Oliver Goldsmith Questions and Answers

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What is the most remarkable thing about the school master in the poem "The Village Schoolmaster" by Oliver Goldsmith?

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This poem by Oliver Goldsmith describes a village schoolmaster who occasions "wonder" in the people of the village, because of "how much he knew." The people in the village have never known anyone who is so wise in so many areas of learning, so their wonder increases "that one small head could carry all he knew."

The poem lists the various virtues of the schoolmaster. He is both severe and kind; he can write "and cipher." He is able to perform topographical measurements and analyze when the tides are likely to come in; rumor has it that he can even "gauge." The schoolmaster is also extremely skilled in arguing, or debating.

Ultimately, however, the village schoolmaster who "taught his little school" and occasioned such wonder over his great cleverness may have struck an impression with the villagers of his time, but it seems that his fame has not long outlived him. On the contrary, at the end of the poem, Goldsmith states, "past is all his fame." For all his great cleverness, the schoolmaster is now largely "forgot."

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The most remarkable thing about the village schoolmaster is the amount of knowledge he has.  He is very smart.  The author lets us know this by describing all the things he can do:

The village all declar'd how much he knew;
'Twas certain he could write, and cipher too:
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And e'en the story ran that he could gauge

The schoolmaster could write and do arithmetic, of course, but he also knew how to measure land (which would have been very important in his day) and figure out the tides (also important).  To gauge means to do even more difficult calculations.

The poet goes on to tell us that he was very good at arguing because “While words of learned length and thund'ring sound Amazed the gazing rustics rang'd around.” It isn’t just that he can keep arguing for a very long time, it is how he argues—with long words that amaze the farmers standing around him. 

The poet continues with “And still they gaz'd and still the wonder grew, That one small head could carry all he knew.”  In case the reader did not understand by what was said earlier, the poet reminds us one last time that the schoolmaster may have had a small head, but he had great knowledge.

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