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THE WORKS



OP



WASHINGTON IRYIIG



NEW EDITION, REVISED.



VOL. XI.
OLIVE R^" 4 mtf^J) SMITH




NEW- YORK :

GEORaE P. PUTNAM.

1849.



^^



3€^s



r OLIVER GOLDSMITH:



A BIOGRAPHY



BY



WASHINGTON IRYING




NEW- YORK :

GEORGE P. PUTNAM, 155 BROADWAY.

LONDON: JOHN MURRAY.

1849.






Entered,


according to Act of Congress, in
Washington Irving,


the year 1849,


.by


in


the Clerk's


Office of the District Court for the Southern
of New- York.


District



John F. Trow,

Printer and Stereotyper ^

49 Ann-street, New- York.




PREFACE



In the course of a revised edition of my works I have come to a
biographical sketch of Goldsmith, published several years since.
It was written hastily, as introductory to a selection from his
writings ; and, though the facts contained in it were collected
from various sources, I was chiefly indebted for them to the
voluminous work of Mr. James Prior, who had collected and
collated the most minute particulars of the poet's history with
unwearied research and scrupulous fidelity ; but had rendered
them, as I thought, in a form too cumbrous and overlaid with
details and disquisitions, and matters uninteresting to the gene-
ral reader.

When I was about of late to revise my biqgraphical sketch,
preparatory to republication, a volume was put into my hands,
recently given to the public by Mr. John Forster, of the Inner
Temple, who, likewise availing himself of the labors of the inde-
fatigable Prior, and of a few new lights since evolved, has pro-
duced a biography of the poet, executed with a spirit, a feeling,
a grace and an eloquence, that leave nothing to be desired. In-
deed it would have been presumption in me to undertake the
subject after it had been thus felicitously treated, did I not stand
committed by my previous sketch. That sketch now appeared



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PREFACE,



too meager and insufficient to satisfy public demand ; yet it had
to take its place in the revised series of my works unless some-
thing more satisfactory could be substituted. Under these cir-
cumstances I have again taken up the subject, and gone into it
with more fulness than formerly, omitting none of the facts
which I considered illustrative of the life and character of the
poet, and giving them in as graphic a style as I could command.
Still the hurried manner in which I have had to do this amidst
the pressure of other claims on my attention, and with the
press dogging at my heels, has prevented me from giving some
parts of the subject the thorough handling I could have wished.
Those who would like to see it treated still more at large, with
the addition of critical disquisitions and the advantage of col-
lateral facts, would do well to refer themselves to Mr. Prior's
cicumstantial volumes, or to the elegant and discursive pages of
Mr. Forster.

For my own part, I can only regret my short comings in
what to me is a labor of love ; for it is a tribute of gratitude
to the memory of an author whose writings were the delight
of my childhood, and have been a source of enjoyment to me
throughout life ; and to whom, of all others, I may address
the beautiful apostrophe of Dante to Virgil :

Tu se' lo mio maestro, e '1 mio autore:
Tu se' solo colui, da cu' io tolsi
Lo bello stile, che m' ha fatto onore.



W. I.

SUNNYSIDE, Aug. 1, 1849.



OLIYER GOLDSMITH



-»<•»«>



CHAPTER I.

Birth and parentage. — Characteristics of the Goldsmith race. — Poetical
birthplace. — Goblin house. — Scenes of boyhood. — Lissoy. — Picture of a
country parson. — Goldsmith's school mistress. — Byrne, the village school-
master. — Goldsmith's hornpipe and epigram. — Uncle Contarine, — School
studies and school sports. — Mistakes of a night.

