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

CHAP. II.

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 pro|fits of my living, which amounted to but thirty-five pounds a year, I gave to the or|phans 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 ac|quainted with every man in the parish, ex|horting the married men to temperance and the bachelors to matrimony; so that in a few years it was a common saying, that there Page  10 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 fa|vourite topics, and I wrote several ser|mons to prove its utility and happiness: but there was a peculiar tenet which I made a point of supporting; for I main|tained with Whiston, that it was unlawful for a priest of the church of England, af|ter the death of his first wife, to take a second, or to express it in one word, I valued myself upon being a strict mono|gamist.

I was early innitiated into this important dispute, on which so many laborious vo|lumes 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 Page  11 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 epi|taph 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.

It was thus, perhaps, from hearing mar|riage so often recommended, that my eldest son, just upon leaving college, fix|ed his affections upon the daughter of a neighbouring clergyman, who was a dig|nitary in the church, and in circumstances to give her a large fortune: but fortune was her smallest accomplishment. Miss Arabella Wilmot was allowed by all, ex|cept my two daughters, to be completely Page  12 pretty. Her youth, health, and innocence, were still heightened by a complexion so transparent, and such an happy sensibility of look, that even age could not gaze with in|difference. As Mr. Wilmot knew that I could make a very handsome settlement on my son, he was not averse to the match; so both families lived together in all that harmony which generally precedes an expected alliance. Being convinced by experience that the days of courtship are the most happy of our lives, I was willing enough to lengthen the period; and the various amusements which the young cou|ple every day shared in each other's com|pany, seemed to encrease their passion. We were generally awaked in the morning by music, and on fine days rode a hunting. The hours between breakfast and dinner the ladies devoted to dress and study: they usually read a page, and then gazed at themselves in the glass, which even phi|losophers might own often presented the page of greatest beauty. At dinner my wife took the lead; for as she always in|sisted upon carving every thing herself, it Page  13 being her mother's way, she gave us upon these occasions the history of every dish. When we had dined, to prevent the ladies leaving us, I generally ordered the table to be removed; and sometimes, with the music master's assistance, the girls would give us a very agreeable concert. Walking out, drinking tea, country dances, and forfeits, shortened the rest of the day, with|out the assistance of cards, as I hated all manner of gaming, except backgammon, at which my old friend and I sometimes took a two-penny hit. Nor can I here pass over an ominous circumstance that hap|pened the last time we played together: I only wanted to fling a quatre, and yet I threw deuce ace five times running.

Some months were elapsed in this man|ner, till at last it was thought convenient to fix a day for the nuptials of the young cou|ple, who seemed earnestly to desire it. During the preparations for the wedding, I need not describe the busy importance of my wife, nor the sly looks of my daugh|ters: in fact, my attention was fixed on Page  14 another object, the completing a tract which I intended shortly to publish in de|fence of monogamy. As I looked upon this as a master-piece both for argument and style, I could not in the pride of my heart avoid shewing it to my old friend Mr. Wilmot, as I made no doubt of receiv|ing his approbation; but too late I disco|vered that he was most violently attached to the contrary opinion, and with good reason; for he was at that time actually courting a fourth wife. This, as may be expected, produced a dispute attended with some acrimony, which threatened to interrupt our intended alliance: but on the day before that appointed for the ceremony, we agreed to discuss the subject at large.

It was managed with proper spirit on both sides: he asserted that I was heterodox, I retorted the charge: he replied, and I rejoined. In the mean time, while the controversy was hottest, I was called out by one of my relations, who, with a face of concern, advised me to give up the dis|pute, and allow the old gentleman to be a 〈1+ pages missing〉Page  15 if he could, at least till my son's wedding was over.

"How,"
cried I,
"relinquish the cause of truth, and let him be an hus|band, already driven to the very verge of absurdity. You might as well advise me to give up my fortune as my argument."
"That fortune,"
returned my friend,
"I am now sorry to inform you, is almost no|thing. Your merchant in town, in whose hands your money was lodged, has gone off, to avoid a statute of bank|ruptcy, and it is thought has not left a shilling in the pound. I was unwilling to shock you or the family with the account till after the wedding: but now it may serve to moderate your warmth in the argument; for, I suppose, your own prudence will enforce the necessity of dis|sembling at least till your son has the young lady's fortune secure."
"Well,"
reurned I,
"if what you tell me be true, and if I am to be a beggar, it shall ne|ver make me a rascal, or induce me to disavow my principles. I'll go this moment and inform the company of my circumstaces; and as for the argu|ment, Page  16 I even here retract my former con|cessions in the old gentleman's favour, nor will I allow him now to be an hus|band either dejure, de facto, or in any sense of the expression."

It would be endless to describe the diffe|rent sensations of both families when I divulged the news of my misfortunes; but what others felt was slight to what the young lovers appeared to endure. Mr. Wilmot, who seemed before sufficiently in|clined to break off the match, was by this blow soon determined: one virtue he had in perfection, which was prudence, too often the only virtue that is left us unimpaired at seventy-two.