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CHAPTER XIX

CLOSE OF A TWELVE YEARS' STRUGGLE

1767

Such a possible fate as that of poor Smollett, common in all times in England and at this time nearly universal, was something to reflect upon in those Garden Court chambers, which Mr. Scott, swelling with his brace of livings, can only deign to call a "a garret.” A poor enough abode they were, scarcely perhaps deserving a less contemptuous name; and here Goldsmith found himself, after twelve years of hard struggle, doubtless unable at all times to repress, what is so often the unavailing bitterness of the successful as well as unsuccessful man, the consideration of what he had done compared with what he might have done.' The chances still remain, nevertheless, that he might not have done it; and the greater probability is that most people do what they are qualified to do in the condition of existence imposed upon them. It is very doubtful to me, upon the whole, if Goldsmith, placed as he was throughout life, could have done better than he did. Beginning with not even the choice which Fielding admits was his, of hackney-writer or hackney-coachman, he has fought his way at last to consideration and esteem. But he bears upon him the scars of his twelve years' conflict, of the mean sorrows through which he has passed, and of the cheap indulgences he has sought relief and help from. There is nothing plastic in his

1 "He observed,” says Dr. Maxwell, in the most interesting collectanea of Johnson's sayings contributed to Boswell (iii. 145), “it was a most mortifying reflection for any man to consider what he had done compared with what he might have done.

nature now. He is forty. His manners and habits are completely formed; and in them any further success can make little favorable change, whatever it may effect for his mind or his genius. The distrusts which were taught him in his darkest humiliatìons cling around him still; and, by the fitful changes and sudden necessities which have encouraged the weakness of his natural disposition, his really generous and most affectionate nature will still continue to be obscured. It was made matter of surprise and objection against him that though his poems are replete with fine moral sentiments and bespeak a great dignity of mind, yet he had no sense of the shame nor dread of the evils of

poverty. How should he? and to what good end? Would

have been wisely done to engage in a useless conflict, to contest with what too plainly was his destiny, and gnaw the file forever? It is true that poverty brings along with it many disreputable compliances, disingenuous shifts and resources, most dire and sordid necessities—much that, even while it helps to vindicate personal independence, may not be consistent with perfect self-respect. It is not a soil propitious to virtue and straightforwardness, often as they hardily grow there; and it is well that it should be escaped from as soon as may be.' But there are worse evils. There is a worse subjection to poverty than the mere ceasing to regard it with dread or with shame. There is that submission to it which is implied in a servile adulation of wealth, to the exclusion of every sense of disgrace but that of being poor; and there is, on the other hand, a familiarity with

· Hawkins's Life of Johnson, 420.

There is nothing more impressive in Johnson than the way in which he always speaks of poverty. “Poverty, my dear friend, is so great an evil, and pregnant with so much temptation and so much misery, that I cannot but earnestly enjoin you to avoid it.”—To Boswell, March 28, 1782. “Poverty takes away so many means of doing good, and produces so much inability to resist evil, both natural and moral, that it is by all virtuous means to be avoided.”—To Boswell, June 3, 1782. "Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness ; it certainly destroys liberty; and it makes some virtues impracticable and others extremely difficult."_TO Boswell, December 7, 1782.

it, a careless but not unmanly relation with its wants and shames, which, rightly used, may leave infinite enduring pleasure for its every transitory pain. Where is to be found, for example, such an intimate knowledge of the poor, such ready and hearty sympathy with their joys and sorrows, such a strong social sentiment with what the kindliest observers too little heed, such zeal for all that can impart

An hour's importance to the poor man's heart,

as in Goldsmith's writings? It is the real dignity of mind which only poverty can teach so well; and when his friends admired it in his books, they might have questioned the value of their accompanying regret.' Genius often effects its highest gains in a balance of what the world counts for disadvantage and loss; and it has fairly been made matter of doubt if Pope's body had been less crooked whether his verses would have been so straight. In every man, wealthy or poor in fortune or in genius, we see the result of the many various circumstances which have made him what he is; wisdom finds its aptest exercise in a charitable consideration of all those circumstances; and, so far as any such result is discovered to have profited and pleased mankind, they will not be unwise to accept it in compensation for whatever pain or disadvantage may have happened to attend it.

