Prior's Life of Goldsmith

Review of PRIOR'S LIFE OF GOLDSMITH from Fraser's Magazine, Volume 15, Page 387ff, 1837

The work before us, has one great requisite for ensuring success. It is written con amore. Mr. Prior is, what every good biographer ought to be, a faithful squire to his hero, deeply interested in his fame, and following him with unwearied fidelity through all his fortunes. A more diligent hunter after facts never existed.

He favours us with a slight sketch of his labours: —

"The great difficulty, was to procure such information as might be new and satisfactory. Of all the distinguished writers of so recent a date, his life, or at least a large portion of it, considering that it offered some curious vicissitudes, was the least accurately known. Not a new fact on the subject, and scarcely one connected with his productions, had transpired for thirty years; no one was known to possess any of his remains; and in the innumerable biographies of literary men, and others published since his death, there was not, with one exception, even a letter of Goldsmith to be found. Material as these obstacles appeared, the design, when once determined upon, was pursued, it is hoped, with becoming spirit. A journey was undertaken to his native spot; to the subsequent residence of his father, at Lissoy; to Athlone; and to Roscommon and its vicinity, where the poet had spent some time in the house of one of his uncles: communications were entered into with his relatives who were supposed to be capable of communicating information; indeed, all who could be traced, were applied to on the subject; and the records of Trinity College searched for such facts as they could supply. With the same view, application was made by the writer, to all his literary acquaintance, and removing to London in the following year (1831), he had the advantage of pursuing there, the research that would have proved unavailing elsewhere. In proof that no reasonable diligence was wanting to the completion of an object, which he considered more national (to Ireland) than personal, it may be mentioned, that several hundreds of letters have been written in furtherance of his inquiries, and personal applications nearly as numerous made to others; while many of the periodical works, and several of the daily journals, for a period of fifteen years, have been carefully examined by himself, to ascertain the exact dates of the poet's productions, to trace such others from the same publishers as he did not avow, and to glean all the miscellaneous intelligence they might afford. Much of this was done amid occupations of a public nature, and necessarily cost much time and laborious inquiry. The result, however, has been a large, and it is hoped accurate, accession of information."

This hope, we are sure all the readers of Mr. Prior's indefatigable volumes, will admit to be amply gratified. It is no wonder that it has been a labour of nearly seven years.

The first twenty pages shall serve as a specimen of the industrious labours of Mr. Prior. Public documents are hunted through to ascertain that, on the 5th of March, 34th Hen. VIII (1542), a king's letter appointed John Goldsmyth clerk of the council; the records of the parliamentary commission of 1641, supply the testimony of the Rev. John Goldsmith, as to his adventures in the time of the Massacre. We are furnished with a copy of the grant, which assigned to George Goldsmith and Hester his wife, the lands of Kilbegg and Brackughreagh, in the Barony of Moycashell; the books of Trinity College, Dublin, are in constant employment, to discover such entries relative to all kinds of Goldsmiths, as the following: — "1697, Sep. 23". Johannes Goldsmith Pensio:— filius Roberti Goldsmith generosi — Annum agens 18—Natus villa dicta Ballioughter Com : Roscommon — Educatus Strokstown sub Mago Cugh — Tutor Eu : Loyd." Sir William Betham is put under requisition for points of family history and genealogy; Lloyd's Evening Post, May 27-29, 1765, is hunted up for a paragraph recording the generosity of the mother of General Wolfe, because her name was Goldsmith; the heading of a lease contracted between William Conolly one of the lords justices, and Ann Jones the poet's grandmother, is duly exemplified, with an evident regret that no larger portion of the document has been preserved; that the house of Pallas in which Oliver was born, "would appear" to have become the property of a branch of the family, is evidenced by an extract from an Irish magazine, " Exshaw's.for 1770," [Mr. Prior, Mr. Prior, what month ?].

Footnote Page 337: The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, from a Variety of Original Sources, and comprising numerous Unpublished Letters, &c. &c. By James Prior, Esq., Author of the "Life of Burke." 2 vols. 8vo. London, Murray. 1837.

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The Reverend Doctor Strean, of Athlone, to whom the author feels obliged for the inquiries he had made, is made to furbish up his Celtic lore, to inform us that Ardnagan (one of the places to which Goldsmith's birth is assigned), or Ardnagowan, is in more correct orthography Airdnagabha; the identical leaf of the family Bible which records the births of the Goldsmiths, and sets at rest for ever the doubts and mistakes of Bishop Percy and others who date Oliver's entrance into the world on the 29th, instead of the 10th, of November, fall into the all-searching hands of our biographer; the Register Office of Dublin disgorges deeds relating to the lands of Lissoy, concerning which, had also been ransacked, "the scarce volume, giving an account of the forfeited estates in Ireland;" a traveller in America is dragged homeward, to testify respecting the hawthorn bush of Auburn, and so forth. We have not minutely catalogued the documentary evidence from books and papers which form the raw material of the first score of pages ; and yet what a miscellaneous mass! Deeds, grants, leases, parliamentary records, college books, newspapers, magazines, family Bibles,public registries; Wood's Athena, Temple's Rebellion, Ulster King of Arms, Mr. Jones Lloyd, proprietor of Smith Hill or Ardnagowan, Drs. Strean and Neligan of Athlone, Mr. Bond of Lissoy, Best an Irish clergyman, Davis's Travels in the United States, — all dance before us, not in any mazes of metaphorical confusion, but in the straightforward paths of ticketed and labelled chronological regularity. One grief penetrates the accurate heart of Mr. Prior.

"The reader will observe many variations in the orthography; thus, Lissoy or Lishoy, are used as the whim of the moment prompts; thus, also, we have Pallas, Pallasmore, Pallismore, and Pallasomore, all moaning the same place ; and the family of Hodson, near Athlone, into which the poet's sister Catherine married, is now by their own relatives called and spelt Hodson or Hudson indiscriminately; the latter, indeed, most commonly. Few things perplex an inquirer in Ireland more than these needless and arbitrary variations."

This is a sad pity, and should be corrected by act of parliament, now that the schoolmaster is abroad.

