Слике страница
PDF
ePub

common.

ingly, he entered into an engagement, Sept. 1744, to pay 4001. as her marriageportion. By this arrangement for the credit of Mrs. Hodson all the rest of the family were pinched at the time, and some of them permanently. If Oliver were to go to the University now, it must be not as a “pensioner,” like his brother Henry, but in the lower grade of a “sizar” or “poor scholar," wearing a coarse stuff gown and a red cap, and performing menial offices about college in return for his tuition and board. At this prospect Goldsmith recoiled. He would rather, he declared, be bound to some trade. At length, however, the remonstrances of a relative, whom he had every reason to respect, persuaded him to yield. This was “Uncle Contarine”-i.e. the Rev. Thomas Contarine (originally Contarini, for his grandfather was a refugee from Venice), clergyman of Oran, near Ros

This worthy man, who had been the college-companion of Bishop Berkeley, had married a sister of Goldsmith's father ; and, during her life, Oliver had been a frequent visitor at their house. No one had liked the boy better all along, or better discerned what was in him, than Uncle Contarine. Already he had helped to maintain him at school ; and, the recent death of his wife having left him a widower with one daughter, whatever affection would have gone to a son of his own was transferred to his nephew Oliver. He insisted that Oliver must go to college. What mattered being a sizar? He had been a sizar himself, and had he fared the worse for it?

After some kind of examination, Goldsmith was admitted at Trinity College, Dublin, on the 11th of June, 1745, the last in a list of eight sizars, of whom a John Beatty, his school-fellow at Edgeworthstown, was another. These two chummed together during the entire four years of Goldsmith's college-course. Among fellow students who knew him well at college were Lauchlan Macleanė, and some others who afterwards rose to some distinction in politics, or in the church : Flood and Edmund Burke were both then in the college, but barely remembered, in after life, having seen Goldsmith there. No contrast can have been greater than between the college life of Burke and that of Goldsmith. There was nothing, indeed, very distinguished, according to formal academic estimation, in Burke's college-career; but we have glimpses of him as a "terrible fellow” in a set of his own, domineering in a private debating society, and storing his ample mind with all sorts of information, acquired in his own way. In poor Goldy's case we find what might have been expected—“no specimens of genius,” according to the report of one of his collegeacquaintances, but “only squalid poverty, and its concomitants, idleness and despondence.” He was better known as “lounging about the college-gates," and getting into any row that was at hand, or as playing the flute and singing írish songs in his rooms, than as making any figure in the classes. Two causes probably contributed to make his college career more reckless and miserable than it need have been. One was that he had for his tutor a strong-bodied brute, named Wilder, of whose savageness to all about him there are yet traditions, and who seems to have had all the more delight in tormenting the poor sizar because he had come from his own part of the country and had been specially recommended to him. Male, male,he would say when Oliver was under examination, though sometimes he was forced to end with “Valde dene.” But the death of Oliver's father early in 1747, in the very middle of Oliver's college-course, was a greater cause of break-down than Wilder's rough tutorship. The main income of the family thus failed, and the family-group was scattered-Mr. and Mrs. Hodson remaining, indeed, in possession of the house at Lissoy; but Goldsmith's mother settling in Ballymahon, and his brother Henry taking the curacy of his father's old parish of Pallasmore, with 401, a year of salary and the chance of pupils. In these circumstances, such small supplies as had till now reached Oliver from home were no longer forthcoming. Uncle Contarine seems to have done what he could ; but, with such lax husbandry as Oliver's, it was like putting water in driblets into a sieve. The latter half of his stay at the University was, consequently, worse than the first. It was one series of mishaps and hardships. In May 1747, a month or two after the death of Oliver's father, there was a college riot in Dublin against the police, in retaliation for the arrest of a student; and it ended in an attempt to break open the prison and the deaths of several townsmen. Four of the ringleaders were expelled from the University; and among four others who were publicly rebuked for their share in the affair was Oliver Goldsmith-the Latin record in the University-books bearing that he had “favoured the sedition and give aid to the rioters." The next month he tried for a scholarship and failed. He did obtain a small exhibition, worth about thirty shillings a year, but even this he lost by subsequent negligence. He had to pawn his books, and resort to every other haggard shift for raising now and then a half-crown. Nothing can be more doleful than the account of the poor sizar's life at this time. But he was blessed, as he himself said afterwards, with “a knack at hoping." A copy of Scapula's Greek Lexicon, which was one of his college class-books, and is still preserved somewhere, attests this very characteristically. It is scribbled over with his signature in various forms, and especially in such forms as these—"Free: Oliver Goldsmith.I promise to pay, &c. : Oliver Goldsmith—showing how, in his college-rooms, the poor fellow would dream of one day being a member of Parliament and being able to frank letters, or of being in a position to be accommodated easily with any desired sum. Meanwhile, too, at least one of his actual shifts for instant money-making had a relish of superior pleasure in it. This was the writing of ballads, to be sold, at a particular shop he knew of, for five shillings each, and thence retailed, in coarse print, to the Dublin ballad-singers. Every five shillings was something in itself; but to go out at nights, and, leaning against a lamp-post, feel one of the shillings still in your pocket, and at the same time hear a ballad of your own sung to a ragged crowd of men and girls, and be able to buy a copy of it for a penny—this was a delight worth all the pains of sizarship, and the tyranny of ten Wilders ! So sometimes Oliver felt; but the one Wilder had almost proved more than enough. One evening, in the flush of some little success, Oliver was giving a supper and a dance in his rooms to “a party of young friends of both sexes from the city,” when the tutor, hearing of the breach of rule, burst in, and not only abused him in gross terms before his guests, but actually collared and thrashed him. Next day Oliver was off. He sold his books and spare clothes, hung about Dublin till he had but a single shilling left, and then set out to walk to Cork, meaning to get to America. He subsisted on the shilling for three days; after which he wandered about, living no one knows how-save that he used afterwards to tell that the most delicious meal he had ever tasted was a handful of grey peas given him in this wild walk by a girl at a wake after twenty-four hours of fasting. At length he was sensible enough to think of going home; his brother Henry met him by appointment; and after a little time they went back to Dublin together, and made it up so far with Wilder that Oliver was re-admitted into college. Things then went on very much as before-Oliver again and again “cautioned,” and fines appearing against him in the buttery-books. Once more we hear of an encounter between him and Wilder, and not so unsuccessfully for Goldsmith this time. The tutor had been lecturing on the subject of the Centre of Gravity, and had asked Goldsmith for a restatement of what had been said. Utterly in the dark, Goldsmith had groped in vain for some answer that would pass, when the tutor took the trouble to go over the explanation again, winding up, “And now, you blockhead, where is your centre of gravity ?” As if not doubting that the question was intended literally, “Why, Doctor, from your definition,” said Goldy in a slow voice, “I should think" and he went on to name, in the frankest possible inanner, the supposed whereabouts of the point required. There was a roar of laughter from the class; and, furious as Wilder was, he could only call Oliver impertinent as well as ignorant, and turn him down to the lowest place. The date of this incident, which Goldsmith used afterwards to relate with glee, is ascertained to have been May 9, 1748. Less than a year afterwards, i.e. in February 1749, he reached the end of his University-course and was admitted to the B.A. degree. He was the lowest in the list of those who took the degree. The wonder is that, having been so often in the black books, he obtained it at all.

And now, at the age of one-and-twenty, Goldsmith could go forth to the world as a graduate of inity College, Dublin. Of what use had his four years at the University been to him? Apparently, in his own opinion, of very little. Not only did he never forget the indignities attached to sizarship in those days, but he seems to have formed a theory that much of the education received at Universities was quite unnecessary. “A boy,” he afterwards wrote, “who understands perfectly well Latin, F.rench, arithmetic, and the principles of civil law, and can write a fine hand, has an education that may qualify him for any undertaking." And yet, with all his hardships at college and all his indolence, he had probably got a good deal there that remained useful to him. In mathematics he did nothing, consoling himself with the odd opinion that “this seems a science to which the meanest intellects are equal ;” and to all forms of metaphysical or philosophical study“the cold logic of Burgersdicius, or the dreary subtleties of Smiglesius”-he professed a dislike. But in scholarship and general literary accomplishment he cannot have been among the worst. He could " turn an ode of Horace into English better than any of them,” he afterwards told Malone, and there is no reason to doubt it.

" that he was very

In Greek, too, he must have sometimes been rewarded with a Valde bene. In short, at college, as previously at school, though the general opinion of Goldsmith always expressed itself in the phrase, quoted by himself more than once, good-natured and had not the least harm in him,” there must have been occasional flashes from him causing people to doubt whether he was not a much cleverer fellow than he looked. And then there were his private scribblings in prose and verse for his own amusement at nights, and those precious and now unknown ballads that were hawked about the Dublin stseets,

For about two years, after leaving college, Goldsmith led what Thackeray calls “the life of a buckeen,” hanging on his relatives. He lived chiefly in his mother's house in Ballymahon-close to which there was a convenient inn, where he could be jovial in the evenings, and sing songs and tell stories to the choice rustic spirits that gathered round him. But sometimes he was with his sister and brother-in-law at Lissoy, fishing, otter-hụnting, or lounging about the farm ; and at other times he went over to his brother Henry's at Pallasmore, and tried his hand for a week or two at helping that good man with his pupils, This vagabondage of Oliver seems to have been a sorę trouble to all the family. They had looked forward to his taking holy orders; but, to his own secret satisfaction, that project had failed through the refusal of the Bishop of Elphin to ordain him. Some said the refusal was because of reports of his conduct that had reached the bishop; others thought it was because he had stupidly gone to the bishop in flaming scarlet breeches. Anyhow, the Established Church of Ireland lost the services of Oliver Goldsmith. Uncle Contarine, who had been the chief hand in persuading him so far to the clerical project, next suggested a tutorship, and did at length get him, as tutor, into the family of a Mr. Flinn in Roscommon county. Here he seemed to be all right for about a year ; but, suddenly tiring of the work, or quarrelling with the family, he set out, on a good horse and with thirty pounds in his pocket, bound a second time (so he gave out) for America vid Cork. Nothing was heard of him for six weeks, when unexpectedly he turned up at his mother's door, without a penny, and riding on a bony animal which he called Fiddleback. He gave his mother a long rigmarole account of his adventures—how he had gone to Cork, taken his passage and sent his kit on board, and how, the captain having sailed without him, he had had to sell his good horse, buy the wretched beast Fiddleback, and all but beg his way through the country to Ballymahon. “And now, my dear mother,” he ended, seeing the old lady's face gloom, “after having struggled so hard to come home to you, I wonder you are not more rejoiced to see me." Little wonder that, from this moment, there was a coolness on Mrs. Goldsmith's part to her young prodigal, and a wish to get rid of him anyhow. Even his good brother Henry ceased to have anything to say to him. Only Uncle Contarine stuck by him. He suggested that Oliver should go to London and study law at the Temple; and Oliver, having readily acquiesced, was provided with 501. by Uncle Contarine for his first expenses, and duly set off. But he never got any farther than Dublin. Falling into bad hands there, he lost all he had by gambling and what not, and had to return with real shame and contrition. He was forgiven, again provided with some outfit of money, and again sent offnot, however, this time to London to study law; but to Edinburgh, to qualify himself for the medical profession. And this time Ireland and the circle of Irish relatives did get rid of their troublesome Oliver-rid of him for ever. He was but four-and-twenty years of age, and he lived twenty years longer; but he never again saw Ireland, or the face of any one of his family, save when, some five years afterwards, his younger brother Charles, a lad of twenty, knocked at the door of the wretched London garret in which he then was, and came in ruefully to spend a day or two with him on his way to Jamaica. All through Oliver's future life, however, there was a warm corner in his heart for recollections of his native Ireland, and those he had left there-his mother, his brother Henry, Uncle Contarine, and the rest. He would think of them often till the tears came; he never quite ceased to correspond with them; and he had a cherished dream of revisiting them all some day, and again resting his eyes on dear Lissoy and the green landscape round it, “the most pleasing horizon in Nature.” Ere the dream could be accomplished, the mother, Uncle Contarine, and brother Henry were all dead, and it was no longer worth while.

Goldsmith as a medical student in Edinburgh might be a good theme for a little semi-historical novel to any one who chose to write a variation of some of the chapters of Guy Mannering, twining the quaint traditions and queer social habits of the picturesque old Scottish capital, in the middle of the eighteenth century, round the figure of the humorous Irish lad, of subsequent celebrity, who had come into the midst of them. He was there for about eighteen months, or from the autumn of 1752 to the beginning of 1754. He was boarded and lodged, no doubt, high up some stair in one of the unsavoury old courts, going off from the High Street, that still amaze the stranger in Edinburgh. His letters do not tell the exact spot—the address “Student in Physic, in Edinburgh,” being enough to ensure that return. letters would reach him at the University ; but he gives a satirical description in one of them of his landlady and her economical style of cookery. There were other Irish students of medicine in the town besides himself; for the Edinburgh School of Medicine was then famous throughout the world and drew students from all countries. Much of this fame depended on the great reputation Dr. Alexander Monro, Professor of Anatomy—the first of three Alexander Monros (grandfather, father, and son) who held the same Professorship in succession from 1720 to 1846. The other medical Professors were Dr. Charles Alston (Botany and Materia Medica), Robert Whytt (Institutes of Medicine), Dr. John Rutherford (Practice of Physic), Dr. Andrew Plummer (Chemistry), and Dr. Robert Smith (Midwifery). There is proof that Goldsmith, during the two sessions of his stay in Edinburgh, attended all the medical classes, or all but the last. Of most of the Professors he did not think highly, but he was enthusiastic in praise of Monro. “This man,” he writes, “has brought the science he teaches to as much perfection as it is capable of; 'tis he, I may venture to say, that draws hither such a number of students from most parts of

« ПретходнаНастави »