Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Oliver Goldsmith?

A play still performed, a novel still in print, bought and read, a poem still anthologized and worthy to be read, at length, aloud, a name, in other words, that survives down to this day, and yet my favorite of his many arts, his essays, are unread. Oliver Goldsmith embarrassed himself in conversation. He tried too hard too often, he said too much, or claimed too much, or revealed too much of his faults, and so comes down to us now, via Boswell, as a bit of a fool; an ugly little Mick in a silly wig and worse clothes, boasting, spiteful, wrong. Johnson defends him, of course. Johnson loved the man, and he knew his worth, but if we are to understand why, we've only to open The Citizen of the World, or read an essay from The Bee, and there is the man Johnson could forgive anything, defend even against their friends, and for the sudden death of whom all wept.

Why Goldsmith? There's not a man alive who might not envy the company of such a fool as this.

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