Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), the Irish writer and poet, spent much time earning a living from low-grade literary journalism and criticism, but was capable of writing works of genius. His great friend, Johnson the lexicographer, wrote in the Critical Review of Goldsmith's The Traveller (December, 1764), that it would not be easy to find its equal since the death of Pope.
The novel The Vicar of Wakefield, his most famous work, was published in 1766 at Johnson's insistence, to pay his rent. Debt marked his life with difficulty but did not seem to hurt his genius, which was widely appreciated. His Deserted Village, for example, went through five editions immediately upon its appearance in May, 1771. That year, he began his very syccessful play She Stoops to Conquer, which was first performed in March, 1773. The party of Goldsmith's friends at the first night included Burke, Reynolds and Johnson, who said it achieved "the great end of comedy, making an audience merry." Northcote told Goldsmith that he had laughed "exceedingly". Goldsmith wrote biographies (for example, "The Life of Henry.... Viscount Bolingbroke," 1770) and a "History of England" (August, 1771) which was heavily influenced by that of David Hume (see lot 466). In March, 1774, he caught a fever, took medicine contrary to advice and died on 4th April, 1774.
Reynold's prototype is at Knole: an autograph version from Woburn, which was sold at Christie's London, 11 November 1994, lot 15 is now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.