« VorigeDoorgaan »
his friends Garrick and Colman had many misgivings of its success. His friends, of whom I was one, assembled in great force in the pit to protect it; but we had no difficulty to encounter ; for it was received throughout with the greatest acclamations, and had afterwards a great run.
“I was also among those who attended his funeral, along with my friend John Day, Hugh Kelly, and a few others who were summoned together rather hastily for the purpose. It had been intended that this ceremony should be of an imposing kind, and attended by several of the great men of the time, Burke, Reynolds, Garrick, and others. This determination was altered, I imagine, from the pecuniary embarrassments of the deceased Poet; the last offices were therefore performed in a private manner, without the attendance of his
He was interred in the Temple burial ground. Hugh Kelly, with whom he had not been on terms of intercourse for some years, shed tears over his grave, which were no doubt sincere; he did not then know that he had been slightingly mentioned in ‘Retaliation ;' nor would he have been so noticed there, could the deceased have anticipated this proof of good feeling. Slight circumstances often separate even the most deserving persons ; nor are they perhaps conscious of the worth of each other until accidental circumstances produce the discovery.— I have the honour (in great haste) to be, dear Sir, “ Your faithful and obedient servant,
“ Rob. Day.
“I have been in town almost ever since I had the pleasure of receiving your memorandum ; and beg pardon for sending you so slovenly and hurried an answer to it. Some things have no doubt escaped my notice at present which may hereafter occur to recollection."
Little of his conversation at this period is preserved, and that little meagre and unsatisfactory. The business of Boswell, as he expressly tells us, was with that of Johnson alone, and therefore so much only is given of the remarks of others as serve to make those of his principal not only intelligible, but forcible and triumphant. Thus, few associates of the moralist appear to advantage in his society, even such as were distinguished by talents, extent of knowledge, and conversational readiness ; not because they did not exhibit brilliant powers on the immediate topics of discussion, but because so extensive a record was not within the plan, and frequently not within the power of the biographer however well disposed his inclination, or accurate his memory, to accomplish.
Neither had he, as we find from the accurate investigation of Mr. Croker, so many opportunities of hearing these conversations as might be imagined from a cursory perusal of his volumes : of such moments indeed he made the best use; and it is our business not to lament that he did not do more, but to be grateful for his having done so much. Goldsmith therefore, notwithstanding the latent disinclination towards him already noticed, fares little worse than Burke, and so many other celebrated men, in being shorn of some of their interlocutory honours; and we may be permitted to regret that no other person among the circle of their acquaintance, excepting in a slight degree Mrs. Piozzi, found time or inclination to add much to Boswell's labours.
One of the opinions hazarded by Goldsmith in conversation, though nowhere noticed by either of those writers, was a lower estimate of our older dramatists than most persons of poetical taste and judgment now entertain. Ben Jonson, Beaumont, , Massinger, and others, he more than once said were little more than second-rate poets; even Shakspeare appeared in his eyes infinitely lowered by his defects, and once or twice he hinted he was probably estimated beyond his merits ; an opinion in which however at variance with the usual decisions of criticism, Lord Byron, who was not aware of the coincidence, seems to join. This conclusion may have been owing less to the deliberate judgment, than to the wayward humour and occasionally hasty opinions of both; for both often said in conversation what the former more particularly would have hesitated to advance in public as his settled conviction. Thus we find no traces of such opinions in his writings; Shakspeare whenever mentioned, is mentioned with honour; and if the paper formerly noticed, “ A Scale of Poets," written in 1758, be really his, he receives all the praise which a judicious admirer can desire. Neither can this degree of praise be considered less equivocal by the lines in Retaliation, written when his taste had been long settled, in allusion to Garrick where he tell us
• Those poets, who owe their best fame to his skill,
That he honoured his genius though fully alive to his defects appears from a criticism written in 1759, where he says, in allusion to the bad taste exhibited in many of the dramas of the age of Elizabeth,
“Nothing less than a genius like Shakspeare's could make plays wrote to the taste of those times, pleasing now; a man whose beauties seem rather the result of chance than design ; who while he laboured to satisfy his audience with monsters and mummery seemed to throw in his inimitable beauties as trifles into the bargain. Massinger however was not such a man; he seldom rises to any pitch of sublimity, and yet it must be owned is never so incorrigibly absurd as we often find his