Oliver Goldsmith B.A. Trinity College, Dublin 1730-1774
“He was a vain empty coxcomb, so overwhelmed with self-conceit that he could not hear without envy of the success of another man, he was ungrateful to those who befriended him most…an accomplished liar, a contemptible braggart, an undutiful son, and a bit of a hypocrite…a plagiarist when he was best, and a fool when he was at his worst…He affected a wisdom which he did not possess.” Boswell
The first is Goldsmith the writer, the second is Goldsmith the man. Both views have evidence of truth. I like to think of Goldsmith as the embodiment of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Poor Wandering Soul, a “philosophic vagabond” [as described by Johnson] and like many young people, looking for something to do rather than something to be. Intended for the clergy, rejected by the board; thought about law, tutor, licensed as a physician, failed the exam; settling on writing and when he finally succeeded he was still doomed to privation. “Inclined to poverty, drink and self-destruction” Charles Gayley wrote “never so poor but that he would lend his last penny to some Irish relative poorer still...It is pleasant to contemplate this shy awkward, pock-marked, improvident Irishman, winning his way to the hearts of London’s greatest literary men.” He once boasted to his brother-in-law that “there is hardly a kingdom in Europe in which I am not a debtor.” William Freeman wrote “to the end of his life whatever sum he happened to have in his pocket remained only long enough to be dissipated on some childish whim, some sudden folly, or most frequently of all-some wild burst of generosity without a glimmer of prudence to support it.” His money supply now dried up “faith and hope in him…at an end he had disappointed them at every point... he had given none of the anticipated proofs of talent and they were themselves too poor to support what they considered the wandering propensities of a needless spendthrift.” He wrote of himself:
“Homeless near a thousand homes he stood
Yet for all this there is no doubt that some of the best writing examples can be found by reading The Traveller (1764) for reflective poetry, the Vicar of Wakefield (1766) for narrative, and She Stoops to Conquer (1773) for drama.
Back in England again with no definite plan of action, finding employment as an usher in a school with failure again, followed by an apothecary position which he could not manage. Finally an old school friend, Dr. Sleigh, introduced him to a bookseller named Richardson who owned his own printing establishment. This relit the glint in Goldsmith’s eye he rubbed his hands together and offered a “quixotic scheme of going to decipher the inscriptions in the Sinai peninsula even though the he had absolutely no knowledge of Arabic but a subject upon which he spoke authoritatively” how Goldsmith. Goldsmith ignored his failures and continued to visit parlors hoping to talk a patron into scheme, project or anything that would give him something to do, unqualified at anything, the field was wide open. What he was able to do is spin tales, entertain humorously, and lie without reproach. Enter Goldsmith the hack-writer with the successful publication of a pretentious essay Enquiry into the State of Polite Learning in Europe, “a subject of which he knew nothing.”
The term hack-writer is an event in the development of writing as a profession. George Krapp describes this development as occurring in three periods. The first was the period of patronage, the second of the private publisher, the last or present-day is a choice of self, institutional and/or commercial. During the first period writing provided no income. If a writer had no family inheritance he was obliged to seek out someone to write for or about, namely a patron. In the place of pay, writing was recompensed in other ways. A writer might be put on the staff of a wealthy gentleman patron where he would write frequent attributions at the whim of his patron. Some early English writers like Chaucer were free to write with non-monetary support from the Dukes of Clarence and Lancaster and John of Gaunt. But this was not true in the 18th century, where every whim of the patron required an elegy, an ode, a tribute. Prompting this comment in a letter from Goldsmith:
“Upon the death of the great therefore, the poets and undertakers are sure of employment. While one provides the long cloak, black staff, and mourning coach, the other produces the pastoral or elegy, the monody or apotheosis. The nobility need be under no apprehensions, but die as fast as they think proper, the poet and undertaker are ready to supply them these can find metaphorical tears and family escutcheons at half an hour’s warning; and when the one has soberly laid the body in the grave, the other is ready to fix it figuratively among the stars.”
