University of Limerick, Ireland | Published: 18 December, 2023
ISSUE 18.2 | Pages: 71-82 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2023-12085

Creative Commons 4.0 2023 by MICHAEL GRIFFIN | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

In the wake of the era of Trump and Brexit, legacies and values of European Enlightenment seem under threat as never before. Cosmopolitanism in particular, generally understood as an Enlightenment virtue, has come to be associated with a sort of rootlessness, and has not, as generally understood, valued local affiliation. For David Goodhart, writing in 2017, this characteristic has resulted in a polarisation between “anywheres” (liberal middle-class cosmopolitans) and “somewheres” (broadly speaking, conservative working-class voters who have strong attachments to their nation and places of origin). An Irish Tory monarchist who sought in his poem The Deserted Village (1770) to defend rural communities from the ravages of economic modernity, Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74) was also in other key works a cosmopolitan commentator who compared countries in order to warn Britain against the dangers of economic liberalism, as he did in The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society (1764). Thus, he could be thought of as a more conservative cosmopolitan than many of his British and French peers; as such his particular enlightenment legacy is his example of a middle ground between the “anywheres” and “somewheres” of Goodhart’s thesis.

Tras la era de Trump y el Brexit, los legados y valores de la Ilustración europea parecen más amenazados que nunca. El cosmopolitismo en particular, generalmente entendido como una virtud de la Ilustración, ha llegado a asociarse con una suerte de desarraigo y no ha valorado, como generalmente se entiende, la afiliación local. Según David Goodhart (2017), esta característica ha dado lugar a una polarización entre “anywheres” (cosmopolitas liberales de clase media) y “somewheres” (en términos generales, votantes conservadores de clase trabajadora que tienen un fuerte apego a su nación y lugares de origen). Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74), un monárquico tory irlandés que en su poema The Deserted Village (1770) trataba de defender a las comunidades rurales de los estragos de la modernidad económica, fue también un comentarista cosmopolita que comparaba países para advertir a Gran Bretaña de los peligros del liberalismo económico, tal y como hizo en The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society (1764). Así pues, Goldsmith podría considerarse un cosmopolita más conservador que muchos de sus colegas británicos y franceses. Como tal, su particular legado ilustrado ejemplifica un término medio entre los “anywheres” y “somewheres” de la tesis de Goodhart.

Goldsmith; cosmopolitismo; nacionalismo; liberalismo; localismo

Every summer for the past four decades, what is known as Goldsmith country in Ireland’s “hidden heartlands” along the borders of counties Longford and Westmeath has hosted literary scholars, poets, musicians, politicians, journalists and historians to facilitate discussions on a theme which resonates across the centuries from Oliver Goldsmith’s time to the present. The weekend-long occasion is called the “Goldsmith Festival”. Over the years the themes dealt with have come to include the sustainability of rural Ireland, the green economy, the future of journalism, and the status of the arts. In 2018, I gave a talk on “Goldsmith, Brexit, and Trump”, from which this paper was developed. In 2023, the theme was “Citizens of the World: Ireland’s Emigrants and Immigrants”. In designing the programme, the committee, of which I am now a member, thought that the most correct way to treat the topic of migration in the present moment in Ireland was to discuss in-migration alongside Ireland’s extensive history of out-migration. A singular emphasis on immigration, in the context of the very contemporary social turbulence over housing international protection applicants and war-displaced Ukrainians in the midst of a general accommodation crisis in Ireland, could have attracted unwanted interest from members of Irish far-right groups. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an uptick in the number of protests by such groups; in certain instances, protests have turned violent. The Belfast Multi-Cultural Association’s building on Donegall Pass was the target of arson attacks in January of 2021 and in April of 2022, forcing the sale of the building. On Sandwith Street in Dublin on the night of 12 May 2023 tents sheltering homeless migrants were burned, leaving the occupants without any shelter at all. The state has sought to house migrants in locations such as the Magowna Guesthouse in Inch in Co. Clare in the rural west of Ireland, only to be blockaded by local residents who expressed concern that the accommodation was unsuitable. The accommodation is of course infinitely more suitable than a tent in city-centre Dublin, but between the violent far right and the more peaceful nimbyism of smaller communities there has been some unsettling common cause. Most recently, on 23 November 2023, serious disturbance erupted in city-centre Dublin when far-right elements provoked anti-immigrant and anti-police violence in the immediate wake of a knife attack attributed to a man of Algerian background. There has, otherwise, been some awareness of the irony in citizens of a country such as Ireland protesting against inward migration when that country’s economy has survived the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and has at times thrived in the twenty-first due to the availability, at crucial times of economic dereliction, of the escape valve of emigration – to the UK, to the US, and elsewhere.

