Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Goldsmith, Oliver
GOLDSMITH, OLIVER (1728–1774), poet, second son and fifth child of Charles Goldsmith, by his wife, Ann, daughter of the Rev. Oliver Jones, master of the diocesan school at Elphin, was born at Pallas, near Ballymahon, Longford, 10 Nov. 1728 (Prior, i. 14). Charles Goldsmith, married in 1718, was at this time curate to the rector of Kilkenny West. He also farmed a few fields. His other children were Margaret (b. 1719); Catherine, born 13 Jan. 1721 (Mrs. Hodson); Henry, born 9 Feb. 1722 or 1723, died in May 1768; Jane, born before Oliver; Maurice, born 7 July 1736; Charles, born 16 Aug. 1737; and John, born 1740. In 1730 Charles Goldsmith became rector of Kilkenny West and settled at Lissoy. Oliver learnt his letters from a Mrs. Delap, who thought him ‘impenetrably stupid.’ When six years old he was sent to the village school kept by an old soldier, Thomas Byrne, described in the ‘Deserted Village.’ Goldsmith, though bad at his lessons, read chapbooks, listened to the ballads of the peasantry, and made his first attempts at rhyme. His sister, Mrs. Hodson, says that he was always scribbling verses before he could write legibly (Percy Memoir, p. 4). A bad attack of small-pox, which left a permanent disfigurement, interrupted his schooling, and he was afterwards placed under a Mr. Griffin at Elphin school, where he began to be noticed for his cleverness. His father's means were strained by the cost of keeping the eldest son Henry at a classical school. Relations now came forward and enabled Oliver to be placed about 1739 at a school in Athlone; whence, two years later, he was moved to the school of Patrick Hughes in Edgeworthstown, Longford. The local poets, O'Carolan and Lawrence Whyte, whose songs were popular in the country, are supposed to have interested Goldsmith, who was now showing decided promise. When finally going home he was sent (as his sister says) by a Tony Lumpkin of the district to a gentleman's house on pretence that it was an inn. The incident suggested, if it is not derived from, the plot of ‘She stoops to conquer’ (Prior, i. 47; cf. Gent. Mag. 1820, p. 620). His brother Henry had married early, after obtaining a scholarship at Trinity College, Dublin, and set up a school near his father. One of Henry's pupils, the son of a rich neighbour, Daniel Hodson, privately married his sister Catherine. The elder Goldsmith, to show that he had not been intriguing for a rich son-in-law, engaged to pay a marriage portion of 400l. to his daughter. The sum, which was double the annual income of the rectory, made economy necessary. It was therefore decided that Oliver should go to Trinity as a sizar, his brother having been a pensioner. He was only induced to submit by the persuasion of Thomas Contarine, husband of his father's sister, who had already helped to educate him and was a friend through life. Goldsmith was entered at Trinity College 11 June 1744. He was a contemporary, but probably not an acquaintance, of Edmund Burke. His tutor was the Rev. Theaker Wilder, an able mathematician and a man of some good qualities, but always harsh, and at times brutal. Goldsmith felt the humiliations of a sizar's position, and disliked the mathematical and logical studies. His father died early in 1747. By the help of Contarine and other relations he was able to struggle on, but he had often to pawn his books, and occasionally earned a little by writing street-ballads which he sold for 5s. apiece. In May 1747 he was admonished for abetting a riot, in which some bailiffs were ducked in the college cistern, the four ringleaders being expelled. In June 1747 he tried for a scholarship, and though he failed obtained a Smyth exhibition of about 30s. a year. He gave a supper and a dance to celebrate his success, when his tutor entered the room in a rage and administered ‘personal chastisement.’ Goldsmith sold his books and ran away to Cork, but want of funds compelled him to return to his brother Henry, who patched up a reconciliation with the tutor.
His later career, though not distinguished, was so far successful that he obtained the B.A. degree 27 Feb. 1749. A pane of glass on which he had scrawled his name is now preserved in the manuscript room of Trinity College. His brother was still living at Pallas; his mother was in a small house at Ballymahon; and his sister, Mrs. Hodson, with her husband at Lissoy. His mother died in 1770, blind and poor. Prior (ii. 299) sufficiently refutes a story told by Northcote (Life of Reynolds, i. 211) which suggests a want of feeling in her son's conduct. Goldsmith for some time led an unsettled life, occasionally helping in his brother's school, or joining in sport with his brother-in-law. He declined to take orders, or, according to one story, the bishop to whom he presented himself had heard of college pranks or was shocked by his ‘scarlet breeches.’ He haunted the inn at Ballymahon, told stories, played the flute, and threw the hammer at village sports. His uncle Contarine got him a tutorship with a Mr. Flinn. Tired of this, he started, provided with a horse and 30l., sold the horse at Cork to pay for a passage to America. Then he missed his ship, and after various adventures got home without a penny, and with a wretched hack in place of his horse. Prior (i. 119) gives a letter from Goldsmith containing this story, which, however, reads suspiciously like the fragment of a novel. Contarine next supplied Goldsmith with 50l. to start as a lawyer in London; and Goldsmith returned after losing the money at a Dublin gaming-house. At last, by the help of his uncle, brother, and sister, he was enabled to start for Edinburgh to study medicine. He arrived there in the autumn of 1752. On 13 Jan. 1753 he became a member of a students' club called ‘The Medical Society.’ He sang Irish songs, told good stories, made many friends, and wrote letters which already show his characteristic style. He made a trip to the highlands in the spring of 1753, but the Scots and their country were not very congenial to his tastes. He speaks with respect of Alexander Monro, the professor of anatomy, but soon decided to finish his studies on the continent. At the end of 1753 he started, intending to go to Paris and Leyden. He was released by two friends, Sleigh and Lauchlan Macleane [q. v.], from a debt incurred on behalf of a friend, and sailed for Bordeaux. The ship was driven into Newcastle, where Goldsmith went ashore with some companions, and the whole party was arrested on suspicion of having been enlisting for the French service in Scotland. Goldsmith was in prison for a fortnight, during which the ship sailed and was lost with all the crew. He found another ship sailing for Rotterdam, took a passage and went to Leyden. Here he was befriended by a fellow-countryman named Ellis. He soon set off on a fresh journey, stimulated perhaps by the precedent of Baron Holberg (1684–1754), whose travels he describes in his ‘Polite Learning’ (ch. v.). Ellis lent him a small sum, which he spent upon some bulbs for his uncle Contarine. He started with ‘one clean shirt’ and next to no money.
