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SIR,-Nine hundred and ninety-nine years after sight hereof pay the bearer, or order, a thousand pounds worth of praise, free from all deductions whatsoever, it being a commodity that will then be very serviceable to him, and place it to the account of, &c."
The bill is not yet due; but there can in the meantime be no harm in discounting it so far as to say that these Essays deserve very decided praise. They deal with all manner of topics, matters of fact, matters of imagination, humorous descriptions, learned criticisms; and then, whenever the entertainer thinks he is becoming dull, he suddenly tells a quaint little story and walks off amidst the laughter he knows he has produced. It is not a very ambitious or sonorous sort of literature; but it was admirably fitted for its aim-the passing of the immediate hour in an agreeable and fairly intellectual One can often see, no doubt, that these Essays are occasionally written in a more or less perfunctory fashion, the writer not being moved by much enthusiasm in his subject; but even then a quaint literary grace seldom fails to atone, as when, writing about the English clergy, and complaining that they do not sufficiently in their addresses stoop to mean capacities, he says "Whatever may become of the higher orders of mankind, who are generally possessed of collateral motives to virtue, the vulgar should be particularly regarded, whose behaviour in civil life is totally hinged upon their hopes and fears. Those who constitute the basis of the great fabric of society should be particularly regarded; for in policy, as in architecture, ruin is most fatal when it begins from the bottom." There was,
indeed, throughout Goldsmith's miscellaneous writing much more common sense than might have been expected from a writer who was supposed to have none.
As regards his chance criticisms on dramatic and poetical literature, these are generally found to be incisive and just; while sometimes they exhibit a wholesome disregard of mere tradition and authority. "Milton's translation of Horace's Ode to Pyrrha," he says, for example, "is universally known and generally admired, in our opinion much above its merit." If the present writer might for a moment venture into such an arena, he would express the honest belief that that translation is the very worst translation that was ever made of anything. But there is the happy rendering of simplex munditiis, which counts for much.
By this time Goldsmith had also written his charming ballad of Edwin and Angelina, which was privately "printed for the amusement of the Countess of Northumberland," and which afterwards appeared in the Vicar of Wakefield. It seems clear enough that this quaint and pathetic piece was suggested by an old ballad beginning,
"Gentle heardsman, tell to me,
Of curtesy I thee pray,
Unto the towne of Walsingham
Which is the right and ready way,"
which Percy had shown to Goldsmith, and which, patched up, subsequently appeared in the Reliques. But Goldsmith's ballad is original enough to put aside all the discussion about plagiarism which was afterwards started.
In the old fragment the weeping pilgrim receives directions from the herdsman, and goes on her way, and we hear of her no more; in Edwin and Angelina the forlorn and despairing maiden suddenly finds herself confronted by the long-lost lover whom she had so cruelly used. This is the dramatic touch that reveals the hand of the artist. And here again it is curious to note the care with which Goldsmith repeatedly revised his writings. The ballad originally ended with these two stanzas :--
"Here amidst sylvan bowers we'll rove,
From lawn to woodland stray;
Blest as the songsters of the grove,
And innocent as they.
"To all that want, and all that wail,
Our pity shall be given,
And when this life of love shall fail,
But subsequently it must have occurred to the author that, the dramatic disclosure once made, and the lovers restored to each other, any lingering over the scene only weakened the force of the climax; hence these stanzas were judiciously excised. It may be doubted, however, whether the original version of the last couplet :
"And the last sigh that rends the heart
was improved by being altered into
"The sigh that rends thy constant heart
Meanwhile Goldsmith had resorted to hack-work again; nothing being expected from the Vicar of Wakefield, now lying in Newbery's shop, for that had been paid for, and his expenses were increasing, as became his greater station. In the interval between the publication of the Traveller and of the Vicar, he moved into better chambers in Garden Court; he hired a manservant, he blossomed out into very fine clothes. Indeed, so effective did his first suit seem to be-the purple silk small-clothes, the scarlet roquelaure, the wig, sword, and gold-headed cane-that, as Mr. Forster says, he "amazed his friends with no less than three similar suits, not less expensive, in the next six months." Part of this display was no doubt owing to a suggestion from Reynolds that Goldsmith, having a medical degree, might just as well add the practice of a physician to his literary work, to magnify his social position. Goldsmith, always willing to please his friends, acceded; but his practice does not appear to have been either extensive or long-continued. It is said that he drew out a prescription for a certain Mrs. Sidebotham which so appalled the apothecary that he refused to make it up; and that, as the lady sided with the apothecary, he threw up the case and his profession at the same time. If it was money Goldsmith wanted, he was not likely to get it in that way; he had neither the appearance nor the manner fitted to humour the sick and transform healthy people into valetudinarians. If it was the esteem of his friends and popularity outside that circle, he was soon to acquire enough of both. On the 27th March, 1766, fifteen months after the appearance of the Traveller, the Vicar of Wakefield was published.
THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD.
THE Vicar of Wakefield, considered structurally, follows the lines of the Book of Job. You take a good man, overwhelm him with successive misfortunes, show the pure flame of his soul burning in the midst of the darkness, and then, as the reward of his patience and fortitude and submission, restore him gradually to happiness, with even larger flocks and herds than before. The machinery by which all this is brought about is, in the Vicar of Wakefield, the weak part of the story. The plot is full of wild improbabilities; in fact, the expedients by which all the members of the family are brought together and made happy at the same time, are nothing short of desperate. It is quite clear, too, that the author does not know what to make of the episode of Olivia and her husband; they are allowed to drop through; we leave him playing the French horn at a relation's house; while she, in her fathers home, is supposed to be unnoticed, so much are they all take up with the rejoicings over the double wedding. It is very probable that when Goldsmith began the story he had no very definite plot concocted; and that it was only