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An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe. Though he drudged on in extreme poverty, his literary aptitude attracted attention, and he found his journalistic work in demand. John Newbery, a successful publisher of St. Paul's Churchyard, gave him a post on the staff of a new newspaper, The Public Ledger, which was launched in 1760. In that journal appeared the series of papers which he published in 1762 under the title of The Citizen of the World. Dr. Johnson was at this date another of Newbery's authors, and a lasting friendship sprang up between the two men. Soon after they first became acquainted, Goldsmith was one of the nine original members of “The Club' which Johnson formed in 1764 at the Turk's Head in Gerard Street, Soho.
In December of the same year Goldsmith established his reputation by publishing his first narrative poem, The Traveller. In 1766 appeared his most famous work, the novel The Vicar of Wakefield. The book immediately attained a popularity, which it has since enjoyed without interruption or diminution. Soon afterwards, Goldsmith tried his hand at a play, The Good-Natur'd Man, which was produced with moderate success in 1768; but he triumphantly retrieved his fortune by his second narrative poem, The Deserted Village, which was published in 1770, and by his second play, She Stoops to Conquer, which was first acted in 1773.
Meanwhile Goldsmith was still slaving at booksellers' desks, and he compiled a long series of popular historical manuals. His History of Rome came out in 1769, his familiar English History in 1771, and a Greek History in 1773. long engaged on a treatise in eight volumes on Natural History, called Animated Nature, which was published after his death.
Goldsmith's sympathetic and expansive temperament made him a highly popular member of Johnson's circle. Burke and
Sir Joshua Reynolds were devoted to him. His intimacy with Johnson excited the jealousy of Boswell, who avenged himself by an exaggerated picture, in the biography of his master, of Goldsmith's awkward demeanour in society. A lover of conviviality, Goldsmith was careless in money matters, charitable to the verge of folly, always deep in debt, nervously sensitive to criticism, and ostentatious in dress. He died in London on 25th March 1774, in his forty-sixth year. His last poem, Retaliation—a series of mock epitaphs on his friends—which seems to have been written a month before his death, was, like a second burlesque effort, The Haunch of Venison, published posthumously.
Goldsmith was buried in the Temple Church. Dr. Johnson wrote an epitaph for the monument which was erected by his friends to his memory in Westminster Abbey. The inscription includes the well-known tribute to Goldsmith's versatility:
Nullum ferè scribendi genus non tetigit,
Nullum quod tetigit non ornavit'
As a poet Goldsmith's range was limited. He won his triumphs as a disciple of Pope. His chief
His chief poems, The Traveller (1764), and The Deserted Village (1770), were penned in the heroic couplet, with all his master's lucidity; and if he proved inferior to Pope in epigrammatic point and briskness, he was his superior in grace and urbanity. Both The Traveller and The Deserted Village embody much personal experience, and breathe that love of the simple life which reflects the poet's genuine sympathies. The deserted village, 'sweet Auburn,' is doubtless Lissoy, where the poet's father was beneficed. The Traveller abounds in reminiscences of Goldsmith's continental wanderings.
Of the other poems which appear in this volume, Retaliation (1774), and The Haunch of Venison (1776), are playful satires on the idiosyncrasies of his closest friends; while his Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog, from The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), is a witty jest in verse. Occasionally, as in the modish ballad of Edwin and Angelina (also from The Vicar of Wakefield), Goldsmith strikes, for modern ears, a somewhat stilted note. His miscellaneous verse is often little more than pleasant rhetoric in facile rhyme.
Of Goldsmith's two comedies, the earlier piece, The GoodNatur'd Man, was produced by George Colman at Covent Garden Theatre, with a prologue by Dr. Johnson, on January 29, 1768. Although the critics did not rate it highly, it ran for what was then the long period of nine nights. Goldsmith designed the play as a protest against the 'sentimental' style of comedy which was then in vogue. Its single aim was to provoke laughter and merriment. The piece suffers from its author's ignorance of stage effect, but few audiences could fail to appreciate the comic power which underlies two of the leading characters, viz. Croaker, the ludicrously gloomy pessimist, and Jack Lofty, the lying braggart and impostor. The amusing scene (Act iii. Scene 1) in which the 'goodnatured' young hero, Honeywood, an amiable spendthrift, is compelled by stress of circumstances to introduce to his ladylove two sheriff's officers as distinguished personal friends, was strangely judged on the play's production to be vulgar, and was suppressed in the later representations. The episode is in a rich vein of ‘low 'comedy.
Goldsmith's second and last comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, was first produced, after a long delay and with some hesitation, by Colman at Covent Garden Theatre, on March 15, 1773. It was published with a dedication to Dr. Johnson, who exerted his influence to secure its presentation on the stage. In construction and characterisation alike, the play showed an immense advance on its predecessor, and met, on
the first night, with an unequivocal success, which has not been questioned by subsequent generations of playgoers. In this triumphant effort Goldsmith struck at sentimental' drama a second blow, which was far more telling than his first attack. The slight plot is a whimsical episode of real life,-a mistake on the part of two young travellers, who imagined a gentleman's country-house to be an inn. The story is developed with a comic energy which sets the play in the first rank of humorous drama. The portrait of the uncouth lout Tony Lumpkin is broad farce in its merriest mood, but there is efficient power of characterisation in the presentation of the bashful hero, Marlow, especially when he figures in familiar intercourse with the young lady, Miss Hardcastle, whom he mistakes for a chambermaid. Throughout the comedy the fun is innocent, and the strokes of wit are frankly good-natured.
The text of the present reprint, which has been prepared by Mr. Stephen Grey, is based for the most part on editions published in the author's lifetime. The Traveller is from the ninth edition, 1774, which has been checked with the sixth edition of 1770. The Deserted Village is from the fourth edition of 1770, and has been checked with the later edition of 1772. Retaliation, a posthumous publication, is from the second issue of 1774; the Postscript, giving a mock epitaph on Goldsmith's friend, Caleb Whitefoord, was first printed in the fifth edition of the same year, and in deference to doubts which have been raised as to its authenticity, it has here been relegated to the Appendix. The Haunch of Venison, also a posthumous publication, is from the second issue of 1776. The Threnodia Augustalis, on the death of Augusta, Princess of Wales, in 1772, which was first published separately in that year, reappeared with many other miscellaneous pieces in the first collected editions of Goldsmith's poems and plays (Dublin, 1777, and London, 1780). The collected poems have been often reissued, with revisions and additions, of which due note has been taken in the present edition. The poems scattered through Goldsmith's prosewritings are here brought together in the Appendix, so as to render the collection complete; they reappear in their original places in the prose works to which they belong in the later volumes of this series.