Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

PREFACE.

BIOGRAPHY has been justly characterized as combining much useful instruction with a large share of amusement; and no description of it has been more popular than the lives of literary men. One of the reasons of this preference probably is, that we are naturally curious about what is more particularly considered the history of Mind; and in such accounts we are often enabled to trace it in active operation while giving birth to productions that have won the admiration of mankind. Neither is the personal career of such persons without many, and sometimes uncommon vicissitudes: from their lives we turn to their writings with increased interest; and delight in contrasting perhaps the follies and weaknesses that have marked the one, with the wisdom and excellence shown in the other.

To this agreeable department of literature, Ireland, though not deficient in eminent names, has contributed less than the sister countries; and her zeal has been thence thought lukewarm in celebrating the praises of her offspring. The cause however is not owing to indifference to their fame, but to the fact of the individuals having commonly transferred their talents to England, and thus lost something of that nationality which would have more particularly identified them with their native country. Among her divines, philosophers, and statesmen, there are several whose lives yet remain to be written. The remark applies equally to her poets : indeed, there are few of these whose history is familiar to the general reader. Of Roscommon, for instance, although a nobleman and necessarily moving in a sphere of life more open to observation than men of inferior rank, little comparatively is known; little at least of that species of detail which gives biography its chief charm. The same may be said of Denham; for Denham, though of English ancestry, being born in Ireland, may fairly be claimed as an Irish writer. With regard to Farquhar, whose genius for comedy was not excelled by either Congreve or Sheridan, little of a satisfactory nature is recorded of his private life; nay, we have hardly any details of his more public career, excepting the facts of his having been an actor upon the stage, and afterwards an officer in the army: of Boyse (author of the “ Deity”) we know only that he was of reckless and dissipated habits; of John Cunningham, known for his ballads and a variety of poetical pieces between 1750 and 1770, that he was a strolling player; and even Goldsmith was enabled to glean little concerning Parnell. Southerne lived long enough to be enabled himself to contradict the story commonly told, and not yet expunged from some of the biographical dictionaries, of his having been born in England and brought up a servitor at Oxford, instead of being, as he really was, a native of Dublin, and educated at his own expense in her University. And Dr. Johnson has thought proper to consider the birthplace of Swift as in some measure doubtful.

To the list of writers of whom we know less than their reputation deserves, must be added GOLDSMITH. A biographical preface is all that

.

!

has been hitherto awarded him, and it will scarcely be contended that he is unworthy of any thing more. Such sketchy outlines of a life, much of it marked by honourable literary ambition, much of it by daily struggles for daily bread, and parts of it by the imprudences common to such a state of existence, can never be satisfactory, because they must inevitably omit all, or nearly all, that we most wish to know. Biography to be useful must be minute; to be entertaining also it must be minute. Without in short it enters into detail, we can never know much of the individual, or of the private history, often not the least interesting portion of the history of his works; we cannot indulge that rational curiosity which all such persons are calculated to inspire; we cannot trace how his life and his writings bear upon each other ; under what particular circumstances the former was passed, and under what incitements or successes, what difficulties or privations, the latter were written. We shall be the more surprised at the neglect in this instance on considering, that almost as soon as he thought proper to affix his name to his productions, it became celebrated ; that for several years he occupied, next to Dr. Johnson, perhaps the largest space in the public eye; and even before death took his stand by common consent as a great English classic. No writer, excepting perhaps Voltaire, has written so variously, and, in such departments as he himself selected, so well. He stands alone in our literature for having produced some of the best Poems, one of the best Novels in the opinion of all foreigners the very best,) many of the best Essays, some of the best Plays, and in the estimate of Dr. Johnsonan opinion which we cannot safely controvert, since for fifty years past popular favour has given them an unbounded circulation-some of the most useful Histories. Strong testimonies to his merits are borne by every competent writer who has had occasion to mention him. Two of these, which in addition to others will be found in the concluding chapter of this work, may be new to the reader, new at least as to the knowledge of who were the authors; one on his prose style being by the late Earl of Dudley, and the other on his poetry by Sir Walter Scott. Both are from the Quarterly Review.

That the Life of such a man should not have been written with more regard to extended inquiry, is only to be explained by the circumstances of his situation. He had lived for many years away from his native country; he possessed no connexions, and had formed no domestic ties in that which he had chosen; no relative was at hand even in his dying moments to perform the last offices of humanity, to collect the scattered fragments of his genius, or take that active interest in his fame which in general relatives only feel. His literary friends indeed were numerous and warm; celebrated themselves, and capable of imparting celebrity to others. Some, it appears, were not unwilling to assume the office of biographer, but wanted the necessary knowledge connected with his earlier life, which his relatives only could impart; and they being tardy in collecting and communicating facts, the time had passed by when those for whom the information was intended were able or disposed to follow up their design.

The Poet himself probably expected that his friend Dr. Thomas Percy, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, should have held the pen of biographer, if we may judge from a communication made to that friend on one occasion at Northumberland House. He however, if the design was ever formed, surrendered it to Dr. Johnson for an intended edition of the Poet's works, as appears by a letter to Mr. Malone, dated June 16th, 1785,* in which the Bishop says

" I have long owed you my very grateful acknowledgments for a most obliging letter which contained much interesting information, particularly with respect to Goldsmith's Memoirs. The paper which you have recovered in my own handwriting, giving dates and many interesting particulars relating to his life, was dictated to me by himself one rainy day at Northumberland House, and sent by me to Dr. Johnson, which I had concluded to be irrecoverably lost. The other memoranda on the subject were transmitted to me by his brother and others of his family, to afford materials for a life of Goldsmith which Johnson was to write and publish for their benefit. But he utterly forgot them and the subject; so that when he composed Goldsmith's Epitaph he gave a wrong place for that of his birth-Elphin,t which is accordingly so sculptured in Westminster Abbey."