There are few writers for whom the reader feels such personal
kindness as for Oliver Groldsmith, 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 singu-
larly 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
f author. While the productions of writers of loftier pretension



18 OLIVER GOLDSMITH.



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 pic-
turings 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 means a
thrifty stock. Some families seem to inherit kindliness and in-
competency, and to hand down virtue and poverty from genera-
tion 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 peaple ; their hearts were
in the right place, but their heads seemed to be doing any
thing 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. j



POETICAL BIRTHPLACE. 19



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 oc-
casional 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 Gold-
smith 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 be-
stride the house every evening with an immense pair of jack-
boots, 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 circum-
stances of his father. By the death of his wife's uncle he suc-
ceeded to the rectory of Kilkenny West ; and, abandoning the



20 OLIVER GOLDSMITH.



old goblin mansion, he removed to Lissoy, in the county of West-
meath, 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. Let us 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 re-
spects, 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 gen-
erosity 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 roar. Thus his plea-



SCENES OF BOYl






sure 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 first cemented so-
ciety : we were taught to consider all the wants of mankind as
our own ; to regard the human face dimne with affection and
esteem ; he wound us up to be mere machines of pity, and ren-
,dered us incapable of withstanding the slightest impulse made
either by real or fictitious distress. In a word, we were perfectly
instructed in the art of giving away thousands before we were
taught the necessary qualifications of getting a farthing."

In the Deserted Village we have another picture of his father
and his father's fireside :



" His house was known to all the vagrant train,
He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain ;
The long-remembered beggar was his guest,
Whose beard, descending, swept his aged breast ;
The ruin'd spendthrift, now no longer proud,
Claim'd kindred there, and had his claims allow'd ;
The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay.
Sat by his fire, and talk'd the night away ;
Wept o'er his wounds, or tales of sorrow done,
Shoulder'd his crutch, and show'd how fields were won.
Pleased with his guests, the good man learned to glow.
And quite forgot their vices in their woe ;



22 OLIVER GOLDSMITH.

Careless their merits or their faults to scan,
His pity gave ere charity began."

The family of the worthy pastor consisted of five sons and
three daughters. Henry, the eldest, was the good man's pride
and hope, and he tasked his slender means to the utmost in edu-
cating him for a learned and distinguished career. Oliver was
the second son, and seven years younger than Henry, who was
the guide and protector of his childhood, and to whom he was
most tenderly attached throughout life.

Oliver's education began when he was about three years old ;
that is to say, he was gathered under the wings of one of those
good old motherly dames, found in every village, who cluck toge-
ther the whole callow brood of the neighborhood, to teach them
their letters and keep them out of harm's way. Mistress Eliza-
beth Delap, for that was her name, flourished in this capacity for
upward of fifty years, and it was the pride and boast of her de-
clining days, when nearly ninety years of age, that she was the
first that had put a book (doubtless a hornbook) into Goldsmith's
hands. Apparently he did not much profit by it, for. she con-
fessed he was one of the dullest boys she had ever dealt with,
insomuch that she had sometimes doubted whether it was possi-
ble to make any thing of him : a common case with imaginative
children, who are apt to be beguiled from the dry abstractions of
elementary study by the picturings of the fancy.

At six years of age he passed into the hands of the village
schoolmaster, one Thomas (or, as he was commonly and irrever-
ently named, Pa^dy) Byrne, a capital tutor for a poet. He had
been educated for a pedagogue, but had enlisted in the army,
served abroad during the wars of Queen Anne's time, and risen



PICTURE OF A COUNTRY PEDAGOGUE. 23



to tlie rank of quartermaster of a regiment in Spain. At the
return of peace, having no longer exercise for the sword, he
resumed the ferule, and drilled the urchin populace of Lissoy.
Goldsmith is supposed to have had him and his school in view in
the following sketch in his Deserted Village :

'* Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way.
With blossom'd furze unprofitably gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skill'd to rule.
The villag e master taught his little school ;
A man severe he was, and stern to view,
I knew him well, and every 'truant knew:
Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace
The day's disasters in his morning face ;
Full well they laugh'd with cpunterfeited ^lee
At all his jokesj for many a joke had he ; j
Full well the busy whisper circling round,
Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd :
Yet he was kind, or, if severe in aught.
The love he bore to learning was in fault ;
The village all declared how much he knew,
'Twas certain he could write and cipher too ;
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage.
And e'en the story ran that he could guage :
In arguing, too, the parson own'd his skill.
For, e'en though vanquished, he could argue still ;
While words of learri~edlehgth"and thund'ring sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around —
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew.
That one small head could carry all he knew."

