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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGoldsmith - Chapter 7. The Citizen Of The World.--Beau Nash
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Goldsmith - Chapter 7. The Citizen Of The World.--Beau Nash Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :2543

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Goldsmith - Chapter 7. The Citizen Of The World.--Beau Nash

CHAPTER VII. The Citizen of the World.--Beau Nash

Meanwhile, to return to his literary work, the _Citizen of the World had grown out of his contributions to the _Public Ledger_, a daily newspaper started by Mr. Newbery, another bookseller in St. Paul's Churchyard. Goldsmith was engaged to write for this paper two letters a week at a guinea a-piece; and these letters were, after a short time (1760), written in the character of a Chinese who had come to study European civilisation. It may be noted that Goldsmith had in the _Monthly Review_, in mentioning Voltaire's memoirs of French writers, quoted a passage about Montesquieu's _Lettres Persanes as follows: "It is written in imitation of the _Siamese Letters of Du Freny and of the _Turkish Spy_; but it is an imitation which shows what the originals should have been. The success their works met with was, for the most part, owing to the foreign air of their performances; the success of the _Persian Letters arose from the delicacy of their satire. That satire which in the mouth of an Asiatic is poignant, would lose all its force when coming from an European." And it must certainly be said that the charm of the strictures of the _Citizen of the World lies wholly in their delicate satire, and not at all in any foreign air which the author may have tried to lend to these performances. The disguise is very apparent. In those garrulous, vivacious, whimsical, and sometimes serious papers, Lien Chi Altangi, writing to Fum Hoam in Pekin, does not so much describe the aspects of European civilisation which would naturally surprise a Chinese, as he expresses the dissatisfaction of a European with certain phases of the civilisation visible everywhere around him. It is not a Chinaman, but a Fleet-Street author by profession, who resents the competition of noble amateurs whose works--otherwise bitter pills enough--are gilded by their titles:--"A nobleman has but to take a pen, ink, and paper, write away through three large volumes, and then sign his name to the title-page; though the whole might have been before more disgusting than his own rent-roll, yet signing his name and title gives value to the deed, title being alone equivalent to taste, imagination, and genius. As soon as a piece, therefore, is published, the first questions are--Who is the author? Does he keep a coach? Where lies his estate? What sort of a table does he keep? If he happens to be poor and unqualified for such a scrutiny, he and his works sink into irremediable obscurity, and too late he finds, that having fed upon turtle is a more ready way to fame than having digested Tully. The poor devil against whom fashion has set its face vainly alleges that he has been bred in every part of Europe where knowledge was to be sold; that he has grown pale in the study of nature and himself. His works may please upon the perusal, but his pretensions to fame are entirely disregarded. He is treated like a fiddler, whose music, though liked, is not much praised, because he lives by it; while a gentleman performer, though the most wretched scraper alive, throws the audience into raptures. The fiddler, indeed, may in such a case console himself by thinking, that while the other goes off with all the praise, he runs away with all the money. But here the parallel drops; for while the nobleman triumphs in unmerited applause, the author by profession steals off with--nothing."

At the same time it must be allowed that the utterance of these strictures through the mouth of a Chinese admits of a certain _naivete_, which on occasion heightens the sarcasm. Lien Chi accompanies the Man in Black to a theatre to see an English play. Here is part of the performance:--"I was going to second his remarks, when my attention was engrossed by a new object; a man came in balancing a straw upon his nose, and the audience were clapping their hands in all the raptures of applause. 'To what purpose,' cried I, 'does this unmeaning figure make his appearance? is he a part of the plot?'--'Unmeaning do you call him?' replied my friend in black; 'this is one of the most important characters of the whole play; nothing pleases the people more than seeing a straw balanced: there is a great deal of meaning in a straw: there is something suited to every apprehension in the sight; and a fellow possessed of talents like these is sure of making his fortune.' The third act now began with an actor who came to inform us that he was the villain of the play, and intended to show strange things before all was over. He was joined by another who seemed as much disposed for mischief as he; their intrigues continued through this whole division. 'If that be a villain,' said I, 'he must be a very stupid one to tell his secrets without being asked; such soliloquies of late are never admitted in China.' The noise of clapping interrupted me once more; a child six years old was learning to dance on the stage, which gave the ladies and mandarins infinite satisfaction. 'I am sorry,' said I, 'to see the pretty creature so early learning so bad a trade; dancing being, I presume, as contemptible here as in China.'--'Quite the reverse,' interrupted my companion; 'dancing is a very reputable and genteel employment here; men have a greater chance for encouragement from the merit of their heels than their heads. One who jumps up and nourishes his toes three times before he comes to the ground may have three hundred a year: he who flourishes them four times, gets four hundred; but he who arrives at five is inestimable, and may demand what salary he thinks proper. The female dancers, too, are valued for this sort of jumping and crossing; and it is a cant word amongst them, that she deserves most who shows highest. But the fourth act is begun; let us be attentive.'"