When Goldsmith, Pope and Johnson entered the stage patronage exited. By their refusal to “write for a price” these three are credited with placing “the profession of letters on a more dignified and self-respecting basis”. Goldsmith had refused the patronage of Earl of Northumberland and Johnson did the same with the Earl of Chesterfield in this famous letter which Thomas Carlyle called “the death-knell of patronage”:
“My Lord, I have been lately informed by the proprietor of The World, that two papers in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your Lordship...When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind by the enchantment of your address...but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. Seven years, my Lord, have now past since I waited 0in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door...I have been pushing on my work through difficulties...and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of encouragement, or one smile of favour...had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed until I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the publick should consider me as owing that to a Patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself...”
Shakespeare also received no monetary recompense but served as a kind of poet in-residence and family historian to more than one patron including the Duke of Southampton, and Sir William Herbert. During the age of Queen Anne, patronage became a form of “payback” where dedicating a poem, writing an epithet, a political pamphlet, or an essay could be put for sale to the highest payer. “Men even of the highest ability came to look upon the pen merely as a tool which was rightfully the service of the party that could pay the highest price.” At this point DeQuincey wrote “from the noblest professions literature became a trade.” Lord Halifax had a standard offering of twenty guineas for anyone who would include him in his writing so a writer “to gain the good-will of his leaders a writer endeavored to do by the most humiliating obsequiousness and servility.” Another characteristic of this first period is that writers rarely acknowledged their work. Anonymity proved useful to the writer in two ways: it protected a writer from a critic’s barbs and it gave them a license for “writing at will”.
The rejection of patronage was also helped by the accession of Charles I, who had little interest in anything cultural and certainly wasn’t interested in offering writers any opportunity to express the “feeling of the people.” Unfortunately what replaced the practice of patronage was only a slight improvement. Writers were poor and needed income: enter “hack-writing” or in Goldsmith’s term, “book building.” He writes in Inquiry into the State of Polite Learning:
“The author, unpatronized by the great, had naturally recourse to the bookseller. There cannot, perhaps, be imagined a combination more prejudicial to taste than this. It is the interest of the one to allow as little for writing, and for the other to write as much as possible; accordingly tedious compilations and periodical magazines are the result of their joint endeavors...He is called an author, and all know that an author is a thing only to be laughed at...Even aldermen laugh...The poet’s poverty is a standing topic of contempt. We keep him poor and revile his poverty. We reproach him for living by his wit, and yet allow him no other means to live.”
Goldsmith, in his novel Humphrey Clinker, describes the plight of hack-writers and the practice of “writing at will”. In this story a group of writers gather every Sunday (as that is the only day where arrest due to poverty was not allowed) to discuss how they are able to write about subjects of which they knew nothing. Thus a Scotsman lectures on the pronunciation of the English language, another produces a travel book of countries he has never traveled, another on agriculture even though he has no knowledge of farming. Johnson tells of Goldsmith and his attempt to write Natural History: “Goldsmith, sir, will give us a very fine book upon the subject, but if he can distinguish a cow from a horse, that I believe, may be the extent of his knowledge of natural history.”
Eventually professional booksellers or publishers filled the gap. And again writers like Goldsmith were the chief sufferers. The book sellers took the place of the patron and controlled the recompense, which was as little money as they could bargain. So writing became a “feast or famine” profession prompting Goldsmith to comment in Citizen of the World “a writer of real merit now may easily be rich, if his heart be set only on fortune: and for those who have no merit, it is but fit that such should remain in merited obscurity.” Goldsmith decried the “at will” writing, especially of The Critical Review, accusing it of being written by “physicians without practice, authors without learning, men without decency, gentlemen without manners, and critics without judgment.”
