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Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774).

Goldsmith is another of the many eighteenth-century English writers who was born and educated in Ireland. He was a medical doctor but never a successful one. He became a hack writer, producing periodical essays and satires. Goldsmith was often purposeless and usually indigent. He was befriended by Samuel Johnson and invited into the Club, where Boswell found him an absurd figure because of his awkward attempts to be the center of attention. However, Goldsmith produced notable works in three major genre--a sentimental novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), two comic plays, The Good Natured Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), and his most famous poem, written in 1770, The Deserted Village.

The Deserted Village

In this poem, Goldsmith uses the heroic couplet, a form generally ignored by other poets of his generation. More than a descriptive and nostalgic re-creation of village life, the poem is also an attack on the new commercial forces that were buying up the land and forcing the peasants out of their ancestral homes.

I11 fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

The poem contrasts images of village characters such as the good parson, the schoolmaster, simple maidens, and vigorous farmers with images of decay and vice associated with the encroachment of unfeeling land owners. The village folk are driven to the city or go abroad to the New World. Goldsmith conveys his feelings that the displaced villagers will perish of exposure to the dangers and corruption that never touched them in their old village. Luxury is the personified villain, and Goldsmith sees even Poetry herself fleeing England.

These eighteenth-century lyric poets provide a background for the great outpouring of lyric poetry in the early part of the next century, the romantic age. Although the next generation of poets would reject their poetic precursors as stilted and lifeless, the focus on the poet in the landscape was already established and provided a foundation from which to work.

The eighteenth-century lyric poets also revived the lyric forms, particularly the ode and the elegy. They established the link between individual feeling and the moral sense that guides one to the right way. The landscape and the poet are both infused with religious feeling, which finds its outlet in the expressions of the poet, the images of the natural world that he creates and that arouse sympathy in the reader.

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Author:McCoy, Kathleen; Harlan, Judith A.V.
Publication:English Literature to 1785
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:Christopher Smart (1722-1771).
Next Article:Eighteenth-century English literature (1700 to 1785): drama and the novel.

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