The accounts given of his travels are of doubtful authenticity. They have been constructed from the story of George Primrose in the ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ assumed to be autobiographical from occasional hints in his books, and from reports of his conversation and missing letters. Goldsmith probably amused himself with travellers' tales, taken too seriously by his friends. He started about February 1755; his biographers trace him to Louvain, to Paris, Strasburg, Germany, and Switzerland; thence to Italy, where he is supposed to have visited Venice, and to have studied at Padua for ‘six months’ (Works, 1812, i. 36), to Carinthia (mentioned in the ‘Traveller’), and back through France to England, landing at Dover 1 Feb. 1756. He is said to have acted as tutor to a stingy pupil, either from Paris to Switzerland, or from Geneva to Marseilles; but he travelled chiefly on foot, paying for the hospitality of peasants by playing on his flute. In Italy, where every peasant played better than himself, he supported himself by disputing at universities or convents. It seems very improbable that Goldsmith could have disputed to any purpose, or that disputation was then at all profitable. Perhaps the anecdote was suggested by ‘the Admirable Crichton.’ He is reported to have taken the M.B. degree at Louvain (Glover), or again at Padua (M'Donnell in Prior, ii. 346). He says in his ‘Polite Learning’ (ch. viii.) and ‘Percy’ that he had heard chemical lectures in Paris, and in No. 2 of the ‘Bee’ he describes the acting of Mlle. Clairon. In the ‘Animated Nature’ (v. 207) he speaks of walks round Paris, of having flushed woodcocks on the Jura in June and July, and of having seen the Rhine frozen at Schaffhausen. He speaks of hearing Voltaire talk in ‘his house at Monrion,’ near Lausanne, and in his ‘Life of Voltaire’ gives a detailed account of a conversation at Paris between Voltaire, Diderot, and Fontenelle. Voltaire was certainly in Switzerland during the whole of 1755, and Goldsmith may have seen him at Monrion; but Diderot was certainly at Paris; Fontenelle, then aged 98, could not possibly have taken the part described by Goldsmith; and the conversation, for which Goldsmith vouches, must be set down as pure fiction. He was no doubt in Switzerland, Padua, and Paris; but all details are doubtful.
He reached London in great destitution. Stories are told that he tried acting (probably an inference from his ‘Adventures of a Strolling Player’ in the ‘British Magazine’), and that he was usher in a country school (T. Campbell, Historical Survey of South of Ireland, pp. 286–9). He became assistant to a chemist named Jacob on Fish Street Hill. After a time he met his friend Dr. Sleigh, who received him kindly, and he managed to set up as a physician in Bankside, Southwark. He told a friend (Prior, i. 215) that he ‘was doing very well;’ but his dress was tarnished and his shirt a fortnight old. Reynolds (ib.) repeated an anecdote of the pains which he took to carry his hat so as to conceal a patch in his coat. From the statement of an old Edinburgh friend (Dr. Farr) it appears that he had written a tragedy, which he had shown to Richardson, and that he had a scheme for travelling to Mount Sinai, to decipher the ‘written mountains.’ A salary of 300l. per annum had been left for the purpose. Boswell says that he had been a corrector of the press, possibly to Richardson. About the end of 1756 he became usher in a school at Peckham kept by Dr. Milner, a dissenting minister, whose daughter and one of whose pupils, Samuel Bishop, preserved a few traditions of his flute-playing, his fun with the boys, and his pecuniary imbecility. Milner's son had known Goldsmith at Edinburgh, and Dr. Milner wanted an assistant, on account of an illness which proved fatal not long after (Percy Memoir, p. 45). At Milner's house he met a bookseller named Griffiths, proprietor of the ‘Monthly Review,’ one of the chief periodicals of the day. Early in 1757 he agreed to lodge with Griffiths, and work for the review at an ‘adequate salary.’ He contributed many miscellaneous articles from April to September 1757, the last being a review of Gray's ‘Odes’ in September 1757. He also reviewed Home's ‘Douglas,’ Burke's ‘On the Sublime and Beautiful,’ Smollett's ‘History,’ and Wilkie's ‘Epigoniad.’ Both Griffiths and his wife edited his papers remorselessly, and Goldsmith became disgusted. He probably contributed to other papers, and was engaged in a translation of the ‘Memoirs of Jean Marteilhe’ of Bergerac, which was published by Griffiths and Dilly in February 1758. After leaving Griffiths he returned for a time to Dr. Milner. A letter to his brother-in-law, Hodson, of December 1757 says that he was making a shift to live by a ‘very little practice as a physician, and a very little reputation as a poet.’ His younger brother Charles was paying him a visit, prompted by an erroneous impression of his prosperity, which soon terminated. Three letters, written in August 1758 to friends in Ireland, show that he was trying to get subscribers for his essay ‘On the Present State of Taste and Literature in Europe,’ which was then going through the press. He was still hoping to obtain an appointment as physician and surgeon to a factory on the coast of Coromandel. The appointment was obtained through Milner. He would have a salary of 100l. a year, and the practice was worth 1,000l. His book was to pay for his passage. On 21 Dec. 1758 he was examined at Surgeons' Hall for a certificate as ‘hospital mate’ and found ‘not qualified.’ Although his hopes of the Indian appointment survived for a time (Prior, i. 297), he was henceforth doomed to be a literary hack.