Leviuscula hæc, says the philosophic Clarke, after enumerating the principal subjects of grammar, prosody, accents, &c., which occupy the notes of his Iliad, — Leviuscula hæc, sed ex elementis constant, e principiis pendent omnia — and we ought to be grateful to a biographer who takes so much pains, to inform himself and his readers of whatever can be discovered bearing reference to his task. Many things which, at the time they occurred, seemed to be as trifling and unimportant, as the pains bestowed to find them out now may appear to the careless reader, contributed, no doubt, to form the mind, to influence the feelings, and to feed the imagination of the future poet.

The same care marks the work throughout. The progress of Oliver, from the fostering care of Elizabeth Delap, who boasted, with deserved pride, that she was the first who put a book into his hands, through the tuition of Byrne, the village schoolmaster, the Rev. Mr. Griffin of Elphin, Mr. Campbell of Athlone, the Rev. P. Hughes of Edgeworthstown, till his entrance in the Irish University, is duly set forth, with as many personal anecdotes as can now be recovered. We fear, that like most anecdotes of the boyhood of men afterwards distinguished in life, they are somewhat apocryphal. It is generally agreed upon, however, that he exhibited no proofs of his future ability while at school, but this has been said of so many other remarkable persons, that it is scarcely worth noticing. In the appreciation of talent, there are two parties to be considered, the observer as well as the observed. Many causes will concur to render the early career of a man of genius undistinguished, without driving us to the hypothesis, that because he did not shine at school or college, he was inferior at that very moment in intellect or ability to those who, measuring his capacity by their own, looked down upon him for not executing, or, perhaps, even attempting to execute, those literary feats, which formed the height of their aspiring.

The pecuniary difficulties of his family, rendered it necessary that he should enter Trinity College as a sizer. Mr. Prior laudably corrects various errors connected with this event.

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"The time having arrived for entering the university, Oliver was admitted a sizer of Trinity College, Dublin, June 11, 1745. An error in the year of admission, has prevailed in all accounts hitherto given of him, which arises from the university year commencing on the 9th July, so that the six previous months appear, to an inadvertent examiner, to be of earlier date than they really are." The following is the entry extracted from the official register, in which, however, there are two errors; one stating him to be born in Westmeath, which arose from the abode of his father being in that county; and the other, in representing him to be only fifteen years old, when he was really more than sixteen, if the date of his birth, November 1728, be, as we mast believe, correct.

"In a list of eight sizers, entered on the same day, his name is the last enrolled. His answering, therefore, in the previous examination, it is presumed, was less satisfactory than that of others, there being on such occasions a contest for superiority, among such as apply for the benefits of the foundation. But, considering that he was the junior candidate of the party, and, no doubt, triumphed over many other competitors, the fact of admission at all is evidence of considerable proficiency in classical knowledge."

He was unhappy in the choice of a tutor. Of Theaker Wilder, who was the person selected, it so chances that we have heard somewhat. His name is connected with the Droughts, Greaveses, Macdonnells — all men of honourable record in the history of Dublin College. That poor Goldsmith should have been ill-used by the roaring and hard-drinking mathematician into whose hands he was committed, is possible enough; but that Theaker Wilder was any thing worse than a riotous lad while an undergraduate, and a severe disciplinarian and tutor in after-times, we doubt. The very anecdotes gathered by Prior go to no further extent. Those which are found in other Lives of Goldsmith may be looked upon as wholly without foundation. That the tutor of Goldsmith was capable of kindly and honourable emotions, Mr. Prior comes forward willingly to prove, in a passage which also supplies a notice of Wilder's melancholy end:—

"With passions so uncontrolled and unamiable, he could be considerate and charitable. On the death of Dr. Maguire, about 1768, he succeeded to the mathematical chair: at his own expense be published, for the benefit of the widow and family, an edition of Newton's Arithmetic, prepared for the press by the deceased, with copious notes by himself. He intimated likewise a design of completing and publishing, from the same kind motives, three other unfinished treatises of his predecessor, on Arithmetic, Equations, and Ratios. And it may be remarked, that at the moment (1770) he first appeared in the press, his quondam pupil, after long struggling with obscurity and poverty, had attained the summit of literary reputation. The end of this gentleman proved as melancholy as his habits had been exceptionable. Early in 1770 ho quitted the university for one of its livings, that of Rathmelton, in the county of Donegal. Here, it is said, a female of equivocal character exercised such influence in his house as to deny him admission when he chose to stop out late at night; and on attempting at such times to enter by the window, usually met with strong resistance, until certain terms of capitulation with the party within had been proposed and accepted. It is, therefore, scarcely matter of surprise that he was found dead one morning on the floor of his room, with traces of severe contusion, the cause of which, as no investigation took place, remained unknown."

It is probable that the notes on Newton are nothing belter than a collection of "cuts", as the men of T.C.D. call the mathematical conundrums in which they so much rejoice. But that is no matter. Theaker Wilder employed his labours in the most scholarlike and generous manner — in spreading, as far as he could, the scientific fame of his predecessor, and devoting the profits of his work to the advantage of the widow. This does not bespeak an innately savage disposition. As for the unfortunate liaison hinted at in the above extract, something may be said in palliation. By the strict rules of the Irish University, the charter and laws of which were drawn from those of Cambridge, celibacy was, as in the English universities, enjoined on the fellows; but in process of time the law was, at first secretly, and afterwards openly, disregarded. An ambiguous wording in the statute afforded a loophole of retreat. It was not exactly enacted that fellows should not marry, but that, if such marriage were discovered, the fellowship should be vacated. As nobody was bound to discover on himself, and as public feeling in Ireland was always against the statute, the salvo quieted unreluctant consciences, and the fellows married without scruple; but, even within the memory of the present generation, the ladies did not assume the names of their husbands, though received in society without hesitation on that account.

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About the beginning of the present century the pretence was flung aside altogether, and the wife fearlessly took the name to which her marriage gave her a right. Many of these ladies were, and many continue to be, the grace and ornament of the circles in which they move, whether in Dublin or the country; but the practice is now at an end. An old-bachelor provost, of the name of Hall,* who had been educated in an English university — Cambridge, we believe — caused the statute to be drawn more strictly, and all persons obtaining fellowships from the date of the altered statute are doomed to celibacy. We do not know the particulars of Wilder's case, but it is possible that the character of the termagant who ruled his house might not be in any serious respect more equivocal than that of ladies who, when the circumstances are explained, were above blemish or censure.

