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"Very likely," replied he, with a smile, "many of my old friends have forgotten me; though, to tell the truth, my memory in this instance is as bad as your own. If, however, it will assist your recollection in any way, my name is Thomas Dribble, at your service."
"What! Tom Dribble, who was at old Birchell's school in Warwickshire ?"1
"The same," said the other coolly.
"Why, then, we are old schoolmates, though it's no wonder you don't recollect me. I was your junior by several years; don't you recollect little Jack Buckthorne?"
Here there ensued a scene of schoolfellow recognition, and a world of talk about old school times and school pranks. Mr. Dribble ended by observing, with a heavy sigh, that times were sadly changed since those days.
"Faith, Mr.- Dribble," said I, " you seem quite a different man here from what you were at dinner. I had no idea that you had so much stuff in you. There you were all silence, but here you absolutely keep the table in a roar."
"Ah! my dear sir," replied he, with a shake of the head, and a shrug of the shoulder, "I am a mere glowworm. I never shine by daylight. Besides, it's a hard thing for a poor devil of an author to shine at the table of a rich bookseller. Who do you think would laugh at anything I could say, when I had some of the current wits of the day about me? But here, though a poor devil, I am among still poorer devils than myself,—men who look up to me as a man of letters, and a bel esprit? and all my jokes pass as sterling gold from the mint."
"You surely do yourself injustice, sir," said I; "I have cer
1 Warwickshire, or Warwick, is a county of England, whose capital, Warwick, is on the right bank of the Avon, twenty miles southeast of Birmingham, and two and a half miles west of Leamington. Between the town of Warwick and the river, on a steep hill, is Warwick Castle, one of the most perfect and magnificent feudal fortresses in England.
* A man of wit or brilliant mind.
tainly heard more good things from you this evening than from any of those beaux esprits by whom you appear to have been so daunted."
"Ah, sir ! but they have luck on their side; they are in the fashion. There's nothing like being in fashion. A man that has once got his character up for a wit is always sure of a laugh, say what he may. He may utter as much nonsense as he pleases, and all will pass current. No one stops to question the coin of a rich man; but a poor devil cannot pass off either a joke or a guinea without its being examined on both sides. Wit and coin are always doubted with a threadbare coat.
"For my part," continued he, giving his hat a twitch a little more on one side, "for my part, I hate your fine dinners; there's nothing, sir, like the freedom of a chophouse. I'd rather, any time, have my steak and tankard among my own set than drink claret and eat venison with your cursed civil, elegant company, who never laugh at a good joke from a poor devil for fear of its being vulgar. A good joke grows in a wet soil; it flourishes in low places, but withers on your d—d high, dry grounds. I once kept high company, sir, until I nearly ruined myself, I grew so dull, and vapid, and genteel. Nothing saved me but being arrested by my landlady, and thrown into prison, where a course of catch-clubs,1 eightpenny ale, and poor-devil company, manured my mind, and brought it back to itself again."
As it was now growing late, we parted for the evening, though I felt anxious to know more of this practical philosopher. I was glad, therefore, when Buckthorne proposed to have another meeting to talk over old school times, and inquired his schoolmate's address. The latter seemed at first a little shy of naming his lodgings, but suddenly, assuming an air of hardihood, "Greenarbor Court, sir," exclaimed he, "Number in Green-arbor
Court. You must know the place. Classic ground, sir, classic
1 Clubs formed for singing catches, which are songs designed to give ludicrous effects to the different verses or parts.
ground! It was there Goldsmith 1 wrote his 'Vicar of Wakefield.' I always like to live in literary haunts."
I was amused with this whimsical apology for shabby quarters. On our way homewards, Buckthorne assured me that this Dribble had been the prime wit and great wag of the school in their boyish days, and one of those unlucky urchins denominated "bright geniuses." As he perceived me curious respecting his old schoolmate, he promised to take me with him in his proposed visit to Green-arbor Court.
A few mornings afterwards he called upon me, and we set forth on our expedition. He led me through a variety of singular alleys, and courts, and blind passages, for he appeared to be perfectly versed in all the intricate geography of the metropolis. At length we came out upon Fleet Market, and traversing it, turned up a narrow street to the bottom of a long, steep flight of stone steps, called Breakneck Stairs. These, he told me, led up to Green-arbor Court, and that down them poor Goldsmith might many a time have risked his neck. When we entered the court, I could not but smile to think in what out-of-the-way corners genius produces her bantlings! And the Muses, those capricious dames, who, forsooth, so often refuse to visit palaces, and deny a single smile to votaries in splendid studies, and gilded drawingrooms,—what holes and burrows will they frequent to lavish their favors on some ragged disciple!
