Oliver Goldsmith

(10 November 1730 – 4 April 1774 / County Longford / Ireland)

Biography of Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith poet

Oliver Goldsmith was an Anglo-Irish writer and poet, who is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773). He also wrote An History of the Earth and Animated Nature. He is thought to have written the classic children's tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, the source of the phrase "goody two-shoes".

Goldsmith's birth date and year are not known with certainty. According to the Library of Congress authority file, he told a biographer that he was born on 29 November 1731, or perhaps in 1730. Other sources have indicated 10 November, on any year from 1727 to 1731. 10 November 1730 is now the most commonly accepted birth date.

The location of his birthplace is also uncertain. He was born either in the townland of Pallas, near Ballymahon, County Longford, Ireland, where his father was the Anglican curate of the parish of Forgney, or at the residence of his maternal grandparents, at the Smith Hill House in the diocese of Elphin, County Roscommon where his grandfather Oliver Jones was a clergyman and master of the Elphin diocesan school. When he was two years old, Goldsmith's father was appointed the rector of the parish of "Kilkenny West" in County Westmeath. The family moved to the parsonage at Lissoy, between Athlone and Ballymahon, and continued to live there until his father's death in 1747.

In 1744 Goldsmith went up to Trinity College, Dublin. His tutor was Theaker Wilder. Neglecting his studies in theology and law, he fell to the bottom of his class. He was graduated in 1749 as a Bachelor of Arts, but without the discipline or distinction that might have gained him entry to a profession in the church or the law; his education seemed to have given him mainly a taste for fine clothes, playing cards, singing Irish airs and playing the flute. He lived for a short time with his mother, tried various professions without success, studied medicine desultorily at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leiden, and set out on a walking tour of Flanders, France, Switzerland and Northern Italy, living by his wits (busking with his flute).

He settled in London in 1756, where he briefly held various jobs, including an apothecary's assistant and an usher of a school. Perennially in debt and addicted to gambling, Goldsmith produced a massive output as a hack writer for the publishers of London, but his few painstaking works earned him the company of Samuel Johnson, with whom he was a founding member of "The Club". The combination of his literary work and his dissolute lifestyle led Horace Walpole to give him the epithet inspired idiot. During this period he used the pseudonym "James Willington" (the name of a fellow student at Trinity) to publish his 1758 translation of the autobiography of the Huguenot Jean Marteilhe.

Goldsmith was described by contemporaries as prone to envy, a congenial but impetuous and disorganised personality who once planned to emigrate to America but failed because he missed his ship.His premature death in 1774 may have been partly due to his own misdiagnosis of his kidney infection. Goldsmith was buried in Temple Church. The inscription reads; "HERE LIES/OLIVER GOLDSMITH". There is a monument to him in the center of Ballymahon, also in Westminster Abbey with an epitaph written by Samuel Johnson

Oliver Goldsmith's Works:

The Citizen of the World

In 1760 Goldsmith began to publish a series of letters in the Public Ledger under the title The Citizen of the World. Purportedly written by a Chinese traveler in England named Lien Chi, they used this fictional outsider's perspective to comment ironically and at times moralistically on British society and manners. It was inspired by the earlier essay series Persian Letters by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu.

The Hermit

Goldsmith wrote this romantic ballad of precisely 160 lines in 1765. The hero and heroine are Edwin, a youth without wealth or power, and Angelina, the daughter of a lord "beside the Tyne." Angelina spurns many wooers, but refuses to make plain her love for young Edwin. "Quite dejected with my scorn," Edwin disappears and becomes a hermit. One day, Angelina turns up at his cell in boy's clothes and, not recognizing him, tells him her story. Edwin then reveals his true identity, and the lovers never part again. The poem is notable for its interesting portrayal of a hermit, who is fond of the natural world and his wilderness solitude but maintains a gentle, sympathetic demeanor toward other people. In keeping with eremitical tradition, however, Edwin the Hermit claims to "spurn the [opposite] sex." This poem appears under the title of "A Ballad" sung by the character of Mr. Burchell in Chapter 8 of Goldsmith's novel, The Vicar of Wakefield

The Deserted Village

In the 1760s Goldsmith witnessed the demolition of an ancient village and destruction of its farms to clear land to become a wealthy man's garden. His poem The Deserted Village, published in 1770, expresses a fear that the destruction of villages and the conversion of land from productive agriculture to ornamental landscape gardens would ruin the peasantry.

The Deserted Village gave the demolished village the pseudonym "Sweet Auburn" and Goldsmith did not disclose the real village on which he based it. However, he did indicate it was about 50 miles (80 km) from London and it is widely believed to have been Nuneham Courtenay in Oxfordshire, which Simon Harcourt, 1st Earl Harcourt had demolished and moved 1 mile (1.6 km) away to make the park for his newly built Nuneham House.

In Ireland the village described in the poem is thought to be Glasson village, nr Athlone. Signage around the village points out the association with Oliver Goldsmith. The village is also described as the "village of the roses" since in the poem Glasson appears as Sweet Auburn which locally means 'Roses'. Glasson was famous in the 1800s for its rose bloom and the local landlord, Robert Temple is said to have walked the village giving prizes for the best presented houses.

In popular culture, the poem's first line "Sweet Auburn, Loveliest village of the plain" is the basis for the term "Auburn Plainsman/Plainsmen" which is used to refer to an Auburn University student and is also the source for the name of the University student Newspaper, The Auburn Plainsman.

Other Works

The ironic poem, An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog was published in 1766.
Goldsmith is also thought to have written the classic children's tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.

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A Sonnet

WEEPING, murmuring, complaining,
Lost to every gay delight;
MYRA, too sincere for feigning,
Fears th' approaching bridal night.

Yet, why impair thy bright perfection?
Or dim thy beauty with a tear?
Had MYRA followed my direction,
She long had wanted cause of fear.

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