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he subsisted at all remains a marvel to-day. He was thirty years old, cast off by his family, unknown to the world, in sore anxiety for his daily bread, and with no profession.
Although his attempt in literature with Griffiths had not been successful, it had made Goldsmith acquainted with the ways of the booksellers and the life of the literary hack. Such work in literature, indeed, offered the readiest chance of livelihood for a man of such habits and inclinations as Goldsmith, so he drifted into a life of intermittent hackwork for the publishers.
It is a curious fact in Goldsmith's literary career that his masterpieces were written in the hours snatched surreptitiously from his hackwork. He was almost continuously employed after 1759, but the prodigious product of his labors for the booksellers is practically forgotten now, whereas he is famous for the few poems and plays written under the urge of no contract. His Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe, an endeavor to prove that criticism is and always has been the foe of literature and art, appeared in 1659; his contributions (he was the sole contributor) to Wilkie's short-lived magazine, the Bee, appeared in the autumn of the same year; his contributions to Smollett's British Magazine and to Newberry's daily newspaper, the Public Ledger, were spread over the next years; his papers for the Citizen of the World, the most famous of the immediate successors of Addison's Spectator, followed up to 1762; his Life of Richard Nash, a bookseller's task, appeared in the fall of 1762.
These works we have mentioned do not, with the exception of the Citizen of the World, contribute anything toward our modern estimate of Goldsmith's worth, but in their own time they gained for him the recognition of discerning men and certain friendships which made the years following the happiest of his erratic life. Johnson himself, the dictator in his contemporary world of letters, sought Goldsmith out and made him one of that circle of celebrities that formed the Club. Goldsmith became established on terms of intimacy with Hogarth, Reynolds, Burke, Beauclerk, Hawkins, and Dr. Nugent. His finances, too, improved wonderfully, although his impecuniosity never changed. His annual income has been estimated at the equivalent of two hundred pounds a year; he moved into better lodgings; he could even entertain a little, a little supper for Johnson and Percy, for example. · The story of the production of The Vicar of Wakefield, the first of his great successes, is famil
iar. Boswell gives it in Johnson's own words thus: “I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was drest, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit, told the landlady I should soon return, and having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.”
Meanwhile, Goldsmith bad prepared a poem for publication. The Traveller, first planned as early as 1755, did not appear until 1764. It came at an auspicious moment for its author's fame. Poetry had languished in England since the supremacy of Pope. Akenside, Armstrong, Churchill, and Smollett were the most prominent names of the period; Gray wrote little and had become a confirmed recluse; Young was in his last years. Goldsmith's short poem struck a new note. Its worth, recognized at once by a select few, became gradually known to a wide circle of readers. Johnson appreciated it at once — “There has not been so fine a poem since Pope's time,” he said to Boswell - and resented any implication of criticism.
Friday, January 29, 1768, Goldsmith first appeared in the role of dramatist with The GoodNatur'd Man. This little comedy, the Prologue to which was written by Johnson, achieved a fair success, and netted him financially the equivalent of about six hundred pounds. His spirits rose. He at once bought and furnished luxuriously a new suite of rooms, provided himself with servants, and entertained lavishly. He had become a “ somebody" in the world, and his optimistic, improvident nature led him to think his station secure for the rest of his life. Never did any man live more in the thought of the present day than Goldsmith.
His temporary gayety burdened him with a heavy load of debt, which in turn forced him back into hackwork for the publishers. He had not at any time been free from this. Even during the years when he was planning The Good-Natur'd Man, he was busy with reviews, compilations and the like to meet his current expenses. His name now had become known, however, and his value to the publishers rose accordingly. He worked assiduously (for him) on a History of Rome for Davies; closed a contract with Griffiths (about 1769) for a History of Animated Nature, to appear in eight volumes, and A History of England, from the Birth of the British Empire to the Death of George the Second, to appear in four octavo volumes, and a Life of Thomas Parnell. It must be taken into account that these books were by no means products of original research: they were adaptations, abridgments, and translations rendered in his own simple clear style at the demand of the booksellers. The amount of such work which he contracted to produce was colossal, it is true, but the pay was good, — History of Rome, two hundred and fifty pounds; History of England, five hundred pounds, for example, — and the task not difficult. The pity of it is that the author of The Vicar of Wakefield, The Deserted Village, and She Stoops to Conquer should have used up his precious years in such work as compilation and adaptation.
