More birthday news comes to us via our learned friend, the Los Angeles poet Timothy Steele, this time on the double birthday today of poet Oliver Goldsmith and painter William Hogarth. He enjoined us to celebrate Virgil’s 2,085 a few weeks ago. Here’s what he has to say on today’s occasion:
Other poets may have been more celebrated for their art and scope, but none was more trusted, as Samuel Johnson noted, than Oliver Goldsmith, whose birthday is today. Though Goldsmith repeatedly burned through large sums of money, friends and associates rarely failed to advance him funds whenever he requested loans. As a result, he died £2,000 in debt, a remarkable figure for somebody of his era and modest background.
Paradoxically, he wrote acutely about economics, and historians of that subject still cite the lines in “The Traveller” about income inequality (“should one order disproportion’d grow, / Its double weight must ruin all below”) and the passage in “The Deserted Village” about the effect of land enclosures on small farmers (“Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey, / Where wealth accumulates, and men decay,” etc.). Goldsmith’s lyric poems include Olivia’s song from “The Vicar of Wakefield:
When lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can soothe her melancholy,
What art can wash her guilt away?
The only art her guilt to cover,
To hide her shame from every eye,
And give repentance to her lover,
And wring his bosom—is to die.
At right is “After the Seduction,” a painting by William Hogarth, another great eighteenth-century satirist whose birthday is today.