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OLIVER GOLDSMITH, M. B.
" The life of a Scholar,” D. Goldsmith has remarked, “ se!dom abounds with adventure: his fame is acquired in solitude; and the historian, who only views him at a distance, must be content with a dry detail of actions by which he is scarce distinguished from the rest of mankind; but we are fond of talking of those who have given us pleasure ; not that we have any thing important to say, but because the subject is pleasing."
Oliver Goldsmith, son of the Reverend Charles Goldsmith, was born in Elphin, in the county of Roscommon, in Ireland, in the year 1729. His father had four sons, of whom Oliver was the third. After being well instructed in the classics, at the school of Mr Hughes, he was admitted a sizer in Trinity College, Dublin, on the 11th of June, 1744. While he resided there, he exhibited no specimens of that genius, which, in maturer years, raised his character so high. On the 27th of February, 1749, O. S. (two years after the regular time), he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Soon after he turned his thoughts to the profession of physic; and, after attending some courses of anatomy in Dublin, proceeded to Edinburgh, in the year 1751, where he studied the several branches of medicine under the different professors in that university. His beneficent disposition soon involved him in unexpected difficulties; he was obliged precipitately to leave Scotland, in consequence of having en gaged himself to pay a considerable sum of money for a fellow-student.
The beginning of the year 1754, he arrived at Sunderland, near Newcastle, where he was arrested at the suit of one Barclay, a taylor in Edinburgh, to whom he had given security for his friend. By the good offices of Laughlane Maclane, Esq. and Dr Sleigh, who were then in the college, he was soon delivered out of the hands of the bailiff, and took his passage on board a Dutch ship to Rotterdam, where, after a short stay he proceeded to Brussels. He then visited great part of Flanders; and, after passing some time at Strasburg and Louvain, where he obtained the degree of Bachelor in Physic, he accompanied an English gentleman to Geneva.
It is undoubtedly a fact, that this ingenious unfortunate man made most part of his tour on foot. He had left England with very little money; and being of a philosophic turn, and at the time possessing a body capable of sustaining every fatigue, and a heart not easily terrified by danger, he became an enthusiast to the design he had formed of seeing the manners of different countries. He had some knowledge of the French language, and of music; he played tolerably well on the German flute; which, from amusement, became at some times the means of subsistence. His learning produced
him a hospitable reception at most of the religious houses he visited ; and his music made him welcome to the peasants of Flanders and Germany.
On his arrival at Geneva, he was recommended as a proper person for a travelling tutor to a young man, who had been unexpectedly left a considerable sum of money by his uncle Mr S This youth, who was articled to an attorney, on the re. ceipt of his fortune, determined to see the world.
During his continuance in Switzerland, Goldsmith assiduously cultivated his poetical talent, of which he had given some striking proofs at the college of Edinburgh. It was from hence he sent the first sketch of his delightful epistle, called the Traveller, to his brother Henry, a clergyman in Ireland, who, giving up fame and fortune, had retired with an amiable wife to happiness and obscurity, on an income of only forty pounds a year. The great affection Goldsmith bore for his brother, is expressed in the poem before mentioned, and gives a striking picture of his situation.
From Geneva Mr Goldsmith and his pupil proceeded to the south of France, where the young man, upon some disagreement with his preceptor, paid him the small part of his salary which was due, and embarked at Marseilles for England. Our wanderer was left once more upon the world at large, and passed through a number of difficulties in traversing the greatest part of France. At length his curiosity being gratified, he bent his course towards England, and arrived at Dover, the beginning of the winter, in the year 1758.
His finances were so low on his return to England, that he with difficulty got to the metropolis, bis whole stock of cash amounting to no more than a few half-pence. Being an entire stranger in London, his mind was filled with the most gloomy reflections, in consequence of his embarrassed situation. He applied to several apothecaries, in hopes of being received in the capacity of a journeyman; but his broad Irish accent, and the uncouthness of his appearance, occasioned him to meet with insult from most of the medical tribe. At length, however, a chemist, near Fish Street, struck with his forlorn condition, and the simplicity of his manner, took him into his laboratory, where he continued till he discovered that his old friend Dr Sleigh was in London. " It was Sunday,” said Goldsmith,“ when I paid him a visit; and it is to be supposed, in my best clothes. Sleigh scarcely knew me; such is the tax the unfortunate pay to poverty. However, when he did recollect me, I found his heart as warm as ever! and he shared his purse and his friendship with me during his continuance in London."
