Oliver Goldsmith


  1. Biography
  2. Why Should We Read and Study Goldsmith?
  3. Literature
    • from The Rising Village
  4. Questions and Considerations for Reflection
  5. Strategies for Teachers
  6. Further Reading
  7. Copyright


Oliver Goldsmith was a Loyalist poet and civil servant born in St. Andrews, NB on 6 July 1794. His great-uncle was the well-known Irish poet of the same name who wrote The Deserted Village (1770). That long poem would be significant in the younger Goldsmith’s life, for his most important work, the long narrative poem The Rising Village (1825, 1834), was a response to his great uncle’s poem. Whereas Goldsmith Sr.’s poem is of a crumbling society – it concerns itself with rural depopulation and ends with dispirited Britons leaving for the New World – Goldsmith Jr.’s maps the fortunes of settlers newly arrived. As a result, the older Goldsmith is rather pessimistic in tone and outlook, while the younger poet is guardedly optimistic, even utopian at times. Both share the message that disorder and avarice are the great social ills, and that success in the New World must follow the Loyalist ethos (Tory, land-based, and communal) that Old World citizens forgot. Central to that ethos in Goldsmith Jr.’s work is a plea to citizens to uphold Imperial attitudes and practices, lest they fall.

For a much more detailed biography of Goldsmith, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.

Why Should We Read and Study Goldsmith?

  • Goldsmith was a witness to and a shaper of an emergent Maritime society. He shared with other Loyalist poets a strong sense of community as unified, literate and spiritual, gentlemanly, conservative, sustained by tradition, built on imperial loyalties, and close to the materiality of land, water, and surrounding landscape. Many of those values inhere in provincial and regional society today.

  • The Rising Village was the first book-length poem published by a native-born English Canadian.

  • To understand ourselves in the present we must examine ourselves in the past. Narratives such as The Rising Village enable us to do so, and call on us to filter biases as we extract the essence of early society.


from The Rising Village

What noble courage must their hearts have fired,
How great the ardour which their souls inspired,
Who, leaving far behind their native plain,
Have sought a home beyond the western main;
And braved the terrors of the stormy seas,
In search of wealth, of freedom, and of ease!
Oh! none can tell but they who sadly share
The bosom’s anguish, and its wild despair,
What dire distress awaits the hardy bands
That venture first on bleak and desert lands;
How great the pain, the danger, and the toil
Which mark the first rude culture of the soil.
When, looking round, the lonely settler sees
His home amid a wilderness of trees:
How sinks his heart in those deep solitudes,
Where not a voice upon his ear intrudes;
Where solemn silence all the waste pervades,
Heightening the horror of its gloomy shades . . .

      While now the Rising Village claims a name,
Its limits still increase and still its fame,

The wand’ring pedlar, who undaunted traced
His lonely footsteps o’er the silent waste;
Who traversed once the cold and snow-clad plain,
Reckless of danger, trouble or of pain,
To find a market for his little wares,
The source of all his hopes and all his cares,
Establish’d here, his settled home maintains,
And soon a merchant’s higher title gains.

      Around his store, on spacious shelves array’d,
Behold his great and various stock in trade.

Here nails and blankets, side by side, are seen, 
There, horses’ collars and a large tureen;
Buttons and tumblers, codhooks, spoons and knives,
Shawls for young damsels, flannels for old wives;
Woolcards and stockings, hats for men and boys,
Mill-saws and fenders, silks, and infants’ toys;
All useful things and joined with many more,
Compose the well assorted country store . . . 

      The half-bred Doctor next here settles down,
And hopes the village soon will prove a town.

No rival here disputes his doubtful skill,
He cures, by chance, or ends each human ill:
By turns he physics, or his patient bleeds,
Uncertain in what case each best succeeds.
And if, from friends untimely snatch’d away,
Some beauty fall a victim to decay;
If some fine youth, his parents’ fond delight,
Be early hurried to the shades of night;
Death bears the blame, ‘tis his envenom’d dart
That strikes the suff’ring mortal to the heart . . . 

Questions and Considerations for Reflection

► Readers will note the inflated rhetoric at the start of the poem (“noble courage,” “great ardour,” “braved the terrors”). Such inflated language, often invoking muses and singing of gods and deeds, is a feature of classical epic poetry, and is intended to alert readers to the heroic exploits of great individuals or groups. Many of the world’s finest epic poems begin this way, including the Babylonian Gilgamesh, the Sanskrit Mahâbhârata, and Virgil’s Aeneid. That Goldsmith’s poem begins in this manner suggests that he had certain intentions in mind, the foremost being quest, tests of virtue, achievement, and historical rendering (the definition of the epic is a poem containing history). We should read the poem in that way, imagining Goldsmith’s unheralded immigrants as coming through great trials with great fortitude and virtue.

