the second son of an Anglo‐Irish clergyman, educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He presented himself for ordination, was rejected, and went to Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. He studied in Leyden, and during 1755–6 wandered about France, Switzerland, and Italy, reaching London destitute in 1756, where he supported himself with difficulty as a physician, an usher, reviewer and hack‐writer for Griffith's Monthly Review. In 1758 he published, under the pseudonym ‘James Willington’, his translation of The Memoirs of a Protestant condemned to the Galleys of France for his Religion (by Jean Marteilhe of Bergerac, a victim of the Edict of Nantes), and in 1759 An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe. It was at this period he met Percy, who was to become a loyal friend and also his biographer. During 1759 he published his own periodical, the Bee, in which appeared his ‘Elegy on Mrs Mary Blaize’ (a pawnbroker) and ‘A City Night‐Piece’. He contributed to Smollett's British Magazine, started in 1760, and was also employed by Newbery, for whose new Public Ledger he wrote his ‘Chinese Letters’, subsequently republished as The Citizen of the World in 1762; he is also said to have written the nursery tale Goody Two‐Shoes. In 1761 he met Dr Johnson and became one of the original members of Johnson's Club. Goldsmith wrote lives of Voltaire (1761) and Beau Nash (1762), an abridgement of Plutarch (1762), a History of England in a Series of Letters from a Nobleman to his Son (1764), a Roman History (1769), a Grecian History (1774), lives of T. Parnell and Bolingbroke (1770), etc.—in all more than 40 volumes. But he first achieved literary distinction with his poem The Traveller (1764) which also introduced him to his only patron, Lord Clare. His The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) became one of the most popular works of fiction in the language.
Goldsmith's first comedy, The Good‐Natur'd Man was produced at Covent Garden in 1768; She Stoops to Conquer followed in 1773. His best‐known poem, The Deserted Village, was published in 1770; his lighter verses include Retaliation (1774) and The Haunch of Venison (1776). His An History of the Earth and Animated Nature (8 vols, 1774), inventively portrays ‘tygers’ in Canada, and squirrels migrating on bark boats in Lapland, fanning themselves along with their tails.
There are many anecdotes about Goldsmith in Boswell's Life of Johnson. He never married, and his relationship with Mary Horneck, his ‘Jessamy bride’, remains mysterious. He was introduced to the Horneck family by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1766, when Mary was 14, and accompanied Mrs Horneck, Mary, and her other daughter Catherine (‘Little Comedy’) to Paris in 1770.