Oliver Goldsmith - Author of the Vicar of Wakefield

Portrait of Oliver Goldsmith by Joshua Reynolds

Oliver Goldsmith

Born ca. 1730
Died Apr 04, 1774 from kidney failure

Alias: 

Dr. Goldsmith

Biography: 

Irish author, probably born in the County of Longford, the son of a clergyman in the Church of England. He got a BA from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1749, whereafter he went to Edinburgh to study medicine. Best known for The Vicar of Wakefield, which was published in 1766. Other works include the plays The Good Natured Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), as well as the long poems The Traveller (1764) and The Deserted Village (1770). He died from kidney failure in on April 4, 1774.

Life with Boswell: 

Boswell first met Goldsmith at Thomas Davies bookshop on Christmas day, 1762 and described him as "a curious, odd, pedantic fellow with some genius." They also met at Drury Lane on the opening night of Frances Sheridan's comedy The Discovery (February 2, 1763), and Boswell went to see Goldsmith at his lodgings in Canonbury House (Islington) on June 26, 1763.

On July 1, 1763 Goldsmith gave Boswell a very fitting characteristic, as recounted by Boswell in his journal: He said I had a method of making people speak. "Sir," said I, "that is next best to speaking myself." "Nay," said he, "But you do both." I must say indeed that if I excel in anything, it is in address and making myself easily agreeable..

In his journal of September 21, 1769 Boswell mentions meeting him by chance, in the place where they first met, Davies' bookshop, and that they hadn't seen each other for about 3 years. This presumably means, that they met during Boswell's short stay in London in February and March, 1766.

From 1769 until Goldsmith's death they met occasionally, dining and chatting together in various circumstances, and Goldsmith was chairman of the Literary Club on the night (May 30, 1773) that Boswell was elected a member.

Boswell had "not been so much affected with any event that has happened of a long time", wrote he to David Garrick on April 11, 1774, referring to the death of Goldsmith some days earlier.

James Prior dedicated an entire chapter to the relationship between Boswell and Goldsmith in his early (1837) biography The Life of Oliver Goldsmith. Boswell's journals were not known at the time, and the general impression of Boswell was much influenced by Macaulay's damning review of Croker's edition of the The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1831). Prior was sceptical of Boswell and was of the impression that Boswell had misunderstood Goldsmith, and that Boswell himself should be the target of all of those accusations which he says Boswell blamed Goldsmith for. As such, the rather long chapter is more of an attack on Boswell than a factual account of the relationship between the two.1 Boswell's journals shed a new light on this relationship, which appears to have been much better than was previously thought, and as underlined by his letter to Garrick quoted above.

  • 1. Prior, James. (1837). The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, M.B. from a Variety of Original Sources. Vol 1. p. 427-463.

Literature: 

Goldsmith's plays, poems and other works, as well as various biographies of him are widely available via used bookstores online.