GOLDSMITH told me that he had sold a novel for four hundred pounds. This was his Vicar of Wakefield. But Johnson informed me that he had made the bargain for Goldsmith, and the price was sixty pounds ... I shall give it authentically from Johnson's own exact narration:
'I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return, and having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.'
Boswell, Life of Johnson, i. 415-416.
Richard Cumberland recalls the first night of She Stoops to Conquer.
THE whole company pledged themselves to support the ingenious poet, and faithfully kept their promise to him. In fact he needed all that could be done for him, as Mr. Colman, the manager of Covent-Garden theatre, protested against the comedy when as yet he had not struck upon a name for it. Johnson at length stood forth in all his terrors as champion for the piece, and backed by us his clients and retainers demanded a fair trial. Colman again protested, but, with that salvo for his own reputation, liberally lent his stage to one of the most eccentric productions that ever found its way to it, and She Stoops to Conquer was put into rehearsal. We were not over-sanguine of success, but perfectly determined to struggle hard for our author....
We had among us a very worthy and efficient member, long since lost to his friends and the world at large, Adam Drummond of amiable memory, who was gifted by nature with the most sonorous, and at the same time most contagious, laugh that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the horse of the son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the theatre could not drown it. This kind and ingenuous friend fairly fore-warned us that he knew no more when to give his fire than the cannon did that was planted on a battery. He desired therefore to have a flapper at his elbow, and I had the honour to be deputed to that office. I planted him in an upper box, pretty nearly over the stage, in full view of the pit and galleries, and perfectly well situated to give the echo all its play through the hollows and recesses of the theatre. The success of our manoeuvres was complete. All eyes were upon Johnson, who sat in a front row of a side box, and when he laughed everybody thought themselves warranted to roar. In the meantime my friend followed signals with a rattle so irresistibly comic that, when he had repeated it several times, the attention of the spectators was so engrossed by his person and performances that the progress of the play seemed likely to become a secondary object, and I found it prudent to insinuate to him that he might halt his music without any prejudice to the author; but alas, it was now too late to rein him in; he had laughed upon my signal where he found no joke, and now unluckily he fancied that he found a joke in almost everything that was said; so that nothing in nature could be more malapropos than some of his bursts every now and then were. These were dangerous moments, for the pit began to take umbrage; but we carried our play through, and triumphed not only over Colman's judgement, but our own.
Memoirs of Richard Cumberland Written by Himself (1806-7), pp. 268-270.
GOLDSMITH was often very fortunate in his witty contests, even when he entered the lists with Johnson himself. Sir Joshua Reynolds was in company with them one day, when Goldsmith said that he thought he could write a good fable, mentioned the simplicity which that kind of composition requires, and observed that in most fables the animals introduced seldom talk in character.
'For instance,' said he, 'the fable of the little fishes who saw birds fly over their heads, and envying them, petitioned Jupiter to be changed into birds. The skill', continued he, 'consists in making them talk like little fishes.'
While he indulged himself in this fanciful reverie, he observed Johnson shaking his sides and laughing. Upon which he smartly proceeded,
'Why, Dr. Johnson, this is not so easy as you seem to think; for if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like WHALES.'
Boswell, Life of Johnson, ii. 231.