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summer that he looked upon me as a person who seemed to stand between him and his interest. However when next we meet, all this will be forgotten, and the jealousy of authors which Dr. Gregory used to say was next to that of physicians, will be no more."
The phrase "stand between him and his interest" alludes to an affair of personal rather than of literary rivalry, very little known. The reputation and general conduct of Beattie as a moral and able man, had procured him an introduction to, and gracious reception from his Majesty, and this mark of condescension was expected to be followed, as shortly afterward proved to be the case, by the royal bounty in the grant of a pension. To a similar act of favour Goldsmith had been looking as a source of relief from his difficulties, and was led to believe, probably with some foundation, that the grant to another would interfere with the expectations he had himself formed. His opinion of the Essay on Truth, from whatever motive given, appears to have been critically just; since however laudable the design, it has not retained its original hold on public esteem as a first-rate production.
Another supposed instance of his literary jealousy occurred at the house of Sir Joshua when perusing the poems of Miss Aikin, afterwards Mrs. Barbauld, which he pronounced of inferior merit; a decision then considered unjust. Time in this instance likewise has confirmed his opinion, for though pleasing,
they have taken no strong hold on the regard of readers of poetry. It may be remarked here as a curious fact, that though the strength of female genius is supposed to lie chiefly in imagination, a quality considered above all others essential to poetry, we have not in the long list of standard English poets, a female writer, who has been thought worthy of admission among the number; while as novelists and dramatists there are several of eminent merit. Strength of thinking, of sentiment, and of expression, are perhaps as necessary to good poetry as even what is called imagination; and a large range of observation, with an experience of mankind not always within the reach of women from their position in society, may prevent their attaining such excellence in that as in other departments of authorship. Madame de Stael indeed seems one of those who had vigour and originality of thought for a great poet, had nature furnished her with the other requisites for such a character.
The early part of the summer of 1773, appears to have been spent in London, for we find Beauclerk in his usual strain of sarcastic remark thus writing to Lord Charlemont from Muswell Hill, July 5th.
"I have been but once at the club since you left England; we were entertained as usual by Dr. Goldsmith's absurdities."
Disregard of times, places, and circumstances, and occasionally of persons, arising partly from
absence of mind, partly from a simplicity that led him to give utterance to such thoughts as other men conceal, were the peculiarities to which Beauclerk alludes. An instance will illustrate this better than description. When dining with a tradesman in the city, a very opulent man though exercising the not very exalted calling of a carcassbutcher, he was so impressed by the splendour of the house and table, that with an air of surprise he asked him before several strangers "How much money he made annually by his business?" One of his odd speeches, characteristic of his simplicity and quite true in its purport, was more than once repeated. 'People," said he, "are greatly mistaken in me; a notion goes about that when I am silent I mean to be impudent; but I assure you, gentlemen, my silence proceeds from bashfulness."
To a man of fashion and a wit, oddities of speech, person, or manner furnish themes for ridicule that all their admiration of genius cannot suppress; and deviation from conventional forms meets from them with little forbearance. It is to this we owe Lord Chesterfield's description of Dr. Johnson; to this also Horace Walpole's impertinence towards him and to Goldsmith; and Beauclerk while professing himself superior to the prejudices of his class in fashionable life, could not wholly escape a similar feeling. The blunders therefore, the constraint, or abstractions of a scholar in his serious moods, his irregular mirth, or thoughtless
conversation when amused, an unpolished address, bluntness of speech, or smaller breaches of modes which the solitary student does not know, or regards not if known, become with such persons serious matters. They do not discriminate between him who makes the forms of the drawing-room his chief business in life, and him whose occupation it is to amuse or instruct mankind.
So much likewise is expected from the conversation of authors, that they are often denied the license granted to others of giving free utterance to unpremeditated thoughts; while some of their auditors seem to think slightingly of such as discard reserve, and who aim to be merely easy and natural, perhaps careless, in what they advance. Thus we sometimes find disappointment expressed at hearing nothing from them in occasional association very remarkable; no maxim of wisdom, pungency of wit, or flight of imagination; as if the mass of persons commonly met with in private life deserved this stretch of mind by the possession of corresponding powers, or had any just right to expect it. Society would be a serious tax upon a popular writer were he to enter it with his mind wound up like a harp-string for the gratification of many who are at best idle, though inquisitive listeners. Even if he excels in conversation, it may be prudent not to obtrude it; to be read in books in the morning, and listened to at night in the drawing-room circle, is a greater degree of atten
tion than we are willing to concede to any whose claims are not of very commanding character.
Yet Goldsmith suffered in the estimation of contemporaries by the absence of all pretension in private intercourse, by affecting playfulness, and familiarity when perhaps more reserve might have procured the reputation of more wisdom. He was willing to sink something of the philosopher for the pleasure of being agreeable; feeling satisfied that his writings at least would shield him from any supposed loss of dignity. In general society, where his talents and superiority were admitted without dispute, this might be safely done; but it was imprudent among rivals for literary as well as colloquial fame, a few of whom as they could not equal the one, were willing enough to depreciate the other. On this point, Boswell was more indulgent or more just to him than upon others. "For my part," he says, "I like very well to hear honest Goldsmith talk away carelessly." And the Poet's opinion of the license which he claimed in talking may be gathered from a remark addressed to Dr. Douglas, Bishop of Salisbury, who is mentioned in Retaliation, in support of an argument of his to a similar effect. "There is a relief to the mind in disburthening itself of all its thoughts of whatever description; men in writing books are obliged to please others, but in talking they may be permitted to please themselves."
Johnson's view of conversation differed so wholly from this, that he was no more off his guard in