Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Vicar’s Family Become Ambitious
By Oliver Goldsmith (1730?–1774)
From ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’

I NOW began to find that all my long and painful lectures upon temperance, simplicity, and contentment were entirely disregarded. The distinctions lately paid us by our betters awakened that pride which I had laid asleep, but not removed. Our windows again, as formerly, were filled with washes for the neck and face. The sun was dreaded as an enemy to the skin without doors, and the fire as a spoiler of the complexion within. My wife observed that rising too early would hurt her daughters’ eyes, that working after dinner would redden their noses, and she convinced me that the hands never looked so white as when they did nothing. Instead therefore of finishing George’s shirts, we now had them new-modeling their old gauzes, or flourishing upon catgut. The poor Miss Flamboroughs, their former gay companions, were cast off as mean acquaintance, and the whole conversation ran upon high life and high-lived company, with pictures, taste, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses.  1
  But we could have borne all this, had not a fortune-telling gypsy come to raise us into perfect sublimity. The tawny sibyl no sooner appeared than my girls came running to me for a shilling apiece, to cross her hand with silver. To say the truth, I was tired of being always wise, and could not help gratifying their request, because I loved to see them happy. I gave each of them a shilling, though for the honor of the family it must be observed that they never went without money themselves, as my wife always generously let them have a guinea each to keep in their pockets, but with strict injunctions never to change it. After they had been closeted up with the fortune-teller for some time, I knew by their looks, upon their returning, that they had been promised something great. “Well, my girls, how have you sped? Tell me, Livy, has the fortune-teller given thee a pennyworth?” “I protest, papa,” says the girl, “I believe she deals with somebody that is not right, for she positively declared that I am to be married to a squire in less than a twelvemonth!” “Well now, Sophy, my child,” said I, “and what sort of a husband are you to have?” “Sir,” replied she, “I am to have a lord soon after my sister has married the squire.” “How,” cried I, “is that all you are to have for your two shillings? Only a lord and a squire for two shillings! You fools, I could have promised you a prince and a nabob for half the money!”  2
  This curiosity of theirs, however, was attended with very serious effects: we now began to think ourselves designed by the stars to something exalted, and already anticipated our future grandeur.  3
  IT has been a thousand times observed, and I must observe it once more, that the hours we pass with happy prospects in view are more pleasing than those crowned with fruition. In the first case we cook the dish to our own appetite; in the latter, nature cooks it for us. It is impossible to repeat the train of agreeable reveries we called up for our entertainment. We looked upon our fortunes as once more rising; and as the whole parish asserted that the Squire was in love with my daughter, she was actually so with him, for they persuaded her into the passion. In this agreeable interval my wife had the most lucky dreams in the world, which she took care to tell us every morning with great solemnity and exactness. It was one night a coffin and crossbones, the sign of an approaching wedding; at another time she imagined her daughter’s pockets filled with farthings, a certain sign of their being shortly stuffed with gold. The girls themselves had their omens. They felt strange kisses on their lips; they saw rings in the candle; purses bounced from the fire, and true-love knots lurked in the bottom of every teacup.  4
  Towards the end of the week we received a card from the town ladies, in which, with their compliments, they hoped to see all our family at church the Sunday following. All Saturday morning I could perceive, in consequence of this, my wife and daughters in close conference together, and now and then glancing at me with looks that betrayed a latent plot. To be sincere, I had strong suspicions that some absurd proposal was preparing for appearing with splendor the next day. In the evening they began their operations in a very regular manner, and my wife undertook to conduct the siege. After tea, when I seemed in spirits, she began thus: “I fancy, Charles my dear, we shall have a great deal of good company at our church to-morrow.” “Perhaps we may, my dear,” returned I; “though you need be under no uneasiness about that; you shall have a sermon whether there be or not.” “That is what I expect,” returned she; “but I think, my dear, we ought to appear there as decently as possible, for who knows what may happen?” “Your precautions,” replied I, “are highly commendable. A decent behavior and appearance in church is what charms me. We should be devout and humble, cheerful and serene.” “Yes,” cried she, “I know that; but I mean we should go there in as proper a manner as possible; not altogether like the scrubs about us.” “You are quite right, my dear,” returned I; “and I was going to make the very same proposal. The proper manner of going is to go there as early as possible, to have time for meditation before the service begins.” “Phoo, Charles!” interrupted she; “all that is very true, but not what I would be at. I mean we should go there genteelly. You know the church is two miles off, and I protest I don’t like to see my daughters trudging up to their pew all blowzed and red with walking, and looking for all the world as if they had been winners at a smock-race. Now, my dear, my proposal is this: there are our two plow-horses, the colt that has been in our family these nine years, and his companion Blackberry that has scarcely done an earthly thing this month past. They are both grown fat and lazy. Why should not they do something as well as we? And let me tell you, when Moses has trimmed them a little they will cut a very tolerable figure.”  5
