« PreviousContinue »
myself I was successful. As
heart was ever warm towards my contemporaries, I did not counterfeit, but really felt a cordial interest in his behalf, and I had soon the pleasure to perceive that he credited me for my sincerity—“ You and I," said he, “ have very different motives for resorting to the stage. I write for money, and care little about fame-" I was touched by this melancholy confession, and from that moment busied myself assiduously amongst all my connexions in his cause. The whole company pledged themselves to the support of the ingenuous poet, and faithfully kept their promise to him. In fact he needed all that could be done for him, as Mr. Colman, then manager
of Covent Garden theatre, protested against the comedy, when as yet he had not struck upon a name for it. Johnson at length stood forth in all his terrors as champion for the piece, and backed by us his clients and retainers demanded a fair trial. Colman again protested, but, with that salvo for his own reputation, liberally lent his stage to one of the most eccentric productions that ever found its way to it, and “She Stoops to Conquer” was put into rehearsal.
We were not over-sanguine of success, but perfectly determined to struggle hard for our author : we accordingly assembled our strength at the Shakespear Tavern in a considerable body for an early dinner, where Samuel Johnson took the chair at the head of a long table, and was the life and soul of the corps : the poet took post silently by his side with the Burkes, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Fitzherbert, Caleb Whitefoord and a phalanx of NorthBritish pre-determined applauders, under the banner of Major Mills, all good men and true. Our illustrious president was in inimitable glee, and poor Goldsmith that day took all his raillery as patiently and complacently as my friend Boswell would have done any day, or every day of his life. In the mean time we did not forget our duty, and though we had a better comedy going, in which Johnson was chief actor, we betook ourselves in good time to our separate and allotted posts, and waited the awful drawing up of the curtain. As our stations were pre-concerted, so were our signals for plaudits arranged and determined upon in a manner, that gave every one his cue where to look for them, and how to follow them up.
We had amongst us a very worthy and efficient member, long since lost to his friends and the world at large, Adam Drummond, of amiable memory, who was gifted by nature with the most
sonorous, anıl at the same time the most contagious, laugh, that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the horse of the son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the theatre could not drown it. This kind and ingenuous friend fairly fore-warned us that he knew no more when to give his fire than the cannon did, that was planted on a battery. He desired therefore to have a flapper at his elbow, and I had the honour to be deputed to that office. I planted him in an upper box, pretty nearly over the stage, in full view of the pit and galleries, and perfectly well situated to give the echo all its play through the hollows and recesses of the theatre. The success of our manæuvres was complete. All eyes were upon Johnson, who sate in a front row of a side box, and when he laughed every body thought themselves warranted to roar. In the mean time my friend followed signals with a rattle so irresistibly comic, that, when he had repeated it several times, the attention of the spectators was so engrossed by his person and performances, that the progress of the play seemed likely to become a secondary object, and I found it prudent to insinuate to him that he might halt his music without any prejudice to the author; but alas, it was now too late to rein him in; he had laughed upon my signal where he found no joke, and now unluckily he fancied that he found a joke in almost every thing that was said; so that nothing in nature could be more mal-apropos than some of his bursts every now and then were. These were dangerous moments, for the pit began to take umbrage ; but we carried our play through, and triumphed not only over Colman's judgment, but our own.
