Oliver Goldsmith

OLIVER GOLDSMITH, the son of a clergyman, was, according to some writers, born in 1729, at Elphin, in Roscommon, Ireland; but, according to the inscription on his monument, at Fernes, in the province of Leinster, on the 29th of November, 1781. After having acquired the rudiments of education at a private school, he was, in June, 1744, admitted a sizer of Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B. A., in 1749, but did not display remarkable abilities in the course of his academical studies. Being destined for the medical profession, he attended some courses of anatomy in Dublin; and, in 1751, entered the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine under the different professors. His thoughtless, though generous, disposition, soon involved him in difficulties; and in order to avoid arrest for the debt of a friend, for which he had made himself responsible, he was obliged to quit Scotland abruptly. He arrived at Sunderland in the early part of 1754, when his person was secured, but, being released, through the friendship of Dr. Sleigh, he sailed to Rotterdam; and, after visiting great part of Flanders, proceeded to Louvain, where he remained some time, at the expense of his uncle, and took his degree of bachelor in physic. Hence, it is said, with only one clean shirt, and no money in his pocket, he set out on foot for Geneva, which he reached by a circuitous route, in the course of which he supported himself by his abilities, musical and classical. My learning,' he says, procured me a favorable reception at most of the religious houses I visited, and whenever I approached a peasant's house, I played one of my most, merry tunes, and that generally procured me not only a lodging, but subsistence for the next day; this, however, was not the case with the rich, who generally despised both me and my music.'

On his arrival at Geneva, he was appointed tutor and traveling companion to a young gentleman of fortune, with whom he continued until they entered the south of France, where, in consequence of a disagreement, they parted. Goldsmith, however, did not turn his steps homeward, till he had still further gratified his passion for travel, although he was obliged to resort to his flute, as before, for lodging and subsistence. The death of his uncle, during our author's stay abroad, had reduced him to these exigencies, and on his arrival in London, in the winter of 1758, a few halfpence constituted the whole of his finances. In this extremity, he applied for employment to the apothecaries, but his awkward appearance, and broad Irish accent, were much against him; and it was only from motives of humanity, that a chemist, at length, consented to take him into his service. Hearing, however, that his old friend, Dr. Sleigh, was in London, he paid him a visit, and accepted an asylum in his house, but soon afterwards left it, for an ushership at the Rev. Dr. Milner's academy at Peckham. In this situation he did not remain long; for, having obtained some reputation from criticisms he had written in The Monthly Review, he entered into an engagement with the proprietor, and, coming to London, took lodgings near the Old Bailey, and commenced authorship as a profession. Besides writing for The Review, he produced a weekly pamphlet, called The Bee; An inquiry into the Present State of Learning in Europe; and contributed several Essays to The Public Ledger, in which his Citizen of the World appeared, under the title of Chinese Letters. These publications had brought him both fame and emolument, and, in 1765, at which time he resided in the Temple, he added to them by the production of his celebrated poem The Traveler. This had been written during his residence abroad, and was revised and printed at the recommendation of Dr. Johnson, his acquaintance with whom was soon followed by that of other eminent literary characters of the day. In 1766, appeared his Vicar of Wakefield, and his History of England, in a series of letters, two of his most successful performances, and which were received with immediate applause. In 1768, his comedy of The Good-natured Man, was brought out at Covent Garden, with a prologue by Dr. Johnson; but the success of it was not proportionate to its merits. In 1770, appeared his exquisite poem of The Deserted Village, for which he received L100, but could hardly be prevailed upon to accept it, until satisfied that the profits of the bookseller could afford that sum. It is, indeed, said by one of his biographers, that he went back and returned the money, observing, he had not been easy since he received it and left it to the bookseller to pay him according to the profits of the sale.

In 1772, was acted his celebrated comedy of She Stoops to Conquer, concerning the acceptance and success of which he appears to have been equally anxious and doubtful. His letter to Colman, about this time, does not represent his circumstances in a very favorable light: I have, as you know,' he says, a large sum of money to make up shortly; by accepting my play, I can readily satisfy my creditors that way; at any rate, I must look about to some certainty to be prepared. For God's sake, take the play, and let us make the best of it; and let me have the same measure, at least, which you have given as bad plays as mine.' During the first performance of the comedy, he is said to have walked all the time in St. James' Park, in great uneasiness, until, thinking it must be over, he has tened to the theatre. His ears were assailed with hisses as he entered the green-room when he eagerly inquired of Mr. Colman the cause. - ' Psha! psha!' said ' Colman, don't be afraid of squibs, when we have been sitting on a barrel of gunpowder these two hours.' The fact was, that the comedy had been completely successful, and that it was the farce which had excited these sounds so terrific to Goldsmith.