General Characteristics.—Goldsmith is a romanticist at heart; but he felt the strong classical influences of Johnson and of the earlier school. In his poetry, Goldsmith used classical couplets and sometimes classical subject matter, but the didactic parts of his poems are the poorest. His greatest successes, such as the pictures of the village preacher and the schoolmaster in The Deserted Village and of Dr. Primrose and his family in The Vicar of Wakefield, show the warm human sympathy of the romantic school.
The qualities for which he is most noted are (1) a sane and saving altruistic philosophy of life, pervaded with rare humor, and (2) a style of remarkable ease, grace, and clearness, expressed in copious and apt language.
She Stoops to Conquer marks a change in the drama of the time, because, in Dobson’s phrase, it bade “good-bye to sham Sentiment.”
“...this play it appears
Dealt largely in laughter and nothing in tears.”
[Illustration: SAMUEL JOHNSON. From the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.]
[Illustration: SAMUEL JOHNSON’S BIRTHPLACE. From an old print.]
Early Struggles.—Michael Johnson, an intelligent bookseller in Lichfield, Staffordshire, was in 1709 blessed with a son who was to occupy a unique position in literature, a position gained not so much by his writings as by his spoken words and great personality.
Samuel was prepared for Oxford at various schools and in the paternal bookstore, where he read widely and voraciously, but without much system. He said that at the age of eighteen, the year before he entered Oxford, he knew almost as much as at fifty-three. Poverty kept him from remaining at Oxford long enough to take a degree. He left the university, and, for more than a quarter of a century, struggled doggedly against poverty. When he was twenty-five, he married a widow of forty-eight. With the money which she brought him, he opened a private school, but failed. He never had more than eight pupils, one of whom was the actor, David Garrick.
In 1737 Johnson went to London and sought employment as a hack writer. Sometimes he had no money with which to hire a lodging, and was compelled to walk the streets all night to keep warm. Johnson reached London in the very darkest days for struggling authors, who were often subjected to the greatest hardships. They were the objects of general contempt, to which Pope’s Dunciad had largely contributed.
During this period Johnson did much hack work for the Gentleman’s Magazine. He was also the author of two satirical poems, London (1738) and The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), which won much praise.