S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[Poet and miscellaneous writer; born at Pallas, Ireland, 1728; educated at Trinity College; studied medicine, and made a tour of Europe; wrote The Vicar of Wakefield, 1762; The Traveller, 1764; The Deserted Village, 1770; She Stoops to Conquer, 1773; died 1774.]
He was like the French Nicole, who was slow at repartee, and fatigued those who waited for the reasons by which he sustained his positions. He accordingly said of M. de Tréville, who spoke more fluently, He vanquishes me in the drawing-room, but surrenders to me at discretion on the stairs (Il me bat dans la chambre, mais il nest pas plutôt au bas de lescalier que je lai confondu). This is but another way of putting Disraelis remark, that many a great wit has thought the wit it was too late to speak. Rivarol paraphrases the French proverb, Tout le monde est sage après coup, One could make a great book of what has not been said; and Chief-Justice Jervis, in an opinion quoted by Baron Bramwell, 5 Jur. N. S. 658, gave it a more literal rendering: Nothing is so easy as to be wise after the event.
That Goldsmith wrote better than he talked, gave point to Garricks impromptu epitaph:
Here lies Nolly Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll,
Who wrote like an angel, and talked like poor Poll.
Johnson said of him, Goldsmith was a plant that flowered late; and again, in 1778, Goldsmith was a man, who, whatever he wrote, did it better than any other man could do. In 1780 he declared of him: No man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had. Johnson wrote in the Latin epitaph of the poet, that, leaving hardly any style of composition untouched, he touched nothing that he did not adorn:
Qui nullum fere scribendi genus
Nullum quod tetigit non ornavit.
This may be compared to the remark of Fénelon in a eulogy of Cicero: He touches nothing but he adds a charm.
Goldsmith was not always caught napping. Thus Johnson was walking with him one day in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey, and quoted Ovids line:
Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis.
De Arte Amandi, III., 339.
Perhaps our name may be mingled with these.
On their way home they passed under Temple Bar; and Goldsmith, pointing to the heads of Fletcher and Townley, who had been executed for participation in the rebellion of 1745, slyly whispered, in reference to Johnsons Jacobite tendencies,
Boswell states that Goldsmith struck this out of The Vicar of Wakefield. Johnson added that he struck out another fine passage: When I was a young man, being anxious to distinguish myself, I was perpetually starting new propositions. But I soon gave this over, for I generally found that what was new was false. Lessing began a critique in much the same way: This book contains much that is good and new: pity that the good is not new, and the new is not good. Daniel Webster said in the Senate, March, 1848, of a political platform, What is valuable is not new, and what is new is not valuable.
I should rather that my play were damned by bad players, than merely saved by good acting.
Victor Hugo said, I had rather be hissed for a good verse than applauded for a bad one.
Boswell once endeavored to engage Goldsmith in a conversation on religion; to which the latter replied, Sir, as I take my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the tailor, so I take my religion from the priest. When Boswell regretted to Johnson that loose way of talking, the latter replied, Sir, he knows nothing; he has made up his mind about nothing.BOSWELL: Life of Johnson, 1773.