His greatest success in poetry was written between whiles and appeared in 1770. The Deserted Village was foretold in a couplet in The Traveller: —
Have we not seen at pleasure's lordly call
Simplicity, naturalness, sympathetic insight, and tenderness set this poem apart from the cold artificial works of the preceding age. With sure fingers, Goldsmith plays upon our memories and emotions in the portrayal of the simple rustic life in the village. The place of this poem has never in the successive changes of literary fashion been disputed. It is truly universal in its
He was freed from care and worry for a short time only. After a trip to the Continent and a whirl at social diversion, Goldsmith again had to bury himself in his writing to pay his current expenses. In the midst of the great compilations he bad undertaken, however, he planned another coup to fill his purse. The play, The Good-Natur'd Man, had brought him a small fortune, so he tried again at a play for success. She Stoops to Conquer, the brilliant non-sentimental comedy, despaired of by its producer, was the result. The natural foolery of this comedy made an immediate success for it in its own day and has secured for it in English comedy a permanent place as a classic.
His last years were sad. His successes provided him with funds, but not with the wisdom to use them. His debts, instead of being removed, actually increased. He is estimated to have had during the last seven years of his life an income equivalent to eight hundred pounds a year today, which for a bachelor should have insured comfort and independence, but the improvident Goldsmith would have been poor with ten times that amount. His purse was ever open, his habits were careless and extravagant, he always spent twice what he was in prospect to receive. He proceeded to contract with the booksellers again for long compilations, in many cases receiving substantial sums in advance. The optimistic cheerfulness which had been his most prominent characteristic wore away with his continual worries — Reynolds estimated, said Dr. Johnson, that he owed not less than two thousand pounds. His long sedentary habits told on his constitution, and on March 25, 1774, he took to his bed. April 4, he died. April 9 he was privately buried in Temple Church graveyard.
"His associates," writes Macaulay, "seem to have regarded him with kindness, which, in spite of their admiration of his writings, was not unmixed with contempt. In truth, there was in his character much to love, but very little to respect.”
WILLIAM COWPER WILLIAM COWPER was born at the rectory of Great Berkhampstead, November 26, 1731. He was descended from an ancient and honorable family. His great-grandfather was Sir William Cowper, Bart.; his grandfather was a judge in the court of common pleas; his great-uncle was the Lord Chancellor under Anne and George I; his father, the Reverend John Cowper, was rector of Berkhampstead and later chaplain to George II. His mother was Anne Donne, of the same race as the poet John Donne and, according to the claim of the family, a descendant from Henry III. She died when he was but six years old. This bereavement left upon the sensitive child a feeling of irreparable loss which continued throughout his whole life.
After his mother's death, Cowper was entered in a large boarding-school. There he suffered intensely. With the brutality of boyhood, his more robust companions took various opportunities to tease and maltreat him. He speaks in later years of having been “singled out from all the other boys by a lad of about fifteen years of age as a proper object upon whom he might let loose the cruelty of his temper." His experiences inspired his plea for home education instead of boarding-school education in the poem Tirocinium, written and published near the close of his life.
From this boarding-school, after a period of two years when he was under constant treatment for eye trouble, he was sent (1741) to Westminster. His life there was more endurable: be speaks of his skill at cricket and football and occasionally of his enjoyment of life. His education was, of course, along the classical lines regularly pursued in the schools of the time. He seems to have made no noteworthy record in his studies.
When he left Westminster in 1749 he was articled to an attorney, Mr. Chapman, to study law. After three years with Mr. Chapman, Cowper took chambers for himself in the Temple, where he desultorily read law. He finally was formally called to the Bar, but his interest never was in the profession. He spent much of his time in trying his hand at literature, associating with a little group of journalists and littérateurs who composed the Nonsense Club — Bonnell, Thornton, Colman, Lloyd, and others — and contributing a few papers to the Connoiseur and the St. James Chronicle. He did very little in poetry, just a few verses to the conventional “Delia" and an epistle to his friend Lloyd.
