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Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith Oliver Goldsmith[1†]

Oliver Goldsmith (10 November 1728 – 4 April 1774) was a renowned Anglo-Irish novelist, playwright, dramatist, and poet[1†]. He is celebrated for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773)[1†]. Some believe he also wrote the classic children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765)[1†].

Early Years and Education

Oliver Goldsmith was born on November 10, 1730, in either Kilkenny West, County Westmeath, or Elphin, County Roscommon, in the Kingdom of Ireland[2†][3†]. His father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, was an Anglo-Irish clergyman[2†]. When Oliver was two years old, his father became the rector of the parish of Kilkenny West in County Westmeath, which led to the family moving to the parsonage at Lissoy[2†][4†].

Goldsmith enrolled at Trinity College in Dublin in 1744 to study theology and law[2†][4†][5†]. However, he did not concentrate on his studies and found himself at the bottom of his class[2†][4†]. His undergraduate years were marked by various misadventures, including an expulsion from his class in 1747 along with four other undergraduates for attempting to storm the Marshalsea Prison[2†][3†]. Despite these setbacks, he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in February 1749[2†][6†], albeit without distinction[2†][3†][6†].

After graduation, Goldsmith spent several years trying various professions, including attempts to become a minister, a teacher, and a lawyer, all of which were unsuccessful[2†][6†]. This period of his life, marked by a lack of direction and financial instability, ended with his decision to leave Ireland in the autumn of 1752 to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh[2†][3†].

Despite his meager funds, which were eventually exhausted, Goldsmith managed to make his way through Europe for two years[2†]. However, he took no degree while at Edinburgh nor, as far as anyone knows, during his travels in Europe[2†]. He arrived in London, bedraggled and penniless, early in 1756[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, and studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Goldsmith found himself in London[1†][3†]. He initially took up several menial jobs before finding his true calling as a writer[1†][3†]. His early career was marked by years of work as a Grub Street hack[1†][7†]. However, as his style and reputation as a writer developed, he became a member of the eminent London literary circle, which included men of letters such as Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and Sir Joshua Reynolds[1†][7†].

By 1762, Goldsmith had established himself as an essayist with his Citizen of the World, in which he used the device of satirizing Western society through the eyes of an Oriental visitor to London[1†][2†]. In 1764, he had won a reputation as a poet with The Traveller, the first work to which he put his name[1†][2†]. This marked the beginning of his rise to fame as a writer[1†][3†].

Goldsmith’s most notable works include his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773)[1†]. Some believe he also wrote the classic children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765)[1†]. These works have made him one of the most celebrated poets, dramatists, playwrights, and novelists of his time[1†][3†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Oliver Goldsmith’s literary career was marked by the publication of a variety of works that spanned multiple genres, reflecting his diverse literary skills[1†][2†][8†]. Here are some of his main works:

These works not only highlight Goldsmith’s versatility as a writer but also his keen observations of society and human nature. His writings continue to be celebrated for their wit, humor, and insightful social commentary.

Analysis and Evaluation

Oliver Goldsmith’s work is characterized by its wide range and variety, making him a difficult author to categorize easily[7†]. His writings spanned multiple genres, including poems, biographies, novels, essays, and sketches[7†]. His clear, charming style, combined with his gift for humor and characterization, have ensured his enduring popularity in the many genres he practiced[7†].

Goldsmith’s first poem, “The Traveller” (1764), deals with his wanderings through Europe[7†][9†]. His only other poem, “The Deserted Village” (1770), deals with the memories of his youth[7†][9†]. His natural descriptions have the charm and genuine feeling[7†][9†]. Goldsmith may be called a transition poet because his poems have emotions - they combine humor with pathos[7†][9†].

His two prose comedies, “The Good-Natured Man” (1768) and “She Stoops to Conquer” (1773), rank high among their class[7†][9†]. They made a reaction to the sentimental drama that dominated the literary scene of the eighteenth century[7†][9†]. He revived the Comedy of Manners minus the grossness of the Restoration Comedy[7†][9†]. “The Good-Natured Man” was not successful on the stage, but “She Stoops to Conquer” has an immense popularity because of its hilarious laughter and romantic appeal[7†][9†].

