Read The Vicar of Wakefield Online

Authors: Oliver Goldsmith

Tags: #England, #Social Science, #Penology, #Prisoners, #Fiction, #Literary, #Religion, #Children of clergy, #Clergy, #Abduction, #Classics, #Domestic fiction, #Poor families

The Vicar of Wakefield

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Title: The Vicar of Wakefield
Author: Oliver Goldsmith
Release Date: January 8, 2009 [EBook #2667]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII
Produced by Charles J. Griep, and David Widger
Supposed to be written by Himself
By Oliver Goldsmith
Sperate miseri, cavete faelices

There are an hundred faults in this Thing, and an hundred things
might be said to prove them beauties. But it is needless. A book
may be amusing with numerous errors, or it may be very dull without
a single absurdity. The hero of this piece unites in himself the
three greatest characters upon earth; he is a priest, an
husbandman, and the father of a family. He is drawn as ready to
teach, and ready to obey, as simple in affluence, and majestic in
adversity. In this age of opulence and refinement whom can such a
character please? Such as are fond of high life, will turn with
disdain from the simplicity of his country fire-side. Such as
mistake ribaldry for humour, will find no wit in his harmless
conversation; and such as have been taught to deride religion, will
laugh at one whose chief stores of comfort are drawn from

1. The description of the family of Wakefield; in which a
kindred likeness prevails as well of minds as of persons
2. Family misfortunes. The loss of fortune only serves to
increase the pride of the worthy
3. A migration. The fortunate circumstances of our lives are
generally found at last to be of our own procuring
4. A proof that even the humblest fortune may grant
happiness, which depends not on circumstance, but
constitution 5. A new and great acquaintance introduced.
What we place most hopes upon generally proves most fatal
6. The happiness of a country fire-side
7. A town wit described. The dullest fellows may learn to be
comical for a night or two
8. An amour, which promises little good fortune, yet may be
productive of much
9. Two ladies of great distinction introduced. Superior
finery ever seems to confer superior breeding
10. The family endeavours to cope with their betters. The
miseries of the poor when they attempt to appear above their
11. The family still resolve to hold up their heads
12. Fortune seems resolved to humble the family of
Wakefield. Mortifications are often more painful than real
13. Mr Burchell is found to be an enemy; for he has the
confidence to give disagreeable advice
14. Fresh mortifications, or a demonstration that seeming
calamities may be real blessings
15. All Mr Burchell's villainy at once detected. The folly
of being-over-wise
16. The Family use art, which is opposed with still greater
17. Scarce any virtue found to resist the power of long and
pleasing temptation 18. The pursuit of a father to reclaim a
lost child to virtue
19. The description of a Person discontented with the
present government, and apprehensive of the loss of our
20. The history of a philosophic vagabond, pursuing novelty,
but losing content
21. The short continuance of friendship among the vicious,
which is coeval only with mutual satisfaction
22. Offences are easily pardoned where there is love at
23. None but the guilty can be long and completely miserable
24. Fresh calamities
25. No situation, however wretched it seems, but has some
sort of comfort attending it
26. A reformation in the gaol. To make laws complete, they
should reward as well as punish
27. The same subject continued
28. Happiness and misery rather the result of prudence than
of virtue in this life. Temporal evils or felicities being
regarded by heaven as things merely in themselves trifling
and unworthy its care in the distribution
29. The equal dealings of providence demonstrated with
regard to the happy and the miserable here below. That from
the nature of pleasure and pain, the wretched must be repaid
the balance of their sufferings in the life hereafter
30. Happier prospects begin to appear. Let us be inflexible,
and fortune will at last change in our favour
31. Former benevolence now repaid with unexpected interest
32. The Conclusion

The description of the family of Wakefield; in which a kindred
likeness prevails as well of minds as of persons

I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married and
brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued
single, and only talked of population. From this motive, I had
scarce taken orders a year before I began to think seriously of
matrimony, and chose my wife as she did her wedding gown, not for a
fine glossy surfaces but such qualities as would wear well. To do
her justice, she was a good-natured notable woman; and as for
breeding, there were few country ladies who could shew more. She
could read any English book without much spelling, but for
pickling, preserving, and cookery, none could excel her. She prided
herself also upon being an excellent contriver in house-keeping;
tho' I could never find that we grew richer with all her
contrivances. However, we loved each other tenderly, and our
fondness encreased as we grew old. There was in fact nothing that
could make us angry with the world or each other. We had an elegant
house, situated in a fine country, and a good neighbourhood. The
year was spent in moral or rural amusements; in visiting our rich
neighbours, and relieving such as were poor. We had no revolutions
to fear, nor fatigues to undergo; all our adventures were by the
fire-side, and all our migrations from the blue bed to the

As we lived near the road, we often had the traveller or
stranger visit us to taste our gooseberry wine, for which we had
great reputation; and I profess with the veracity of an historian,
that I never knew one of them find fault with it. Our cousins too,
even to the fortieth remove, all remembered their affinity, without
any help from the Herald's office, and came very frequently to see
us. Some of them did us no great honour by these claims of kindred;
as we had the blind, the maimed, and the halt amongst the number.
However, my wife always insisted that as they were the same flesh
and blood, they should sit with us at the same table. So that if we
had not, very rich, we generally had very happy friends about us;
for this remark will hold good thro' life, that the poorer the
guest, the better pleased he ever is with being treated: and as
some men gaze with admiration at the colours of a tulip, or the
wing of a butterfly, so I was by nature an admirer of happy human
faces. However, when any one of our relations was found to be a
person of very bad character, a troublesome guest, or one we
desired to get rid of, upon his leaving my house, I ever took care
to lend him a riding coat, or a pair of boots, or sometimes an
horse of small value, and I always had the satisfaction of finding
he never came back to return them. By this the house was cleared of
such as we did not like; but never was the family of Wakefield
known to turn the traveller or the poor dependent out of doors.

