Published 01/04/2013 | 05:00
Goldsmith belonged to a small and select group which met informally at the St James's coffee house in Piccadilly, and called itself with confident simplicity, The Club. The membership included the famous orator Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, the painter Joshua Reynolds and the actor David Garrick. One evening, having nothing better to do, the members decided to compose epitaphs on each other, beginning with Goldsmith, who was not present. Two lines of Garrick's epitaph have survived – 'Here lies Nolly Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll/ Who wrote like an angel but talked like poor Poll.' Goldsmith, who certainly wrote like an angel, was famous among his friends for his rashness, silliness and disdain for quite evident fact in conversation. When he heard of the affair, he decided to respond and the result was the poem Retaliation, which contains the splendid portrait of Edmund Burke which has already appeared here. These are the lines about Garrick.
Here lies David Garrick, describe me who can,
An abridgment of all that was pleasant in man;
As an actor, confessed without rival to shine,
As a wit, if not first, in the very first line,
Yet with talents like these, and an excellent heart,
The man had his failings, a dupe to his art;
Like an ill-judging beauty, his colours he spread,
And beplaistered with rouge his own natural red.
On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting,
Twas only that, when he was off, he was acting;
With no reason on earth to go out of his way,
He turned and he varied full ten times a day;
Though secure of our hearts, yet confoundedly sick,
If they were not his own by finessing and trick,
He cast off his friends, as a huntsman his pack,
For he knew when he pleased he could whistle them back.
Of praise a mere glutton, he swallowed what came,
And the puff of a dunce, he mistook it for fame;
Till his relish grown callous, almost to disease,
Who peppered the highest, was surest to please.
But let us be candid, and speak out our mind,
If dunces applauded, he paid them in kind.