Oliver Goldsmith, an English author, born in the hamlet of Pallas or Pallasmore, county Longford, Ireland, Nov. 10, 1728, died in London, April 4, 1774. His father was a clergyman of the established church, and at the birth of his son was very poor. Oliver's childhood gave no special indications of his future greatness. An attack of smallpox from which he suffered while a child left its marks upon his naturally plain face, which, with a generally uninviting exterior, made his personal appearance especially unprepossessing. His elder brother Henry was a student at the university, and several relatives contributed to send Oliver there; and in 1744 he entered Trinity college, Dublin, as a sizar or poor scholar. At that time the position of that class of students was highly disagreeable. Their dress was peculiar and designed to indicate their poverty, and they were required to perform many of the menial services of the institution. It was with the utmost reluctance that Goldsmith submitted to these humbling conditions, and while subject to them he was "moody and desponding." He was often reduced to great straits, but by borrowing, pawning his books, and writing ballads he contrived to keep his place. In 1749 he was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts, and took his final leave of the university.
He now returned home, and after some months had been spent in aimless loiter-ings was persuaded to prepare for the church. The two years of his probation were spent at Lissoy and Ballymahon, among the idlers at the village inns or in desultory reading. In due time he presented himself, arrayed in a fashionable dress, part of which consisted of a pair of scarlet breeches, to the bishop of Elphin for ordination, and was rejected. He now obtained employment as tutor in a gentleman's family, where he remained a few months, when he quarrelled with the family, and so found himself once more a free man with more money than he had ever before possessed. He bought a horse, and, with £:30 in his pocket, sallied out upon the world. A few weeks after he returned home as destitute as he had been six months before. A large part of his money had been paid for a passage to America, but when the ship sailed he was enjoying himself with some friends in the country. It was next determined that he should try the legal profession, and an uncle affording him the means, he set out for London with £50, which he lost in gaming in Dublin; and after remaining secreted for some time, he again returned to his friends. Ho was next, toward the end of 1752, sent to Edinburgh to study medicine.
Two winters were devoted to hearing lectures; but near the end of his second term, burdened with debts and hunted by bailiffs, he escaped from Edinburgh and fled to the continent. He passed nearly a year at Leyden, ostensibly hearing lectures, but really devoting most of his time to pleasure, and then, after selling his books and borrowing money from his friends, he set out for Paris, where he attended chemical lectures. After remaining there but a little while, he set out to make the tour of the continent. Taking parts of Germany and Switzerland in his way, he passed to Marseilles, and thence into Italy. How he supported himself in these wanderings is told by himself, though his accounts of this part of his life must be received with caution. He says in the story of the "Philosophical Vagabond " in the " Vicar of Wakefield ": " I had some knowledge of music, with a tolerable voice, and now turned what was my amusement into a present means of subsistence.....
Whenever I approached a peasant's house toward nightfall, I played one of my most merry tunes, and that procured me not only a lodging, but subsistence for the next day." In Italy his musical powers no longer availed him, for, he said, every peasant was a better musician than himself; but he had acquired a habit of living by expedients, and here a new one presented itself. " In all the foreign universities and convents," he continues, "there are upon certain days philosophical theses maintained against any adventitious disputant, for which, if the champion maintain with any degree of dexterity, he can claim a gratuity in money, a dinner, and a bed for the night. In this manner, therefore, I fought my way toward England, walked along from city to city, examined mankind more nearly, and, if I may so express it, saw both sides of the picture." At Padua, where he remained some months, he took his medical degree. After two years had been spent in vagrant rambles, early in 1756 he landed at Dover, friendless and penniless.
How he made his way thence to the metropolis is uncertain; it is only known that "in the middle of February he was wandering without friend or acquaintance, without the knowledge or comfort of one kind face, in the lonely, terrible London streets." For two or three years after his coming to London his history is very obscure. He was for some time an assistant to a chemist, and at another he practised medicine in Southwark, acting at the same time as reader and corrector of the press for the novelist and publisher Samuel Richardson. He was also for a while an usher in a school at Peckham, a business which he seems to have especially hated. It was while thus engaged that he accidentally met with the publisher of the "Monthly Review," by whom his services were engaged in the preparation of that publication. His daily employment was to write for the review under the direction of his employer. The pages of the magazine very soon gave evidence of the acquisition that had been made to its contributors, and even the writer himself began to hope that his better days were at hand. But his path was still a rough one. A daily drudgery was required of him, alike irksome to his indolence and galling to Lis pride.
These unhappy relations of the parties could not continue long, and accordingly, at the end of five months, the engagement was discontinued by mutual consent. But this transaction was one of great importance to Goldsmith, for it brought him into his appropriate sphere, and discovered to himself and others the secret of his power. He accordingly continued to write for a variety of periodicals, but only for immediate results. At this time he was appointed physician and surgeon to one of the East India company's factories on the coast of Coromandel, but for some unexplained reason the post was afterward given to another. He then applied to the college of surgeons for the post of hospital mate, but, failing to pass the necessary examination, was rejected. In 1759 he issued his first acknowledged work, a duodecimo volume entitled "An Inquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe." This brought him into public notice, and gained him acquaintance with some of the principal men of letters of the day. In the same year he engaged in a weekly periodical called "The Bee," which met with little encouragement, and lived only eight weeks.