The 2023 festival was opened by the Polish Ambassador to Ireland Anna Sochańska and included addresses by academic historians Diarmuid Ferriter – who spoke on emigration in modern Irish history generally – and Liam Chambers – who spoke on Irish migration to Europe in the age of Goldsmith specifically. The latter talk touched upon the issue, also topical in the wake of the recent de-naming of the Trinity College Dublin library because of George Berkeley’s ownership of slaves, of Irish émigré involvement in the French slave trade in the eighteenth century. There were also addresses by Liam O’Dwyer of the Irish Red Cross, Kensika Monshengwo of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and former Mayor of Longford Uruemu Adejinmi on, respectively, the migrant crisis, intercultural communication, and Nigerian-Irish heritage. There was a general sense that a politically sensitive and potentially fractious topic had been given a thought-provoking treatment over three days. None of the potential rancour that could have arisen materialised. There remained and remains, however, a sense that Ireland is increasingly wrestling with a nativist online discourse opposed to the cosmopolitan quality of the weekend’s discussions.

The festival dealt with matters of emigration and openness (or otherwise) to immigration in a specifically Irish context. Goldsmith was an Irish emigrant in London, where he made his literary career, and in his writing he dealt with themes of migration and cosmopolitanism in a British, or more specifically, English context. So, while his life and career provide a prompt to consider issues of migration and cosmopolitanism in his native Ireland 250 years after his death, they also prompt us to think also about those issues in the UK, and even further afield. In the era of Brexit, Goldsmith’s responses across several genres to an abiding set of concerns – his focus on social decline due to vertical accumulation of wealth and power, on emigration brought about by economic causes, on citizenship of the world (or cosmopolitanism), and the defence of the rural community – resonate again. Goldsmith frequently wrestled with the paradoxes of economic modernity in its eighteenth-century manifestations. But his career and its emphases are in no way sealed off from the concerns of the present moment. Goldsmith’s legacy as a rural Irishman who wrote in London is an especially engaging one in times where a renewed, and constructed, binary between “open” cosmopolitanism and “closed” localism threatens to harden into insurmountable polarities.

The polarities are increasingly cultivated in mainstream politics. “If you believe you are a citizen of the world”, Theresa May proclaimed at the Tory Party conference in October 2016, “you are a citizen of nowhere” (May 2016). Prompted by May’s critique of cosmopolitanism, David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere (2017) gave a partially convincing account of a new, Brexit-era fault line in British politics, not one between right and left, traditionally understood, but between “anywheres” and “somewheres”, between metropolitan middle-class liberals and a silent majority in the less metropolitan – and less middle-class – landscapes of post-industrial Britain, a bloc more inclined to local and national affiliation. I wish to consider in three sections Goldsmith’s legacy as an Irish writer working in London during the enlightenment in the light of recent polarisations. The first section deals generally with Goldsmith’s contemporary political relevance – and in particular that of The Deserted Village. The second section returns to Goldsmith in his own time, demonstrating that cosmopolitanism for him was something that he had to work at: his “anywhereness” (or indeed his “nowhereness”) was conflicted from early on, in ways which would imprint themselves on his writings generally, and his poetry in particular. Thirdly, and relatedly, I will situate The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society (1764) as a quintessentially enlightenment-era poem which was cosmopolitan in key respects but also anticipated the localism of The Deserted Village (1770). That poem endorses a degree of cultural understanding, in effect arguing that people are the same wherever you go, but that sameness in difference consists in part in a sense of rooted attachment to place, and an understanding of that attachment in others. I conclude by proposing Goldsmith’s worldview as a middle way: as a solution to what was, and continues to be, a Goldsmithian problem: the possibility or otherwise of reconciling cosmopolitanism with localism, and the feasibility of a sustainable dialogue between two perspectives which seem to some to be locked in opposition to each other.