  To this proposal I objected that walking would be twenty times more genteel than such a paltry conveyance, as Blackberry was wall-eyed and the colt wanted a tail; that they had never been broke to the rein, but had a hundred vicious tricks; and that we had but one saddle and pillion in the whole house. All these objections however were overruled; so that I was obliged to comply. The next morning I perceived them not a little busy in collecting such materials as might be necessary for the expedition, but as I found it would be a business of time, I walked on to the church before, and they promised speedily to follow. I waited near an hour in the reading-desk for their arrival, but not finding them come as I expected, I was obliged to begin, and went through the service, not without some uneasiness at finding them absent. This was increased when all was finished, and no appearance of the family. I therefore walked back by the horse-way, which was five miles round, though the foot-way was but two, and when I got about half-way home, perceived the procession marching slowly forward towards the church; my son, my wife, and the two little ones exalted upon one horse, and my two daughters upon the other. I demanded the cause of their delay; but I soon found by their looks they had met with a thousand misfortunes on the road. The horses had at first refused to move from the door, till Mr. Burchell was kind enough to beat them forward for about two hundred yards with his cudgel. Next, the straps of my wife’s pillion broke down, and they were obliged to stop to repair them before they could proceed. After that, one of the horses took it into his head to stand still, and neither blows nor entreaties could prevail with him to proceed. They were just recovering from this dismal situation when I found them; but perceiving everything safe, I own their present mortification did not much displease me, as it would give me many opportunities of future triumph, and teach my daughters more humility.  6
  MICHAELMAS EVE happening on the next day, we were invited to burn nuts and play tricks at neighbor Flamborough’s. Our late mortifications had humbled us a little, or it is probable we might have rejected such an invitation with contempt; however, we suffered ourselves to be happy. Our honest neighbor’s goose and dumplings were fine, and the lamb’s wool, even in the opinion of my wife, who was a connoisseur, was excellent. It is true his manner of telling stories was not quite so well; they were very long and very dull, and all about himself, and we had laughed at them ten times before; however, we were kind enough to laugh at them once more.  7
  Mr. Burchell, who was of the party, was always fond of seeing some innocent amusement going forward, and set the boys and girls to blindman’s buff. My wife too was persuaded to join in the diversion, and it gave me pleasure to think she was not yet too old. In the mean time my neighbor and I looked on, laughed at every feat, and praised our own dexterity when we were young. Hot cockles succeeded next, questions and commands followed that, and last of all they sat down to hunt the slipper. As every person may not be acquainted with this primeval pastime, it may be necessary to observe that the company at this play planted themselves in a ring upon the ground, all except one, who stands in the middle, whose business it is to catch a shoe which the company shove about under their hams from one to another, something like a weaver’s shuttle. As it is impossible in this case for the lady who is up to face all the company at once, the great beauty of the play lies in hitting her a thump with the heel of the shoe on that side least capable of making a defense. It was in this manner that my eldest daughter was hemmed in and thumped about, all blowzed in spirits, and bawling for fair play with a voice that might deafen a ballad-singer, when, confusion on confusion! who should enter the room but our two great acquaintances from town, Lady Blarney and Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs! Description would but beggar, therefore it is unnecessary to describe this new mortification. Death! To be seen by ladies of such high breeding in such vulgar attitudes! Nothing better could ensue from such a vulgar play of Mr. Flamborough’s proposing. We seemed stuck to the ground for some time, as if actually petrified with amazement.  8
  The two ladies had been at our house to see us, and finding us from home, came after us hither, as they were uneasy to know what accident could have kept us from church the day before. Olivia undertook to be our prolocutor, and delivered the whole in the summary way, only saying, “We were thrown from our horses.” At which account the ladies were greatly concerned; but being told the family received no hurt, they were extremely glad; but being informed that we were almost killed by the fright, they were vastly sorry; but hearing that we had a very good night, they were extremely glad again. Nothing could exceed their complaisance to my daughters; their professions the last evening were warm, but now they were ardent. They protested a desire of having a more lasting acquaintance; Lady Blarney was particularly attached to Olivia; Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs (I love to give the whole name) took a greater fancy to her sister. They supported the conversation between themselves, while my daughters sat silent, admiring their exalted breeding. But as every reader, however beggarly himself, is fond of high-lived dialogues, with anecdotes of lords, ladies, and Knights of the Garter, I must beg leave to give him the concluding part of the present conversation.  9
  “All that I know of the matter,” cried Miss Skeggs, “is this: that it may be true, or it may not be true; but this I can assure your ladyship, that the whole route was in amaze; his lordship turned all manner of colors, my lady fell into a swoon, but Sir Tomkyn, drawing his sword, swore he was hers to the last drop of his blood.”  10
  “Well,” replied our peeress, “this I can say: that the duchess never told me a syllable of the matter; and I believe her Grace would keep nothing a secret from me. This you may depend upon as fact: that the next morning my lord duke cried out three times to his valet-de-chambre, ‘Jernigan, Jernigan, Jernigan, bring me my garters!’”  11
