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Oliver Goldsmith

Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?–1774, Anglo-Irish author. The son of an Irish clergyman, he was graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1749. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and Leiden, but his career as a physician was quite unsuccessful. In 1756 he settled in London, where he achieved some success as a miscellaneous contributor to periodicals and as the author of Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe (1759). But it was not until The Citizen of the World (1762), a series of whimsical and satirical essays, that he was recognized as an able man of letters. His fame grew with The Traveler (1764), a philosophic poem, and the nostalgic pastoral The Deserted Village (1770). However, his literary reputation rests on his two comedies, The Good-natur'd Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), and his only novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). His comedies injected a much-needed sense of realism into the dull, sentimental plays of the period. They are lively, witty, and imbued with an endearing humanity. The Vicar of Wakefield is the warm, humorous, if somewhat melodramatic, story of a country parson and his family. Although he earned a great deal of money in his lifetime, Goldsmith's improvidence kept him poor. Boswell depicted him as a ridiculous, blundering, but tenderhearted and generous creature. He had the friendship of many of the literary and artistic great of his day, the most notable being that of Samuel Johnson.

See biography by R. M. Wardle (1957, repr. 1969); R. Quintana (1967), R. H. Hopkins (1969), R. L. Harp (1976), and J. Giner (1978).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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