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Johnson did more than any other one man in English letters to make literature a working profession, to take it out of the hands of patrons, and make the dealings of author and publisher a substantial business relation. He was one of the first English authors who lived by his work; and the honest independence with which he inspired the profession has been a help to authors ever since his time.
His dictionary, too, was one of the great works of the century. While we cannot help wishing that the Johnsonian tendency in language had been towards greater simplicity, and not towards the introduction of so many Latin words, still we must see that he did a great work for the language. In his time there was no standard dictionary, and Johnson, in arranging and defining the words of the language, brought it into order and gave it form. He singly and alone attempted to do for England what the French Academy did for France; and although it is a question whether it is not better to have so important a work done by a body of scholars rather than by one man, yet nobody in raising that question will doubt the value and honesty of Samuel Johnson's labors.
ON OLIVER GOLDSMITH AND “ THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD."
'HE name of OLIVER GOLDSMITH is often heard in connection with that of Dr. Johnson, and the
1728-1774 two men were excellent friends, although Johnson was twenty years older than Goldsmith, and, in a kindly way, disposed to patronize his young friend.
Goldsmith's early life was a checkered one. After leaying college he made attempts to enter life at most of its principal gates. He tried teaching, the law, the Church, medicine, until, throwing up all the professions, he started on a vagabond tour through Europe, from which he returned to London poor, alone, unfriended, and with no settled calling in life. He began his literary career by writing for a magazine, the drudge of a publisher who worked him hard and paid him little. But in this work Goldsmith first discovered what he was capable of doing, and this was the first step in the ladder he climbed so rapidly. His literary life lasted about fifteen years; and in this time he produced poetry, history, biography, works on natural science, essays, novels, and comedies, with wonderful versatility, and with success in almost every style. With work or without it, he was always in debt, for he was reckless and improvident in his habits, and never could resist the passion for gambling, which in early youth was nearly his ruin.
His first success was in essay writing. He published The Bee, which in lightness and vivacity was in strong contrast to the dignity and weight of Johnson's Rambler. If Johnson and Goldsmith had united their powers, as Addison and Steele had done forty years earlier, they would have made a paper almost, if not quite, as good as The Spectator.
After The Bee, Goldsmith contributed to a newspaper The Letters of a Chinese Philosopher, professedly written by a Chinese gentleman travelling in England, who notes all that impresses him as odd in government, society, and morals, and compares them, favorably or unfavorably, with Eastern customs. You can fancy what an opportunity Goldsmith found in the person of the Chinese gentleman for good-natured satire against whatever in politics or manners deserved it.
His first fame was won by his poem The Traveller, in which he put the impressions and memories of his tour in Europe into verse. This brought him reputation among literary men; and the praise with which it was received encouraged the publishers to bring out The Vicar of Wakefield, which had been some time in their hands. This story
is, of all his works, the one which brings him closest to his readers of the present. I have never seen any one, young or old, who did not read it with delight, and I believe it will continue to be read as long as the eighteenth century is remembered in literature. Dr. Johnson gives this account of how the Vicar came to be published :
“I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly; I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him; I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I would soon return; and having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill."
Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield appeared after Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett had gained their fame as novelists, and was the purest and most wholesome of English stories yet written. The scenes of Fielding and Smollett are too frequently vicious, or are carried on in the haunts of vice.
Goldsmith took his reader into rural English life, among characters who at once get a hold on our hearts which they never lose. We learn to love them all, from artless Dr. Primrose to the pedantic, yet easily humbugged, Moses. We enjoy all the amusements of the family when they are living in competency — their tea-drinkings, out-door dances, their social commerce with neighbors as if we were taking part in them ; and their revulsion from a comfortable estate to poverty we feel as if it were our own. How delightfully Mr. Burchell, the lord in disguise, comes into the story; we guess, long before the artless Primroses do,
that he is to be their benefactor. And when the bad young squire comes upon the scene, I tremble for Olivia's peace of mind even when I read the novel for the twentieth time.
How wise good Dr. Primrose is in all his little discourses, although we see that he is, in all minor matters, led by his wife and daughters very tenderly by the nose ! Yet he sometimes gets the better of them. One day, he says,
My wife went to make the venison pasty, Moses sat reading, while I taught the little ones. My daughters seemed equally busy with the rest, and I observed them for a good while cooking something over the fire. I at first supposed they were assisting their mother ; but little Dick informed me, in a whisper, that they were making a wash for the face. Washes of all kinds I had a natural antipathy to, for I knew that instead of mending the complexion they spoiled it. I therefore approached my chair by slow degrees to the fire, and grasping the poker, as if it wanted mending, seemingly by accident overturned the whole composition, and it was too late to begin another."
One of the most delicious bits of humor in the book is the good old Doctor's account of the way in which the family had their portraits painted :
“My wife and daughters happening to return a visit at neighbor Flamborough's, found that family had lately got their pictures drawn by a limner who travelled the country and took likenesses for fifteen shillings a head. As this family and ours had long a sort of rivalry in point of taste, our spirit took the alarm at this stolen march upon us, and notwithstanding all I could say (and I said much), it was resolved that we should have our pictures done too. Having, therefore, engaged the limner (for what could I do?), our next deliberation was to show the superiority of our taste in the attitudes. As for our neighbor's family, there were seven of them, and they were drawn with seven oranges, a thing quite out of taste, no variety in life, no composition in the world. We desired to have something in a brighter style ; and after many debates, at length came to the unanimous resolution of being drawn together in one large historical family piece. This would be cheaper, since one frame would serve for all, and it would be infinitely more gen
teel; for all families of any taste were now drawn in the same
As we did not immediately recollect an historical subject to hit us, we were contented each with being drawn as independent historical figures. My wife desired to be drawn as Venus, and the painter was requested not to be too frugal of his diamonds in her stomacher and hair. Her two little ones were to be as Cupids by her side; while I, in my gown and band, was to present her with my books on the Whistonian controversy. Olivia would be drawn as an Amazon, sitting on a bank of flowers, dressed in a green joseph richly laced with gold, and a whip in her hand; Sophia was to be a shepherdess, with as many sheep as the painter could put in for nothing; and Moses was to be dressed out with a hat and white feather. "... The painter was therefore set to work; and as he wrought with assiduity and expedition, in less than four days the whole was completed. The piece was large, and it must be owned he did not spare his colors, for which my wife gave him great encomiums. We were all perfectly satisfied with his performance; but an unfortunate circumstance, which had not occurred till the picture was finished, now struck us with dismay. It was so very large that we had no place in the house to fix it! ... This picture, therefore, instead of gratifying our vanity, as we hoped it would, leaned in the most mortifying manner against the kitchen wall, where the canvas was stretched and painted, much too large to be got through any of the doors, and the jest of all our neighbors.”
Goldsmith's poem, The Deserted Village, breathes something of the same spirit as The Vicar of Wakefield. It shows the same sympathy with the simple life of rural England; and the character of the village preacher, who reminds us of Dr. Primrose, is said to be a genuine portrait of the poet's father :
"Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,