« VorigeDoorgaan »
position, is said to have given Garrick the first idea of the character of the Irish Widow in his farce of that name by a trick played off in a familiar party upon the simplicity of Goldsmith. This lady it seems for a piece of amusement personated such a character - just arrived from Ireland, full of brogue, and blunders — with wit, rant, and impudence - a little gentility nevertheless — and added to all, assuming to be an authoress soliciting subscriptions for her poems.
Some of these she read with an affected enthusiasm which created the greatest amusement to those who were in the secret. Goldsmith - the great Goldsmith as she called him, her countryman and, of course, friend, she flattered extravagantly, and repeatedly appealed to him on the merit of the pieces, which he praised with all due warmth in her presenceoffered his subscription, and as strongly abused the verses (as well perhaps he might) when she retired. This scene, it is said, presented a finished piece of acting. Garrick seized upon the characler for representation, and brought forward his piece in 1772, the Widow being admirably performed by Mrs. Barry.
A SURVEY OF EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY.— ADDRESS ON THE
OPENING OF THE OPERA HOUSE. RETALIATION. HIS
TORY OF THE EARTH AND ANIMATED NATURE. SECOND EDITION OF POLITE LEARNING. SCARRON'S ROMANCE.
HIS ILLNESS AND DEATH.
During the latter end of 1773 and the early part of the following year, his literary labours were sufficiently multifarious to become occasionally distracting to a mind otherwise ill at ease.
Besides writing and carrying through the press the Grecian History, he was engaged in a similar way upon the History of the Earth and Animated Nature, and upon a third History of England in one large volume duodecimo for the use of schools, which came out after his death in September 1774. He was likewise revising the Enquiry into Polite Learning for a new edition ; writing at favourable intervals the poem of Retaliation ; translating the Comic Romance of Scarron; and arranging papers gleaned in part probably for the Dictionary of Arts, into a work in two volumes commenced long before and mentioned in a preceding page, “ A Survey of Experimental Philosophy, considered in its present state of Improvement.”
The preliminary advertisement of the publishers (Carnan and Newbery) states, that “ The first volume of this work was printed off in the life-time of the author ; the second after his death; the whole of the copy being put into the hands of the publisher long before that period.” Of this there is no reasonable doubt, for it was announced as being in the press three months after his death *, although not published till 1776, the delay being probably caused by the necessity of further revision. Several mistakes remain, showing that the writer had consulted rather the books of a preceding age than the practical knowledge of his own; and this accounts for the compilation never having become popular. It has many obvious traces of his pen, and betrays even in the introductory remarks what might be expected from him, more of the tone of the moral, than of the natural philosopher.
At the opening of the Opera-house November 20th, 1773, Mrs. Yates the actress, who had relled with Colman and had then no engagement in London at either of the English theatres, spoke a Poetical Exordium written for her by Goldsmith. The following notice of it the same evening, appears in a letter of Beauclerk to Lord Charlemont. “ Goldsmith has written a prologue for Mrs. Yates which she spoke this evening before the opera. It is very good. You will soon see it in all the newspapers, otherwise I would send it to you.”
* Morning Chronicle, July 1. 1774.
It is singular that a piece thus necessarily so public from the place where it was delivered, and pronounced to be “good” by a critic so fastidious as Beauclerk, should not, as he anticipated, have appeared in the newspapers of the day, or in any collection of his works since. Several copies besides that furnished to Mrs. Yates, we may believe were in circulation, by the offer made in the preceding letter of sending one to Lord Charlemont; yet in the anxiety to collect all his versés after death, these have never appeared ; nor are they alluded to in any memoir of him ; neither has their existence notwithstanding diligent inquiry been ascertained. The only probable explanation seems, that being either withheld for some other purpose by the author, or given by him to Bishop Percy with other papers, it was subsequently lost, as hinted to that prelate by Malone in one of his letters. It is possible likewise that if Colman felt offended by allusions to the situation of the first tragic actress of the day being unengaged in the national theatres, the Poet may have been willing to propitiate him by the suppression of the whole.
In the bills of the day it is called “ A Poetical Exordium.” The chief subject on which it touched was the history of the revival of the polite arts in Italy and the effect produced by their union with each other ; allusions were likewise introduced to
the situation of the speaker herself in connexion with the tragic drama. The house was more crowded and brilliant than had been usually witnessed on the first night of performance, and the applause loud and universal. Yet from whatever cause, it appears not to have been repeated.
The next exercise of his poetical powers was one, which though seemingly playful, required for its successful execution no ordinary portion of address and ingenuity.
However little disposed to question his genius, few of his friends had given him credit for close observation of mankind, or that insight into individual character which men of the world think exclusively their own. Yet a very ordinary examination of bis writings might have convinced them, that no one could have written as he wrote, without enjoy. ing large acquaintance with the ways of life and with human nature. As a set-off to these indeed, they saw his peculiar habits, his occasional simplicity, his benevolence, and his consideration, not always wise or well-timed, for the undeserving. His oddities in consequence of this good-nature became what was deemed fair game for professed wits and jesters; and as he had hitherto given no proof of disposition to satire, it was thought this species of mirth might be indulged with impunity. To this mistake we owe the origin of “Retaliation;" one of those felicitous productions which struck off amid serious anxieties and various literary labours, leaves the impression of a mind unoc