chapter  58
11 Pages

A scientist appraises Goldsmith as a writer, in ‘A Critical Dissertation’ prefaced to The Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B., 1796

During I799-I8I5 Dr John Aikin (1747-!822), a naturalist and chemist of considerable distinction, wrote brief lives of Englishmen of note. His own interests were scientific, yet he moved comfortably in his sister's (Mrs Anna Barbauld) non-scientific circle as well as in Dr Joseph Priestley's medical circle. Aikin had been interested in Goldsmith's writing from the early 1770s. In An Essay on the Application of Natural History to Poetry (Warrington, 1777, p. 54), he commented in the most favorable terms on Goldsmith's description of the skylark in his History of Animated Nature, calling him 'a poet of nature's creation.' 'Pliny has nothing more rich, delicate, and expressive,' Aikin concluded of this description. Two decades later, Aikin again turned to Goldsmith in writing short lives of great men; his biographical sketch, hastily tossed off and repetitive of earlier biographies, says little that is new, but his critical essay makes some bold assertions and is more adventuresome than one would expect from a fairly conservative thinker like Aikin. For this reason, Aikin's brief life of Goldsmith in Lives of the Most Eminent Persons of All Ages (1796) is omitted and his critical essay is here printed.