Goldsmith had borrowed a suit of clothes from Griffiths in order to appear decently before his examiners. He contributed in return four articles to the December number of the ‘Monthly Review’ to show his gratitude. Goldsmith was driven to pawn these clothes, and Griffiths suspected him of having also disposed of some books which (as Goldsmith declared) were not pawned, but were ‘in the custody of a friend from whom he had borrowed some money.’ A letter to Griffiths promising repayment (PRIOR, i. 286) in January 1759 appears to have led to some reconciliation. Goldsmith wrote a catchpenny ‘Life of Voltaire,’ for which Griffiths paid 20l., and which was advertised for publication in February. It ultimately came out in the ‘Lady's Magazine’ (edited by Goldsmith) in 1761. An attack upon Goldsmith, however, appeared in the ‘Monthly Review’ on the appearance of his ‘Polite Literature,’ written by Kenrick, who had succeeded him as writer of all work for Griffiths. Although some apology was afterwards made, cordiality was never restored.
Goldsmith had now taken a lodging in 12 Green Arbour Court, between the Old Bailey and Fleet Market, a small yard approached by ‘Breakneck Steps.’ A print of it is in the ‘European Magazine’ for January 1803 (partially reproduced in Forster, 1877, i. 154). The court was destroyed by the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway (for a description see Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vii. 233). Here he used to collect the children to dance to his flute, and made friends with a clever watchmaker. He was beginning to win some reputation as a writer. The ‘Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe’ appeared in April 1759. The information is, of course, acquired for the nonce. The book shows pessimistic views as to the state of literature, which is naturally attributed to the inadequate remuneration of authors. It attracted some notice, and some useful visitors came to Green Arbour Court. Among them was Thomas Percy [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Dromore, who had been introduced to Goldsmith by James Grainger [q. v.], a contributor to the ‘Monthly Review.’ Percy was collecting materials for the ‘Reliques,’ and Goldsmith shared his love of old ballads. Percy found only one chair in Goldsmith's room, and a neighbour sent a child during his visit to borrow ‘a chamberpot full of coals.’ Smollett, another acquaintance, was at this time connected with the ‘Critical Review,’ to which Goldsmith contributed a few articles in 1757–9, and in 1760 started the ‘British Magazine,’ for which Goldsmith also wrote. He was employed on three periodicals started in this year, the ‘Lady's Magazine,’ the ‘Bee,’ and the ‘Busybody,’ of which the first numbers appeared on 1, 6, and 9 Oct. 1759 respectively. The ‘Bee’ only lasted through eight weekly numbers, of which Goldsmith was the principal if not the sole author. His contributions to the ‘British Magazine’ in 1760 are said to have included ‘The History of Mrs. Stanton,’ which has been regarded as the germ of the ‘Vicar of Wakefield.’ Mr. Austin Dobson, with apparent reason, doubts the authorship. He left the ‘British Magazine’ for a time to edit the ‘Lady's Magazine,’ but appears to have afterwards contributed a series of articles on the ‘Belles-Lettres,’ which began in July 1761, and continued with intervals until 1763. Another periodical to which he contributed was Dodd's ‘Christian Magazine.’
Goldsmith had formed a more important connection with John Newbery, bookseller, in St. Paul's Churchyard. He is mentioned in the ‘Vicar of Wakefield’ (ch. xviii.) as the ‘philanthropic bookseller’ who has ‘written so many little books for children.’ Newbery started the ‘Public Ledger,’ a newspaper of which the first number appeared 12 Jan. 1760. He engaged Goldsmith for 100l. a year to contribute papers twice a week. Johnson was at the same time writing the ‘Idler’ for another paper of Newbery's, the ‘Universal Chronicle.’ The first of Goldsmith's papers, called the ‘Chinese Letters,’ appeared on 24 Jan. They continued during the year, in which ninety-eight letters appeared in all. He afterwards used some of them, together with his ‘Life of Voltaire,’ in the ‘Lady's Magazine,’ which occupied much of his time in 1761.
