Monday, October 26, 2009

EcoPolitical Possibilia - All Possibilities Included Since or Perhaps Before Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith depicted in an oils on canvas by his friend, the Painter Sir Joshua Reynolds
Source: The National Portrait Gallery of London

“Every absurdity has a champion to defend it”
Oliver Goldsmith

In a monument at the Gothic church of England, called simply as "Westminster Abbey", more formally known as "The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster", there is a epitaph that reads:

“Oliver Goldsmith: A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian, who left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn. Of all the passions, whether smiles where to move or tears, a powerful yet gentle master. In genius, vivid, versatile, sublime. In style, clear, elevated, elegant.”

More than two hundred years after of his dead, this inscription could be perhaps more appropriately enhanced by explaining how those writings of this "jack of all trades,” have continued exerting considerable influence over the world of ideas about fiction and reality or both since their time to nowadays. For instance, in The New York Times, on December 4 of 1994, William Safire [he has very recently passed away this last September 27, 2009],the Pulitzer Prize-Winning political columnist and also the former Speechwriter of President Nixon, referred
in his article, "On Language; Newtonian Linguistics" that “Oliver Goldsmith wrote in 'The Citizen of the world in 1762': 'It is ... difficult to induce a number of free beings to co-operate for their mutual benefit'. The aforementioned Safire's article can be used as a small example of the influence of this Poet exerts even today.

I should mention that when I was researching in the World Wide Web lately, I have found 1,530,000 documents or entries for "Oliver Goldsmith" using [the search Engine] Google, comparing to a 32,460 documents containing this same name using Yahoo back in 1997. This should give the reader an idea about the ubiquitous and increasingly presence of Oliver Goldsmith also on the web.

Goldsmith's most known poem, "The Deserted Village", has gained its own particular merits too. With its famous first evocative line, “Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain ... It has inspired many and, a diverse type of individuals to make that idyllic village somehow true again; this is the case of Mt. Auburn, whose slogan is, “A Rich Past. An Exciting Future” and its Community Council is inviting the public to visit its town, I must confess that I already have separated my ticket to Cincinnati, Ohio, I want to live that Goldsmith's poem too, paradoxically eluding not a deserted village, but the gentrified city, i.e., New York.

In any event, who was Oliver Goldsmith? He was born in Ireland, Pallas, county of Longford, sometime between 1728 and 1730, there is not any assurance over this fact, many sources inform [us] that the date was, November 10. On the point in where all these chronicles coincide at is that he was not too good-looking, besides from the fact that he had come to this world with already weird features to say the least, Goldsmith contracted Small Pox that worsen his physiognomical attributes unfortunately even more.

His friend and virtuoso painter, Reynolds, could not eliminate the harshness of his grotesque aspect even though there are accounts that he tried to do so very hard when he painted his portrait (illustrated above); on the other hand, Samuel Johnson, that notable head figure of the English literature of the 18th Century, would called
Goldsmith, Monky’s face. Thus, this ungainly boy was perceived by [his] peers as “Stupid and Blockhead.” These happenings on his life determined that Goldsmith would grow with an understandable lack of self-confidence, especially amount eminent people; although, he could, and knew how to, be joyful in the taverns. The Scottish biographer James Boswell, — of whom many experts have said it is the greatest of all biographers — referred in his life of [Samuel] Johnson to the conspicuous Goldsmith’s inability to be articulated within conversations.

Anyway, after his schooling at his
village [most probable in Lissoy] he, with the help of his father, attended Trinity College in Dublin; yet, he was forced to work as sizar, i.e., as one who gets free housing and the residues of the common kitchen, in exchange he or she does servile tasks. This person must also wear a garb, a custom that identifies his inferior status. The Calvin Theatre Company suggests that one of the few pieces of consistency through the whole life of Goldsmith was that in the college-entrance examination list (1745) he was at the Bottom; and when he finally graduated (in 1749, as B. A.) he was also at the bottom list, well what about that for being consistent as a student.

