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Oliver Goldsmith

Full name: Oliver Goldsmith

Real name: Oliver Goldsmith

Years: 1728-11-10 / 1774-04-04 

Famous books: Vicar of Wakefield

Genres: Novel


Short info:

OLIVER GOLDSMITH was born, probably at Smith-Hill House, Elphin, Roscommon, Ireland, in 1728. Soon after his birth his family moved to Kilkenny West, where Oliver first went to school. At the age of nine he left the little school at Kilkenny, and attended several academies. In 1744 he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he barely managed to make a living. His personal ungainliness and crude manners prevented his making many acquaintances, and his life at college was miserable. He was graduated in 1749, after the death of his father, and went to live with his mother. He cast about him in search of a profession. He was a tutor at one time, but lost his position as the result of a quarrel. He decided later to emigrate to America, but missed his ship. He then determined to study law, and once again set forth to Dublin, where he gambled away the fifty pounds which had been given him. When he was twenty-four he was again endowed and went to Edinburgh to study medicine, where for a year and a half he made some slight pretense at attending lectures, and then went to Leyden, presumably to continue his studies. From Holland he proceeded on a walking tour through Flanders, France, Switzerland, and the north of Italy, earning his board and keep with his flute. In 1756 he returned to England, without a penny in his pocket, although he had, according to his own statement, received a doctor's degree. In London he turned his hand to every sort of work: translation, the writing of superficial histories, children's books, and general articles. One of the works of this period which is still included in the Works is the Enquiry into the State of Polite Learning in Europe. Through the publication of The Bee and the Life of Beau Nash, Goldsmith achieved considerable popularity, and his fortunes began to mend. He belonged to the circle of Johnson, Burke, Reynolds, and was one of "The Club." The Traveller appeared in 1764, and his reputation as a poet was firmly established. The Vicar of Wakefield, published two years later, increased his popularity, and when he produced his first play, The Good Natur'd Man (1768), though the play was not a success, it was widely read in book-form. In 1770 came The Deserted Village, and three years after his dramatic masterpiece, She Stoops to Conquer, which was highly successful. Goldsmith was meanwhile busy with a great deal of hack-work -- the Natural History, the histories of England, Rome, and Greece -- which was very remunerative. But Goldsmith's carelessness, his intemperance, and his habit of gambling, soon brought him into debt. Broken in health and mind, he died in 1774.

In one of his earliest works, the Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning (1759), Goldsmith gave utterance to the thought which was to be his guiding star in the field of drama. He says: "Does the poet paint the absurdities of the vulgar, then he is low; does he exaggerate the features of folly, to render it more ridiculous, he is then very low. In short, they have proscribed the comic or satirical muse from every walk but high life, which, though abounding in fools as well as the humblest station, is by no means so fruitful in absurdity." It was Goldsmith's mission to render natural the comedy of his time, and strike a decisive blow at the genteel or sentimental comedy, which he later termed a "kind of mulish production, with all the defects of its opposite parents, and marked with sterility."


liver Goldsmith (1730-1774), Anglo-Irish man of letters, poet and playwright wrote, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). Goldsmith stood alone and did not subscribe to nor start any school. He died at forty-six a philosopher at heart, a kind old soul and friend to many including Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Goldsmith was the son of farmer and Irish clergyman to Kilkenny west, Charles Goldsmith, born 10 November 1730. There is some contradictory information regarding his birthplace but the location noted in his epitaph is Pallas, or Pallasmore, a village near Ballymahon, in county Longford, Ireland. He had five siblings who survived to adulthood.

His education started early at home with a relative, then at age seven he was sent to the village school run by an ex-soldier, Thomas Byrne. Early on he expressed an interest in Celtic music and culture. Young Oliver was shy and reticent, and due to his small and awkward stature and facial scarring from smallpox he without a doubt suffered the consequences from the school bullies. Much to the seeming delight of his headmasters he was at times treated mercilessly for the dunce they told him he was, corporeally used as an example for the other boys on how not to behave. However it is said that even under such harsh circumstances Goldsmith was already writing with such poetics and charm that would later give The Vicar of Wakefield high accolades. He read Ovid, Horace, Livy and Tacitus. In 1774 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, a sizar, paying nothing towards his tuition or food but in return performing menial tasks. His intemperance and tendency to dress in bright colours, play music and gamble got him into trouble numerous times and he would graduate undistinguished; his name that he etched onto a windowpane is still preserved.

