Oliver Goldsmith

Goldsmith Statue outside Ballymahon Community Library.

Life & Times of Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith was born in the Irish village of Pallas, in County Longford on Nov. 10, 1728. Oliver’s father, Rev. Charles Goldsmith, an Anglican, had been appointed to the curacy of Forgney Church in 1718. As Forgney had no rectory the family rented land at Pallas six miles east of Auburn and 1 kilometer from the Three Jolly Pigeons. In 1730 when Oliver was two years old his father was appointed to Kilkenny West. The family moved to the Parsonage of Lissoy in Co Westmeath where they remained until the death of Charles Goldsmith in 1747. The fifth of eight children, Goldsmith was awkward and slight, and an early attack of smallpox  left him pitifully marked for life. He suffered from a desperate lack of self-confidence, especially among people of eminence or fashion, although he could be robustly, prankishly happy in the tippling, ballad-singing company of tavern jokers.

When Goldsmith was not quite 16 years old, he entered Trinity College, Dublin. Goldsmith’s sister however had become engaged to a rich man’s son, so the father made it a point of honour to provide her with a substantial dowry. In doing so he exhausted the family fortunes. As a  result Goldsmith had to attend Trinity as a sizar, that is, as one who gets free lodging and the scraps of the commons kitchen in return for carrying  out menial chores. He would also have had to wear a distinctive garb to indicate his inferior status within the college. Nevertheless, he managed to achieve a Bachelor of Arts degree by 1749.

Thereafter he studied theology, law, and medicine in turn for a year or two each; but he preferred fishing and flute playing to books. He travelled for a year in Europe, and then settled in London. He claimed to be a physician with a degree from a foreign university, and people called him “doctor.” Nobody came for treatment, however, so he turned to writing. Even after moving to London, Goldsmith still yearned for the Arcadian days of his youth. He wrote to a friend in 1757 poignantly declaring  “I had rather be placed on the little mount before Lissoy gate and there take in the, to me, most pleasing horizon in nature.” Many of the beautiful images evoked in Goldsmiths’ writings spring from the midland region of Longford/Westmeath. His comedy-play ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ was based on a classic case of mistaken identity at Ardagh House in County Longford. His novel ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ is one of the most acclaimed works of the English language. Goldsmith also published histories of England, Greece and Rome, biographies of Lord Bollingbroke and Thomas Parnell and, somewhat more unusually, penned an eight volume History of the Earth and Animated Nature.

Goldsmith’s essays “The Citizen of the World”, published in 1762, won the attention of Samuel Johnson, then England’s leading man of letters. Johnson included Goldsmith in his circle of friends. Writing brought Goldsmith a fair income, but he was perpetually in debt. He died on April 4, 1774, after trying to cure himself of a fever. He is buried in the Poets Corner of Westminister Abbey. A memorial window to the poets father, the Reverend Charles Goldsmith, can still be seen at Forgney Church, near Pallas in County Longford.

For further information on Oliver Goldsmith International Literary Festival contact: www.goldsmithfestival.ie

Further information on the literary heritage of County Longford can be found on the ‘Explore Longford’ App available to download for both Android and Apple iOS Devices:
Android Store
http://bit.ly/1gMKZYY   Apple Store: http://bit.ly/1n104Kk

 

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