Oliver Goldsmith

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, Literature on Saturday, 30 July 2011

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Oliver Goldsmith (1730 – 1774) was an Irish poet, playwright, doctor and jobbing writer or hack. He was clever but idle, confident yet envious, and after developing an addiction to gambling, in common with many of his kind, he lived in a perpetual state of uncertainty and died young.

The traveller, picture, image, illustration

Goldsmith resting on his tour of Italy, a scene from The Traveller by Miles Birket Foster

After entering Trinity College, Dublin he failed to fulfil his promise, and after graduating with no distinction worthy of a career in the church or the law, he studied medicine at the universities of Edinburgh and Leiden. It was at this time he embarked on an extensive walking tour of Europe, which revealed to him the beauties and antiquities of the ancient world and the picturesque landscapes of Italy and Switzerland. An accomplished musician, he was often to be heard playing his flute as payment for his lodgings. On his return he took up his pen and as well as the prolific hack he was also, despite his failings, an accomplished novelist, poet and playwright. The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) was a popular success, as was his pastoral poem, The Deserted Village (1770), which was written in memory of his brother. Remarkably, She Stoops to Conquer (1771) was once one of the most frequently staged plays in the century and a half following its first performance. These finer productions brought him the friendship of Dr Johnson and his circle, and as a member of The Club he enjoyed a few years of acclaim among his peers, all of them quite aware of his failings; it was Horace Walpole who memorably described Goldsmith as “an inspired idiot”. The unfortunate charmer died prematurely, and is sadly little read in modern times.

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