Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Article abstract: As a novelist, poet, dramatist, and essayist, Goldsmith stands in the first rank. His The Life of Richard Nash, Esq. (1762) pioneered a new type of biography, and his historical writings helped educate generations of schoolchildren and adults.
Many uncertainties linger about Oliver Goldsmith. Among them are the date and place of his birth. He was probably born on November 10, 1728 or 1730—though any year between 1728 and 1731 is possible—in Pallas, County Longford, Ireland, as the fifth child and second son of the Reverend Charles Goldsmith and Ann Jones Goldsmith. He grew up in the Irish village of Lissoy, the model for the imaginary Auburn of the poem The Deserted Village (1770). Goldsmith was fond of his father, who became the model for the benevolent Dr. Primrose in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) and the kindly father of The Man in Black of The Citizen of the World (1762). The village curate in The Deserted Village is also based partly on the Reverend Charles Goldsmith, in addition to Goldsmith’s brother Henry, to whom he dedicated his poem The Traveller: Or, A Prospect of Society (1764). The less flattering portrait of Mrs. Primrose in The Vicar of Wakefield reflects Goldsmith’s estrangement from his mother, who grew disillusioned with her son’s improvidence—a trait inherited from his father. When Ann Goldsmith died,...
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Goldsmith is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his play She Stoops to Conquer (1773), and his poem The Deserted Village (1770). It was, however, an abridged version of his A History of England (1764) that raised the ire of the Roman Catholic church. That abridgment—which contributed nothing to Goldsmith’s literary reputation—was first published shortly after he died in 1774, and it was often revised and republished in Great Britain and North America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1823, an Italian translation of the text was listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum with the proviso donec corrigatur (“until it is corrected”).
Goldsmith’s negative remarks about the Catholic church at the time of the Reformation, were doubtless a primary reason for his book’s condemnation. He wrote that the “vices and impositions of the church of Rome were now almost come to a head; and the increase of arts and learning among the laity . . . began to make them resist that power which was originally founded in deceit.” The book also discusses how Pope Leo X’s greed led to the hated practice of selling of indulgences, which were easily purchased “at taverns, brothels and gaming houses,” and it emphasizes base...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Oliver Goldsmith received his A.B. from Trinity College in Dublin in 1749. He toyed with the notion of taking holy orders but was refused by a bishop who felt his scarlet breeches reflected a less than serious attitude. In 1752, he left Ireland never to return. His travels to London to study law met with misfortune, but a generous uncle then sent him to study medicine at Edinburgh. Shortly thereafter he traveled by foot through Holland, Switzerland, and France. He settled in England in 1756, supporting himself at various times as a doctor among the poor, an apothecary’s assistant, an usher in a school, and finally as a hack writer for Ralph Griffith’s Monthly Review. His life was marked by continual wandering, and poverty was his constant companion. After establishing himself in the literary world, he was honored by being chosen one of the nine charter members of Samuel Johnson’s famous club. He died in 1774, leaving an incredible volume of work and an equal amount of debt.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer is one of those classic ne’er-do-wells in English literature who would rather eat, drink, and play a merry prank than work for a living. Tony may have been Oliver Goldsmith’s favorite male character in the play; at the very least, he was a kindred spirit, because the playwright himself had lived a ne’er-do-well’s existence before successful authorship brought him some stability and an income, however irregular it may have been.
Goldsmith began life as the second son in the large family of an Anglo-Irish clergyman. What limited wealth the family had was destined to become part of his older brother’s inheritance or of the dowry for an older sister who “married above herself”; nothing much was left for Oliver. Goldsmith seems to have been equally slighted by nature: He was a sickly child, badly disfigured by smallpox contracted at age seven, and he was considered dull by his first teachers. From this inauspicious background, it took a number of years for Goldsmith to discover his niche in the world as a writer.
Goldsmith was graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1749, after fitful periods of study that were punctuated by riotous parties and pranks, clashes with administrators, and attempts to run away. Two years later, he applied for ordination in the Church of England, but the red trousers he wore to the interview seem not to have made a favorable impression on the local bishop....
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Oliver Goldsmith was born of English stock to Ann Jones and the Reverend Charles Goldsmith, an Anglican curate. He first attended the village school of Lissoy and was taught by Thomas Byrne, a veteran of the War of the Spanish Succession. Byrne, a versifier who regaled his pupils with stories and legends of old Irish heroes, perhaps inspired Goldsmith with his love of poetry, imaginative romance, and adventure. In 1747, Goldsmith attended Patrick Hughes’s school at Edgeworthstown, where he received a thorough grounding in the Latin classics. While there he probably first heard Turlogh O’Carolan, “the last of the bards,” whose minstrelry left a lasting impression on him. In 1745, he entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar, a position that required him to do menial work in exchange for room, board, and tuition. Goldsmith earned his B.A. degree in either 1749 or 1750. In 1752, he journeyed to Edinburgh, Scotland, to study medicine, and he continued to pursue his medical studies at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands, in 1754. The next year he set out on a grand tour of the Continent. In February, 1756, he arrived in London, where he briefly taught in Dr. Milner’s school for nonconformists and eked out a living doing hack writing.
