Oliver Goldsmith



  • (1730 - 74) The Irish-born poet, playwright, novelist,and journalist, whose two plays have outlived the efforts of all hiscontemporaries except Sheridan. Dr Johnson described himas "a very great man", while Goethe would later write,"To Shakespeare, Sterne, and Goldsmith my debt has been limitless."

    Goldsmith's youth gave little promise of his future achievements.After attending Trinity College, Dublin, he abandoned plans to beordained. He thought of emigrating to America but missed his ship.He then briefly studied medicine before travelling through Europe,partially supporting himself by busking. On his return, he earneda meagre living by translating and reviewing; it was in this period thathe emerged as an essayist of talent.

    Goldsmith's first play, The Good-Natured Man, was turneddown by Garrick; the elder Colman (see the Colmans)subsequently produced it at Covent Garden (1768) though with onlymild success. Goldsmith made his name as a playwright with the comedyShe Stoops to Conquer (1773), in which two men mistake aprivate house for an inn (a mistake the playwright had himself oncemade). In rehearsal, Goldsmith berated an actor for playing the partof Young Marlow (an Englishman) with an Irish accent. "Sir,"replied the actor, "I spoke it as nearly as I could to the mannerin which you instructed me, except that I did not give it quite sostrong a brogue."

    Goldsmith's only novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766)was successfully adapted for the stage in 1878 with Ellen Terry (seeTerry family) in the role of Olivia, a part later playedon tour by her sister, Florence Terry.

    Goldsmith's Irish impudence and inconsequential style of chatoften irritated his London contemporaries. Horace Walpole called him"an inspired idiot" while Samuel Johnson commented "Noman was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wisewhen he had."