His prospects at law were abruptly terminated by an event wholly unforeseen and peculiarly terrible. When he was thirty-two years old, he was nominated to the office of Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords. The position was one which he was fully able to fill and which would have yielded him a competency for life. For a while he devoted himself with all his powers to special study in preparation for his duties, but as the time drew near for him to make his public appearance, he fell into the deepest melancholy. He foresaw possible criticism and opposition, he felt implied hostility in every paragraph of the daily journals, even in the glances of passers-by, he could not eat or sleep, his imaginary troubles so wrought upon his mind that at the last he became insane and attempted suicide. The nomination was, of course, withdrawn as soon as his condition was known and he was placed in the private asylum of a Dr. Cotton at St. Alban's in December of 1763. There he remained, kindly cared for, for many months.
His recovery from his madness was accompanied by a sudden religious fervor. He writes of having taken up the Bible one morning and perused the third chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: "Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon in His blood, and the fulness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed and received the Gospel.”
His condition when he left the asylum was pitiful. Continuance in the law was impossible, his friends were lost, a large part of his personal funds were exhausted. His family contributed a sum sufficient to yield him a small income, and after a time, settled him in the village of Huntington.
Here began his famous friendship with Mrs. Unwin, a friendship pure and firm through all the intervening years until her death. Cowper was brought into contact with the Unwins through their mutual religious feeling. The Unwins — the Reverend William Unwin, his wife Mary, and their son and daughter — were, like Cowper, converts to the Methodist movement that was the religious sensation of the period. In his new enthusiasm, increased perhaps by his belief that he had been saved from his madness by the direct interposition of the Almighty, Cowper desired nothing more than the opportunity to live in perpetual converse with religious people upon religious subjects. Attracted to the Unwins by their similar enthusiasm, he soon became a boarder in their house. He was from the first strongly attracted toward Mrs. Unwin. "That woman is a blessing to me,” he wrote, "and I never see her without being the better for her company.” He describes upon another occasion his usual day: “We breakfast commonly between eight and nine; till eleven we read either the Scripture, or the sermons of some faithful preacher of those holy mysteries; at eleven we attend divine service, which is per formed here twice every day; and from twelve to three we separate, and amuse ourselves as we please. During that interval, I either read in my own apartment, or walk, or ride, or work in the garden. We seldom sit an hour after dinner, but, if the weather permits, adjourn to the garden, where, with Mrs. Unwin and her son, I have generally the pleasure of religious conversation till tea-time. ... At night we read and converse as before till supper, and commonly finish the evening either with hymns or a sermon, and last of all the family are called to prayers. I need not tell you that such a life as this is consistent with the utmost cheerfulness, accord ingly, we are all happy, and dwell together in unity as brethren."
Less than two years after Cowper went to reside at the Unwins the Reverend William Unwin was killed by a fall from his house. The friendship between Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, however, kept them together. They lived as companions for life. No scandal is possible with regard to their association: Cowper himself says that they were as mother and son, and Mrs. Unwin's son, a very religious man, had no misgivings with regard to the connection.
Inspired by a desire to be near the Reverend John Newton, a leader of the religious revival, Cowper and Mrs. Unwin moved to the squalid little village of Olney in Buckinghamshire. There under Newton's leadership they continued their religious devotions. Cowper wrote a number of hymns for a church hymnal and was encouraged to visit among the poor. His mode of life for the past years began again to affect his brain: he became morbid, worried about his salvation, finally believed that he was one of the doomed, and tried once more to commit suicide. For sixteen months he was out of his mind, tended all the while with the most loving care by Mrs. Unwin and Newton.
When he recovered, he sought for some congenial mental occupation to prevent a return of his disease. He was now, 1781, a man of fifty, without occupation or profession, and with a mental trouble that might at any time recur. To Mrs. Unwin he owed the suggestion that he turn to poetry. She realized that he would thus occupy his mind, but she could hardly have hoped that he would gain success and fame. It was she, too, who suggested the subjects about which he should write, but her suggestion, The Progress of Error, was, unhappily, tinctured with her deep religious feelings. Cowper adopted her suggestion, but the result was a failure. The volume containing this poem and Truth, Table Talk, Expostulation, Hope, Charity, Conversation, and Restiveness appeared in 1782. The criticisms were unfavorable and in this case posterity agrees with the contemporary judgment. Outside of a few purple patches, the poems are uninspired and forced.