We should like to have Goldsmith's own account of the conduct pursued towards him by this savage tutor. The collegiate stories here collected are of no great consequence; such as a joke about the centre of gravity which has been cracked by every sophister since the days of Usher, and for which the tutor could not have cared a farthing; and a quarrel respecting a breach of collegiate discipline (giving a ball and supper within the walls — an enormity practised even in our own time, we fear, and, of course, duly rebuked, and as duly laughed at), which ended in a personal "turn-up" between Wilder and his pupil. Now, from the riotous manners of the parties — to say nothing of the general habits of their country and college — this is possible enough; and, judging from what is recorded of the personal prowess of both — the fellow being "noted (p. 65) for strength, agility, and ferocity" — very probable that the latter had the worst of it: but that a matter so much of ordinary routine should affect the mind of Goldsmith with despondency, will not be believed by those who have studied the history or eaten the commons of the Collegium Sanctæ et Individuæ Trinitatis juxta Dublinium. Not very long before, Goldsmith himself had been engaged in a riot of no small magnitude, which drew upon him the anger of the university. The following is the record of that part of the sentence which relates to Goldsmith :—

"El cum constat insuper Oliverum Goldsmith (three other names are likewise mentioned), huic seditioni favisse et tumultuantibus opem tulisse visum et præposito et socis senioribus prædictos Oliverum Goldsmith (cum aliis) publice admonere et hanc admonitionem in album Collegii referri".

The riot is thus related by a Dr. Wilson:—

"Several scholars were expelled for raising a sedition and riot in the city of Dublin : 'twas occasioned by a report that a scholar had been arrested in Fleet Street. To revenge this supposed insult, a numerous body of scholars rushed into town, under the command of Gallows Walsh — who in those days was controller-general of riots — explored the dens of the bailiffs, conducted the prisoners in triumph to the college, and pumped them soundly in the old cistern. In those days of primitive simplicity, the pumping of constables was a very fashionable amusement. The commander then proposed breaking open Newgate, and making a general jail-delivery. The enterprise was attempted, but failed for want of cannon. Roe, who was the constable of the castle, and was well supplied with artillery, repulsed the assailants; and some townsmen, whose curiosity induced them to become spectators of this futile attempt, were killed in the action.

"Goldsmith, though not a principal, was present at the transaction, and was publicly admonished for aiding and abetting the riot, - in the words of the sentence, quod seditioni favisset et tumultuantibus opem tulisset,

This, we submit, was a town-and- gown row of no common kind, and a young gentleman engaged in it is not the sort of person to break his heart for a knock-down blow. The riot is detailed in a droll style by a friend of Burke's, in a letter to a friend :—

Footnote page 390

* Hall was accused of some underhand conduct in this business. Sandes, the new Irish bishop, was, if we do not forget, energetically angry about it; but our recollections of the affair are quite confused. Hall succeeded Percy in the bishopric of Dromore, but died in a few days after his consecration. He was a man in no way distinguished for knowledge or ability.

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 "I wonder Ned (Burke) did not acquaint you with several important affairs which have happened in town, but I'll supply his place. Jupiter, perceiving the days devoted to him* had passed equally disregarded with those of the other gods, was resolved to make it now more remarkable; for, lo! a sudden fury seized the Trinitarians,+ and, with impetuous haste, they poured through all the streets, in hopes to free a wight by catchpole's powerful hand to durance hard conveyed. Sol, fearful of their swift approach, now *** was hasting to unyoke his steeds — sure most just it is to call him god of wisdom — for, had he stayed, what might be not expect from those blades who with victorious arms had now overthrown the myrmidons of Dublin's mighty Lord. Now see the chance of war; the wight, who erst in triumph led the hopeless victim to the prison vile, now fell himself a prey to those whose fury heretofore he'd braved: who with Joe, as great as when Achilles caught old Priam's murdering son, and, with relentless fury, tied him to his chariot, so they, with fury equal and no less relentless, forced the wretched captive to their own dominions; there spoiled him of his armour, and with force as when the great Hercules the fierce Antæus from the ground uprear'd, then plunged him in the horrid gulf for catchpoles vile prepared, where no kind nymph or dolphin huge, him bearing, might relieve.¥ Thus plunged in water and in grief, long time he lay. At length, his arms uplifting, he implores their kind relief, which they in brief afford, and save the wretched captive from his fate; but naked led him, midst the admiring crowd, to the great building where the varied race of merchants, catchpoles, aldermen and duns, wh---, thieves, and judge, fill up the noisy choir. Thus, with many a shout victorious, marched the glorious youth, till the dun night now warned them to retreat.

"The remainder you must take in plain prose. The mob attempting to force the Black Dog,§ the gaoler fired, killed two, and wounded others. Five scholars were expelled for the riot, and five more admonished : so ended an affair which made great noise in the city. Another man was killed since a-fighting."

Really, when we find Goldsmith engaged in such occupations as giving balls and suppers, breaking open spunginghouses, ducking bailiffs, attacking "the donjon-keep of Newgate's dreary hold," and captivating his brother-students by singing songs and playing on the flute, we cannot believe that his mind was of so very peculiar a sensibility as to grieve over the trifling causes of irritation afforded him by Wilder. A deeper and more reasonable ground of grief was the dreadful want of money under which he laboured. Dr. Wilson describes him as being in a state of squalid poverty; and, when we consider the reluctance with which he entered college as a sizer, the galling treatment to which students of that rank were in those days submitted, and his efforts to rise from its condition frustrated by the ill success attendant on idleness, we need hardly look any further for reasons why he was more than once tempted to abandon his collegiate career in despair. The necessity that compelled him to pledge his books must have wounded him more cruelly than the grim pun of his tutor on the occasion —Mutat quadrata rotundis. We can easily believe what is here asserted (p. 76), that Wilder privately encouraged Goldsmith in joining in a riot, the object of which was to punish a class of men so universally obnoxious to Irish gentlemen as bailiffs. If such were the case, it bespeaks a very cordial understanding between them: and we must add, that when Mr. Prior remarks that he "was said to have encouraged privately what he was afterwards called upon to punish in his corporate capacity," he should have observed, that the punishment was extremely slight. How would the authorities of Oxford and Cambridge deal with students aiding and abetting a riot, in which, after rescuing persons confined under process of law, the turbulent gownsmen proceeded to break open a gaol, and entered into an affray attended by the loss of lives?

