Little is known of Goldsmith’s early life in Ireland. Even his date of birth is uncertain; some biographers claim it was 1728, most settle for 1730. He was born the son of a poor clergyman (later idealised in the figure of Dr Primrose in his novel The Vicar of Wakefield), and spent most of his youth in the village of Lissoy. Given the genteel poverty of his upbringing, Goldsmith had to struggle first for his education and then for his livelihood. He entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1745 as a sizar, which meant he was granted free tuition in return for working as a servant for his tutors. In 1752 he moved to Edinburgh to study medicine, but left without a degree. He spent several years working his way through Europe, combining study with busking and also trying his hand at university disputations for a fee. In 1756 he returned to London. Having dabbled with a variety of ill-suited careers (these included work as an apothecary’s assistant, a proof-reader and usher in a boys’ school), he eventually began to earn a living of sorts as a Grub Street journalist and hack writer. He was soon writing regular features for the Monthly Review, as well as entertaining letters from an imaginary Chinese visitor to England.
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