chapter  84
6 Pages

From Thomas Babington Macaulay’s life of Goldsmith in Encyclopedia Britannica, eighth edition, 1856

He produced articles for reviews, magazines, and newspapers; children's books, which, bound in gilt paper and adorned with hideous woodcuts, appeared in the window of the once far-famed shop at the comer of Saint Paul's Churchyard; An Inquiry into the State of Polite Learning in Europe, which, though of little or no value, is still reprinted among his works; a Life of Beau Nash, which is not reprinted, though it well deserves to be so; a superficial and incorrect, but very readable, History ofEngland, in a series ofletters purporting to be addressed by a nobleman to his son; and some very lively and amusing Sketches of London Society, in a series of letters purporting to be addressed by a Chinese traveller to his friends. All these works were anonymous; but some of them were well known to be Goldsmith's; and he gradually rose in the estimation of the booksellers for whom he drudged. He was, indeed, emphatically a popular writer. For accurate research or grave disquisition he was not well qualified by nature or by education. He knew nothing accurately: his reading had been desultory; nor had he meditated deeply on what he had read. He had seen much of the world; but he had noticed and retained little more of what he had seen than some grotesque incidents and characters which had happened to strike his fancy. But, though his mind was very scantily stored with materials, he used what materials he had in such a way as to produce a wonderful effect. There have been many greater writers; but perhaps no writer was ever more uniformly agreeable. His style was always pure and easy, and, on proper occasions, pointed and energetic. His narratives were always amusing, his descriptions always picturesque, his humour rich and joyous, yet not without an occasional tinge of amiable sadness. About everything that he wrote, serious or sportive, there was a certain natural grace and decorum, hardly to be expected from a man a great part of whose life had been passed among thieves and beggars, street-walkers and merryandrews, in those squalid dens which are the reproach of great capitals.