Footnotes page 391
* "Thursday—Die Jovis — the day of the riot."
+ "Members of Trinity College."
¥ "Alluding to ducking the sheriff's officers in a great cistern, then in the area of Trinity College, as punishment for presuming to arrest a student."
§ " Newgate, it is presumed, from the previous statement of Dr. Wilson. It was then, as appears from other notices of this riot, a dilapidated and insecure building, which accounts for the students attempting to force it."

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We are of opinion that they would not be contented with a simple admonition, which so slightly affected Goldsmith in his university course, that he sate (sic) for a scholarship the next year, and obtained the minor advantage of an exhibition, and offered no impediment to his taking his degree at the proper time. The son of the first man of our day—of the Duke of Wellington himself—had far harsher measure dealt to him than was met with by the poor and obscure Goldsmith.

On due examination, it will be found that the general conduct of the governing powers of universities is directed by the best motives. That there will be individual cases of oppression and misconduct is only to be expected from the usual condition of mankind, but they are exceedingly rare. As for the complaints made by men, who have afterwards risen to eminence, that they were neglected by provosts, and fellows, and tutors, and outstripped in the race for academical honours by persons whom, in their career through life, they left immeasurably behind them, we do not attach to them any great importance. Universities must lay down a certain course to be followed by all, and the consent of the European world has rather strictly defined what that course is to be. Independently of the glories and the beauties of the classical writings, the fact of the primary record of the Christian religion — the New Testament—being in Greek, renders a sedulous culture of that language a matter of necessity in Christian countries. Latin, for many reasons — ecclesiastical, legal, civil, antiquarian, historical — is indispensable. It would lead us into a disquisition too long and too discursive for the present paper, to consider how much the general cause of civilisation is indebted to what we may logically call the accidents of Christianity ; as, for example, this of imposing on us as a duty the intimate knowledge of the poets, philosophers, historians, wits, and sages of Greece and Rome; and yet it is matter worthy of consideration. Religious reasons require, that to the study of these languages should be joined that of Hebrew; but as there is no literature of any importance in the language, beside what is contained the Old Testament — as the controversies of the Christian churches rarely demand critical reference to the original text — and as a knowledge of the tongue can hardly have any practical bearing on the ordinary concerns of life, it is not so generally attended to. It has also been decided upon, by universal consent, that rejecting from elementary courses, for the most philosophical reasons, sciences of mere experiment or observation, chemistry, botany, mineralogy, &c., the mind of an educated youth should be devoted to the cultivation of sciences which, reasoning on principles a priori, exercise the intellect through all the master-processes of thought. Logic, metaphysics, mathematics in its various branches and its highest applications, as to astronomy, must be the sciences of an university. Goldsmith's complaint of the prevalence of such studies, quoted by Mr. Prior, is not the wisest kind :—

"As from the first, he did not hesitate to avow dislike to all the graver studies of the place, he at a future time appeared to seek an excuse for it; and many years afterwards, when writing the Life of Parnell, seemed willing hypothetically to infer, what he made no attempt to prove, that a similar feeling was entertained by that poet. 'His progress,'  he says, 'through the college course of study, was probably marked with but little splendour; his imagination might have been too warm to relish the cold logic of Burgersdicius, or the dreary subtleties of Smiglesius.' By the accounts of his friend Beatty,who reasoned with him on his neglect, and the offence likely to be taken by his tutor on this account, be expressed repeatedly his contempt for mathematics, and greater dislike, if possible, toward ethics and logic. In the same spirit he tells us, in the Essay on Polite Literature in Europe, 'Mathematics are, perhaps, too much studied at our universities. This seems a science to which the meanest intellects are equal. I forget who it is that says, All men might understand mathematics if they would.'"

We are as ignorant as Goldsmith of the author of this dictum, but we cannot reverence its sagacity. All men of ordinary understanding may be, to a certain degree, whatever they please. As there is no peculiar mystery in mathematics, any one, we suppose, may become a well-trained disciple; but to be a master, is not to be obtained by the meanest intellects.

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Goldsmith would have seen the fallacy of his argument, if it were applied to the arts in which he excelled. Surely the art of making verses, which may pass for poetry, is one to which the meanest intellects are equal; and yet the author of The Deserted Village would scruple to lay it down as an aphorism not to be disputed, that "all men might be poets if they would."

It is easy to laugh at the cold logic of Burgersdicius, or the dreary subtleties of Smiglesius: we doubt if Goldy ever devoted a serious moment to the pages of either; and we have no doubt that the same distaste for such studies, which rendered unpalatable the grave and prosy but most methodical expounders of scholastic logic, would have turned him away from the labours of Locke, or Berkeley, or Reid, or Kant, or even the trifling of Stewart. That, however, is no reason why the nature of thought and language should not be investigated, and the laws of reasoning accurately laid down. It is a different question to decide "quo duce, quo lare," we are to enlist ourselves; and, perhaps, something might be said in favour even of the schoolmen: but we must let it pass. As for his despising ethics and logic, why that is droll enough. What are his papers in the Citizen of the World, the Bee, &c., but ethical treatises? and what was his great friend and patron, Dr. Johnson, but a peripatetic logician, as disputatious and as syllogistical as any of the Magistri nostri who battled the causes of Realism and Nominalism with all Aristotelic armoury of mode and figure ?

It being settled what the course, scientific and classical, in a university must be, how are those who govern it to decide upon the talents and capabilities of the youth committed to their care, but by the progress they display? What Mr. Prior says on the subject is extremely just:

"It is obviously easy, but fallacious, to censure general systems of education, because many of the details may be inapplicable to particular individuals. Were it distinctly foreseen, that the youth of to-day is to be the distinguished poet, statesman, or mathematician, of a future period, his education might be varied, possibly with advantage; though this by no means follows: for exclusive devotion to one pursuit is as objectionable in education as in other things. But the bent of a boy's mind cannot always be ascertained with precision; even his wishes cannot be safely trusted; and he must, therefore, as the sure method of disciplining and enlarging his faculties, follow 'that path which his tutors, and not his inclinations, have chalked out.'

