« AnteriorContinuar »
extremity. It was at this period, it is imagined, that he was reduced to an embarrassment, which will be best related in the words of the person who originally gave the anecdote to the publick.
“ Upon his first going to England he was in such distress, that he would have gladly become an usher to a country school; but so destitute was he of friends to recommend him, that he could not without dilliculty obtain even this low department. The master of the school scrupled to employ him, without some testimonial of his past life. Goldsmith referred him to his tutor at college for a character; but all this while he went under a feigned name. From this resource, therefore, one would think that little in his favour could be even hoped for : but he only wanted to serve a present exigency—an ushership was not his object.
“ In this strait he writes a letter to Dr. Radcliffe, imploring him, as he tendered the welfare of an old pupil, not to answer a letter which he would probably receive the same post with his own, from the schoolmaster. He added, that he had good reasons for concealing, both from him and the rest of the world, his name, and the real state of his case; every circumstance of which he promised to communicate upon some future occasion. His tutor, embarrassed enough before to know what answer he should give, resolved at last to give none. And thus was poor Goldsmith snatched from between the horns of his present dilemma, and suffered to drag on a miserable life for a few probationary months.
“ It was not till after his return to London, from his rambles over great part of the world, and after having got some sure footing on this slippery globe, that he at length wrote to Dr. Radcliffe, to thank him for not answering the schoolmaster’s letter, and to fulfil his promise of giving the history of the whole transaction. It contained a comical narrative of his adven
tures, from his leaving Ireland to that time." It is to be regretted that accident has since destroyed this narrative, which the gentleman to whom it was written, admired more than any part of our author’s works.
But although Dr. Goldsmith had escaped from Scotland into England, he could not secure himself from the fangs of the law. The vigilance of his creditor, a tailor, followed him, and he was arrested for the money, on account of which he had become security. From this difficulty he was released by the friendship of Mr. Laughlin Maclane and Dr. Sleigh, who were then at the college of Edinburgh. As soon as he was at liberty, he took his passage on board a Dutch ship to Rotterdam, from whence, after a short stay, he proceeded to Brussels. He then visited a great part of Flanders; and after passing some time at Strasbourg and Louvain, at which last place he obtained a degree of Bachelor in Physick, he accompanied an English gentleman to Geneva.
It is said, on unquestionable authority, that Our ingenious author performed the greater part of his travels on foot ; and he himself alludes to this circumstance in one of his early works. “ Countries," says he, “ wear different appearances to travellers of different circumstances. A man who is whirled through Europe in a post-chaise, and the pilgrim who walks the grand tour on foot, will form very different conclusions.—Haud inexpertus loquor.” It has been asserted, that he was enabled to pursue his travels, partly by demanding at universities to enter the lists as a disputant, by which, according to the custom of many of them, he was entitled to the premium of a crown, when, luckily for him, his challenge was not accepted; so that, as it has been observed, he disputed his passage through Europe.
He had left England with little money; but being at that time of a rambling disposition, and having probably no settled scheme of life, he neither foresaw, nor feared, any difficulties. He possessed also a body capable of
sustaining every fatigue, and a mind not easily terrified by danger. Thus
qualified, he formed the design of seeing the manners of different countries. He had acquired some knowledge of the French language, and of musick; he played also on the German flute, which he found a very useful accomplishment, as at times it afforded him the means of subsistence, which all his other qualities would have failed to acquire for him. His learning, though not profound, produced him an hospitable reception at most of the religious houses that he visited; and his musick made him welcome to the peasants of Flanders and Germany. “ Whenever I approached a peasant’s house towards nightfall," he used to say, “ I played one of my most merry tunes, and that generally procured me not only a lodging, but subsistence for the next day ; “ but in truth," his constant expression, “ I must own, whenever I attempted to entertain persons of a higher rank, they always thought my performance odious, and never made me any return for my endeavours to please them.”
