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THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
OLIVER GOLDSMITH, M. B.
THIS gentleman was born at Fernes, in the province
of Leinster, in Ireland, in the year 1731. His father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, had four sons, of whom Oliver was the youngest. He studied the classics in Mr. Hughes's school, and on the 11th of June, 1744, was admitted a sizar in Trinity College, Dublin.
During his continuance at the University, he made no display of those shining abilities, which afterwards so distinguishedly marked his genius. In the month of February, 1749, which was two years after the regular course of those things, he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts. In the year 1751, he visited Edinburgh, having previously turned his thoughts to the profession of physic, and attended some courses of anatomy in Dublin. At Edinburgh, he studied the different branches of medicine under the respective professors in that University. His thoughtless though beneficent disposition soon involved him in difficulties; and, having made himself responsible for the debt of another person, a fellow student, he was obliged abruptly to leave Scotland, in order to avoid the horrors of a prison.
In the beginning of the year 1754, he arrived at Sunderland; but being pursued by a legal process, on account of the debt we have just mentioned, he was arrested; but he was afterwards set at liberty by the friendship of Mr. Laughlin Maclane, and Dr. Sleigh, who were then in the college.
Having surmounted this embarrassment, he embarked on board a Dutch ship, and arrived at Rotterdam; from whence he went to Brussels; then
visited great part of Flanders, and afterwards, Strasbourg and Louvain, where he continued some time, and obtained the degree of Bachelor in Physic. From thence he went to Geneva, in company with an English gentleman. It is a circumstance worth recording, that he had so strong a propensity to see different countries, men and manners, that even the necessity of walking on foot, could not deter him from this favorite pursuit. His German flute, on which he played tolerably well, frequently supplied him with the means of subsistence, and his learning procured him a favorable reception at most of the religious houses he visited. He himself tells us, that whenever he approached a peasant's house, he played one of his most merry tunes, and that generally procured him not only a lodging, but subsistence for the next day. This, however, was not the case with the rich, who generally despised both him and his music.
He had not been long arrived at Geneva, when he met with a young man, who, by the death of an uncle, was become possessed of a considerable fortune, and to whom Mr. Goldsmith was recommended for a travelling companion.-As avarice was the prevailing principle of this young man, it cannot be supposed he was long pleased with his preceptor, who was of a contrary turn of mind.
Mr. Goldsmith, during his residence at the college of Edinburgh, had given marks of his rising genius for poetry, which Switzerland greatly contributed to bring to maturity. It was here he wrote the first sketch of his Traveller, which he sent to his brother Henry, a clergyman in Ireland, who, despising Fame and Fortune, retired with an amiable wife, on an income of only forty pounds per annum, to pass a life of happiness and obscurity.
Our poet and his pupil continued together until they arrived at the south of France, where, on a disagreement, they parted, and our author was left to struggle with all the difficulties that a man could
experience, who was in a state of poverty, in a foreign country, without friends. Yet, notwithstanding all his difficulties, his ardor for travelling was not abated; and he persisted in his scheme, though he was frequently obliged to be beholden to his flute and the peasants. At length, his curiosity being gratified, he bent his course towards England, and about the be ginning of the winter, in 1758, he arrived at Dover.
His situation was not much mended on his arrival in London, at which period the whole of his finances were reduced to a few halfpence. What must be the gloomy apprehensions of a man in so forlorn a situa tion, and an utter stranger in the metropolis! He applied to several apothecaries for employment; but his aukward appearance, and his broad Irish accent, were so much against him, that he met only with ridicule and contempt. At last, however, merely through motives of humanity, he was taken notice of by a chemist, who employed him in his laboratory.
In this situation he continued, till he was informed that his old friend Dr. Sleigh was in London. He then quitted the chemist, and lived some time upon the liberality of the doctor; but, disliking a life of dependence on the generosity of his friend, and being unwilling to be burthensome to him, he soon accepted an offer that was made him, of assisting the late Rev. Dr. Milner, in the education of young gentlemen, at his academy at Peckham. During the time he remained in this situation, he gave much satisfaction to his employer; but as he had obtained some reputation from criticisms he had written in the Monthly Review, he eagerly engaged in the compila. tion of that work, with Mr. Griffith, the principal proprietor. He accordingly returned to London, took a lodging in Green-Arbour Court, in the Old Bailey, and commenced a professed author.
This was in the year 1759, before the close of which he produced several works, particularly a periodical publication, called The Bee, and An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe.
He also became a writer in The Public Ledger, in which his Citizen of the World orginally appeared under the title of Chinese Letters. His reputation extended so rapidly, and his connections became so numerous, that he was soon enabled to emerge from his mean lodgings in the Old Bailey to the politer air of the Temple, where he took chambers in 1762, and lived in a more creditable manner. At length, his reputation was fully established by the publication of The Traveller in the year 1765. His Vicar of Wakefield followed his Traveller, and his History of England was followed by the performance of his Comedy of The Good-natured Man, all which contributed to place him among the first rank of the poets of these times.
The Good-natured Man was acted at CoventGarden Theatre in the year 1768. Many parts of this play exhibit the strongest indications of our author's comic talents. There is, perhaps, no character on the stage more happily imagined, and more highly finished than Croaker's; nor do we recollect so original and successful an incident as that of the letter, which he conceives to be the composition of the incendiary, and feels a thousand ridiculous horrors in consequence of his absurd apprehension. The audience, however, having been just before exalted on the sentimental stilts of False Delicacy, a comedy by Mr. Kelly, they regarded a few scenes in Mr. Goldsmith's piece as too low for their entertainment, and therefore treated them with unjustifiable severity. Nevertheless The Good-natured Man succeeded, though in a degree inferior to its merit. The prologue to it, which is excellent, was written by Dr. Samuel Johnson.
In 1773, the Comedy of She Stoops to Conquer, or The Mistakes of a Night, was acted at Covent Garden Theatre. This piece was considered as a farce by some writers; even if so, it must be ranked among the farces of a man of genius. One of the most ludicrous circumstances it contains, which is