« PrejšnjaNaprej »
the book: Sterne's defects of humour.
sentence into a fresh chapter; we turn a page and see a row of asterisks, a diagram, or a black oblong of printer's ink. The consequence is that Sterne is never tedious; his madness is so irrevocably his method that, to a reader with any sense of humour, it is never irritating. Moreover, in this prodigal jumble of frivolity is enshrined a humour which, with all its defects, is as true and delicate as any, blending its grotesqueness with its pathos in that happy conjunction which so few have achieved. Sterne could be a ribald buffoon; and the grave fault of Tristram Shandy—a fault which becomes obvious long before we really appreciate the book's virtues is its simpering indecency. The coarseness of tone which distinguishes Fielding and Smollett is an utterly different thing. The indecency of Tristram Shandy is contained in sly allusions, in inferences read between the lines, in dashes and marks of interrogation, and is nothing less than wanton prurience. Sterne was much indebted to Rabelais, but his vice of writing is an infinitely more objectionable thing than Rabelais' boisterous animalism. The worst point about it is that it is closely allied to a capacity for pathos which, in its excess, becomes mere snivelling. But when his humour got the better of his indecency and sentimentalism he wrote in the spirit of Shakespeare. The whole Shandy household-" my father," with his crotchets and philosophy, Uncle Toby, with his love for military operations, his simplicity, his affectionate nature and his intense compassion for all misfortune, the faithful Corporal Trim, and every individual down to the "foolish fat scullion" -are creatures of the finest comedy. As an inCharacter of stance of real humour, of the union of the ludicrous and pathetic, Uncle Toby is among the first masterpieces of character. For example, when Tristram's father was consoling himself for the death of his elder son, and was quoting, without context, the consolatory letter of Servius Sulpicius to Cicero, Uncle Toby thought him to be relating an experience of his own travels as a Turkey merchant. "And pray, brother,' quoth my uncle Toby,. . . 'what year of our Lord was this? It was no year of our Lord,' replied my father. That's impossible!' cried my uncle Toby. Simpleton!' said my father, 'it was forty years before Christ was born.' My uncle Toby had but two things for it, either to suppose his brother to be the Wandering Jew, or that his misfortunes had disordered his brain. May the Lord God of heaven and earth protect him and restore him!' said my uncle Toby, praying silently for my father, and with tears in his eyes. My father placed the tears to a proper account, and went on with his harangue with great spirit.”
This is not an isolated instance of the pure gold which, in Sterne's books, is to be found among much dross. Our pleasant familiarity with Uncle Toby, Widow Wadman, and the rest,
growing by a constant series of allusions rather than by any definite description-for they are introduced hastily and accidentally, and, in every case, are the subjects of apparently casual reference-is all the greater and more Sterne's lasting on account of the digressions and the shape of character. less pattern in which their portraits are framed. So
far as Sterne himself is concerned, the most interesting digression in Tristram Shandy is the continental journey in the seventh volume, which is, in a measure, a forecast of the Sentimental Journey. Of this later work, famous as it is, there The "Senis not much to say. Sterne was essentially a creature timental of sentiment, and in these notes of travel we are Journey" in the closest relation with his temperament. His (1768).. sensitive spirit vibrated to the slightest incident, and magnified it to heroic proportions of pathos. Like Richardson, Sterne, in his character of a man of feeling, excited more sympathy in France than in England. The English taste, less fine and emotional, put much of his sentiment down to mawkish affectation; and the popularity of the Sentimental Journey is due to its picturesque character rather than to its slightly morbid tone. Nevertheless, the emphasis which Influence of Sterne laid on sentiment, while, in extreme cases, it Sterne's produced tearful books like Henry Mackenzie's Man sentimenof Feeling, brought a certain element of needed tality on humanity into English literature. The hard, brutal quality of Smollett's work, and the fact that Fielding's pathos is the merest minimum, are signs that something more gentle was necessary, and this Sterne supplied. His sentiment is not without religion of a kind; but Mr. Yorick's sermons afford very little pious consolation, and are simply Shandean pleasantries refined for the pulpit. Sterne possessed a great capacity for parading obscure and quaint erudition, and, through the mouths of Mr. Shandy, Tristram, and Mr. plagiarisms. Yorick, there pass a great many allusions to forgotten authors, which, at the time, gave Sterne a great reputation for learning. But later ages, expert in the study of Burton and Rabelais, to say nothing of the old lawyers and canonists, have discovered that the vicar of Coxwold was a sad plagiarist, who drained these fountains of allusion without scruple. Nevertheless, he has not spoiled our appreciation of Rabelais or Burton, but, by his unprincipled borrowing, has given an additional originality of flavour to his own book.
