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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

IX. Oliver Goldsmith

§ 1. Goldsmith’s early life and the uncertainties surrounding it

“NO man,” wrote that authoritative but autocratic biographer, John Forster, “ever put so much of himself into his books as Goldsmith, from the beginning to the very end of his career.” To many authors, this saying is only partly applicable; but it is entirely applicable to the author of The Vicar of Wakefield. His life and his works are intimately connected. They accompany and interpret each other in such a way as to make them practically inseparable; and it is, therefore, appropriate, as well as convenient, to treat them, so to speak, in the piece, rather than to attempt any distribution of the subject into divisions and sub-divisions of history and criticism.

Concerning Goldsmith’s early years, there is much that is obscure, or that, in any case, cannot be accepted without rigorous investigation. He left his native island when he was three-and-twenty, and never returned to it. Those who, like Glover and Cooke, wrote accounts of him shortly after his death, were the humbler associates of his later and more famous years, while the professedly authentic “Memoir” drawn up under the nominal superintendence of bishop Percy, and the much quoted letter of Annesley Strean in Mangin’s Essay on Light Reading, did not see the light until the first decade of the nineteenth century, when Goldsmith had long been dead. It follows that much of the information thus collected after date must have been imperfect and contradictory, often extracted from persons more familiar with his obscure beginnings than with his later eminence, and, possibly, in answer to those unsatisfactory leading questions which usually elicit not so much the truth as what the querist wishes to establish.