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Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith
Portrait 1769–70 by Joshua Reynolds
Born (1728-11-10)10 November 1728 (disputed)
Either Ballymahon, County Longford, Ireland or Elphin, County Roscommon, Ireland
Died 4 April 1774(1774-04-04) (aged 43)
London, England
Resting place Temple Church, London
Occupation Playwright, poet, busker, apothecary's assistant
Language English
Education BA
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Literary movement The Club
Notable works The Vicar of Wakefield, "The Deserted Village", The Good-Natur'd Man, She Stoops to Conquer

Oliver Goldsmith (10 November 1728 – 4 April 1774) was an Anglo-Irish[1] novelist, playwright and poet, who is best known 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). He also wrote An History of the Earth and Animated Nature. He is thought to have written the classic children's tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, the source of the phrase "goody two-shoes".


  • Biography 1
  • Works 2
    • The Citizen of the World 2.1
    • The Hermit 2.2
    • The Deserted Village 2.3
    • Other works 2.4
  • Memorials concerning Oliver Goldsmith 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Goldsmith's birth date and year are not known with certainty. According to the Library of Congress authority file, he told a biographer that he was born on 10 November 1728. The location of his birthplace is also uncertain. He was born either in the townland of Pallas, near Smith Hill House in the diocese of Elphin, County Roscommon where his grandfather Oliver Jones was a clergyman and master of the Elphin diocesan school, and where Oliver studied.[2] When he was two years old, Goldsmith's father was appointed the rector of the parish of "Kilkenny West" in County Westmeath. The family moved to the parsonage at Lissoy, between Athlone and Ballymahon, and continued to live there until his father's death in 1747.

In 1744 Goldsmith went up to Trinity College, Dublin. His tutor was Theaker Wilder. Neglecting his studies in theology and law, he fell to the bottom of his class. In 1747, along with four other undergraduates, he was expelled for a riot in which they attempted to storm the Marshalsea Prison.[3] He was graduated in 1749 as a Bachelor of Arts, but without the discipline or distinction that might have gained him entry to a profession in the church or the law; his education seemed to have given him mainly a taste for fine clothes, playing cards, singing Irish airs and playing the flute. He lived for a short time with his mother, tried various professions without success, studied medicine desultorily at the University of Edinburgh from 1752 to 1755, and set out on a walking tour of Flanders, France, Switzerland and Northern Italy, living by his wits (busking with his flute).

'A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds's'.[1] Use a cursor to see who is who.
A plaque to Oliver Goldsmith at Temple Church.

He settled in London in 1756, where he briefly held various jobs, including an apothecary's assistant and an usher of a school. Perennially in debt and addicted to gambling, Goldsmith produced a massive output as a hack writer for the publishers of London, but his few painstaking works earned him the company of Samuel Johnson, with whom he was a founding member of "The Club". The combination of his literary work and his dissolute lifestyle led Horace Walpole to give him the epithet inspired idiot. During this period he used the pseudonym "James Willington" (the name of a fellow student at Trinity) to publish his 1758 translation of the autobiography of the Huguenot Jean Marteilhe.

Goldsmith was described by contemporaries as prone to envy, a congenial but impetuous and disorganised personality who once planned to emigrate to America but failed because he missed his ship. Thomas De Quincey wrote of him 'All the motion of Goldsmith's nature moved in the direction of the true, the natural, the sweet, the gentle'.[4]

His premature death in 1774 may have been partly due to his own misdiagnosis of his kidney infection. Goldsmith was buried in Temple Church in London. The inscription reads; "HERE LIES/OLIVER GOLDSMITH". There is a monument to him in the centre of Ballymahon, also in Westminster Abbey with an epitaph written by Samuel Johnson.[5]


See The Vicar of Wakefield, The Good-Natur'd Man, The Traveller, and She Stoops to Conquer.

The Citizen of the World

In 1760 Goldsmith began to publish a series of letters in the Public Ledger under the title The Citizen of the World. Purportedly written by a Chinese traveller in England by the name of Lien Chi, they used this fictional outsider's perspective to comment ironically and at times moralistically on British society and manners. It was inspired by the earlier essay series Persian Letters by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu.

