chapter  81
8 Pages

George Lewes reviewing Forster’s Life of Oliver Goldsmith (1848), in the British Quarterly, 1 August 1848

In mid-I848 John Forster (I8I2-76), historian and biographer, published his scholarly biography of Goldsmith in four volumes. Forster, a friend of Lamb and Leigh Hunt, had been a literary critic for more than a decade and contributed to the British Quarterly and the Edinburgh Review. Not surprisingly, the volume was more than a biography: it attempted a thorough revaluation of Goldsmith's age and contemporaries, and it was also an experiment in literary biography. When George Lewes (I8I7-78), miscellaneous writer and later the virtual husband of George Eliot, reviewed it in the I August issue of the British Quarterly, he summarized its virtues and defects, and, perhaps more important, isolated the assumptions on which it was constructed. Because these Victorian assumptions are of considerable interest to Goldsmith's critical heritage, and because space does not permit our reprinting of passages from Forster's Life, we produce selections from the review rather than the original. The review ultimately presents the view of the I 84os and, furthermore, shows how a biographer used the life of a dead author as a pretext for writing about his own (the biographer's) age. Forster's Life was revised and reissued in two volumes in I854 under the title The Life and Times of Goldsmith.