Oliver Goldsmith (?1730-74)

Anglo-Irish poet and novelist, born the second son of a clergyman in Ireland. Neither his birth date and year nor the location of his birthplace are certain. He studied theology and law at Trinity College, Dublin, and later studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leiden.

In 1759 he met Thomas Percy, the most important figure in the field of ballad collection, who was to become a close friend, and wrote a Memoir of Goldsmith in 1801. In1761 he met Dr Johnson, and became one of the original members of Johnson’s Club. The Vicar of Wakefield, which was to become one of the most popular novels in English, was published in 1766. Below is a discussion on English poetry by Mr. Burchell, who argues against Sophia and Moses, admirers of John Gay and Ovid, in Chapter 8 of the novel:

“It is remarkable,” cried Mr. Burchell, “that both the poets you mention have equally contributed to introduce a false taste into their respective countries, by loading all their lines with epithet. Men of little genius found them most easily imitated in their defects, and English poetry, like that in the latter empire of Rome, is nothing at present but a combination of luxuriant images, without plot or connexion; a string of epithets that improve the sound, without carrying on the sense. […] I have made this remark only to have an opportunity of introducing to the company a ballad, which, whatever be its other defects, is, I think, at least free from those I have mentioned. [The Vicar of Wakefield, in The Miscellaneous Works of Goldsmith, a new edition (London, 1821)1: 36]

The ballad introduced is “The Hermit, or Edwin and Angelina”. We have no doubt that Mr. Burchell’s opinion here is the author’s own. “An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog” is another well-known ballad introduced in a different place of the novel. His best-known poem, The Deserted Village, was published in 1770. (M. Y.)


1.An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog
2.An Elegy on the Glory of her Sex, Mrs. Mary Blaize
3.The Hermit, or Edwin and Angelina