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OLIVER GOLDSMITH, born 1729, at Pallasmore, in County Longford, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, 1745–1749. After some studies at Leyden, he took a medical degree at Louvain, and travelled on foot through a part of the Continent, 1754-1755. Having tried without success to earn his livelihood as a schoolmaster, he became a hack writer for booksellers in 1757. He attracted the attention of critics by the essays entitled The Citizen of the World, in 1760; and in 1764 produced his two most successful works, The Traveller, a poem, and the Vicar of Wakefield, a novel. From that time, partly as an essayist, partly as a writer for the stage, Goldsmith kept himself constantly before the public. He produced another classical poem, the Deserted Village, in 1770, and compiled School Histories of Rome, England, and Greece, and a History of Animated Nature, for the London booksellers, 1767-1773. But, careless of making or saving money, Goldsmith was always in difficulties, and his early death, in 1774, was probably hastened by mental disquietude.
The peculiar merits of Goldsmith's writings are clearness of thought, ease of style, and simple language. He never writes for effect, and there is scarcely a sentence in his works that a child might not understand. Yet in powers of judgment and thought, as well as in warm and deep sympathies, he was far above the great mass of his contemporaries. He was the first to predict the French Revolution, and the Swedish coup-d'état. He is perhaps the only writer of his times who thoroughly understood the social condition of the Continent. Nor was he less observant of English
society, and the Deserted Village has been often quoted by economists in illustration of the change which has gradually substituted large estates for the small holdings of a numerous yeomanry. Among modern authors Goldsmith has been especially imitated by Washington Irving.
1. The Political Condition of Sweden, France, and Holland.
SWEDEN, though now seemingly a strenuous assertor of its liberties, is probably only hastening on to despotism. Their senators, while they pretend to vindicate the freedom of the people, are only establishing their own independence. The deluded people will, however, at last perceive the miseries of an aristocratical government; they will perceive that the administration of a society of men is ever more painful than that of one only. They will fly from this most oppressive of all forms, where one single member is capable of controlling the whole, to take refuge under the throne, which will ever be attentive to their complaints. No people long endure an aristocratical government, when they can apply elsewhere for redress. The lower orders of people may be enslaved for a time by a number of tyrants, but, upon the first opportunity, they will ever take a refuge in despotism or democracy.
As the Swedes are making concealed approaches to despotism, the French, on the other hand, are imperceptibly vindicating themselves into freedom. When I consider that those parliaments (the members of which are all created by the court, the presidents of which can act only by immediate direction) presume even to mention privileges and freedom, who, till of late, received directions from the throne with implicit humility; when this is considered, I cannot help fancying that the genius of freedom has entered that king
dom in disguise. If they have but three weak monarchs more successively on the throne, the mask will be laid aside, and the country will certainly once more be free.
When I compare the figure which the Dutch make in Europe with that they assume in Asia, I am struck with surprise. In Asia, I find them the great lords of all the Indian seas; in Europe, the timid inhabitants of a paltry state. No longer the sons of freedom, but of avarice; no longer assertors of their rights by courage, but by negotiations; fawning on those who insult them, and crouching under the rod of every neighbouring power. Without a friend to save them in distress, and without virtue to save themselves; their government is poor, and their private wealth will serve to invite some neighbouring invader.— Citizen of the World.
2. Dr. Primrose in Prison.
THE next morning I communicated to my wife and children the scheme I had planned of reforming the prisoners, which they received with universal disapprobation, alleging the impossibility and impropriety of it; adding, that my endeavours would no way contribute to their amendment, but might probably disgrace my calling.
Excuse me,' returned I, these people, however fallen, are still men, and that is a very good title to my affections. Good counsel rejected returns to enrich the giver's bosom ; and though the instruction I communicate may not mend them, yet it will assuredly mend myself. If these wretches, my children, were princes, there would be thousands ready to offer their ministry; but in my opinion, the heart that is buried in a dungeon is as precious as that seated upon a throne. Yes, my treasures, if I can mend them I will;
perhaps they will not all despise me. Perhaps I may catch up even one from the gulph, and that will be great gain; for is there upon earth a gem so precious as the human soul?'
Thus saying, I left them, and descended to the common prison, where I found the prisoners very merry, expecting my arrival; and each prepared with some gaol trick to play upon the doctor. Thus, as I was going to begin, one turned my wig awry, as if by accident, and then asked my pardon. A second, who stood at some distance, had a knack of spitting through his teeth, which fell in showers upon my book. A third would cry Amen in such an affected tone, as gave the rest great delight. A fourth had slyly picked my pocket of my spectacles. But there was one whose trick gave more universal pleasure than all the rest; for observing the manner in which I had disposed my books on the table before me, he very dexterously displaced one of them, and put an obscene jest-book of his own in the place. However, I took no notice of all that this mischievous group of little beings could do, but went on, perfectly sensible that what was ridiculous in my attempt would excite mirth only the first or second time, while what was serious would be permanent. My design succeeded, and in less than six days some were penitent, and all attentive.
It was now that I applauded my perseverance and address, at thus giving sensibility to wretches divested of every moral feeling, and now began to think of doing them temporal services also, by rendering their situation somewhat more comfortable. Their time had hitherto been divided between famine and excess, tumultuous riot and bitter repining. Their only employment was quarrelling among each other, playing at cribbage, and cutting tobacco stoppers. From this last mode of idle industry I took the hint of setting such as chose
to work at cutting pegs for tobacconists and shoemakers, the proper wood being bought by a general subscription, and when manufactured, sold by my appointment; so that each earned something every day: a trifle indeed, but sufficient to maintain him.
I did not stop here, but instituted fines for the punishment of immorality, and rewards for peculiar industry. Thus, in less than a fortnight, I had formed them into something social and humane, and had the pleasure of regarding myself as a legislator, who had brought men from their native ferocity into friendship and obedience.-The Vicar of Wakefield.
3. Indecencies of Antigallican feeling.
THE French have been long acknowledged to have much bravery: a great part of Europe has owned their superiority in this respect; and I know scarcely any country but that which has beaten them, that dares deny the contrary. short, I consider them in the same light with the subordinate characters in an epic poem, who are generally described as very terrible, only to heighten our idea of the hero who conquers them.
To beat the French, and to scold them too, is outheroding Herod; if we were not able to knock them o' the head, I should not be displeased if we shewed our resentment by addressing their ears with reproach; but as it is, we only resemble a country justice, who, not content with putting a culprit in the stocks, stands by to reproach him for getting there.
Jack Reptile is a professed Antigallican: he gets drunk with French wine three times a week. To convince the world of his detestation of Monsieur Soup-maîgre, he as