Oliver Goldsmith

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Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith (November 10, 1730 or 1728 – April 4, 1774) was an Anglo-Irish writer, poet, and physician known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770) (written in memory of his brother), and his plays The Good-natur'd Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773). (He is also thought to have written the classic children's tale, The History of Little Goody Two Shoes, giving the world that familiar phrase.)


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Works
    • 2.1 The Deserted Village
    • 2.2 The Hermit
  • 3 Notes and References
  • 4 Trivia
  • 5 External links


He was either born in the townland of Pallas, near Ballymahon, County Longford, where his father was Anglican curate of the parish of Forgney, or at the residence of his maternal grandparents, 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 aged two, Goldsmith's father was appointed 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.

Goldsmith earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1749 at Trinity College, Dublin, studying theology and law but never getting as far as ordination. Nevertheless, his name has been given to a new lecture theatre and student accommodation on the Trinity College campus, Goldsmith Hall. He later studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leiden, then toured Europe, living on his wits. He also studied at the University of Padua in 1755 and 1757. On his return, he settled in London, where he worked as an apothecary's assistant. Perennially in debt and addicted to gambling, Goldsmith had a massive output as a hack writer for the publishers of London, but his few painstaking works earned him the company of Samuel Johnson, along with whom he was a founding member of "The Club". The combination of his literary work and his dissolute lifestyle led Horace Walpole to giving him the much quoted epithet of Inspired Idiot.

Goldsmith is recorded as being a highly jealous man, a likeable but disorganised character who once failed to emigrate to America because he missed the ferry.

He was buried in Temple Church; his death in 1774 may have been partly caused by his own misdiagnosis of his kidney infection. His inscription reads; "HERE LIES/OLIVER GOLDSMITH". There is a monument to him in the centre of Ballymahon, also in Westminster Abbey with an epitaph written by Samuel Johnson.[1]

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


The Deserted Village

In poem "The Deserted Village", (1770), Goldsmith revisits Auburn, a village of which he had fond memories, and marks the depopulation brought about through the emigration of its peasant community and the influx of monopolising riches. He mourns over the state of a society where "wealth accumulates and men decay". Using images pertaining to the land in his poem, he gives to his readers a sense of what it was like to live in the countryside during modernization and how it has destroyed the land the former inhabitants worked so hard to maintain.

At the time in which this poem was written, it was true that the labouring class was in a dire situation. Changes in land ownership led to shortages in labour, and poverty became a common problem. Small farmers were forced out of the countryside. Alongside this problem came the new zest for luxuries and possessions. Poets became enamoured by each situation, and accordingly much poetry of the time uses the labouring class and the growth of the luxury as a key theme. Thus, it is equally possible that Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village is a critique of luxury, or alternatively, an engagement with the realities of labouring-class poverty.

In the book's dedication to Joshua Reynolds, Goldsmith attempts to convey his reasons for writing a poem about the depopulation of the countryside. He is sure that the poetic community will disagree with his picture of the countryside as a poor place of misfortune, desolation and poverty and thus justifies it here. He writes:

"I know you will object (and indeed several of our best and wisest friend concur in the opinion) that the depopulation it deplores is no where to be seen, and the disorders it laments are only to be found in the poet’s own imagination. To this I can scarce make any other answer than that I sincerely believe what I have written; that I have taken all possible pains, in my country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I alledge, and that all my views and enquiries have led me to believe those miseries real, which I here attempt to display."[2]

This assertion indicates Goldsmith’s attachment to the people of the countryside; he believes it is vital that their lives are portrayed truthfully and lucidly, perhaps without the typical frills of pastoral poetry. However, in the same letter, Goldsmith goes on to write,

"In regretting the depopulation of the country, I inveigh against the increase of our luxuries.. For twenty of thirty years past, it has been the fashion to consider luxury as one of the greatest national advantages… Still however, I…continue to think those luxuries prejudicial to states, by which so many vices are introduced, and so many kingdoms have been undone."

This second and perhaps, more strongly worded argument indicates that Goldsmith is further angered by the effect of the luxury on Britain at this time. He finishes the letter on this note, and does not return to the situation of the labouring class, and this emphasises his strength of feeling on this matter.

According to James Boswell it was Dr. Johnson who wrote the last four lines of the poem.[3]

Goldsmith's grand-nephew, also named Oliver, wrote a response to his uncle's poem entitled The Rising Village, in which he details the rise of communities in Acadia (now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada). The response to his uncle seems to suggest that the peasants who couldn't survive in The Deserted Village would have found opportunities in the new world. The Rising Village was published in 1825. It has become a staple of the Canadian literary canon and has been heavily anthologized. (See, for example, Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings Through the First World War, edited by Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.)

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.

Notes and References

  1. ^ "Oliver Goldsmith: 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 move or tears, a powerful yet gentle master. In genius, vivid, versatile, sublime. In style, clear, elevated, elegant." Epitaph written by Dr. Johnson, translated from the original Latin.
  2. ^ "The Deserted Village", with dedication to Sir Joshua Reynolds.[1]
  3. ^ ""Deserted Village", The Oxford Companion to English literature, 2nd Edition 1937.
  • The Vicar of Wakefield, ISBN 0-19-283940-3
  • She Stoops to Conquer, ISBN 0-486-26867-5
  • Life of Oliver Goldsmith, by Washington Irving, ISBN 1-58963-236-2
  • The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith by Austin Dobson (Editor), ISBN 1-58827-277-X
  • Oliver Goldsmith (Everyman's Poetry Series) edited by Gordon Campbell, ISBN 0-460-87827-1
  • George Rousseau (1974), Goldsmith: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974). ISBN 0710077203
  • Oliver Goldsmith of Elphin, by J. A. Connellan, Published for the Goldsmith Society (1935)


There is a school named after him in London called Oliver Goldsmith Primary School

  • Essays by Oliver Goldsmith at Quotidiana.org
  • The Deserted Village
  • Oliver Goldsmith: A Biography by Washington Irving from Project Gutenberg
  • Goldsmith (English Men of Letters series) by William Black from Project Gutenberg
  • An Essay on the Theatre; or, A Comparison Between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy
  • Goldsmith Hall - student accommodation and lecture theatre, Trinity College, Dublin.
  • Information on Goldsmith
  • Oliver Goldsmith Resource
  • Works by Oliver Goldsmith in e-book version
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