"That colleges enrich the prudent, is sometimes true; but who are to be rewarded,— the attentive or the negligent? That the ingenious are neglected is so far from being the fact, that young men who exhibit proofs of talent at college are noticed, praised, and even remembered, long after the occasion, in a greater degree than their share of merit probably deserved; as the future lives of many have furnished little evidence of superiority. Ingenuity, therefore, in whatever form displayed, rarely passes without its reward. But if the implied compact entered into with such institutions, that of conforming to the system by which they are conducted, be disregarded, no just cause for complaint can fairly exist if their benefits be withheld. Poets, indeed, may think otherwise; and several of our distinguished names in that class looked back with little satisfaction to the period of their lives spent at a university; willing, perhaps, to forget their own errors or negligences in the occasional defects or mistakes observed in their instructors: but it is idle for the inexperienced to find fault with modes of study or the restraints of discipline. When a student complains of his college, the probability is, that the college has much more reason to complain of him."

Nay, take the very instance of what poets are best qualified to understand. Suppose two lads are to rise to collegiate distinction by a knowledge of Homer, one of them endowed with a soul capable of appreciating the magnificent beauty, the glorious sublimity, the heroism, the pathos, the poetic graces of all kinds, shining forth in every page of the Iliad and Odyssey, but who has never taken the trouble of reading either; and the other, no more than an ordinary and patient student, who has made himself master of the language of the books, and can expound their meaning, prosaically perhaps, but after a correct fashion, and unravel all the mysteries of their fables, their metre, their dialect, and so forth. The examiner may, perhaps, divine that the idler of the two is the more brilliant — though even that is not always self-evident — but he must award the honours in his gift to him who has the more adequately fulfilled the conditions of the examination. Nor let it be imagined that it is only fellows of colleges who make such mistakes.

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Lord Byron was captious enough in his complaints against Cambridge, but nobody there made the mistake which, not long after his lordship's having left the university, was made by the profound dispenser of literary fame in those days — the Edinburgh Review. The reviewers, who never lost an opportunity of railing against the English universities, and setting them down as abodes of unmitigated dulness, fatal to talent, and annihilative of genius, declared that Lord Byron had mistaken his vocation — that he never could be a poet—and that the sooner he abandoned the pursuit of the Muses it would he the better for himself. Had any thing like this been said in Cambridge, or had a desire to drive Lord Byron from poetry, which was the attempt of the review, been manifested by his tutors, the race would have been infallibly devoted to Bœotia.

We have lingered, perhaps, loo long on the college career of Goldsmith, because we think that in his case, as indeed in many others, his alma mater has not had due justice awarded to her. We leave it to some of her sons to fight her battle, remarking only, that an inspection of the volumes before us will shew how absurd is the appellation of "the silent sister," bestowed upon her generally by men whose names are forgotten in their own universities. Considering the numbers of her alumni, as compared with Oxford and Cambridge, she has contributed more than her proportionate share to the literature of the country. Here we find Burke, Goldsmith, Flood, wilh many others, no doubt equal to the average names of the English universities, contemporaries in a college not mustering, perhaps, four hundred pupils.

The education, which fitted Goldsmith for the place he at last held in the world of letters, began, as usual in such cases, after he left college. It was desultory enough. Mr. Prior details, with as much minuteness as his materials, scraped with uncommon industry from all quarters, will allow, the fortunes of his hero in his various wanderings. Much cannot be added to what we already know, - his adventures in Cork with his horse Fiddleback, which we cannot help thinking with Malone, are somewhat coloured by Goldsmith's imagination; his sojourn in Edinburgh, where we think some further anecdotes might be picked up; [is there no other record of his intimacy with the Duke of Hamilton than what is contained in a hasty sentence in one of his letters ?] ; his arrest at Newcastle, where also his fancy seems to be at work; his studies in Holland; his travels in France, Switzerland, and Italy; his disputations and flute-playing?; his struggles in England, &c. &c., are told in a pleasant style; and the whole of "his travels' history" is illustrated by perpetual quotations from his works. Goldsmith, of all writers, is the one who most deserves the character which he applies to Cumberland —of "drawing from himself." Mr. Prior has succeeded in tracing his contributions to the Monthly Review, by means of Griffith's own marked copy, and has hunted up records of multifarious labours, to which, no doubt, his poverty and not his will consented, in fifty other quarters. He was principally employed in those days by Griffiths, and Newberry, and occasionally by Smollett in the Critical Review. Griffiths appears to have behaved very badly to Goldsmith; but he was all through life a shabby creature. A letter addressed to him from poor Goldy, fished up by the industry of Mr. Prior (Vol. I. p. 286), cannot be read without pain. It is melancholy to find the author of the Vicar of Wakefield compelled to acknowledge himself "guilty of meannesses which poverty unavoidably brings with it;" but he never was guilty of such meanness as that which wrung the letter from him. Newberry's behaviour, on the contrary, was kind, and the grateful author never forgot it. "He called himself the friend of children," says George Primrose;" he was the friend of men."

The collection of "articles" which Mr. Prior has gathered is at least curious, and we doubt not that his edition of Goldsmith's work will be valuably enriched by the result of his researches. They too truely verify the conjecture of Sir Walter Scott, in the biographical sketch prefixed to the Vicar of Wakefield, that the pen of its author illuminated the dulness of many a forgotten periodical. The most curious fact of his personal history, discovered by the industry of Prior, is his rejection by the College of Surgeons. He kept this a profound secret, but enfin tout est connu.

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"Whether this mortifying result arose from want of knowledge of minute anatomy, which having been long from the schools might be easily forgotten, or of operative surgery, to which, contemplating physic as his peculiar province, he might not have paid sufficient attention; whether his memory or presence of mind were overpowered by the apprehension felt by every surgical tyro on such occasions, or he was disconcerted by the banter of some such examiner as Roderick Random encountered, it is vain to inquire. The circumstance is curious in itself, and is now for the first time disclosed. No communication on the subject appears to have been made to his relatives, nor was it even surmised by any of his acquaintance or biographers, although at the moment, no doubt, known to a few more intimate associates, who were sufficiently reserved to keep the secret. The unexplained relinquishment of the India appointment first excited suspicion of the fact in the mind of the writer, which was confirmed by a rumour, vague indeed and unsatisfactory, of the same nature, communicated by an eminent physician. The cause of such abandonment then became obvious, rejection from one branch of service necessarily disqualifying him for all; and, by the regulations of medical bodies, no re-examination of an unsuccessful applicant could be had under a period of three or six months, for the advantage of further study. Accident, therefore, or something akin to accident, did for him what it has done for others of our eminent men, who had determined to proceed abroad in the pursuit of wealth,—it kept him at home, to acquire fame; and, as in the instances of Burke and Burns, to elevate the literature of our country.