The ‘Chinese Letters,’ which were printed in 2 vols. 12mo in 1762 as ‘The Citizen of the World,’ raised Goldsmith's reputation. He inserted some of his other anonymous essays. They contain many descriptions of character, which, if surpassed by himself, were surpassed by no other writer of the time. His position improved as his reputation rose, and he moved in 1760 to superior lodgings at No. 6 Wine Office Court, Fleet Street, where he lodged with one of Newbery's connections. He had paid a compliment to Johnson in the fifth number of the ‘Bee,’ and on 31 May 1761 Johnson came to a supper at Goldsmith's lodgings, dressed with scrupulous neatness, because, as he told Percy, he had heard that he had been quoted by Goldsmith as a precedent for slovenly habits. Goldsmith was generally more inclined to lavishness in the matter of tailors' bills. About this time, on the accession of Bute to office (Prior, i. 383), Goldsmith is said to have memorialised him, asking to be sent to the East to make scientific inquiries. He also applied to Garrick to recommend him for the secretaryship of the Society of Arts, which was vacant in 1760. Garrick refused in consequence of passages by Goldsmith in ‘Polite Literature’ reflecting upon his theatrical management (ib. p. 379).
During 1762 Goldsmith did various pieces of hackwork for Newbery. He wrote a pamphlet on the Cock Lane ghost for 3l. 3s.; a ‘History of Mecklenburgh,’ the country of the new queen, Charlotte; and he began a ‘Compendium of Biography,’ based upon Plutarch's ‘Lives.’ Seven volumes appeared during the year, the last two volumes of which were probably compiled by a hack named Collyer. Goldsmith's health was weak at this period, and he visited Bath, paying for his expenses, it is to be hoped, by a life of Nash (published 14 Oct. 1762), for which he received fourteen guineas. Prior estimates his whole income for 1762 at under 120l.
At the end of 1762 he moved to Islington. Newbery occupied a room in the old tower of Canonbury House in that parish (description and engraving in Welsh, A Bookseller of the last Century, p. 46); and Goldsmith lodged with a Mrs. Elizabeth Fleming, paying 50l. a year for his board and lodging. He worked for Newbery at a variety of odd jobs, writing prefaces, correcting the press, and so forth, though Newbery's advances during the year previous to October 1763 exceeded the amount due for ‘Copy of different kinds,’ namely, 63l., by 48l. 1s. 6d., for which Goldsmith gave a promissory note dated 11 Oct. 1763. On 17 Dec. he borrowed twenty-five guineas from Newbery. According to one story he needed the money for an excursion to Yorkshire, in the course of which the ‘Vicar of Wakefield’ was suggested by some incident. He was absent from Islington, as his bills show, during the first quarter of 1764. ‘A History of England in a Series of Letters from a Nobleman to his Son,’ in 2 vols. 12mo, for which Goldsmith received some 50l. (Prior, i. 498), appeared in June 1764 anonymously, and was attributed to many eminent writers. About this time he became one of the original nine members of Johnson's famous club which met during his life at the Turk's Head, Gerrard Street, Soho. Hawkins, an original member, says that ‘we’ considered him ‘as a mere literary drudge.’ The election was no doubt due to Johnson's good opinion, who told Boswell in June 1763 that Goldsmith was ‘one of the first men we now have as an author.’ The opinion, then esoteric, became general on the publication of the ‘Traveller,’ 19 Dec. 1764, inscribed to his brother Henry, to whom he had sent some portions from Switzerland. Four editions appeared during 1765, a fifth in 1768, a sixth (the last revised by the author) in 1770, and a ninth in 1774. He received twenty guineas for it on publication, and probably an additional twenty guineas on its success. Johnson declared in the ‘Critical Review’ that it would not be easy to find its equal since the death of Pope. He also contributed a few lines (‘nine,’ as he told Boswell), and was therefore supposed to have written more. The ‘Traveller’ owes something to Johnson's own didactic poems, and something to Addison's ‘Letter from Italy.’ But Johnson's eulogy is fully deserved, and the ‘Traveller’ is still among the most perfect examples of its style. The ‘Traveller’ brought him the acquaintance of Robert Nugent (afterwards Viscount Clare), and it seems that Nugent introduced him to the Earl of Northumberland, lordlieutenant of Ireland from April 1763 till April 1765. Hawkins (Johnson, p. 419) states that Northumberland offered to help Goldsmith in Ireland, and that this ‘idiot in the affairs of the world’ only recommended his brother Henry, and preferred for himself to depend upon the booksellers. His lamentable indifference, says this stern censor, confined him to one patron (Lord Clare), whom he occasionally visited. Northumberland (to whom Goldsmith's friend Percy was chaplain) did not return to Ireland, and therefore, perhaps, did nothing for Goldsmith. Percy (p. 66) says that Goldsmith was confused on this or some other occasion by mistaking the groom of the chambers for the nobleman. In any case, Goldsmith continued to be on friendly terms with him, and sent his ballad ‘Edwin and Angelina’ to the Countess of Northumberland, for whose amusement it was privately printed. A spiteful charge made against him in 1767 by Kenrick of stealing from Percy's ‘Friar of Orders Grey’ was disposed of by Goldsmith's statement, confirmed by Percy, that ‘Edwin and Angelina’ was the first written. In 1797 Goldsmith's ballad was asserted to have been taken from a French poem, really a translation from Goldsmith (PRIOR, ii. 89). The ballad was first published in the ‘Vicar of Wakefield.’
A collection of Goldsmith's essays in 1765 proved the growth of his fame, and he tried to take advantage of it by setting up as a physician. The cost of ‘purple silk small clothes’ and a ‘scarlet roquelaure’ probably exceeded all that he made by fees. One of his patients preferring the advice of an apothecary to that of her physician, Goldsmith declared that he would prescribe no more (ib. ii. 105).
