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Birth and Parentage. — Characteristics of the Goldsmith Race.
Poetical Birthplace. — Goblin House. — Scenes of Boyhood. — Lissoy.- Picture of a Country Parson. — Goldsmith's Schoolmistress. — Byrne, the Village Schoolmaster. Goldsmith's Hornpipe and Epigram. — Uncle Contarine. School Studies and School Sports. — Mistakes of a Night.
HERE are few writers for. whom the
reader feels such personal kindness as
for Oliver Goldsmith, for few have so eminently possessed the magic gift of identifying themselves with their writings. We read his character in every page, and grow into familiar intimacy with him as we read. The artless benevolence that beams throughout his works; the whimsical, yet amiable views of human life and human nature; the unforced humor, blending so happily with good feeling and good sense, and singularly dashed at times with a pleasing melancholy; even the very nature of his mellow, and flowing, and softly-tinted style, — all seem to bespeak his moral as well as his intellectual qualities, and make us love the man at the same time that we admire the author. While the productions of writers of loftier pretension and more sounding names are suffered to moulder on our shelves, those of Goldsmith are cherished and laid in our bosoms. We do not quote them with ostentation, but they mingle with our minds, sweeten our tempers, and harmonize our thoughts ; they put us in good-humor with ourselves and with the world, and in so doing they make us happier and better men.
An acquaintance with the private biography of Goldsmith lets us into the secret of his gifted pages. We there discover them to be little more than transcripts of his own heart and picturings of his fortunes. There he shows himself the same kind, artless, good-humored, excursive, sensible, whimsical, intelligent being that he appears in his writings. Scarcely an adventure or character is given in his works that may not be traced to his own parti-colored story. Many of his most ludicrous scenes and ridiculous incidents have been drawn from his own blunders and mischances, and he seems really to have been buffeted into almost every maxim imparted by him for the instruction of his reader.
Oliver Goldsmith was born on the 10th of November, 1728, at the hamlet of Pallas, or Pallasmore, county of Longford, in Ireland. He sprang from a respectable, but by no thrifty stock. Some families seem to inherit kindliness and incompetency, and to hand down virtue and poverty from generation to generation. Such was the case with the Goldsmiths. “ They
were always,” according to their own accounts, “ a strange family; they rarely acted like other people ; their hearts were in the right place, but their heads seemed to be doing anything but what they ought.” “ They were remarkable," says another statement, “ for their worth, but of no cleverness in the ways of the world.” Oliver Goldsmith will be found faithfully to inherit the virtues and weaknesses of his race.
His father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, with hereditary improvidence, married when very young and very poor, and starved along for several years on a small country curacy and the assistance of his wife's friends. His whole income, eked out by the produce of some fields which he farmed, and of some occasional duties performed for his wife's uncle, the rector of an adjoining parish, did not exceed forty pounds.
“And passing rich with forty pounds a year." He inhabited an old, half rustic mansion, that stood on a rising ground in a rough, lonely part of the country, overlooking a low tract occasionally flooded by the river Inny. In this house Goldsmith was born, and it was a birthplace worthy of a poet; for, by all accounts, it was haunted ground. A tradition handed down among the neighboring peasantry states that, in after years, the house, remaining for some time untenanted, went to decay, the roof fell in, and it became so lonely and forlorn as to be a resort for the “ good people” or fairies, who in Ireland are supposed to delight in old, crazy, deserted mansions for their midnight revels. All attempts to repair it were in vain ; the fairies battled stoutly to maintain possession. A huge misshapen hobgoblin used to bestride the house every evening with an immense pair of jackboots, which, in his efforts at hard riding, he would thrust through the roof, kicking to pieces all the work of the preceding day. The house was therefore left to its fate, and went to ruin.
Such is the popular tradition about Goldsmith's birthplace. About two years after his birth a change came over the circumstances of his father. By the death of his wife's uncle he succeeded to the rectory of Kilkenny West; and, abandoning the old goblin mansion, he removed to Lissoy, in the county of Westmeath, where he occupied a farm of seventy acres, situated on the skirts of that pretty little village.
This was the scene of Goldsmith's boyhood, the little world whence he drew many of those pictures, rural and domestic, whimsical and touching, which abound throughout his works, and which appeal so eloquently both to the fancy and the heart. Lissoy is confidently cited as the original of his “Auburn” in the “ Deserted Village”; his father's establishment, a mixture of farm and parsonage, furnished hints, it is said, for the rural economy of the “ Vicar of Wakefield" ; and his father himself, with his learned simplicity, his guileless wisdom, his amiable piety, and utter ignorance of the world, has been exquisitely portrayed in the worthy Dr. Primrose. pause for a moment, and draw from Goldsmith's
writings one or two of those pictures which, under feigned names, represent his father and his family, and the happy fireside of his childish days.
“My father,” says the “Man in Black,” who, in some respects, is a counterpart of Goldsmith himself, “ my father, the younger son of a good family, was possessed of a small living in the church. His education was above his fortune, and his generosity greater than his education. Poor as he was, he had his flatterers poorer than himself: for every dinner he gave them, they returned him an equivalent in praise ; and this was all he wanted. The same ambition that actuates a monarch at the head of his army, influenced my father at the head of his table ; he told the story of the ivy-tree, and that was laughed at; he repeated the jest of the two scholars and one pair of breeches, and the company laughed at that; but the story of Taffy in the sedan-chair was sure to set the table in a
Thus his pleasure increased in proportion to the pleasure he gave; he loved all the world, and he fancied all the world loved him.
“ As his fortune was but small, he lived up to the very extent of it: he had no intention of leaving his children money, for that was dross; he resolved they should have learning, for learning, he used to observe, was better than silver or gold. For this purpose he undertook to instruct us himself, and took as much care to form our morals as to improve our understanding. We were told that universal benevolence was what