Yesterday my brother Pat and I travelled up to Pallas, County Longford. Pallas is or was the birthplace of the famous Irish writer, Oliver Goldsmith. The reason for our journey there was that I had been highly commended for two poems which I had entered in The Goldsmith International Literary Festival Competition, 2006. It was very well organised and luckily, the whole proceedings were bathed in warm summer sunlight – it was around 25 degrees Centigrade.
This post complements those several posts which I wrote on style before this one. Why? The answer is all too obvious, for Oliver Goldsmith was a master of style. His epitaph, by Johnson, includes the famous line: “Nullum quod tetigit non ornavit” (“He touched nothing that he did not adorn”). What a marvellously insighful comment on Goldsmith’s style. This praise from one of the literary greats of English literature is praise indeed. I take heart also that Johnson was one of Oliver’s best friends. I also take great heart from the fact that poor old Oliver was often awkward in movement and ungainly in appearance. Although he earned a great deal of money in his lifetime, Goldsmith’s extravagance kept him poor. Boswell depicted him as a ridiculous, blundering, but also a tenderhearted and generous creature. All biographies of Goldsmith portray him as 'a good natured man' who was envied for his literary talents but pitied for his lack of worldly wisdom.
Something in me makes me cringe at this mock epitaph, written by an actor-friend: It was the actor David Garrick who wrote his mock epitaph:
"Here lies Nolly Goldsmith,
For shortness call'd Noll,
Who wrote like an angel,
But talk'd like poor Poll"
Yet, this awkward man could write like a nightingale. If style be the man, then Goldsmith was a man of great style in being so true to himself, in being honest, witty, tenderhearted and generous. When you read his great poem The Deserted Village or his novel The Vicar of Wakefield one can only marvel at the clarity and richness and precision of his expression, the passion of his writing and the sheer sincerity and honesty of style. The Poor Poll in every creature can mask, often, the song of a nightingale, the purity of a soul that can sing itself eloquent in lines that continue to entrance. Oliver was born in Pallas, Co. Longford on 10th November 1728. Oliver Goldsmith died of fever at forty-five years of age, on 4th April 1774, and was greatly mourned by his friends and many admirers.
The portrait of Oliver Goldsmith I have inserted above left is the famous one by Sir Joshua Reynolds.