Biography of Oliver Goldsmith

Name: Oliver Goldsmith
Bith Date: 1794
Death Date: 1861
Place of Birth:
Nationality: Canadian
Occupations: poet
Oliver Goldsmith

The Canadian poet Oliver Goldsmith (1794-1861) is remembered primarily for "The Rising Village," the first book of verse to be written by a native Canadian, published in London.

Oliver Goldsmith, a grandnephew of the British poet of the same name, was born of United Empire loyalist stock in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. When he was a small boy, the family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the age of 11 he began work in the dispensary of the Naval Hospital at Halifax and then became successively an assistant in an ironmonger's shop, a bookseller's helper, and a merchant's clerk. He interrupted his work to attend the Halifax Grammar School and in 1810 entered the commissariat department of the British army; he spent almost the whole of the remainder of his life in that department, becoming eventually deputy commissary general. In connection with his duties he spent some time in England, Hong Kong, and Corfu, but his base was usually in the Atlantic Provinces. He died in Liverpool.

Goldsmith's literary career began in 1822, when he joined an amateur theater group in Halifax and tried his hand at writing an opening address. The address was rejected, but, as Goldsmith puts it in his Autobiography: "Encouraged by some friends I wrote a poem called The Rising Village.... The celebrated author of The Deserted Village [his granduncle] had pathetically displayed the anguish of his countrymen, on being forced, for various causes, to quit their native plains, ... and to seek a refuge in regions at that time but little known.... I, therefore, endeavoured to describe the sufferings they experienced in a new and uncultivated country, the difficulties they surmounted, the rise and progress of a village, and the prospects which promised happiness to its future possessors."

The Rising Village is of historical interest. It has also been hailed as a great document of pioneer life, but it is in fact not nearly as accurate in its account of conditions in early Nova Scotia as were the writings of Thomas Chandler Haliburton. As a poem, it follows The Deserted Village in meter and general structure but falls far short of its model in artistic merit. It lacks both the wit and the passion of the older poem, is less specific in its details, employs mainly conventional epithets, and has very few striking figures of speech. The picture it gives of a flourishing Nova Scotian economy is greatly idealized, but it does express the growing pride and self-esteem of the colony in the 1820s.

Further Reading

  • There is no book on Goldsmith. The chief source is the Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith, discovered and edited by the Reverend Wilfrid E. Myatt (1943). Goldsmith's life and work are examined in John P. Matthews, Tradition in Exile: A Comparative Study of Social Influences on the Development of Australian and Canadian Poetry in the Nineteenth Century (1962), and Carl F. Klinck, ed., Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English (1965).
  • Goldsmith, Oliver, Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith: a chapter in Canada's literary history, Hantsport, N.S.: Lancelot Press, 1985.

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