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copy of the said Natural History, to William Griffin, for ever, and to execute an assignment of the said copy on demand. It is understood by both parties that Dr. Goldsmith is to set about the work immediately and to finish the whole as soon as he conveniently can. To the above agreement both parties have set their names.
"OLIVER GOLDSMITH. "WM. GRIFFIN.
"If the work makes less than eight volumes the Doctor is to be paid in proportion.
In the spring of 1769, February according to Bishop Percy, though more probably March, he visited Oxford in company with Dr. Johnson, and is said to have had granted, ad eundem, the degree of M.B. No notice of it however occurs in the records of the University, although by the subjoined extract of a note from the Rev. Dr. Bliss, the registrar, to the writer, the fact may have been as stated. *
* "DEAR SIR,
"Oxford, Feb. 24. 1834.
"I have now fully ascertained that no record of Goldsmith's admission ad eundem exists upon the registers of this University; but I have by no means ascertained that the Poet was not so admitted; on the contrary I incline to believe that the Bishop of Dromore's impression was correct. It is a singular fact that there is a chasm in the Register of Convocation for 1769 from March 14th to March 18th, which was the last day
In the middle of May appeared his "Roman History"*, so impatiently expected by the publishers as to have been announced the preceding August. It gives us within the compass of two octavo volumes containing a thousand pages, the history of that state from the earliest period to the fall of the western empire. The preface displays sufficient humility; he disclaims all affectation of new discoveries, or ambition to compete with more laborious writers, while the preliminary advertisements in the newspapers stated it to be, "for the use of schools, and colleges." He likewise informs us, "that there are some subjects, on which a writer must decline all attempts to acquire fame, satisfied with being obscurely useful.” But with these modest intimations the book soon took higher ground, and even acquired a degree of reputation beyond perhaps the expectations of the writer. It became the companion not only of the young who could not be induced to peruse more
of Lent term, and it is possible certainly that the admission of Goldsmith might have taken place in that interval. I told you I would mention the subject to the venerable President of Magdalen. I have done so, and the result is that he does not remember to have heard any thing relative to Goldsmith's visit to Oxford."
"This day is published; in two volumes 8vo., Price 10s. 6d. in boards, or 12s. bound. The Roman History; from the foundation of the city of Rome, to the destruction of the Western Empire. Written by Dr. Goldsmith. Printed for S. Baker and C. Leigh in York Street; S. Davies in Russel Street, Covent Garden; and L. Davies, in Holborn." Public Advertiser, May 18th, 1769.
voluminous historians, but of the elder and better informed persons, who wished to grasp at knowledge with the slightest labour, or to renew what had been previously learnt, in the shortest form. Books of this kind well executed, are sure to win their own way to public favour. To the applause of the multitude, he added the countenance of the critics, who in a measure anticipated the judgment of Dr. Johnson by using nearly his words in allusion to the author of the Traveller. Some pronounced it "seasonable and well-timed," "an excellent digest of the Roman History," and the "most complete abridgment of the kind, for the use of gentlemen, and even of those who are more than cursory readers, that has been yet published." While others in pointing out errors of haste, or grammar, and defects perhaps inseparable from the plan, admit “that after all, it is better for common readers to be content with the knowledge it contains, than to drudge through the voluminous works of other writers for more ;" and pertinently add, "It is surely to be regretted that the author of the Traveller, one of the best poems that has appeared since those of Mr. Pope, should not apply wholly to works of imagination."
The preference given to Goldsmith over Robertson as an historian by Dr. Johnson, Boswell attributes though with no sufficient cause as far as we know, to his friendship for the former, or some presumed dislike to Scotland, or Scotsmen. Robertson
is no doubt an elegant author deserving of all his reputation, who however aims so much at effect in many of his details, that we are tempted to think we have before us rather the orator ambitious of displaying his eloquence, than the simple narrator of past events. He falls likewise into the error of occasionally making speeches for his characters, a practice which if countenanced by antiquity, is scarcely desirable in a modern writer; the substance of the remarks made by eminent persons long dead in particular situations may reach us, but not the precise words, which can be rarely caught in a speech of length; in fact whenever we meet with such, suspicion is apt to arise that the writer may have drawn for the matter as well as the manner, upon his imagination.
Goldsmith's qualities exhibit nothing of labour or pretension; he is brief, natural, and perspicuous, presenting as his chief claim to favour, that charm of ease so difficult to acquire, and which nature bestows only on the favoured few. Had he sat down to the composition of extended history by choice, instead of its being an affair of necessity, as a source of fame to be acquired not as a task to be performed, we cannot doubt from what has been accomplished, that he would have attained great eminence. On this subject Dr. Johnson has given a strong opinion in the comparison drawn between him and Robertson, which if even tinged with prejudice as his biographer insinuates, though without sufficient cause, must have some foundation in
truth. We have here at least the grounds of preference stated, and may judge for ourselves of their force; yet it may be fairly inferred from the broad manner in which Goldsmith's deficiencies otherwise are asserted by the great critic on the same occasion, that there is little room for the charge of undue partiality. The conversation took place at the house of Mr. Topham Beauclerk, in April 1773.
Goldsmith being mentioned, Johnson (after some further remarks) said, "Take him as a poet, his Traveller' is a very fine performance; ay, and so is his Deserted Village,' were it not sometimes too much the echo of his Traveller.' Whether indeed we take him 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 Lyttleton." 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..