« הקודםהמשך »
Goldsmith in the Temple.-Judge Day and Grattan.-Labor and dissipation.
Publication of the Roman History.-Opinions of it.-History of Animated
In the winter of 1768–69 Goldsmith occupied himself at his quarters in the Temple, slowly “building up” his Roman History. We have pleasant views of him in this learned and half-cloistered retreat of wits and lawyers and legal students, in the reminiscences of Judge Day of the Irish Bench, who in his advanced age delighted to recall the days of his youth, when he was a templar, and to speak of the kindness with which he and his fellow-student, Grattan, were treated by the poet. “I was just arrived from college,” said he, “full freighted with academic gleanings, and our author did not disdain to receive from me some opinions and hints towards his Greek and Roman histories. Being then a young man, I felt much flattered by the notice of so celebrated a person. He took great delight in the conversation of Grattan, whose brilliancy in the morning of life furnished full earnest of the unrivalled splendor which awaited his meridian; and finding us dwelling together in Essex Court, near himself, where he frequently visited my immortal friend, his warm heart became naturally prepossessed towards the associate of one whom he so much admired.”
The judge goes on, in his reminiscences, to give a picture of Goldsmith's social habits, similar in style to those already furnished. He frequented much the Grecian Coffee House, then the favorite resort of the Irish and Lancashire Templars. He delighted in collecting his friends around him at evening parties at his chambers, where he entertained them with a cordial and unostentatious hospitality. “ Occasionally,” adds the judge," he amused them with his fute, or with whist, neither of which he played well, particularly the latter, but, on losing his money, he never lost his temper. In a run of bad luck and worse play, he would fling his cards upon the floor and exclaim, Byefore George, I ought for ever to renounce thee, fickle, faithless fortune.'
The judge was aware, at the time, that all the learned labor of poor
Goldsmith upon his Roman History was mere hack work to recruit his exhausted finances. “ His purse replenished,” adds he,“ by labors of this kind, the season of relaxation and pleasure took its turn, in attending the theatres, Ranelagh, Vauxhall, and other scenes of gayety and amusement. Whenever his funds were dissipated—and they fled more rapidly from being the dupe of many artful persons, male and female, who practised upon his benevolence-he returned to his literary labors, and shut himself up from society to provide fresh matter for his bookseller, and fresh supplies for himself.”
How completely had the young student discerned the characteristics of poor, genial, generous, drudging, holiday-loving Goldsmith; toiling, that he might play; earning his bread by the sweat of his brains, and then throwing it out of the window.
The Roman History was published in the middle of May, in two volumes of five hundred pages each. It was brought out
without parade or pretension, and was announced as for the use of schools and colleges; but, though a work written for bread, not fame, such is its ease, perspicuity, good sense, and the delightful simplicity of its style, that it was well received by the critics, commanded a prompt and extensive sale, and has ever since remained in the hands of young and old.
Johnson, who, as we have before remarked, rarely praised or dispraised things by halves, broke forth in a warm eulogy of the author and the work, in a conversation with Boswell, to the great astonishment of the latter. 6 Whether we take Goldsmith,” said he, as a poet, as a comic writer, or as an historian, he stands in the first class.” Boswell.—“ An historian! My dear sir, you surely will not rank his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historians of this age.” Johnson.—“Why, who are before him ?" Boswell.—“Hume—Robertson-Lord Lyttelton.” Johnson (his antipathy against the Scotch beginning to rise).“I have not read Hume; but doubtless Goldsmith's History is better than the verbiage of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple.” Boswell.—“Will you not admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose history we find such penetration, such painting ?" Johnson.—“Sir, you must consider how that penetration and that painting are employed. It is not history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw, draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir Joshua paints faces, in a historypiece; he imagines an heroic countenance. You must look upon Robertson's work as romance, and try it by that standard. History it is not. Besides, sir, it is the great excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book will hold. Goldsmith has done this in his history. Now Robertson might have put twice as much in his book. Robertson is like a man who has
packed gold in wool; the wool takes up more room than the gold. No, sir, I always thought Robertson would be crushed with his own weight-would be buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know; Robertson detains you a great deal too long. No man will read Robertson's cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith's plain narrative will please again and again. I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils, 'Read over you: compositions, and, whenever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out! Goldsmith's abridgment is better than that of Lucius Florus or Eutropius; and I will venture to say, that if you compare him with Vertot in the same places of the Roman History, you will find that he excels Vertot. Sir, he has the art of compiling, and of saying every thing he has to say in a pleasing manner. He is now writing a Natural History, and will make it as entertaining as a Persian tale.”
The Natural History to which Johnson alluded was the “History of Animated Nature," which Goldsmith commenced in 1769, under an engagement with Griffin, the bookseller, to complete it as soon as possible in eight volumes, each containing upwards of four hundred pages, in pica; a hundred guineas to be paid to the author on the delivery of each volume in manuscript.
He was induced to engage in this work by the urgent solicitations of the booksellers, who had been struck by the sterling merits and captivating style of an introduction which he wrote to Brookes's Natural History. It was Goldsmith intention originally to make a translation of Pliny, with a popular commentary; but the appearance of Buffon's work induced him to
HISTORY OF ANIMATED NATURE.
change his plan, and make use of that author for a guide and model.
Cumberland, speaking of this work, observes: “Distress drove Goldsmith upon undertakings neither congenial with his studies nor worthy of his talents. I remember him when, in his chambers in the Temple, he showed me the beginning of his Animated Nature;' it was with a sigh, such as genius draws when hard necessity diverts it from its bent to drudge for bread, and talk of birds, and beasts, and creeping things, which Pidock's showman would have done as well. Poor fellow, he hardly knows an ass from a mule, nor a turkey from a goose, but when he sees it on the table.”
Others of Goldsmith's friends entertained similar ideas with respect to his fitness for the task, and they were apt now and then to banter him on the subject, and to amuse themselves with his easy credulity. The custom among the natives of Otaheite of eating dogs being once mentioned in company, Goldsmith observed that a similar custom prevailed in China; that a dog-butcher is as common there as any other butcher; and that, when he walks abroad, all the dogs fall on him. Johnson.—“That is not owing to his killing dogs; sir, I remember a butcher at Litchfield, whom a dog that was in the house where I lived always attacked. It is the smell of carnage which provokes this, let the animals he has killed be what they may.” Goldsmith.—“Yes, there is a general abhorrence in animals at the signs of massacre. put a tub full of blood into a stable, the horses are likely to go mad.” Johnson._“I doubt that." Goldsmith.—“Nay, sir, it is a fact well authenticated." Thrale.—“You had better prove it before you put it into your book on Natural History. You may do it in my stable if you will." Johnson.—“Nay, sir, I