Thursday, April 4, 2013

Irish novelist, playwright & poet Oliver Goldsmith died - 1774

Irish novelist, playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith died on April 4, 1774 in London, England. He 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 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.” Goldsmith's birth date and year are not known with certainty. According to legend Goldsmith stated that he was born on November 10, 1728. The location of his birthplace is also uncertain. He was born either in the village of Pallas, near Ballymahon, Ireland, where his father was the Anglican curate of the parish, or at the residence of his maternal grandparents, at the Smith Hill House in the diocese of Elphin where his grandfather Oliver Jones was a clergyman and school master. 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, where the family continued to live until his father's death in 1747.

In 1744 Goldsmith attended Trinity College in Dublin. Neglecting his studies in theology and law, he fell to the bottom of his class. He was graduated in 1749 with 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 for a brief time at the University of Edinburgh, and then set out on a walking tour of France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy.

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 disorganized personality who once planned to immigrate to America but failed because he missed his ship. His premature death at age 44, on April 4, 1774 may have been partly due to his own misdiagnosis of a kidney infection. Goldsmith was buried in Temple Church in London. 

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Great Britain’s Literary Legends. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:

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