Posted at 12.15.2018
Keywords: The Community Schoolmaster, Oliver Goldsmith, poem, synopsis, pdf
Oliver Goldsmith's "The Community Schoolmaster" depicts the memory space of an informed schoolmaster who occupies a posture of reverence and awe in a rural village. The poem was written as part of a more substantial work, The Deserted Village, in which Goldsmith identifies an imaginary ideal community called Auburn, a composite of several villages Goldsmith acquired himself observed. Returning to the community after a long time, now in its decline, the narrator remembers the community as it got once been, idealised through the zoom lens of time and memory. Goldsmith's family portrait of the schoolmaster is written from a posture of nostalgia, and the affectionate and funny family portrait of the schoolmaster displays a respected shape from an idealised recent. Through a humorous and reflective family portrait of the archetypical community schoolmaster as well as by using a stylised poetic form, Goldsmith expresses a problem for the uncertain future of the country life in a time of growing business and industry.
Goldsmith's perception in the superiority of the rural life locates appearance in poetic style as well as subject matter. The poem's structure is at rhyming pentameter couplets, a form featured prominently in the eighteenth century's heroic poems. The heroic couplet, employed by poetic giants from Chaucer to Dryden, evokes a history of an English poetic tradition and contributes to a nostalgia for the past which Goldsmith expresses in his portrait of the schoolmaster. The vocabulary is easy and definately not the lofty vocabulary expected of the heroic couplet; although Goldsmith uses an increased diction, employing poetically conventionally words such as "rustics" in place of the greater colloquial "peasant" or "clodhopper". Word order is inverted to maintain the rhythm and rhyme program in 'Well got the boding tremblers learn'd the track' and 'Lands he could evaluate, terms and tides presage' (7, 17), effectively elevating the verse from its common subject and in the process elevating the image of the schoolmaster himself from a country tutor to the important and respected body in provincial life.
The elevated poetic form and idealisation of the pastoral landscape inside the Deserted Village reveals a profound nostalgia for a now lost former for which the poet yearns. "The Town Schoolmaster" is, therefore, a family portrait of a body who's eulogized and becomes representative himself of your lost former. The poem starts with a pastoral information of the schoolhouse and its master:
Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way
With blossom'd furze unprofitably gay,
There, in his mansion, skill'd to rule,
The village get good at taught his little institution (1-4)
The family portrait of the community is one of natural beauty, the blooming plants unconcerned with the commerce and industry which define the later age. The schoolmaster resides inside his 'mansion', and ironic reference to the simple building of the schoolhouse. This numbers the schoolmaster as lord over his area of young pupils and an imposing figure of intellectual prowess in the community. The shape which Goldsmith chooses for his family portrait, like the pastor who also features inside the Deserted Village, spans decades of the community, communicating the sort of knowledge that enriches both his life and those around him. The heroic form and pastoral imagery suggest a eulogy for a disappearing rural culture in which roles such as that of the schoolmaster were vital.
Writing in the overdue eighteenth century, when education comprised a broad spectrum of content rather than the specialised education of contemporary times, Goldsmith portrays the schoolmaster as a respected physique of learning in a rural town where basic reading and writing skills were the best education many villagers achieved. The body of the schoolmaster, therefore, is an awesome presence, a man deserving of admiration and admiration. He's defined thus: 'A man severe he was, and stern to view' (5) who commands value from his pupils. The children 'laugh'd with counterfeited glee' (9) at his many jokes, whether they were funny or not. The schoolmaster is not a fearsome number as the narrator is quick to point out: 'Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught, / The love he bore to learning was at fault' (13-14). His faults, if any, are anticipated to his dedication to education and learning alternatively than as character defects.
The villagers are impressed with his ability to learn and write, measure lands, do sophisticated calculations, and mark the routine of religious holy days. Parents and children as well carry his learning in awe; but this is an ironic passing which emphasises the ignorance of the villages rather than the learnedness of the schoolmaster. In arguments with the parson, the schoolmaster will not always triumph, but uses 'words of discovered size and thund'ring sound' to further the argument, gaining admiration from the audience of villagers as well.
While words of learned duration and thund'ring sound
Amazed the gaxing rustics rang'd around
And still they gaz'd and still the wonder grew,
That one small brain could carry all he recognized (21-24)
His basic knowledge and ability to learn make him seem proficient to the 'gazing rustics' (22), but he is not the intellectual god he's organized to be. His importance is comparative only to their own ignorance. However, this is not a satirical portrait meant to expose weakness or problem; the poet's admiration of the schoolmaster is clear. He is the foundation of education to the town, sometimes ruled by the 'love he bore to learning' (14) but doing a good deed in bring education to the common people and fulfilling a essential role in community life. In eulogizing the passing the schoolmaster, Goldsmith is mourning the passing of the community of which the schoolmaster was central.
Goldsmith's poem is greater than a wistful nostalgia of his own youth experience. His note is an explicit criticism of the drop of rural life in favour of metropolitan centres. The revered number of the schoolmaster is lost and forgotten, his value and respect is forget about. 'But former is all his popularity' the poet laments, 'The very spot / Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot' (25-6). Goldsmith stands from the ideals of the modern world: industrialism, business and materialism. The family portrait of the schoolmaster is a tribute to that part of the world, the rural countryside, which is fading away to make room for capitalist enterprise.
Goldsmith, Oliver, "The Deserted Community", The Accumulated works of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Arthur Friedman, Size IV, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966, pp. 287-304.