Tag Archives: Austin Dobson Introduction Poems and Plays By Oliver Goldsmith Everyman’s Library

“He had been many things. … Judged by ordinary standards, he had wantonly wasted his time.”


Thirty years of taking-in; fifteen years of giving out; —that, in brief, is Oliver Goldsmith’s story. When, in 1758, his failure to pass at Surgeons’ Hall finally threw him on letters for a living, the thirty years were finished, and the fifteen years had been begun. What was to come he knew not; but, from his bare-walled lodging in Green-Arbour-Court, he could at least look back upon a sufficiently diversified past. He had been an idle, orchard-robbing schoolboy; a tuneful but intractable sizar of Trinity; a lounging, loitering, fair-haunting, flute-playing Irish “buckeen.” He had tried both Law and Divinity, and crossed the threshold of neither. He had started for London and stopped at Dublin; he had set out for America and arrived at Cork. He had been many things :—a medical student, a strolling musician, a corrector of the press, an apothecary, an usher at a Peckham “academy.” Judged by ordinary standards, he had wantonly wasted his time. And yet, as things fell out, it is doubtful whether his parti-coloured experiences were not of more service to him than any he could have obtained if his progress had been less erratic. Had he fulfilled the modest expectations of his family, he would probably have remained a simple curate in Westmeath, eking out his ” forty pounds a year” by farming a field or two, migrating contentedly at the fitting season from the “blue bed to the brown,” and (it may be) subsisting vaguely as a local poet upon the tradition of some youthful couplets to a pretty cousin, who had married a richer man. As it was, if he could not be said “to have seen life steadily, and seen it whole,” he had, at all events, inspected it pretty narrowly in parts; and, at a time when he was most impressible, had preserved the impress of many things which, in his turn, he was to impress upon his writings. “No man “—says one of his biographers”*—ever put so much of himself into his books as Goldsmith.” To his last hour he was ·drawing upon the thoughts and reviving the memories of that “unhallowed time” when, to all appearance, he was hopelessly squandering his opportunities. To do as Goldsmith did, would scarcely enable a man to write a Vicar of Wakefield or a Deserted Village,—certainly his practice cannot be preached with safety “to those that eddy round and round.” But viewing his entire career, it is difficult not to see how one part seems to have been an indispensable preparation for the other, and to marvel once more (with the philosopher Square) at “the eternal Fitness of Things.”**

— Austin Dobson, Introduction, Poems and Plays By Oliver Goldsmith (Everyman’s Library, 1910)


*John Forster, author of The Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith.

**A quotation from a fictional character, the philosopher Square, who is parodied in Fielding’s novel Tom Jones.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 2023