Authors: Oliver Goldsmith
Tags: #Fiction, #Classics
Copyright Â© 2004 by Dover Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This Dover edition, first published in 2004, is an unabridged republication of the second edition of the work, originally published in two volumes and printed for F. Newbery, London, in 1766. A new introductory Note has been specially prepared for the present edition.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?â1774.
The vicar of Wakefield / Oliver Goldsmith.
p. cm.â(Dover thrift editions)
“An unabridged republication of the second edition of the work, originally published in two volumes and printed for F. Newbery, London, in 1766”âT.p. verso.
1. ClergyâFiction. 2. Children of clergyâFiction. 3. Poor familiesâFiction. 4. AbductionâFiction. 5. PrisonersâFiction. 6. EnglandâFiction. I. Title. II. Series.
Manufactured in the United States of America
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PLAYWRIGHT AND NOVELIST Oliver Goldsmith (ca. 1730â1774) was born in Ireland, the son of an Anglican clergyman. Growing up in poverty, he was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizarâa student who did menial jobs for wealthier undergraduates. His clever wit and sense of fun always led him to engage in student escapades, which left him little time to study. Although his restlessness and laziness nearly sabotaged his chances of earning a diploma, he did manage to curtail his rash behavior enough to graduate in 1749. After several false starts in selecting a career, Goldsmith set out to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. However, instead of completing a degree, Goldsmith wandered about Europe, living hand to mouth, and supported himself through a series of odd jobs. In 1756 he returned to England destitute and set up an unsuccessful medical practice among the poor.
Perennially in debt, Goldsmith worked as a hack writer for various publishers in London, producing literary works of any topic on demand. “Nothing,” wrote Goldsmith, “is more apt to introduce us to the gates of the muses than Poverty.” These anonymous potboilersâtranslations, newspaper and magazine articles, as well as books for childrenâwere written with humor, picturesque descriptions, and a natural, graceful style. Of these, a series of essays and letters later reprinted as A Citizen of the World (1762) began to attract favorable attention in London's literary circles. Shortly after his authorship was revealed, Goldsmith embarked on a long acquaintance with Samuel Johnson, the foremost literary figure of the day, and was one of the original members of Johnson's celebrated literary society known as the Club.
In 1764 Goldsmith's philosophic poem, “The Traveller,” was published and firmly established him as an influential writer. The sale and publication of his only novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), was supposedly arranged by Johnson to save Goldsmith from going to jail for debt. Goldsmith's foray into dramatic works was also successful, with The Good Natur'd Man (1768), and one of the best-known comedies of British drama, She Stoops to Conquer (1773). He continued to write popular books to order, including histories of Rome, Greece, and England as well as books on natural history, but these are not noted for their accuracy. Although Goldsmith earned an ample wage as a writer, his habitual extravagance and generosity with needy friends kept him continually in debt. When his health began to fail, Goldsmith rejected the advice of doctors and treated his illness by himself. He died at the age of forty-four in London in 1774. His shrewd observations of character, his lively prose style, and his comedic command of situation have endeared his work to many generations.
Sperate miseri, cavete fÅlices
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 futurity.
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 surface, 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 housekeeping; 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 brown.
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.”â“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.