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THE BALLAD SINGERS.
he was in a drawing-room with a party of ladies, and a balladsinger under the window struck up his favorite song of Sally Salisbury. "How miserably this woman sings !" exclaimed he. "Pray, doctor," said the lady of the house, "could you do it better?" "Yes, madam, and the company shall be judges." The company, of course, prepared to be entertained by an absurdity; but their smiles were well nigh turned to tears, for he acquitted himself with a skill and pathos that drew universal applause. He had, in fact, a delicate ear for music, which had been jarred by the false notes of the ballad-singer; and there were certain pathetic ballads, associated with recollections of his childhood, which were sure to touch the springs of his heart. We have another story of him, connected with ballad-singing, which is still more characteristic. He was one evening at the house of Sir William Chambers, in Berners-street, seated at a whist-table with Sir William, Lady Chambers, and Baretti, when all at once he threw down his cards, hurried out of the room and into the street. He returned in an instant, resumed his seat, and the game went on. Sir William, after a little hesitation, ventured to ask the cause of his retreat, fearing he had been overcome by the heat of the room. "Not at all," replied Goldsmith; "but in truth I could not bear to hear that unfortunate woman in the street, half singing, half sobbing, for such tones could only arise from the extremity of distress; her voice grated painfully on my ear and jarred my frame, so that I could not rest until I had sent her away." It was in fact a poor ballad-singer whose cracked voice had been heard by others of the party, but without having the same effect on their sensibilities. It was the reality of his fictitious scene in the story of the Man in Black; wherein he describes a woman in rags, with one child in her arms and another on her back,
attempting to sing ballads, but with such a mournful voice that it was difficult to determine whether she was singing or crying. "A wretch," he adds, "who, in the deepest distress, still aimed at good humor, was an object my friend was by no means capable of withstanding." The Man in Black gave the poor woman all that he had a bundle of matches. Goldsmith, it is probable, sent his ballad-singer away rejoicing, with all the money in his pocket.
Ranelagh was at that time greatly in vogue as a place of public entertainment. It was situated near Chelsea; the principal room was a Rotunda of great dimensions, with an orchestra in the centre, and tiers of boxes all round. It was a place to which Johnson resorted occasionally. "I am a great friend to public amusements," said he, "for they keep people from vice."* Goldsmith was equally a friend to them, though perhaps not altogether on such moral grounds. He was particularly fond of masquerades, which were then exceedingly popular, and got up at Ranelagh with great expense and magnificence. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who had likewise a taste for such amusements, was sometimes his companion, at other times he went alone; his peculiarities of person and manner would soon betray him, whatever might be his disguise, and he would be singled out by wags, acquainted with his foibles, and more successful than himself in maintaining
* "Alas, sir!" said Johnson, speaking, when in another mood, of grand houses, fine gardens, and splendid places of public amusement; alas, sir! these are only struggles for happiness. When I first entered Ranelagh it gave an expansion and gay sensation to my mind, such as I never experienced anywhere else. But, as Xerxes wept when he viewed his immense army, and considered that not one of that great multitude would be alive a hundred years afterwards, so it went to my heart to consider that there was not one in all that brilliant circle that was not afraid to go home and think."
their incognito, as a capital subject to be played upon. Some, pretending not to know him, would decry his writings, and praise those of his contemporaries; others would laud his verses to the skies, but purposely misquote and burlesque them; others would annoy him with parodies; while one young lady, whom he was teasing, as he supposed, with great success and infinite humor, silenced his rather boisterous laughter by quoting his own line about "the loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind." On one occasion he was absolutely driven out of the house by the persevering jokes of a wag, whose complete disguise gave him no means of retaliation.
His name appearing in the newspapers among the distinguished persons present at one of these amusements, his old enemy, Kenrick, immediately addressed to him a copy of anonymous verses, to the following purport.
To Dr. Goldsmith; on seeing his name in the list of mummers at the late masquerade:
"How widely different, Goldsmith, are the ways
Is this the good that makes the humble vain,
If so, let pride dissemble all it can,
A modern sage is still much less than man."
Goldsmith was keenly sensitive to attacks of the kind, and meeting Kenrick at the Chapter Coffee-house, called him to sharp account for taking such a liberty with his name, and calling his morals in question, merely on account of his being seen at a place of general resort and amusement. Kenrick shuffled and sneaked, protesting that he meant nothing derogatory to his private character. Goldsmith let him know, however, that he was aware of his having more than once indulged in attacks of this dastard kind, and intimated that another such outrage would be followed by personal chastisement.
Kenrick having played the craven in his presence, avenged himself as soon as he was gone by complaining of his having made a wanton attack upon him, and by making coarse comments upon his writings, conversation, and person.
The scurrilous satire of Kenrick, however unmerited, may have checked Goldsmith's taste for masquerades. Sir Joshua Reynolds calling on the poet one morning, found him walking about his room in somewhat of a reverie, kicking a bundle of clothes before him like a foot-ball. It proved to be an expensive masquerade dress, which he said he had been fool enough to purchase, and as there was no other way of getting the worth of his money, he was trying to take it out in exercise.
INVITATION TO CHRISTMAS.
Invitation to Christmas.-The spring-velvet coat.—The haymaking wig.— The mischances of loo.-The fair culprit.-A dance with the Jessamy Bride.
FROM the feverish dissipations of town, Goldsmith is summoned away to partake of the genial dissipations of the country. In the month of December, a letter from Mrs. Bunbury invites him down to Burton, to pass the Christmas holidays. The letter is written in the usual playful vein which marks his intercourse with this charming family. He is to come in his "smart springvelvet coat," to bring a new wig to dance with the haymakers in, and above all, to follow the advice of herself and her sister, (the Jessamy Bride,) in playing loo. This letter, which plays so archly, yet kindly, with some of poor Goldsmith's peculiarities, and bespeaks such real ladylike regard for him, requires a word or two of annotation. The spring-velvet suit alluded to, appears to have been a gallant adornment, (somewhat in the style of the famous bloom-colored coat,) in which Goldsmith had figured in the preceding month of May-the season of blossoms-for, on the 21st of that month, we find the following entry in the chronicle of Mr. William Filby, tailor: To your blue velvet suit, £21 10s. 9d. Also, about the same time, a suit of livery and a crimson collar