Images de page
PDF
ePub

niggard nature had denied. It was only with his pen and in the solitude of his closet that we could discover Goldsmith at full length. Here his friends enjoyed an undisputed preeminence in the contest, and they exercised to the utmost all the rights of the victors. Much as we revere the memory of the man, we can but mingle a smile with our respect, when we observe the rueful countenance he cast upon the company, when his joke went unrewarded by a smile. Full of confidence that his friends would follow suit, he led the way by an obstreperous laugh, until the mischievously demure faces of the company recalled him to himself. This inequality between his tongue and pen, resulted from that inconsiderate ardour that prompted him to seize the opportunity presented for a triumph, which when occupied left no time for reflection afterwards. His post was taken and in the flurry and agitation of the moment he was compelled to fight his way through, with almost a certainty of defeat. His friends, on the other hand, cool and collected, sensible of their advantages, were preparing a malicious laugh at the jester instead of his jokes. We have not the smallest doubt, that Goldsmith would, in those moments, voluntarily have bartered all his fame and hopes as an author, to have been honourably acquit of such mortifying embarrassments. This propensity to seize the occasion presented for a victory, without consulting his means, was the cause of many of his misfortunes. When Burke had astonished the house of Commons by his eloquence, the conversation of the club, of which our author was a member, was turned to that point, and Goldsmith briskly declared, that eloquence was merely an art, and that he himself, without preparation, could pronounce as good an oration in English, Latin, or Greek. He was taken at his word, and required to mount the table, and to pronounce a Greek oration on the spur of the occasion. Goldsmith, not considering for a moment the degrading nature of the request, without a single thought in his brains, mounts the table, and to his own astonishment and expectation of the company, was incapable of uttering a word. This hurry of the mind is characteristic of the Irish, and the parent of those blunders denominated bulls. This habit was a neverfailing source of mortification to poor Goldsmith, of which

Garrick never lost an opportunity to reap the advantage. The familiarity of his manners was such, and his frankness so unbounded, as to deprive him of all the influence of personal dignity. Whatever incident burthened his mind, however much its revelation might tend to his personal disgrace, was freely communicated, and it may be made a question, whether his friends were not as accurately acquainted with the state of his own feelings, as he was himself. This gave them in every contest, a decided preeminence; they so perfectly knew his weak points of character, that he was at all times a harmless instrument in their hands. Such habits of unrestrained intercourse, and of unsparing communication impaired in the eyes of his friends that reverence which the peculiar lustre of his pen was so calculated to inspire. They forgot the powerful, the pathetic and exquisitely beautiful writer, in the simple, artless individual, who was thus made the toy of the table. Had this freedom been confined merely to their habits of personal intercourse, it might have passed off with other levities of the moment unregarded. But when his friends presume so far as to suffer that opinion to pollute the pages of their books, it then may become the subject of animadversion with equal severity and justice. Mr. Cumberland it seems was present at the club, when a play of Goldsmith's was about to be acted. Goldsmith was himself present likewise, and shewed some embarrassment in the company of Cumberland, as they were both at that time writers who were candidates for dramatic applause. However, surmounting all his embarrassments, he thus accosted Mr. Cumberland, with that amiable frankness for which his character was so distinguished; "You write for fame, I write for money, and care very little about fame." We have no doubt such was the precise opinion of Oliver Goldsmith. But how does Mr. Cumberland comport himself on this occasion? In a strain of affected superiority he swells in his chair, and inserts this paragraph in his memoirs: "I really felt for the distresses of the amiable poet." He mentions that his intentions were benevolent towards him, and that he was ever disposed to render him kind offices. Nay, not content with this, and sweltering under the influence of the compliment that the amiable modesty of Goldsmith conferred,

he sneers at his talents for the drama. And did Mr. Cumberland believe that the opinion Goldsmith expressed was in conformity to the opinion of the world? "Felt for the distresses of the amiable poet!" and was Goldsmith to be a pensioner on the bounty of Richard Cumberland? Was Cumberland blind to a glory that outdazzled his own? Did he really believe that Goldsmith, whatever might be his expectations, was to be abandoned by posterity to oblivion? Yes, he did; and whatever may be the merits of Cumberland, the fact is undeniable, he harboured a mean jealousy towards cotemporary writers. He felt that whatever applause was bestowed on them, detracted so much from his merit. Another weakness in the character of Goldsmith was credulity; this made him the dupe of every species of imposition, and what is very singular, he never reformed by experience. Knaves without the slightest claim to charity were sure of imposing on his benevolence, whenever he had funds at command. This extreme liability to deception resulted from his abhorrence to contemplate a spectacle so base, as a detection of such falsehood represents. Minds of strong sensibility, indulging in the luxury such feelings excite, loathe the thought that all this may result from tales of artificial distress, and would prefer being the dupe of such deception rather than to hazard by detection the violation of feelings so sacred. It may generally be remarked, that persons inheriting strong sensibilities, are always prone to be credulous. The tale has made its impression before incredulity has an opportunity to whisper a doubt, and afterwards we believe with the same energy that we feel. Goldsmith likewise inherited a peculiar irritability of temper." We may very well conceive how much this must have been managed to his disadvantage, when his frank and open demea nour are considered. Johnson with an irritability of temper, little, if at all inferior to Goldsmith's, by his stern and austere deportment, forbade all impertinence of intimate intercourse. He had too high a sense of his own dignity, even in the conversation of his dearest friends, to allow of improper liberties. This served him as a guard against such frequent trials of his temper; but far different was the fate of poor Goldsmith. His friends delighted to irritate him, for they knew that the slightest