In a continuing battle with book sellers Goldsmith founded his own literary magazine on October, 1759 in a didactic tone and titled The Bee. It was published once a week for three pence, with the motto Floriferis ut apes in saltibus omnia libant Omnia nos itidem translated “as bees taste of everything in the flowery meadows, so we feed on every golden word that falls from his lips (thus one who selects the best of everything that is encountered), Lucretius. It was produced in crown octavo, on good paper, containing “two sheets or thirty-two pages, stitched in blue covers and consisted of “a variety of essays, on the amusements, follies, vices in fashion, particularly the most recent topics of conversation, remarks on theatrical exhibitions, and memoirs of modern literature.” Most importantly it disclaimed any relationship to the magazine trade. Goldsmith made good use of his magazine by publishing his own works, in particular the shorter poems On a Beautiful Youth Struck Blind with Lightning, The Gift, and An Elegy.
Goldsmith was a flute-playing son of an Irish clergyman who couldn’t read a note of music but claimed full knowledge. His childhood was very much like the idealized environment depicted in The Deserted Village: surrounded by an extended family of cousins, aunts, and uncles who supported him throughout his life. If you wish to know more about his father read of “the man in black in the Citizen of the World,” or of “the preacher in Deserted Village,” or of “the hero in the Vicar of Wakefield.” Even his cousin Jane became Cousin Con in his play She Stoops to Conquer. His appearance received much attention from relatives and fellow students. An already distorted head and face became even more pronounced after a bout with small-pox left it deeply scarred. In later years he described himself “Imagine a pale melancholy visage, with two great wrinkles between the eyebrows.” Members of the Literary Club described him as “an Irishman, who delighted to deck out his odd little figure in gaudy attire, and whom all his friends liked, but whom none of them respected.” To which Goldsmith replied “Every extravagance in dress proceeds from a desire of becoming more beautiful than nature made us, and this is so harmless a vanity that I not only pardon but approve of it” Letter from a Citizen of the World. A more truthful explanation would be that realizing already that his physical appearance was short of grotesque it should be matched equally in adornment. He describes his food aversions in Animated Nature included “caterpillars and worms of every species…something disagreeable in their slow crawling motion for which the variety of coloring can never compensate.” Of this work critics first described it as hackwork but one of "most substantial literary legacy". The first edition (in eight volumes) appeared in London in 1774. The work sought to draw together virtually all that was known about the planet earth, its plants and animals, and even its human inhabitants described from a biological perspective. Although Goldsmith drew almost all of his information from the work of other naturalists, he set out with a very Romantic goal in mind. Walpole, after listening to his “empty, noisy, blundering rattle” described him as “an inspired idiot” and Richard Cumberland, the dramatist, wrote “He does not know the difference of a turkey from a goose.”
He favored the didactic tone in poetry and in essays. His most famous poem can be found in his comedy play She Stoops to Conquer:
And this from The Man in Black “In every parish-house, the poor are supplied with food, clothes, fire, and a bed to lie on; they want no more, I desire no more myself; yet still they seem discontented. I am surprised at the inactivity of our magistrates in not taking up such vagrants, who are only a weight upon the industrious; I am surprised that the people are found to relieve them, when they must be at the same time sensible that it, in some measure, encourages idleness, extravagance, and imposture. Were I to advise any man for whom I had the least regard, I would caution him by all means not to be imposed upon by their false pretences; let me assure you, sir, they are impostors every one of them, and rather merit a prison than relief.”
In poetic expression he preferred the rhymed couplet, believing the pompous solemnity of pedantic blank verse to be a poor way to “to train the recalcitrant.” He was the great defender of the classic English couplet. He wrote in dedication of The Traveller “What criticisms have we not heard of late in favour of blank verse, and Pindaric odes, choruses, anapests, and iambics, alliterative care and happy negligence! Every absurdity has now a champion to defend it.”