Soon after this he agreed with the publisher of the daily "Public Ledger" to contribute some articles to that newspaper, and the famous "Chinese Letters," republished a few months after under the title of "The Citizen of the World," were the result. These consist of a series of essays on society and manners, written in the assumed character of a Chinese philosopher resident in London, in a style of great purity, and in a vein of good-natured satire. The book greatly improved both the reputation and the finances of the writer. He emerged from his garret, and took more eligible rooms in Fleet street, where he made acquaintances, among them Percy, Smollett, and Johnson, with whom he contracted a warm and lasting friendship. Burke, who had been at college with him, and Hogarth were also frequent visitors here; and here began an intimacy with Sir Joshua Reynolds which only ended with Goldsmith's life. He was admitted to membership in the famous Literary club at its institution, and lived to see many persons of distinction vainly suing for the same privilege. Goldsmith now continued his labors for the booksellers as a means of temporary subsistence.
The principal work which he produced during this time was the "History of England, in a Series of Letters from a Nobleman to his Son," which, though a mere compilation, was written with a fluency and grace which won for it the praise of being "the most finished and elegant summary of English history in the same compass that had been or was likely to be written." The impressions received during his tour on the continent he now gave to the world in the form of a poem. "The Traveller" was published near the end of 1764, and worked its way slowly into popularity. "The Vicar of Wakefield" was written simultaneously with "The Traveller," though not published till 1766. The manuscript had been sold 18 months before for £60, to save its author from the bailiffs. He next commenced writing for the stage, and in 1767 produced "The Good-Natured Man," which was acted at Covent Garden theatre the next winter. Though its success was only partial, it added to its author's reputation, and brought him the substantial reward of £500. The winter of 1768-'9 was spent in compiling a Roman history, which was published the next May, in 2 vols. 8vo. The next year he commenced the compilation of the " History of the Earth and Animated Nature," which was issued in 1774 in 8 vols. 8vo. In 1770 he published "The Deserted Village." The popularity of "The Traveller" had prepared the way for this poem, and its sale was immense.
In 1771 he brought out another work on the "History of England," which in many parts was merely a reproduction of the former. Goldsmith's condition and circumstances had greatly improved with the growth of his literary reputation; but his style of living advanced even more rapidly than his resources, and his pecuniary embarrassments were daily growing upon him. The productions of his pen were in great demand, and commanded unusually large prices, but were insufficient to meet his increased expenses. Besides his large compilations and his anonymous contributions to periodicals, he was steadily occupied with the preparation of small volumes, and in original poetical composition. His second comedy, "She Stoops to Conquer," was written early in 1772, but not acted till a year later. It was coldly received by Colman, the manager of Covent Garden, but strongly sustained by Goldsmith's literary and convivial associates, and had a great success. A rich reward of fame greeted the author; and, what was more needed, its pecuniary results were highly satisfactory, though still far short of meeting his pressing necessities.
In this state of his affairs, associated with the learned, the gay, and the opulent, on terms altogether honorable, he found his want of money increasing at a rate which rendered all hope of relief from his labors entirely desperate. Near the last of March, 1774, he returned from a brief visit to the country, and found himself slightly indisposed by a local disorder, which was followed by a low fever, under which the overtaxed powers of his system rapidly gave way. He was in the 46th year of his age when he died. He was interred in the burial ground of the Temple church, but no memorial Was set up to indicate the place of his burial, and it is now found impossible to identify it. His friends erected a monument to his memory in Westminster abbey, for which a Latin inscription was written by Dr. Johnson; and in 1837 a marble slab with an English inscription was placed by the members of the Inner Temple in the Temple church. - Of his works not already mentioned we may cite the "Memoirs of a Protestant condemned to the Galleys of France for his Religion," a translation from the French, and his first known publication (2 vols. 12mo, London, 1758) ; "Life of Voltaire," written in 1759 to accompany Purdon's translation of the Henriade, but published separately in a magazine; "Life of Richard Nash, Esq., of Bath" (Beau Nash), (1762); "Edwin and Angelina" (or "The Hermit"), a poem (1705); "A short English Grammar" (1706) ; " Beauties of English Poetry" (2 vols. 12mo, 1767) ; "Poems for Young Ladies" (1767); "Life of Lord Bolingbroke," originally prefixed to a dissertation on the state of parties, and reprinted separately in 1770; "Life of Thomas Parnell," prefixed to an edition of his poems (1770); "The Haunch of Venison, a Poem" (1771); "The Grecian History" (2 vols. 8vo, 1774); "Retaliation, a Poem" (4to, 1774); a translation of Scarron's Roman co-mique (1774); and "A Survey of Experimental Philosophy" (2 vols. 8vo, 1776). His essays were collected and reprinted during his lifetime.
The first collection of his poems appeared in London in 1780 (2 vols. 12mo), and editions have since been issued by Newell, with remarks on the actual scene of "The Deserted Village" (4to, 1811); Mitford, in the "Aldine Poets" (12mo, 1831); Bolton Corney (8vo, 1845); E. F. Blanchard, with illustrations by Birket Foster and others (8vo, 1858), etc. His miscellaneous works have been edited by S. Rose, with a memoir by Bishop Percy (4 vols. 8vo, 1801); with a memoir by Washington Irving (4 vols., Paris, 1825); by James Prior, with an elaborate biography (6 vols. 8vo, London, 1837); with a life and notes (4 vols. 12mo, 1845); and by Peter Cunningham (4 vols. 8vo, 1855). The last two editions are the most complete and accurate that have appeared. There are numerous reprints and translations of Goldsmith's works in France and Germany, and "The Vicar of Wakefield" is there as largely used for teaching English as Caesar's "Commentaries" for Latin. Biographies of the poet have been written by Mitford, Prior, and Irving ; but best of all by John Forster, "Life and Adventures of Oliver Goldsmith" (1848), enlarged as "Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith" (2 vols., 1854), and abridged (1855). Sketches of his life were published by Sir Walter Scott in his "Lives of the Novelists," and Macaulay in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica."