« VorigeDoorgaan »
DR. JOSEPH WARTON.
VICAR OF WAKEFIELD.
PHILOSOPHY AND PHILOSOPHERS. POEMS FOR YOUNG LADIES. BEAUTIES OF ENGLISH POESY. ENGLISH GRAMMAR. BYRON'S VOYAGE. RESIDENCE IN THE TEMPLE. ANECDOTES. MR. WILLIAM HODSON.
In the literary societies of the metropolis about this time, as well as in those private assemblages to which nearly all persons of talents found ready admission, Goldsmith added largely to his acquaintance. In one of these he met Dr. Joseph Warton, probably for the first time, who thus expresses his opinion of him to his brother in January 1766, with something of the severity of a rival wit and author: “ Of all solemn coxcombs, Goldsmith is the first ; yet sensible ; — but affects to use Johnson's hard words in conversation."
There is a disposition in human nature to scrutinize into the manners of contemporaries, particularly those of men of reputation, much more severely than such as are seen through the medium of time or distance ; and this perhaps is the reason why we are more just to dead than to living excellence; we permit too often the imperfections and frailties of the man to cloud our view of his merits, and it is only when time mellows the prospect that he is contemplated in his true position with that reasonable allowance for infirmity which all human beings require. The remark of Warton seems to imply a little vanity in the behaviour of his new acquaintance; and if this is all that can be alleged against a successful poet, fresh in the enjoyment of his honours, the offence is not very heinous. But if he were really guilty of assuming some momentary importance of manner, it may not have been without cause. Persons had been attracted to him by the fame of the poem, who expecting in the companion of Johnson, to find the same point or energy in conversation, felt disposed in their disappointment to underrate such merit as he really possessed: while he in renewed efforts to retain his due station in social intercourse, may have overshot the mark, and in throwing off natural simplicity of character, fell into, as would appear in this instance, occasional pedantry; this indeed appears to be sometimes the only escape of a really diffident man from absolute taciturnity among associates where he observes some jealous or considerable pretension.
One of his pecuniary obligations in the nature of loan, bears date about this time, the immediate object of which was said to have been a short journey into the country, whither, or for what purpose, does not appear.
“ Received from Mr. Newbery eleven guineas, which I promise to pay.
“ OLIVER GOLDSMITH. 66 Jan. 8. 1766.”
The illness of Dr. Johnson about this time, attended with hypochondriacal symptoms difficult to shake off, exercised his friendship in cheering the sufferer by frequent visits, a duty in which he had the aid of Mr. Murphy; and both being cheerful, their endeavours produced the best effects. Mr. and Mrs. Thrale who had but recently formed the acquaintance of the lexicographer, united in the same friendly object, and to the care of this lady Goldsmith gave due praise. “To her attention,” he said, “Johnson owed his recovery.”
Soon afterward, Boswell who had been travelling on the Continent since 1763, returned to London, when the evening meetings with Johnson and Goldsmith at the Mitre were occasionally resumed. The former having now ceased to drink wine, sometimes refused to go; on these occasions they passed the evening in his rooms, trying to give a new direction to the broodings of a melancholy spirit by amusing conversation, they being supplied with wine, and the moralist confining himself to water.
“ Doctor,” said he to Goldsmith in allusion to his own former efforts in, and subsequent neglect of poetry, “I am not quite idle; I made one line tother day ; but I made no more.” “Let us hear it,” replied Goldsmith, “we'll put a bad one to it." “ No, sir,” returned Johnson, “ I have forgotten it.”
By a letter from the latter to Mr. Langton written early in March, it appears that Goldsmith seldom failed in attending their weekly evening
meetings. “Dyer,” he says, “is constant at the club; Hawkins is remiss; I am not over diligent; Dr. Nugent, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Reynolds are very constant."
On the 27th March, 1766, came out the Vicar of Wakefield, which immediately received the applause due to merits of a great and original kind.*
Nothing more strongly exemplifies the different estimates occasionally formed of a literary work by the publisher or his advisers, and by the public, than the fate of this beautiful tale, which to the former appeared so doubtful of popular favour as to be retained by him in manuscript for two, or nearly two years, after the purchase, afraid as it should seem, of risking the expence of publication. Of this opinion also by his own confession was Dr. Johnson ; and he adduced it afterward in conversation in proof of the little dependence to be placed on individual judgment regarding a work of imagination. We are told however that on a previous occasion, when disposing of it in order to relieve the author from his difficulties, he saw its merits ; this might very well be, without implying contradiction; he saw much in it to admire, but doubted whether similar taste opinion was likely to influence general readers ;
* The following is the first advertisement. - In a few days will be published in two volumes twelves, The Vicar of Wakefield. A tale; supposed to be written by himself. Printed for F. Newbery in Paternoster Row."--Lloyd's Evening Post, March 19...21. 1766.
it could not however be slightly valued even at first to secure for the author the sum of sixty guineas.
One of the causes of lying dormant so long, may have arisen from not being sold, as it would appear, to John Newbery, in whose books and papers there is no record of the transaction. His nephew, Francis Newbery, residing at the Crown (as booksellers had then their signs), in Paternoster Row, was the publisher; and he having had no previous connexion with the Poet, may have had less confidence in the success of the work. It may have been delayed likewise with the expectation of undergoing careful revision, and altering objectionable circumstances in the story; a task which however the author declined, alleging as is said, "and the argument must be considered powerful in the estimate of an author militant, — that whatever time or labour should be expended on the alterations, no increase would be made to the purchase money.
That he corrected the language afterwards appears by the variations between the first and subsequent editions.
The Vicar of Wakefield secured friends among every description of readers; with the old by the purity of its moral lessons, and with the young by the interest of the story. It had the merit of originality by differing from nearly all its predeces
With the popular productions before him of Fielding and Smollett, he studiously avoided their track by excluding variety of adventures, immoral