The ‘Vicar of Wakefield’ was published on 27 March 1766 (first editions described in Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ix. 68, xi. 268, 371). It had been kept back until the success of the ‘Traveller’ had raised the author's reputation. Boswell (Johnson (Birkbeck Hill), i. 415) tells the story that Johnson was one morning called in by Goldsmith, whose landlady had arrested him for his rent. Johnson found that Goldsmith had a novel ready for press, took it to a publisher, sold it for 60l. (or guineas, ib. iii. 321), and brought back the sum, which enabled Goldsmith to pay his rent and rate his landlady. The story is told with variations and obvious inaccuracies in Mrs. Piozzi's ‘Anecdotes,’ p. 119, in Hawkins's ‘Life of Johnson,’ p. 420, and in Cumberland's ‘Memoirs,’ i. 372. Cooke, in the ‘European Magazine,’ gives a rather different version. Boswell's account, carefully taken from Johnson's statement, is no doubt substantially accurate. Some difficulty has arisen from the discovery of Mr. Welsh that Goldsmith sold a third share in the book to Collins, a Salisbury printer, for twenty guineas on 28 Oct. 1762. It seems, however, that the statements may be sufficiently harmonised if we suppose the incident described by Johnson to have taken place in Wine Office Court before the sale to Collins, and that Johnson obtained, not the full price, but an advance on account of an unfinished story. Several minute circumstances show that the book was partly written in 1762, but not completed until a later period (see Austin Dobson, pp. 110–17). The success of this masterpiece was marked and immediate, though its popularity is now greater than it was at first. (An ingenious attempt to identify the scenery with the district in Yorkshire visited by Goldsmith (see above) has been made by Mr. Ford's article in the ‘National Review,’ May 1883.)
Goldsmith's reputation was now established, and his circumstances improved correspondingly. Upon leaving Islington, he had taken chambers in the Temple; first at Garden Court, afterwards in the King's Bench Walk, and finally on the second floor at 2 Brick Court, where he remained till his death. At different times he took lodgings in the country to work without interruption. In the summer of 1767 he again lodged at Islington, this time in the turret of Canonbury House, and attended convivial meetings at the Crown tavern. At a later period he took lodgings at a farm near Hyde, on the Edgware road, where in 1771–4 he wrote ‘She stoops to conquer,’ and worked at the ‘Animated Nature.’ In London his love of society, of masquerades, and probably of gaming, distracted him from regular work. Goldsmith laboured industriously at tasks which brought in regular pay, though not conducive to permanent fame. He appears to have fulfilled his engagements with booksellers with a punctuality hardly to be anticipated from his general habits. In December 1766 appeared a selection of ‘Poems for Young Ladies,’ for which he received ten guineas; and in April 1767 he had probably 50l. (Prior, ii. 130) for two volumes of ‘The Beauties of English Poesy,’ which gave offence by the inclusion of two indelicate poems of Prior. In 1767 he engaged to write a Roman history, for which Davies offered him 250 guineas. It appeared in May 1769, and its pleasant style gave it a popularity not earned by any severe research. His lives of Parnell and Bolingbroke were published in 1770. In February 1769 he agreed to write a book for Griffin upon natural history, in eight volumes, for which he was to receive a hundred guineas a volume; and in the following June he wrote an English history (for Davies) for which he was to have five hundred guineas. The English history (chiefly derived from Hume) appeared in August 1771, and he afterwards wrote a small schoolbook on the same subject, which was posthumously published. He wrote a Greek history, for which Griffin paid him 250l. in June 1773, though it was not published till two months after his death. The payments for the ‘Animated Nature’ (the ultimate title of his book on natural history) were completed in June 1772. This, like the two preceding, was posthumously published.
The hackwork had more than the usual merit from the invariable charm of Goldsmith's style. Happily, however, he found time for more permanent work. Early in 1767 he offered his ‘Good-natured Man’ to Garrick for Drury Lane. Garrick probably retained some resentment against Goldsmith, and doubted the success of the play. A proposal to refer the matter to William Whitehead only led to a quarrel. Goldsmith then offered his play to Colman for Covent Garden (July 1767). It was accepted for Christmas. Garrick in competition brought out Hugh Kelly's sentimental comedy, ‘False Delicacy,’ and Colman, who meanwhile was reconciled to Garrick, postponed Goldsmith's play till 29 Jan. 1768 (Kelly's being acted a week earlier). The reception was not entirely favourable. The scene with the bailiffs was hissed, and Goldsmith going to the club with Johnson professed to be in high spirits, but when left alone with his friend burst into tears and swore that he would never write again (Piozzi, pp. 244–6). The obnoxious scene being retrenched the play went better, and ran for ten nights. The omitted scene was replaced ‘by particular desire’ at Covent Garden, 3 March 1773 (Genest, v. 372). Goldsmith made 300l. or 400l. besides another 100l. for the copyright. The popularity of the ‘sentimental comedy’ seems to have hindered a full appreciation of Goldsmith's fun.
The next triumph of Goldsmith's genius was the ‘Deserted Village,’ published 26 May 1770, and begun two years previously. It went through five editions at once (for first editions see Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 491); and the only critical question since raised has been whether it is a little better than the ‘Traveller’ or not quite so good. Both poems are elegant versions of the popular declamation of the time against luxury and depopulation. Auburn in some degree represents Lissoy, and the story of an old eviction by a General Napier was probably in Goldsmith's mind. Some of the characters are obviously his old friends. But the poem is intended to apply to England; and the attempt to turn poems into a gazetteer is generally illusory. The statement by Glover that he received a hundred guineas and returned it as too much is hardly probable.
