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'Perch'd on the eagle's soaring wing,
Sir, he had heard something of the fabulous tale of the wren sitting upon the eagle's wing, and he had applied it to a linnet. Cibber's familiar style, however, was better than that which Whitehead has assumed. Grand nonsense is insupportable. Whitehead is but a little man to inscribe verses to players."
"Sir, I do not think Gray a first rate poet. He has not a bold imagination, nor much command of words. The obscurity in which he has involved himself will not persuade us that he is sublime. His Elegy in ■ church-yard has a happy selection of images, but I don't like what are called his,great things. His ode which begins
'Rnin seize thee, ruthless King,
'Confusion on thy banners wait!'
has been celebrated for its abruptness, and plunging into the subject all at once. But such arts as these have no merit, unltss when they are original. We admire them only once; and this abruptness has nothing new in it. We have had it often before. Nay, we have it in the old song of Johnny Armstrong:
'Is there ever a man in all Scotland
'From the highest estate to the lowest degree, &c.'
And then, Sir,
'Yes, there is a man in Westmoreland,
'And Johnny Armstrong they do him call.'
There, now, you plunge at once into the subject. You have no previous narration to lead you to it.—The two next lines in that Ode are, I think, very good:
'Though fann'd by conqnest's crimson wing,
Finding him in a placid humour, and wishing to avail myself of the opportunity which I fortunately had of consulting a sage, to hear whose "wisdom, I conceived in the ardour of youthful imagination, that men filled with a noble enthusiasm for intellectual improvement would gladly have resorted from distant lands ;—I opened my mind to him ingeniously, and gave him a little sketch of my life, to which he was pleased to listen with great attention.
I acknowledged that though educated very strictly in the principles of religion, I had for some time been misled into a certain degree of infidelity; but that I was come now to a better way of thinking, and was fully satisfied of the truth of the Christian revelation, though I was not clear as to every point considered to be orthodox. Being at all times a curious examiner of the human mind, and pleased with an undisgnised display of what had passed in it, he called to me with warmth, " Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you." He then began to descant
J My friend Mr. Malone, in his valuable comments on Shakspearc, has traced in that great poet the disjecta membra of these lines.
upon the force of testimony, and the little we could know of final causes; so that the objections of, why was it so? or why was it not so? ought not to disturb us: adding, that he himself had at one period been guilty of a temporary neglect of religion, but that it was not the result of argument, but mere absence of thought.
After having given credit to reports of his bigotry, I was agreeably surprized when he expressed the following very liberal sentiment, which has the additional value of obviating an objection to our holy religion, founded upon the discordant tenets of Christians themselves: "For my part, Sir, I think all Christians, whether Papists or Protestants, agree in the essential articles, and that their differences are trivial, and rather political than religious." t
We talked of belief in ghosts. He said, "Sir, I make a distinction between what a man may experience by the mere strength of his imagination, and what imagination cannot possibly produce. Thus, suppose 1 should think that I saw a form, and heard a voice cry, 'Johnson, you are a very wicked fellow, and unless you repent you will certainly be punished;' my own unworthiness is so deeply impressed upon my mind, that I might imagine I thus saw and heard, and therefore I should not believe that an external communication had been made to me. Bnt if a form should appear, and a voice should tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact with ull its circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me."
Our conversation proceeded." "Sir, (said he,) I am a friend to subordination, as most conducive to the happiness of society. There is a reciprocal pleasure in governing and being governed."
"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."
1 mentioned Mallet's tragedy of " Elvira," which had been acted the preceding winter at Drury-lane, and that the Honourable Andrew Erskine, Mr. Dempster, and myself, had joined in writing a pamphlet, entitled "Critical Strictures," against it. That the mildness of Dempster's disposition had, however, relented; and he had candidly said, "We have hardly a right to abuse this tragedy forbad as it is, how vain should either of us be to write one not near as good." Johnson. "Why, no, Sir ; this is not just reasoning. You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables."
When I talked to him of the paternal estate to which I was heir, he said, " Sir, let me tell yon, that to be a Scotch landlord, where you have a number of families dependent upon you, and attached to you, is, perhaps, as high a situation as humanity can arrive at. A merchant upon the 'Change of London, with a hundred thousand pounds, is nothing: he has no tenants who consider themselves a» under his patriarchal care, aud who will follow him to the field upon an emergency."
His notion of the dignity of a Scotch landlord had been formed upon what he had heard of the Highland Chiefs; for it is long since a lowland landlord has been so curtailed in his fendal authority, that he has little more influence pver his tenants than an English landlord: and of late years most of the Highland Chiefs have destroyed, by means too well known, the princely power which they once enjoyed.
He proceeded : " Your going abroad, Sir, and breaking off idle habits, may be of great importance to you. 1 would go where there are courts and learned men. There is a good deal of Spain that has not been perambulated. 1 would have you go thither. A man of inferiour talents to yours may furnish us with useful observations upon that country." His supposing me, at that period of life, capable of writing un account of my travels that would deserve to be read, elated me not a little.
1 complained to him that I had not yet acquired much knowledge, and asked his advice as to my studies. He said, " Don't talk of study now. 1 will give you a plan; but it will require some time to consider of it.*' "It is very good in you (I replied,) to allow me to be with you thus. Had it been foretold to me some years ago that I should pass an evening with the author of the Ramrler, how should I have exulted!" What I then expressed, was sincerely from the heart. He was satisfied that it was, and cordially answered, "Sir, I am glad we have met. I hope we shall pass many evenings and mornings too, together." We finished a couple of bottles of port, and sat till between one and two in the morning.
