The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. VIIX: British
Moses Acquires a Gross of Green Spectacles
By Oliver Goldsmith (17301774)
From The Vicar of Wakefield
ALL this conversation was only preparatory to another scheme, and indeed I dreaded as much. This was nothing less than that, as we were now to hold up our heads a little higher in the world, it would be proper to sell the colt, which was grown old, at a neighbouring fair, and buy us a horse that would carry single or double upon an occasion, and make a pretty appearance at church or upon a visit. This at first I opposed stoutly; but it was as stoutly defended. However, as I weakened, my antagonist gained strength, till at last it was resolved to part with him.
As the fair happened on the following day, I had intentions of going myself; but my wife persuaded me that I had got a cold, and nothing could prevail upon her to permit me from home. No, my dear, said she, our son Moses is a discreet boy, and can buy and sell to very good advantage; you know all our great bargains are of his purchasing. He always stands out and higgles, and actually tires them till he gets a bargain.
As I had some opinion of my sons prudence, I was willing enough to intrust him with this commission; and the next morning I perceived his sisters mighty busy in fitting out Moses for the fair: trimming his hair, brushing his buckles, and cocking his hat with pins. The business of the toilet being over, we had at last the satisfaction of seeing him mounted upon the colt, with a deal box before him to bring home groceries in. He had on a coat made of that cloth they call thunder and lightning, which, though grown too short, was much too good to be thrown away. His waistcoat was of goslin green, and his sisters had tied his hair with a broad black ribbon. We all followed him several paces from the door, bawling after him Good luck! Good luck! till we could see him no longer.
Good fortune seemed resolved not to come alone. Another footman from the same family followed, with a card for my daughters, importing that the two ladies had received such pleasing accounts from Mr. Thornhill of us all, that, after a few previous inquiries, they hoped to be perfectly satisfied. Aye, cried my wife, I now see it is no easy matter to get into the families of the great; but when one once gets in, then, as Moses says, one may go to sleep. To this piece of humourfor she intended it for witmy daughters assented with a loud laugh of pleasure. In short, such was her satisfaction at this message that she actually put her hand in her pocket and gave the messenger sevenpence halfpenny.
This was to be our visiting-day. The next that came was Mr. Burchell, who had been at the fair. He brought my little ones a pennyworth of gingerbread each, which my wife undertook to keep for them and give them by letters at a time. He brought my daughters also a couple of boxes in which they might keep wafers, snuff, patches, or even money when they got it. My wife was usually fond of a weasel-skin purse, as being the most lucky; but this by-the-bye. We had still a regard for Mr. Burchell, though his late rude behaviour was in some measure displeasing; nor could we now avoid communicating our happiness to him, and asking his advice. Although we seldom followed advice, we were all ready enough to ask it. When he read the note from the two ladies, he shook his head, and observed that an affair of this sort demanded the utmost circumspection. This air of diffidence highly displeased my wife. I never doubted, sir, cried she, your readiness to be against my daughters and me. You have more circumspection than is wanted. However, I fancy, when we come to ask advice, we will apply to persons who seem to have made use of it themselves. Whatever my own conduct may have been, madam, replied he, is not the present question; though as I have made no use of advice myself, I should in conscience give it to those who will. As I was apprehensive that this answer might draw on a repartee, making up by abuse what it wanted in wit, I changed the subject, by seeming to wonder what could keep our son so long at the fair, as it was now almost nightfall. Never mind our son, cried my wife; depend upon it, he knows what he is about. Ill warrant well never see him sell his hen of a rainy day. I have seen him buy such bargains as would amaze one. Ill tell you a good story about that, that will make you split your sides a-laughing. But, as I live, yonder comes Moses, without a horse, and the box at his back.
As she spoke Moses came slowly on foot, and sweating under the deal box, which he had strapped round his shoulders like a pedlar. Welcome, welcome, Moses! Well, my boy, what have you brought us from the fair? I have brought you myself! cried Moses, with a sly look, and resting the box on the dresser. Ah, Moses, cried my wife, that we know; but where is the horse? I have sold him, cried Moses, for three pounds five shillings and twopence. Well done, my good boy, returned she; I knew you would touch them off. Between ourselves, three pounds five shillings and twopence is no bad days work. Come, let us have it, then. I have brought back no money, cried Moses again. I have laid it all out in a bargain, and here it is, pulling out a bundle from his breast; here they area gross of green spectacles, with silver rims and shagreen cases. A gross of green spectacles! repeated my wife in a faint voice. And you have parted with the colt, and brought us back nothing but a gross of paltry green spectacles! Dear mother, cried the boy, why wont you listen to reason? I had them a dead bargain, or I should not have bought them. The silver rims alone will sell for double the money. A fig for the silver rims! cried my wife in a passion. I dare say they wont sell for above half the money at the rate of broken silver, five shillings an ounce. You need be under no uneasiness, cried I, about selling the rims, for they are not worth sixpence, for I perceive they are only copper varnished over. What, cried my wife, not silver! the rims not silver! No, cried I, no more silver than your saucepan. And so, returned she, we have parted with the colt, and have only got a gross of green spectacles, with copper rims and shagreen cases! A murrain take such trumpery! The blockhead has been imposed upon, and should have known his company better. There, my dear, cried I, you are wrong; he should not have known them at all. Marry, hang the idiot, returned she, to bring me such stuff! If I had them I would throw them in the fire. There again you are wrong, my dear, cried I; for, though they be copper, we will keep them by us, as copper spectacles, you know, are better than nothing.
By this time the unfortunate Moses was undeceived. He now saw that he had been imposed upon by a prowling sharper, who, observing his figure, had marked him for an easy prey. I therefore asked the circumstance of his deception. He sold the horse, it seems, and walked the fair in search of another. A reverend-looking man brought him to a tent, under pretence of having one to sell. Here, continued Moses, we met another man very well dressed, who desired to borrow twenty pounds upon these, saying that he wanted money, and would dispose of them for a third of the value. The first gentleman, who pretended to be my friend, whispered me to buy them, and cautioned me not to let so good an offer pass. I sent for Mr. Flamborough, and they talked him up as finely as they did me, and so at last we were persuaded to buy the two gross between us.