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We have stated fairly our impression as to the manifold faults of Crichton; all of which, however, have their origin in that tendency to exaggerate, to which we alluded in the outset. Mr Ainsworth will not trust to nature; he must dazzle and confound; or hold the mind in suspense by scenes of peril and terror. This, however, is no uncommon fault in a young writer; and we are not without hopes that Mr Ainsworth will, at no distant period, come to entertain sounder views as to the true principles on which a romance should be constructed. He already has many of the best qualities of a romance writer; he requires rather the due balance and regulation of what he possesses than the addition of any thing new. Had we not, with all its imperfections, thought highly of Crichton, we should have passed it over with the single observation that it was interesting and dramatic; but entertaining the opinion that it is the work of a man of genius, we have thought it right fairly and candidly to indicate what appears to us to be their origin, in the hope that in his future productions he may give more scope to his judgment, and less to the caprices. of imagination.
ART. X.-The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B. From a variety of original sources. BY JAMES PRIOR, F.S.A. 2 vols. 8vo. London: 1837.
RISH genius, either from necessity or ambition, has been
I hitherto almost always absentee. It suffered from this
many ways-in usefulness, in happiness, and in fame. The time is come, we hope, when the resources and attractions of Ireland are so far augmented, that (even without a literary poor law) its future Goldsmiths will have at least the option of staying and cultivating their taste at home. Harder faculties stand this kind of removal best. The philosophical manufactures of Hume and Adam Smith might possibly have prospered any where. Not so the plants imagination nurses. What would have become of Burns and Walter Scott, if they had left for ever the glens, traditions, and affections of their youth at twenty-one? The inspiring pilgrimages of genius must take place under other circumstances and in after years. When the Troubadours and minstrels moved as the bee moves from bank to bank, it was as travellers, not exiles. The foreign residence of Byron was self-expatriation only during his own good pleasure. He con
tinued to live (wherever he might be, and notwithstanding all apparent recalcitrations and disclaimers) on the elements and passions of his English being. The London public travelled with him, as the court of Elizabeth haunted the retreat of Spenser; and he dwelt within the shadow of his country's presence upon the banks of the Po, as Spenser had before him, 'by the green alders of the Mulla's shore.'
The Irish are sometimes reproached for indifference to the memory of their distinguished men. Considering all things, we think unreasonably. If the name of Spenser has vanished from among the ruins of Kilcolman, how only was he known there? Not as the poet of the Fairie Queen, but as the foreign undertaker, entering in at the sword's point upon his portion of the spoils of the territory of the Desmonds. It will be seen that they are proud enough of Goldsmith at Lishoy. If Ireland has no national Pantheon, especially consecrated to the citizens who have done her honour, Ireland is in this respect not more backward than most other countries. Besides, as yet it would scarcely have been prudent to have begun one on a very extensive scale. When the phenomenon of eminent devotion for her sake has been supposed at any time to have occurred, a single instance, like that of Swift, is a convincing proof that Irish gratitude is so far from being particular about seeking into motives, that it may be very probably carried a little further than the evidence strictly warrants. Mr Prior is himself an Irishman. As such we appreciate and respect the feelings which have made him the biographer of Burke and Goldsmith. If, on the other hand, we question the wisdom of his proceeding on this last occasion, it is not as Scotchmen that we do so. At least, we are not at all conscious of being influenced by any portion of the provincial misunderstanding, in which Mr Prior discovers the most plausible explanation of the laughable account that Boswell has left of Goldsmith. The respective characters of the two nations are not shown to the best advantage in the persons of either Goldsmith or Boswell-the Irish poet, and the Scotch lawyer. It would seem, even when more favourably represented, that they are not particularly sympathetic. It is accordingly in a tone which Matthews the actor would have reproved for its ill-nature, that Swift mentions his having observed more frequently among the Scots than any other nation, a passion for truisms and details. They are very careful (he says) not to omit the minutest circumstances of time and place; and, when they have told a long story made up of facts of no consequence, they think that they have acquitted themselves very handsomely for the entertainment of their company.
If this be our national characteristic, we are decidedly of opinion, after a very patient and careful perusal of Mr Prior's book, that he ought, without more ado, to be admitted to all the privileges of an honorary Scotchman from this time forward. It will be to the credit of our countrymen to look upon him in the light of an adopted kinsman, rather than in that of a successful rival.
Much depends in literature as well as in the fine arts upon the choice of a subject. In making Goldsmith the idol of two thick octavos, Mr Prior has let his zeal get the better of his discretion. When Goldsmith, from nearly similar motives to those by which we believe Mr Prior to be actuated, undertook about fifty years after Parnell's death, to collect the scattered notices of an author who, as a poet, had some points of resemblance with himself, Goldsmith had considerable advantages. He filled up a vacant niche in the poetical biography of the country; what he told he told in twenty pages; and his readers were too agreeably led on to think of looking out for faults under his light and pleasant style. Yet he was aware at the time that he had come too late for any useful purpose. Posterity can be made to take no deep concern in the chronological array of a few dates and facts scarcely more interesting than those which make the ' ornament of a country tombstone;' or in the recovery of a few fragments of unmeaning correspondence. The peculiarities, the nice distinctions which separate mind from mind, were gone already with Parnell to his grave. When Johnson was afterwards required to say something about Parnell, he had the good sense to contract the twenty pages of Goldsmith into still smaller compass. Notwithstanding all his generous partiality for every thing written by his old companion, he could not refrain from observing that the life of Parnell was a poor one because the materials were so; adding, that nobody could write the life of another 'but those who had eat and drunk and lived with him.' We need not adopt Johnson's observations in the absolute latitude in which they are expressed, in order to ascertain that the personal life of Goldsmith, undertaken by astranger in a succeeding generation, must be a hazardous affair. If the life has not been previously written, an editor may be tempted to go a wool-gathering, in order to pad his pasteboard figure with irrelevant and doubtful matter. If it has, he will be equally responsible for a useless book, unless he should succeed in making a better use of his materials than his predecessors have made. It is possible for an editor so to manage it as to press a great deal too close on both the horns of this dilemmna.
