Oliver Goldsmith (10 November 1730 – 4 April 1774 / County Longford / Ireland)
Letter In Prose And Verse To Mrs. Bunbury
I read your letter with all that allowance which critical candour could
require, but after all find so much to object to, and so much to raise
my indignation, that I cannot help giving it a serious answer.
I am not so ignorant, Madam, as not to see there are many sarcasms
contained in it, and solecisms also. (Solecism is a word that comes from
the town of Soleis in Attica, among the Greeks, built by Solon, and
applied as we use the word Kidderminster for curtains, from a town also
of that name; -- but this is learning you have no taste for!) -- I say,
Madam, there are sarcasms in it, and solecisms also. But not to seem an
ill-natured critic, I'll take leave to quote your own words, and give
you my remarks upon them as they occur. You begin as follows:--
'I hope, my good Doctor, you soon will be here,
And your spring-velvet coat very smart will appear,
To open our ball the first day of the year.'
Pray, Madam, where did you ever find the epithet 'good,' applied to the
title of Doctor? Had you called me 'learned Doctor,' or 'grave Doctor,'
or 'noble Doctor,' it might be allowable, because they belong to the
profession. But, not to cavil at trifles, you talk of my 'spring-velvet
coat,' and advise me to wear it the first day in the year, -- that is,
in the middle of winter! -- a spring-velvet in the middle of winter!!!
That would be a solecism indeed! and yet, to increase the inconsistence,
in another part of your letter you call me a beau. Now, on one side or
other, you must be wrong. If I am a beau, I can never think of wearing a
spring-velvet in winter: and if I am not a beau, why then, that explains
itself. But let me go on to your two next strange lines:--
'And bring with you a wig, that is modish and gay,
To dance with the girls that are makers of hay.'
The absurdity of making hay at Christmas, you yourself seem sensible of:
you say your sister will laugh; and so indeed she well may! The Latins
have an expression for a contemptuous sort of laughter, 'Naso contemnere
adunco'; that is, to laugh with a crooked nose. She may laugh at you in
the manner of the ancients if she thinks fit. But now I come to the most
extraordinary of all extraordinary propositions, which is, to take your
and your sister's advice in playing at loo. The presumption of the offer
raises my indignation beyond the bounds of prose; it inspires me at once
with verse and resentment. I take advice! and from whom? You shall hear.
First let me suppose, what may shortly be true,
The company set, and the word to be, Loo;
All smirking, and pleasant, and big with adventure,
And ogling the stake which is fix'd in the centre.
Round and round go the cards, while I inwardly damn
At never once finding a visit from Pam.
I lay down my stake, apparently cool,
While the harpies about me all pocket the pool.
I fret in my gizzard, yet, cautious and sly,
I wish all my friends may be bolder than I:
Yet still they sit snug, not a creature will aim
By losing their money to venture at fame.
'Tis in vain that at niggardly caution I scold,
'Tis in vain that I flatter the brave and the bold:
All play their own way, and they think me an ass, --
'What does Mrs. Bunbury?' 'I, Sir? I pass.'
'Pray what does Miss Horneck? Take courage, come do,' --
'Who, I? let me see, Sir, why I must pass too.'
Mr. Bunbury frets, and I fret like the devil,
To see them so cowardly, lucky, and civil.
Yet still I sit snug, and continue to sigh on,
Till made by my losses as bold as a lion,
I venture at all, -- while my avarice regards
The whole pool as my own -- 'Come, give me five cards.'
'Well done!' cry the ladies; 'Ah, Doctor, that's good!
The pool's very rich -- ah! the Doctor is loo'd!'
Thus foil'd in my courage, on all sides perplex'd,
I ask for advice from the lady that's next:
'Pray, Ma'am, be so good as to give your advice;
Don't you think the best way is to venture for 't twice?'
'I advise,' cries the lady, 'to try it, I own. --
Ah! the Doctor is loo'd! Come, Doctor, put down.'
Thus, playing, and playing, I still grow more eager,
And so bold, and so bold, I'm at last a bold beggar.
Now, ladies, I ask, if law-matters you're skill'd in,
Whether crimes such as yours should not come before Fielding?
For giving advice that is not worth a straw,
May well be call'd picking of pockets in law;
And picking of pockets, with which I now charge ye,
Is, by quinto Elizabeth, Death without Clergy.
What justice, when both to the Old Bailey brought!
By the gods, I'll enjoy it; though 'tis but in thought!
Both are plac'd at the bar, with all proper decorum,
With bunches of fennel, and nosegays before 'em;
Both cover their faces with mobs and all that;
But the judge bids them, angrily, take off their hat.
When uncover'd, a buzz of enquiry runs round, --
'Pray what are their crimes?' -- 'They've been pilfering found.'
'But, pray, whom have they pilfer'd?' -- 'A Doctor, I hear.'
'What, yon solemn-faced, odd-looking man that stands near!'
'The same.' -- 'What a pity! how does it surprise one!
Two handsomer culprits I never set eyes on!'
Then their friends all come round me with cringing and leering,
To melt me to pity, and soften my swearing.
First Sir Charles advances with phrases well strung,
'Consider, dear Doctor, the girls are but young.'
'The younger the worse,' I return him again,
'It shows that their habits are all dyed in grain.'
'But then they're so handsome, one's bosom it grieves.'
'What signifies 'handsome', when people are thieves?'
'But where is your justice? their cases are hard.'
'What signifies 'justice'? I want the 'reward'.
There's the parish of Edmonton offers forty pounds; there's the
parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, offers forty pounds; there's
the parish of Tyburn, from the Hog-in-the-Pound to St. Giles's
watchhouse, offers forty pounds, -- I shall have all that if I
convict them!' --
'But consider their case, -- it may yet be your own!
And see how they kneel! Is your heart made of stone?'
This moves:-- so at last I agree to relent,
For ten pounds in hand, and ten pounds to be spent.
I challenge you all to answer this: I tell you, you cannot. It
cuts deep; -- but now for the rest of the letter: and next --
but I want room -- so I believe I shall battle the rest out at
Barton some day next week.
I don't value you all!
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