1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Oliver Goldsmith

Anonymous, in Bell's Classical Arrangement of Fugitive Poetry (1789-97) 4:181-83.



OLIVER, or, as he was commonly called, DOCTOR GOLDSMITH, was born 1729 at Elphin in the county of Roscommon. Having received his classical instruction in the school of Mr. Hughes, he was admitted a sizer of Trinity College, Dublin; where, though not till two years after the ordinary period, he took the first degree in arts. Turning his thoughts to the study of medicine, he proceeded to Edinburgh for that purpose; but was soon obliged to leave Scotland, through an embarrassment in which his good nature had involved him, and from which he was set free, by his two fellow-students, Laughlin Maclane and Dr. Sleigh. Thence, passing over to Holland, he visited Brussels, Strasburgh, and Louvain, and having, in the last university, taken the degree of Bachelor in Physic, he proceeded on to Geneva. The greater part of this tour he travelled on foot, subsisting on such casual hospitalities as fell in his way. His learning was a sufficient passport to most of the religious houses, and the music of his flute to the sheds of the peasants.

During his stay at Geneva, where he engaged himself as Tutor to an attorney's clerk just come to a fortune, he improved his poetic talents, and thence transmitted to his brother the first sketch of his Traveller. From Switzerland, he accompanied his pupil to the South of France, where, being unhandsomely discharged, he had fresh difficulties to encounter. Shaping his course towards England, he at length reached the metropolis, possessed only of two pence. Destitute of every resource he sought employment as a shopman, and at length was employed by a chymist. In this situation he continued, till finding his old friend Dr. Sleigh, he was recommended by him to assist Dr. Milner in his Academy at Peckham. Here, commencing writer, he was engaged by Mr. Griffeths in the Monthly Review; and the better to carry on his literary pursuits, he took lodgings in London. Green-Arbor-Court in the Old Bailey, was the first situation he chose; but on being employed by Newbery in the Ledger, and becoming more known, he moved thence to the Temple. The publication of his Traveller, Vicar of Wakefield, (in which he pourtrayed himself) and Good-natured Man, acquired him considerable reputation; which the Deserted Village augmented. His other Comedy was also attended with unexpected success. Indeed such now was his literary fame that he is said to have cleared in one year by his pen no less a sum than 1800. His imprudencies, however, kept pace with his gains, for, having an unfortunate attachment to gaming, he became a constant dupe of the crafty and unprincipled.

Depending still on his pen, he projected a Dictionary of the Sciences, and actually printed the prospectus of his plan, but not succeeding as he wished, the scheme was reluctantly dropped.

Having at times been afflicted with the stranguary, and harrassed with various vexations, he fell into a state of despondence. This being followed by a nervous fever, which was improperly treated, he was cut off in the 45th year of his age. As he lived in esteem with some amongst the first characters of the time, he was to have been buried by them in Westminster Abbey, but the design was somehow relinquished, and his body interred in the Temple. A monument, however, in the Abbey, is erected to his memory, with an inscription by Johnson in latin.