The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 12. The Bee, and its Verse and Prose
At this date, beyond a few lines dated “Edinburgh, 1753,” the instalment of The Traveller sent to Henry Goldsmith from Switzerland, and the Description of an Author’s Bedchamber included in another letter to the same address, little had been heard of Goldsmith’s verse, although he had written vaguely of himself as a “poet.” In the Enquiry, however, he published his first metrical effort, a translation of a latin prologue in that recondite Macrobius with a quotation from whom, after an uncommunicative silence, Johnson electrified the company on his first arrival at Oxford. In the little periodical called The Bee, with which Goldsmith followed up the Enquiry, he included several rimed contributions. Of these, only one, some “topical” stanzas, On the Death of Wolfe, is absolutely original. But the rest anticipate some of his later excellences—and personal opinions. In the Elegy on Mrs. Mary Blaize, he laughs at the fashion, set by Gray, of funereal verse, and, in the bright little quatrains entitled The Gift, successfully reproduces the levity of Prior. But, what is more, he begins to exhibit his powers as a critic and essayist, to write character sketches in the vein of Addison and Steele, to reveal his abilities as a stage critic and censor of manners. One of the papers, A City Night-Piece, still remains a most touching comment on the shame of cities; another, the Lucianic reverie known as The Fame Machine (that is, “coach”), in which Johnson, rejected by Jehu as a passenger for his Dictionary, is accepted on the strength of his Rambler, may have served to introduce him to the great man who, ever after, loved him with a growling but genuine affection. The Bee, though brief-lived, with similar things in The Busy Body and The Lady’s Magazine, also brought him to the notice of some others, who, pecuniarily, were more important than Johnson. Smollett enlisted him for the new venture, The British Magazine, and bustling John Newbery of St. Paul’s churchyard, for a new paper, The Public Ledger.