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I was fond of eating, and he gave me but little to eat: I loved a pretty girl, and the old woman, my fellow-servant, was ill-natured and ugly. As they endeavoured to starve me between them, I made a pious resolution to prevent their committing murder: I stole the eggs as soon as they were laid: I emptied every unfinished bottle that I could lay my hands on: whatever eatable came in my way was sure to disappear.
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In short, they found I would not do; so I was discharged one morning, and paid three shillings and sixpence for two months' wages. Two hens were hatching in an outhouse—I went and took the eggs from habit; and not to separate the parents from the children, I lodged hens and all in my knapsack.
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After this piece of frugality, I returned to receive my money, and with my knapsack on my back, and a staff in my hand, I bade adieu, with tears in my eyes, to my old benefactor. I had not gone far from the house when I heard behind me a cry of 'stop thief! Come, the times are dry, and may this be my poison, it ever I spent two more pious, stupid months in all my life.
The moment I saw them at a distance, my heart warmed to them; I had a sort of natural love for everything of the vagabond order. They were employed in settling their baggage, which had been overturned in a narrow way: I offered my assistance, which they accepted; and we soon became so well acquainted, that they took me as a servant. This was a paradise to me; they sang, danced, drank, ate, and travelled, all at the same time.
By the blood of all the Mirabels! I thought I had never lived till then; I grew as merry as a grig, and laughed at every word that was spoken. They liked me as much as I liked them: I was a very good figure, as you may see; and though I was poor, I was not modest. We arrived that evening at Tenterden, and took a large room at the 'Greyhound,' where we resolved to exhibit Romeo and Juliet, with the funeral procession, the grave, and the garden scene.
Romeo was to be performed by a gentleman from the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane; Juliet, by a lady who had never appeared on any stage before; and I was to snuff the candles: all excellent in our way. We had figures enough, but the difficulty was to dress them. Equally humourous is the account of Mr.
Jack Spindle, the "good-natured man," who has been pestered during his prosperity with offers of service, which he finds suddenly and unaccountably withdrawn when the sun no longer shines upon him. His friends have, one and all, been importunate with him, that he should use their name and credit if ever the time should come when he needed them; and now that this time had most certainly arrived, Jack proceeded with the most perfect good faith to put some of these assertions to the proof.
To quote our author:—. Spindle,' replied the scrivener, 'do you want all this money? To say the truth, Mr. Spindle, money is money now-a-days. I believe it is all sunk in the bottom of the sea, for my part; and he that has got a little is a fool if he does not keep what he has got. The gentleman whom he now addressed received his proposal with all the affability that could be expected from generous friendship.
I do not say that, for I believe I have but twenty about me. Lord, Mr. Spindle, make no ceremony with me at any time; you know I'm your friend, when you choose a bit of dinner, or so. You, Tom, see the gentleman down.
The Vicar of Wakefield by Goldsmith, First Edition
You won't forget to dine with us now and then? Your very humble servant. Miss Jenny Dismal had a fortune in her own hands, and she had already made all the advances that her sex's modesty would permit. He made his proposal, therefore, with confidence, but soon perceived, 'No bankrupt ever found the fair one kind. But still he thought himself secure from starving; the numberless invitations he had received to dine, even after his losses, were yet unanswered; he was, therefore, now resolved to accept of a dinner, because he wanted one; and in this manner he actually lived among his friends a whole week without being openly affronted.
Poor Jack also tries to retrieve his fortunes by marriage, but finds that a penniless wooer has but small chance with the fair. In the "Citizen of the World" are to be found some of the best essays of Goldsmith. It was a happy idea that of pourtraying our national peculiarities and customs in the light in which they might strike a foreigner; and the series contain, moreover, besides the inimitable "Man in Black," a portrait which would in itself be enough to make it immortal—the fussy, pleasant, consequential, little Beau Tibbs.
Was there ever such a perseveringly happy man? He speaks of his own miserable poverty as if it were wealth, affects to prefer a bit of ox cheek and some "brisk beer" to ortolans and claret, and gives himself the airs of a lord while Mrs. Tibbs is laboriously seeing his second shirt through the washing tub. After all, there may be more true philosophy in the cheerfulness of little Tibbs than in the querulous grumbling of greater men on whom the keen wind of adversity blows and who shout vociferous complaints as they shiver in the keen blast.
Beau Tibbs' hilarious cheerfulness is, after all, but an exaggerated phase of the equanimity of the "Man in Black. It was a day in the poet's life to be marked with a white stone when he made the acquaintance of Johnson. The "great cham of literature," as Smollett called him, understood and appreciated Goldsmith better than did the shallow witlings who laughed at the poet's eccentricities and awkwardness, but had not the sense to discover his genius. And who, better than Goldsmith, could value and respect the great qualities that lay hidden under Johnson's brusque manners and overbearing roughness?