"The following extract is from the hooks of the College of Surgeons ; it appears he was the only unsuccessful candidate on that day : —

"'At a Court of Examiners held at the Theatre, 2lst December 1758. Present (blank.)'

"(Here several names precede and follow that of the Poet, as having passed for the medical service of the army or navy; but it is only necessary to quote the one preceding him, from its connexion with the situation for which he was examined.)

"'James Bernard, mate to an hospital. Oliver Goldsmith, found not qualified for ditto.'"

Not qualified to be mate to an hospital! The thing was settled; and fate had decided that he was to remain in England, to do that for which he was qualified.

The "Cock Lane Ghost," "Beau Nash," the " History of the War," the " History of Mecklenburgh," an oratorio, an English grammar — any thing and everything engaged his pen, without adding much to his funds, or any thing to his fame. But in December 1764 appeared his Traveller, which gave him a permanent place in his "land's language." It procured him little money—twenty guineas; but it introduced him into higher circles than those to which he had hitherto been accustomed. Mr. Prior dispels the ridiculous fable of his mistaking the Earl of Northumberland's footman for the peer himself; and in general is able to prove that the stories current at the expense of Goldsmith have no better foundation than the waiting-maid gossip of such blockheads as Sir John Hawkins, or the idle prattle of the paragraph manufacturers. In 1766, he published the Vicar of Wakefield, of which (must not we be reminded of Waverley?) his bookseller had long hesitated to risk the publication. The Deserted Village appeared in 1770. His plays were brought on the stage, the Good-natured Man in 1768, and She Stoops to Conquer in 1773. His Hermit had been printed for the amusement of the Countess of Northumberland in 1764, and his Haunch of Venison,and Retaliation, were not published until after his death. These are the works that afford his passport to fame; for his "Essays," amusing as some of them are—the "Broken Soldier" is inimitable, do not lay claim to any very high pretensions; and his Animated Nature, and the Histories of Rome, Greece, and England, are works upon which it would be wrong to set his reputation. They are as merely taskwork as his narrative of the "Cock Lane Ghost;" and, independent of the inaccuracies with which they abound, the histories do not display one historical qualification. His lucid and easy style is their great charm; but he might as well have translated Titus Livius at once, if he could have compressed him within the limits assigned by the bookseller. With implicit good faith he swallows the history of the seven kings of Rome, the wars of Porsenna, the ten years' siege of Veii, even Curtius and gulf in the forum, the flight of the kings, the flight of the people, the religious ordinances of Numa, the political wisdom of Servius Tullius.

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Ilia and the she-wolf, the sibyl and her books, Tanaquil and her eagle, Tullia and her accursed chariot, Lucretia and her dagger, the capitol and its geese, all are narrated with undoubting pen. Junius Brutus, Camillus, Coriolanus, with all their accessories, are made historical personages as readily, and occupy as much space and attention, as Cæsar or Cicero. He doubts, as far as we can remember, only once. After telling the story of Virginia, a scruple arises in his mind as to its truth or accuracy; and he has a few misgivings as to the correctness of what we are told about the decemvirs, whose characters, he thinks, may have been maligned in this business of the young lady. His scepticism extends no further. As for the ordinary commonplaces of Roman story, he gulps all. Regulus is murdered by being rolled in a cask. Hannibal is cruel and perfidious; his army is destroyed by "luxury" at Capua; he is defeated perpetually by Marcellus. Scipio is the model of chastity and patriotism; Cataline is a ruffian of unmixed blackness; Cicero, the pattern of a consul, and, with all his party, actuated only by disinterested love of country; Cæsar, a deliberate enemy to " liberty;" Pompey, its determined supporter; Brutus and his friends, all "honourable men ;" Calo, the inflexible assertor of "virtue," and so on. He took things as he found them ; the legendary tale, the partial chronicler, the factious pamphleteer, were all good authorities, and why should he look further? It would but have disturbed long-seated opinions. His second volume is open to more serious objections, because following those who dragged from the foul narratives which supply materials for the lives of the emperors, he has filled it with disgusting details, which even if they were as true, as in nine times out of ten they are false, should be condemned to eternal silence in works destined for the perusal of youth; and which, if we consider them in another point of view, have no more to do with the history of the Empire of Rome, than what is preparing in the kitchen of King William the Fourth for this day's dinner, has to do with the history of Great Britain. As to the hostories of Greece and England, except for what passages we find in the latter extracted from some of his own former publications, we don't think that his pen had much share in what they contain.

Of the Vicar of Wakefield it is useless to speak. There may be defects in the novel: Mr. Prior points out the principal, but what matter? Who cares to see them? It has won the heart, not only of England, but of all nations to which those acquainted with the tongue of England could expound it. The quiet humour, the heart-touching pathos, the guileless wit, the kindly picturings of life, the generous feelings, the well woven chain of story, sometimes sad, sometimes merry, but always natural, and always interesting; the odd jumble of characters, grave and gay, commonplace and eccentric, simple and knavish; but above all, the truly poetic, nay, the almost epic character of Dr. Primrose himself,— have endeared the Vicar of Wakefield to all who, in any condition of life, are accessible to genius, kindliness, or honourable sentiment; and will continue so to endear it,

"As long as water runs, and tall trees bloom."

And Tony Lumpkin, and Croaker, and Lofty, and Hardcastle, and little Flanigan — why not add the refined gentleman, fitting prototype for the current generation of fashionable novelists, who danced his bear to none but the genleelest of tunes—will not they keep the name of Goldsmith as one of the main purveyors of dramatic fun, whether it pleases our managers to consider his comedies as stock pieces or not? They will for ever admit him as a fit companion into that gallery of comic Irishmen, gathered with so patriotic a pride by Mr. Prior.

Of his poems, the Hermit, now that we have become more critically acquainted with the compositions, on which he imagined it was modelled, does not appear to us a successful imitation; as it exhibits no approach in style, sentiment, manners, or current of thought, to our old ballads. Looking upon it in this point of view, it is a failure, though not greater than the Hermit of Warkworth of Bishop Percy himself; but, considered without reference to any thing but its own merits, it is a pleasing and harmoniuus poem. In the Haunch of Venison, Mr. Croker, it appears, suggests that some hints are derived from Boileau.