On his arrival at Geneva, it is said he was recommended as a travelling tutor to a young man, of mean birth and sordid disposition, who, after he had arrived at years of maturity, unexpectedly came into possession of a considerable fortune. VVith this person our author proceeded to the South of France, where a disagreement arose between the tutor and pupil, which ended in their parting from each other. Once more our ill-fated traveller was left to encounter the difficulties of a friendless stranger in a foreign country. He had by this time satisfied his curiosity, and accordingly bent his steps towards England, where he arrived some time about the year 17 57.
His situation was now altered, but not improved. He was still a stranger, and still destitute. “ The world was all before him," but the means of present subsistence were not easy to be obtained. He applied to several apothecaries to be received as a journeyman; but his broad Irish accent,
and uncouth appearance, operated against his reception. In this forlorn state he was at length obliged to submit to the humble condition of an assistant in the laboratory of a chymist near Fish-street Hill. From this drudgery he was released by the kindness of his friend Dr. Sleigh, who received him into his family, and undertook to support him, until some means could be devised for his maintenance. In a short time he accepted the employment of usher to a boarding-school, kept by Dr. Milner, a dissenting teacher, at Peckham. Though this station, when viewed in its proper light, can be esteemed neither dishonourable nor disgraceful, yet, it is remarkable, it was the only one which Goldsmith shrunk from the recollection of, when he attained a more prosperous state.
It is imagined, that while he was usher to Dr. Milner, he first engaged in the pursuits of literature. The earliest performance by him, now to be discovered, is “ The Memoirs of a Protestant, condemned to the Galleys of France for his Religion. Written by himself. Translated from the Original, just published at the Hague, by James Willington ;” 175 8, two volumes 12"", for which Mr. Edward Dilly paid him twenty guineas. In 17 59 appeared “ An Enquiry into the present State of Polite Learning in Europe ;” and in October of the same year he began “ The Bee,H a weekly publication, which ceased at the end of eight numbers. In the next year he became known to Dr. Smollett, who Was then publishing “ The British Magazine ;" and for that work our author composed several of the essays, which he afterwards collected into a volume. He also engaged as an assistant in the Critical Review; and it is believed wrote some articles in the Monthly Review.
In the commencement of his literary career, be determined to observe the rules of economy very rigidly, and with that view took a lodging in Greenarbour Court, in the Old Bailey, where the greater part of his most successful pieces were written. He had been introduced to Mr. Newbery, a man who
truly deserved the eulogium bestowed by Dr. Warburton on the booksellers
in general, as “ one of the best judges and rewarders of merit,H by whom he was employed to write in the Public Ledger the Chinese Letters, afterwards collected under the title of “ The Citizen of the World ;" and soon after he obtained the friendship of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who encouraged him in his pursuits, applauded his exertions, and occasionally assisted him with his advice.
Our author, however, did not soon emerge from obscurity. He continued in his humble abode in Green-arbour Gourt, until about the middle of the year I762, when he removed to a handsome set of chambers in the Middle Temple. His name was still but little known, except among the booksellers, until the year 17 65, when his genius displayed itself in its fiill vigour by the publication of “ The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society ;" a poem begun in Switzerland, and which was revised by Dr.Johnson; who pronounced this eulogium on it, “ that there had not been so fine a poem since Pope's time."
In the year I7 67 , our author, who had now assumed the title of Doctor, made his first, and, probably, his only effort towards obtaining a permanent establishment. ()n the death of Mr. Mace, Gresham Professor of Civil Law, he became a candidate to succeed him ; but without success. In 17 68, his first play, The Good Natured Man, was acted at Govent Garden, with less approbation than it deserved. Dr. Johnson’s opinion of this performance was, that it was the best comedy that had appeared since the Provoked Husband; and that there had not been of late any such character on the stage as that of Groaker. In the succeeding year he had the honorary Professorship of History in the Royal Academy conferred on him; and in this year his beautiful poem, the Deserted Village, was first printed.
The estimation in which he was held by the booksellers was at this time
so great, that he was solicited to engage in a variety of works, some of which,