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[This poem was written in February 1774, but was not published until after the author's decease. It arose not from a scene at the Literary Club in Gerrard-street, as sometimes said, but from a more miscellaneous meeting, consisting of a few of its members and their friends who assembled to dine at the St. James's Coffee-house. Much mirth and convivial pleasantry appear to have resulted from their meetings. The late Sir George Beaumont mentioned that whatever was the dinner hour, whether in a private or public party, Goldsmith always came late and generally in a bustle. A peculiarity like this drew attention
upon him at table, and became a source of banter to his companions. This led to further observation: his person, dialect, and manners, his genius mingled with peculiarities, his negligences and blunders, often no doubt the effect of abstraction, furnished a theme for jocular notice, too tempting to be lost by men drawn together to amuse and be amused ; and the remark of some one, how he would be estimated by posterity, first gave rise to the idea of characterising him by epitaphs. It does not appear that many were written, or none that deserved remembrance, except that by Garrick, of which the following is stated to be an exact copy :
“ Here lies Poet Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll,
See Life, ch, xxi. ]
RET ALI A TIO N.
PO E M.
Of old, when Scarron his companions invited, Each guest brought his dish, and the feast was united ; If our landlord (1) supplies us with beef, and with fish, Let each guest bring himself, and he brings the best dish ; Our Dean (2) shall be venison, just fresh from the plains ; Our Burke(3) shall be tongue, with the garnish of brains ; Our Will() shall be wild fowl, of excellent flavour, And Dick (5) with his pepper shall heighten the savour ; Our Cumberland's sweet-bread its place shall obtain, And Douglas(7) is pudding, substantial and plain ;
(1) The master of the St. James's coffee-house, where the Poet, and the friends he has characterized in this poem, occasionally dined.
(2) Dr. Barnard, Dean of Derry in Ireland. [Afterwards Bishop of Killaloe, and in 1794 translated to the see of Limerick. He died at Wimbledon, in Surrey, June 7, 1806, in his eightieth year. ]
(3) The Right Hon. Edmund Burke.
(4) Mr. William Burke, late secretary to General Conway, member for Bedwin, and afterwards holding office in India.
(5) Mr. Richard Burke, collector of Granada; afterwards Recorder of Bristol.
(6) Richard Cumberland, Esq., author of the West-Indian, Fashionable Lover, the Brothers, Calvary, &c. &c.
(7) Dr. Douglas, canon of Windsor (now Bishop of Salisbury), an ingenious Scotch gentleman, who has no less distinguished himself as a citizen of the world, than a sound critic, in detecting several literary mistakes (or rather forgeries) of his countrymen ; particularly Lauder on Milton, and Bower's History of the Popes. (He died in 1807.]
Our Garrick's a sallad; for in him we see
a capon, and, by the same rule,
Here lies the good Dean,(5) reunited to earth, Who mix'd reason with pleasure, and wisdom with mirth : If he had any faults, he has left us in doubt, At least, in six weeks I could not find 'em out; Yet some have declar'd, and it can't be denied 'em, That sly-boots was cursedly cunning to hide 'em.
Here lies our good Edmund,6) whose genius was such, We scarcely can praise it, or blame it too much ; Who, born for the universe, narrow'd his mind, And to party gave up what was meant for mankind. (7) Though fraught with all learning, yet straining his throat, To persuade Tommy Townshend (s) to lend him a vote;
(1) David Garrick, Esq.
(1) An eminent attorney. (5) Vide page 99.
(6) Vide page 99. (7) [In this thought Goldsmith had probably in remembrance a passage in one of Pope's letters to Swift, in which, speaking of Bolingbroke, he complains of his being so much taken up with particular men as to neglect mankind; still rather a creature of this world than of the universe.)
(8) Mr. Thomas Townshend, member for Whitchurch. [ Afterwards Lord Sydney. )
Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining,
Here lies honest William, (1) whose heart was a mint, While the owner ne'er knew half the good that was in't ; The pupil of impulse, it forc'd him along, His conduct still right, with his argument wrong; Still aiming at honour, yet fearing to roam, The coachman was tipsy, the chariot drove home :
ask for his merits ? alas ! he had none; What was good was spontaneous, his faults were his own.
Here lies honest Richard, whose fate I must sigh at : Alas, that such frolic should now be so quiet ! What spirits were his! what wit and what whim ! Now breaking a jest, and now breaking a limb! (2) Now wrangling and grumbling to keep up the ball ! Now teasing and vexing, yet laughing at all! In short, so provoking a devil was Dick, That we wish'd him full ten times a day at Old Nick ; But missing his mirth and agreeable vein, As often we wish'd to have Dick back again.
(1) Vide page 99.
(2) Mr. Richard Burke. This gentleman having slightly fractured one of his arms and legs, at different times, the Doctor has rallied him on these accidents, as a kind of retributive justice for breaking his jests upon ouer people,