Goldsmith’s relevance to our contemporary moment has not always been a given. During the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s in Britain and most spectacularly in Ireland, his economic pessimism seemed irrelevant, like some relic of an older, indeed more literary imagination, much indeed as it seemed to English commentators in his own time, some of whom saw his negativity about economic modernity as a poetic posture. Goldsmith’s critique of economic modernity is strongest, and most resonant, in The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society and The Deserted Village (1770). The latter poem posited an idyll (Auburn) which represented a way of being and a way things used to be that contrasted markedly with a world of displacement and fragmentation. But the idyllic world that he represented could not be said to ever have existed, and if it did, it was characterised by a patriarchal and hierarchical culture, a culture which was, in short, socially and economically illiberal. Goldsmith’s pastoralism was in its time generally considered to have a poetic appeal which outdid its ostensible politics, but the nature of the poem’s appeal is always a matter of perspective. How one views the poem might even be said to indicate where one stands in relation to localist (or nativist) and liberal, or internationalist viewpoints: localism, or nativism, can invoke a pastoral sense of a Golden Age, before commercial expansion and immigration or emigration, whereas liberal cosmopolitanism embraces a multicultural world still, and always, in the process of creating itself. Goodhart saw Trump and Brexit as backlashes against a “double liberalism” – a combination of economic and social liberalism together, which impoverished working people at the same time that its social elite tended to comment superciliously upon a perceived lack of sophistication or untraveled parochialism in a less educated domestic working class. In The Deserted Village, it could be said that Goldsmith affiliates himself with an illiberal worldview, but he is equally the author of works which argue against chauvinism and illiberalism. There is an apparent contradiction across his oeuvre, but it is one which is instructive, a worldview at once opposed to elitism, alert to economic difficulties faced by small communities, and opposed to national chauvinisms.

Indeed, the reputation of The Deserted Village has been reinvigorated in some quarters of the liberal left over the last couple of decades. The historian Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land (2010), his critique of the capitalist forces that drove the crash of 2008, is titled after lines from Goldsmith’s poem which perhaps have had the greatest purchase outside of the oft-cited portraits of pastoral figures such as the preacher and the schoolmaster. These are lines which critique the accumulation of wealth and at the same time champion a domestic, rural, working class:


Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;

Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;

A breath can make them, as a breath has made.

But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,

When once destroyed, can never be supplied. (Goldsmith 1966, vol. 4: 289)


The couplets have an expertly managed balance, part of a strategy at work through the poem, which vacillates between a sense of anger at the economic ruin brought about by the negligence of the rich and a fatalistic pastoralism, according to which the only utopia is to be found in a past not polluted by imperialism or protocapitalist expansion. As economic gain intensifies, so does an equal and opposite loss occur for older forms of social cohesion. For Judt, the lines operate, belatedly, as a critique of neo-liberal economics just as they summarised Goldsmith’s critique of the emerging liberal economics of his time. Neo-liberalism, for Judt, is “like a well-designed outer coat”, which “conceals more than it displays” (Judt 2010: 4). He compares social democratic critics of capitalism in the twenty-first century with eighteenth-century critics of the emerging commercial world of their time: both groups “were offended at the consequences of unregulated competition. They were seeking not so much a radical future as a return to the values of a better way of life” (73). Goldsmith is one such eighteenth-century critic of commercial society and could, thus, be considered a social democrat avant la lettre, although his critique is haunted by the possibility that a return to a better society, or better values, might not be possible.