$15. The prose fiction of OLIVER GOLDSMITH is not by any means his only claim to distinction. Johnson, in the Latin epitaph for his friend's monument in the Abbey, OLIVER spoke of him as one "qui nullum fere scribendi GOLDSMITH genus non tetigit, nullum quod tetigit non ornavit" (1728-1774). -who left scarce any kind of writing untouched, His place in and touched none that he did not grace. Moreover, he belongs, by his friendships, to a somewhat later
period in eighteenth-century literature than Fielding, Sterne, or Smollett. But the best place to be found for him is among the novelists. By virtue of The Vicar of Wakefield he is worthy to sit beside the greatest masters of English fiction; while, in the admirable delicacy of his prose and his command of narrative style, he is the best follower of Steele and Addison, using their free and graceful English for his charming His life. fiction. He was born at Pallas in County Longford, where his father, a poor curate of English extraction, was struggling, with the aid of a miserable stipend, to bring up a large family. His early years were spent at Lissoy in Westmeath, about eight miles from his birthplace; and, in 1744, an uncle, Mr. Contarine, sent him to Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained a sizarship. However, his life at college was idle and disreputable; he became notorious for his irregularities, and, although his extravagance was time after time forgiven him, was always out of pocket and in debt. He took his degree in 1749, and, without any fixed intention of embracing a profession, was a tutor for a short time in an Irish family. In 1753 he made up his mind, after long Early hesitation, to read medicine, and went for that travels. purpose to Edinburgh. However, his design did not
hold firm very long, but, migrating to Leyden in 1754, he travelled all over the Continent. He boasted afterwards that he had taken a medical degree at some foreign university— either Louvain or Padua—but his very superficial and inaccurate knowledge of medicine makes the assertion of very little value. It seems that he went through Europe like a beggar, tramping the highroads with a flute, or subsisting on the casual alms of a poor scholar. While wandering in Switzerland he sketched out the plan of The Traveller, the poem which afterwards was the beginning of his fame. In 1756 he found his way to
Period of struggle in London.
London, and, during the next eight years, his life was a continual struggle with famine. His literary apprenticeship was passed in a severe school, and he began by reading proofs for Richardson's printing press. In 1757 the bookseller Griffiths, who owned The Monthly Review, engaged him to write articles for his magazine, and employed him in a number of small commissions -schoolbooks, tales for children, prefaces, indices, reviews of books, and contributions to various periodicals-in which he certainly found plenty of time to form and practise his admirable style. But literary work was only his partial occupation. If he was constant in anything, it was in his hack-work for the booksellers; and this, even with the smallness of the wage, would have probably given him enough to live upon had it not been for his extreme improvidence. He was childishly generous, madly in love with pleasure and fine clothes, and fond of gambling. To make some money he served, now as a chemist's shopman, now as an usher in a boarding-school, the drudge of
his employer and the butt and laughing-stock of his pupils, now as a doctor in the lowest and most squalid parts of Londonamong "the beggars of Axe Lane," as he himself expressed it. More than once, under the pressure of intolerable distress, he exchanged the bondage of the school for the severer drudgery of the corrector's table in the printing office, and more than once he was driven back again to the school. At one time, during this wretched period of his career, he failed to pass an examination for the post of hospital mate, when, in order to appear decently before the board at Surgeons' Hall, and having no money with which to get new clothes, he pawned a suit which Griffiths had lent him.
introduction to Johnson.
