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Goldsmith - Chapter 8. The Arrest Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3676

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Goldsmith - Chapter 8. The Arrest


It was no doubt owing to Newbery that Goldsmith, after his return to London, was induced to abandon, temporarily or altogether, his apartments in Wine Office Court, and take lodgings in the house of a Mrs. Fleming, who lived somewhere or other in Islington. Newbery had rooms in Canonbury House, a curious old building that still exists; and it may have occurred to the publisher that Goldsmith, in this suburban district, would not only be nearer him for consultation and so forth, but also might pay more attention to his duties than when he was among the temptations of Fleet Street. Goldsmith was working industriously in the service of Newbery at this time (1763-4); in fact, so completely was the bookseller in possession of the hack, that Goldsmith's board and lodging in Mrs. Fleming's house, arranged for at L50 a year, was paid by Newbery himself. Writing prefaces, revising new editions, contributing reviews--this was the sort of work he undertook, with more or less content, as the equivalent of the modest sums Mr. Newbery disbursed for him or handed over as pocket-money. In the midst of all this drudgery he was now secretly engaged on work that aimed at something higher than mere payment of bed and board. The smooth lines of the _Traveller were receiving further polish; the gentle-natured _Vicar was writing his simple, quaint, tender story. And no doubt Goldsmith was spurred to try something better than hack-work by the associations that he was now forming, chiefly under the wise and benevolent friendship of Johnson.

Anxious always to be thought well of, he was now beginning to meet people whose approval was worthy of being sought. He had been introduced to Reynolds. He had become the friend of Hogarth. He had even made the acquaintance of Mr. Boswell, from Scotland. Moreover, he had been invited to become one of the original members of the famous Club of which so much has been written; his fellow-members being Reynolds, Johnson, Burke, Hawkins, Beauclerk, Bennet Langton, and Dr. Nugent. It is almost certain that it was at Johnson's instigation that he had been admitted into this choice fellowship. Long before either the _Traveller or the _Vicar had been heard of, Johnson had perceived the literary genius that obscurely burned in the uncouth figure of this Irishman; and was anxious to impress on others Goldsmith's claims to respect and consideration. In the minute record kept by Boswell of his first evening with Johnson at the Mitre Tavern, we find Johnson saying, "Dr. Goldsmith is one of the first men we now have as an author, and he is a very worthy man too. He has been loose in his principles, but he is coming right." Johnson took walks with Goldsmith; did him the honour of disputing with him on all occasions; bought a copy of the _Life of Nash when it appeared--an unusual compliment for one author to pay another, in their day or in ours; allowed him to call on Miss Williams, the blind old lady in Bolt Court; and generally was his friend, counsellor, and champion. Accordingly, when Mr. Boswell entertained the great Cham to supper at the Mitre--a sudden quarrel with his landlord having made it impossible for him to order the banquet at his own house--he was careful to have Dr. Goldsmith of the company. His guests that evening were Johnson, Goldsmith, Davies (the actor and bookseller who had conferred on Boswell the invaluable favour of an introduction to Johnson), Mr. Eccles, and the Rev. Mr. Ogilvie, a Scotch poet who deserves our gratitude because it was his inopportune patriotism that provoked, on this very evening, the memorable epigram about the high-road leading to England. "Goldsmith," says Boswell, who had not got over his envy at Goldsmith's being allowed to visit the blind old pensioner in Bolt-court, "as usual, endeavoured with too much eagerness to _shine_, and disputed very warmly with Johnson against the well-known maxim of the British constitution, 'The king can do no wrong.'" It was a dispute not so much about facts as about phraseology; and, indeed, there seems to be no great warmth in the expressions used on either side. Goldsmith affirmed that "what was morally false could not be politically true;" and that, in short, the king could by the misuse of his regal power do wrong. Johnson replied, that, in such a case, the immediate agents of the king were the persons to be tried and punished for the offence. "The king, though he should command, cannot force a judge to condemn a man unjustly; therefore it is the judge whom we prosecute and punish." But when he stated that the king "is above everything, and there is no power by which he can be tried," he was surely forgetting an important chapter in English history. "What did Cromwell do for his country?" he himself asked, during his subsequent visit to Scotland, of old Auchinleck, Boswell's father. "God, Doctor," replied the vile Whig, "_he garred kings ken they had a lith in their necks_."