Thus we lived several years in a state of much happiness, not
but that we sometimes had those little rubs which Providence sends
to enhance the value of its favours. My orchard was often robbed by
school-boys, and my wife's custards plundered by the cats or the
children. The 'Squire would sometimes fall asleep in the most
pathetic parts of my sermon, or his lady return my wife's
civilities at church with a mutilated curtesy. But we soon got over
the uneasiness caused by such accidents, and usually in three or
four days began to wonder how they vext us.

My children, the offspring of temperance, as they were educated
without softness, so they were at once well formed and healthy; my
sons hardy and active, my daughters beautiful and blooming. When I
stood in the midst of the little circle, which promised to be the
supports of my declining age, I could not avoid repeating the
famous story of Count Abensberg, who, in Henry II's progress
through Germany, while other courtiers came with their treasures,
brought his thirty-two children, and presented them to his
sovereign as the most valuable offering he had to bestow. In this
manner, though I had but six, I considered them as a very valuable
present made to my country, and consequently looked upon it as my
debtor. Our eldest son was named George, after his uncle, who left
us ten thousand pounds. Our second child, a girl, I intended to
call after her aunt Grissel; but my wife, who during her pregnancy
had been reading romances, insisted upon her being called Olivia.
In less than another year we had another daughter, and now I was
determined that Grissel should be her name; but a rich relation
taking a fancy to stand godmother, the girl was, by her directions,
called Sophia; so that we had two romantic names in the family; but
I solemnly protest I had no hand in it. Moses was our next, and
after an interval of twelve years, we had two sons more.

It would be fruitless to deny my exultation when I saw my little
ones about me; but the vanity and the satisfaction of my wife were
even greater than mine. When our visitors would say, 'Well, upon my
word, Mrs Primrose, you have the finest children in the whole
country.'—'Ay, neighbour,' she would answer, 'they are as heaven
made them, handsome enough, if they be good enough; for handsome is
that handsome does.' And then she would bid the girls hold up their
heads; who, to conceal nothing, were certainly very handsome. Mere
outside is so very trifling a circumstance with me, that I should
scarce have remembered to mention it, had it not been a general
topic of conversation in the country. Olivia, now about eighteen,
had that luxuriancy of beauty with which painters generally draw
Hebe; open, sprightly, and commanding. Sophia's features were not
so striking at first; but often did more certain execution; for
they were soft, modest, and alluring. The one vanquished by a
single blow, the other by efforts successfully repeated.

The temper of a woman is generally formed from the turn of her
features, at least it was so with my daughters. Olivia wished for
many lovers, Sophia to secure one. Olivia was often affected from
too great a desire to please. Sophia even represt excellence from
her fears to offend. The one entertained me with her vivacity when
I was gay, the other with her sense when I was serious. But these
qualities were never carried to excess in either, and I have often
seen them exchange characters for a whole day together. A suit of
mourning has transformed my coquet into a prude, and a new set of
ribbands has given her younger sister more than natural vivacity.
My eldest son George was bred at Oxford, as I intended him for one
of the learned professions. My second boy Moses, whom I designed
for business, received a sort of a miscellaneous education at home.
But it is needless to attempt describing the particular characters
of young people that had seen but very little of the world. In
short, a family likeness prevailed through all, and properly
speaking, they had but one character, that of being all equally
generous, credulous, simple, and inoffensive.


Family misfortunes. The loss of fortune only serves to encrease
the pride of the worthy

The temporal concerns of our family were chiefly committed to my
wife's management, as to the spiritual I took them entirely under
my own direction. The profits of my living, which amounted to but
thirty-five pounds a year, I made over to the orphans and widows of
the clergy of our diocese; for having a sufficient fortune of my
own, I was careless of temporalities, and felt a secret pleasure in
doing my duty without reward. I also set a resolution of keeping no
curate, and of being acquainted with every man in the parish,
exhorting the married men to temperance and the bachelors to
matrimony; so that in a few years it was a common saying, that
there were three strange wants at Wakefield, a parson wanting
pride, young men wanting wives, and ale-houses wanting customers.
Matrimony was always one of my favourite topics, and I wrote
several sermons to prove its happiness: but there was a peculiar
tenet which I made a point of supporting; for I maintained with
Whiston, that it was unlawful for a priest of the church of
England, after the death of his first wife, to take a second, or to
express it in one word, I valued myself upon being a strict
monogamist. I was early innitiated into this important dispute, on
which so many laborious volumes have been written. I published some
tracts upon the subject myself, which, as they never sold, I have
the consolation of thinking are read only by the happy Few. Some of
my friends called this my weak side; but alas! they had not like me
made it the subject of long contemplation. The more I reflected
upon it, the more important it appeared. I even went a step beyond
Whiston in displaying my principles: as he had engraven upon his
wife's tomb that she was the only wife of William Whiston; so I
wrote a similar epitaph for my wife, though still living, in which
I extolled her prudence, oeconomy, and obedience till death; and
having got it copied fair, with an elegant frame, it was placed
over the chimney-piece, where it answered several very useful
purposes. It admonished my wife of her duty to me, and my fidelity
to her; it inspired her with a passion for fame, and constantly put
her in mind of her end.

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