As the life of poor Oliver Goldsmith was now fast approaching to its period, I conclude my account of him with gratitude for the epitaph he bestowed on me in his poem called “Retaliation.” It was upon a proposal started by Edmund Burke, that a party of friends, who had dined together at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, and my house, should meet at the St. James's Coffee-House, which accordingly took place, and was occasionally repeated with much festivity and good fellowship. Dr. Bernard, Dean of Derry, a very amiable and old friend of mine, Dr. Douglas, since Bishop of Salisbury, Johnson, David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund and Richard Burke, Hickey, with two or three others constituted our party. At one of these meetings an idea was suggested of extemporary epitaphs upon the parties present; pen and ink were called for, and Garrick off hand wrote
an epitaph with a good deal of humour upon poor Goldsmith, who was the first in jest, as he proved to be in reality, that we committed to the grave. The dean also gave him an epitaph, and Sir Joshua illuminated the dean's verses with a sketch of his bust in pen and ink inimitably caricatured. Neither Johnson nor Burke wrote any thing, and when I perceived Oliver was rather sore, and seemed to watch me with that kind of attention, which indicated his expectation of something in the same kind of burlesque with theirs', I thought it time to press the joke no further, and wrote a few couplets at a side table, which when I had finished and was called upon by the company to exhibit, Goldsmith with much agitation besought me to spare him, and I was about to tear them, when Johnson wrested them out of my hand, and in a loud voice read them at the table. I have now lost all recollection of them, and in fact they were little worth remembering, but as they were serious and complimentary, the effect they had upon Goldsmith was the more pleasing for being so entirely unexpected. The concluding line, which is the only one I can call to mind, was —
This I recollect, because he repeated it several times, and seemed much gratified by it. At our next meeting he produced his epitaphs as they stand in the little posthumous poem abovementioned, and this was the last time he ever enjoyed the company of his friends.
As he had served up the company under the similitude of various sorts of meat, I had in the mean time figured them under that of liquors, which little poem I rather think was printed, but of this I am not sure. Goldsmith sickened and died, and we had one concluding meeting at my house, when it was decided to publish his “Retaliation,” and Johnson at the same time undertook to write an epitaph for our lamented friend, to whom we proposed to erect a monument by subscription in Westminster Abbey. This epitaph Johnson executed: but in the criticism, that was attempted against it, and in the RoundRobin signed at Mr. Beauclerc's house I had no part. I had no acquaintance with that gentleman, and was never in his house in my life.
Thus died Oliver Goldsmith in his chambers in the Temple at a period of life when his genius was yet in its vigour, and fortune seemed disposed to smile upon him. I have heard Dr. Johnson relate with infinite humour the circumstance of his rescuing him from a ridiculous dilemma by the purchase-money of his “ Vicar of Wakefield,” which he sold on his behalf to Dodsley, and, as I think, for the sum of ten pounds only.' He had run up a debt with his landlady for board and lodging of some few pounds, and was at his wit's-end how to wipe off the score and keep a toof over his head, except by closing with a very staggering proposal on her part, and taking his creditor to wife, whose charms were very far from alluring, whilst her demands were extremely urgent. In this crisis of his fate he was found by Johnson in the act of meditating on the melancholy alternative before him. He shewed Johnson his manuscript of the “ Vicar of Wakefield,” but seemed to be without any plan or even hope of raising money upon the disposal of it ; when Johnson cast his eye upon it, he discovered something that gave him hope, and immediately took it to Dodsley, who paid down the price abovementioned in ready money, and added an eventual condition upon its future sale. Johnson described the precautions he took in concealing the amount of the sum he had in hand, which he prudently administered to him by a guinea at a time. In the event he paid off the landlady's score,
and redeemed the person of his friend from her embraces. Goldsmith had the joy of finding his ingenius work succeed beyond his hopes, and from that time began to place a confidence in the resources of his talents, which thenceforward enabled him to keep his station in society, and cultivate the friendship of many eminent persons, who, whilst they smiled at his eccentricities, esteemed him for his genius and good qualities.
grave, at the
I sawo old Samuel Johnson standing beside his 3 foot of Shakespeare's monument and bathed in tears : succeeding years laid him in earth, and though marble shall pre
ages the exact resemblance of his form and features, his own strong pen has pictured out a transcript of his mind that shall outlive that and the very language which he laboured
1 For the true account of this circumstance see Life, vol. i., p. 329. For Mrs. Piozzi's account see page 50 of this volume.- Editor. 2 Memoirs of Cumberland, vol. ii., p. 210.
to perpetuate. Johnson's best days were dark, and only when his life was far in the decline, he enjoyed a gleam of fortune long withheld. Compare him with his countryman and contemporary last-mentioned, and it will be one instance amongst many, that the man who only brings the Muses' bantlings into the world, has a better lot in it than he who has the credit of begetting them.