Oliver Goldsmith ... The Deserted Village
You can read the poem at the Poets’ Graves website.
Goldsmith dedicated "The Deserted Village" to the painter, Joshua Reynolds. In the dedication he asserted "I have taken all possible pains, in my country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I allege; and all my views and inquiries have led me to believe those miseries real which I here attempt to display." In the last paragraph of the dedication Goldsmith states his intention to "inveigh against the increase of our luxuries". The village he describes was removed to make way for a large country estate owned by a wealthy merchant. His poem mourns the way of life that has been lost, and points out the social evils that follow when wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people whose prosperity comes from such enterprises as mining and trade.
To my mind some of the more poignant parts of the poem come at:
• Lines 113-124. The sounds of the village at the close of evening. They include “the swain responsive as the milk-maid sung” and The sober herd that low'd to meet their young”.
• Lines 219-316. The decor and furniture of the public house, and the games, conversation, and gossip that went on there: “Where village statesmen talk'd with looks profound, And news much older than their ale went round.”
• Lines 363-384. The day of evacuation.
The section where the village schoolmaster plays a starring role is sometimes published as a poem on its own. For an excellent commentary on this section go to this address.
This commentary includes an invitation to the reader to evaluate the schoolmaster’s performance, taking into account his subject knowledge, his classroom management, his teaching styles, his relations with the pupils, and his ability to help them achieve their own success. Goldsmith’s own evaluation was conducted through the eyes of the gazing rustics: “And still they gaz'd, and still the wonder grew That one small head could carry all he knew.”
Does “The Deserted Village” refer to an actual place known to Goldsmith? Near the beginning of the poem, where he speaks of “seats of my youth”, he seems to be recalling memories of his childhood. He was brought up in Lissoy, a hamlet in Westleath, Ireland. But in the dedication Goldsmith implies he has visited the village often during the previous four or five years. He did not return to Ireland during this period. It is likely that his observations represent an amalgamation of recollections from several different places, but Mavis Batey has established that several details indicate that Goldsmith knew of Newnham in Oxfordshire, removed in the 1760s by Lord Harcourt. Mavis Batey was able to confirm this connection when she came across an entry in the diary of Bishop Porteus of London for August 1800 recording the fact that the current Lord Harcourt was sure that Auburn was indeed based on Newnham.
Illustrations by members of "The Etching Club" published in Bolton Corney, ed., The Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith, Lee and Shepard, Boston, 1872