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INTRODUCTION

Two of the earlier, and, in some respects, more important Memoirs of Oliver Goldsmith open with a quotation from one of his minor works, in which he refers to the generally uneventful life of the scholar. His own 5 chequered career was a notable exception to this rule. He was born on the 10th of November, 1728, at Pallas, a village in the county of Longford in Ireland, his father, the Rev. Charles Goldsmith, being a clergyman

of the Established Church. Oliver was the fifth of a 10 family of five sons and three daughters. In 1730, his

father, who had been assisting the rector of the neighbouring parish of Kilkenny West, succeeded to that living, and moved to Lissoy, a hamlet in Westmeath,

lying a little to the right of the road from Bally15 mahon to Athlone. Educated first by a humble relative

named Elizabeth Delap, the boy passed subsequently to the care of Thomas Byrne, the village schoolmaster, an old soldier who had fought Queen Anne's battles in Spain,

and had retained from those experiences a wandering and 20 unsettled spirit, which he is thought to have communi

cated to one at least of his pupils. After an attack of confluent small-pox, which scarred him for life, Oliver was transferred from the care of this not-uncongenial

preceptor to a school at Elphin. From Elphin he passed 25 to Athlone; from Athlone to Edgeworthstown, where he remained until he was thirteen or fourteen years

of

age. The accounts of these early days are contradictory. By his schoolfellows he seems to have been regarded as stupid and heavy,-' little better than a fool'; but they

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admitted that he was remarkably active and athletic, and that he was an adept in all boyish sports. At home, notwithstanding a variable disposition, and occasional fits of depression, he showed to greater advantage. He scribbled verses early; and sometimes startled those about him by unexpected 'swallow-flights' of repartee. One of these, an oft-quoted retort to a musical friend who had likened his awkward antics in a hornpipe to the dancing of Aesop,

Heralds ! proclaim aloud! all saying,

See Aesop dancing, and his monkey playing, reads more like a happily-adapted recollection than the 10 actual impromptu of a boy of nine. But another, in which, after a painful silence, he replied to the brutal enquiry of a ne'er-do-well relative as to when he meant to grow handsome, by saying that he would do so when the speaker grew good, -is characteristic of the easily. 15 wounded spirit and ' exquisite sensibility of contempt' with which he was to enter upon the battle of life.

In June, 1744, after anticipating, in his own person, the plot of his later play of She Stoops to Conquer by mistaking the house of a gentleman at Ardagh for an inn, he 25 was sent to Trinity College, Dublin. The special dress and semi-menial footing of a sizar or poor scholar-for his father, impoverished by the imprudent portioning of his eldest daughter, could not afford to make him a pensioner—were scarcely calculated to modify his personal 25 peculiarities. Added to these, his tutor elect, Dr. Theaker Wilder, was a violent and vindictive man, with whom his ungainly and unhopeful pupil found little favour. Wilder had a passion for mathematics which was not shared by Goldsmith, who, indeed, spoke contemptuously enough 30 of that science in after life. He could, however, he told Malone,' turn an Ode of Horace into English better than any of them. But his academic career was not a success.

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In May, 1747, the year in which his father died, -an event that further contracted his already slender means,-he became involved in a college riot, and was publicly admonished. From this disgrace he recovered to some extent in 5 the following month by obtaining a trifling money exhibition, a triumph which he unluckily celebrated by a party at his rooms. Into these festivities, the heinousness of which was aggravated by the fact that they included

guests of both sexes, the exasperated Wilder made irrup10 tion, and summarily terminated the proceedings by

knocking down the host. The disgrace was too much for the poor lad. He forthwith sold his books and belongings, and ran away, vaguely bound for America.

But after considerable privations, including the achieve15 ment of a destitution so complete that a handful of grey

peas, given him by a girl at a wake, seemed a banquet, he turned his steps homeward, and, a reconciliation having been patched up with his tutor, he was received once

more at college. In February, 1749, he took his 20 degree, a low one, as B.A., and quitted the university,

leaving behind him, for relics of that time, a scratched signature upon a window-pane, a folio Scapula scored liberally with 'promises to pay,' and a reputation for

much loitering at the college gates in the study of passing 25 humanity. Another habit which his associates recalled

was his writing of ballads when in want of funds. These he would sell at five shillings apiece; and would afterwards steal out in the twilight to hear them sung to the

indiscriminate but applauding audience of the Dublin 30 streets.

What was to be done with a genius so unstable, so erratic ? Nothing, apparently, but to let him qualify for orders, and for this he is too young. Thereupon ensues

a sort of Martin's summer' in his changing life,-a dis35 engaged, delightful time when Master Noll' wanders

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