In all his successful writing, he followed the advice of Isocrates “study the people.” Of his lyric poems at the top of heap is The Vicar of Wakefield. Anthony Hawkins wrote of this work “one of the first poems of the lyric kind that our language has to boast of.” A less imposing lyric was an oratorio The Capitivity which passed quickly into oblivion although one song is still remembered:
Goldsmith was always in need of money, so when he wrote he wrote for money. His first attempts were street ballads, written while at college and sold “at the Rein Deer repository in Mountrath for five shillings a piece; and steal out of the college at night to hear them sung.” In London there was no dearth of magazines and reviews offering one or two shillings for articles for their readers. They were strung out all along Grub Street in London. Few of them survived more than a year. Today the term Grub Street has become a metonym for hack writers, most of whom wrote anonymously to avoid the barbs of critics and thus shorten their prospects of success. This definition of Grub Street may be found in Johnson’s Dictionary: “The name of a street in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems; whence any mean production is called Grub Street.” By the age of thirty Goldsmith still had not written anything of substance, he was “a mere writer for bread.”
The Traveller was his first poem to which he signed his own name. When it appeared members of the various literary clubs were shocked “that a newspaper essayist and bookseller’s drudge could have written such a poem.” The Traveller was a reflective poem describing the experiences of an English wanderer traveling about Europe, who concludes, while standing on a rocky crag high up in the Alps that the best of all is one’s own home.
His loyalty was steadfast. He wrote in Essay VIII “I know of no country but this [England] where readers of learning are sufficiently numerous to give every kind of literacy excellence adequate encouragement.” In The Connoisseur he wrote in criticism of Dr. Johnson’s conception of “good English”: “For my own part I never go out of the common way of expressions merely for the purpose of introducing a more sounding word with a Latin termination. The English language is sufficiently copious, without any further addition of new terms; and the native words seem to me to have far more force than any foreign auxiliaries, however purposely ushered in as British soldiers fight out battles far better than troops taken into our pay.”
A second long poem was The Deserted Village. This one was in the Idyllium mode (Wordsworth’s term). In this work Goldy, as he was called by his friends, bewailed the effects of the Industrial Revolution on rural England where young men began to abandon village life in promise of a richer, more exciting life in cities.
Goldsmith’s one outstanding lyric poem has already received mentioned “When a lovely woman stoops to folly” from The Vicar of Wakefield. “The Vicar by its picturesque presentation of the manner and feelings of simple people, first led Goethe to turn with interest to the study of English literature. (Thomas Arnold). His one effort at the mock–heroic was under the pseudonym Scroggins. Unfortunately it was never completed, but one critic [Irving] has praised the original idea as a “first rate specimen of the mock-heroic.”
In the Essay Poetry Distinguished from other Writing Goldsmith expressed his displeasure at “misguided innovators” who would debase the poetical language. To him “poetry is the language of life…the simplest expression is the best.” For example the only latinisms occur in The Traveller:
Quale cited from The Deserted Village “the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind,” where the word vacant takes the Latin meaning “free from care.”
Even his compound epithets, of which there are many, are not for purposes of elaborating the language but to offer “verbal condensation.” For ex. “rocky-crested”, “grass-grown”, “hollow-sounding”, “shelter-seeking”. Literary critics describe his work as “a sort of half-way attitude between the old order and the new” - a transition into the romantic period.
When he fell into play-writing he resolved not follow the prevailing pattern of “a comedy of tears” but to substitute “a healthy comedy of laughter” And produced a dramatic comedy She Stoops to Conquer as “the very pink of perfection” a smash hit still today. Suffering poverty, envy, criticism, demanding patrons, ungrateful publishers, and at one point even jail, Goldsmith resigned himself to the profession of writing, but abandon poetry and finish his career as a critic. When a colleague commented on his decision Goldsmith commented, “My dear fellow, pay no regard to the draggle-tailed Muses; for my part I have found productions in prose much more sought after and better paid for.” Some speculate that his was a genius that flowered late, others that the genius was there but character flaws prevented fruition. All agree that it was the intervention of Johnson that enabled Goldsmith to go as far as he did. But Goldsmith himself doubted his ability to produce a worthy poem saying: “I fear I have come too late into the world; Pope and other poets have taken up the places in the temple of fame; and as few at any period can possess poetical reputation, a man of genius can now hardly acquire it.” Was this what he thought or a rationalization and at another time “Of all kinds of ambition...perhaps that which pursues poetical fame is the wildest.” But others say “Oliver Goldsmith is devoid of ambition. He has no desire to become a great writer. He only becomes a great writer to save himself from starvation.”
