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M E MO IR
THE father of Oliver Goldsmith was Curate of Pallas, or Pallasmore, County Longford, Ireland, where Oliver was born, November 10, 1728. At the age of six he was placed with the schoolmaster of Sissoy, in Westmeath, a good natured man, with literary tastes of a fanciful and legendary description. These had their effect on young Goldsmith, who soon began to scribble verses, some of which were thought so well of, that he was soon declared to be the genius of the family ; steps were immediately taken for his better education, and the project which had been formed of bringing him up to trade was abandoned. Another circumstance told greatly in his favour. A severe attack of small-pox had left his face so much disfigured, that on some occasion it provoked a joke from one of his juvenile acquaintance, whereupon Oliver made so lively a repartee as was thought astonishing evidence of power, and his friends agreed, in conjunction with his father, to supply the money for his college career, but the latter being unable to comply with his promise, Oliver was obliged to enter Trinity as a Sizar, that is, one who was taught and boarded gratuitously, and whose only expense was for lodging, in consideration of which he had to perform various menial offices, irksome to the feelings of gentlemen. These degrading obligations are now abolished.
Oliver's college career was by no means a pleasant one. His father died, and his friends relaxed in their assistance, with the exception of his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Contarine, on whose generosity he was now entirely dependent. His tutor, Wilder, was a harsh man, and on the occasion of a convivial party at Goldsmith's rooms he was so enraged, that he rushed into the midst of the company and brutally assaulted the unlucky poet, who, considering the disgrace as irreparable, left the university, and wandered about for four or five days, when he met with his brother, who persuaded him to return, and effected a reconciliation with Wilder. Oliver resumed his studies, but gained few honours, and finally quitted college in February, 1749, having taken his degree of Bachelor of Arts.
He had now no hope but in the favour of his uncle, Contarine, who received him willingly, and prevailed on him to study for the church. He did so, and in due time presented himself for ordination to the Bishop of Elfin, who rejected him, as most people thought on account of his former irregularities at college, but more probably because the poet appeared in a costume more resembling in brilliancy the scarlet livery of a footman than the respectable black of a clergyman. This caused his friends to think badly of him, and he got little from them but advice. His uncle, however, supplied him with £50, and it was decided that Oliver should study the law, but unfortunately he met with an old friend in Dublin, and the money was squandered in dissipation or lost at play.