British and Irish Literature Oliver Goldsmith
Michael Griffin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0026


The life and work of the Irish poet, playwright, essayist, historian, and novelist Oliver Goldsmith (b. 1728–d. 1774) had not received a tremendous amount of attention since the 1960s, a decade that saw a substantial burst of editorial and critical work, and, in particular, the publication of Arthur Friedman’s five-volume edition of the Collected Works (Goldsmith 1966, cited under Editions) and Roger Lonsdale’s edition of The Poems of Goldsmith, Gray and Collins (Goldsmith, et al. 1969, cited under Editions). A good deal of the critical scholarship that has emerged since then has been in dialogue with, or in response to, those editions and to two-book length works of criticism by Ricardo Quintana (Quintana 1967, cited under General Collections and Studies) and Robert H. Hopkins (Hopkins 1969, cited under General Collections and Studies), which argued for a greater appreciation of the ironic registers of Goldsmith’s work. Indeed, much Goldsmith criticism has focused on the question of whether he should be understood as a sentimentalist or as a satirist, since the oeuvre as a whole exists along a seam between the satirical tenor of his Augustan predecessors and the emerging sensibility of his literary milieu and an expanding middle-class audience. As such, Goldsmith’s writings are in many ways highly representative of his mid-18th-century contexts. The relative lack of sustained scholarly and critical work on Goldsmith since the 1960s is also partly attributable to his work being in some senses too various to accommodate in single thematic or generic studies: he moved across the modes of 18th-century writing with considerable ease and success. The eclectic nature of his oeuvre, and the variety of tones and registers he used in writing across the genres, has resulted in his being characterized in various, often-inconsistent ways. That said, clusters of essays and articles have appeared since the late 20th century that have illustrated the richness and instructive ambiguities of his writing and thinking. Also, his Irishness has been intermittently, and with varying degrees of insight or success, studied throughout the critical heritage as a contributing factor in his social and political worldview. In this article, items that Friedman acknowledged and incorporated into the editorial apparatus of his 1966 edition—including earlier scholarship on the history and sources of Goldsmith’s Greek, Roman, and English histories, the prefaces to which feature in Friedman’s work—are largely omitted. The emphasis here is primarily on the biographical tradition, on criticism and scholarship published after 1966, and within that period on the substantial bodies of criticism surrounding the major poetry and Goldsmith’s one novel.


The most recent edition of the Collected Works, edited by Arthur Friedman, is of mid-20th-century vintage (Goldsmith 1966), while a new edition of Goldsmith’s correspondence (building upon the scholarship of Katharine Balderston, whose edition of the letters was published in 1928) was published in Goldsmith 2018. Apart from the correspondence, Goldsmith has not been the subject of much editorial scholarship since the 1960s, when, along with Friedman’s Collected Works, the poems—anthologized with those of Thomas Gray and William Collins—were edited and annotated in Goldsmith, et al. 1969 with extraordinary thoroughness by Roger Lonsdale. Tom Davis drew on editions edited by Friedman (Goldsmith 1966) and Lonsdale (Goldsmith, et al. 1969) for his compact edition of the poems and plays (Goldsmith 1975). Goldsmith 2002, an edition of The Deserted Village, renews in its introduction the poem’s Irish contexts and continuing relevance. For students and general readers, the Goldsmith 1951 (edited by Frederick Hilles), Goldsmith 1974, and Goldsmith 2008 editions of The Vicar of Wakefield (both edited by Friedman) give useful critical and biographical contexts within which to read the works. Goldsmith, et al. 2007, a mini-anthology of plays edited by Nigel Wood, situates She Stoops to Conquer in its contemporaneous theatrical culture. Less well known among Goldsmith’s writings for the stage is his derivative 1773 farce The Grumbler, published with an introduction by Perry Wood in Goldsmith 1931.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. The Grumbler: An Adaptation. Introduced and annotated by Alice I. Perry Wood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931.

    Contains the text of Goldsmith’s one-act adaptation of Sir Charles Sedley’s three-act translation from the French five-act original by David-Augustin de Brueys and Jean de Palaprat. Perry Wood’s introduction gives a succinct account of the history of Goldsmith’s adaptation in this, the first publication of the play from the manuscript in the Huntington Library.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. The Vicar of Wakefield. Edited by Frederick W. Hilles. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1951.

    Hilles’s influential introduction related the novel to the conventions of the stage and emphasized its formal symmetry and structural balance.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. The Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith. 5 vols. Edited by Arthur Friedman. Oxford: Clarendon, 1966.

    Friedman’s edition is the most comprehensive, to date, and, as a collection that moves across all the genres in which Goldsmith wrote, the most advanced in its editorial apparatus. Drawing on the work of several bibliographical scholars between the 1820s and 1960s, Friedman gives as firm an account of the canon of tendentiously attributed periodical and other writings as possible and excludes pieces that had not been satisfactorily proven to be the work of Goldsmith.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. The Vicar of Wakefield. Edited by Arthur Friedman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974.

    Friedman gives in the 1974 edition a ten-page introduction to The Vicar that concisely explains the novel’s attractions and traces, broadly for the general reader, the issues in criticism. There is also a two-page “Select bibliography” in which Friedman recounts the biographical and critical traditions surrounding the oeuvre in general, and the Vicar in particular.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. Poems and Plays. Edited by Tom Davis. London: J. M. Dent, 1975.

    A useful, compact edition of the two major plays and the collected poems, lightly end-noted, with a useful, concise (fourteen-page) introduction. Indebted to Friedman (Goldsmith 1966) and Lonsdale (Goldsmith, et al. 1969).

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. The Deserted Village. Introduced by Vona Groarke. Oldcastle, Ireland: Gallery, 2002.

    Goldsmith’s fellow Longford poet Groarke emphasizes in her succinct introduction the continuing relevance of the poem’s political communalism for modern Ireland.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. The Vicar of Wakefield. Edited by Arthur Friedman and Robert L. Mack. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Reprinting Friedman’s authoritative text of the corrected first edition of 1766, the newer 2008 edition features an introduction by Mack that extends and updates the terms of the critical debate. The bibliography, accordingly, is updated and the notes are expanded.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver. The Letters of Oliver Goldsmith. Edited by Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    Building upon Katharine Balderston’s collected edition of Goldsmith’s small body of (at that point, fifty-three) letters published in 1928, this edition expands the body of correspondence to sixty-six letters. The editors provide an extended introduction that puts Goldsmith in his London-Irish and Enlightenment contexts.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver, Henry Fielding, David Garrick, George Colman, and John O’Keeffe. She Stoops to Conquer and Other Comedies. Edited by Nigel Wood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Useful for students, this edition and Wood’s introduction to it situate Goldsmith’s play (alongside others) in the theatrical culture of its time, with a glossary of colloquial and unfamiliar terms, and notes to clarify early-21st-century and historical allusions.

  • Goldsmith, Oliver, Thomas Gray, and William Collins. The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins and Oliver Goldsmith. Edited by Roger Lonsdale. Harlow, UK: Longmans, 1969.

    Lonsdale’s headnotes and footnotes give accounts, unsurpassed in detail, of the composition and early histories of Goldsmith’s poems; see pp. 566–769.

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