Oliver Goldsmith: A Biography/Chapter XLIII

Chapter XLIIIEdit


Thwarted in the plans and disappointed in the hopes which had recently cheered and animated him, Goldsmith found the labor at his half-finished tasks doubly irksome from the consciousness that the completion of them could not relieve him from his pecuniary embarrassments. His impaired health, also, rendered him less capable than formerly of sedentary application, and continual perplexities disturbed the flow of thought necessary for original composition. He lost his usual gayety and good-humor, and became, at times, peevish and irritable. Too proud of spirit to seek sympathy or relief from his friends, for the pecuniary difficulties he had brought upon himself by his errors and extravagance; and unwilling, perhaps, to make known their amount, he buried his cares and anxieties in his own bosom, and endeavored in company to keep up his usual air of gayety and unconcern. This gave his conduct an appearance of fitfulness and caprice, varying suddenly from moodiness to mirth, and from silent gravity to shallow laughter; causing surprise and ridicule in those who were not aware of the sickness of heart which lay beneath.

His poetical reputation, too, was sometimes a disadvantage to him; it drew upon him a notoriety which he was not always in the mood or the vein to act up to. "Good heavens, Mr. Foote," exclaimed an actress at the Haymarket Theater, "what a humdrum kind of man Dr. Goldsmith appears in our green-room compared with the figure he makes in his poetry!" "The reason of that, madam," replied Foote, "is because the muses are better company than the players."

Beauclerc's letters to his friend, Lord Charlemont, who was absent in Ireland, give us now and then an indication of the whereabout of the poet during the present year. "I have been but once to the club since you left England," writes he; "we were entertained, as usual, with Goldsmith's absurdity." With Beauclerc everything was absurd that was not polished and pointed. In another letter he threatens, unless Lord Charlemont returns to England, to bring over the whole club, and let them loose upon him to drive him home by their peculiar habits of annoyance--Johnson shall spoil his books; Goldsmith shall pull his flowers; and last, and most intolerable of all, Boswell shall--talk to him. It would appear that the poet, who had a passion for flowers, was apt to pass much of his time in the garden when on a visit to a country seat, much to the detriment of the flowerbeds and the despair of the gardener.

The summer wore heavily away with Goldsmith. He had not his usual solace of a country retreat; his health was impaired and his spirits depressed. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who perceived the state of his mind, kindly gave him much of his company. In the course of their interchange of thought, Goldsmith suggested to him the story of Ugolino, as a subject for his pencil. The painting founded on it remains a memento of their friendship.

On the 4th of August we find them together at Vauxhall; at that time a place in high vogue, and which had once been to Goldsmith a scene of Oriental splendor and delight. We have, in fact, in the Citizen of the World, a picture of it as it had struck him in former years and in his happier moods. "Upon entering the gardens," says the Chinese philosopher, "I found every sense occupied with more than expected pleasure; the lights everywhere glimmering through the scarcely-moving trees; the full-bodied concert bursting on the stillness of the night; the natural concert of the birds in the more retired part of the grove, vying with that which was formed by art; the company gayly dressed, looking satisfaction, and the tables spread with various delicacies, all conspired to fill my imagination with the visionary happiness of the Arabian lawgiver, and lifted me into an ecstasy of admiration." [Footnote: Citizen of the World, Letter xxi]

Everything now, however, is seen with different eyes; with him it is dissipation without pleasure; and he finds it impossible any longer, by mingling in the gay and giddy throng of apparently prosperous and happy beings, to escape from the carking care which is clinging to his heart.

His kind friend, Cradock, came up to town toward autumn, when all the fashionable world was in the country, to give his wife the benefit of a skillful dentist. He took lodgings in Norfolk Street, to be in Goldsmith's neighborhood, and passed most of his mornings with him. "I found him," he says, "much altered and at times very low. He wished me to look over and revise some of his works; but, with a select friend or two, I was more pressing that he should publish by subscription his two celebrated poems of the Traveler and the Deserted Village, with notes." The idea of Cradock was that the subscription would enable wealthy persons, favorable to Goldsmith, to contribute to his pecuniary relief without wounding his pride. "Goldsmith," said he, "readily gave up to me his private copies, and said, 'Pray do what you please with them.' But while he sat near me, he rather submitted to than encouraged my zealous proceedings.