A reversal of his fortunes occurred in 1759 with the publication of his first substantial work, An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe. Goldsmith subsequently befriended such...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Although David Garrick’s epigrammatic remark that Oliver Goldsmith “wrote like an angel, but talk’s like poor Poll” exaggerates his social awkwardness, it does contain an important indicator. Before Goldsmith discovered authorship, his life had been all trial and mostly error.
As the second son of an Irish clergyman, Goldsmith could not look forward to independent means; most of the family resources went to increase the dowry of a sister. Nature seems to have been equally parsimonious toward him: Childhood disease, natural indolence, and physical ungainliness left him prey to his classmates’ teasing and his schoolmasters’ scorn. His later days at Trinity College in Dublin were no better: He got into trouble with administrators, ran away, but returned to earn a low bachelor’s degree in 1749.
For the next ten years, Goldsmith seemed at a complete loss for direction. He toyed with the idea of running away to America, but instead applied for ordination in the Church of England. Emphatically rejected by the local bishop, Goldsmith went in 1751 to study medicine at the University of Leyden. After mild attention to his studies, Goldsmith toured Europe, sometimes with the dignity of a “foreign student” and sometimes with the poverty of a wandering minstrel. Returning to London in 1756, he successively failed at teaching and at getting a medical appointment in the navy. He found work as a proofreader for the novelist-printer Samuel...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Early Life (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Many uncertainties linger about Oliver Goldsmith. Among them are the date and place of his birth. He was probably born on November 10, 1728 or 1730—though any year between 1728 and 1731 is possible—in Pallas, County Longford, Ireland, as the fifth child and second son of the Reverend Charles Goldsmith and Ann Jones Goldsmith. He grew up in the Irish village of Lissoy, the model for the imaginary Auburn of the poem The Deserted Village (1770). Goldsmith was fond of his father, who became the model for the benevolent Dr. Primrose in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) and the kindly father of The Man in Black of The Citizen of the World (1762). The village curate in The Deserted Village is also based partly on the Reverend Charles Goldsmith, in addition to Goldsmith’s brother Henry, to whom he dedicated his poem The Traveller: Or, A Prospect of Society (1764). The less flattering portrait of Mrs. Primrose in The Vicar of Wakefield reflects Goldsmith’s estrangement from his mother, who grew disillusioned with her son’s improvidence—a trait inherited from his father. When Ann Goldsmith died, Oliver supposedly wore only half-mourning (again the facts are unclear) because he regarded her as a distant relative.
A large part of his mother’s disappointment...
(The entire section is 932 words.)
Life’s Work (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Six months of working for Griffiths was enough for Goldsmith: Griffiths was demanding, and he took liberties with Goldsmith’s essays. In 1758, Goldsmith returned briefly to his teaching post and also secured a commission to serve as a physician in India. To earn money for his passage, he completed An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe. This work surveys education and literature, particularly in France and England. Goldsmith saw a decline in both countries but believed that the great power of booksellers in England was especially pernicious. No doubt he was thinking of his recent experience with Griffiths.
Other booksellers were proving more generous, though. John Wilkie was starting a new thirty-two-page weekly magazine, The Bee, and asked Goldsmith to serve as its editor, by which he meant sole contributor. For the periodical’s eight numbers (October 6, 1759, to November 24, 1759), Goldsmith churned out a variety of essays. As if this work were not enough, he was also writing for The Critical Review and The Lady’s Magazine.
Although The Bee was short-lived, Goldsmith’s work had attracted the notice of John Newbery, the publisher of children’s books. What unsigned work Goldsmith may have done for him is unclear; Goody Two-Shoes (1765), a children’s classic, has been attributed to Goldsmith. Newbery definitely wanted Goldsmith to write for his new daily...
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
The Latin inscription on Oliver Goldsmith’s memorial in Westminster Abbey says that he “left scarcely any kind of writing untouched and touched nothing that he did not adorn.” Though its author, Samuel Johnson, maintained that in lapidary inscriptions one is not upon oath, here he wrote no more than the truth.
Goldsmith was certainly a hack writer; in a three-month period in 1760 he turned out forty essays. Yet he left a novel that endures as a classic, two poems that rival any of the century, a comedy that still enjoys frequent revivals, and essays that continue to delight and instruct. The man who lamented the decline of literature gave ample testimony to its vitality.