‘She stoops to conquer’ had been written in 1771 at Hyde. It was offered to Colman in 1772. He hesitated till January 1773, when he yielded to the pressure applied by Johnson. Colman's doubts were shared by the actors, some of whom threw up their parts. It was at last performed at Covent Garden 15 March 1773. Johnson led a body of friends, including Burke and Reynolds, to the first night. Cumberland, whose inaccuracies make all his statements doubtful, says that he was of the party, and minutely describes the result (Memoirs, i. 367). In any case the success was undeniable. It answered, as Johnson said, the ‘great end of comedy, making an audience merry.’ When Goldsmith heard from Northcote (then a pupil of Reynolds) that he had laughed ‘exceedingly,’ ‘That,’ he replied, ‘is all that I require.’ The adherents of the sentimental comedy had forgotten the advantages of laughter; and the success of Goldsmith's play led to their discomfiture. It ran for twelve nights, producing 400l. or 500l. for the author, and was published with a dedication to his staunch supporter, Johnson.
During his later years Goldsmith was widely known and beloved. His most intimate friends appear to have been the Hornecks, who were Devonshire people, and known through Reynolds. The family consisted of a widowed mother, a son Charles, who was in the guards, and two daughters, Catherine, ‘Little Comedy,’ married in 1771 to Henry William Bunbury [q. v.], and Mary, ‘the Jessamy Bride,’ who became Mrs. Gwyn, gave recollections to Prior, and died in 1840. In 1770 he took a trip to Paris with Mrs. Horneck and her daughters. In 1773 his old enemy, Kenrick (probably), wrote an insulting letter to the ‘London Packet’ (24 March), signed ‘Tom Tickle,’ abusing Goldsmith as an author, and alluding insultingly to his passion for ‘the lovely H——k.’ Goldsmith went to the shop of the publisher, Evans, and struck him with a cane. Evans returned the blow; a scuffle followed, a broken lamp covered the combatants with oil, and Goldsmith was sent home in a coach. An action was threatened, which Goldsmith compromised by paying 50l. to a Welsh charity, while he relieved his feelings by writing a dignified letter to the papers about the ‘licentiousness’ of the press. Goldsmith's friendship with Lord Clare is shown by a recorded visit to Clare at Bath in the winter of 1770–1, and by the admirable ‘Haunch of Venison,’ probably written in the same spring. The most vivid descriptions of Goldsmith in society are, however, to be found in Boswell. That Boswell had some prejudice against Goldsmith, partly due to jealousy of his intimacy with Johnson, talks of him with an absurd affectation of superiority, and dwells too much on his foibles, is no doubt true. The portrait may be slightly caricatured; but the substantial likeness is not doubtful. It would be as ill-judged to dispute Goldsmith's foibles as to assert that Uncle Toby was above a weakness for his hobby. Goldsmith, no doubt, often blundered in conversation; went on without knowing how he should come off (Johnson in Boswell, ii. 196), and displayed ignorance when trying to ‘get in and shine.’ Reynolds admitted the fact by explaining it as intended to diminish the awe which isolates an author (Northcote, i. 328). On such a question there can be no appeal from the unanimous judgment of contemporaries. But all this is perfectly compatible with his having frequently made the excellent hits reported by Boswell. The statements that he was jealous of the admiration excited by pretty women (cf. Boswell, Johnson (Hill), i. 414; Northcote, Life of Reynolds; Prior, ii. 290; Forster, ii. 217) or puppet-shows (see Cradock, i. 232, iv. 280) are probably exaggerations or misunderstandings of humorous remarks. But he was clearly vain, acutely sensitive to neglect, and hostile to criticism; fond of splendid garments, as appears from the testimony of his tailors' bills, printed by Prior; and occasionally jealous, so far as jealousy can coexist with absolute guilelessness and freedom from the slightest tinge of malice. His charity seems to have been pushed beyond the limits of prudence, and all who knew him testify to the singular kindliness of his nature. According to Cradock (i. 232) he indulged in gambling. He was certainly not retentive of money; but his extravagance went naturally with an expansive and sympathetic character open to all social impulses.
In 1773 Goldsmith was much interested in a proposed ‘Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.’ He drew up a prospectus and had promises of contributions from Johnson, Burke, Reynolds, and others. Burney had actually written the article ‘Museum.’ The booksellers, however, showed a coolness which caused the scheme to drop, and depressed Goldsmith's spirits. Goldsmith was meanwhile anxious, and Cradock noticed that his gaiety was forced. He was in debt and had spent the sum received for his works in advance. His last poem, ‘Retaliation,’ was probably written in February 1774. It was an answer to some mock-epitaphs composed at a dinner of some of his friends at the St. James's Coffee-house—the exact circumstances being differently stated by Cradock (i. 228) and Cumberland (i. 370), both of whom profess to have been present. Passages of Goldsmith's poem were shown to a few of his friends, but it was not published till after his death. He had gone to Hyde, where he felt ill, returned to London, and on 25 March sent for an apothecary, William Hawes, who afterwards wrote an account of his illness. In spite of Hawes's advice, he doctored himself with James's powder. Hawes called in Dr. Fordyce and Dr. Turton. Turton, thinking that his pulse was worse than it should be, asked whether his mind was at ease. Goldsmith replied ‘It is not.’ He was, however, calm and sometimes cheerful; but grew weaker and died 4 April 1774. Burke burst into tears at the news, and Reynolds, his most beloved friend, gave up painting for the day. Johnson thought that the fever had been increased by the pressure of debt, and reports that, according to Reynolds, he ‘owed not less than 2,000l.’