"I one morning called upon him, however, and found him infinitely better than I had expected; and, in a kind of exulting style, he exclaimed, 'Here are some of the best of my prose writings; I have been hard at work since midnight, and I desire you to examine them.' 'These,' said I, 'are excellent indeed.' 'They are,' replied he, 'intended as an introduction to a body of arts and sciences.'"

Poor Goldsmith was, in fact, gathering together the fragments of his shipwreck; the notes and essays and memoranda collected for his dictionary, and proposed to found on them a work in two volumes, to be entitled A Survey of Experimental Philosophy.

The plan of the subscription came to nothing, and the projected survey never was executed. The head might yet devise, but the heart was failing him; his talent at hoping, which gave him buoyancy to carry out his enterprises, was almost at an end.

Cradock's farewell scene with him is told in a simple but touching manner.

"The day before I was to set out for Leicestershire I insisted upon his dining with us. He replied, 'I will, but on one condition, that you will not ask me to eat anything.' 'Nay,' said I, 'this answer is absolutely unkind, for I had hoped, as we are supplied from the Crown and Anchor, that you would have named something you might have relished.' 'Well,' was the reply, 'if you will but explain it to Mrs. Cradock, I will certainly wait upon you.'

"The doctor found, as usual, at my apartments, newspapers and pamphlets, and with a pen and ink he amused himself as well as he could. I had ordered from the tavern some fish, a roasted joint of lamb, and a tart; and the doctor either sat down or walked about just as he pleased. After dinner he took some wine with biscuits; but I was obliged soon to leave him for a while, as I had matters to settle prior to my next day's journey. On my return coffee was ready, and the doctor appeared more cheerful (for Mrs. Cradock was always rather a favorite with him), and in the evening he endeavored to talk and remark as usual, but all was forced. He stayed till midnight, and I insisted on seeing him safe home, and we most cordially shook hands at the Temple gate." Cradock little thought that this was to be their final parting. He looked back to it with mournful recollections in after years, and lamented that he had not remained longer in town at every inconvenience, to solace the poor broken-spirited poet.

The latter continued in town all the autumn. At the opening of the Opera House, on the 20th of November, Mrs. Yates, an actress whom he held in great esteem, delivered a poetical exordium of his composition. Beauclerc, in a letter to Lord Charlemont, pronounced it very good, and predicted that it would soon be in all the papers. It does not appear, however, to have been ever published. In his fitful state of mind Goldsmith may have taken no care about it, and thus it has been lost to the world, although it was received with great applause by a crowded and brilliant audience.

A gleam of sunshine breaks through the gloom that was gathering over the poet. Toward the end of the year he receives another Christmas invitation to Barton. A country Christmas! with all the cordiality of the fireside circle, and the joyous revelry of the oaken hall--what a contrast to the loneliness of a bachelor's chambers in the Temple! It is not to be resisted. But how is poor Goldsmith to raise the ways and means? His purse is empty; his booksellers are already in advance to him. As a last resource, he applies to Garrick. Their mutual intimacy at Barton may have suggested him as an alternative. The old loan of forty pounds has never been paid; and Newbery's note, pledged as a security, has never been taken up. An additional loan of sixty pounds is now asked for, thus increasing the loan to one hundred; to insure the payment, he now offers, besides Newbery's note, the transfer of the comedy of the Good-Natured Man to Drury Lane, with such alterations as Garrick may suggest. Garrick, in reply, evades the offer of the altered comedy, alludes significantly to a new one which Goldsmith had talked of writing for him, and offers to furnish the money required on his own acceptance.

The reply of Goldsmith bespeaks a heart brimful of gratitude and overflowing with fond anticipations of Barton and the smiles of its fair residents. "My dear friend," writes he, "I thank you. I wish I could do something to serve you. I shall have a comedy for you in a season, or two at furthest, that I believe will be worth your acceptance, for I fancy I will make it a fine thing. You shall have the refusal.... I will draw upon you one month after date for sixty pounds, and your acceptance will be ready money, part of which I want to go down to Barton with. May God preserve my honest little man, for he has my heart. Ever,


And having thus scrambled together a little pocket-money, by hard contrivance, poor Goldsmith turns his back upon care and trouble, and Temple quarters, to forget for a time his desolate bachelorhood in the family circle and a Christmas fireside at Barton.