He was a keen observer. In An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature he predicted the French Revolution, and elsewhere he foresaw the antagonism between Russia and Western Europe. Despite his gentleness, he could be a sharp social critic, as when he wrote in The Deserted Village, “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,/ Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.” His sympathy with the common man and his experiments with traditional verse forms are as forward-looking as his political and social observations. He was not without his faults: He was feckless toward his mother, improvident, credulous, and vain. Yet, as Samuel Johnson wrote of him in a letter to Bennet Langton, “Let not his frailties be remembered; he was a very great man.”
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Oliver Goldsmith’s life divides into almost equal segments. The first half is poorly understood. The second, beginning in 1756 with his arrival in London, is well documented. Goldsmith’s birth is shrouded in some mystery. It is believed that he was born on November 10, 1728 or 1730, at his parents’ home at Pallas, County Longford, Ireland. The uncertainty arises because the year next to Goldsmith’s recorded birth was ripped out of the family Bible. He was the fourth child and second son of Charles Goldsmith, a leisure-loving curate who rose slowly in the Anglican Church, and Ann Jones Goldsmith. Shortly after Oliver’s birth, the family moved to Lissoy, where Charles became curate-in-charge of the parish at Kilkenny West.
At school, Goldsmith was a careless student, but never an unintelligent one. He was good in Latin and translated some of Vergil into English verse. This early taste for versification deepened in his youth, when he had the opportunity to hear professional storytellers and entertainers. Their lively tales increased his interest in romantic writing. Goldsmith’s mother recognized his interest in, and devotion to, poetry and music from his early childhood. When he was older, she insisted, in spite of a grave financial condition, that he be educated as had his father and older brother. With financial backing from an adoring...
(The entire section is 843 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Oliver Goldsmith is one of the great writers of the eighteenth century, ranking with Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Johnson. He was certainly the master comedian of his age. His versatility in producing important poems, dramas, novels, and essays is without peer.
Goldsmith always remained a puzzle to his contemporaries. He was a difficult personality for them to comprehend. After his death, however, he assumed legendary proportions. Over the centuries, many anecdotes and recollections of the man have been offered, including countless books and shorter works. Perhaps Johnson wrote it best in his Latin inscription on Goldsmith’s memorial in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey: “in genius lofty, lively, versatile; in style weighty, clear, engaging.”
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Oliver Goldsmith, the son of a Protestant clergyman in Ballymahon, was born in a small and poor village in Ireland. When Goldsmith was two years old his father succeeded to a more lucrative parish and moved his family to Lissoy, Westmeath. Little in Goldsmith’s early life pointed him toward literature. He received his earliest education at home from a maid-servant and thereupon at the Lissoy village school and a variety of boarding schools. Because he was small in stature, pitted with smallpox, and awkward in manner, he was the butt of his schoolmates’ jokes, and his schoolmasters considered him “a stupid, heavy blockhead.” However, both his characteristic good nature and his characteristic indolence remained unaltered.
About the time he planned to attend university, his sister married a well-to-do young man. When his father felt obliged to send her forth with a suitable dowry, the family’s financial situation became such that young Oliver was forced to attend the university as a sizar (a student paying his way through menial domestic chores) instead of as a pensioner (a student paying tuition). Despite this blow to his pride, he let himself be won over to the idea; he passed the college entrance examination—last on the list—and entered Trinity College in 1745.
His academic standing and economic status at Trinity College are...
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Born November 10, 1728, in Ballymahon, Ireland, Goldsmith was from a poor but not needy family, supported by his father's position as a minister. The family had expected that Goldsmith would attend university, but the marriage of an older sister required his tuition money as part of her sizable dowry. In 1745, Goldsmith entered Trinity College in Dublin under the sizar system, which allowed poor students to study in exchange for work. Perhaps because of his tenuous economic circumstances, Goldsmith did not distinguish himself academically. He failed to take his studies entirely seriously, violated college rules, and even took part in a riot in which several people died.
Completing his B.A. in 1749, Goldsmith attempted various careers, including the ministry and medicine. From 1753-56, he wandered across the British continent before arriving in London. There, Goldsmith embarked on a career writing reviews and essays for such periodicals as Ralph Griffith's Monthly Review and Tobias Smollett's Critical Review, as well as proofreading for the novelist and printer Samuel Richardson.
The first book to appear under Goldsmith's name proved a notable success. Entitled The Citizen of the World; or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher Residing in London to His Friends in the East, it began as a series of essays in the Publick Ledger. Goldsmith, masquerading under the identity of an Asian visitor, satirized the faults and...
(The entire section is 625 words.)