  But previously I should have mentioned the very impolite behavior of Mr. Burchell, who during this discourse sat with his face turned to the fire, and at the conclusion of every sentence would cry out “Fudge!”—an expression which displeased us all, and in some measure damped the rising spirit of the conversation.  12
  “Besides, my dear Skeggs,” continued our peeress, “there is nothing of this in the copy of verses that Doctor Burdock made upon the occasion.” Fudge!  13
  “I am surprised at that,” cried Miss Skeggs; “for he seldom leaves anything out, as he writes only for his own amusement. But can your Ladyship favor me with a sight of them?” Fudge!  14
  “My dear creature,” replied our peeress, “do you think I carry such things about me? Though they are very fine, to be sure, and I think myself something of a judge; at least I know what pleases myself. Indeed, I was ever an admirer of all Doctor Burdock’s little pieces; for except what he does, and our dear countess at Hanover Square, there’s nothing comes out but the most lowest stuff in nature; not a bit of high life among them.” Fudge!  15
  “Your Ladyship should except,” says t’other, “your own things in the Lady’s Magazine. I hope you’ll say there’s nothing low-lived there? But I suppose we are to have no more from that quarter?” Fudge!  16
  “Why, my dear,” says the lady, “you know my reader and companion has left me to be married to Captain Roach, and as my poor eyes won’t suffer me to write myself, I have been for some time looking out for another. A proper person is no easy matter to find, and to be sure, thirty pounds a year is a small stipend for a well-bred girl of character, that can read, write, and behave in company; as for the chits about town, there is no bearing them about one.” Fudge!  17
  “That I know,” cried Miss Skeggs, “by experience. For of the three companions I had this last half-year, one of them refused to do plain work an hour in the day, another thought twenty-five guineas a year too small a salary, and I was obliged to send away the third because I suspected an intrigue with the chaplain. Virtue, my dear Lady Blarney, virtue is worth any price; but where is that to be found?” Fudge!  18
  My wife had been for a long time all attention to this discourse, but was particularly struck with the latter part of it. Thirty pounds and twenty-five guineas a year made fifty-six pounds five shillings, English money, all which was in a manner going a-begging, and might easily be secured in the family. She for a moment studied my looks for approbation; and to own a truth, I was of opinion that two such places would fit our two daughters exactly. Besides, if the Squire had any real affection for my eldest daughter, this would be the way to make her every way qualified for her fortune. My wife therefore was resolved that we should not be deprived of such advantages for want of assurance, and undertook to harangue for the family. “I hope,” cried she, “your ladyships will pardon my present presumption. It is true, we have no right to pretend to such favors; but yet it is natural for me to wish putting my children forward in the world. And I will be bold to say my two girls have had a pretty good education and capacity; at least, the country can’t show better. They can read, write, and cast accounts; they understand their needle, broad-stitch, cross-and-change, and all manner of plain work; they can pink, point, and frill, and know something of music; they can do up small-clothes, work upon catgut; my eldest can cut paper, and my youngest has a very pretty manner of telling fortunes upon the cards.” Fudge!  19
  When she had delivered this pretty piece of eloquence, the two ladies looked at each other a few moments in silence, with an air of doubt and importance. At last Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs condescended to observe that the young ladies, from the opinion she could form of them from so slight an acquaintance, seemed very fit for such employments. “But a thing of this kind, madam,” cried she, addressing my spouse, “requires a thorough examination into characters, and a more perfect knowledge of each other. Not, madam,” continued she, “that I in the least suspect the young ladies’ virtue, prudence, and discretion; but there is a form in these things, madam, there is a form.”  20
  My wife approved her suspicions very much, observing that she was very apt to be suspicious herself; but referred her to all the neighbors for a character; but this our peeress declined as unnecessary, alleging that her cousin Thornhill’s recommendation would be sufficient, and upon this we rested our petition.  21
  WHEN we returned home, the night was dedicated to schemes of future conquest. Deborah exerted much sagacity in conjecturing which of the two girls was likely to have the best place, and most opportunities of seeing good company. The only obstacle to our preferment was in obtaining the Squire’s recommendation; but he had already shown us too many instances of his friendship to doubt of it now. Even in bed my wife kept up the usual theme: “Well, faith, my dear Charles, between ourselves, I think we have made an excellent day’s work of it.” “Pretty well,” cried I, not knowing what to say. “What, only pretty well!” returned she; “I think it is very well. Suppose the girls should come to make acquaintances of taste in town! This I am assured of, that London is the only place in the world for all manner of husbands. Besides, my dear, stranger things happen every day; and as ladies of quality are so taken with my daughters, what will not men of quality be! Entre nous, I protest I like my Lady Blarney vastly; so very obliging. However, Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs has my warm heart. But yet when they came to talk of places in town, you saw at once how I nailed them. Tell me, my dear, don’t you think I did for my children there?” “Ay,” returned I, not knowing well what to think of the matter; “Heaven grant that they may be both the better for it this day three months!” This was one of those observations I usually made to impress my wife with an opinion of my sagacity; for if the girls succeeded, then it was a pious wish fulfilled; but if anything unfortunate ensued, then it might be looked upon as a prophecy.  22

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