It is well to note that Burke’s careful study of English literature contributed largely to his success as a writer. His use of Bible phraseology and his familiarity with poetry led a critic to say that any one “neglects the most valuable repository of rhetoric in the English language, who has not well studied the English Bible... The cadence of Burke’s sentences always reminds us that prose writing is only to be perfected by a thorough study of the poetry of the language.”
OLIVER GOLDSMITH, 1728-1774
[Illustration: OLIVER GOLDSMITH. From the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, National Portrait Gallery.]
Life and Minor Works.—Oliver Goldsmith was born of English parents in the little village of Pallas in the center of Ireland. His father, a poor clergyman, soon moved a short distance to Lissoy, which furnished some of the suggestions for The Deserted Village.
Goldsmith went as a charity student to Dublin University, where, like Swift, he graduated at the bottom of his class. Goldsmith tried in turn to become a clergyman, a teacher, a lawyer, and a doctor, but failed in all these fields. Then he wandered over the continent of Europe for a year and accumulated some experiences that he used in writing The Traveler. He returned to London in 1757, and, after an ineffectual attempt to live by practicing medicine, turned to literature. In this profession he at first managed to make only a precarious living, for the most part as a hackwriter, working for periodicals and filling contracts to compile popular histories of England, Greece, Rome, and Animated Nature. He had so much skill in knowing what to retain, emphasize, or subordinate, and so much genius in presenting in an attractive style what he wrote, that his work of this kind met with a readier sale than his masterpieces. Of the History of Animated Nature, Johnson said: “Goldsmith, sir, will give us a very fine book on the subject, but if he can tell a horse from a cow, that I believe may be the extent of his knowledge of natural history.”
His first literary reputation was gained by a series of letters, supposed to be written by a Chinaman as a record of his impressions of England. These letters or essays, like so much of the work of Addison and Steele, appeared first in a periodical; but they were afterwards collected under the title, Citizen of the World (1761). The interesting creation of these essays is Beau Tibbs, a poverty-stricken man, who derives pleasure from boasting of his frequent association with the nobility.