He wrote this adieu to poetry:
Our first characteristic is plain, simple, ease of language style.
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.
“Goldsmith’s ideal was simplicity, ‘that the language of poetry should be as the language of life, and should convey the warmest thoughts in the simplest expression.’”
“Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know…[his] plain narrative will tell you all you need to known.” Johnson
“Goldsmith is among the simplest of our writers…his simplicity is an elegant simplicity” Minto
“There is nothing but the simplest language conveying the simplest moral, evolved by the simplest agency.” Macaulay
“…a clear succinct narrative. A simple, easy and graceful style, and an agreeable arrangement of acts.” of History of England
“A man who had the art of being minute without tediousness and general without confusion; whose language was copious without exuberance, exact without constraint, and easy without weakness.” Samuel Johnson
“We rather incline to the belief that the novel [Vicar of Wakefield] has become beloved from pole to pole owing to the simplicity of its construction and the equal simplicity of its characters.” Frank Moore
“Goldsmith’s style in prose flowed from him with such felicity that in whole quires of his Histories, Animated Nature etc., etc., he had seldom occasion to correct or alter a single word.”
“A man with such variety of powers and such felicity of performance, that he always seemed to do best that which he was doing, a man who had the art of being minute without tediousness, general without confusion; whose language was copious without exuberance, exact without constraint, and easy without weakness.” Life of Parnell
“Is there a man, now sir who can pen an essay with such ease and elegance as Goldsmith?”
“No one was prepared, in a treatise so grave, for a style so enchantingly graceful. To combine liveliness with learning, is thought something of a heresy still.” Comment on the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe.
“…he found time to produce several works which were real literature, some genial and sprightly essays, two very good poems beside other worthy bits of verse, two comedies which still stir the worlds with laguthter and delight, and an idyllic romance whose charm can never grow old.” Gayley
Our second characteristic is kindly good-nature, genial wit, and satire.
Here Hickey reclines, a most blunt, pleasant creature,
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.
“Seeking neither wealth nor advancement, nor toilful learning, unencumbered by possessions of his own, he had looked on all with a sympathetic eye, an open heart, an innocent delight in human gladness, a kindly smile at human frailty, a sigh and a tear for human woe; and from all he had gathered a store of gentle wisdom, of dear remembrance.” Thomas Humphrey Ward
“In this he proves that blockheads are not men of wit, and yet that men of wit are actually blockheads.” Prior “Goldsmith buffooned purposely without his friends ever suspecting it.”
“Not merely his natural wit and childlike irresponsibility, but his brogue his odd mannerisms, his very uncouthness became his assets.” William Freeman
“Those who are unacquainted with the world are apt to fancy the man of wit as leading a very agreeable life. They conclude that he is attended with silent admiration, and dictates to the rest of mankind with all the eloquence of conscious superiority. He is called an author, and all know that an author is a thing only to be laughed at. His person, not his jest, becomes the mirth of the company... The poet’s poverty is a standing topic of contempt. His writing for bread an unpardonable offence…We keep him poor, and yet revile his poverty. We reproach him for living by his wit, and yet allow him no other means to live.” Inquiry into the State of Polite Learning
“His essays, characterized by his delightful style, his pure, benevolent morality, and his mellow, unobtrusive humor…gradually stole upon the heart of the public, were copied into numerous contemporary publications of British literature.” Irving
“But Goldsmith, whatever his failings, was never vindictive or malicious…had the effect of sending him in search of merits that he could genuinely praise.” Of his criticism of Smollett’s History of England.