Goldsmith, unwilling to be a burden to his friend, a short time after, eagerly embraced an offer which was made him to assist the late Rev. Dr Milner, in instructing the young gentlemen at the academy at Peckham; and acquitted himself greatly to the Doctor's satisfaction for a short time; but, having obtained some reputation by the criticisms he had written in the Monthly Review, Mr Griffith, the principal proprietor, engaged him in the compilation of it; and resolving to pursue the profession of writing, he returned to London, as the mart where abilities of every kind were sure of meeting distinction and reward. Hore he determined to adopt a plan of the strictest economy, and, at the close of the year 1759, took lodgings in Green-Arbour Court, in the Old Bailey, where he wrote several ingenious pieces. His first works were, The Bee, a weekly pamphlet; and, An inquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe. The late Mr Newberry who, at that time, gave great encouragement to men of literary abilities, became a kind patron to Goldsmith, and introduced him as one of the writers in the Public Ledger, in which his Citizen of the World originally appeared, under the title of Chinese Letters.' During this time
(according to another account) he wrote for the British Magazine, of which Dr Smollet was then editor, most of those Essays and Tales, which he afterwards collected and published in a separate volume. He also wrote occasionally for the Critical Review; and it was the merit which he discovered in criticising a despicable translation of Ovid's Fasti, by a pedantic school-master, and his Enquiry into the Present State of Learning in Europe, which first introduced him to the acquaintance of Dr Smollet, who recommended him to several of the literati, and to most of the booksellers, by whom he was afterwards patronised. · Through the generosity of Mr Newberry, for whom he had written and compiled a number of pieces, or, in other terms, had held the pen of a ready writer, our author was enabled to shift his quarters from Green-Arbour Court to Wine-Office Court, in Fleet Street, where he put the finishing stroke to his Vicar of Wakefield. Having conciliated the esteem of Dr Johnson by that passport to the human heart, flattery, he gave so strong a recommendation of Goldsmith's novel, that the author obtained sixty pounds for the copy; a sum far beyond his expectation, as he candidly acknowledged to a literary friend. But as Goldsmith's reputation, as a writer, was not yet established, the bookseller was doubtful of the success of the novel, and kept the manuscript by him till the Traveller appeared, when he published it with great advantage.
Among many other persons of distinction who were desirous to know our author, was the Duke of Northumberland; and the circumstance that attended his introduction to that nobleman, is worthy of being related, in order to show a striking trait of his character.
'I was invited,' said the Doctor, 'by my friend Percy, to wait upon the Duke, in consequence of the satisfaction he had received from the perusal of one of my productions. I dressed myself in the best manner I could, and after studying some compli. ments I thought necessary on such an occasion, proceeded to Northumberland House, and acquainted the servants that I had particular business with his Grace. They showed me into the anti-chamber, where, after waiting some time, a gentleman, very elegantly dressed, made his appearance. Taking him for the Duke, I delivered all the fine things I had composed, in order to compliment him on the honour he had done me; when to my great astonishment, he told me I had mistaken him for his master, who would see me immediately. At that instant the Duke came into the apartment; and I was so confounded on the occasion, that I wanted words barely sufficient to express the sense I entertained of the Duke's politeness, and went away exceedingly chagrined at the blunder I had committed.'
The Doctor, at the time of this visit, was much embarrassed in his circumstances; but vain of the honour done hiin, was continually mentioning it. One of those ingenious executors of the law, a bailiff, who had a writ against him, determined to turn this circumstance to his own advantage. He wrote him a letter, that he was steward to a nobleman wbo was charmed with reading his last production, and had ordered him to desire the Doctor to appoint a place where he might have the honour of meeting him, to conduct him to bis Lordship. The vanity of poor Goldsmith immediately swallowed the bait: he appointed the British Coffee-house, to which he was accompanied by his friend Mr Hamilton, the printer of the Critical Review, who in vain remonstrated on the singularity of the application. On entering the coffee-room, the bailiff paid his respects to the Doctor, and desired that he might have the honour of immediately attending him. They had scarce entered Pall Mall, in their way to his Lord.