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by the loss of all the treasures of his genius and the contributions of his pen.
Oliver Goldsmith began at this time to write for the stage; and it is to be lamented that he did not begin at an earlier period of life to turn his .genius to dramatic compositions, and much more to be lamented, that, after he had begun, the succeeding period of his life was so soon cut off. There is no doubt but his genius, when more familiarized to the business, would have inspired him to accomplish great things. His first comedy of the Good-natured Man' was read and applauded in its manuscript by Edmund Burke, and the circle in which he then lived and moved. Under such patronage it came with those testimonials to the director of Covent Garden Theatre, as could not fail to open all the avenues to the stage, and bespeak all the favour and attention from the performers and the public, that the applauding voice of him, whose applause was fame itself, could give it. This comedy has enough to justify the good opinion of its literary patron, and secure its author against any loss of reputation; for it has the stamp of a man of talents upon it, though its popularity with the audience did not quite keep pace with the expectations that were grounded on the fiat it had antecedently been honoured with. It was a first effort, however, and did not discourage its ingenious author from invoking his muse a second time. It was now, whilst his labours were in perfection, that I first met him at the British Coffee-house, as I have already related, somewhat out of place. He dined with us as a visitor, introduced, as I think, by Sir Joshua Reynolds; and we held a consultation upon the naming of his comedy, which some of the company had read, and which he detailed to the rest after his manner with a great deal of good-humour. Somebody suggested, She Stoops to Conquer,' – and that title was agreed upon. When I perceived an embarrassment in his manner towards me, which I could readily account for, I lost no tiine to put him at his ease, and I Aatter myself I was successful. As my heart was ever warm towards my contemporaries, I did not counterfeit, but really felt a cordial interest
in his behalf; and I had soon the pleasure to perceive that he credited me for my sincerity. "You and I,' said he, “kave very different motives for resorting to the stage. I write for money, and care little about fame. I was touched by this melancholy confession, and from that moment busied myself assiduously amongst all my connexions in his cause. The whole company pledged themselves to the support of the ingenious poet, and faithfully kept their promise to him. In fact, he needed all that could be done for him; as Mr. Colman, then manager of Covent Garden Theatre, protested against the comedy, when as yet he had not struck upon a name for it. Johnson at length stood forth in all his terrors as champion for the piece, and backed by us his client and retainers demanded a fair trial. Colman again protested, but, with that salvo for his own reputation, liberally lent his stage to one of the most eccentric productions that ever found its way to it, and She Stoops to Conquer' was put into rehearsal. We were not over-sanguine of success, but perfectly determined to struggle hard for our author; we accordingly assembled our strength at the Shakespeare Tavern in a considerable body for an early dinner, where Samuel Johnson took the chair at the head of a long table, and was the life and soul of the corps; the Poet took post silently by his side with the Burkes, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Fitzherbert, Caleb Whitefoord, and a phalanx of North British predetermined applauders, under the banner of Major Neilly, all good men and true. Our illustrious president was in unimitable glee, and poor Goldsmith that day took all his raillery as patiently and complacently as my friend Boswell any day, or every day of his life. In the meantime we did not forget our duty; and though we had a better comedy going, in which Johnson was chief actor, we betook ourselves in good time to our separate and allotted posts, and waited the awful drawing up of the curtain. As our stations were preconcerted, so were our signals for plaudits arranged and determined upon, in a manner that gave every one his cue, where to look for them, and how to follow them up. We had amongst us a very worthy and efficient member, long since lost to his friends and the world at large, Adam
Drummond, of amiable memory, who was gifted by nature with the most sonorous, and at the same time the most contagivus, laugh that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the horse of the son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the theatre could not drown it. This kind and ingenuous friend fairly forewarned us, that he knew no more when to give his fire than the cannon did that was planted on a battery. He desired therefore to bave a flapper at his elbow, and I had the honour to be deputed to that office. I planted him in an upper box, pretty nearly over the stage, in full view of the pit and galleries, and perfectly well situated to give the echo all its play through the hollows and recesses of the theatre. The success of our manoeuvres was complete. All eyes were upon Jobnson, who sat in a front row of a side box; and, when he laughed, everybody thought themselves warranted to roar. In the meantime my friend followed signals with a rattle so irresistibly comic, that, when he had repeated it several times, the attention of the spectators was so engrossed by his person and performances, that the progress of the play seemed likely to become a secondary object, and I found it prudent to insinuate to him that he might halt his music without any prejudice to the author. But, alas! it was now too late to rein him in: he had laughed upon my signal where he had found no joke, and now unluckily he fancied that he found a joke in almost every thing that was said; so that nothing in nature could be more malapropos than some of his bursts every now and then were. These were dangerous moments, for the pit began to take umbrage; but we carried our play through, and triumphed, not only over Colman's judgment, but our own.
