Burning the Candle at Both Ends — Fine Apartments — Fine Furniture — Fine Clothes — Fine Acquaintances — Shoemaker’s Holiday and Jolly Pigeon Associates — Peter Barlow, Glover, and the Hampstead Hoax — Poor Friends Among Great Acquaintances
The profits resulting from The Good–Natured Man were beyond any that Goldsmith had yet derived from his works. He netted about four hundred pounds from the theater, and one hundred pounds from his publisher.
Five hundred pounds! and all at one miraculous draught! It appeared to him wealth inexhaustible. It at once opened his heart and hand, and led him into all kinds of extravagance. The first symptom was ten guineas sent to Shuter for a box ticket for his benefit, when The Good–Natured Man was to be performed. The next was an entire change in his domicile. The shabby lodgings with Jeffs the butler, in which he had been worried by Johnson’s scrutiny, were now exchanged for chambers more becoming a man of his ample fortune. The apartments consisted of three rooms on the second floor of No. 2 Brick Court, Middle Temple, on the right hand ascending the staircase, and overlooked the umbrageous walks of the Temple garden. The lease he purchased for four hundred pounds, and then went on to furnish his rooms with mahogany sofas, card-tables, and book-cases; with curtains, mirrors, and Wilton carpets. His awkward little person was also furnished out in a style befitting his apartment; for, in addition to his suit of “Tyrian bloom, satin grain,” we find another charged about this time, in the books of Mr. Filby, in no less gorgeous terms, being “lined with silk and furnished with gold buttons.” Thus lodged and thus arrayed, he invited the visits of his most aristocratic acquaintances, and no longer quailed beneath the courtly eye of Beauclerc. He gave dinners to Johnson, Reynolds, Percy, Bickerstaff, and other friends of note; and supper parties to young folks of both sexes. These last were preceded by round games of cards, at which there was more laughter than skill, and in which the sport was to cheat each other; or by romping games of forfeits and blind-man’s buff, at which he enacted the lord of misrule. Blackstone, whose chambers were immediately below, and who was studiously occupied on his Commentaries, used to complain of the racket made overhead by his reveling neighbor.
Sometimes Goldsmith would make up a rural party, composed of four or five of his “jolly pigeon” friends, to enjoy what he humorously called a “shoemaker’s holiday.” These would assemble at his chambers in the morning, to partake of a plentiful and rather expensive breakfast; the remains of which, with his customary benevolence, he generally gave to some poor woman in attendance. The repast ended, the party would set out on foot, in high spirits, making extensive rambles by footpaths and green lanes to Blackheath, Wandsworth, Chelsea, Hampton Court, Highgate, or some other pleasant resort, within a few miles of London. A simple but gay and heartily relished dinner, at a country inn, crowned the excursion. In the evening they strolled back to town, all the better in health and spirits for a day spent in rural and social enjoyment. Occasionally, when extravagantly inclined, they adjourned from dinner to drink tea at the White Conduit House; and, now and then, concluded their festive day by supping at the Grecian or Temple Exchange Coffee Houses, or at the Globe Tavern, in Fleet Street. The whole expenses of the day never exceeded a crown, and were oftener from three and sixpence to four shillings; for the best part of their entertainment, sweet air and rural scenes, excellent exercise and joyous conversation, cost nothing.
One of Goldsmith’s humble companions, on these excursions, was his occasional amanuensis, Peter Barlow, whose quaint peculiarities afforded much amusement to the company. Peter was poor but punctilious, squaring his expenses according to his means. He always wore the same garb; fixed his regular expenditure for dinner at a trifling sum, which, if left to himself, he never exceeded, but which he always insisted on paying. His oddities always made him a welcome companion on the “shoemaker’s holidays.” The dinner on these occasions generally exceeded considerably his tariff; he put down, however, no more than his regular sum, and Goldsmith made up the difference.
Another of these hangers-on, for whom, on such occasions, he was content to “pay the shot,” was his countryman, Glover, of whom mention has already been made, as one of the wags and sponges of the Globe and Devil taverns, and a prime mimic at the Wednesday Club.
This vagabond genius has bequeathed us a whimsical story of one of his practical jokes upon Goldsmith, in the course of a rural excursion in the vicinity of London. They had dined at an inn on Hampstead Heights and were descending the hill, when, in passing a cottage, they saw through the open window a party at tea. Goldsmith, who was fatigued, cast a wistful glance at the cheerful tea-table. “How I should like to be of that party,” exclaimed he. “Nothing more easy,” replied Glover, “allow me to introduce you.” So saying, he entered the house with an air of the most perfect familiarity, though an utter stranger, and was followed by the unsuspecting Goldsmith, who supposed, of course, that he was a friend of the family. The owner of the house rose on the entrance of the strangers. The undaunted Glover shook hands with him in the most cordial manner possible, fixed his eye on one of the company who had a peculiarly good-natured physiognomy, muttered something like a recognition, and forthwith launched into an amusing story, invented at the moment, of something which he pretended had occurred upon the road. The host supposed the new-comers were friends at his guests; the guests that they were friends of the host. Glover did not give them time to find out the truth. He followed one droll story with another; brought his powers of mimicry into play, and kept the company in a roar. Tea was offered and accepted; an hour went off in the most sociable manner imaginable, at the end of which Glover bowed himself and his companion out of the house with many facetious last words, leaving the host and his company to compare notes, and to find out what an impudent intrusion they had experienced.
Nothing could exceed the dismay and vexation of Goldsmith when triumphantly told by Glover that it was all a hoax, and that he did not know a single soul in the house. His first impulse was to return instantly and vindicate himself from all participation in the jest; but a few words from his free and easy companion dissuaded him. “Doctor,” said he, coolly, “we are unknown; you quite as much as I; if you return and tell the story, it will be in the newspapers tomorrow; nay, upon recollection I remember in one of their offices the face of that squinting fellow who sat in the corner as if he was treasuring up my stories for future use, and we shall be sure of being exposed; let us therefore keep our own counsel.”
This story was frequently afterward told by Glover, with rich dramatic effect, repeating and exaggerating the conversation, and mimicking in ludicrous style, the embarrassment, surprise, and subsequent indignation of Goldsmith.
It is a trite saying that a wheel cannot run in two ruts; nor a man keep two opposite sets of intimates. Goldsmith sometimes found his old friends of the “jolly pigeon” order turning up rather awkwardly when he was in company with his new aristocratic acquaintances. He gave a whimiscal account of the sudden apparition of one of them at his gay apartments in the Temple, who may have been a welcome visitor at his squalid quarters in Green Arbor Court. “How do you think he served me?” said he to a friend. “Why, sir, after staying away two years, he came one evening into my chambers, half drunk, as I was taking a glass of wine with Topham Beauclerc and General Oglethorpe; and sitting himself down, with most intolerable assurance inquired after my health and literary pursuits, as if he were upon the most friendly footing. I was at first so much ashamed of ever having known such a fellow that I stifled my resentment and drew him into a conversation on such topics as I knew he could talk upon; in which, to do him justice, he acquitted himself very reputably; when all of a sudden, as if recollecting something, he pulled two papers out of his pocket, which he presented to me with great ceremony, saying, ‘Here, my dear friend, is a quarter of a pound of tea, and a half pound of sugar, I have brought you; for though it is not in my power at present to pay you the two guineas you so generously lent me, you, nor any man else, shall ever have it to say that I want gratitude.’ This,” added Goldsmith, “was too much. I could no longer keep in my feelings, but desired him to turn out of my chambers directly; which he very coolly did, taking up his tea and sugar; and I never saw him afterward.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51