For some time after this evening Goldsmith drops out of Boswell's famous memoir; perhaps the compiler was not anxious to give him too much prominence. They had not liked each other from the outset. Boswell, vexed by the greater intimacy of Goldsmith with Johnson, called him a blunderer, a feather-brained person; and described his appearance in no flattering terms. Goldsmith, on the other hand, on being asked who was this Scotch cur that followed Johnson's heels, answered, "He is not a cur: you are too severe--he is only a bur. Tom Davies flung him at Johnson in sport, and he has the faculty of sticking." Boswell would probably have been more tolerant of Goldsmith as a rival, if he could have known that on a future day he was to have Johnson all to himself--to carry him to remote wilds and exhibit him as a portentous literary phenomenon to Highland lairds. It is true that Johnson, at an early period of his acquaintance with Boswell, did talk vaguely about a trip to the Hebrides; but the young Scotch idolater thought it was all too good to be true. The mention of Sir James Macdonald, says Boswell, "led us to talk of the Western Islands of Scotland, to visit which he expressed a wish that then appeared to me a very romantic fancy, which I little thought would be afterwards realised. He told me that his father had put Martin's account of those islands into his hands when he was very young, and that he was highly pleased with it; that he was particularly struck with the St. Kilda man's notion that the high church of Glasgow had been hollowed out of a rock; a circumstance to which old Mr. Johnson had directed his attention." Unfortunately Goldsmith not only disappears from the pages of Boswell's biography at this time, but also in great measure from the ken of his companions. He was deeply in debt; no doubt the fine clothes he had been ordering from Mr. Filby in order that he might "shine" among those notable persons, had something to do with it; he had tried the patience of the booksellers; and he had been devoting a good deal of time to work not intended to elicit immediate payment. The most patient endeavours to trace out his changes of lodgings, and the fugitive writings that kept him in daily bread, have not been very successful. It is to be presumed that Goldsmith had occasionally to go into hiding to escape from his creditors; and so was missed from his familiar haunts. We only reach daylight again, to find Goldsmith being under threat of arrest from his landlady; and for the particulars of this famous affair it is necessary to return to Boswell.

Boswell was not in London at that time; but his account was taken down subsequently from Johnson's narration; and his accuracy in other matters, his extraordinary memory, and scrupulous care, leave no doubt in the mind that his version of the story is to be preferred to those of Mrs. Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins. We may take it that these are Johnson's own words:-- "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 dressed, 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 L60. 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."

We do not know who this landlady was--it cannot now be made out whether the incident occurred at Islington, or in the rooms that Goldsmith partially occupied in the Temple; but even if Mrs. Fleming be the landlady in question, she was deserving neither of Goldsmith's rating nor of the reprimands that have been bestowed upon her by later writers. Mrs. Fleming had been exceedingly kind to Goldsmith. Again and again in her bills we find items significantly marked L0 0_s. 0_d. And if her accounts with her lodger did get hopelessly into arrear; and if she was annoyed by seeing him go out in fine clothes to sup at the Mitre; and if, at length, her patience gave way, and she determined to have her rights in one way or another, she was no worse than landladies--who are only human beings, and not divinely appointed protectresses of genius--ordinarily are. Mrs. Piozzi says that when Johnson came back with the money, Goldsmith "called the woman of the house directly to partake of punch, and pass their time in merriment." This would be a dramatic touch; but, after Johnson's quietly corking the bottle of Madeira, it is more likely that no such thing occurred; especially as Boswell quotes the statement as an "extreme inaccuracy."

The novel which Johnson had taken away and sold to Francis Newbery, a nephew of the elder bookseller, was, as every one knows, the _Vicar of Wakefield_. That Goldsmith, amidst all his pecuniary distresses, should have retained this piece in his desk, instead of pawning or promising it to one of his bookselling patrons, points to but one conclusion--that he was building high hopes on it, and was determined to make it as good as lay within his power. Goldsmith put an anxious finish into all his better work; perhaps that is the secret of the graceful ease that is now apparent in every line. Any young writer who may imagine that the power of clear and concise literary expression comes by nature, cannot do better than study, in Mr. Cunningham's big collection of Goldsmith's writings, the continual and minute alterations which the author considered necessary even after the first edition--sometimes when the second and third editions--had been published. Many of these, especially in the poetical works, were merely improvements in sound as suggested by a singularly sensitive ear, as when he altered the line

"Amidst the ruin, heedless of the dead,"

which had appeared in the first three editions of the _Traveller_, into

"There in the ruin, heedless of the dead,"

which appeared in the fourth. But the majority of the omissions and corrections were prompted by a careful taste, that abhorred everything redundant or slovenly. It has been suggested that when Johnson carried off the _Vicar of Wakefield to Francis Newbery, the manuscript was not quite finished, but had to be completed afterwards. There was at least plenty of time for that. Newbery does not appear to have imagined that he had obtained a prize in the lottery of literature. He paid the L60 for it--clearly on the assurance of the great father of learning of the day, that there was merit in the little story--somewhere about the end of 1764; but the tale was not issued to the public until March, 1766. "And, sir," remarked Johnson to Boswell, with regard to the sixty pounds, "a sufficient price too, when it was sold; for then the fame of Goldsmith had not been elevated, as it afterwards was, by his _Traveller_; and the bookseller had such faint hopes of profit by his bargain, that he kept the manuscript by him a long time, and did not publish it till after the _Traveller had appeared. Then, to be sure, it was accidentally worth more money."

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