As the life of poor Oliver Goldsmith was now fast approaching to its period, I conclude my account of him with gratitude for the epitaph he bestowed on me in his poem called • Retaliation.'
It was upon a proposal started by Edmund Burke, that a party of friends, who had dined together at Sir Joshua Rey. nolds's and my house, should meet at the St. James's Coffeehouse; which accordingly took place, and was occasionally repeated with much festivity and good fellowship. Dr. Ber. nard, Dean of Derry, a very amiable and old friend of mine, Dr. Douglas, since Bishop of Salisbury, Johnson, David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund and Richard Burke, Hickey, with two or three others, constituted our party. At one of these meetings, an idea was suggested of extemporary epitaphs upon the parties present; pen and ink were called for, and Garrick off-band wrote an epitaph with a good deal of humour upon poor Goldsmith, who was the first in jest, as he proved to be in reality, that we committed to the grave. The Dean also gave him an epitaph, and Sir Joshua illuminated the Dean's verses with a sketch of his bust in pen and ink inimitably caricatured. Neither Johnson nor Burke wrote any thing; and when I perceived Oliver was rather sore, and seemed to watch me with that kind of attention which indicated his expectation of something in the same kind of burlesque with theirs, I thought it time to press the joke no further, and wrote a few couplets at a side-table, which when I had finished, and was called on by the company to exhibit, Goldsmith with much agitation besought me to spare him, and I was about to tear them, when Johnson wrested them out of my hand, and in a loud voice read them at the table. I have now lost all recollection of them, and in fact they were little worth remembering; but as they were serious and complimentary, the effect they had upon Goldsmith was the more pleasing for being so entirely unexpected. The con. cluding line, which is the only one I can call to mind, was, –
" All mourn the poet, I lament the man.'
This I recollect, because he repeated it several times, and seemed much gratified by it. At our next meeting he produced his epitaphs as they stand in the little posthumous poem above mentioned, and this was the last time he ever enjoyed the company of his friends.
As he had served up the company under the similitude of various sorts of meat, I had in the meantime figured them under that of liquor; which little poem I rather think was printed, but of this I am not sure. Goldsmith sickened and died, and we had one concluding meeting at my house, when it was decided to publish his Retaliation, and Johnson at the same time undertook to write an epitaph for our lamented friend, to whom we proposed to erect a monument by subscription in Westminster Abbey. This epitaph Johnson executed; but in the criticism that was attempted against it, and in the Round-Robin signed at Beauclerc's house, I had no part. I had no acquaintance with that gentleman, and was never in his house in my life.
Thus died Oliver Goldsmith, in his chamber in the Temple, at a period of life when his genius was yet in its vigour, and fortune seemed disposed to smile upon him. I have heard Dr. Johnson relate with infinite humour the circumstance of his rescuing him from a ridiculous dilemma by the purchase-money of his Vicar of Wakefield, which he sold on his behalf to Dodsley; and, as I think, for the sum of ten pounds only. * He had run up a debt with his landlady for board and lodging of some few pounds, and was at his wits-end how to wipe off the score and keep a roof over his head, except by closing with a very staggering proposal on her part, and taking his creditor to wife, whose charms were very far from alluring, whilst her demands were extremely urgent. In this crisis of his fate, he was found by Johnson in the act of meditating on the melancholy alternative before him.
He showed Johnson his manuscript of The Vicar of Wakefield, but seemed to be without any plan, or even hope, of rais. ing money upon the disposal of it: when Johnson cast his eye upon it, he discovered something that gave him hope, and immediately took it to Dodsley, who paid down the price above mentioned in ready money, and added an eventual condition upon its future sale. Johnson described the precautions he took in concealing the amount of the sum he had in hand, which he prudently administered to him by a guinea at a time. In the event he paid off the landlady's score, and redeemed the person of his friend from her embraces. Goldsmith had the joy of finding his ingenious work succeed beyond
* £40 to Newbery ; see page ciii