The Man in Black here mentioned is one of the notable features of this series of papers. The mysterious person whose acquaintance the Chinaman made in Westminster Abbey, and who concealed such a wonderful goodness of heart under a rough and forbidding exterior, is a charming character indeed; and it is impossible to praise too highly the vein of subtle sarcasm in which he preaches worldly wisdom. But to assume that any part of his history which he disclosed to the Chinaman was a piece of autobiographical writing on the part of Goldsmith, is a very hazardous thing. A writer of fiction must necessarily use such materials as have come within his own experience; and Goldsmith's experience--or his use of those materials--was extremely limited: witness how often a pet fancy, like his remembrance of _Johnny Armstrong's Last Good Night_, is repeated. "That of these simple elements," writes Professor Masson, in his _Memoir of Goldsmith_, prefixed to an edition of his works, "he made so many charming combinations, really differing from each other, and all, though suggested by fact, yet hung so sweetly in an ideal air, proved what an artist he was, and was better than much that is commonly called invention. In short, if there is a sameness of effect in Goldsmith's writings, it is because they consist of poetry and truth, humour and pathos, from his own life, and the supply from such a life as his was not inexhaustible."

The question of invention is easily disposed of. Any child can invent a world transcending human experience by the simple combination of ideas which are in themselves incongruous--a world in which the horses have each five feet, in which the grass is blue and the sky green, in which seas are balanced on the peaks of mountains. The result is unbelievable and worthless. But the writer of imaginative literature uses his own experiences and the experiences of others, so that his combination of ideas in themselves compatible shall appear so natural and believable that the reader--although these incidents and characters never did actually exist--is as much interested in them as if they had existed. The mischief of it is that the reader sometimes thinks himself very clever, and, recognising a little bit of the story as having happened to the author, jumps to the conclusion that such and such a passage is necessarily autobiographical. Hence it is that Goldsmith has been hastily identified with the Philosophic Vagabond in the _Vicar of Wakefield_, and with the Man in Black in the _Citizen of the World_. That he may have used certain experiences in the one, and that he may perhaps have given in the other a sort of fancy sketch of a person suggested by some trait in his own character, is possible enough; but further assertion of likeness is impossible. That the Man in Black had one of Goldsmith's little weaknesses is obvious enough: we find him just a trifle too conscious of his own kindliness and generosity. The Vicar of Wakefield himself is not without a spice of this amiable vanity. As for Goldsmith, every one must remember his reply to Griffiths' accusation: "No, sir, had I been a sharper, _had I been possessed of less good nature and native generosity_, I might surely now have been in better circumstances."

The Man in Black, in any case, is a delightful character. We detect the warm and generous nature even in his pretence of having acquired worldly wisdom: "I now therefore pursued a course of uninterrupted frugality, seldom wanted a dinner, and was consequently invited to twenty. I soon began to get the character of a saving hunks that had money, and insensibly grew into esteem. Neighbours have asked my advice in the disposal of their daughters; and I have always taken care not to give any. I have contracted a friendship with an alderman, only by observing, that if we take a farthing from a thousand pounds it will be a thousand pounds no longer. I have been invited to a pawnbroker's table, by pretending to hate gravy; and am now actually upon treaty of marriage with a rich widow, for only having observed that the bread was rising. If ever I am asked a question, whether I know it or not, instead of answering, I only smile and look wise. If a charity is proposed I go about with the hat, but put nothing in myself. If a wretch solicits my pity, I observe that the world is filled with impostors, and take a certain method of not being deceived by never relieving. In short, I now find the truest way of finding esteem, even from the indigent, is to give away nothing, and thus have much in our power to give." This is a very clever piece of writing, whether it is in strict accordance with the character of the Man in Black, or not. But there is in these _Public Ledger papers another sketch of character, which is not only consistent in itself, and in every way admirable, but is of still further interest to us when we remember that at this time the various personages in the _Vicar of Wakefield were no doubt gradually assuming definite form in Goldsmith's mind. It is in the figure of Mr. Tibbs, introduced apparently at haphazard, but at once taking possession of us by its quaint relief, that we find Goldsmith showing a firmer hand in character-drawing. With a few happy dramatic touches Mr. Tibbs starts into life; he speaks for himself; he becomes one of the people whom we know. And yet, with this concise and sharp portraiture of a human being, look at the graceful, almost garrulous, ease of the style:--

