תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

CHRISTMAS AT BARTON.

359

And having thus scrambled together a little pocket-money, by hard contrivance, poor Goldsmith turns his back upon care and trouble, and Temple quarters, to forget for a time his desolate bachelorhood in the family circle and a Christmas fireside a Barton.

CHAPTER XLIV.

A return to drudgery_forced gayety-retreat to the country—the poem of

Retaliation.-Portrait of Garrick—of Goldsmith—of Reynolds.-Illness of the Poet--his death--grief of his friends.-A last word respecting the Jessamy Bride.

THE Barton festivities are over; Christmas, with all its homefelt revelry of the heart, has passed like a dream; the Jessamy Bride has beamed her last smile upon the poor poet, and the carly part of 1774 finds him in his now dreary bachelor abode in the Temple, toiling fitfully and hopelessly at a multiplicity of tasks. His Animated Nature, so long delayed, so often interrupted, is at length announced for publication, though it has yet to receive a few finishing touches. He is preparing a third History of England, to be compressed and condensed in one volume, for the use of schools. He is revising his Inquiry into Polite Learning, for which he receives the pittance of five guineas, much needed in his present scantiness of purse; he is arranging his Survey of Experimental Philosophy, and he is translating the Comic Romance of Scarron. Such is a part of the various labors of a drudging, depressing kind, by which his head is made weary and his heart faint. “ If there is a mental drudgery,” says Sir Walter Scott, “which lowers the spirits and lacerates the nerves, like the toil of a slave, it is that which is exacted

[blocks in formation]

by literary composition, when the heart is not in unison with the work upon which the head is employed. Add to the unhappy author's task sickness, sorrow, or the pressure of unfavorable circumstances, and the labor of the bondsman becomes light in comparison." Goldsmith again makes an effort to rally his spirits by going into gay society. “Our club," writes Beau clerc to Charlemont, on the 12th of February, “ has dwindled away to nothing. Sir Joshua and Goldsmith have got into such a round of pleasures that they have no time." This shows how little Beauclerc was the companion of the poet's mind, or could judge of him below the surface. Reynolds, the kind participator in joyless dissipation, could have told a different story of his companion's heart-sick gayety.

In this forced mood Goldsmith gave entertainments in his chambers in the Temple; the last of which was a dinner to Johnson, Reynolds, and others of his intimates, who partook with sorrow and reluctance of his imprudent hospitality. The first course vexed them by its needless profusion. When a second, equally extravagant, was served up, Johnson and Reynolds deelined to partake of it; the rest of the company, understanding their motives, followed their example, and the dishes went from the table untasted. Goldsmith felt sensibly this silent and wellintended rebuke.

The gayeties of society, however, cannot medicine for any ength of time a mind diseased. Wearied by the distractions and harassed by the expenses of a town life, which he had not the discretion to regulate, Goldsmith took the resolution too tardily adopted, of retiring to the serene quiet, and cheap and healthful pleasures of the country, and of passing only two months of the year in London. He accordingly made arrangements to sell his right in the Temple chambers, and in the month of March retired to his country quarters at Hyde, there to devote himself to toil. At this dispirited juncture when inspiration seemed to be at an end, and the poetic fire extinguished, a spark fell on his combustible imagination and set it in a blaze.

He belonged to a temporary association of men of talent, some of them members of the Literary Club, who dined together occasionally at the St. James's Coffee-house. At these dinners, as usual, he was one of the last to arrive. On one occasion, when he was more dilatory than usual, a whim seized the company to write epitaphs on him, as "The late Dr. Goldsmith," and several were thrown off in a playful vein, hitting off his peculiarities. The only one extant was written by Garrick, and has been preserved, very probably, by its pungency:

“ Here lies poet Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll,

Who wrote like an angel, but talked like poor poll.”

Goldsmith did not relish the sarcasm, especially as coming from such a quarter. He was not very ready at repartee; but he took his time, and in the interval of his various tasks, concocted a series of epigrammatic sketches, under the title of Retaliation, in which the characters of his distinguished intimates were admirably hit off, with a mixture of generous praise and good-humored raillery. In fact the poem for its graphic truth; its nice discrimination ; its terse good sense, and its shrewd knowledge of the world, must have electrified the club almost as much as the first appearance of The Traveller, and let them still deeper into the character and talents of the man they had been accustomed to consider as their butt. Retaliation, in

[blocks in formation]

in the poem.

a word, closed his accounts with the club, and balanced all his previous deficiencies. The portrait of David Garrick, is one of the most elaborate

When the poet came to touch it off, he had some lurking piques to gratify, which the recent attack had revived. He may have forgotten David's cavalier treatment of him, in the early days of his comparative obscurity; he may have forgiven his refusal of his plays; but Garrick had been capricious in his conduct in the times of their recent intercourse: sometimes treating him with gross familiarity, at other times affecting dignity and reserve, and assuming airs of superiority; frequently he had been facetious and witty in company at his expense, and lastly he had been guilty of the couplet just quoted. Goldsmith, therefore, touched off the lights and shadows of his character with a free hand, and, at the same time, gave a side hit at his old rival, Kelly, and his critical persecutor, Kenrick, in making them sycophantic satellites of the actor. Goldsmith, however, was void of gall even in his revenge, and his very satire was more humorous than caustic:

“ Here lies David Garrick, describe him who can,

An abridgment of all that was pleasant in man;
As an actor, confess'd without rival to shine ;
As a wit, if not first, in the very first line:
Yet, with talents like these, and an excellent heart,
The man had his failings, a dupe to his art.
Like an ill-judging beauty, his colors he spread,
And beplaster'd with rouge his own natural red.
On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting;
'Twas only that when he was off he was acting.
With no reason on earth to go out of his way,
He turn’d and he varied full ten times a day:

« הקודםהמשך »