He wrote this year in the Critical Review the account of" Teletnachus, a Mask," by the Reverend George Graham, of Eton College. The subject of this beautiful poem was particularly interesting to Johnson, who had much experience of " the conflict of opposite principles," which he describes as " The contention between pleasure and virtue, a struggle which will always be continued while the present system of nature shall subsist; nor can history or poetry exhibit more than pleasure trinmphing over virtue, and virtue subjugating pleasure."
As Dr. Oliver Goldsmith will frequently appear in this narrative, I shall endeavour to make my readers in some degree acquainted with his singular character. He was a native of Ireland, and a contemporary with Mr. Burke, at Trinity College, Dublin, but did not then give much promise of future celebrity.^ He, however, observed to Mr. Malone, that "though he made no great figure in mathematics, which wara study in much repute there, he could turn an ocW of Horace into English better than any of them." He afterwards studied physic at Edinburgh, and upon the Continent: and I have been informed, was
I Goldsmith got a preminm at a Christmas examination in Trinity College, Dublin, which I have seen.
enabled to pursue his travels on foot, partly by demanding at Universities to enter the lists as a disputant, by which, according to the custom of immv of them, he was entitled to the preminm of a crown, when luckily for him his challenge was not accepted ; so that, as I once observed to Dr. Johnson, lie disputed his passage through Europe. He then came to England, and was employed successively in the capacities of aa usher to an academy, a corrector of the press, a reviewer, and a writer for a news-paper. He had sagacity enough to cultivate assiduously the acquaintance of Johnson, and his faculties were gradually enlarged by the contemplation of such a model. To me and many others it appeared that he studiously copied the manner of Johuson, though, indeed, upon a smaller scale.
At this time I think he had published. nothing with his name, though it was pretty generally known that one Dr. Goldsmith was the author of "An Enquiry into the present State of Polite Learning in Europe," and of " The Citizen of the World," a series of letters supposed to be written from .London by a Chinese.^ No man had the art of displaying with more advantage as a writer, whatever literary acquisitions he made. "Nihil quod tetigit non ornavit."\\ His mind resembled a fertile, but thin soil. There was a quick, but not a strong vegetation of whatever chanced to be thrown upon it. No deep root could be struck. The oak of the forest did not grow there; but the elegant shrubbery and the fragrant parterre appeared in gay succession. It has been generally circulated and believed that he was a mere fool in conversation ;§ but, in truth, this has been greatly exaggerated. He had, no doubt, a more than common share of that hurry of ideas which we often find in his countrymen, and which sometimes produces a laughable contusion in expressing them. He 'was very much what the French call wt etourdi, and from vanity and an eager desire of being conspicuous wherever he was, he frequently talked carelessly without knowledge of the subject, or even without thought. His person was short, his countenance coarse and
1 He had also published in 1759, "The Bee, being Essays on the most interesting subjects."
|| See his Epitaph in Westminster Abbey, written by Dr. Johnson.
§ In allusion to this, Mr. Horace Walpole, who admired his writings, said he was " an inspired ideot;" and Garrick described him as one
"-for shortness call'd Noll,
"Who wrote like an angel, and talk'd like poor Poll,*' Sir Joshua Reynolds mentioned to me that he frequently beard Goldsmith talk warmly of the pleasure of being liked, and observe how hard it would be if literary excellence should preclude a man from that satisfaction, which he perceived it often did, from the envy which attended it; and therefore Sir Joshua was convinced that he was intentionally more absurd in order to lessen himself in social intercourse, trusting that his character would be sufficiently supported by his works. If it indeed was his intention to appear absurd in compauy, he was often very successful. But with due deference to Sir Joshua's ingenuity, 1 think the conjecture too refined.
vulgar, his deportment that of a scholar awkwardly affecting the easy gentleman. Those who were in any way distinguished, excited envy in him to so ridiculous an excess, that the instances of it are hardly credible. When accompanying two beautiful young ladies.J with their mother on a tour in France, he was seriously angry that more attention was paid to them than to him ; and once at the exhibition of the Fantoccini in London, when those who sat next him observed with what dexterity a puppet was made to toss a pike, he could not bear that it should have such praise, and exclaimed with some warmth " Pshaw! I can do it better myself."||
He, 1 am afraid, had no settled system of any sort, so that his conduct must not be strictly scrutinized; but his affections were social and generous, and when he had money he gave it away very liberally. His desire of imaginary consequence predominated over his attention to truth. When he began to rise into notice, he said he had a brother who was Dean of Durham,§ a fiction so easily detected, that it is wonderful how he should have been so inconsiderate us to hazard it. He boasted to me at this time of the power of his pen in commanding money, which I believe was true in a certain degree, though in the instance he gave he was by no means correct. He told me that he had sold a novel for four hundred pounds. This was his " Vicar of Wakefield." But Johnson informed me, that he had made the bargain for Goldsmith, and the price was sixty pound*, "And, Sir, (said he,) 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' hud appeared. Then, to be sure, it was accidentally worth more monev."
Mrs. Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins have strangely mis-stated the history of Goldsmith's situation and Johnson's friendly interference, when this novel was sold. I shall give it authentically from Johnson's own exact narration:
"I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was iu 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 1 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
X Miss Hornecks, one of whom is now married to Henry Bunbury, Esq. and the other to Colonel Owyn.
|| He went home with Mr. Burke to supper; and broke his shin by attempting to exhibit to the company how much better he could jump over a stick than the puppets.
$ I am willing to hope that there may have been some mistake as to this anecdote, though I had it from a Dignitary of the church. Dr. Isaac Goldsmith, his near relation, was Dean of Cloy iie, in 1*47.
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