[16.] Chance, perchance.
[17.] Swain, countryman. By swain the poets usually mean a country gallant or lover.
[18.] Lawn, a cleared place in a wood, not cultivated. Now, of course, the word always means grassland near a house which is kept closely cut.
[19.] Science, knowledge in general, not natural science only.
Goldsmith was born in Pallas, an out-of-the-way hamlet in Longford County, Ireland, where his father, the curate, was looked upon as “passing rich, with forty pounds a year.” Not long after, the family removed to Lissoy, in the County of Westmeath, where they lived in much comfort. Here Oliver passed his childhood and youth, and it is doubtless to Lissoy that his thoughts returned when he wrote of “Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain.” As a boy he had his share of troubles. In school he was pronounced “a stupid, heavy blockhead,” and he was often made sport of by his companions on account of his awkward figure and his homely face, pitted with the smallpox. In his eighteenth year he entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar, that is, a poor student who pays in part for his tuition by doing certain kinds of work. After four years devoted to study—spiced with a good deal of fun—he graduated at the foot of his class.
At twenty-one he showed no special bent. For a while he lived with his mother, now a widow, and idled his time away with gay companions. After being refused a position in the church, he resolved to try teaching; but this occupation proved so little to his taste that he decided to give it up and study medicine. With the help of a generous uncle he entered the medical school at Edinburgh, leaving Ireland never to return. At the end of a year and a half he concluded that foreign travel would do more for him than a longer stay in Scotland. His uncle sent him twenty pounds, and with this he reached Leyden, where, if he possibly attended a few lectures, he certainly associated with wild companions who helped him to get rid of his money. Having succeeded in borrowing a small sum, he was about to leave Leyden, when in a florist’s garden he saw a rare, high-priced flower which he felt sure would delight his kind uncle, who was an enthusiast in flower culture. Without a thought of his own needs he ran in, bought a parcel of the roots, and sent them off to Ireland; then, with a guinea in his pocket, he started on his travels. Although his uncle may have sent him small sums occasionally, it is not easy to see how he managed to wander as he did from country to country. It is said that he paid his way among the peasants by flute playing, and that he returned the hospitality of convents by disputing on learned subjects; but these stories are doubtless fictitious. One thing is certain, he arrived in London in February, 1756, having reached the age of twenty-eight, with a medical degree, but with no money in his pocket.