. There are certain whimsical traits in the character of Byrne,
not given in the foregoing sketch. He was fond of talking of



24 OLIVER GOLDSMITH.



his vagabond wanderings in foreign lands, and had brought with
him from the wars a world of campaigning stories, of which he
was generally the hero, and which he would deal forth to his
wondering scholars when he ought to have been teaching them
their lessons. These travellers' tales had a powerful effect upon
the vivid imagination of Goldsmith, and awakened an uncon-
querable passion for wandering and seeking adventure.

Byrne was, moreover, of a romantic vein, and exceedingly
superstitious. He was deeply versed in the fairy superstitions
which abound in Ireland, all which he professed implicitly to be-
lieve. Under his tuition Groldismith soon became almost as great
a proficient in fairy lore. From this branch of good-for-nothing
knowledge, his studies, by an easy transition, extended to the
histories of robbers, pirates, smugglers, and the whole race of
Irish rogues and rapparees. Every thing, in short, that savored
of romance, fable, and adventure, was congenial to his poetic
mind, and took instant root there ; but the slow plants of useful
knowledge were apt to be overrun, if not choked, by the weeds
of his quick imagination.

Another trait of his motley preceptor, Byrne, was a disposi-
tion to dabble in poetry, and this likewise was caught by his
pupil. Before he was eight years old Goldsmith had contracted
a habit of scribbling verses on small scraps of paper, which, in a
little while, he would throw into the fire. A few of these sybil-
line leaves, however, were rescued from the flames and conveyed
to his mother. The good woman read them with a mother's
delight, and saw at once that her son was a genius and a poet.
From that time she beset her husband with solicitations to give
the boy an education suitable to his talents. The worthy man
was already straitened by the costs of instruction of his eldest



HORNPIPE AND EPIGRAM. 25



son Henry, and had intended to bring his second son up to a
trade ; but the mother would listen to no such thing ; as usual,
her influence prevailed, and Oliver, instead of being instructed
in some humble, but cheerful and gainful handicraft, was devoted
to poverty and the Muse.

A severe attack of the smallpox caused him to be taken from
under the care of his story-telling preceptor, Byrne. His malady
had nearly proved fatal, and his face remained pitted through
life. On his recovery he was placed under the charge of the
Rev. Mr. Griffin, schoolmaster of Elphin, in Roscommon, and
became an inmate in the house of his uncle, John Goldsmith,
Esq., of Ballyoughter, in that vicinity. He now entered upon
studies of a higher order, but without making any uncommon
progress. Still a careless, easy facility of disposition, an amusing
eccentricity of manners, and a vein of quiet and peculiar humor,
rendered him a general favorite, and a trifling incident soon in-
duced his uncle's family to concur in his mother's opinion of his
genius.

A number of young folks had assembled at his uncle's to
dance. One of the company^ named Cummings, played on the
violin. In the course of the evening Oliver undertook a horn-
pipe. His short and clumsy figure, and his face pitted and dis-
colored with the smallpox, rendered him a ludicrous figure in the
eyes of the musician, who made merry at his expense, dubbing
him his little iEsop. Goldsmith was nettled by the jest, and.
stopping short in the hornpipe, exclaimed,

" Our herald hath proclaimed this saying,
See jEsop dancing, and his monkey playing."

The repartee was thought wonderful for a boy of nine years

2



S6 OLIVER GOLDSMITH.



old, and Oliver became forthwith the wit and the bright genius
of the family. It was thought a pity he should not receive the
same advantages with his elder brother Henry, who had been
sent to the University ; and, as his father's circumstances would
not afford it, several of his relatives, spurred on by the repre-
sentations of his mother, agreed to contribute towards the
expense. The greater part, however, was borne by his uncle, the
Rev. Thomas C ontarin e. This worthy man had been the college
companion of Bishop Berkeley, and was possessed of moderate
means, holding the living of Carrick-on-Shannon. He had mar-
ried the sister of Goldsmith's father, but was now a widower,
with an only child, a daughter, named Jane. Contarine was a
kind-hearted man, with a generosity beyond his means. He took
Goldsmith into favor from his infancy ; his house was open to
him during the holidays ; his daughter Jane, two years older
than the poet, was his early playmate : and uncle Contarine con-
tinued to the last one of his most active, unwavering, and gene-
rous friends.