“He impressed himself upon others not by presumption or by assertive wit, but by a humor which widened sympathy while it wakened laughter.” Gayley
“I am amazed therefore that none have yet found out the secret of flattering the worthless, and yet of preserving a safe consicience…I send you the specimen [blank form] of a poem upon the decease of a great man, in which the flattery is perfectly fine, and yet the poet perfectly innocent.” On the Death of the Right Honourable
“In the Haunch of Venison we have a miniature farce, and Goldsmith good-naturedly includes himself among the persons to be laughed at…Retaliation is the most mischievous and the most playful, the friendliest and the faithfullest of satires.” T. H. Ward
Our third characteristic is the weaving of joy and dark despair; optimism and social pathos.
“He cast off his friends, as a huntsman his pack;
“Why, why was I born a man, and yet see the sufferings I cannot relieve! Poor houseless creatures! the world will give you reproaches, but will not give you relief. The slightest misfortunes, the most imaginary uneasiness of the rich, are aggravated with all the power of eloquence, and engage our attention; while you weep unheeded, persecuted by every subordinate species of tyranny, and finding enmity in every law. Why was this heart of mine formed with so much sensibility! or why was not my fortune adapted to its impulse! Tenderness, without a capacity for relieving, only makes the heart that feels it, more wretched than the object which sues for assistance.” A City-Night Piece - The Bee
“Every perspective of life brightens upon us when terminated by objects so charming. Every intermediate image of want, banishment or sorrow receives a lustre from their distant influence. With these in view, the patriot philosopher and poet have looked with calmness on disgrace and famine, and rested on their straw with cheerful serenity.”
“Being now at the bottom of Fortune’s wheel, every revolution might lift, but could not depress me. I proceeded therefore towards London on a fine morning, no way uneasy about the morrow, but cheerful as the birds that caroled by the road.”
“The miseries of the poor are however entirely disregarded; tho’ some undergo more real hardships in one day, that the great in their whole lives. It is indeed inconceivable that difficulties the meanest English sailor or soldier endures without murmuring or regret.”
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.
“Goldsmith, indeed, took his own misfortunes with so much spirit and humor that he could not be much concerned about imaginary griefs, and his trust in the goodness of the world was so perfect that with him sorrow was always tuned into joy .” Moody and Lovett
“Goldsmith is a master of pathos, exquisite of its kind. It is the pathos intimately allied to humor and touching upon the tears that lie nearest to our smiles. The humor that draws tears, and the pathos that provokes smiles, will be popular to the end of the world.” Bulwer-Lytton
“He can be commended for the elegance of his imagery, the depth of his pathos…it may be deliberately said that it has more tenderness and pathos, gives more of picture to the eye and of feeling to the heart, than any other in the language which is written in the same verse or metre.” Washington Irving
“Many of the ills of life are but the humors of comedy…Others are blessings in disguise. For Goldsmith’s world is an ideal one. Troubles and disasters accumulate like threatening clouds, but only to resolve themselves into beneficent showers. Suffering is not a problem; it is little more than an artistic device to make the world seem more beautiful.” Moody and Lovett
“The real wonder is that Goldsmith’s nature was not so much but so little ‘subdued to what it worked in’…To spend the greater part of your life in such desperate straits and amongst such demoralizing associates, and keep yet so pure in heart, so guileless in spirit, so gentle, generous and chivalrous in character – that is the real wonder.” Richard Ashe King
Our fourth characteristic is tolerance and humaneness.
“And be each critic the 'Good Natur'd Man'” Epilogue to the Good Natured Man
“By this time my curiosity began to abate, and my appetite to increase; the company of fools may at first make us smile, but at last never fails of rendering us melancholy. I therefore pretended to recollect a prior engagement, and, after having shown my respect to the house, according to the fashion of the English, by giving the old servant a piece of money at the door, I took my leave; Mr. Tibbs assuring me, that dinner, if I stayed, would be ready at least in less than two hours.” Mr. Tibbs The Bee
“Were I to be angry at men for being fools. I could find ample room for declamation, but alas! I have been a fool myself; and why should I be angry with them for being something so natural to every child of humanity?” Description of Various Clubs
“While the slightest inconveniences of the great are magnified into calamities; while tragedy mouths out their sufferings in all the strains of eloquence, the miseries of the poor are entirely disregarded; and yet some of the lower ranks of people undergo more real hardships in one day that those of a more exalted station suffer in their whole lives.” Essay
Comments from critics colleagues and himself.