"Our pursuer soon came up and joined us with all the familiarity of an old acquaintance. 'My dear Drybone,' cries he, shaking my friend's hand, 'where have you been hiding this half a century? Positively I had fancied you were gone to cultivate matrimony and your estate in the country.' During the reply I had an opportunity of surveying the appearance of our new companion: his hat was pinched up with peculiar smartness; his looks were pale, thin, and sharp; round his neck he wore a broad black riband, and in his bosom a buckle studded with glass; his coat was trimmed with tarnished twist; he wore by his side a sword with a black hilt; and his stockings of silk, though newly washed, were grown yellow by long service. I was so much engaged with the peculiarity of his dress, that I attended only to the latter part of my friend's reply, in which he complimented Mr. Tibbs on the taste of his clothes and the bloom in his countenance. 'Pshaw, pshaw, Will,' cried the figure, 'no more of that, if you love me: you know I hate flattery,--on my soul I do; and yet, to be sure, an intimacy with the great will improve one's appearance, and a course of venison will fatten; and yet, faith, I despise the great as much as you do; but there are a great many damn'd honest fellows among them, and we must not quarrel with one half, because the other wants weeding. If they were all such as my Lord Mudler, one of the most good-natured creatures that ever squeezed a lemon, I should myself be among the number of their admirers. I was yesterday to dine at the Duchess of Piccadilly's. My lord was there. "Ned," says he to me, "Ned," says he, "I'll hold gold to silver, I can tell you where you were poaching last night." "Poaching, my lord?" says I: "faith, you have missed already; for I staid at home and let the girls poach for me. That's my way: I take a fine woman as some animals do their prey--stand still, and, swoop, they fall into my mouth."' 'Ah, Tibbs, thou art a happy fellow,' cried my companion, with looks of infinite pity; 'I hope your fortune is as much improved as your understanding, in such company?' 'Improved!' replied the other: 'you shall know,--but let it go no farther--a great secret--five hundred a year to begin with--my lord's word of honour for it. His lordship took me down in his own chariot yesterday, and we had a _tete-a-tete dinner in the country, where we talked of nothing else.'--'I fancy you forget, sir,' cried I; 'you told us but this moment of your dining yesterday in town.'--'Did I say so?' replied he, coolly; 'to be sure, if I said so, it was so. Dined in town! egad, now I do remember, I did dine in town; but I dined in the country too; for you must know, my boys, I ate two dinners. By the bye, I am grown as nice as the devil in my eating. I'll tell you a pleasant affair about that: we were a select party of us to dine at Lady Grogram's,--an affected piece, but let it go no farther--a secret.--Well, there happened to be no asafoetida in the sauce to a turkey, upon which, says I, I'll hold a thousand guineas, and say done, first, that--But, dear Drybone, you are an honest creature; lend me half-a-crown for a minute or two, or so, just till ----; but hearkee, ask me for it the next time we meet, or it may be twenty to one but I forget to pay you.'"


Returning from those performances to the author of them, we find him a busy man of letters, becoming more and more in request among the booksellers, and obtaining recognition among his fellow-writers. He had moved into better lodgings in Wine Office Court (1760-2); and it was here that he entertained at supper, as has already been mentioned, no less distinguished guests than Bishop, then Mr., Percy, and Dr., then Mr., Johnson. Every one has heard of the surprise of Percy, on calling for Johnson, to find the great Cham dressed with quite unusual smartness. On asking the cause of this "singular transformation," Johnson replied, "Why, sir, I hear that Goldsmith, who is a very great sloven, justifies his disregard of cleanliness and decency by quoting my practice; and I am desirous this night to show him a better example." That Goldsmith profited by this example--though the tailors did not--is clear enough. At times, indeed, he blossomed out into the splendours of a dandy; and laughed at himself for doing so. But whether he was in gorgeous or in mean attire, he remained the same sort of happy-go-lucky creature; working hard by fits and starts; continually getting money in advance from the booksellers; enjoying the present hour; and apparently happy enough when not pressed by debt. That he should have been thus pressed was no necessity of the case; at all events we need not on this score begin now to abuse the booksellers or the public of that day. We may dismiss once for all the oft-repeated charges of ingratitude and neglect.

