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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

§ 5. Goldsmith, B.A.

The academic career thus inauspiciously begun was not worshipful. From the outset, he was dispirited and disappointed, and, consequently, without energy or enthusiasm. Moreover, he was unfortunate in his tutor, a clergyman named Theaker Wilder, who, though his bad qualities may have been exaggerated, was certainly harsh and unsympathetic. His forte, too, was mathematics, which Goldsmith, like Swift, like Gray, like Johnson, detested as cordially as he detested the arid logic of “Dutch Burgersdyck” and Polish Smiglesius. According to Stubbs’s History of the University of Dublin,

  • Oliver Goldsmith is recorded on one or two occasions as being remarkably diligent at Morning Lecture; again, as cautioned for bad answering at Morning and Greek Lectures; and finally, as put down into the next class for neglect of his studies.
  • To this, he added other enormities. He was noted, as was Johnson at Oxford, for much “lounging about the college gate”; and for his skill on that solace to melancholy and laborum dulce lenimen, the German flute, of which, as readily as his own “Man in Black,” he had apparently mastered the “Ambusheer.” He became involved in various scrapes, notably a college riot, including that ducking of a bailiff afterwards referred to in the first version of The Double Transformation, on which occasion he was publicly admonished quod seditioni favisset et tumultuantibus opem tulisset. Recovering a little from the stigma of this disgrace by gaining a small (Smythe) exhibition, he was imprudent enough to celebrate his success by a mixed entertainment, in what only by courtesy could be called his “apartments.” On these festivities, the exasperated Wilder made irruption, knocking down the unfortunate host, who, after forthwith selling his books, ran away, vaguely bound, as on subsequent occasions, for America. But a reconciliation with his tutor was patched up by Oliver’s brother Henry; and he returned to his college to enjoy the half-peace of the half-pardoned. His father was now dead; and he was miserably poor. He managed, however, to take his B.A. degree on 27 Feburary, 1749, and quitted the university without regret, leaving behind him a scratched signature on a window pane (still preserved), an old lexicon scored with “promises to pay” and a reputation for supplementing his scanty means by the ballads (unluckily not preserved) which he was accustomed to write and afterwards sell for five shillings a head at the Reindeer in Mountrath court, stealing out at nightfall—so runs the tradition—to “snatch the fearful joy” of hearing them sung. It must have been the memory of these things which, years after, at Sir William Chambers’s, made him fling down his cards, and rush hurriedly into the street to succour a poor ballad-woman, who had apparently, like Rubini, les larmes dans la voix.