THE GOOD-NATURED MAN: A Portrait of Oliver Goldsmith by Leonard Wibberley

THE GOOD-NATURED MAN: A Portrait of Oliver Goldsmith

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Slapdash hack work. Wibberley (The Mouse That Roared, etc.) twice tells us that he ""wrote the book because I love the man."" The problem is that readers of this affectionate testimonial by one Irish-born writer to another may also be looking for a reliable biography--in which case they'll have to go elsewhere. Wibberley scraped his material together from a variety of sources, primary and secondary, but in his haste and ignorance of the 18th-century literary world, he constantly garbles or distorts them. He claims that in Clarissa ""the heroine is exonerated and all ends well""; that Baron Ludvig Holberg was considered the greatest writer of his age, after Voltaire; that Samuel Johnson ""often"" wandered around London at night talking with prostitutes; that Johnson's ""only poem of note"" was London (The Vanity of Human Wishes?). He quotes snippets of Goldsmith's poetry and summarizes the major prose, but these perfunctory gestures tell us practically nothing about his art. Rather than critically assessing Goldsmith or putting him in some sort of intellectual or social context, Wibberley strings together anecdotes--historical, semi-historical, and apocryphal-- to prove what a sweet, soft-hearted, and appealing man (albeit foolish and irresponsible) he was. Wibberley sees his hero as archetypally Irish, and Ireland itself as a collection of sentimental dreamers. The poet's father, he notes, ""was also an Irishman and so could no more be trusted with money than a child can with a loaded pistol."" Such dubious generalizations, along with shoddy scholarship and frequently sloppy writing, make Wibberley's study all but worthless.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1979
Publisher: Morrow