Thursday, 2 October 2014

Washington Irving's Goldsmith Biography



I’m now back in blighty and sorry to say that the crowd funding of my novel, ‘Death of a Dreamonger’ did not succeed. I put this mainly down to the fact that I was in France for a big chunk of the pre-order time. My time in France was not wasted though; I had a lovely time travelling around seeing stuff, eating gorgeous bread and reading.

One of the books I read was Washington Irving’s ‘Life of Goldsmith’, largely cribbed off Forster’s immense book, which is on my shelf and I will get to reading when I find a table strong enough to hold the weighty tome.

Whereas later writers on Goldsmith want to reach the man, Irving was content to print the legend and I, for one, was grateful for it. Having only read revisionist writing on Goldsmith, it was a joy to hear all of the anecdotes and silly one-liners pour forth. I particularly liked his reporting the following lovely Goldsmith nugget;

‘The public will never do me justice; whenever I write something they make a point to know nothing about it.’ 

A quote that met very well with my experience of two months (I thought) intensive crowd funding. 

My favourite element of the book was Irving’s dismissiveness towards those who dismissed Goldsmith, particularly Boswell who he calls an ‘obsequious spaniel’. At one point he tells the story of Goldsmith having a sulk because the crowds in a French town were more interested in the pretty ladies Goldsmith was with then the writer himself. Boswell cites this story as an example of Goldsmith’s astonishing vanity but gets the following rebuttal from Irving;

‘It is difficult to conceive the obtuseness of intellect necessary to misconstrue so obvious a piece of mock petulance and dry humour.’ 

Irving’s last remark on Boswell is to paraphrase a letter where someone threatens Lord Charlemont ‘to bring over the whole Club, and let him loose upon him to drive him home by their particular habits of annoyance - Johnson shall spoil his books; Goldsmith shall pull his flowers; and last, and most intolerably of all, Boswell shall - talk to him.’

What can I say? I love a bit of Boswell bashing.

Irving’s summary of Goldsmith’s character is that he had a gift for beautiful writing and in following this gift he took, ‘no heed for the future, lays no regular and solid foundation of knowledge, follows out no plan’, and just mooches along to death.

I can’t say I’m completely convinced in that reading of Goldsmith’s life, nor can I say the biography was utterly involving but it gave me a few pleasurable hours; is short, is fun and is free as an ebook. 

As such I recommend it to all.



(Coming up, big announcement about Death of a Dreamonger, sneaky peeks at my new novel and a lecture on Johnson's Rasselas as part of the Gresham lectures.)

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