advances towards a reconciliation on their part, would be met with entire forgiveness on his. Thus perfectly acquainted with the tone of all his feelings, they made it their employment to exhibit him in every ludicrous attitude, to enjoy his teazing distresses, to inflame his irritability, and then to ask and to receive his forgiveness. Whether such conduct perseveringly followed up, can be justified on the score, not of decency alone, but of morality also, is a question which we do not hesitate to answer decidedly in the negative. Had these gentlemen been the enemies, instead of the friends of Goldsmith, what more could they have done to torture his tranquillity? They would have lacked the opportunities they then enjoyed of disturbing his quiet; they would have lacked that intimate knowledge of his character and habits, that with the aid of their friendship they possessed. Surely there are seasons in which it is impertinent for our friends to trifle with us, and bounds beyond which even friendship is not warranted to go. Nor can we conceive of many characters more hateful than those, who, with the word friendship on their lips, are perpetually committing acts of open hostility to friendship. That fatal and abused word is pronounced as an opiate to every indignity, and must be borne with, because they only torture us to prove the strength of their attachments. What possible pleasure is derived to witness the vexations and sufferings of a heart that feels for our welfare, while we know ourselves to be the cause of such suffering and vexation, is beyond our power to imagine. Of such characters was Goldsmith the daily dupe: instead of humouring his innocent peculiarities, and hiding his little foibles, they sought every occasion to expose them both, for their merriment and laughter. But Goldsmith, although quick to take umbrage, and to do an offensive act when he did, was as speedy to repair a fault when he was sensible of having committed one. His servants would irritate him to offer them personal violence, with a full knowledge that they would receive money for such outrages as soon as resentment had subsided. His poverty has been exclusively charged to the account of his profusion; but this is both ungenerous and unjust. Lord Lyttleton the younger, professes to lay the whole blame of Goldsmith's poverty at his own door, be

cause he did not make what he might have made by his writings. Undoubtedly this is true; but allowing his lordship's postulate, still we contend no censure alights upon Oliver Goldsmith. He possessed a coy and virgin fear of being in any way instrumental in promoting human misery. Thus, when he sold his poem entitled "The Traveller," and received the bookseller's note for the money, he shewed the obligation to a friend, who remarked that it was a large sum considering the diminutive size of his poem. Oliver replied, I think so too, and I am afraid the poor man will suffer by his contract. I am resolved therefore to return the note and the bookseller shall pay me according to the sale of the poem; and this was accordingly done. Such peculiarities prevented him from bringing his talents to a favourable market. His lordship's censure is, therefore, for the most part unjust.

We know that nothing is easier, than for a man to loll at his ease and to censure with more philosophy than common sense, all such peculiarities. We are not answerable to them for our belief; we write not to them, and despair of making them converts to our opinions; but when they will condescend to inform us, why it has pleased Heaven to form one man with a nose longer than his neighbour's, we will then undertake to assign the reason why Heaven should endow another man with more sensibility than his neighbour. We will not attempt to disguise the fact; Goldsmith, notwithstanding his poverty, was incontrovertibly addicted to habits of profusion. His convivial habits, the company and conversation of his friends, who in spite of all their multiplied exertions to the contrary, were still dear to his heart, led him into expenses which his scanty finances were not at all times competent to bear. Besides, as he was a poet, he availed himself of a poet's license in paying a debt. It may seem a little singular that people in narrow circumstances, who know the value of credit, and how prone they are to require it, should not avail themselves of the earliest opportunities they have, punctually and honourably to discharge their debts, and thus establish their pretentions to credit, on solid and permanent grounds. But the fact is notoriously the reverse; they are always obtaining credit and always losing the credit when obtained. Probably it re

« PrécédentContinuer »