Fitted out in a great measure by this considerate relative,
Oliver was now transferred to scliools of a higher order, to pre-
pare him for the University ; first to one at Athlone, kept by the
Rev. Mr. Campbell, and, at the end of two years, to one at Edge-
worthstown, under the superintendence of the Rev. Patrick
Hughes.

Even at these schools his proficiency does not appear to
have been brilliant. He was indolent and careless, however,
rather than dull, and, on the whole, appears to have been well
thought of by his teachers. In his studies he inclined towards
the Latin poets and historians ; relished Ovid and Horace, and
delighted in Livy. He exercised himself with pleasure in read-



SCHOOL PRANKS. 27



ing and translating Tacitus, and was brought to pay attention to
style in his compositions by a reproof from his brother Henry, to
whom he had written brief and confused letters, and who told
him in reply, that if he had but little to say, to endeavor to say
that little well.

The career of his brother Henry at the University was
enough to stimulate him to exertion. He seemed to be realizing
all his father's hopes, and was winning collegiate honors that the
good man considered indicative of his future success in life.

In the meanwhile, Oliver, if not distinguished among his
teachers, was popular among his schoolmates. He had a thought-
less generosity extremely captivating to young hearts : his tem-
per was quick and sensitive, and easily offended ; but his anger
was momentary, and it was impossible for him to harbor resent-
ment. He was the leader of all boyish sports and athletic
amusements, especially ball-playing, and he was foremost in
all mischievous pranks. Many years afterward, an old man,
Jack Fitzimmons, one of the directors of the sports and keeper
of the ball-court at Ballymahon, used to boast of having been
schoolmate of "Noll Groldsmith," as he called him, and would
dwell with vainglory on one of their exploits, in robbing the
orchard of Tirlicken, an old family residence of Lord Annaly.
The exploit, however, had nearly involved disastrous conse-
quences ; for the crew of juvenile depredators were captured,
like Shakspeare and his deer-stealing colleagues ; and ncTthing but
the respectability of Groldsmith's connections saved him from the
punishment that would have awaited more plebeian delinquents.

An amusing incident is related as occurring in Goldsmith's
last journey homeward from Edgeworthstown. His father's
house was about twenty miles distant ; the road lay through a



28 OLIVER GOLDSMITH.

rough country, impassable for carriages. Groldsmith procured a
horse for the journey, and a friend furnished him with a guinea
for travelling expenses. He was but a stripling of sixteen, and
being thus suddenly mounted on horseback, with money in his
pocket, it is no wonder that his head was turned. He deter-
mined to play the man, and to spend his money in independent
traveller's style. Accordingly, instead of pushing directly for
home, he halted for the night at the little town of Ardagh, and,
accosting the first person he met, inquired, with somewhat of a
consequential air, for the best house in the place. Unluckily, the
person he had accosted was one Kelly, a notorious wag, who was
quartered in the famil}'' of one Mr. Featherstone, a gentleman of
fortune. Amused with the self-consequence of the stripling, and
willing to play off a practical joke at his expense, he directed
him to what was literally " the best house in the place," namely,
the family mansion of Mr. Featherstone. Goldsmith accordingly
rode up to what he supposed to be an inn. ordered his horse to
be taken to the stable, walked into the parlor, seated himself by
the fire, and demanded what he could have for supper. On ordi-
nary occasions he was difl&dent and even awkward in his manners,
but here he was " at ease in his inn," and felt called upon to
show his manhood and enact the experienced traveller. His
person was by no means calculated to play off his pretensions,
for he was short and thick, with a pock-marked face, and an air
and carriage by no means of a distinguished cast. The owner
of the house, however, soon discovered his whimsical mistake,
and, being a man of humor, determined to indulge it, especially
as he accidentally learned that this intruding guest was the son
of an old acquaintance.

Accordingly, Goldsmith was " fooled to the top of his bent,"



MISTAKES OF A NIGHT. 29



and permitted to have full sway throughout the evening. Never



Online LibraryWashington IrvingOliver Goldsmith: a biography → online text (page 1 of 25)