In extenuation of the charge against Dr. Johnson it should be stated, that this seeming neglect of the fame of an old friend, arose from another cause. The copy-right of one of Goldsmith's pieces (She Stoops to Conquer) was still the property of Carnan the bookseller (surviving partner of Francis Newbery ;) and Carnan being a most impracticable man and at variance with all his brethren, in the words of Malone to the Bishop, I he refused his assent, and the project for the time fell to the ground. When his term had expired, it was again resumed by the friends of the poet, with the view of assisting his brother Maurice, then in a state of pecuniary distress. Of this design, the Bishop writes as follows to Malone:

“Dr. Wilson's very curious letter,9 which you thought lost, I have happily in my possession, so that we may readily compile a good, at least a correct account, of the principal events of Dr. Goldsmith's life; and with the assistance of one or other of his friends, may be able to fill up an account for almost all the time he spent from his leaving Edin. burgh till he rose into public notice. He has an only brother livingll a cabinet-maker, who has been a decent tradesman, a very honest, worthy man, but he has been very unfortunate, and is at this time in great indi. gence.

It has occurred to such of us here (Dublin) as were acquainted with the Doctor, to print an edition of his poems, chiefly under the direction of the Bishop of Killaloe and myself, and prefix a new, correct life of the Author, for the poor man's benefit; and to get you, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Steevens, &c. to recommend the same in England, especially among the members of The Club."

Proposals were accordingly printed, one of which is in the writer's possession, and two hundred copies transmitted to Malone, through his brother Lord Sunderlin then going to England, for distribution. The volume was to be a quarto, the price a guinea, and a memoir was promised, written from the immediate dictation of the Poet himself; that is

• MS. Correspondence communicated by Dr. H. U. Thompson. † It was the impression of Malone, in 1778, and probably of the Bishop also, that Elphin was the birthplace of Goldsmith; but subsequent information corrected this error, as appears in the memoir prefixed to the miscellaneous works printed in 1801. I MS. letter; Sept. 28th, 1786.

Given in a subsequent page of this work, although unaccountably omitted, like many other things, in the mernoir prefixed to the miscellaneous works in 1801.

I The Bishop was not then aware of the younger brother, Charles, being alive in the West Indies.

to say, the memoranda taken down by the Bishop. Malone however proposed a change of plan; he wished that there should be added to the poems, a selection of his prose miscellanies, part of which had been printed with his name, and part were unacknowledged, though known to be his by literary friends, printers, and booksellers : this it was considered would give more variety and novelty to the work.

A Lise, however, was to be written; and this the Bishop, although best qualified for the purpose by long intimacy and thorough knowledge of Goldsmith, added to his acknowledged talents, was too busy or too indolent to supply. In compliance with his wish, however, a memoir, now in the possession of the writer, was drawn up by Dr. Thomas Campbell, a native of Glack in the county of Tyrone, Rector of Killisheill, Chancellor of St. Macartin's, Clogher, and author of “ A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland,” and “Strictures on the Ecclesiastical and Literary History of Ireland."* To this outline, for it was merely such, when completed, the Bishop added notes on the blank sides of the pages, which were afterward incorporated into the text, under his direction, by the Rev. Henry Boyd his chaplain, the translator of Dante; and the MS., when placed in the hands of the publishers, between whom and that Prelate an angry disagreement occurred toward the conclusion of their negotiation, received further additions from Mr. Samuel Rose, the friend of Cowper, with which however the Bishop and Malone, as appears by their correspondence now before the writer, were displeased. The memoranda of so many persons, at various times, disjointed in themselves, and thrown together with little regard to method, aimed at no detail, and claimed therefore only the merit of a sketch. No serious attempt was made, when it might have been made with effect from the remembrance of surviving acquaintance, to trace minutely Goldsmith's adventures on the continent of Europe, his early, or indeed later life, in London, or the miscellaneous writings known to have employed his pen in the necessary business of supplying daily wants. Even much of the information which had been communicated to the Bishop was not used, being forgotten or mislaid in the long interval between the first design of publishing in 1785, and its accomplishment in 1801. During this time the subject was frequently agitated in the correspondence of Dr. Percy with Malone, and the latter took much trouble in making arrangements for publication with the booksellers in London.f Still the design lingered; and without casting the slightest reflection where the motives were so praiseworthy, it is too frequently thus with projects merely charitable where some strong personal interest is not present to push us actively forward in their promotion. On this occasion, from the nature of the work, neither fame nor emolument was sought; and without one or the other in view, little of value was ever achieved in literature.

* In a letter to Bishop Percy, Sept. 5, 1790, Dr. Campbell says,—“As to Goldsmith of which you inquire, and concerning which Maurice Goldsınith has been inquiring, it is in such a state that I think I could finish the remainder currente prelo." August 13, 1791–“I cannot bend my sails for England before November. Then I shall take with me all the documents respecting Goldsmith.” February 3, 1792, he asks the Bishop “why he may not print off the first sheets and send the proofs to him at Batb." June 12, 1793_“I am glad to hear that you have bronght the affair of Goldsmith to so good an issue—but, alas! poor Maurice. He is to receive no comfort from your Lordship's labours in his behalf

. He departed from a miserable life early last winter, and luckily has left no children.”

+ The late Mr. Murray of Flect-street was first selected for publisher of Goldsmith's Works, but he died during the negotiation. A few letters of Malone to Bishop Percy, still extant, state the circumstances.

« VorigeDoorgaan »