Oliver Goldsmith: Biography, Poems & Books

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
From Ireland to London, financially stable to embarrassingly broke, eccentric student to college dropout, struggling hack to accomplished writer: such was the life of Oliver Goldsmith. Read on to learn more.

Introducing Oliver Goldsmith

Have you ever heard the old cliche that preachers' kids are can sometimes turn wild and rebellious later in life? Oliver Goldsmith decided to start out small and build up to this idea, going from a relatively timid childhood to a more wanton adulthood. But no matter his origins and later struggles, he worked his way to becoming an accomplished wordsmith.

Oliver Goldsmith

Early Life

Goldsmith was born on November 10, 1730, in Ireland. His father, Rev. Charles Goldsmith, was a farmer and a preacher. Oliver Goldsmith had five siblings who lived to be adults.

Like many young children, Goldsmith first began learning the basics of reading, writing, and math at home with a family member teaching him. Today, if children aren't in daycare, they normally go into a formal learning environment around 5 years old. Goldsmith didn't go to school until he was 7 years old.

He had smallpox as a child, and it left him with scars on his face. Because of this and the fact that he was small and scrawny, Goldsmith was often picked on and bullied as a child.

College Life

Goldsmith got over his shyness as a child and decided to let it all hang out once he got to college. He attended Trinity College, graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1749, and had a ball while he was there. This guy dressed in bright colors, gambled on a regular basis, and even etched his name in a windowpane on the school's property! It may not sound like the party life many college students have now, but that was pretty wild for the 1740s.

After Trinity College, Goldsmith attended Edinburg. His intentions were to become a medical doctor, but he dropped out of the program. Ironically, some people still called him Dr. Goldsmith.

By this time, Goldsmith's father had passed, and other relatives were supporting him financially. By 1756, he was broke because he'd lived far above his means, traveling to France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.

Various Jobs

Goldsmith tried several different jobs after he left Edinburg. He was a pharmacist's assistant and a school usher. He even tried to be a preacher, but no one would ordain him. Before he started writing his own poems and books, he was what some would call a hack writer, producing low quality articles and books to order.

Writing Career

After working as a hack writer, Goldsmith began writing essays for himself. In 1762, he published Citizen of the World, a satirical (making fun of something) essay. He also wrote Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe. Many of his essays were published in a journal called The Public Ledger.


Around 1764, Goldsmith began to be known as a poet. His poem, The Traveller, was dedicated to his brother who died in 1768. He also wrote Deserted Village, which is about rural life and interactions between the wealthy and the poor.

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