The following biography was originally published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H.
Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH was born, probably at Smith-Hill House, Elphin, Roscommon, Ireland, in 1728. Soon after his birth his family moved to Kilkenny West, where Oliver first went to school. At the age of nine he left the little school at Kilkenny, and attended several academies. In 1744 he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he barely managed to make a living. His personal ungainliness and crude manners prevented his making many acquaintances, and his life at college was miserable. He was graduated in 1749, after the death of his father, and went to live with his mother. He cast about him in search of a profession. He was a tutor at one time, but lost his position as the result of a quarrel. He decided later to emigrate to America, but missed his ship. He then determined to study law, and once again set forth to Dublin, where he gambled away the fifty pounds which had been given him. When he was twenty-four he was again endowed and went to Edinburgh to study medicine, where for a year and a half he made some slight pretense at attending lectures, and then went to Leyden, presumably to continue his studies. From Holland he proceeded on a walking tour through Flanders, France, Switzerland, and the north of Italy, earning his board and keep with his flute. In 1756 he returned to England, without a penny in his pocket, although he had, according to his own statement, received a doctor's degree. In London he turned his hand to every sort of work: translation, the writing of superficial histories, children's books, and general articles. One of the works of this period which is still included in the Works is the Enquiry into the State of Polite Learning in Europe. Through the publication of The Bee and the Life of Beau Nash, Goldsmith achieved considerable popularity, and his fortunes began to mend. He belonged to the circle of Johnson, Burke, Reynolds, and was one of "The Club." The Traveller appeared in 1764, and his reputation as a poet was firmly established. The Vicar of Wakefield, published two years later, increased his popularity, and when he produced his first play, The Good Natur'd Man (1768), though the play was not a success, it was widely read in book-form. In 1770 came The Deserted Village, and three years after his dramatic masterpiece, She Stoops to Conquer, which was highly successful. Goldsmith was meanwhile busy with a great deal of hack-work -- the Natural History, the histories of England, Rome, and Greece -- which was very remunerative. But Goldsmith's carelessness, his intemperance, and his habit of gambling, soon brought him into debt. Broken in health and mind, he died in 1774.
In one of his earliest works, the Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning (1759), Goldsmith gave utterance to the thought which was to be his guiding star in the field of drama. He says: "Does the poet paint the absurdities of the vulgar, then he is low; does he exaggerate the features of folly, to render it more ridiculous, he is then very low. In short, they have proscribed the comic or satirical muse from every walk but high life, which, though abounding in fools as well as the humblest station, is by no means so fruitful in absurdity." It was Goldsmith's mission to render natural the comedy of his time, and strike a decisive blow at the genteel or sentimental comedy, which he later termed a "kind of mulish production, with all the defects of its opposite parents, and marked with sterility."