Their acquaintance soon ripened into friendship—a friendship that was a joy and solace to Goldsmith until the day of his death. Just at this time Johnson, after many years' hard and unproductive toil had been rewarded with a well-earned pension. Thus lifted above the struggling crowd of his literary brethren, he filled a sort of dictatorial throne among them.
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In Goldsmith he took quite a peculiar interest, and quickly became what Washington Irving, in his "Life of Goldsmith," happily designates a kind of "growling supervisor of the poet's affairs. Such a supervision was but too urgently needed. Increased means had not improved the poet's habits, or taught him self-denial. The pay for his literary labour was almost invariably drawn and spent before the task was completed, and already poor Goldsmith was becoming involved in that net of embarrassment from which he never extricated himself; and thus the following scene was one day enacted, which shall be told in Johnson's own words, as reported by the indefatigable Boswell:—"I received one morning," said Johnson, "a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and as it was not in his power to come to me, begged that I would come to him as soon as possible.
I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion.
The Vicar of Wakefield by Goldsmith - AbeBooks
I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return; and having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds.
I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill. The book thus sold for sixty pounds was the "Vicar of Wakefield," a work never surpassed for wonderful vitality of character and for beauty of colouring. The old vicar, loveable in his very weakness, and indulgent as a Christian priest should be towards the weaknesses of others—the downright honest buxom wife, whose maternal vanity at times tempts her so sorely to disobedience against the behests of her lord and master—Olivia the coquette, and Sophia the prude—Moses the honest and simple—and Burchell with his grand monosyllabic commentary of "Fudge,"—these will live so long as English Literature lasts, and be remembered with delight when the pretentious effusions of the Richardson school have vanished into the limbo of obscurity.
But the outcry that has since been raised against the bookseller who only gave sixty pounds for the manuscript appears somewhat unjust. Francis Newbery gave the sum demanded by Johnson, evidently without reading the book, and on Johnson's recommendation alone. That he had no great hopes of profit from his bargain is proved by the length of time he allowed it to lie unpublished in his desk.
It was not Newbery's fault that the manuscript was sent out at a pinch, to be sold for what it would bring, before it had even been read to a few discerning friends who might have given a deliberate opinion on its merits.
"Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
Johnson spoke sensibly enough when he replied to the indignant protest,—" A sufficient price, too, when it was sold; for then the fame of Goldsmith had not been elevated, as it afterwards was, by his 'Traveller;' and the bookseller had faint hopes of profit by his bargain. After the 'Traveller,' to be sure, it was accidentally worth more money.
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The "Traveller" was now completed, and was published very shortly after the bailiff episode. It took the circle who surrounded Goldsmith completely by surprise; some of the members of the Literary Club even affected to doubt that he could have written it, and declared that the most striking passages were the work of Johnson. But Johnson himself laughed at all this, and openly and honestly proclaimed his belief in the great merits of the poem, and declared that since the death of Pope nothing equal to it had been written. The touches which describe the various shades of character in the different nations are exquisite, and can only be the result of personal observation aided by mature thought.
And now our poet resolved to try his powers in a new field—to write a comedy, the remuneration for which should pay off the debts that were fast accumulating round him. But here fresh vexation and new care awaited him.
Garrick, the great actor and prosperous manager, to whom he offered the play, took upon himself the office of critic and emendator, authoritatively suggested the entire omission of Lofty , one of the best characters, and, to use an expressive vulgarism, seemed inclined to "burke" the comedy altogether. Goldsmith, smarting under the actor's patronizing criticism, became angry, refused to alter or amend the play, and finally took the manuscript out of Garrick's hands, and transferred it to the rival management of Colman at Covent Garden.
But Colman, though he accepted the piece, had little or no hope that it would be a success; and he contrived to impart his own doubts and misgivings to the whole company.
The fact was, that, at this period, sentimental comedy, showing men and women as they appear in the pages of novelists of a certain school, but not as they walk and talk in real life, was in the ascendant; and Hugh Kelly—a man with some ingenuity, but without a spark of genius—was the great representative of this school of writing. Now Goldsmith held that a comedy should be comic—that it should, above all things, amuse the spectators by humourous dialogue and startling action; and, in his dramatic creed, the enunciation of moral platitudes had no place.
In fact, the lines Goldsmith afterwards wrote concerning Cumberland, Kelly's successor in the Sentimental School of Comedy, might well have been applied to Kelly himself:. Now this Hugh Kelly had just produced a stupid comedy, insipid and full of mawkish sentimentality, and entitled "False Delicacy. This triumph of Kelly's further damaged the hopes of Colman and his actors.