More recently again, and with a different urgency, Judt’s friend, the historian of central and Eastern Europe Timothy Snyder, cited the couplet used by Judt as an epigraph to his chapter on “Equality or Oligarchy (2016)” in The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018). “Ill fares the land […]” sits as a couplet underneath a citation from Alexander Hamilton (from the 68th of the Federalist Papers) as a warning against the factional intrigue that threatened the sustainability of republican ideals. Inequality, and in particular the neo-oligarchical form it has taken of late, makes political cultures permeable to outside interference, as has been the case in the US and the UK, argues Snyder, with Russian support for Trump and Brexit. By invoking Goldsmith alongside Hamilton, Snyder proposes that democracies make themselves vulnerable by creating factional elites that thrive in the midst of a greater social inequality. Obviously, Snyder is referring to online subversion of social media discourse, which played upon wedge issues of race, immigration, and globalisation in the run-up to the Brexit referendum of June 2016 and the US presidential election later that year.

Goldsmith’s own worldview was monarchist, but there was a complexity (if not an ambivalence) to that monarchism: The Deserted Village laments the loss of a sort of noblesse oblige amongst the landholding class, implying that he held to a concept of respectable hierarchy ruled over by a more powerful monarch, but he also, in conversation, proposed that his idea of monarchism was that the institution would “keep us equal” (cited in Wardle 1957: 256). He believed, and he expressed this view in the nineteenth chapter of The Vicar of Wakefield, that a stronger monarchy could guarantee a sustainable social cohesion and the survival of rural agrarian societies. In twenty-first-century terms, he favoured a large state to curb the abuses of a monied oligarchy with too much control over policy. Commercial oligarchy, therefore, should have to struggle with a will to protect the working poor. Not economically liberal, then, Goldsmith advocated for a larger government which could defend otherwise vulnerable communities, allowing their residents to stay put, and to ensure some measure of continuity between the generations.

Goldsmith’s cosmopolitanism sat paradoxically with his defence of local communities and his economic illiberalism. While The Deserted Village expressed the latter, large swathes of his prose journalism encapsulated the former. And just as his attachment to place was born of experience and a sense of rootedness in family and region, so too was his cosmopolitanism a product, not merely of reading widely in classical, Anglophone, and Francophone literature, but of his own story of migration and movement for the purposes of formal and informal cultural education, and ultimately to make himself a living. However, even that cosmopolitanism was to an extent complicated by nostalgia for people and place. He migrated to Edinburgh to study medicine in 1752 and felt that his own experience of displacement and homesickness, his sense equally that he was looking in at a culture from the perspective of a displaced outsider, could be compared with that of Giovanni Paolo Marana’s Letters writ by a Turkish Spy (1684). As he relayed to his learned uncle, the Reverend Thomas Contarine, he had

le[f]t behind in Ireland Everything I think worth posessing freinds that I love and a Society that pleasd while it instructed, who but must regret the Loss of such Enjoyments who but must regret his abscence from [Ki]lmore that Ever knew i[t] as I did, here as recluse as the Turkish Spy at Parris I am almost unknown to Every body Except some few who attend the Proffesors of Physick as I do […] (Goldsmith 2018: 5)

His comparison of himself with the protagonist of Marana’s Letters reminds us that “a wide range of European writers sought to exploit the various satiric and comic possibilities that were offered by Eastern spies and observers” (Watt 2006: 56). Goldsmith’s remark anticipates his immersion in a mode of writing in which cosmopolitanism allows for a sort of espionage and, through that, cultural commentary.

But in Goldsmith’s case the figure of the spy in the cosmopolitan scene is equally a figure of the conflicted exile, aware of the possibilities of cosmopolitan immersion and homesick all the while. He knew that the culture of his home place was not enough to bring his intellect to its full potential, and that, whatever his failings as a medical student, his travels allowed him to develop linguistically and to create a comparative sense of what was important to peoples within and across nations. When he finally arrived in London, in 1756, he found himself in a world full of a possibility as yet denied to him. He was still ambivalent, dismissive of the intellectual possibilities of Longford compared to London, but equally aware of his own increasing rootlessness as he embarked upon a writing career which, before he acquired a measure of fame, seemed to be one of drudgery. He was baffled, it seems, by his own residual love for the Irish midlands and its people, as he wrote to his brother-in-law Daniel Hodson in December of 1757:

Unaccountable [fond]ness for country, this maladie du Pays, as the french [call] it. Unaccountable, that he should still have an affec[tion for] a place, who never received when in it above civil [contem]pt, who never brought out of it, except his brogue [an]d his blunders […] let me ask myself what gives me a wish to see Ireland again? The country is a fine one perhaps? No!—There are good company in Ireland? No; the conversation there is generally made up of a smutty toast or a baudy song. The vivacity supported by some humble cousin, who has just wit vivacity folly enough to earn his—dinner.—Then perhaps ther’s more wit and [lea]rning among the Irish? Oh Lord! No! there has been more [money] spent in the encouragement of the Podareen mare there [in on]e season, than given in rewards to learned men since [the ti]mes of Usher. (2018: 21-22)

For all that, Goldsmith understood why he had travelled. He wrote to Hodson again in August 1758:

You can’t conceive how I am sometimes divided, to leave all that is dear gives me pain, but when I consider that it is possible I may acquire a genteel independance for life, when I think of that dignity which Philosophy claims to raise it above contempt and ridicule, when I think thus, I eagerly long to embrace every opportunity of separating myself from the vulgar, as much […] in my circumstances as I am in my sentiments already. (2018: 37-38)

Learning in Ireland is limited in Goldsmith’s rather callow assessment, and creative wit almost non-existent. His view is that of the young ambitious author with memories of chafing at provincial seclusion. London, naturally enough, is the cosmopolitan centre of wit and creativity to which he should ineluctably gravitate. But it is memories of place and family that remind him what is valuable in rootedness and drive his two major poems. It is a sensibility which will inform his views on people from other places in The Traveller. Being cosmopolitan without some sense of home becomes for Goldsmith a contradiction. Openness to strangers in a cosmopolitan city entails understanding that they may feel a sense of displacement if they too have moved from elsewhere, just as attachment to a cosmopolitan city, and to its specific boroughs, can itself grow over several generations. To have roots is in Goldsmith’s view as human as it is to wish to be mobile, and for him the two conditions are not mutually exclusive. His 1757 letter to Hodson expresses a desire, in spite of himself, to see London’s landscapes and cultural excellence through the prism of home:

If I go to the Opera where Signora Columba pours out all the mazes of melody; I sit and sigh for the Lishoy fireside, and Johnny Armstrong’s last good night from Peggy Golden. If I climb Flamstead hill where nature never exhibited a more magnificent prospect; I confess it fine but then I had rather be placed on the little mount before Lishoy gate, and take in, to me, the most pleasing horizon in nature. (2018: 22)

He goes on to doubt his own perception of home due to the distortions caused by his own distance:

as my thoughts sometimes found refuge from severer studies among my friends in Ireland I fancied to myself strange revolutions at home, but I find it was the rapidity of my own motion that gave an immaginary one to objects really at rest. (2018: 22)

He expresses exactly the same sentiment in letter 60 of his 123 “Chinese letters”, initially serialised in the Public Ledger and collected as The Citizen of the World in 1762:

In every letter I expect accounts of some new revolutions in China, some strange occurence in the state, or disaster among my private acquaintance. I open every pacquet with tremulous expectation, and am agreeably disappointed when I find my friends and my country continuing in felicity. I wander, but they are at rest; they suffer few changes but what pass in my own restless imagination; it is only the rapidity of my own motion gives an imaginary swiftness to objects which are in some measure immoveable. (Goldsmith 1966, vol. 2: 261)

