Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oliver Goldsmith Born

Some credit November 10th, others, like Sir Walter Scott, the 29th, as the day on which Oliver Goldsmith was born.  The year is just as uncertain.  Goldsmith himself said the date was November 29th, in either 1731, or 1730.  Scott took the month and day as per Goldsmith, but published a year of 1728 in his brief biography of Goldsmith, which is part of his Miscellaneous Prose Works.

Historian John Plumb, in his biography, sums Goldsmith up fairly succinctly (with birth date of November 10, 1728): ‘Dr. Oliver Goldsmith was a very great man. This his contemporaries agreed on, yet none of them knew quite why. He baffled Dr. Johnson with his absurdities; Horace Walpole dismissed him as "an inspired idiot"; David Garrick immortalized him in the biting lines:

Here lies Nolly Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll,
Who wrote like an angel, but talked like poor Poll.

And even Sir Joshua Reynolds, who saw further and deeper into Goldsmith's character than anyone else, realised that no man could get such a reputation for absurdity without there being reason for it..’.

Scott begins his biography of Nolly at the beginning:  ‘Oliver Goldsmith was born on the 29th November 1728, at Pallas, (or rather Palice,) in the parish of Farney, and county of Longford, in Ireland, where his father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, a minister of the Church of England, at that time resided. This worthy clergyman, whose virtues his celebrated son afterwards. rendered immortal, in the character of the Village Preacher, had a family of seven children, for whom he was enabled to provide but very indifferently. He obtained ultimately a benefice in the county of Roscommon, but died early; for the careful researches of the Rev. John Graham of Lifford have found his widow "nigra veste senescens," residing with her son Oliver in Ballymahon, so early as 1740. Among the shop accounts of a petty grocer of the place, Mrs. Goldsmith's name occurs frequently as a customer for trifling articles; on which occasions Master Noll appears. to have been his mother's usual emissary. He was recollected, however, in the neighbourhood, by more poetical employments, as that of playing on the flute, and, wandering in solitude on the shores, or among the islands of the river Inny, which is remarkably beautiful at Ballymahon.

Oliver early distinguished himself by the display of lively talents, as well as by that uncertainty of humour which is so often attached to genius, as the slave in the chariot of the Roman triumph…’

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