When Goldsmith was writing those letters in the _Public Ledger_--with "pleasure and instruction for others," Mr. Forster says, "though at the cost of suffering to himself"--he was receiving for them alone what would be equivalent in our day to L200 a year. No man can affirm that L200 a year is not amply sufficient for all the material wants of life. Of course there are fine things in the world that that amount of annual wage cannot purchase. It is a fine thing to sit on the deck of a yacht on a summer's day, and watch the far islands shining over the blue; it is a fine thing to drive four-in-hand to Ascot--if you can do it; it is a fine thing to cower breathless behind a rock and find a splendid stag coming slowly within sure range. But these things are not necessary to human happiness: it is possible to do without them and yet not "suffer." Even if Goldsmith had given half of his substance away to the poor, there was enough left to cover all the necessary wants of a human being; and if he chose so to order his affairs as to incur the suffering of debt, why, that was his own business, about which nothing further needs be said. It is to be suspected, indeed, that he did not care to practise those excellent maxims of prudence and frugality which he frequently preached; but the world is not much concerned about that now. If Goldsmith had received ten times as much money as the booksellers gave him, he would still have died in debt. And it is just possible that we may exaggerate Goldsmith's sensitiveness on this score. He had had a life-long familiarity with duns and borrowing; and seemed very contented when the exigency of the hour was tided over. An angry landlady is unpleasant, and an arrest is awkward; but in comes an opportune guinea, and the bottle of Madeira is opened forthwith.

In these rooms in Wine Office Court, and at the suggestion or entreaty of Newbery, Goldsmith produced a good deal of miscellaneous writing--pamphlets, tracts, compilations, and what not--of a more or less marketable kind. It can only be surmised that by this time he may have formed some idea of producing a book not solely meant for the market, and that the characters in the _Vicar of Wakefield were already engaging his attention; but the surmise becomes probable enough when we remember that his project of writing the _Traveller_, which was not published till 1764, had been formed as far back as 1755, while he was wandering aimlessly about Europe, and that a sketch of the poem was actually forwarded by him then to his brother Henry in Ireland. But in the meantime this hack-work, and the habits of life connected with it, began to tell on Goldsmith's health; and so, for a time, he left London (1762), and went to Tunbridge and then to Bath. It is scarcely possible that his modest fame had preceded him to the latter place of fashion; but it may be that the distinguished folk of the town received this friend of the great Dr. Johnson with some small measure of distinction; for we find that his next published work, _The Life of Richard Nash, Esq._, is respectfully dedicated to the Right Worshipful the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City of Bath. The Life of the recently deceased Master of Ceremonies was published anonymously (1762); but it was generally understood to be Goldsmith's; and indeed the secret of the authorship is revealed in every successive line. Among the minor writings of Goldsmith there is none more delightful than this: the mock-heroic gravity, the half-familiar contemptuous good-nature with which he composes this Funeral March of a Marionette, are extremely whimsical and amusing. And then what an admirable picture we get of fashionable English society in the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Bath and Nash were alike in the heyday of their glory--the fine ladies with their snuff-boxes, and their passion for play, and their extremely effective language when they got angry; young bucks come to flourish away their money, and gain by their losses the sympathy of the fair; sharpers on the look-out for guineas, and adventurers on the look-out for weak-minded heiresses; duchesses writing letters in the most doubtful English, and chair-men swearing at any one who dared to walk home on foot at night.

No doubt the _Life of Beau Nash was a bookseller's book; and it was made as attractive as possible by the recapitulation of all sorts of romantic stories about Miss S----n, and Mr. C----e, and Captain K----g; but throughout we find the historian very much inclined to laugh at his hero, and only refraining now and again in order to record in serious language traits indicative of the real goodness of disposition of that fop and gambler. And the fine ladies and gentlemen, who lived in that atmosphere of scandal, and intrigue, and gambling, are also from time to time treated to a little decorous and respectful raillery. Who does not remember the famous laws of polite breeding written out by Mr. Nash--Goldsmith hints that neither Mr. Nash nor his fair correspondent at Blenheim, the Duchess of Marlborough, excelled in English composition--for the guidance of the ladies and gentlemen who were under the sway of the King of Bath? "But were we to give laws to a nursery, we should make them childish laws," Goldsmith writes gravely. "His statutes, though stupid, were addressed to fine gentlemen and ladies, and were probably received with sympathetic approbation. It is certain they were in general religiously observed by his subjects, and executed by him with impartiality; neither rank nor fortune shielded the refractory from his resentment." Nash, however, was not content with prose in enforcing good manners. Having waged deadly war against the custom of wearing boots, and having found his ordinary armoury of no avail against the obduracy of the country squires, he assailed them in the impassioned language of poetry, and produced the following "Invitation to the Assembly," which, as Goldsmith remarks, was highly relished by the nobility at Bath on account of its keenness, severity, and particularly its good rhymes.