The title of the collection of letters apparently gives it the status of his most cosmopolitan work, and the use of French sources adds to that cosmopolitan quality. Drawing for inspiration and material upon sources such as Jean Baptiste du Halde’s Description de la Chine (1736) and the Marquis D’Argens’ Lettres Chinoises (1741), Goldsmith’s uses China as a half-informed, half-imaginary foil for the blind spots of British liberalism, and it is a means for him to express some of his own sense of deracination. Christopher Brooks has suggested that Goldsmith uses the east as a guise for the author’s own Irishness, allowing commentary on “the place of the foreigner in the insular-island ethos of England” (1993: 134). Alongside the imperative of disguise is one of an abiding conflation of cosmopolitanism with the Irish migrant’s affiliation. Both inform a critique of British chauvinism while acknowledging that the British can have, as much as any nation, and however conflictedly, a connection to the locales that produced them. His version of cosmopolitanism, in short, disavows self-congratulatory or exclusivist elitism, just as it disavows exclusivist or chauvinist nationalism. As Jim Watt writes: “While he often celebrates the life and writings of Voltaire, Lien Chi [Goldsmith’s Chinese philosopher], often looks beyond the “actually existing” cosmopolitanism of a Francophile aristocratic elite, and conceives of cosmopolitan fellowship in a potentially much more inclusive sense” (2006: 58-59). Watt’s seminal treatment of Goldsmith’s cosmopolitanism has been added to and refined by engagement with Mary Helen McMurran’s survey piece on “The New Cosmopolitanism and the Eighteenth Century” (2013). McMurran resists a critical tendency to see cosmopolitanism as an unreflectively Eurocentric, even imperialist construct and proposes that auto-critique of such tendencies was already part of the eighteenth-century cosmopolitan tradition. To McMurran, following Watt, Goldsmith is a sceptical cosmopolitan who, with others, was involved in “an unresolved assessment of the complex relation of local attachment – consistently understood as both natural and the cause of narrow prejudices – and universal allegiance, which may be unnatural. The cosmopolite thus circulated in the eighteenth century as a flashpoint for these tensions” (McMurran 2013: 32; see also Watt 2024). The tension in Goldsmith’s outlook, then, is between an involvement in a metropolitan cosmopolitanism which assumes commonalities of experience and an awareness, produced out of his own Irish background and migrant experience, that cosmopolitan assumptions, even at their most generous, can be blithely misplaced or patronising.

The Citizen of the World is, however, not the only one of Goldsmith’s major works to invite considerations of cosmopolitanism and attachment together. In The Traveller, the political cultures of European nations are compared, and Goldsmith comes to the conclusion that Britain’s exceptionalist sense of its own aptitude for liberty is a cause of potential decline. British factionalism, facilitated by the Glorious Revolution, has allowed for the growth of a new party political system which in Goldsmith’s view gives oligarchy its destructive power:


But when contending chiefs blockade the throne,

Contracting regal power to stretch their own,

When I behold a factious band agree

To call it freedom, when themselves are free;

Each wanton judge new penal statutes draw,

Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law;

The wealth of climes, where savage nations roam,

Pillag’d from slaves, to purchase slaves at home;

Fear, pity, justice, indignation start,

Tear off reserve, and bare my swelling heart;

’Till half a patriot, half a coward grown,

I fly from petty tyrants to the throne. (Goldsmith 1966, vol. 4: 265-66)


Like The Deserted Village, The Traveller is a poem whose formal traditionalism sits paradoxically with its dissident, possibly proto-Romantic sensibility. Both poems have an almost gothic awareness of ruin with the passing of older ways, but both contain that awareness in tightly devised, meticulously balanced, Augustan couplets. Influenced by Alexander Pope, Goldsmith has a distinctly Tory ability to deploy couplets, and caesurae within lines, to set destruction against supposed improvement, loss against apparent gain.

Augustan in form, then, The Traveller is at its core an Enlightenment philosophical poem which grapples with the character of nations and their comparative strengths and weaknesses. In these respects, it was immersed in contemporary discussions of the influence of climate on political culture. Such discussions informed thought regarding the fitness of peoples for their places or origins and, relatedly, the hazards and worries of displacement and migration. A key thinker in this discourse was Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, whose L’Esprit des Loix (1748) was a landmark text in the consideration of the material causes of variations in political culture. Goldsmith would do his part in processing Montesquieu’s climatological ideas, although he mixed them with the observations of contemporary natural historians to produce copy for periodicals and compendia. R. S. Crane saw in Goldsmith’s essays such as “The Effects which Climates have upon Men, and Other Animals” in the British Magazine for May 1760 and “Comparative View of Races and Nations” published in four parts over several months in the Royal Magazine in 1760, a “preliminary crystallization” of the ideas, deriving from Montesquieu but also from Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), which would infuse The Traveller (Crane 1927: xxxix). “The Effects Which Climates have upon Men […]” Goldsmith took partially from a 1753 translation of The Spirit of Nations by François-Ignace Espiard de la Borde who had himself been influenced by Montesquieu’s ideas of climate and culture (see Griffin 1999: 59-63). Such ideas were in general circulation in the 1750s and 1760s and would receive a further airing in the second volume of Goldsmith’s History of the Earth, and Animated Nature (1774).