A public funeral was abandoned, and he was buried in the Temple. A monument, with a medallion by Nollekens and the well-known epitaph by Johnson, was erected in Westminster Abbey at the expense of the club. The benchers of the Temple placed a tablet in their church, now removed to the triforium. A stone on the north side of the Temple Church is supposed to mark his burial-place, which is not, however, certainly known. A statue by Foley was erected in 1864 in front of Trinity College, Dublin.
The best portrait of Goldsmith, by Reynolds, is now at Knole Park, Kent. Another, painted by Reynolds for Thrale's gallery at Streatham, was bought by the Duke of Bedford. A copy is in the National Portrait Gallery. A caricature by his friend Bunbury was prefixed to the ‘Haunch of Venison.’ Another portrait is prefixed to the ‘Poetical and Dramatic Works’ (1780). A portrait attributed to Hogarth, engraved in Forster's ‘Life’ (ii. 11), was in the possession of Mr. Studley Martin of Liverpool in 1877.
Of Goldsmith's brothers and sisters (1) Catherine (Mrs. Hodson) survived to give information for the ‘Percy Memoir;’ her son, Oliver Goldsmith Hodson, came to London about 1770, and lived partly upon his uncle and partly as an apothecary, finally settling on his father's estate near Athlone; (2) Henry died at Athlone in May 1768; his widow became matron of the Meath infirmary; a daughter, Catherine, died in Dublin about 1803; one son Henry was in the army, settled in Nova Scotia, died at St. John's, New Brunswick, and was father of Hugh Colvill Goldsmith [q. v.]; another son, Oliver, wrote the ‘Rising Village,’ in imitation of his uncle; (3) Jane married a Mr. Johnstone and died poor in Athlone; (4) Maurice became a cabinet-maker, administered to his brother's will, obtained a small office in 1787 (Nichols, Illustrations, viii. 238), and died in 1792, leaving a widow but no children; (5) Charles went to the West Indies after the visit to his brother in 1757, and returned to England thirty-four years later; he settled in Somers Town, went to France at the peace of Amiens, returned ‘very poor,’ and died soon afterwards; he left a widow and two sons, who returned to the West Indies, and a daughter, married in France. Goldsmith's sister Catherine and his brother John probably died young. Percy hoped to get something for the family by publishing the ‘Life and Works,’ but after long disputes with publishers nothing, or next to nothing, came of it (Forster, Life, app. to vol. ii.).
Goldsmith's works are: 1. ‘Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe,’ 1759, 8vo. 2. ‘The Bee; being essays on the most interesting subjects,’ 1759 (eight weekly essays, 6 Oct. to 24 Nov.), 12mo. 3. ‘History of Mecklenburgh,’ 1762. 4. ‘The Mystery Revealed, containing a series of transactions and authentic testimonials respecting the supposed Cock Lane Ghost,’ 1742 , 8vo. 5. ‘The Citizen of the World; or Letters from a Chinese Philosopher residing in London to his Friends in the East,’ 2 vols. 12mo, 1762 (from ‘Public Ledger,’ &c.). 6. ‘Life of Richard Nash, of Bath, Esquire,’ 1762, 8vo. 7. ‘A History of England in a series of Letters from a Nobleman to his Son,’ 1764, 2 vols. 12mo. 8. ‘The Traveller,’ 1765, 4to. 9. ‘Essays’ (collected from ‘The Bee,’ &c.), 1765, 8vo. 10. ‘The Vicar of Wakefield; a Tale, supposed to be written by himself,’ 2 vols. 12mo, 1766; a list of ninety-six editions down to 1886 is given in Mr. Anderson's bibliography appended to Mr. Austin Dobson's ‘Goldsmith.’ Thirty appeared from 1863 to 1886. 11. ‘The Good-natured Man,’ a comedy, 1768. 12. ‘The Roman History from the Foundation of the City of Rome to the Destruction of the Roman Empire,’ 1769, 2 vols. 8vo (abridgment by himself 1772). 13. ‘The Deserted Village,’ 1770, 4to. 14. ‘The Life of Thomas Parnell, compiled from original papers and memoirs,’ 1770, 8vo (also prefixed to Parnell's ‘Poems,’ 1770). 15. ‘Life of Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke,’ 1770 (also prefixed to Bolingbroke's ‘Dissertation on Parties,’ 1770). 16. ‘The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II,’ 1771, 4 vols. 8vo (abridgment in 1774). 17. ‘Threnodia Augustalis’ (on death of Princess Dowager of Wales), 1772, 4to. 18. ‘She stoops to conquer, or the Mistakes of a Night,’ 1774. 19. ‘Retaliation, a Poem; including epitaphs on the most distinguished wits of this metropolis,’ 1774, 4to (fifth ed., with the Whitefoord ‘Postscript,’ same year). 20. ‘The Grecian History from the Earliest State to the Death of Alexander the Great,’ 1774, 2 vols. 8vo. 21. ‘An History of the Earth and Animated Nature,’ 1774, 8 vols. 8vo. 22. ‘The Haunch of Venison, a Poetical Epistle to Lord Clare,’ 1776 (with portrait by Bunbury); later edition of same year with alterations from author's manuscript. 23. ‘A Survey of Experimental Philosophy considered in its Present State of Improvement,’ 1776, 2 vols. 8vo, written in 1765 (see Prior, ii. 102, 123). 