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The Deserted Village

by Oliver Goldsmith

With the 1841 Illustrations by The Etching Club

new material in this book copyright © 2021

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In 1066, William the Conqueror distributed England’s land among 160 barons but let commoners keep their ancient right to use the commons for subsistence farming and grazing. But in the 1500s, there was so much demand for wool from the Flemish weaving industry that landowners began enclosing the commons to use the land for raising sheep.

The enclosure movement accelerated through the eighteenth century, forcing the commoners to abandon their villages and leave the countryside where they could no longer survive.

The speaker in this poem is a man who returns to the village where he grew up, finds that it is deserted, and remembers the happy village life of his childhood and his hopes to return to retire.

The poem is both a loving description of traditional village life and a serious indictment of the human costs of economic modernization. Arguably, it begins the Romantic movement’s criticism of the industrial society.

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) is one of the greatest classic English writers, famous for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield, his play She Stoops to Conquer, and for this poem.

The Etching Club was founded in London in 1838 by a group of artists and existed until 1878. It published editions of English authors such as Goldsmith, Shakespeare, Milton, and Gray illustrated with etchings by the club members.