The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 3. The Old House, a New Inn
From Byrne, Goldsmith passed to the school at Elphin, of which his grandfather had been master; thence to Athlone, and, finally, to Edgeworthstown, where his preceptor, Patrick Hughes, seems to have understood him better than his previous instructors. Hughes penetrated his superficial obtuseness, recognised his exceptionally sensitive temperament, and contrived, at any rate, to think better of him than some of his playmates who only succeeded in growing up blockheads. There were traditions at Edgeworthstown of his studies—his fondness for Ovid and Horace, his hatred of Cicero and his delight in Livy and Tacitus; of his prowess in boyish sports and the occasional robbing of orchards. It is to the close of his Edgeworthstown experiences that belongs one of the most popular of the incidents which exemplify the connection between his life and his work. Returning to school at the end of his last holiday, full of the youthful pride begotten of a borrowed mount and a guinea in his pocket, he lingered on his road, with the intention of putting up, like a gentleman, at some roadside inn. Night fell, and he found himself at Ardagh, where, with much importance, he enquired of a passer-by for “the best house” (hostelry) in the neighbourhood. The person thus appealed to, a local wag named Cornelius Kelly, formerly fencing master to the marquis of Granby, amused by his boyish swagger, gravely directed him to the residence of the squire of the place, Mr. Featherston. Hither Goldsmith straightway repaired, ordered supper, invited his host, according to custom, to drink with him, and, being by that humourist fooled to the top of his bent, retired to rest, after giving particular directions as to the preparation of a hot cake for his breakfast. Not until his departure next morning was it disclosed that he had been entertained in a private house. The story is too good to question; and accepted, as it has always been, supplies a conclusive answer to those after-critics of She Stoops to Conquer who regarded the central idea of that comedy—the mistaking of a gentleman’s residence for an inn—as unjustifiably farfetched. Here, in Goldsmith’s own life, was the proof of its probability.