Goldsmith has prettily observed-and he was so fond of the
illustration that he has repeated it on several occasions,-'A poet, ⚫ while living, is seldom an object sufficiently great to attract much ' attention; his real merits are known but to a few, and these are ⚫ generally sparing in their praises. When his fame is increased by time, it is then too late to investigate the peculiarities of his disposition; the dews of the morning are past, and we vainly try to continue the chase by the meridian splendour.' His imgination was probably at the time applying the simile to his own biography. If this were so, he was mistaken. For he lived in a different age-the age of Memoirs and of Letter-writing. He was not watched, followed, and noted down, as systematically as Johnson. Nor has he thrown open to us the innermost chambers of his heart as naturally as Cowper. For, having to write for bread, he was too weary of his pen, when he could rest it for a while from its hackney coachman's work, to canter it up and down the pages of a letter for his amusement. Nevertheless the outline and the spirit of Goldsmith's nature have been preserved for us entire. In the morning of his fame its dew was not left ungathered; and partial hands have been since engaged in the pleasing office of setting forth the beads in an honorary garland. We do not say that valuable information unknown to Bishop Percy might not be recoverable by the industry of Mr Prior; nor that it is impossible to succeed in telling a story over again. which has been once told, however hastily, by Sir Walter Scott. The probabilities, however, on both points are considerably the other way.
To take the last point first. Mr Prior must stand or fall by the importance of the news he brings us; and not by the grace with which he can communicate it. In case his volumes had been published first, we should have hailed the abbreviated memoirs as sensible selections of the important and pleasant parts. The one is Goldsmith in a dropsy; the other Goldsmith tapped. Mr Prior has not given himself on this occasion a reasonable chance of success. Whilst the bulk of his matter is such as no charm of manner could carry off, his ordinary manner is of a kind which would take the interest out of any story. The leading events and characteristic anecdotes are buried under a mass of minute particulars. The reader can often, for pages together, hardly get a view of Goldsmith, he is so hustled in the crowd. In verifying the circumstances, which, well authenticated, would be worth the trouble of relating, there is not the slightest appearance of discrimination between one kind of evidence and another. Idle passages from periodical essays, from the Vicar of Wakefield, and from the Deserted Village, are mixed up with
fluctuating family traditions, and with the contradictory gossip of Lishoy; and the whole is tendered to us at last as sure and satisfactory testimony of a kind that nobody can doubt.
Mr Prior's mind is any thing but a sieve for sifting grain and chaff which have got once mixed up together. Plenus rimarum est. Witness his credulous acceptance of the classical pretensions of Lishoy. He would have made an unflinching partisan for one of Homer's contending cities. Mr Prior has not the credit of inventing this local romance. In 1830 he found it the popular legend of the place. The pleasant cicerones of Lishoy seem to have got up the imaginary story to perfection. Their earnestness, fearfulness, and minuteness would not discredit the most accomplished guide that ever mystified a visitor over the holy ground of Jerusalem or Rome. So much for tradition! Mr Handcock, as far back as 1790, became a believer in Lishoy. Mr Hogan must have been so when he rebuilt the village inn,-bought teacups and cemented them in the wall to secure them against the iconoclast zeal of pilgrims, and christened his new house by the poetical name of Auburn. It is now some years since the hypothesis was introduced to our locality-loving natives by the Rev. Mr Newell of St John's College, Cambridge. His quarto edition of Goldsmith's Poems was a handsome volume. But neither the ' remarks attempting to ascertain, chiefly from local observation, the actual scene of the Deserted Village, nor the illustrative ' engravings, from drawings taken upon the spot' (though more numerous than Mr Finden's new vignettes), have attracted much attention. The name of Mr Newell is never mentioned by Mr Prior. This ought to have been done; especially since, in a note upon the passage concerning the tyrant's hand in the Deserted Village, he has appropriated, without acknowledgment, the very words of the charge by which Mr Newell had previously denounced an English gentleman, General Robert Napier, as the depopulator of Auburn. Mr Prior, in supporting his patriotic supposition, is aware of all the difficulties in his way. He admits that Goldsmith must have begun by transforming, for the purposes of poetry, a group of mud cabins into a beautiful village. This is a strange beginning for a case of identity to stand upon. The truth is, that no original is required. The notion that any particular spot is necessary for the scene of a descriptive poem is quite gratuitous. The sons of poetry take a wider range. Theirs are the cattle upon a thousand hills. But, were it otherwise, this hypothesis creates many difficulties; while, without it, there is no difficulty to remove. There is not a feature in the description of Auburn which the English reader does not feel to be a