I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Sipping from the Honey-Pot

Sipping from the Honey-Pot

The Letters of Oliver Goldsmith, Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy (eds), Cambridge University Press, 232 pp, £64.99, ISBN: 978-1107093539 The publication of Oliver Goldsmith’s letters in a new and definitive edition provides an opportunity to explore how and why Goldsmith should be read today. Locating him in any ready framework is no easy task, but the very complexity of his background in Ireland, of his social and political outlook and of his versatile oeuvre adds to the fascination which continues to attract scholars. Readers, however, have simply loved his graceful facility with the pen and his comic and satirical genius. He has never been out of print and has a claim to be among the most beloved of writers. His readers love “sipping at the honey-pot of his mind” to co-opt a phrase Yeats applied to him. Goldsmith studies in the last half-century or so have added greatly to our understanding of his writings and, as a result, readers today may have their perceptions radically challenged compared with how he was read, say, in the nineteenth century or well into the twentieth. It is valuable to explore how this deeper appreciation has occurred and is continuing to occur in the critical attention paid to Goldsmith. The famous Latin epitaph to Goldsmith in Westminster Abbey, translated, reads in part: “Poet, Naturalist, Historian, who left scarcely any kind of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn: whether smiles were to be stirred or tears, commanding our emotions, yet a gentle master: In genius lofty, lively, versatile, In style weighty, clear, engaging-“ This tribute, composed by Dr Samuel Johnson, is what his best friends and companions wished to record about Goldsmith. He was indeed a genius, who wrote masterpieces in poetry such as The Traveller and The Deserted Village, plays such as She Stoops to Conquer and The Good-Natured Man, the novel The Vicar of Wakefield and essays, particularly The Citizen of the World. The Vicar is the world’s most illustrated novel in English, as the Kirby Collection of over 250 different editions, now held in Co Westmeath Library, demonstrates. Goldsmith’s versatility extended to histories, such as his two Histories of England and the Roman History, and to natural history such as his An History of the Earth and Animated Nature. Ralph M Wardle’s now somewhat dated biography, published in 1957, concludes correctly that his “cumulative achievement in criticism, the essay, biography, history, the novel, poetry, and drama entitles him to be honoured as the most versatile…

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