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AN extended account of the life and numerous writings of Goldsmith, whatever interest it might chance to possess, would form an unsuitable companion to an ornamented edition of his poetical works; and I need not, therefore, apologize for the brevity of the narrative which follows.
I undertake the task, even on so limited a scale, with much reluctance. The career of this eminent man has been very imperfectly traced. On various events of his life we have discordant versions—the line of separation between truth and fiction being involved in hopeless obscurity; and as to the history of his works, on which exactness of information would seem to be more attainable, the most embarrassing discrepancies prevail. We have fire reports on his birthplace, and about the same number on the composition and disposal of The Vicar of Wakefield. A detail of such conflicting statements, and of the evidence by which each is supported, would be as unwelcome to the lovers of biography as to the lovers of verse. I propose, therefore, to reject whatever appears least credible, and, on every point of importance, to cite my authority. Oliver Golds Mith was born at Pallice, a hamlet near Ballymahon, in the county of Longford, Ireland, on the 10th of November, 1728. He was the fifth child of the reverend Charles Goldsmith, who had resided ten years at Pallice, by Ann, daughter of the reverend Oliver Jones, of Elphin. His birthplace is now a collection of mere cabins." Mr. Goldsmith, who at that time was unbeneficed, obtained the rectory of Kilkenny-west about the year 1730, and removed . with master Oliver to the village of Lishoy, the scenery of which made a deep impression on his memory.” After some rudimental instruction from a female who was allied to the family, he was placed at the diocesan school of Elphin, to be prepared for a mercantile employment; but, in consequence of his fondness for books, and occasional displays of poetic cleverness, it was resolved to give him a more liberal education — the
1 Percy, Life of Goldsmith, p. 1–prefixed to his Miscellaneous Works. London, 1801. 8vo. 4 vols. [This anonymous memoir was compiled under the direction of Bishop Percy. The volumes were edited by Samuel Rose, Esq., barrister-at-law.]+ James Prior, F.s. A., etc. The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B. From a variety of original sources. London, 1837. 8vo. 2 vols. [An elaborate specimen of biography.]—i. 14. — from the family Bible.
* Percy, p. 2; and p. 43. —Oliver Goldsmith to Daniel Hodson, Esq.
reverend Thomas Contarine, and other clerical relations, offering to defray a portion of the expense.” He was therefore sent to a classical school at Athlone, where he remained about two years, and was then placed under the tuition of the reverend Edward Hughes, vicar of the parish of Shruel, at Ballymahon — to which town his mother afterward retired. Oliver was here treated with kindness, and made due progress in his studies. He often revisited the spot. At home, it was his delight to sit in the window and play on the flute; abroad, to roam about the wooded islands, or on the rocky shores, of the picturesque Inny.". He was admitted a sizer in Trinity College, Dublin, on the 11th of June, 1745; but, in consequence of a quarrel with his tutor, soon afterward absented himself. He returned, however, to his studies, obtained a premium at a Christmas examination, and took the degree of A.B. on the 27th of February, 1750 ° Rejected as a candidate for holy orders, he accepted office as a family tutor—a vocation which was not suited to his taste. It was then proposed that he should apply himself to medicine; and, toward the close of the year 1752, he was sent to Edinburgh. Here, for two seasons, he attended the lectures of Monro and other professors—but often mixed in scenes of dissipation."
3 The reverend Annesley Strean, M.D.— His anecdotes are printed in An Essay on light reading. London, 1808. Sm. 8vo. p. 36, etc. --Percy, p. 4, etc. —from Catherine, eldest sister of Oliver, and wife of Daniel Hodson, Esq. * Percy, p. 6.-from Mrs. Hodson. + The reverend John Graham, M.A.—His anecdotes are printed in A statistical account of Ireland. Dublin, 1814–19. 8vo. 3 vols. – iii. 350, 357. * Communication of the reverend H. Lloyd. + Percy, p. 7.—from Mrs. Hodson. + Boswell, Life of Johnson. London, 1811. 8vo. i. 394.-- Percy, p. 17. * Percy, p. 9.— from Mrs. Hodson. + Percy, p. 19, etc.
From Edinburgh he proceeded to Leyden, in order to complete his medical studies. He remained there some months; but, his cash being exhausted, he yielded to a romantic impulse, and resolved on an extensive tour. Of this portion of his life our information is very defective. We have his own assurance, however, that he visited Louvain, where he is reported to have graduated as bachelor in physic; that he had attended the public disputations in some German university; that he wrote part of The Traveler in Switzerland; that he once saw the cataract at Schaffhausen frozen quite across; that he had flushed woodcocks on the top of Mount Jura; that he had eaten a very savory dinner on the Alps; that he had seen floating bee-houses in Piedmont; that, in some provinces of France, he had found the shepherd and his pipe continued with true antique simplicity; and that he had met a bright circle of female beauty at the chemical lectures of Professor Rouelle at Paris. To these anecdotes I must add, that he reached Padua; that he chiefly traveled on foot; and that he sometimes obtained subsistence by playing on the flute."
In 1756 he returned to England, and proceeded to the metropolis with no better recommendations than poverty and his native accent! Fortified by reflection, he was able to resist despair. He soon met with employment as assistant to a chemist, and, afterward, as usher in a classical school—a station which somewhat improved his connections."
We now approach the year which marks the commencement of his literary life; and it will be seen that he was successively a critic, a translator, and a most prolific author.
* Percy, p. 33, etc.--A survey, etc., ii. 201. 4 W. Glover, Life of O. G. —prefixed to his Poems and Plays, Dublin, 1777. 8vo. p. 2.-- An Inquiry, p. 55. + Hist. of the Earth, i. 221; vi. 30; i. 335; viii. 87; iii. 42. -- An Inquiry, p. 103.
* Percy, p. 36; and p. 41–0. G. to Daniel Hodson. Esq. 4 Glover, p. 4.
As a critic, he wrote various articles and notices in The Monthly Review for 1757. He had made an engagement with Mr. Griffiths, the proprietor, for one year; but, after the expiration of about six months, it was dissolved by mutual consent. He then had recourse to medical practice; and, as he expresses it, made a shift to live.”
As a translator, he gave a free version of the curious and affecting autobiography of Jean Marteilhe, entitled Mémoires d'un Protestant, 1758. For this version, which appeared under a fictitious name, he received twenty guineas.”
His first piece of composition was An Inquiry into the present state of Polite Learning in Europe, which was published anonymously in 1759. It is a superficial performance, and not devoid of flippancy—but attractive as to style. His object, in this publication, was to equip himself for a voyage to India. In the same year he produced The Bee—a readable volume of prose essays, with four short specimens of verse. He had already made the valuable acquaintance of the reverend Thomas Percy, afterward Bishop of Dromore."
* Percy, p. 60. --Prior, i. 225, etc. His contributions are 'marked, in the handwriting of Mr. Griffiths, in a certain copy of the work now preserved at Oxford. + Percy, p. 41. – O. G. to Daniel Hodson, Esq.
* Isaac Reed, Life of Goldsmith, p. 15. —prefixed to Poems by Goldsmith and Parnell, 1795. 4to. + “The Memoirs of a Protestant, condemned to the galleys of France, for his religion. Written by himself. Etc. London: printed for R. Griffiths and E. Dilly, 1758.” 12mo. Two volumes.
* “An Inquiry into the present state of Polite Learning in Europe. London: printed for R. and J. Dodsley, 1759.” Sm. 8vo. + Percy, p. 60. -- “The Bee. Being Essays on the most interesting subjects. London: printed for J. Wilkie, 1759.” Sm. 8vo. + Percy, p. 64.