
Chambers, you find, is gone far, and poor Goldsmith is gone much farther. He died of a fever, exasperated, as I believe, by the fear of distress. He had raised money and squandered it by every artifice of acquisition, and folly of expense. But let not his frailties be remembered; he was a very great man.
•Goldsmith,' he said, referred every thing to vanity: his virtues, and his vices too, were from that motire. He was not a social man. He never exchanged mind with you.'
He said • Goldsmith was a plant that flowered late. There appeared nothing remarkable about him when he was young; though, when he had got high in fame, one of his friends begun to recollect something of his being distinguished at college. Goldsmith, in the same manner, recollected more of that friend's early years, as he grew a greater man.'