Where contemporary French thought influenced some of its harder-edged (and largely pseudo-scientific) climatological thinking, the more general moral and topographical qualities of the poem could be traced in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British poetry. The Traveller drew upon the tradition of the topographical prospect poem inherited from John Denham’s Cooper’s Hill (1641), but also bore traces of the influence of Alexander Pope’s Windsor Forest (1713) and, perhaps more importantly and discernibly again, Joseph Addison’s Letter from Italy, which, as Goldsmith wrote in Beauties of English Poesy (1767), featured an innovative capacity for political philosophising. The Traveller shared, to a certain point, in the British patriotism of Addison’s work, but that patriotism was tempered by his broader European comparison. Roger Lonsdale (Goldsmith 1969: 627) has also connected The Traveller to George Lyttelton’s “Epistle to Mr. Pope. From Rome, 1730” which, like Addison’s poem, had been collected in the Dodsleys’ Collection (published in 1748, 1755, 1758 and again in 1763). Also influential was Lyttelton’s poetic epistle “To the Reverend Dr. Ayscough at Oxford. Written from Paris in the Year 1728” and “To My Lord [Hervey]. In the Year 1730”, also in the Dodsleys’ collection, which describes the poet’s realisation upon returning to England from the continental scenes traversed again later by Goldsmith’s traveller, that the source of pleasure is “In our own breasts”:


We climb the Alps, and brave the raging winds,

Through various toils to seek Content we roam,

Which but with thinking right were our’s at home. (Lyttelton 1763: 39)


Goldsmith follows in the vein of Addison and Lyttelton, but, as Dustin Griffin notes, he “refuses to provide the conventional conclusion that English ways are best” (2005: 213). Goldsmith’s variation on the tradition was carried through in collaboration with Samuel Johnson, who helped to bring the philosophical element of the poem to maturity. The lines that Johnson furnished The Traveller chime with views in the “Preface” to his 1735 translation of Lobo’s Voyage to Abyssinia:

wherever Human Nature is to be found, there is a mixture of Vice and Virtue, a contest of Passion and Reason […] [The] Creator doth not appear Partial in his Distributions, but has balanced in most Countries their particular Inconveniences by particular Favours. (Johnson 1735: viii)

Goldsmith and Johnson both decried the British obsession with liberty, seeing in it an ideological screen for abuse and exploitation. Both men also wrote from a cosmopolitan perspective that other countries had their advantages, and that Britain, whatever her own particular strengths, stood to learn from other nations in Europe and beyond. The examples of other nations demonstrated to Goldsmith that excessive commercialism brings about social upheaval. Goldsmith’s enemy here is the oligarchy: they are the avatars of a new political economy which threatens to oppress and exploit and even enslave, not just the victims of imperialism abroad, but the domestic working class and rural poor. Goldsmith’s sympathies, then, are to those left behind by economic liberalism and expansion; on the basis of that sympathy, he argues for an enlightened cosmopolitanism which is more culturally intelligent, less giddy at the possibilities of what could, in retrospect, be considered the first flush of globalisation and liberal economics.