Goldsmith’s prose works, such as “The Citizen of the World” (1759), are astonishing in range and variety[7†][9†]. This series of imaginary letters from a Chinaman, describing English customs and English society from an outsider’s point of view, is both simple and shrewd[7†][9†]. His novel, “The Vicar of Wakefield” (1766), is an important work of fiction[7†][9†]. The plot is simple, though sometimes complicated and inconsistent, the characters are human and attractive[7†][9†].

In conclusion, Goldsmith’s success rate as a dramatist is virtually unmatched: two plays written, the first very good, the second a masterpiece[7†]. His writings drew the attention of famous persons like Dr. Johnson[7†]. Then his fortune and fame began to rise[7†]. His writings continue to be celebrated for their wit, humor, and insightful social commentary[7†].

Personal Life

Oliver Goldsmith’s personal life was as intriguing as his professional one. He was born into an Anglican-Irish family, with his father serving as the curator of the parish of Forgney[1†]. When Goldsmith was two years old, his father was appointed the rector of the parish of “Kilkenny West” in County Westmeath, leading the family to move to the parsonage at Lissoy[1†].

Goldsmith’s education at Trinity College in Dublin was marked by a lack of discipline and distinction, leading him to rank at the bottom of his class[1†]. He was even expelled along with four other undergraduates for attempting to storm the Marshalsea Prison[1†]. Despite these setbacks, he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts[1†].

After graduation, Goldsmith spent several years trying out various professions without much success[1†][3†]. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1752 to 1755, but never received a medical degree[1†]. He then embarked on a walking tour of Flanders, France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy, living by his wits and busking with his flute[1†].

In 1756, Goldsmith finally settled in London[1†][10†]. He worked as an assistant to an apothecary and later as an usher in a school[1†][4†]. However, his life in London was marked by a free-wheeling lifestyle of gambling and generous extravagance that kept him in constant debt[1†][10†][4†].

Despite his financial struggles, Goldsmith’s lively sense of fun and guileless nature made him a beloved figure. He was happiest when in the light-hearted company of children[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

When Oliver Goldsmith died, he had achieved eminence among the writers of his time as an essayist, a poet, and a dramatist[11†]. He was one “who left scarcely any kind of writing untouched and who touched nothing that he did not adorn”—such was the judgment expressed by his friend Dr. Johnson[11†].

Goldsmith’s success as a writer lay partly in the charm of personality emanated by his style—his affection for his characters, his mischievous irony, and his spontaneous interchange of gaiety and sadness[11†]. He was, as a writer, “natural, simple, affecting.” It is by their human personalities that his novel and his plays succeed, not by any brilliance of plot, ideas, or language[11†].

In the end, what most impressed Goldsmith’s contemporaries was the paradox he presented to the world: on the one hand, the assured and polished literary artist, on the other, the person notorious for his ineptitudes in and out of society[11†]. Again it was Johnson who summed up the common sentiment. “No man,” he declared, “was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had.”[11†]

Goldsmith saw people, human situations, and indeed the human predicament from the comic point of view; he was a realist, something of a satirist, but in his final judgments unfailingly charitable[11†]. This unique perspective and his ability to entertain his audience through his comic vision of human experience in language have ensured that his works continue to be celebrated[11†][7†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Oliver Goldsmith [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Oliver Goldsmith: Anglo-Irish author [website] - link
  3. The Famous People - Oliver Goldsmith Biography [website] - link
  4. SunSigns - Oliver Goldsmith Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  5. Britannica - Oliver Goldsmith summary [website] - link
  6. eNotes - Oliver Goldsmith Biography [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Oliver Goldsmith Analysis [website] - link
  8. Poetry Foundation - Oliver Goldsmith [website] - link
  9. EnglishLiterature.info - Oliver Goldsmith : Literary Contribution [website] - link
  10. GradeSaver - Oliver Goldsmith Biography [website] - link
  11. Britannica - Oliver Goldsmith - Poet, Playwright, Novelist [website] - link
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