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was employed to write in the Public Ledger the Chinese Letters, afterwards collected under the title of “ The Citizen of the World ;” and soon after he obtained the friendship of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who encouraged him in his pursuits, applauded his exertions, and occasionally assisted him with his advice.
Our author, however, did not soon emerge from obscurity. He continued in his humble abode in Green-arbour Court, until about the middle of the year 1762, when he removed to a handsome set of chambers in the Middle Temple. His name was still but little known, except among the booksellers, until the year 1765, when his genius displayed itself in its full vigour by the publication of " The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society ;” a poem begun in Switzerland, and which was revised by Dr. Johnson; who pronounced this eulogium on it, “ that there had not been so fine a poem since Pope's time.”
In the year 1767, our author, who had now assumed the title of Doctor, made his first, and, probably, his only effort towards obtaining a permanent establishment. On the death of Mr. Mace, Gresham Professor of Civil Law, he became a candidate to succeed him ; but without success. In 1768, his first play, The Good Natured Man, was acted at Covent Garden, with less approbation than it deserved. Dr. Johnson's opinion of this performance was, that it was the best comedy that had appeared since the Provoked Husband; and that there had not been of late any such character on the stage as that of Croaker. In the succeeding year he had the honorary Professorship of History in the Royal Academy conferred on him; and in this year his beautiful poem, the Deserted Village, was first printed.
The estimation in which he was held by the booksellers was at this time so great, that he was solicited to engage in a variety of works, some of which, it cannot be denied, were executed in a hasty and slovenly manner. His reputation however was but little diminished to the end of his life. His emoluments were very great; and had he possessed only a small portion of prudence, he might have ensured that independence, the want of which embittered his latter days, and contributed in some measure to shorten his life.
His generosity, not to call it profusion, was without bounds; and he had constantly a set of miserable dependants, whose wants he supplied, even to the distressing himself. He had also unfortunately contracted a habit of gaming, with the arts of which he was very little acquainted; and consequently became
the prey of some who were unprincipled enough to take advantage of his ignorance. An habitual carelessness with respect to money matters, at all times appears to have been his predominant failing. Though, as already observed, the emoluments arising from his writings were very great, yet his income bore no proportion to his expences. He became embarassed in his circumstances, and in consequence uneasy, fretful, and peevish. To this was added a violent strangury, with which he was some years afflicted, and which, with other misfortunes, brought on a kind of habitual despondency. In this state he was attacked by a nervous fever, which, being improperly treated, terminated in his dissolution the 4th of April, 1774, in the forty-fifth year of his age. It was first intended by his friends to bury him in Westminster Abbey; his pall was to have been supported by Lord Shelburne, Lord Louth, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the Honourable Mr. Beauclerc, Mr. Edmund Burke, and Mr. Garrick; but a slight inspection into his affairs showed the impropriety of that design. He was therefore privately interred, in the burial ground belonging to the Temple; when Mr. Hugh Kelly, Messrs. John and Robert Day, Mr. Palmer, Mr. Etherington, and Mr. Hawes; gentlemen, who had been his friends in life, attended his corpse as mourners, and paid the last tribute to his memory.
Dr. Johnson's character of Goldsmith, as an author, a few years after his death, is highly honourable to him. “ He was,” says that admirable writer, “a man of such variety of powers, and such felicity of performance, that he always seemed to do best, that which he was doing: a man who had the art of being minute without tediousness, and general without confusion; whose language was copious without exuberance, exact without constraint, and easy without weakness.”
Mr. Boswell has also portrayed our author: and some of his traits of his character will be readily recognized by his surviving friends. “No man had the art of displaying with more advantage, as a writer, whatever literary acquisition 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 confusion in expressing them. He was very much what the French call un etourdi ; and from vanity, and an eager desire of being conspicuous where-ever he was, he frequently talked carelessly, without knowledge of the subject, or even without thought. His person was short; his countenance coarse and 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.”—“He, I 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.”
To these accounts, we shall add the following pleasant description of our author, by the sprightly pen of David Garrick.
Here, Hermes, says Jove, who with nectar was mellow,
dross; Without cause be he pleased, without cause be he cross: