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L I F E
Dr. Oliver Goldsmith.
“THE life of a scholar,' our author observes, in the account prefixed to the works of Parnell, “seldom abounds with adventures. His fame is acquired in solitude. And the historian, who only views him at a distance, must be content with a dry detail of actions, by which he is scarcely distinguished from the rest of mankind.'—This is indeed true with respect to the generality of writers, whose lives, marked with few incidents, and those of an uninteresting nature, are passed in study, and too frequently in obscurity. Very different indeed was the fate of Dr. Goldsmith, the events of whose life were various and chequered, and whose memoirs are replete with curious and entertaining matter.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH was born on the twentyninth day of November, 1728, at a place called Pallas, in the parish of Forney and county of Longford in Ireland. His father, the rev. Charles Goldsmith, a native of the county of Roscommon, was a cler
gyman of the established church, and had been educated at Dublin college. Though he afterwards obtained the living of Kilkenny West, in the county of Westmeath, yet before he had acquired any preferment, he married Anne, daughter of the rev. Oliver Jones, master of the diocesan school of Elphin.* Her mother's brother, the rev. Mr. Green, at that time rector of Kilkenny West, lent the young couple the house in which our poet was born; and at his death the rev. Charles Goldsmith succeeded him in his benefice.
It was a tradition in our poet's family, that they were descended from a Spanish gentleman named Juan Romeiro, who had sometime in the sixteenth century come into Ireland, with a Spanish nobleman; to whom, with modern ideas, they supposed him to have been tutor or guardian ; and that settling in Ireland, from a marriage with a wife of the name of Goldsmith, his descendants assumed her English name.
Although Oliver had evidently his christian name from his mother's father, yet he used to assert, that it had been introduced into her family by some affinity or connexion with that of the protector Oliver Cromwell; he also claimed kindred to that of general Wolf.
Of our poet's early life and character, and of some remarkable adventures at school and at college, we have a curious account by his eldest sister Catharine, wife of Daniel Hodson, esq.; which, in some measure corrected and abridged, we shall present to the reader.
* Communicated by the right rev. Dr. Law, bishop of Elphin.
“ The 'rev. Charles Goldsmith is allowed, by all that knew him, to have been faithfully represented by his son, in the character of the Village Preacher in his poem.
He had seven children, viz. five sons, and two daughters. Of his eldest son, the rev. Henry Goldsmith, to whom his brother dedicated his Traveller, their father had formed the most sanguine hopes, as he had distinguished himself both at school and at college, but he unfortunately married at the early age of nineteen; which confined him to a curacy, and prevented his rising to preferment in the church.
« Oliver was his second son, and born very unex. pectedly after an interval of seven years from the birth of the former child; and the liberal education which their father was then bestowing on his eldest son bearing hard upon his small income, he could only propose to bring up Oliver to some mercantile employment.
“ With this view he was instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, by a schoolmaster in his father's village, who had been a quarter-master in the army in queen Anne's wars, in the detachment which was sent to Spain : having travelled over a considerable part of Europe, and being of a very romantic turn, he used to entertain Oliver with his adventures; and the impressions these made on his scholar were believed by the family to have given him that wandering and unsettled turn which so much appeared in his future life.
“ Oliver, however, was from his earliest infancy very different from other children, subject to particular humors, for the most part uncommonly serious and reserved; but when in gay spirits, none
ever so agreeable as he ;* and he began at so early a period to shew signs of genius that he quickly engaged the notice of all the friends of the family, many of whom were in the church. At the age of seven or eight he discovered a natural turn for rhyming, and often amused his father and his friends with early poetical attempts. When he could scarcely write legibly, he was always scribbling verses, which he burnt as he wrote them.
“ Observing his fondness for books and learning, his mother, with whom he was always a favorite, pleaded with his father to give him a liberal education : but his own narrow income, the expense attending the educating of his eldest son, and his numerous family, were strong objections. Oliver, in the mean time, was placed under the rev. Mr. Griffin, then schoolmaster of Elphin, and was received into the house of his father's brother, John Goldsmith, esq. at Ballyoughter, near that town, who, with his family, considered him as a prodigy for his
age, and have handed down the following instance of his early wit.
“A large company of young people, of both sexes, were assembled one evening at his uncle's, and Oliver, then but nine years old, was required to dance a hornpipe, a youth playing to them at the same time on the fiddle. Being but newly recovered from the small pox, by which he was much disfigured, and his figure being short and thick, the musician, very archly as he supposed, compared him to Æsop dancing; and still harping on this idea, which he conceived to be very bright, our conceited gentleman had suddenly the laugh turned against him, by Oliver's stopping short in the dance with this retort :
* Mrs. Hodson has, in this slight sketch, probably without know. ing it, portrayed every feature of the little Edwin in Beattie's ces lebrated poem of the Minstrel :
He was no vulgar boy ;
Our herald hath proclaim'd this saying,
See Æsop dancing, and his monkey playing. “ This smart reply decided his fortune ; for from that time it was determined to send him to the uni. versity, and some of the relations, who were respectable clergymen, kindly offered to contribute towards the expense, particularly the rev. Thomas Contarine, who had married Oliver's aunt, a gentlewoman of distinguished learning and good preferment. *
" With this view he was removed to the school of Athlone, about five miles from his father's house, and was for about two years there, under the rev. Mr. Campbel, who had the character of being an ingenious master; but he being obliged to resign the school for want of health, Oliver was sent to the rev. Patrick Hughes, at Edgeworthstown, in the county of Longford, where he was fitted for the University. +
* The rev. Mr, Greene also liberally assisted, as Dr. Goldsmith used to relate, in this beneficent purpose.
† From the last master he profited more than from either of the