Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Goldsmith, Lewis

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GOLDSMITH, LEWIS (1763?–1846), political writer and journalist, was of Portuguese-Jewish extraction, and was probably born at Richmond, Surrey. He is said to have been educated at Merchant Taylors' School. Though trained for the legal profession in a solicitor's office in London, he never practised in England. An ardent sympathiser with the French revolution, and a freemason initiated into the mysteries of the Illuminati, he was in Germany in 1792, witnessed the recapture of Frankfort by the Hessians, and was denounced, as he says, by the British ambassador for arrest, but, having received timely warning, repaired to Hamburg, and thence to Poland. He was a spectator of the struggle of 1793, was commissioned by Kosciusko to write to Lord Stanhope and to a Mr. S. (Sheridan?) soliciting British intervention, and on the suppression of the Polish rising went to Holland. He is said to have been connected with the ‘Albion,’ a newspaper friendly to France, started in 1799, but his name does not appear in it. In 1801 he published ‘The Crimes of Cabinets, or a Review of the Plans and Aggressions for Annihilating the Liberties of France, and the Dismemberment of her Territories.’ Apprehensive of a prosecution for this attack upon the war with France, he went to Paris in the summer of 1802, intending to start an English magazine, and returned to London to confer with booksellers, but was asked by Otto, with whom he was on intimate terms, to go back to Paris and dissuade the government from demanding the muzzling of the English press. Talleyrand there introduced him to Napoleon, by arrangement with whom he established ‘The Argus, or London reviewed in Paris.’ The title was evidently borrowed from his friend Sampson Perry's ‘Argus,’ which Perry, on retiring to France in 1792, contemplated continuing at Paris. It appeared three times a week, and aimed at circulation in England. Goldsmith states that in February 1803, on refusing to insert articles vilifying the English royal family and government, he was arrested, was incarcerated for forty-eight hours in a loathsome cell, was then taken to Dieppe in the hope that Peltier would be given up in exchange for him, and had just cleared the harbour when counter orders arrived, whereupon he was taken back to Paris, and was invited to resume the editorship. This he declined, but he accepted a mission to bribe German statesmen, and to obtain from the future Louis XVIII a renunciation of claims on France in return for the throne of Poland. On Louis's refusal, Goldsmith says he received fresh instructions to kidnap him, and to kill him if he resisted, which instructions he disobeyed, but remained some months at Warsaw, and conveyed a warning to Louis that his life was not safe, whereupon the prince quitted the town. Goldsmith, though reproached by Napoleon for not executing this ‘mission of blood,’ was still employed by him, was once entrusted with two million francs to be employed in bribery, and was compelled to follow Napoleon to Boulogne, in order that Austria might be deluded by the pretended expedition against England. He was present at the battle of Eylau, and his occasional missions lasted from February 1803 to June 1807. During this period he was interpreter to the Paris tribunals, and in 1805 he prepared a French translation of Blackstone, which, though inadvertently commended by the ‘Moniteur,’ was angrily suppressed by Napoleon. Long anxious to leave France, he was allowed in 1809 to embark at Dunkirk in a vessel bound for America, which, however, landed him at Dover. In England he ‘suffered some temporary inconvenience and restraint [imprisonment in Tothill Fields], but had reason to be satisfied with the treatment of the English government, and to thank God that he was born within the pale of the English constitution.’ By this time he had become effectually cured of his sympathies with republicanism, and had formed a rooted antipathy to Napoleon and his plans. He became a notary in London, published in 1809 an ‘Exposition of the Conduct of France towards America,’ and in January 1811 established a Sunday newspaper, ‘The Anti-Gallican Monitor and Anti-Corsican Chronicle,’ which, with altered titles (‘Anti-Corsican Monitor’ in 1814, and ‘British Monitor’ in 1818), was continued till 1825. Goldsmith's denunciations, not only of the French revolution, but of English sympathisers, provoked fierce recriminations. He had cross actions for libel with Perry, who, he says, was suborned by Napoleon to give garbled extracts from his correspondence during his missions. Perry, being shown to be the aggressor, was awarded a farthing damages, whereupon Goldsmith dropped his own suit. His proposal in 1811 for a subscription for setting a price on Napoleon's head was brought before the House of Lords by Earl Grey, was reprobated by the government, who promised if possible to bring the author to condign punishment, and was consequently abandoned. Goldsmith, however, subsequently issued an appeal to the Germans in favour of tyrannicide. In 1811 he published the ‘Secret History of the Cabinet of Bonaparte,’ and ‘Recueil des Manifestes, or a Collection of the Decrees, &c., of Napoleon Bonaparte,’ and in 1812 the ‘Secret History of Bonapart's Diplomacy.’ The charges of debauchery and unscrupulousness brought by him against Napoleon have found at least partial credence with recent writers. Napoleon certainly winced under these attacks, and, according to Goldsmith, offered him 200,000l. in 1812 to discontinue them. About 1813 Goldsmith was introduced to Louis XVIII, whose restoration he warmly advocated. In 1814 he translated Carnot's ‘Memorial,’ and in 1815 he published ‘An Appeal to the Governments of Europe on the necessity of bringing Napoleon Bonaparte to a public trial.’ After Waterloo he advocated an alliance with France as England's natural ally, and declared that the three Eastern powers, the partitioners of Poland, had in a great degree deserved his early strictures. He visited Paris in May 1818, and again in November 1819, when a French paper denounced him as having calumniated the army in his ‘Cabinet of Bonaparte.’ Goldsmith repudiated the French translation of that book as containing interpolations and blunders, but found it necessary to recross the Channel. His newspaper, latterly a warm supporter of Robert Owen, having been given up 3 April 1825, Goldsmith returned to Paris, where, his disclaimer of the translation being accepted, or resentments having died out, he suffered no molestation. He was interpreter to the Tribunal of Commerce till 1831, founded the short-lived Paris ‘Monitor,’ and published in 1832 ‘Statistics of France,’ so good a digest that a French translation appeared the following year. In 1837 his only child, Georgiana, married Lord Lyndhurst [see Copley, John Singleton, the younger]. A sketch of Barère, with whom he was intimate in 1802–9, which appeared in the ‘Times’ of 1841, is attributed to Goldsmith by Barère's biographer, Carnot. He died of paralysis at Paris on 6 Jan. 1846. The ‘Times’ stated that he was seventy-three or seventy-four, but contemporaries describe him as in extreme old age. He had latterly been solicitor to the British embassy, and had charge of the letters and packages for English residents, which in those days of high postage were franked to the embassy.

[Biographical matter scattered over his newspaper and pamphlets; Parl. Hist. 24 June 1811; Biog. des Hommes Vivants, 1817.]

J. G. A.