Oliver Goldsmith c. 1730–74
Goldsmith was born in Ireland, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and in Edinburgh, before wandering on the continent in the mid-1750s. Despite his medical studies, he had to support himself in London by voluminous literary hack-work: reviews, histories, biographies (Life of Nash, 1762). The famous Chinese Letters republished as The Citizen of the World (1762) are satirical essays describing English life and characters. His short novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) tests a simple clergyman and father in a corrupt world. Two ‘laughing comedies’, The Good-Natured Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), reacted against the sentimental vogue, and are still performed. A man of wide knowledge, Goldsmith was a member of Johnson’s prestigious Club, and encouraged by leading members. His major poems, The Traveller (1764) and The Deserted Village (1770), develop the form of the heroic couplet. His ‘Auburn’ may combine childhood memories of Ireland with observations of English rural depopulation arising from recent economic and moral change: the money-making and private pleasure associated with great estates seemed to force out the traditional peasantry.
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