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If the right hon. gentleman had said that the conception of the whole,- and several of the most remarkable passages were taken directly from his Third Satire—he would have been nearer the truth, Retaliation is only a squib, but executed with peculiar delicacy and elegance. His greater poems, are the Traveller and the Deserted Village; the only complaint ever urged against which, by fastidiousness or envy is, that they are too short. Leaving all criticism on their literary merit aside, we may briefly allude to the political reflections called up by the Deserted Village. It is generally considered that Auburn, though in many particulars a creation of a poetic imagination, was founded on his own native place, Lissoy, and the popular history of the cause of its desertion, is given as follows :—

"Lieut. Gen. Robert Naper, so spelt in the law documents of the time, though now written Napier, who is represented to have returned from Vigo in Spain, with a large fortune, purchased, as has been stated, the adjoining lands. In erecting a residence and forming a demesne around it, the habitations of some, as is alleged, respectable tenants, and several of the peasantry, stood in the way, and being unwilling to remove for his convenience, were at length, after much resistance, all, excepting the Goldsmith family, ejected for non-payment of rent. Their houses were pulled down and the park enlarged to a circumference of nine miles; but so great was the indignation of the people at the proceeding, that, on the general's death, which occurred soon afterward, they assembled in a tumultuous manner, assailed the house, destroyed much of the property in and around it, and among other things the plantations, to the value of 5000L.

"Such is the story; but stories of this description in Ireland, after the lapse of a few years, must be taken with certain allowances for heat and misrepresentation; and after some trouble taken in the inquiry, we may be induced to believe that, if not wholly untrue, it is highly exaggerated. The original estate, on reference to papers connected with its purchase, was six hundred acres; to this on the death of the general, who seems to have died before the contract was finished, was added nearly six hundred more, and had the whole been converted into demesne, which from other documents we know was not the case, it could not have embraced any thing like a cir- cnmference of nine miles. The house, moreover, is of very moderate size, not at all of dimensions requiring such an extent of park; the high road likewise from Athlone to Ballymahon, a few smaller cross roads, the house of Goldsmith's father, which could not be disturbed, the mill, to which he alludes in the poem, and a variety of other objects, if not natural obstacles, stand much less than a mile from the house so said to be built or begun by General Naper, and would necessarily interfere with his design. Neither, had he been tyranicallv disposed, was the Goldsmith family at his mercy; their tenure, by the ternis of the lease as already stated, was "for ever," on the fulfilmeut of the moderate conditions therein stated; and the original possessor was Mr. Newstead, not General Naper.

"The truth probably was, that the general in entering upon his new purchase in a rude and disturbed country, found the occupiers of the soil disposed, as is too commonly the case in Ireland, to consider themselves its freeholders, and scarcely liable to any plea or even provocation, to be disturbed. That he could procure no rent the story admits; being necessarily driven on process of law to compel payment, the act was revenged by those barbarous outrages, which are as common on such occasions at the present day as at remote periods. When once removed, their habitations, which are commonly of the rudest description, may have been razed to prevent a repetition of such scenes.
"So far, it is possible, the offence of tho proprietor extended; hut the wanton destruction of a thriving or pretty village, in a country where such are carefully encouraged by all proprietors of lands, is wholly improbable. Popular opinion, however, always inclines to the weaker side; and the circumstances, if true only in the smallest degree, were calculated to make a strong impression upon a mind like that of Goldsmith, generous in its impulses, but not always discriminating in its judgments. These being retained and revolved with all the tenacity of early impressions, would readily acquire that tone of exaggeration, capable of transforming, for the purposes of poetry, a group of mud cabins into a beautiful village; and, perhaps, their turbulent and vindictive occupants, into injured, and innocent, and expatriated peasants."

A poet has a right to take the picturesque side of a story, and to draw for embellishments upon his imagination ; but if any thing like what is here related took place in our own times, it would make a capital grievance, and another ground for demanding " Justice for Ireland." The orator would not think himself bound to be more accurate than the poet, but in place of the beautiful couplets of Goldsmith, he would supply us with a barbarian p P

medley of mangled metaphors, garnished with a due quantity of" ohs'." and " ahsl"—appeals to the tenderness of the Irish heart, and recommendations of " death's-heads and cross-bones." There would also be this remaikable difference; the poet looking merely to what comes under his observation, is not bound to write legislative essays, or to enter into statistical details; he sees, or fancies he sees, the peasantry leaving their native home-:, driven by the pressure of severe rents and exacting landlords; and it is no part of his calling to do more than lament such results, hoping for belter times and kinder feelings. The howling agitator sees the misery as well as the poet, and is hypocrite enough to lament it occasionally in frothy sentences, that which he is in reality augmenting by all the means in his power, but he has no poetical excuse for not pointing out ths remedy. It is his duty, in the office he has assumed, to do more than howl and brawl. He well knows, that for the evils complained of in the Dcsci-lccI Village, and the miseries of a far direr description of our own times, there is an effectual cure. lie well knows, what Goldsmith, who, we take for granted, had never bestowed a moment's thought upon the subject, did not know, that the remedy is the immediate establishment of a system of Poor Laws In Ireland, and against their introduction the trader in the wretchedness of his countrymen, will " agitate, agitate, agitate," with a desperate vehemence. The hand that feeds the starving Irish will be uplifted to drive off the robber and the pickpocket; and the sturdy beggar, true to the instincts of his calling, loudly protests against relief being afforded to those who are really deserving of assistance. It is acknowledged that 2,300,000 human beings—Two Millions Tiikee

HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE Something about the population of Scotland, are in a slate of the most destitute pauperism in Ireland, that they are all but starving, that they are houseless, unclad, unshod, that they are perishing by famine and disease, in the midst of a prosperous country, calling itself Christian ; but when an attempt was made, in an assembly having the impudence to call itself the National Association of Ireland, not, indeed, to relieve that awful mass of misery, but merely to .point out the appalling fact, and sug

gest that it is time to think of a remedy, those who take upon themselves the office of clamoring for " Justice for Ireland," who will not allow any one to be Irish in heart or feeling, who does not bow down to their mcramuffin tyranny, cried it down as a crime or an outrage. Two millions and a half of people are starving. Truej but what of that? Don't bother us with such nonsense. Let them starve. Are their famishing howls to divert us from the main matter ? Look to the registry ! Tipperary is in danger — look to the registry! What is the starvation of a couple of millions compared to the chances of Mr. Shell being unsealed. Ay, starve—starve—starve, growls forth adeeperbark. Who minds them? aren't they used to it? That's their business; mine is the rent, ay, justice for Ireland, the rent, the whole rent, and nothing but the rent.

A commentary on the Deserted 1'iUagc mi'jht be made an instructive work. The poem was published only a few years before the struggle for what was called Emancipation began, a struggle which we were always told was to conclude, as fast as one ill-judged concession after another was made to men incapable of failh or honour, but which has not concluded yet. We were told, too, that the labours of the Grattans and O'Connells would infallibly raise the condition and awaken the intellect of the Irish people. Has the promise been kept ? Go back to Goldsmith. The principal topic of complaint in his poem is the driving out of" the bold peasantry," and the consequent thinning of the population. Could he now re-appear in Ireland, he would find that his fears on the latter point have not been realised. He would see that his bold peasantry has been replaced by thronging swarms of miserable wretches, whom those who rob and degrade them dignify by the complimentary title of the finest peasantry under the sun. He would see, also, that the oharacter of boldness has vanished, and that a grovelling herd, sunk in the most debasing superstition, ground to the earth by the most abject poverty, and therefore familiarised with vice, and nurtured in crime, fills the place of " the country's pride." No; where would he find what, even io his imagination, could supply the hints for " Auburn, the sweetest village of the plain." He would have to turn away with loathing from Ihe squalid wretch-

edness, coward turbulence, abject fetiche worship, savage and bloodthirsty cruelly, which meet the traveller in Ireland at every step. The country schoolmaster lie would find acting as secretory to Captain Rock, and dictating lessons of murder; the village alehouse, bereft of its humble finery, a filthy cover for the assassin ; the country clergyman, a mark for the bullet of the hired bravo; and the decent church that tops the neighbouring hill, an object of interesled hatred to the occupier of the chapel founded since the days of the poet. Save in Protestant Ulster, he would not find in any village of Ireland a shadow of the comfort, the decency, or the innocent industry which he pic- lures forth in Auburn. Such are the fruils of Emancipation. As for the promised advance in intellect, a comparison of the period of fifty or sixty years before the relaxation of the penal code, say from the Hanoverian succession, with the fifty or sixty years that succeeded, will shew how false was that expectation. Ireland has made but scanty contributions to our literature in the past half century. In the period which, we are told, should be designated as " her dirk night of sorrow,'1 she gave us Sniff, Burke, Berkely, Parnell, Sterne, Goldsmith, Sheridan (for every tiling he did of any value must be referred to the earlier period), to pass names more or less known, of Flood, Barrd, Maclean, Murphy, Kelly, O'Hara, Centime, Macklin, Sec. It would be difficult Io produce a similar list from the records of t'.ie last fifty or sixty years. The reason is plain enough. In Goldsmith's lime there were no Maynoolhs, no Catholic boards, no normal schools of agitation. The Protestant talent of the country was not compelled, by motives of self-preservation, to abstract itself from the pursuits of literature, taste, and science, for the purpose of mingling in the tumults of politics and polemics; and if the penal laws prevented the developement of Roman Catholic talent, it has been as effectually checked by the vulgar turmoil to which it is compelled to contribute. We should as soon expect sound moralists and theologians from among the students of Dens, as any productions, Digna lini cedro et levi seraimda fipreiso, from those who think that the sputtering Bilingsgate of the Corn Exchange is the perfection of eloquence

and genius, which has long been the creed of the " talented " men of emancipated Ireland. No- doubt some brilliant names will occur, and the Roman Catholics may justly refer to Moore, [although he was educated as a Protestant, we believe, and certainly in a Protestant university, and the theological opinion of the author of Little's poems, are not of much importance;] but no one who has carefully considered the literary history of Ireland since the Revolution, will be inclined to contradict our general assertion. What has " emancipated " Ireland produced, to compare with what has been done by Scotland in the present century? In the opening half of the last century, the Scotch could not bear competition with the Irish, degraded and darkened by the penal laws. Is that the case now ?

But let us get back to Goldsmith, and his biographer. Mr. Prior has executed his task with much talent and unwearying industry ; and his hero's fame has not suffered from the searching minuteness which has beon exerted to discover every particular of his history. Many idle stories about Goldsmith's vanity, extravagance, or silliness, circulated principally by the biographers of Dr. Johnson, and the gossiping anecdote-mongers, who are always ready to tell something that may lower men of genius to the ordinary level of humanity, are here dissipated, as also are the exaggerated accounts of his literary profits. He was embarrassed all his life, but did not die much in debt. The searching zeal of Mr. Prior has discovered his tailor's bill (and a curious one it is), the balance of which is not quite 80/. against him, after dealings of some years' standing, and of that 35/. was contracted by his settling the bill of a relation. Kvery thing that comes to light about him proves him to have been as good a fellow as his own tricar,— as kind, as generous, as simple, and as improvident. If such a disposition is unfavourable to a prosperous career in the world, it may carry with it its own consolation. It made poor Goldy lie in bed because he had thoughtlessly given away all his clothes, but it never brought a pang to his pillow. His sanguine spirit rendered the prospect or the presence of difficulties less appalling ; his happy temper and universal benevolence, if it sometime! exposed him to the tricks of impostors, or the censures of the more careful, kept him in good humour with all mankind; and if, amid slight and neglect, he occasionally might have shewn that he thought himself worthy of at least as much attention as men of inferior powers, it was no more than a natural impulse; and his novel, his plays, and his poems, may cover more vanily than he ever exhibited. He felt that the

genius was in him; and, while he was on his progress to undying reputation, he had bonhomie and philosophy enough to accommodate himself to all circumstances : and we venture to say, that none of the least pleasant hours of liis life were those which he carelessly avowed, amid the astonishment of more fastidious circles, to have been spent among " beggars of Axe Lane."

From: Fraser's magazine, Volume 15, Page 387ff, 1837
Retrieved from Google Books and transcribed by Sean Dennison, 29/08/2009