“Goldsmith wrote for some of the most successful, periodicals, such as the Bee, the Busy-body, and the Lady’s Magazine. His essays though characterized by his delightful style...did not produce equal effect at first...but they had a rare and enduring merit...They gradually stole upon the heart of the public, were copied into numerous contemporary publications, and now they are garnered up among the choice productions of British literature.” Krapp
“His papers in The Citizen of the World though, like Addison’s, often directed against the faults and absurdities of men, have a tenderness which goes beyond Addison’s mildness, a note of kinship with humanity that is very different from the Spectator’s aloofness.” Moody and Lovett
“He had actually smiled at sight of the old dames in their quaint French caps leading out the little boys and girls to foot it while he piped...he had been turned away disappointed from ...peasant’s inhospitable door..., he had breasted the keen air with the Alpine herdsman...seeking neither wealth, nor advancement, nor toilful learning, unencumbered by possessions of his own, he had looked on all with sympathetic eye, an open heart, an innocent deight in human gladness, a kindly smile at human frailty, a sigh and a tear for human woe; and from all he had gathered a store of gentle wisdom, of dear remembrance.”
“Not a little of the peculiar charm of Goldsmith is attributable to the excellence of his heart. Mere talent would scarcely have sufficed to interpret and display so enchantingly the humble characters and scenes to which his most brilliant efforts were devoted. It was his sincere and ready sympathy with man, his sensibility to suffering in every form, his strong social sentiment, and his amiable interest in all around him with brightened to his mind’s eye what to the less susceptible is unheeded and obscure.” Bayard Tuckerman
“It is not to be described the effect that Goldsmith’s Vicar had upon me, just at the critical moment of mental development. That lofty and benevolent irony, that fair and indulgent view of all infirmities and faults, that meekness under all calamities, that equanimity under all changes and changes, and the whole train of kindred virtues, whatever names they bear, proved by best education; and in the end these are the thoughts and feelings which have reclaimed us from all the errors of life.” Goethe in a letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter in 1830.
Our fifth characteristic is moral insight.
“People who die really of hunger, in common language of a broken heart.” Animated Nature
“It is innocent gaiety “which often deceives us into instruction.” Goldsmith
In predicting the French Revolution: “If they have but three weak monarchs more successively on the throne, the mask will be laid aside, and the country will once more be free.” Chinese Letters Goldsmith
Comments from critics, colleagues and himself.
“Goldsmith was so far from being unobservant and irreflective, that he was one of the most observant, reflective, far-sighted and sagacious men of his day.” Richard Ashe King
“It is designed to show us that the heroism and self-denial needed for the duties of life are not of the superhuman sort; that they may coexist with many follies, with some simple weaknesses, with many harmless vanities; and that, in the improvement of mankind… the humblest of men have their places assigned them and their parts allotted them to play.” John Forster
“He wrote to exalt virtue and expose vice; and he accomplished his task in a manner which raises him to the highest rank among British authors.” Sir Walter Scott
“When we come to think over the matter and find scenes, reflections, feelings whole passages and simple sayings, not merely remembered but so wrought into the mind that they are a part of itself rather than its furniture, and that our tempers have been softened by them. Our characters and sentiments moulded, and our happiness increased, we own that some power, deep as any philosophy, has been operating without our knowledge to produce effects like these…” W. E. Channing
In conclusion we note that Goldsmith wrote every day but most of what he wrote did not come from the heart or from his imagination, it was purely for subsistence.
He died suddenly at the age of forty-five. A monument was erected in Westminster but the exact burial spot is unknown. Johnson wrote the following enscription:
Or if you of the other persuasion take this one: