The vicar of Wakefield: a tale. Supposed to be written by himself. ... [pt.1]
Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?-1774.
Page  [unnumbered]

CHAP. XVI.

The family use art, which is opposed with still greater.

WHATEVER might have been Sophia's sensations, the rest of the family was easily consoled for Mr. Bur|chell's absence by the company of our landlord, whose visits now became more fre|quent and longer. Though he had been disappointed in procuring my daughters the amusements of the town, as he designed, he took every opportunity of supplying them with those little recreations which our retirement would admit of. He usually came in the morning, and while my son and I followed our occupations abroad, he sat with the family at home, and amused them by describing the town, with every part Page  158 of which he was particularly acquainted. He could repeat all the observations that were retailed in the atmosphere of the play-houses, and had all the good things of the high wits by rote long before they made way into the jest-books. The intervals be|tween coversation were employed in teach|ing my daughters piquet, or sometimes in setting my two little ones to box to make them sharp, as he called it: but the hopes of having him for a son-in-law, in some mea|sure blinded us to all his defects. It must be owned that my wife laid a thousand schemes to entrap him, or, to speak it more tenderly, used every art to magnify the me|rit of her daughter. If the cakes at tea eat short and crisp, they were made by Oli|via: if the gooseberry wine was well knit, the gooseberries were of her gathering: it was her fingers gave the pickles their pecu|liar green; and in the composition of a pudding, her judgment was infallible. Then the poor woman would sometimes tell the 'Squire, that she thought him and Oli|via Page  159 extremely like each other, and would bid both stand up to see which was tallest. These instances of cunning, which she thought impenetrable, yet which every bo|dy saw through, were very pleasing to our benefactor, who gave every day some new proofs of his passion, which though they had not arisen to proposals of marriage, yet we thought fell but little short of it; and his slowness was attributed sometimes to native bashfulness, and sometimes to his fear of of|fending a rich uncle. An occurrence, how|ever, which happened soon after, put it beyond a doubt that he designed to become one of the family, my wife even regarded it as an absolute promise.

My wife and daughters happening to re|turn a visit to neighbour Flamborough's, found that family had lately got their pic|tures drawn by a limner, who travelled the country, and did them for fifteen shillings a head. As this family and ours had long a sort of rivalry in point of taste, our spirit took the alarm at this stolen march upon us, Page  160 and notwithstanding all I could say, and I said much, it was resolved that we should have our pictures done too. Having, therefore, engaged the limner, for what could I do? our next deliberation was to shew the superiority of our taste in the attitudes. As for our neighbour's fa|mily, there were seven of them, and they were drawn with seven oranges, a thing quite out of taste, no variety in life, no composition in the world. We desired to have something done in a brighter style, and, after many debates, at length came to an unanimous resolution to be drawn to|gether, in one large historical family piece. This would be cheaper, since one frame would serve for all, and it would be infi|nitely more genteel; for all families of any taste were now drawn in the same manner. As we did not immediately recollect an his|torical subject to hit us, we were contented each with being drawn as independent historical figures. My wife desired to be represented as Venus, with a stomacher richly set with diamonds, and her two lit|tle Page  161 ones as Cupids by her side, while I, in my gown and band, was to present her with my books on the Bangorean contro|versy. Olivia would be drawn as an Ama|zon, sitting upon a bank of flowers, drest in a green joseph, laced with gold, and a whip in her hand. Sophia was to be a shepherdess, with as many sheep as the pain|ter could spare; and Moses was to be drest out with an hat and white feather. Our taste so much pleased the 'Squire, that he insisted on being put in as one of the family in the character of Alexander the great, at Olivia's feet. This was considered by us all as an indication of his desire to be in|troduced into the family in reality, nor could we refuse his request. The painter was therefore set to work, and as he wrought with assiduity and expedition, in less than four days the whole was compleated. The piece was large, and it must be owned he did not spare his colours; for which my wife gave him great encomiums. We were all perfectly satisfied with his performance; Page  162 but an unfortunate circumstance had not occurred till the picture was finished, which now struck us with dismay. It was so very large that we had no place in the house to fix it. How we all came to disregard so material a point is inconceivable; but cer|tain it is, we were this time all greatly over|seen. Instead therefore of gratifying our vanity, as we hoped, there it leaned, in a most mortifying manner, against the kitchen wall, where the canvas was stretched and painted, much too large to be got through any of the doors, and the jest of all our neighbours. One compared it to Robinson Crusoe's long-boat, too large to be remov|ed; another thought it more resembled a reel in a bottle; some wondered how it should be got out, and still more were amazed how it ever got in.

But though it excited the ridicule of some, it effectually raised more ill-natured sugges|tions in many. The 'Squire's portrait be|ing found united with ours, was an honour too great to escape envy. Malicious whis|pers Page  163 began to circulate at our expence, and our tranquility continually to be disturbed by persons who came as friends to tell us what was said of us by enemies. These reports we always resented with becoming spirit; but scandal ever improves by oppo|sition. We again therefore entered into a consultation upon obviating the malice of our enemies, and at last came to a resolu|tion which had too much cunning to give me entire satisfaction. It was this: as our prin|cipal object was to discover the honour of Mr. Thornhill's addresses, my wife under|took to sound him, by pretending to ask his advice in the choice of an husband for her eldest daughter. If this was not found suf|ficient to induce him to a declaration, it was then fixed upon to terrify him with a rival, which it was thought would compel him, though never so refractory. To this last step, however, I would by no means give my consent, till Olivia gave me the most solemn assurances that she would marry the person provided to rival him upon this occasion, if Mr. Thornhill did not prevent it, Page  164 by taking her himself. Such was the scheme laid, which though I did not strenuously oppose, I did not entirely approve.

The next time, therefore, that Mr. Thornhill came to see us, my girls took care to be out of the way, in order to give their mamma an opportunity of putting her scheme in execution; but they only re|tired to the next room, from whence they could over-hear the whole conversation; which my wife artfully introduced, by ob|serving, that one of the Miss Flamboroughs was like to have a very good match of it in Mr. Spanker. To this the 'Squire assent|ing, she proceeded to remark, that they who had warm fortunes were always sure of getting good husbands:

"But heaven help,"
continued she,
"the girls that have none. What signifies beauty, Mr. Thornhill? or what signifies all the virtue, and all the qualifications in the world, in this age of self-interest? It is not, what is she? but what has she? is all the cry."

Page  165

"Madam,"
returned he,
"I highly ap|prove the justice, as well as the novelty, of your remarks, and if I were a king, it should be otherwise. It would then, indeed, be fine times with the girls with|out fortunes: our two young ladies should be the first for whom I would provide."

"Ah, Sir!"
returned my wife,
"you are pleased to be facetious: but I wish I were a queen, and then I know where they should look for an husband. But now, that you have put it into my head, seriously Mr. Thornhill, can't you re|commend me a proper husband for my eldest girl? She is now nineteen years old, well grown and well educated, and, in my humble opinion, does not want for parts."

"Madam,"
replied he,
"if I were to chuse, I would find out a person possessed of every accomplishment that can make an angel happy. One with prudence, for|tune, Page  166 taste, and sincerity, such, madam, would be, in my opinion, the proper hus|band."
"Ay, Sir,"
said she,
"but do you know of any such person?"
"No, madam,"
returned he,
"it is impossible to know any person that deserves to be her husband: she's too great a treasure for one man's possession: she's a goddess. Upon my soul, I speak what I think, she's an angel."
"Ah, Mr. Thornhill, you only flatter my poor girl: but we have been thinking of marrying her to one of your tenants, whose mother is lately dead, and who wants a manager: you know whom I mean, farmer Williams; a warm man, Mr. Thornhill, able to give her good bread; ay, and who has several times made her proposals:"
(which was actually the case)
but, Sir,"
concluded she,
"I should be glad to have your approba|tion of our choice."
"How, ma|dam,"
replied he,
"my approbation! My approbation of such a choice! Never. What! Sacrifice so much beauty, and Page  167 sense, and goodness, to a creature insen|sible of the blessing! Excuse me, I can never approve of such a piece of injus|tice! And I have my reasons!"
"Indeed, Sir,"
cried Deborah,
"if you have your reasons, that's another affair; but I should be glad to know those rea|sons."
"Excuse me, madam,"
re|turned he,
"they lie too deep for discovery:
(laying his hand upon his bosom)
they re|main buried, rivetted here."

After he was gone, upon general con|sultation, we could not tell what to make of these fine sentiments. Olivia considered them as instances of the most exalted pas|sion; but I was not quite so sanguine: it seemed to me pretty plain, that they had more of love than matrimony in them: yet, whatever they might portend, it was re|solved to prosecute the scheme of farmer Williams, who, since my daughter's first ap|pearance in the country, had paid her his addresses.