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Goldsmith - Chapter 10. Miscellaneous Writing Post by :best4you Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :2108

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Goldsmith - Chapter 10. Miscellaneous Writing


But one pecuniary result of this growing fame was a joint offer on the part of Griffin and Newbery of L20 for a selection from his printed essays; and this selection was forthwith made and published, with a preface written for the occasion. Here at once we can see that Goldsmith takes firmer ground. There is an air of confidence--of gaiety, even--in his address to the public; although, as usual, accompanied by a whimsical mock-modesty that is extremely odd and effective. "Whatever right I have to complain of the public," he says, "they can, as yet, have no just reason to complain of me. If I have written dull Essays, they have hitherto treated them as dull Essays. Thus far we are at least upon par, and until they think fit to make me their humble debtor by praise, I am resolved not to lose a single inch of my self-importance. Instead, therefore, of attempting to establish a credit amongst them, it will perhaps be wiser to apply to some more distant correspondent; and as my drafts are in some danger of being protested at home, it may not be imprudent, upon this occasion, to draw my bills upon Posterity.


"SIR,--Nine hundred and ninety-nine years after sight hereof
pay the bearer, or order, a thousand pounds worth of praise,
free from all deductions whatsoever, it being a commodity
that will then be very serviceable to him, and place it to
the account of, &c."

The bill is not yet due; but there can in the meantime be no harm in discounting it so far as to say that these Essays deserve very decided praise. They deal with all manner of topics, matters of fact, matters of imagination, humorous descriptions, learned criticisms; and then, whenever the entertainer thinks he is becoming dull, he suddenly tells a quaint little story and walks off amidst the laughter he knows he has produced. It is not a very ambitious or sonorous sort of literature; but it was admirably fitted for its aim--the passing of the immediate hour in an agreeable and fairly intellectual way. One can often see, no doubt, that these Essays are occasionally written in a more or less perfunctory fashion, the writer not being moved by much enthusiasm in his subject; but even then a quaint literary grace seldom fails to atone, as when, writing about the English clergy, and complaining that they do not sufficiently in their addresses stoop to mean capacities, he says--"Whatever may become of the higher orders of mankind, who are generally possessed of collateral motives to virtue, the vulgar should be particularly regarded, whose behaviour in civil life is totally hinged upon their hopes and fears. Those who constitute the basis of the great fabric of society should be particularly regarded; for in policy, as in architecture, ruin is most fatal when it begins from the bottom." There was, indeed, throughout Goldsmith's miscellaneous writing much more common sense than might have been expected from a writer who was supposed to have none.

As regards his chance criticisms on dramatic and poetical literature, these are generally found to be incisive and just; while sometimes they exhibit a wholesome disregard of mere tradition and authority. "Milton's translation of Horace's Ode to Pyrrha," he says, for example, "is universally known and generally admired, in our opinion much above its merit." If the present writer might for a moment venture into such an arena, he would express the honest belief that that translation is the very worst translation that was ever made of anything. But there is the happy rendering of _simplex munditiis_, which counts for much.

By this time Goldsmith had also written his charming ballad of _Edwin and Angelina_, which was privately "printed for the amusement of the Countess of Northumberland," and which afterwards appeared in the _Vicar of Wakefield_. It seems clear enough that this quaint and pathetic piece was suggested by an old ballad beginning,

"Gentle heardsman, tell to me,
Of curtesy I thee pray,
Unto the towne of Walsingham
Which is the right and ready way,"

which Percy had shown to Goldsmith, and which, patched up, subsequently appeared in the _Reliques_. But Goldsmith's ballad is original enough to put aside all the discussion about plagiarism which was afterwards started. In the old fragment the weeping pilgrim receives directions from the herdsman, and goes on her way, and we hear of her no more; in _Edwin and Angelina the forlorn and despairing maiden suddenly finds herself confronted by the long-lost lover whom she had so cruelly used. This is the dramatic touch that reveals the hand of the artist. And here again it is curious to note the care with which Goldsmith repeatedly revised his writings. The ballad originally ended with these two stanzas:--

"Here amidst sylvan bowers we'll rove,
From lawn to woodland stray;
Blest as the songsters of the grove,
And innocent as they.

"To all that want, and all that wail,
Our pity shall be given,
And when this life of love shall fail,
We'll love again in heaven."

But subsequently it must have occurred to the author that, the dramatic disclosure once made, and the lovers restored to each other, any lingering over the scene only weakened the force of the climax; hence these stanzas were judiciously excised. It may be doubted, however, whether the original version of the last couplet:

"And the last sigh that rends the heart
Shall break thy Edwin's too,"

was improved by being altered into

"The sigh that rends thy constant heart
Shall break thy Edwin's too."

Meanwhile Goldsmith had resorted to hack-work again; nothing being expected from the _Vicar of Wakefield_, now lying in Newbery's shop, for that had been paid for, and his expenses were increasing, as became his greater station. In the interval between the publication of the _Traveller and of the _Vicar_, he moved into better chambers in Garden Court; he hired a man-servant, he blossomed out into very fine clothes. Indeed, so effective did his first suit seem to be--the purple silk small-clothes, the scarlet roquelaure, the wig, sword, and gold-headed cane--that, as Mr. Forster says, he "amazed his friends with no less than three similar suits, not less expensive, in the next six months." Part of this display was no doubt owing to a suggestion from Reynolds that Goldsmith, having a medical degree, might just as well add the practice of a physician to his literary work, to magnify his social position. Goldsmith, always willing to please his friends, acceded; but his practice does not appear to have been either extensive or long-continued. It is said that he drew out a prescription for a certain Mrs. Sidebotham which so appalled the apothecary that he refused to make it up; and that, as the lady sided with the apothecary, he threw up the case and his profession at the same time. If it was money Goldsmith wanted, he was not likely to get it in that way; he had neither the appearance nor the manner fitted to humour the sick and transform healthy people into valetudinarians. If it was the esteem of his friends and popularity outside that circle, he was soon to acquire enough of both. On the 27th March, 1766, fifteen months after the appearance of the _Traveller_, the _Vicar of Wakefield was published.

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