Biography Oliver Goldsmith
- Time Period1730 - 1774
- PlaceCounty Longford
Irish poet, dramatist and essayist, Oliver Goldsmith was born either in Pallas, County Longford or Elphin, Roscommon. He was the second son of an Anglican clergyman, and spent much of his childhood at Lissoy which he drew on when writing The Deserted Village. He had a severe attack of smallpox at the age of eight which left him badly disfigured for life.
In 1744 he went as a sizar to Trinity College, Dublin, ran away in 1746, but returned to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1749. After several false starts in choosing a career, a generous uncle sent him in 1752 to Edinburgh University to study medicine. Instead of taking a degree he travelled throughout Europe, from which travels he drew on in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). In 1756 he returned destitute to London,and practised as a physician in Southwark and as an usher in Peckham. He corrected proofs for Samuel Richardson and drifted into the profession of hack writer for Ralph Griffiths proprietor of the Monthly Review.
In 1759 he published his first substantial work, An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe, which documents what he felt to be the decline of the fine arts in mid-eighteenth-century Europe, owing to the lack of enlightened patronage and the bad influence of criticism and scholarship. From this time onwards he earned substantial amounts of money from his writing, contributing to The Busy Body, The Monthly Review, and The Critical Review amongst others. His plays, particularly She Stoops to Conquer (1773), were immensely popular. However he was extravagant in taste and generous to a fault, and so died leaving debts of £2000. He never married, but had a long and close relationship with Mary Horneck.
His prose, drama and poetry are distinguished by their exceptionally high standard as well as by their variety in style and subject matter. His poetic style has been deemed harmonious and pure, and his drama unique in its transcendence of ethical or social criticism. His prose works are characterised by humour and astute observation.