24. ‘The Captivity, an Oratorio,’ 1836 (written and sold to Dodsley in 1764; see Prior, ii. 9–12). A one-act comedy called ‘The Grumbler,’ adapted by Goldsmith from Sedley's version of Brueys's three-act comedy ‘Le Grondeur,’ was performed at Covent Garden on 8 May 1773, but never published. A scene is printed in vol. iv. of ‘Miscellaneous Works’ by Prior (1837). Prior published from Goldsmith's manuscript ‘A History of the Seven Years' War,’ 1761, part of which had appeared in the ‘Literary Magazine’ of 1757–8; as a ‘History of our own Times’ Goldsmith also wrote a preface to the ‘Martial Review, or a General History of the late War,’ 1763, which appeared in the ‘Reading Mercury.’ He edited and annotated ‘Poems for Young Ladies’ and ‘Beauties of English Poesy’ in 1767. An ‘Art of Poetry’ (1762), by Newbery, was only revised by Goldsmith. Some of Newbery's children's books, especially the ‘History of Little Goody Two Shoes’ (3rd edit. 1766), have been attributed to him. He translated ‘Memoirs of a Protestant condemned to the Galleys’ (‘Jean Marteilhe’ of Bergerac), 1758; Formey's ‘Concise History of Philosophy,’ 1766; and Scarron's ‘Comic Romance’ (1776). With Joseph Collyer he abridged Plutarch's ‘Lives,’ 7 vols. 1762. In 1763 he engaged with Dodsley for a series of lives of ‘Eminent Persons of Great Britain and Ireland,’ which was never completed. Prefaces and revisions of many other books are mentioned in Newbery's accounts. The ‘Histoire de Francis Wills, par l'auteur du “Ministre de Wakefield”’ (1773), of which an English version was published in Sweden in 1799, is spurious. An edition of ‘Poems and Plays’ appeared at Dublin in 1777, and his ‘Poetical and Dramatic Works’ in 1780. The best editions of his ‘Poetical Works’ are the Aldine edition by J. Mitford (1831) and the edition by Bolton Corney (1846). His ‘Miscellaneous Works,’ with the ‘Percy Memoir,’ were first published in 1801 (also in 1806, 1812, 1820); Prior's edition, in 4 vols. 8vo, in 1837; Peter Cunningham's, in 4 vols. 8vo, in 1855. The last and fullest collection, edited by J. W. M. Gibbs, is Bell's edition, in 5 vols. 1884–6. For many other editions see the bibliography, by J. P. Anderson, in Mr. Austin Dobson's ‘Goldsmith’ in ‘Great Writers Series,’ 1888.[Johnson undertook to write Goldsmith's life for an edition of his works; the plan fell through from disputes among the booksellers concerned. After Johnson's death Percy, to whom Goldsmith had given some materials, offered to prefix a life to an edition of the poems to be published for the benefit of Goldsmith's relations. He afterwards handed over the task to Thomas Campbell (1733–1795) [q. v.], who drew up a short memoir (with Percy's help) about 1791. Percy added further notes, which were incorporated in the text by his chaplain, Henry Boyd [q. v.] A dispute with the booksellers induced Percy to hand over the completion of the task to Samuel Rose, the friend of Cowper. This memoir, for which Malone also gave hints, was first published with the Miscellaneous Works in 1801 and again in 1806, 1812, 1820. It is generally described as the ‘Percy Memoir,’ and cited above from the edition prefixed to the works in 1812 (for further statements see preface to Prior's Life, appendix to Forster's Life, vol. ii., and Percy Correspondence in Nichols's Illustrations, vii. 31, 759–95, viii. 82, 237–9). James Prior published a life in 2 vols. 8vo in 1837, which contained a good deal of information carefully collected from surviving relations and others. It was heavily written and has been superseded by John Forster's well-known Life (1st edit. 1848; 6th, 1877). Forster could add little, and replied with some acrimony to Prior's not unnatural complaints on being supplanted; but Forster's book is the more readable. Other authorities are anonymous Life printed for Swan, 1774; Annual Register for 1774, pp. 29–34 (anecdotes by G[lover], an Irish friend); European Magazine, xxiv. 91, 170, 258 (anecdotes by W. Cooke), liii. 373–5 (anecdotes by John Evans on the Milner school), lv. 443; Gent. Mag. (1817), i. 277, (1820), ii. 618–22; Edward Mangin's Essay on Light Reading (1808), pp. 136–50 (letter from Dr. Strean); Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes (1786), pp. 31, 119, 179, 244; Northcote's Life of Reynolds (1818), i. 211, 215, 249, 285–8, 300, 324–33; Hawkins's Life of Johnson, pp. 416–19; Davies's Life of Garrick, vol. ii. chap. xli.; (T. Campbell's) Historical Survey, pp. 286–9; Shaw Mason's Statistical Account of South of Ireland, iii. 356–66; Cradock's Memoirs, i. 33, 224–36, iv. 279–88, 336; Cumberland's Memoirs; Boswell's Johnson (passim); Genest's History of the Stage, v. 189, 365, 372; Colman's Random Records, i. 110–13; Leslie and Taylor's Life of Reynolds; Charles Welsh's A Bookseller of the Last Century, 1885, chap. iii.; Washington Irving's Life is founded upon Prior and Forster. See also Macaulay's Life in Miscellaneous Works (for Encycl. Brit.); W. Black's Life in Men of Letters Series; and Mr. Austin Dobson in Great Writers Series, 1888.]
Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.137
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line
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