The Hermit

Goldsmith wrote this romantic ballad of precisely 160 lines in 1765. The hero and heroine are Edwin, a youth without wealth or power, and Angelina, the daughter of a lord "beside the Tyne." Angelina spurns many wooers, but refuses to make plain her love for young Edwin. "Quite dejected with my scorn," Edwin disappears and becomes a hermit. One day, Angelina turns up at his cell in boy's clothes and, not recognising him, tells him her story. Edwin then reveals his true identity, and the lovers never part again. The poem is notable for its interesting portrayal of a hermit, who is fond of the natural world and his wilderness solitude but maintains a gentle, sympathetic demeanor toward other people. In keeping with eremitical tradition, however, Edwin the Hermit claims to "spurn the [opposite] sex." This poem appears under the title of "A Ballad" sung by the character of Mr. Burchell in Chapter 8 of Goldsmith's novel, The Vicar of Wakefield.[6]

The Deserted Village

In the 1760s Goldsmith witnessed the demolition of an ancient village and destruction of its farms to clear land to become a wealthy man's garden.[7] His poem The Deserted Village, published in 1770, expresses a fear that the destruction of villages and the conversion of land from productive agriculture to ornamental landscape gardens would ruin the peasantry.[7]

Other works

  • The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith (ed) Austin Dobson, 1887, kindle ebook March 2011 ASIN B004TP31VM

Memorials concerning Oliver Goldsmith

A statue of Goldsmith at Trinity College, Dublin.

Goldsmith lived in Kingsbury, now in North-West London between 1771 and 1774 and Oliver Goldsmith Primary School and Goldsmith Lane there are named after him.

In the play Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn, Marx makes a reference to Goldsmiths' poem, The Deserted Village.[8]

A statue of him by JH Foley stands at the Front Arch of Trinity College, Dublin (see image).

His name has been given to a new lecture theatre and student accommodation on the Trinity College campus: Goldsmith Hall.

Somerset Maugham used the last line from An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog in his novel The Painted Veil (1925). The character Walter Fane's last words are The dog it was that died.

Auburn, Alabama, and Auburn University were named for the first line in Goldsmith's poem: "Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain." Auburn is still referred to as the 'loveliest village on the plain.'

There is a statue in Ballymahon County Longford.

London Underground locomotive number 16 (used on the Metropolitan line of the London Underground until 1962) was named Oliver Goldsmith.

Longford based band Goldsmith are named after the famous writer.

Athlone Institute of Technology library is named the Goldsmith Library

In popular culture

Two characters in the 1951 comedy The Lavender Hill Mob quote the same line from Goldsmith's poem "The Traveller" – a subtle joke, because the film's plot involves the recasting of stolen gold.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Craig, Maurice (1952). Dublin 1650–1860. Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd. p. 184. 
  4. ^ De Quincey Writings (ed) James Thomas Fields 1850–1855
  5. ^ "Oliver Goldsmith: A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian, who left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn. Of all the passions, whether smiles were to move or tears, a powerful yet gentle master. In genius, vivid, versatile, sublime. In style, clear, elevated, elegant." Epitaph written by Dr. Johnson, translated from the original Latin.
  6. ^ Dyachok, 2012, pages 341–342
  7. ^ a b Rowley, 1978, page 132
  8. ^ Marx in Soho, Howard Zinn 1999, South End Press


  • Austin Dobson, Henry (Editor) The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith, ISBN 1-58827-277-X
  • Campbell, Gordon (ed.), Oliver Goldsmith (Everyman's Poetry Series), ISBN 0-460-87827-1
  • Connellan, J.A., Oliver Goldsmith of Elphin, Published for the Goldsmith Society (1935)
  • Forster, John, The life and times of Oliver Goldsmith, Published by: Ward, Lock and Co (London, New York, 1848)
  • Goldsmith, Oliver, The Vicar of Wakefield, ISBN 0-19-283940-3
  • Goldsmith, Oliver, She Stoops to Conquer, ISBN 0-486-26867-5
  • Irving, Washington, Life of Oliver Goldsmith, ISBN 1-58963-236-2
  • Prior, James, Life of Goldsmith, two volumes (London: John Murray, 1837) at Google Books
  • Rousseau, George (1974), Goldsmith: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974). ISBN 0-7100-7720-3
  • Rowley, Trevor (1978). Villages in the Landscape. Archaeology in the Field Series. London:  

External links

  • Works by Oliver Goldsmith at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by Oliver Goldsmith at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Essays by Oliver Goldsmith at
  • The Deserted Village
  • UNCG American Publishers' Trade Bindings: The Deserted Village
  • Oliver Goldsmith: A Biography by Washington Irving from Project Gutenberg
  • Goldsmith (English Men of Letters series) by William Black from Project Gutenberg
  • An Essay on the Theatre; or, A Comparison Between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy
  • Goldsmith Hall – student accommodation and lecture theatre, Trinity College, Dublin.
  • Information on Goldsmith
  • Oliver Goldsmith Resource
  • Works by Oliver Goldsmith in e-book version
  • The Goldsmith International Literary Festival Info on the Festival held annually in Goldsmith's Home County
  • Poems and essays, Oliver Goldsmith, 1839, (William Smith, London)
  • Oliver Goldsmith at Find a Grave
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