Goldsmith went on to attempt numerous professions including law and medicine at Edinburgh and Leiden universities, and was turned down for ordination. In 1756 he embarked on travels through France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland; if his fiction, especially The Traveller (1764) is to give any indication of his own life's experiences, it's possible he amused the locals with his flute playing in return for food and lodging and continued his dubious adventures among beggars and thieves. He also took short-term positions before turning to a career in writing while living, among other places, in a tiny room at the top of the `Break-neck Steps' in London. There he produced articles and essays of criticism for various newspapers and magazines including The Bee, The Monthly Review and The Literary Magazine. He also translated Jean Marteilhe of Bergerac's Memoirs. Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe (1759) is one of his more widely known works during this period.

The release of The Citizen of the World (1762), a collection of whimsical and satirical essays, recognized him as a man of letters. His philosophic poem Traveller; or, a Prospect of Society, dedicated to his brother Henry Goldsmith (who died in 1768) was published in 1764. The autobiographical couplets charm in simplistic verse and reflect on many happy memories. It is said that he was paid £21 for it, but it was definitely a success, and generated interest in his previous works. Now becoming settled with his writing and circumstances, Goldsmith took rooms off of Fleet Street then moved to the Temple where he wrote The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), though he was still plagued by tendencies to drink and gamble that would send him off into financial straits. His tale of the country parson is a warm and humorous look at typical English life. While melodramatic it has an endearing quality of humanity that transcends time and is still in circulation today.

The ironic poem, An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog (1766), uses the dog as figure to uphold sensibility and decency in man's society. A remarkable turn in Goldsmith's career was his much welcomed comedic play The Good-Natur'd Man (1768) and the farcical She Stoops to Conquer (1773), which were in sharp contrast to the then popular sentimental dramas of the time and filled the playhouses. He also produced some school texts, and while somewhat misinformed they provided a healthy boost to his income. He also wrote poetry including The Deserted Village (1770).

Though Goldsmith was never blessed with social grace and eloquence, he enjoyed the friendship of, among many others of the literati and social scene of London, Samuel Johnson, who would more than once defend his friend's career and character. He became a member of the `Club' or what was later known as the `The Literary Club' (still existing) in 1764. Joshua Reynolds, painter, and Edmund Burke, author and parliamentarian were other supporters to the end. Goldsmith entertained lavishly and lived beyond his means and while he wore his heart on his sleeve he could never be accused of malice or boastfulness. "I love everything that's old, - old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine." In the later years of his life, owing to thousands of £'s worth of debt, his health and spirit were soon affected and he suffered from a nervous fever accompanied by a kidney infection. He sought out Dr James's fever powder as remedy, though it most likely exacerbated his condition. In response to the question on his death bed of whether his mind was at ease, his reply and alleged last words were: "No; it is not".

Oliver Goldsmith died 4 April 1774, in his forty-sixth year and lies buried in the burial ground of the Church of Saint Mary (Middle Temple church yard), London, England. It is said that one of his greatest critics and rivals, Hugh Kelly, attended this humble service, showing great remorse for attacks on Goldsmith's character. The Club placed a cenotaph in his honour at Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, London, for which Nollekins created a bust in medallion of the poet's profile in relief, and the Latin epitaph written by his friend Samuel Johnson stands below it:

    A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian,
    Who left scarcely any style of writing untouched,
    And touched nothing that he did not adorn;
    Of all the passions,
    Whether smiles were to be moved or tears,
    A powerful yet gentle master;
    In genius, sublime, vivid, versatile,
    In style, elevated, clear, elegant—
    The love of companions,
    The fidelity of friends,
    And the veneration of readers,
    Have by this monument honored the memory.

"Our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall."~ Oliver Goldsmith

Books by Oliver Goldsmith: