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Mr. Boswell, who was very intimately acquainted with Goldsmith, thus speaks of his person and character:
“ The person of Goldsmith was short; his countenance coarse and vulgar; his deportment that of a scholar, aukwardly affecting the complete gentleman. No man had the art of displaying, with more advantage, whatever literary acquisitions he made. His mind resembled a fertile but thin soil; there was a quick but not a strong vegetation of whatever chanced to be thrown upon it. No deep root could be struck. The oak of the forest did not grow there; but the elegant shrubbery, and the fragrant parterre, appeared in gay succession. It has been generally circulated, and believed, that he was a mere fool in conversation. In allusion to this, Mr. Horatio Walpole, who admired his writings, said, he was é an inspired idiot;' and Garrick describes him as one, —
for shortness call?d Noll, Who wrote like an angel, and talk'd like poor Poll.' But, in reality, these descriptions are greatly exaggerated. He had, no doubt, a more than cominon share of that hurry of ideas, which we often find in his countrymen, and which sometimes introduces a laughable confusion in expressing them. He was very much what the French call un étourdi : and from vanity, and an eager desire of being conspicuous wherever he was, he frequently talked carelessly, without any knowledge of the subject, or even without thought. Those who were any ways distinguished, excited envy in him to so ridiculous an excess, that the instances of it are hardly
credible. He, I am told, had no settled system of any sort, so that his conduct must not be too strictly criticised; but his affections were social and generous; and when he had money, he bestowed it liberally. His desires of imaginary consequence frequently predominated over his attention to truth.
“ His prose has been admitted as the model of perfection, and the standard of the English language. Dr. Johnson says, “Goldsmith was a man of such variety of powers, and such felicity of performance, that he seemed to excel in whatever he attempted; a man who had the art of being minute without tediousness, and generally without confusion; whose language was capacious without exuberance ; exact without restraint; and easy without weakness.'
“ His merit as a poet is universally acknowledged. His writings partake rather of the elegance and harmony of Pope, than the grandeur and sublimity of Milton; and it is to be lamented, that his poetical productions are not more numerous; for though his ideas fowed rapidly, he arra:ged them with great caution, and occupied much time in polishing his periods, and harmonizing his numbers.
“ His most favourite poems are, The Traveller,' • Deserted Village,' 'Hermit,' and ' Retaliation. These productions may justly be ranked with the most admired works in English poetry.
“ The Traveller' delights us with a display of charming imagery, refined ideas, and happy expressions. The cha. racteristics of the different nations are strongly marked, and the predilection of each inhabitant in favour of his own ingeniously described.
65 "The Deserted Village' is generally admired; the cha
racters are drawn from the life. The descriptions are lively and picturesque ; and the whole appears so easy and natural, as to bear the semblance of historical truth more than poetical fiction. The description of the parish priest (probably intended for a character of his brother Henry) would have done honour to any poet of any age.
In this description, the simile of the bird teaching her young to fly, and of the mountain that rises above the storm, are not easily to be paralleled. The rest of the poem consists of the character of the village schoolmaster, and a description of the village alehouse; both drawn with admirable propriety and force; a descant on the mischiefs of luxury and wealth; the variety of artificial pleasures; the miseries of those who, for want of employment at home, are driven to settle new colonies abroad; and concludes with a beautiful apostrophe to poetry.
“ • The Hermit holds equal estimation with the rest of his poetical productions.
“ His last poem, of 'Retaliation,' is replete with humour, free from spleen, and forcibly exhibits the prominent features of the several characters to which it alludes. Dr. Johnson sums up his literary character in the following concise manner: “Take him (Goldsmith] as a poet, his • Traveller' is a very fine performance; and so is his • Deserted Village,' were it not sometimes too much the echo of his “ Traveller.' Whether we take hiin as a poet, as a comic writer, or as an historian, he stands in the first class.'»
We have before observed, that his poem of “ RETALIATION” was provoked by se
veral jocular epitaphs written upon him by the different members of a dinner club to which he belonged. Of these we subjoin a part of that which was produced by Garrick: “ HERE, Hermes, says Jove, who with nectar was mellow, Go, fetch me some clay--I will make an odd fellow. Right and wrong shall be jumbled; much gold, and some
Without cause be he pleas'd, without cause be he cross:
To these we shall add another sketch of our author (by way of Epitaph), written by a friend as soon as he heard of his death : “ Here rests, from the cares of the world and his pen, A poet whose like we shall scarce meet again ;
Who though form'd in an age when corruptions ran high,
“ The lovers—'twas theirs to esteem and commend,
“ Yet bless'd with original powers like these, His principal forte was on paper to please ; Like a fleet-footed hunter, though first in the chase ; On the road of plain sense be oft slacken'd his pace; Whilst Dulness and Cunning, by whipping and goring, Their hard-footed hacknies paraded before him. Compounded likewise of such primitive parts, That his manners alone would have gain'd him our hearts. So simple in truth, so ingenuously kind, So ready to feel for the wants of mankind ; Yet praise but an author of popular quill, This Aux of philanthropy quickly stood still ;