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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Oliver Goldsmith, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

Oliver Goldsmith, novelist, playwright and poet, is born on November 10, 1728. He is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773). He is thought to have written the classic children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765).

The location of Goldsmith’s birth is uncertain. He is born either in the townland of Pallas, near Ballymahon, County Longford, where his father is the Anglican curate of the parish of Forgney, or at the residence of his maternal grandparents, at the Smith Hill house near Elphin, County Roscommon. When Goldsmith is two years old, his father is appointed the rector of the parish of Kilkenny West in County Westmeath. The family moves to the parsonage at Lissoy, between Athlone and Ballymahon, and continues to live there until his father’s death in 1747.

In 1744 Goldsmith enters Trinity College, Dublin. Neglecting his studies in theology and law, he falls to the bottom of his class. In 1747, along with four other undergraduates, he is expelled for a riot in which they attempt to storm the Marshalsea Prison. He graduates in 1749 as a Bachelor of Arts, but without the discipline or distinction necessary to gain entry into a profession in the church or the law. He lives for a short time with his mother, tries various professions without success, studies medicine desultorily at the University of Edinburgh from 1752 to 1755, and sets out on a walking tour of Flanders, France, Switzerland and Northern Italy, living by his wits.

Goldsmith settles in London in 1756, where he briefly holds various jobs, including an apothecary‘s assistant and an usher of a school. Perennially in debt and addicted to gambling, Goldsmith produces a massive output as a hack writer on Grub Street for the publishers of London, but his few painstaking works earn him the company of Samuel Johnson, with whom he is a founding member of “The Club.” There, through fellow Club member Edmund Burke, he makes the acquaintance of Sir George Savile, who later arranges a job for him at Thornhill Grammar School. During this period he uses the pseudonym “James Willington” to publish his 1758 translation of the autobiography of the Huguenot Jean Marteilhe.

In character Goldsmith has a lively sense of fun, is totally guileless, and never happier than when in the light-hearted company of children. The money that he sporadically earns is often frittered away or happily given away to the next good cause that presents itself so that any financial security tends to be fleeting and short-lived. His talents are unreservedly recognised by Samuel Johnson whose patronage aids his eventual recognition in the literary world and the world of drama.

Goldsmith is described by contemporaries as prone to envy, a congenial but impetuous and disorganised personality who once planned to emigrate to America but failed because he missed his ship. At some point around this time he works at Thornhill Grammar School, later basing the character Squire Thornhill in The Vicar of Wakefield on his benefactor Sir George Savile and certainly spending time with eminent scientist Rev. John Mitchell, whom he probably knows from London. Mitchell sorely misses good company, which Goldsmith naturally provides in spades.

Oliver Goldsmith’s premature death in 1774 may have been partly due to his own misdiagnosis of his kidney infection. He is buried in Temple Church in London. There is a monument to him in the centre of Ballymahon, also in Westminster Abbey with an epitaph written by Samuel Johnson.

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The Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act 1651 is passed on October 9, 1651, by the Rump Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. It authorises the Commonwealth of England to regulate trade within the colonies. It reinforces a long-standing principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act is a reaction to the failure of the English diplomatic mission led by Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland to The Hague seeking a political union of the Commonwealth with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchical aspirations of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange.

The stadtholder dies suddenly, however, and the States are now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea too seriously. The English propose the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch would take Africa and Asia. But the Dutch have just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, so they see little advantage in this grandiose scheme and propose a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again is unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and is seen by them as a deliberate affront.

The Act bans foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies, and bans third-party countries’ ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically target the Dutch, who control much of Europe’s international trade and even much of England’s coastal shipping. It excludes the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy is competitive with, not complementary to the English, and the two countries therefore exchange few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constitutes only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows.

The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it is only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations have failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) show the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominate and are able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries hold each other in a stifling embrace.

The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ends the impasse. The Dutch fail to have the Act repealed or amended, but it seems to have had relatively little influence on their trade. The Act offers England only limited solace. It cannot limit the deterioration of England’s overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself is the principal consumer, such as the Canary Islands wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies, the Dutch keep up a flourishing “smuggling” trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offer in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offers a loophole through intercolonial trade wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginia tobacco through.

The 1651 Act, like other laws of the Commonwealth period, is declared void on the Restoration of Charles II of England, having been passed by “usurping powers.” Parliament therefore passes new legislation. This is generally referred to as the “Navigation Acts,” and, with some amendments, remains in force for nearly two centuries.