But although, to the end of his life, Goldsmith's expenditure was far in advance of his earnings, success came to him before long. His Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe (1759), his first original essay, of original Beginning which was published anonymously, obtained him more work from the booksellers. In May, 1761, he met Dr. Johnson for the first time, and from that day forward was under the wing of this excellent and dictatorial friend. Goldsmith continued to write anonymously for some time after this meeting. The masterly Citizen of the World (1762), in which he assumed the character of a Chinese traveller in England, was a reprint of letters originally published in Newbery's Public Ledger. In 1764, Publication however, The Traveller appeared under his own of The name, and, in 1765, he collected his occasional into a single volume. This was the opening of a period of comparative prosperity; he emerged from the slough of obscure drudgery and became a popular favourite. public were agreed that, since the days of Pope, nothing so harmonious or so original as The Traveller had been seen; and Goldsmith, with a future of uninterrupted success, might, but for his folly and improvidence, from which no amount of fortune could have saved him, have died a rich man. He came from obscure suburban lodgings into the town, and eventually settled down in extravagant chambers in the Period of Middle Temple. In 1766 appeared The Vicar of Wakefield, which Johnson had sold for him two years before; and in January, 1768, Goldsmith came before the public as a comic dramatist with The Good-Natur'd Man. Although the production of the piece at Covent Garden was not altogether a failure, it was rather too robust a comedy for the sentimental taste of the time, and formed too strong a contrast to the admired and tearful False Delicacy of the popular author, Hugh Kelly, which had appeared the week before. Two years later, in 1770, Goldsmith followed up The Traveller with a companion poem, The Deserted Village, written in something of the same manner and with no less touching a perfection; and, in 1773, he provided The Good-Natur'd Man with a worthy
pendant in the shape of She Stoops to Conquer. In these closing years of his life he was one of the most popular writers of the time; his society was courted by the brilliant circle which surrounded Johnson and Reynolds, and he became a member of the famous Club so intimately associated with the literary history of his day. With a far greater genius and gift of writing, he
stands to his contemporaries in somewhat of the His amiability same relation that existed between Gay and the and excircle of Pope and Swift. It was as impossible to travagance. avoid loving him as to avoid despising him. His vanity, his childish though not malignant envy, his Irish aptitude for blunders, his eagerness to shine in conversation, for which he was peculiarly unfitted, his weaknesses and genius combined, made him the pet and laughing-stock of the whole company. Meanwhile, his constant extravagance kept him in continual slavery to the booksellers, and they, presuming on his graceful English and exquisite talent, persuaded him to write a set of books for which he neither had the requisite knowledge nor could make the necessary researches-a History of England (1764), a History of Rome (1769), a History of Greece (1774), and a History of Animated Nature (1774). For the first three he had to depend upon second-hand facts, while the last was an abbreviated translation of Buffon; but in all four his grace of narration and style compensated for his total ignorance of the subject. It was only natural that his debts and continual want of money should have preyed upon his mind and injured his health. In 1774 he fell seriously ill, and, relying on His death. his knowledge of medicine, imprudently persisted in disregarding his physician's advice and in employing a violent remedy which put an end to his life. He died at his lodgings in Brick Court, Middle Temple, and was buried in the Temple churchyard. He left £2000 of debts behind him. Yet, in spite of his criminal carelessness, no man's death was so bemoaned in his age, not merely by Johnson and his faithful friends, but by many poor wretches whom he had relieved with an inexhaustible benevolence and a singular disregard of his own difficulties.
§ 16. In whatever Goldsmith wrote he showed the same wonderful delicacy, which made his style the living image of his thought. The squalid distress of his early career Goldsmith's was merely the purifying influence of his work. The eighteenth century in England was not remarkable for any over-fastidiousness in literature or manners, and Goldsmith's work is the exception to its age. We naturally think of him as a second Addison. The difference between the spirit and style of the two men is the difference between the beginning and the end of the century. Both men used their language with the same consummate ease, and in no other hands, during that long period of glorious work, do correctness and purity of style free themselves so completely from stiffness. But the element of classical gravity which is natural to all Addison's writing is