► The achievement of Goldsmith’s settlers will become clear when readers compare his early stewards of the land (“How great the pain, the danger, and the toil / Which mark the first rude culture of the soil”) with Charles G.D. Roberts’ farmer in “The Sower” (see Confederation Poets). Roberts’ sower is “Godlike” and “grows great in his employ.” Settlement, in other words, has taken root, and success has graced the settlers. (What is left out of the triumph of civilizing the wilderness, however, is Goldsmith’s celebration of banishment, which dispels Indigenous elements just as surely as the gentry dispelled villagers in Goldsmith Sr.’s The Deserted Village. The parallels are lost on Goldsmith Jr.)

► Goldsmith’s general optimism and his images of merchants and professionals building community are in stark contrast to the work of later New Brunswick writers such as Elizabeth Brewster (see Confessional Humanism). In “Atlantic Development,” for example, Brewster describes a village where industry has crumbled (the mineshaft is “deserted”) and the only young men to be seen are the ones carved in the war memorial.

Strategies for Teachers

Strategy 1: Character Tropes (“The Rising Village”)

This Goldsmith excerpt includes characters familiar to Westerns: the pedlar, the shopkeeper, and the “frontier” doctor, each the only one of his profession in the emerging town. Ask students if they recognize such characters from other literature, films, or television. In which genre of literature or film do these stock types typically appear? And what do the characters represent in those settings? Is Goldsmith describing people he knows and has met, or describing people he imagines? What effect or attitude is Goldsmith trying to create in the reader?

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Reading and Viewing: Make informed personal responses to increasingly challenging print and media texts and reflect on their responses

Strategy 2: Form and Intent (“The Rising Village”)

Like The Deserted Village by Goldsmith’s great-uncle, this poem is written in heroic couplets, rhyming pairs of lines in regular “iambic” metre of unstressed and stressed syllables. Dominant in eighteenth and nineteenth century British poetry and verse drama, this form is associated with narrative poems that tell of great or scandalous deeds. After explaining to students what a heroic couplet is and what purpose it serves (perhaps using an example from Alexander Pope), ask them why the younger Goldsmith might have chosen to adopt this form for his poem. Was his choice a nod to the earlier poem he is referencing? Or does the “heroic” form suggest something about how he views or wants us to view the settlers and settlement he is writing about? This is an opportunity for teachers to explain how form or structure shape content. Students will have heard Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism, “The medium is the message,” which means that the medium or form of a message is as integral to meaning as the message itself. Just as modern readers recognize particular forms and can anticipate outcomes based on those forms (think of what we expect from a romance or a spaghetti western or a vigilante story) so did Goldsmith’s readers expect particular outcomes from “heroic” and epic forms.

Challenge students to rewrite a portion of this narrative using different short poetic forms (for example, haiku, limerick, or free verse). How does the new form change the content, the tone, and the message of the poem?

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Writing and Representing: Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which the construction of texts can create, enhance, and control meaning

Further Reading

Goldsmith, Oliver. The Rising Village. 1834. Ed. Gerald Lynch. London, ON: Canadian Poetry Press, 1989.

Jackel, David. “Goldsmith’s Rising Village and the Colonial State of Mind.” Studies in Canadian Literature 5.1 (1980): 152-166.

Lynch, Gerald. “Oliver Goldsmith’s The Rising Village.” Canadian Poetry 6 (Spring/Summer 1980): 35-49.

Myatt, Rev. W.E., ed. The Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith. Toronto, ON: Ryerson, 1943.

Pacey, Desmond. “The Goldsmiths and Their Villages.” University of Toronto Quarterly 21 (October 1951): 27-38.

For much more detailed primary and secondary source bibliographies of Goldsmith, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.


The work above has been in the Canadian public domain for 50 years after publication and 50 years after the author’s death. As such, it is no longer protected by copyright in Canada. However, it may still be under copyright in some countries. Readers outside Canada must comply with the respective copyright laws of the country in which they live.

The fragments of The Rising Village above were taken from the Canadian Poetry Press. A link to that poem can be found on the previous page.

All contents except for poetry and fiction copyright © Tony Tremblay, James W. Johnson, and Alexandra Cogswell.