Liberalism, according to the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, “is stupid about culture” (Taylor 2007). The judgement is harsh, but it applies with some justification to a blanket intolerance of local affiliations. Goldsmith might concur, but neither does he wish for local affiliations without a comparative sense of what is good elsewhere. Goldsmith’s essays are immersed in European Enlightenment, drawing upon and translating the writings of Voltaire, the Marquis d’Argens, and others in their treatments of contemporary mores and manners. Considered alongside his major poems, however, his writings could be considered to be emanations of a particularly Irish Enlightenment, in which liberalism is met with a suspicion of the limits of human nature and knowledge (see Dwan 2020: 91-109). Edmund Burke was at the politically liberal end of this Irish spectrum of suspicion; Goldsmith at the more conservative. Goldsmith’s critique of nationalistic ideologies of liberty in The Traveller is based partially on new modes of thought about climatic adaptation, but equally, and more originally, on a personal perspective from beyond the metropolitan and cosmopolitan centres, a perspective which understands local and national dimensions of experience, and different forms of economic organisation, as possibilities within a more capacious cosmopolitanism:


But where to find that happiest spot below,

Who can direct, when all pretend to know?

The shudd’ring tenant of the frigid zone

Boldly proclaims that happiest spot his own,

Extols the treasures of his stormy seas,

And his long nights of revelry and ease;

The naked Negro, panting at the line,

Boasts of his golden sands and palmy wine,

Basks in the glare, or stems the tepid wave,

And thanks his Gods for all the good they gave.

Such is the patriot’s boast, where’er we roam,

His first best country ever is at home. (Goldsmith 1966, vol. 4: 251)


All patriots share, Goldsmith proposes, in that inclination to think their own country best. It is not necessarily the prejudice of a notional third person, though the patriot is given as a “he”; there is an ambiguity to the roaming “we”, who may simply be those travellers who observe a uniformity amongst patriots wherever “we” go, but it may also refer to a general tendency to some degree of patriotism. The fondness for home is a general, if not a universal, human predilection. It does not, however, preclude an appreciation of other nations:


And yet, perhaps, if countries we compare,

And estimate the blessings which they share;

Though patriots flatter, still shall wisdom find

An equal portion dealt to all mankind,

As different good, by Art or Nature given,

To different nations makes their blessings even. (1966, vol. 4: 251)


Goldsmith’s localism and his version of cosmopolitanism both emanate from an abiding economic position. In his major poems Goldsmith cast himself as a conservative protector of the rural poor from the ravages of a new globalisation and deregulated commerce that enabled oligarchy to thrive and the peasantry to be, in his view, disenfranchised and impoverished. He was an Enlightenment writer suspicious of a liberalism understood only in economic terms; he was a cosmopolitan who suggested the poetic, communitarian and personal resonances of place. His writings across the genres helpfully complicate the binaries described by Theresa May and David Goodhart. That complication is Goldsmith’s version of Enlightenment and is central to his particular literary legacy.

Works Cited

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Crane, Ronald S. (1927). “Introduction.” New Essays by Oliver Goldsmith, edited by Ronald S. Crane. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. xi-xli.

Dwan, David (2020). “The Prejudices of Enlightenment.” Irish Literature in Transition, 1700–1780, edited by Moyra Haslett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 91-109.

Goldsmith, Oliver (1966). The Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, edited by Arthur Friedman, 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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____ (2018). The Letters of Oliver Goldsmith, edited by Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Griffin, Dustin (2005). Patriotism and Poetry in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Judt, Tony (2010). Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise on our Present Discontents. London: Penguin.

Lyttelton, George (1763). “To my Lord —— In the Year 1730.” A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. 6 vols. London: printed for R. and J. Dodsley. 2: 38-41.

May, Theresa (2016). “Theresa May’s Conference Speech in Full.”  The Daily Telegraph (October 5). https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/05/theresa-mays-conference-speech-in-full/

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Snyder, Timothy (2018). The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. New York: Penguin Random House.

Taylor, Laurie (2007). “Culture’s Revenge: Laurie Taylor interviews Stuart Hall.” The New Humanist (May 31). https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/960/cultures-revenge-laurie-taylor-interviews-stuart-hall

Wardle, Ralph (1957). Oliver Goldsmith. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Watt, James (2006). “Goldsmith’s Cosmopolitanism.” Eighteenth-Century Life 30 (1): 56-75. https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-30-1-56

____ (2024). “Cosmopolitanism.” Oliver Goldsmith in Context, edited by Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

| Received: 14-06-2023 | Last Version: 31-08-2023 | Articles, Issue 18.2