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OLIVER GOLDSMITH, M. B.
A VARIETY OF ORIGINAL SOURCES.
FELLOW OF THE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES : MEMBER OF THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY ;
AUTHOR OF THE LIFE OF BURKE, ETC.
E. L. CAREY & A. HART.
MY LORD DUKE, The following pages, and the new and more perfect edition of the Miscellaneous Works of Goldsmith which will immediately succeed them, originated during your Administration of the Irish Government, at the time when circumstances afforded me the honour of an introduction to your Grace; and to you they are now appropriately inscribed. An Earl of Northumberland was the first to offer assistance and patronage to the Poet; and for the amusement of his Countess, the beautiful ballad of the “Hermit" was written. Were I to assign further motives for the present address, they would be the moderation of your character and measures in the Government of his native country during a period of much political disquiet; and the princely munificence extended, where it was so much wanted, toward her public charities. These are merits which, among her many angry and unhappy contentions, admit of no diversity of opinion; and claim from every native of Ireland that respect which is felt by,
MY LORD DUKE,
BIOGRAPHY has been justly characterized as combining much useful instruction with a large share of amusement; and no description of it has been more popular than the lives of literary men. One of the reasons of this preference probably is, that we are naturally curious about what is more particularly considered the history of Mind; and in such accounts we are often enabled to trace it in active operation while giving birth to productions that have won the admiration of mankind. Neither is the personal career of such persons without many, and sometimes uncommon vicissitudes: from their lives we turn to their writings with increased interest; and delight in contrasting perhaps the follies and weaknesses that have marked the one, with the wisdom and excellence shown in the other.
To this agreeable department of literature, Ireland, though not deficient in eminent names, has contributed less than the sister countries; and her zeal has been thence thought lukewarm in celebrating the praises of her offspring. The cause however is not owing to indifference to their fame, but to the fact of the individuals having commonly transferred their talents to England, and thus lost something of that nationality which would have more particularly identified them with their native country. Among her divines, philosophers, and statesmen, there are several whose lives yet remain to be written. The remark applies equally to her poets: indeed, there are few of these whose history is familiar to the general reader. Of Roscommon, for instance, although a nobleman and necessarily moving in a sphere of life more open to observation than men of inferior rank, little comparatively is known; little at Jeast of that species of detail which gives biography its chief charm. The same may be said of Denham; for Denham, though of English ancestry, being born in Ireland, may fairly be claimed as an Irish writer. With regard to Farquhar, whose genius for comedy was not excelled by either Congreve or Sheridan, little of a satisfactory nature is recorded of his private life; nay, we have hardly any details of his more public career, excepting the facts of his having been an actor upon the stage, and afterwards an officer in the army: of Boyse (author of the “ Deity”) we know only that he was of reckless and dissipated habits; of John Cunningham, known for his ballads and a variety of poetical pieces between 1750 and 1770, that he was a strolling player; and even Goldsmith was enabled to glean little concerning Parnell. Southerne lived long enough to be enabled himself to contradict the story commonly told, and not yet expunged from some of the biographical dictionaries, of his having been born in England and brought up a servitor at Oxford, instead of being, as he really was, a native of Dublin, and educated at his own expense in her University. And Dr. Johnson has thought proper to consider the birthplace of Swift as in some measure doubtful.
To the list of writers of whom we know less than their reputation deserves, must be added GOLDSMITH. A biographical preface is all that