After two years of his graduation, he applied to the holy order, but he was rejected by the Bishop of Elphin. Then he left Ireland permanently and started to study Medicine at Edinburgh. For unknown reasons he left his studies and began his own peregrination through Europe:
Holland, France, Switzerland and Italy. He returned to England, without any money, and practically in ruins. He tried to attract patients but he failed, perhaps his semblance did not help him much either; then he reluctantly started to work as hack writer, he wrote Translations, Abridgments, History, Plays, Novels, and Poems, Periodicals (at The Bee) after that point of his life, he would live only by his pen.

Doctor Goldsmith, this son of an Anglo-Irish clergyman, gained notoriety in his times with his book titled “A inquire into the present State of Polite Learning in Europe." (1759) Oliver Goldsmith would meet Samuel Johnson by his mid-thirties, and Johnson helped him out in more than one difficulty. His first play, a comedy, “The Good Natur’d Man”was not a success, but his second attempt became one of the favorite plays of the day and remained popular for generations. Thus until his last day on April 4th of 1774, he had lived a generous life, with all the dissipation and gambling that he could afford or not. In fact, the records show that at the moment of leaving [‘physically’] from this world, he was in debt by the considerable sum of 2000 pounds; and yet he had gifted to each and “ev’ry” one of us, a extraordinary treasure: “The Deserted Village.”

This Poem [published in 1770] is about the depopulation of that nostalgic and “Sweet Auburn,” an Irish village whose inhabitants cannot longer afford to live there anymore. With this poem, Goldsmith demonstrates the style that he would have managed to developed through his entire life as a writer, and that now serves us well to characterize him. Using a seemingly natural formal balance and antithesis, Goldsmith would extol the virtues of a rural life almost forgotten or lost, on one hand and; on the other, the Doctor would condemned those wealthy landlords. He achieved in this poem — as I understand it, the eternity, because this poem is not only about the meticulously work of filigree that Goldsmith, giving honor to his last name, and without doubt produced, by that excellent parallelism of his syntax, i.e., adjective-noun construction for each adjective-noun; the prepositional phrase balanced against phrases with equal intensity but with opposite meaning. That symmetry is constant and harmonic, it is a musical cadence to our ears. It is also about reaching a decent and human social living, it is a protest against industrialism and gentrification, it is about justice. The Auburn’s landscape is presented as if were the mere achievable paradise here on this earth, one could read it like following the enigmatic sweetness of it meaningful waves embedded in the poem's metric.

The "Deserted Village", is a prophetic poem that could have or has a therapeutic effect in the avid reader. Evenly anyone can experience an epiphany of the sorts, a feeling of revelation by reading it, there is "this or that", an inevitable desire and need [that the reader feels] to be in that village, to breath that pure air, and abandon one’s own city at once and forever. This poem is a symphony, and has the melody of a premonition. Its "music" talks about beauty, the kind of beauty that in the words of yet another great poet, John Keats, would be, “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty,”—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Returning to the meaning of the poem, the author is expressing, the change of one lifestyle, to other, for which he seems not too please about it. The lyricism of Goldsmith today sounds much louder, sweeter and better; especially, in these days in which we are facing gigantic, almost tragic, challenges of not only have to deal with the climate change, the melting of icebergs, the overpopulation, the viruses of all kind, but yet more disgusting also with have to cope with those wealthy, obstinate, and megalomaniac beasts, the CEOs and CFOs, and other "philantropits" who arrogantly think and dearly believe that they have all the answers, [that they] have all the rights to control and buy other people's lives or cause them pain if they want to do so. Excuse me! but I am going away, 'cause I prefer to live in a "deserted village".


Bloom, Harold, ed. Oliver Goldsmith. Modem Critical Views. New York:
Chelsea House, 1987
• Buckler, John, Bennet D. Hill, John P. McKay. A History of Western Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
• Danziger, Marlies K. Goldsmith and Sheridan. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978.
• Dixon, Peter. Oliver Goldsmith Revisited. Twayne’s English Authors Ser. Boston: Twayne, 1991.
• Gray, Peter. Age of Enlightenment. New York:
Time, 1966.
• Pagliaro, Harold E. Major English Writers of the Eighteenth Century. New York:
Free Press, 1969.
• Quintana, Ricardo. Oliver Goldsmith: A Georgian Study. Louis Kronenberger, gen. ed. Master of World Lit. Ser. New York: Macmillan, 1967.
• Untermeyer, Louis. Lives of the Poets: The Story of One Thousand Years of English and American Poetry. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.

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