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Goldsmith, Oliver.

Edited by Wilfrid Myatt. Hantsport (N.S.), Lancelot Press, c1985. 174pp, paper, $6.95, ISBN 0-88999-277-0.

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Joan M. Payzant

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

In 1939 Dr. Lome Pierce, chief editor of Ryerson Press, received a request from a graduate student, Wilfrid Myatt, C.J.M., for suggestions for subject matter for his thesis. Pierce recommended a study of one of English Canada's first poets, Oliver Goldsmith, whose poem, "The Rising Village," published in 1825, was modelled on his better known great-uncle's work, "The Deserted Village." The senior Oliver Goldsmith had written of a village in Ireland, deserted in favour of newly industrialized cities, while his nephew chose to chronicle the growth of a village created by Loyalists in the new land, after the American Revolution.

Father Myatt, then studying at the Graduate School of Arts and Science at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., had received permission to use a Canadian topic for his thesis. Fortunately his next teaching assignment was at St. Anne's College, Church Point, Nova Scotia, because nearby in the surrounding countryside lived several members of the Goldsmith family. Myatt, after researching James Prior's Life of Oliver Goldsmith at the library of Fort Anne Museum, met and interviewed two Goldsmith descendants. Neither Pierce, nor Myatt could have foreseen the extraordinary discovery that resulted from these meetings. A scuba diver accidentally coming across a sunken treasure ship, or an antique car buff finding a perfectly preserved Model T Ford, would experience the same sense of excitement as did Myatt, when Elizabeth Tufts (née Goldsmith) lent him a green morocco notebook, the Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith. It was a fortunate happening indeed, and Myatt, in using it as a basis for his thesis, added greatly to Canada's literary heritage. Verifying names, dates, places, and quotations with accurate research that took him to libraries in Halifax, Washington, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Myatt's notes explained and expanded the modest little autobiography.

Needless to say, Myatt received his master's degree, and Pierce was so pleased with his thesis that he wrote, "I am in the midst of trying to organize a Canadian Bibliographical Society and I should like to see this thesis as its first publication.... I heartily congratulate you. It is a splendid piece of work." In 1943, with a foreword by Pierce, the Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith was published by Ryerson Press. This first edition of the Autobiography has been out of print for many years, and used copies, which are difficult to find, sell for as much as fifty dollars.

Oliver Goldsmith's autobiography is not simply the story of a poor poet living in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. Goldsmith was a much-travelled civil servant with the Commissariat of the British Army. His work took him to Halifax, Hong Kong, Newfoundland, and Corfu, with intervals in London, Liverpool, and other places in the British Isles. His descriptions of his youth, education, travels, working conditions, and contemporaries make fascinating reading, much enhanced by the editor's annotations.

In this new edition, a section called "The Last Word" has been added by Myatt, telling of his further research during a trip to England in 1962 and his hope that Goldsmith's works will be taken "out of the literary closet. . .and set on the mantlepiece of Canadian literature where they deserve more room." A new edition of Goldsmith's "The Rising Village," along with the Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith should, in this reviewer's opinion, be part of the English curriculum of every Canadian high school because of both their literary and historical value.

Joan M. Payzant, Dartmouth, N.S.
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