Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE SPECIAL ATTORNEY.

289

appreciating his merits, and is prone to indulge in broad bantering and raillery at his expense, particularly irksome if indulged in presence of the ladies. He makes himself merry on his return to England, by giving the following anecdote as illustrative of Goldsmith's vanity :

“ Being with a party at Versailles, viewing the water-works, a question arose among the gentlemen present, whether the distance from whence they stood to one of the little islands was within the compass of a leap. Goldsmith maintained the affirmative ; but, being bantered on the subject, and remembering his former prowess as a youth, attempted the leap, but, falling short, descended into the water, to the great amusement of the company."

Was the Jessamy Bride a witness of this unlucky exploit ?

This same Hickey is the one of whom Goldsmith, some time subsequently, gave a good-humored sketch, in his poem of “ The Retaliation.”

“Here Hickey reclines, a most blunt, pleasant creature,
And slander itself must allow him good-nature;
He cherish'd his friend, and he relish'd a bumper,
Yet one fault he had, and that one was a thumper.
Perhaps you may ask if the man was a miser;
I answer, No, no, for he always was wiser;
Too courteous, perhaps, or obligingly flat?
His very worst foe can't accuse him of that;
Perhaps he confided in men as they go,
And so was too foolishly honest? Ah, no!
Then what was his failing? Come, tell it, and burn ye —
He was, could he help it? a special attorney."

One of the few remarks extant made by Gold

I at

smith during his tour is the following, of whimsical import, in his “ Animated Nature.”

“ In going through the towns of France, some time since, I could not help observing how much plainer their parrots spoke than ours, and how very distinctly I understood their parrots speak French, when I could not understand our own, though they spoke my native language. first ascribed it to the different qualities of the two languages, and was for entering into an elaborate discussion on the vowels and consonants ; but a friend that was with me solved the difficulty at once, by assuring me that the French women scarce did anything else the whole day than sit and instruct their feathered pupils ; and that the birds were thus distinct in their lessons in consequence of continual schooling."

His tour does not seem to have left in his memory the most fragrant recollections; for, being asked, after his return, whether travelling on the Continent repaid " an Englishman for the privations and annoyances attendant on it,” he replied, “ I recommend it by all means to the sick, if they are without the sense of smelling, and to the poor if they are without the sense of feeling, and to both if they can discharge from their minds all idea of what in England we term comfort.”

It is needless to say that the universal improvement in the art of living on the Continent has at the present day taken away the force of Goldsmith's reply, though even at the time it was more humorous than correct.

66

CHAPTER XXX.

Death of Goldsmith's Mother - Biography of Parnell.

Agreement with Davies for the History of Rome. - Life of Bolingbroke. — The Haunch of Venison.

N his return to England, Goldsmith re

ceived the melancholy tidings of the

death of his mother. Notwithstanding the fame as an author to which he had attained, she seems to have been disappointed in her early expectations from him. Like others of his family, she had been more vexed by his early follies than pleased by his proofs of genius; and in subsequent years, when he had risen to fame and to intercourse with the great, had been annoyed at the ignorance of the world and want of management, which prevented him from pushing his fortune. He had always, however, been an affectionate son, and in the latter years of her life, when she had become blind, contributed from his precarious resources to prevent her from feeling want.

He now resumed the labors of the pen, which his recent excursion to Paris rendered doubly necessary

We should have mentioned a of Parnell,” published by him shortly after the • Deserted Village.” It was, as usual, a piece of job-work, hastily got up for pocket-money. John

66 Life

son spoke slightingly of it, and the author him. self thought proper to apologize for its meagreness, — yet, in so doing, used a simile, which for beauty of imagery and felicity of language is enough of itself to stamp a value upon the essay.

“ Such,” says he, “is the very unpoetical detail of the life of a poet. Some dates and some few facts, scarcely more interesting than those that make the ornaments of a country tombstone, are all that remain of one whose labors now begin to excite universal curiosity. A poet, while living, is seldom an object sufficiently great to attract much attention ; his real merits are known but to a few, and these are generally sparing in their praises. When his fame is increased by time, it is then too late to investigate the peculiarities of his disposition ; the dews of morning are past, and we vainly try to continue the chase by the meridian splendor.entered into

an agreement with Davies to prepare an abridgment, in one volume duodecimo, of his “History of Rome "; but first to write a work for which there was a more immediate demand. Davies was about to republish Lord Bolingbroke's “ Dissertation on Parties," which he conceived would be exceedingly applicable to the affairs of the day, and make a probable hit during the existing state of violent political excitement; to give it still greater effect and currency, he engaged Goldsmith to introduce it with a prefatory life of Lord Bolingbroke.

About this time Goldsınith's friend and countryman, Lord Clare, was in great affliction,

He now

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

BIOGRAPHY OF BOLINGBROKE.

293

a

[ocr errors]

caused by the death of his only son, Colonel Nugent, and stood in need of the sympathies of a kind-hearted friend. At his request, therefore, Goldsmith paid him a visit at his seat of Gosfield, taking his tasks with him. Davies was in a worry lest Gosfield Park should prove a Capua to the poet, and the time be lost. “ Dr. Goldsmith,” writes he to a friend, “ has gone with Lord Clare into the country, and I am plagued to get the proofs from him of the Life of Lord Bolingbroke. » The proofs, however, were furnished in time for the publication of the work in December. The “ Biography,” though written

. during a time of political turmoil, and introducing a work intended to be thrown into the arena of politics, maintained that freedom from party prejudice observable in all the writings of Goldsmith. It was a selection of facts, drawn from many un. readable sources, and arranged into a clear, flowing narrative, illustrative of the career and character of one who, as he intimates,“ seemed formed by Nature to take delight in struggling with opposition; whose most agreeable hours were passed in storms of his own creating ; whose life was spent in a continual conflict of politics, and as if that was too short for the combat, has left his memory as a subject of lasting contention.” The sum received by the author for this memoir is supposed, from circumstances, to have been forty pounds.

Goldsmith did not find the residence among the great unattended with mortifications. He had now become accustomed to be regarded in Lon

« PreviousContinue »