The last section of Goldsmith's life and adventures is now arrived at; and in what remains to be described there will

· Let me quote from letter cxix. in the Citizen of the World. The misfortunes of the great, my friend, are held up to engage our attention, are enlarged upon in tones of declamation, and the world is called upon to gaze at the noble sufferers: they have at once the comfort of admiration and pity. . . . The miseries of the poor are, however, entirely disregarded, though some undergo more real hardships in one day than the great in their whole lives. It is, indeed, inconceivable what difficulties the meanest English sailor or soldier endures without murmuring or regret. Every day is to him a day of misery, and yet he bears his hard fate without repining !” I could multiply such passages infinitely from Goldsmith's writings. With his ever genial and humorous delight in the little humble gayeties and thrifty enjoyments of the poor all his readers are familiar.

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appear more strange inconsistencies than have yet been noted. The contrast which every man might be made more or less to illustrate, of circumstances and pretensions, of ignorance and knowledge, of accomplishments and blunders, will, for the few years to come, take more decisive shape and greater prominence in Goldsmith. He will be more seen in a society for which his habits have least adapted him, and where the power to make mirth of his foibles was held to be but fair consolation for the inability to make denial of his genius. Magnanimous Goldsmith, a gooseberry fool!” His reputation had been silently widening, in the midst and in despite of his humbler drudgery; his poem, his novel, his essays, had imperceptibly but steadily enlarged the circle of his admirers; and he was somewhat suddenly, at last, subjected to the social exactions that are levied on literary fame. But let the reader take along with him into these scenes what will alone enable him to judge them rightly.

Conversation is a game where the wise do not always win. When men talk together the acute man will count higher than the subtle man; and he who, though infinitely far from truth, can handle a solid point of argument, will seem wiser than the man around whom truth“plays like an atmosphere," but who cannot reason as he feels. The one forms opinions unconsciously, the other none for which he cannot show specific grounds; and it was not inaptly, though humorously, said by Goldsmith of himself, that he disputed best when nobody was by, and always got the better when he argued alone.' Society exposed him to continual mis

· His “magnanimous" evidence against himself in the poem of Retaliation.

: An expression which exactly recalls what Addison is reported to have said of himself when some one remarked how much happier in conversation Steele was than the majority of those who talked with him. “Yes,” said Addison, “he beats me in the room, but no sooner has he got to the bottom of the staircase than I have refuted all his arguments.” “I have only ninepence in my pocket,” he said on another occasion, distinguishing between bis conversation and his writing, “but I can draw for a thousand pounds.” Langton repeated this saying to Johnson, whereupon Boswell pleasantly

construction; so that few more touching things have been recorded of him than those which have most awakened laughter. “People are greatly mistaken in me,” he remarked on one occasion. “A notion goes about that when I am silent I mean to be impudent; but I assure you, gentlemen, my silence arises from bashfulness.” 1 From the same cause arose the unconsidered talk which was less easily forgiven than silence; with which we shall find so frequently mixed up the imputations of vanity and of envy; and to properly comprehend which there must always be kept in mind the grudging and long - delayed recognition of his genius. Exceptions no doubt there were. Johnson, Burke, and Reynolds were large exceptions; and with what excellent effect upon his higher nature a sense of his growing fame with such men as these descended will hereafter be plainly seen. Never is success obtained, if deserved, that it does not open and improve the mind; and never had Goldsmith reason to believe the world in any respect disposed to do him justice that he was not also most ready and desirous to do justice to others. But, even with the friends I have named, there remained too much of the fondness of pity, the familiarity of condescension, the air of generosity, the habit of patronage; too readily did these appear to justify an illdisguised contempt, a sort of corporate spirit of disrespect,' in the rest of the men of letters of that circle; and when was the applause of even the highest yet counted a sufficient set-off against the depreciation of the lowest of mankind?

No one who thus examines the whole case can doubt, I think, that Goldsmith had never cause to be really content with his position among the men of his time, or with the

reports : “JOHNSON: 'He had not that retort ready, sir ; he had prepared it beforehand.' LANGTON (turning to me): “A fine surmise. Set a thief to catch a thief.'”-vii. 198.

1 Hawkins's Life of Johnson, 418-419.

? Even Johnson lost patience at this one day, and growled out, “If pobody was suffered to abuse poor Goldy but those who could write as well, he would have few enemies.”—European Magazine, xxxi. 18.

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