The subject for his great work, The Task, was suggested by a new friend he made at the time his first volume of poems was being prepared for the press. Lady Austen, a bright, vivacious widow, came into the village one day to shop, met Mrs. Unwin and Cowper, seemed to feel a great attraction for them, and in a short time settled in a near-by house. The three became inseparable companions: “Lady Austen and we pass our days alternately at each other's Chateau.” On one occasion she told him the story of John Gilpin, much to his amusement, and the next morning he informed her "that convulsions of laughter brought on by his recollection of her story had kept him waking during the greatest part of the night, and that he had turned it into a ballad.” Of greater importance, however, was her suggestion that he try a great poem in blank verse. When asked for a subject, she suggested the sofa on which she lay. From the suggestion grew The Task (published 1784), its title reminding the reader that
... the Fair commands the song. This poem constitutes Cowper's chief claim to a place among the leading English poets. It is indeed the poem of a sect, being a concrete expression of the Methodism of the time, but it is more than that. The sympathy he shows for the quiet secluded country life, the truth and sincere joy with which he depicts the homely pleasures of the modest home, the close and accurate observations of nature: – it is in these characteristics that Cowper struck an original note in his long poem, “a poem," says the devoted Hayley, “of such infinite variety, that it seems to include every subject, and every style, without any dissonance or disorder: and to have flowed without effort, from inspired philanthropy, eager to impress upon the hearts of all readers, whatever may lead them, most happily, to the full enjoyment of human life, and to the final attainment of heaven.”
The next few years were among the happiest of his life. Although a coolness came between him and Lady Austen, her place was more than filled by his cousin, Lady Hesketh, who came to live with him at this time. He worked busily at his poetry, publishing in 1785 a volume containing a number of his better known lyrics, as The Loss of the Royal George, The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk, The Poplar Field, The Needless Alarm, To Mary, and beginning his longest work, the translation of Homer. The Homer' was published in 1791 in two quarto volumes and the first edition was sold out in less than six months. Realizing that health of mind and body lay in continued occupation, he planned a sumptuous edition of Milton, with notes, translations of the Latin and Italian poems, illustrations, etc., but this task was never finished. He engaged himself more enthusiastically upon a revision of his translation of Homer.
With advancing years — he was now over sixty - he began again to fall into the settled melancholy that had in previous instances led to madness, and during these years his faithful companion was in no condition to aid him. Even while his strength was ebbing, Mrs. Unwin was stricken with paralysis and her mind failed. Without her Cowper sank into a pitiful state of dejection, bordering on insanity. She died in December, 1796, but Cowper was in such a mental condition that he scarcely realized she had gone. He lingered on for three wretched years, wholly dependent on the care and kindness of friends and distant relatives. He passed away peacefully April 25, 1800, at the age of sixty-eight. His grave is in St. Edmund's Chapel in Dereham Church.
ALTHOUGH individual genius is always unique in its manifestations, most authors show marked traces of the literary influences that have surrounded them. Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Pope, and the rest reflected in their poetry the literary traditions of the age and society in which they lived. Even the immortal Shakespeare, who rose so far above his predecessors and contemporaries, is truly a child of the Elizabethan period, and a study of the development of his technical skill in the drama shows along what regular and natural lines it proceeded. Occasionally, however, a native genius, untrammeled by the fetters of contemporary literary custom or thought, flashes across the horizon. Such a genius was Robert Burns. He was, as the learned Ramsay called him, “in truth, a sort of comet in literature.”
Robert Burns was born January 25, 1759, near the village of Ayr, Scotland. He was the first of the seven children of William Burns (Burness or Burnes) and Agnes Brown. William Burns, a poor farmer, was a man of strictest probity and deep piety. His poet-son has left an ineffaceable portrait of him in The Cotter's Saturday Night. Agnes Burns was an Ayrshire woman, deeply religious as was her husband, and fond of the old Scottish songs and ballads. Burns's