"Come, one and all, to Hoyden Hall,
For there's the assembly this night;
None but prude fools
Mind manners and rules;
We Hoydens do decency slight.
Come, trollops and slatterns,
Cocked hats and white aprons,
This best our modesty suits;
For why should not we
In dress be as free
As Hogs-Norton squires in boots?"

The sarcasm was too much for the squires, who yielded in a body; and when any stranger through inadvertence presented himself in the assembly-rooms in boots, Nash was so completely master of the situation that he would politely step up to the intruder and suggest that he had forgotten his horse.

Goldsmith does not magnify the intellectual capacity of his hero; but he gives him credit for a sort of rude wit that was sometimes effective enough. His physician, for example, having called on him to see whether he had followed a prescription that had been sent him the previous day, was greeted in this fashion: "Followed your prescription? No. Egad, if I had, I should have broken my neck, for I flung it out of the two pair of stairs window." For the rest, this diverting biography contains some excellent warnings against the vice of gambling; with a particular account of the manner in which the Government of the day tried by statute after statute to suppress the tables at Tunbridge and Bath, thereby only driving the sharpers to new subterfuges. That the Beau was in alliance with sharpers, or, at least, that he was a sleeping partner in the firm, his biographer admits; but it is urged on his behalf that he was the most generous of winners, and again and again interfered to prevent the ruin of some gambler by whose folly he would himself have profited. His constant charity was well known; the money so lightly come by was at the disposal of any one who could prefer a piteous tale. Moreover he made no scruple about exacting from others that charity which they could well afford. One may easily guess who was the duchess mentioned in the following story of Goldsmith's narration:-- "The sums he gave and collected for the Hospital were great, and his manner of doing it was no less admirable. I am told that he was once collecting money in Wiltshire's room for that purpose, when a lady entered, who is more remarkable for her wit than her charity, and not being able to pass by him unobserved, she gave him a pat with her fan, and said, 'You must put down a trifle for me, Nash, for I have no money in my pocket.' 'Yes, madam,' says he, 'that I will with pleasure, if your grace will tell me when to stop;' then taking an handful of guineas out of his pocket, he began to tell them into his white hat--' One, two, three, four, five ----' 'Hold, hold!' says the duchess, 'consider what you are about.' 'Consider your rank and fortune, madam,' says Nash, and continues telling--'six, seven, eight, nine, ten.' Here the duchess called again, and seemed angry. 'Pray compose yourself, madam,' cried Nash, 'and don't interrupt the work of charity,--eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.' Here the duchess stormed, and caught hold of his hand. 'Peace, madam,' says Nash, 'you shall have your name written in letters of gold, madam, and upon the front of the building, madam,--sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty.' 'I won't pay a farthing more,' says the duchess. 'Charity hides a multitude of sins,' replies Nash,--'twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five.' 'Nash,' says she, 'I protest you frighten me out of my wits. L--d, I shall die!' 'Madam, you will never die with doing good; and if you do, it will be the better for you,' answered Nash, and was about to proceed; but perceiving her grace had lost all patience, a parley ensued, when he, after much altercation, agreed to stop his hand and compound with her grace for thirty guineas. The duchess, however, seemed displeased the whole evening, and when he came to the table where she was playing, bid him, 'Stand farther, an ugly devil, for she hated the sight of him.' But her grace afterwards having a run of good luck, called Nash to her. 'Come,' says she, 'I will be friends with you, though you are a fool; and to let you see I am not angry, there is ten guineas more for your charity. But this I insist on, that neither my name nor the sum shall be mentioned.'"


At the ripe age of eighty-seven the "beau of three generations" breathed his last (1761); and, though he had fallen into poor ways, there were those alive who remembered his former greatness, and who chronicled it in a series of epitaphs and poetical lamentations. "One thing is common almost with all of them," says Goldsmith, "and that is that Venus, Cupid, and the Graces are commanded to weep, and that Bath shall never find such another." These effusions are forgotten now; and so would Beau Nash be also, but for this biography, which, no doubt meant merely for the book-market of the day, lives and is of permanent value by reason of the charm of its style, its pervading humour, and the vivacity of its descriptions of the fashionable follies of the eighteenth century. _Nullum fere genus scribendi non tetigit. Nullum quod tetigit non ornavit. Who but Goldsmith could have written so delightful a book about such a poor creature as Beau Nash?

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