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speaking than in writing. To the one it was generally a matter of relaxation; to the other an effort of intellectual labour, an occasion of argumentative contest and of triumph. His standard of excellence being high, he brought to it all the vigour of his mind, and as there were few to whom he gave credit for superior conversational powers, we can experience little surprise that the following remarks should be passed upon the more incautious characteristics of his friend.
"The misfortune of Goldsmith in conversation is this, he goes on without knowing how he is to get off. His genius is great but his knowledge is small. As they say of a generous man it is a pity he is not rich, we may say of Goldsmith it is a pity he is not knowing. He would not keep his knowledge to himself."
"Of Dr. Goldsmith he said," writes Mr. Langton, but this seems one of those phrases used not for their truth or accuracy, but for antithetic effect, "no man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had."
"It is amazing how little Goldsmith knows; he seldom comes where he is not more ignorant than any one else." "Yet there is no man," observed Sir Joshua Reynolds, "whose company is more liked." "To be sure, Sir," was the reply, "when people find a man of the most distinguished abilities as a writer, their inferior while he is with them, it must be highly gratifying to them. What Goldsmith comically says of himself is very true;
he always gets the better when he argues alone; meaning that he is master of a subject in his study and can write well upon it; but when he comes into company, grows confused and is unable to talk."
In censuring Mr. Thrale for sitting silent on one occasion at a dinner table, Boswell observed that Goldsmith was in the other extreme, for he spoke at all ventures. Yes, Sir, Goldsmith, rather than not speak, will talk of what he knows himself to be ignorant, which can only end in exposing him. If in company with two founders he would fall a talking on the method of making cannon, though both of them would soon see that he did not know what metal a cannon is made of."
"Goldsmith," he said on another occasion, "should not be for ever attempting to shine in conversation; he has not temper for it, he is so much mortified when he fails. Sir, a game of jokes is composed partly of skill partly of chance; a man may be beat at times by one who has not the tenth part of his wit. Now Goldsmith's putting himself against another is like a man laying a hundred to one, who cannot spare the hundred. It is not worth a man's while. A man should not lay a hundred to one, unless he can easily spare it, though he has a hundred chances for him; he can get but a guinea and he may lose a hundred. Goldsmith is in this state. When he contends, if he gets the better, it is a very little addition to a man of his literary reputation; if he does not get the better, he is miserably vexed.” mo
These observations, scattered over a space of many years, were made we should remember in the laxity of familiar converse, when even Johnson on such occasions would prove frequently lax and inconsistent with himself, however sharp upon others for the same offence. We can therefore scarcely place implicit dependence upon them as his deliberate opinion, which is to be sought rather in what he has written than in what he has spoken. He considered Goldsmith like Garrick, as in some measure his own property, whom he had therefore a license to attack at pleasure, although he would not allow the same liberty to others; but it may be doubted whether he wished such remarks to be remembered. What we are tempted to say of those we nevertheless admire and esteem in hasty sallies of conversation, often from perhaps erroneous impressions or from slight indiscretions, it is unfair for others to dwell upon and repeat. Every one has felt that his opinions often vary respecting the same individual. Were a list shown us after the lapse of a few years, of all the remarks we had made on our best and most familiar friends, we should scarcely believe the record; while such as knew our intimacy and did not make allowance for this species of human infirmity, might consider us either very insincere companions, or our acquaintance exceptionable characters.
Of the inconsiderate tone of conversation thus laid to his charge and probably in some instances true, it is remarkable that excepting one or two
anecdotes of his emulative spirit, no examples are given to enable us to judge of the fact. We look in vain in such as are preserved, for weakness, or deficient point or vigour. On the contrary good sense, justness of observation, and a degree of wit characterize so many of his sayings, that we are induced to believe they were far from being unfrequent had there been a friendly hand always near to note them down.
Speaking of Johnson and of his dexterity in getting out of an indifferent argument with success, he said, "There is no arguing with Johnson; for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the but-end of it.”
To the goodness of disposition of the same friend he has borne testimony in a pointed sentence, "Johnson to be sure has a roughness of manner, but no man alive has a better heart. He has nothing of the bear but his skin.”
He sometimes ventured upon the hazardous undertaking of exercising his wit or humour upon the moralist, and not without success. One of the happiest retorts imaginable considering the character of him to whom it was addressed, was heard by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Goldsmith after mentioning that he thought he could write a good fable and stating the simplicity which that kind of composition required, observed that in most fables the animals introduced seldom talk in character. "For instance," said he, "the fable of the little fishes who saw birds fly over their heads, and en
vying them, petitioned Jupiter to be changed into birds. The skill consists in making them talk like little fishes." While he indulged this idea which it may be regretted he did not execute, he ob served Johnson shaking his sides and laughing, and immediately continued, "Why Dr. Johnson this is not so easy as you seem to think; for if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like whales."
On another occasion when Beauclerk was present, Goldsmith talked of a project for having a third theatre in London solely for the exhibition of new plays, in order to deliver authors from the supposed tyranny of managers. Johnson treated it slightingly, when Goldsmith rejoined, "Ay, ay, this may be nothing to you who can now shelter yourself behind the corner of a pension."
Johnson told the following anecdote himself. "I remember once being with Goldsmith in Westminster Abbey. While we surveyed the Poet's Corner, I said to him
'Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis.'
When we got to Temple Bar, he stopped me, pointed to the heads upon it and slily whispered
'Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur ISTIS." "
Another instance of the freedom he occasionally took though not without suffering in return, is of undoubted authenticity.