Elijer Goff


Humourist and Man of Letters - otherwise the Manchester architect William Dawes – Eliger Goff was a fictional character who for over a decade enjoyed greater fame than his creator.

Momus, a Manchester satirical weekly, in its issue of 20 November 1879, gave a portrait and memoir of "Elijer Goff." He was not, as many supposed, an American but “was born in Gloucestershire, in 1832, and lived there the first twenty years of his life. He then left England for the United States.  During his thirty years' contact with the lower classes of Americans he gradually became Yankeeised in speech and manner; but beneath the surface he still retained his old love for his native land, which an Englishman never lives long enough to forget.”

He shared with certain American writers of the day a style which relied heavily on phonetic spelling for its humour. His first book, ' Elijer Goff's Trubbles, Travels, and other Amoozements,' appeared in the spring of 1872, and ran through three editions. His second book, Elijer Goff 's Kristmas Book,' followed in the winter of that year. His third book, ' Elijer Goff's Kronikle of a King,' which ran through two editions of 5,000 each, was not published until 1878. His narrative of the Great Fite published in 1881 was perhaps the most popular and successful.

It is curious that William Dawes chose Elijer Goff as his mouthpiece in the (continuing) debate concerning the restoration of historic buildings, given - almost in his own words - that he "didn’t gno anythin’ of Vitruvius, and if you menshun'd Palladio he wud bast out larfin."

Written in the form of a dialogue between Elijer and an amateur archaeologist, a letter published in the Manchester City News debated the restoration or otherwise of St Mark’s Venice. In part, it read:

Restore it! Bah! John Ruskin’s the man fur my money. He sez, “Don’t alter a stun. Keep on drawin it till it falls.” He's right.  ''”How wud yu like tu hav yure front restored if yu wur St. Marks?” he suddenly demanded, turnin tu me abrupt on his axis. I asked him if he thote it wud tend tu impruv the Lukes. Whurupon he breathed a long teknikle kuss as is unfit fur publikashun except in a arkeologikle paper.

Then he wos silent. As he sat thur he lukked like a dumb argyment in favor of restorashun, but all at onst he aroused hisself intu renewed inkonsistensy and exklamed in tragik tones "Let the marble fade and the stun krumble into dust. Better lose all than renew.  The restorer is as bad as the destroyer. We'll none on't.  “Oh Italia, Thou who hast the false gift of beauty,” let thy loveliness disintegrate intu unrekognizabul and unrestorabul ruin rather than let the modern masons attempt tu renew thy form and perpetuate thy beauty. Let ..."

I hate sittin by a fool, so I got up and went home.


Manchester City News Saturday 29 November 1879 Page 3 – Letters

Momus, a Manchester satirical weekly, 20 November 1879