This Green-arbor Court I found to be a small square, surrounded by tall and miserable houses, the very intestines of which seemed turned inside out, to judge from the old garments and frippery fluttering from every window. It appeared to be a
1 Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74), Irish poet, historian, and novelist. His verse is noted for its grace and simplicity. His best-known works are The Deserted Village, his novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and a series of letters called The Citizen of the World. Goldsmith was always in straits of poverty and in pecuniary difficulties. Even when his popularity was at its height and his income greatly increased, his extravagance and lavish generosity kept him constantly in debt, for which he was frequently under arrest.
region of washerwomen, and lines were stretched about the little square, on which clothes were dangling to dry.
Just as we entered the square, a scuffle took place between two viragoes about a disputed right to a washtub, and immediately the whole community was in a hubbub. Heads in mobcaps popped out of every window, and such a clamor of tongues ensued that I was fain to stop my ears. Every amazon took part with one or other of the disputants, and brandished her arms, dripping with soapsuds, and fired away from her window as from the embrasure of a fortress, while the swarms of children, nestled and cradled in every procreant chamber of this hive, waking with the noise, set up their shrill pipes to swell the general concert.
Poor Goldsmith! what a time he must have had of it, with his quiet disposition and nervous habits, penned up in this den of noise and vulgarity! How strange, that while every sight and sound was' sufficient to imbitter the heart, and fill it with misanthropy, his pen should be dropping the honey of Hybla !1 Yet it is more than probable that he drew many of his inimitable pictures of low life from the scenes which surrounded him in this abode. The circumstance of Mrs. Tibbs 2 being obliged to wash her husband's two shirts in a neighbor's house, who refused to lend her washtub, may have been no sport of fancy, but a fact passing under his own eye. His landlady may have sat for the picture, and Beau Tibbs's scanty wardrobe have been a facsimile of his own.
It was with some difficulty that we found our way to Dribble's lodgings. They were up two pairs of stairs, in a room that looked
1 A mountain in Switzerland famed for the sweetness of the honey produced there.
2 Mrs. Tibbs was the wife of Beau Tibbs (a character in Goldsmith's Citizen of the World), a poor fellow who imagined that he knew the best society, that his garret was the choicest spot in London, and his wife (a slattern and coquette) a lady of distinction. On one occasion he brought to his garret a distinguished ambassador. "Where's my lady?" he asked of the Scotch servant. "She's a-washing your twa shirts at the next door, because they won't lend us the tub any longer," was the reply.
upon the court, and when we entered he was seated on the edge of his bed, writing at a broken table. He received us, however, with a free, open, poor-devil air that was irresistible. It is true he did at first appear slightly confused, buttoned up his waistcoat a little higher, and tucked in a stray frill of linen. But he recollected himself in an instant, gave a half swagger, half leer, as he stepped forth to receive us, drew a three-legged stool for Mr. Buckthorne, pointed me to a lumbering old damask chair that looked like a dethroned monarch in exile, and bade us welcome to his garret.
We soon got engaged in conversation. Buckthorne and he had much to say about early school scenes, and as nothing opens a man's heart more than recollections of the kind, we soon drew from him a brief outline of his literary career.
THE POOR-DEVIL AUTHOR.
IBEGAN life unluckily by being the wag and bright fellow at school, and I had the further misfortune of becoming the great genius of my native village. My father was a country attorney, and intended I should succeed him in business, but I had too much genius to study, and he was too fond of my genius to force it into the traces,1 so I fell into bad company, and took to bad habits. Do not mistake me. I mean that I fell into the company of village literati 2 and village blues,3 and took to writing village poetry.
It was quite the fashion in the village to be literary. There was a little knot of choice spirits of us, who assembled frequently together, formed ourselves into a Literary, Scientific, and Philosophical Society, and fancied ourselves the most learned Philos 4
1 "Into the traces," i.e., into steady employment.
3 Literary men. 3 Same as bluestockings (see Note 3, p. 23).
4 Lovers of literature and the sciences.