Although best remembered as a dramatist, Oliver Goldsmith is also known for his work in several other genres. His only novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), the comic and sentimental tale of a village curate’s attempts to guide his children through the tribulations of growing up, remains a minor classic. The Citizen of the World (1762), a recasting of Charles de Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes (1721; Persian Letters, 1722), is a collection of fictitious letters, purportedly written by a Chinese philosopher who is living in London, describing English customs and English society from an outsider’s point of view.
Goldsmith’s poetry was often comic as well (as in his parodies of “An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog,” of 1766, and “An Elegy on the Glory of Her Sex: Mrs. Mary Blaize,” of 1759), but when his sympathies were touched, he produced some creditable serious poems, the most notable of which is The Deserted Village (1770), a protest against the economic and social conditions that were forcing a massive shift of the populace from small villages to cities.
Like other eighteenth century authors, Goldsmith earned his living by writing whatever publishers thought would sell: histories of Rome and England, biographical sketches, epilogues for the plays of others, translations, and introductions to the natural sciences as well as plays, novels, and poems. The best modern edition of Goldsmith’s varied canon is The Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith (1966), in five volumes, edited by Arthur Friedman for Oxford University Press.