Oliver Goldsmith: A Brief Biography

In the winter of 1756, a penniless and weary young man arrived in Dover, England by boat. After several years of solitary travel across continental Europe, he found himself in urgent need of income. The dilemma he faced was how to earn it: should he become a writer, a teacher, or leverage his unrecognized Dutch medical degree? This young man, Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), ultimately chose to pursue writing. Despite never achieving financial stability and constantly writing for money, Goldsmith created works of history, poetry, essays, plays, and a novel that helped define his era.

Birth November 10, 1728
Death April 4, 1774
Father Rev. Charles Goldsmith
Mother Ann Jones Goldsmith
Cause of Death Misdiagnosis of kidney infection
Famous Works
  • The Vicar of Wakefield
  • She Stoops to Conquer
  • The Good-Natur'd Man
Nationality Irish
Literary Period Age of Sentimentality, 18th Century Literature

Early Life and Education

  • Born in: Rural County Westmeath, Ireland
  • Father: An Anglican clergyman
  • Family: Respectable but poor
  • Childhood Illness: Smallpox, which disfigured his face
  • Education: Trinity College in Dublin as a sizar (worked for wealthier students to earn his keep)
  • Graduated: 1749
  • Further Studies: Studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but did not complete the course

Continental Tour and Return to England

  • Traveled through: Holland, France, Italy, Switzerland
  • Means of Survival: Busking with his flute, begging, sleeping rough
  • Returned to England: 1756
  • Degree: M.D. of dubious validity

Professional Struggles and Literary Career

  • Early Career: Unsuccessful attempts at practicing medicine and various odd jobs
  • Writing for Hire: A poorly paid and disreputable position
  • Notable Works:
    • An Enquiry into the Current State of Polite Learning (1759): Based on his experiences, sparked interest in London literary scene
    • The Citizen of the World (1762): Compilation of "The China Letters", offering criticism of 18th-century English culture
    • The Traveler, or a Prospect of Society (1764): The poem that made him a literary celebrity

Later Years and Notable Friendships

  • Literary Celebrity: Became friends with Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick
  • Patronage: Secured literary patronage from Robert Nugent
  • Continued Success: Published "The Vicar of Wakefield" (1766), "The Good-Natured Man" (1768), "The Deserted Village" (1770), "She Stoops to Conquer" (1773)
  • Financial Troubles: Extravagant spending led to constant debt

Death and Legacy

  • Final Illness: Contracted a fever in March 1774
  • Ignored Medical Advice: Symptoms worsened, leading to seizures and death on April 4, 1774
  • Writing Style: Neoclassical with a focus on heroic couplets, known for grace and simplicity despite formal constraints

Famous Quotes

  • The Traveler: "Where’er I roam, whatever realms to see, My heart untraveled fondly turns to thee."
  • The Deserted Village: "Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and men decay."
  • She Stoops to Conquer: "I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines."

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