The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, by Washington Irving

Chapter Twenty-Four

Reduced Again to Book-Building — Rural Retreat at Shoemaker’s Paradise — Death of Henry Goldsmith — Tributes To His Memory in the Deserted Village

The heedless expenses of Goldsmith, as may easily be supposed, soon brought him to the end of his “prize money,” but when his purse gave out he drew upon futurity, obtaining advances from his booksellers and loans from his friends in the confident hope of soon turning up another trump. The debts which he thus thoughtlessly incurred in consequence of a transient gleam of prosperity embarrassed him for the rest of his life; so that the success of The Good–Natured Man may be said to have been ruinous to him. He was soon obliged to resume his old craft of book-building, and set about his History of Rome, undertaken for Davies.

It was his custom, as we have shown, during the summer time, when pressed by a multiplicity of literary jobs, or urged to the accomplishment of some particular task, to take country lodgings a few miles from town, generally on the Harrow or Edgeware roads, and bury himself there for weeks and months together. Sometimes he would remain closely occupied in his room, at other times he would stroll out along the lanes and hedge-rows, and taking out paper and pencil, note down thoughts to be expanded and connected at home. His summer retreat for the present year, 1768, was a little cottage with a garden, pleasantly situated about eight miles from town on the Edgeware road. He took it in conjunction with a Mr. Edmund Botts, a barrister and man of letters, his neighbor in the Temple, having rooms Immediately opposite him on the same floor. They had become cordial intimates, and Botts was one of those with whom Goldsmith now and then took the friendly but pernicious liberty of borrowing.

The cottage which they had hired belonged to a rich shoemaker of Piccadilly, who had embellished his little domain of half an acre with statues and jets, and all the decorations of landscape gardening; in consequence of which Goldsmith gave it the name of The Shoemaker’s Paradise. As his fellow-occupant, Mr. Botts, drove a gig, he sometimes, in an interval of literary labor, accompanied him to town, partook of a social dinner there, and returned with him in the evening. On one occasion, when they had probably lingered too long at the table, they came near breaking their necks on their way homeward by driving against a post on the sidewalk, while Botts was proving by the force of legal eloquence that they were in the very middle of the broad Edgeware road.

In the course of this summer Goldsmith’s career of gayety was suddenly brought to a pause by intelligence of the death of his brother Henry, then but forty-five years of age. He had led a quiet and blameless life amid the scenes of his youth, fulfilling the duties of village pastor with unaffected piety; conducting the school at Lissoy with a degree of industry and ability that gave it celebrity, and acquitting himself in all the duties of life with undeviating rectitude and the mildest benevolence. How truly Goldsmith loved and venerated him is evident in all his letters and throughout his works; in which his brother continually forms his model for an exemplification of all the most endearing of the Christian virtues; yet his affection at his death was imbittered by the fear that he died with some doubt upon his mind of the warmth of his affection. Goldsmith had been urged by his friends in Ireland, since his elevation in the world, to use his influence with the great, which they supposed to be all powerful, in favor of Henry, to obtain for him church preferment. He did exert himself as far as his diffident nature would permit, but without success; we have seen that, in the case of the Earl of Northumberland, when, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, that nobleman proffered him his patronage, he asked nothing for himself, but only spoke on behalf of his brother. Still some of his friends, ignorant of what he had done and of how little he was able to do, accused him of negligence. It is not likely, however, that his amiable and estimable brother joined in the accusation.

To the tender and melancholy recollections of his early days awakened by the death of this loved companion of his childhood, we may attribute some of the most heartfelt passages in his Deserted Village. Much of that poem, we are told, was composed this summer, in the course of solitary strolls about the green lanes and beautifully rural scenes of the neighborhood; and thus much of the softness and sweetness of English landscape became blended with the ruder features of Lissoy. It was in these lonely and subdued moments, when tender regret was half mingled with self-upbraiding, that he poured forth that homage of the heart, rendered, as it were, at the grave of his brother. The picture of the village pastor in this poem, which, we have already hinted, was taken in part from the character of his father, embodied likewise the recollections of his brother Henry; for the natures of the father and son seem to have been identical. In the following lines, however, Goldsmith evidently contrasted the quiet, settled life of his brother, passed at home in the benevolent exercise of the Christian duties, with his own restless, vagrant career:

“Remote from towns he ran his goodly race,

Nor e’er had changed, nor wished to change his place.”

To us the whole character seems traced, as it were, in an expiatory spirit; as if, conscious of his own wandering restlessness, he sought to humble himself at the shrine of excellence which he had not been able to practice:

“At church, with meek and unaffected grace,

His looks adorn’d the venerable place;

Truth from his lips prevail’d with double sway,

And fools, who came to scoff, remain’d to pray.

The service past, around the pious man,

With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;

Even children follow’d, with endearing wile,

And pluck’d his gown, to share the good man’s smile;

His ready smile a parent’s warmth express’d,

Their welfare pleas’d him, and their cares distress’d;

To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,

But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven.

.    .    .    .    .

“And as a bird each fond endearment tries

To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,

He tried each art, reprov’d each dull delay,

Allur’d to brighter worlds, and led the way.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38