John Oldham was born in the English countryside on August 9, 1653, the son of a dissenting minister. He received a solid education both at home and in grammar school, entered St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, when he was seventeen and took his bachelor’s degree in May, 1674. Sometime during this period, Oldham wrote his first poem, a long Pindaric ode “To the Memory of My Dear Friend, Mr. Charles Morwent.” By this time he had confirmed, at least to himself, a lifelong commitment to the writing of poetry.
Because it was impossible to make a living from one’s pen without the aid of a literary patron, Oldham assumed the position of “usher” (assistant master) in Whitgift’s school, Croyden, where he remained in employment from 1674 to 1677. Although the aspiring poet had written several poems since his first ode, it was during these years that he wrote his first verse satire, A Satyr Against Vertue. It was also during the years at Croyden that Oldham was recognized by the more prominent Restoration wits, notably the earls of Rochester and Dorset, and Sir Charles Sedley.
As his poetic reputation grew, so did Oldham’s dissatisfaction with his position at Whitgift’s. Considering his tutoring duties to be little more than menial labor, in 1678, he accepted a position as a private tutor, which he kept until 1680 when he decided to move to London and become part of the literati of Restoration society. A year before the move to...
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