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


A migration. The fortunate circumstances of our lives are generally found at last to be of our own procuring.

THE only hope of our family now was, that the report of our mis|fortunes might be malicious or premature: but a letter from my agent in town soon came with a confirmation of every particu|lar. The loss of fortune to myself alone would have been trifling; the only uneasi|ness I felt was for my family, who were to be humble without such an education as could render them callous to contempt.

Near a fortnight passed away before I attempted to restrain their affliction; for premature consolation is but the remem|brancer of sorrow. During this interval, Page  18 my thoughts were employed on some future means of supporting them; and at last a small Cure of fifteen pounds a year was of|fered me in a distant neighbourhood, where I could still enjoy my principles without molestation. With this proposal I joyfully closed, having determined to encrease my salary by managing a little farm.

Having taken this resolution, my next care was to get together the wrecks of my fortune; and all debts collected and paid, out of fourteen thousand pounds we had now but four hundred remaining. My chief attention therefore was next to bring down the pride of my family to their cir|cumstances; for I well knew that aspiring beggary is wretchedness itself.

"You can't be ignorant, my children,"
cried I,
"that no prudence of ours could have prevented our late misfortune; but prudence may do much in disappointing its effects. We are now poor, my fondlings, and wisdom bids us conform to our humble situation. Let us then, without repining, Page  19 give up those splendours with which numbers are wretched, and seek in hum|bler circumstances that peace with which all may be happy. The poor live plea|santly without our help, and we are not so imperfectly formed as to be incapable of living without theirs. No, my chil|dren, let us from this moment give up all pretensions to gentility; we have still enough left for happiness if we are wise, and let us draw upon content for the deficiencies of fortune."

As my eldest son was bred a scholar, I determined to send him to town, where his abilities might contribute to our support and his own. The separation of friends and families is, perhaps, one of the most distressful circumstances attendant on pe|nury. The day soon arrived on which we were to disperse for the first time. My son, after taking leave of his mother and the rest, who mingled their tears with their kisses, came to ask a blessing from me. This I gave him from my heart, and which, Page  20 added to five guineas, was all the patrimony I had now to bestow.

"You are going, my boy,"
cried I,
"to London on foot, in the manner Hooker, your great an|cestor, travelled there before you. Take from me the same horse that was given him by the good bishop Jewel, this staff, and take this book too, it will be your comfort on the way: these two lines in it are worth a million, I have been young, and now am old; yet never saw I the righteous man forsaken, or his seed beg|ging their bread. Let this be your con|solation as you travel on. Go, my boy, whatever be thy fortune let me see thee once a year; still keep a good heart, and farewell."
As he was possest of inte|grity and honour, I was under no appre|hensions from throwing him naked into the amphitheatre of life; for I knew he would act a good part whether he rose or fell.

His departure only prepared the way for our own, which arrived a few days after|wards. Page  21 The leaving a neighbourhood in which we had enjoyed so many hours of tranquility, was not without a tear, which scarce fortitude itself could suppress. Be|sides, a journey of seventy miles to a family that had hitherto never been above ten from home, filled us with apprehension, and the cries of the poor, who followed us for some miles, contributed to encrease it. The first day's journey brought us in safety within thirty miles of our future re|treat, and we put up for the night at an obscure inn in a village by the way. When we were shewn a room, I desired the land|lord, in my usual way, to let us have his company, with which he complied, as what he drank would encrease the bill next morning. He knew, however, the whole neighbourhood to which I was re|moving, particularly 'Squire Thornhill, who was to be my landlord, and who lived within a few miles of the place. This gentleman he described as one who desired to know little more of the world than the pleasures it afforded, being particularly re|markable Page  22 for his attachment to the fair sex. He observed that no virtue was able to resist his arts and assiduity, and that scarce a farmer's daughter within ten miles round but what had found him successful and faithless. Though this account gave me some pain, it had a very a different ef|fect upon my daughters, whose features seemed to brighten with the expectation of an approaching triumph, nor was my wife less pleased and confident of their allure|ments and virtue. While our thoughts were thus employed, the hostess entered the room to inform her husband, that the strange gentleman, who had been two days in the house, wanted money, and could not satisfy them for his reckoning.

"Want money!"
replied the host,
"that must be impossible; for it was no later than yesterday he paid three guineas to our beadle to spare an old broken sol|dier that was to be whipped through the town for dog-stealing."
The hostess, however, still persisting in her first assertion, he was preparing to leave the room, swear|ing Page  23 that he would be satisfied one way or another, when I begged the landlord would introduce me to a stranger of so much cha|rity as he described. With this he com|plied, shewing in a gentleman who seemed to be about thirty, drest in cloaths that once were laced. His person was well formed, though his face was marked with the lines of thinking. He had something short and dry in his address, and seemed not to understand ceremony, or to despise it. Upon the landlord's leaving the room, I could not avoid expressing my concern to the stranger at seeing a gentleman in such circumstances, and offered him my purse to satisfy the present demand.
"I take it with all my heart, Sir,"
replied he,
"and am glad that a late oversight in giv|ing what money I had about me, has shewn me that there is still some benevo|lence left among us. I must, however, previously entreat being informed of the name and residence of my benefactor, in order to remit it as soon as possible."
In this I satisfied him fully, not only men|tioning Page  24 my name and late misfortunes, but the place to which I was going to remove.
cried he,
"happens still more luckily than I hoped for, as I am going the same way myself, having been de|tained here two days by the floods, which, I hope, by to-morrow will be found passable."
I testified the pleasure I should have in his company, and my wife and daughters joining in entreaty, he was prevailed upon to stay supper. The stran|ger's conversation, which was at once pleas|sing and instructive, induced me to wish for a continuance of it; but it was now high time to retire and take refreshment against the fatigues of the following day.

The next morning we all set forward to|gether: my family on horseback, while Mr. Burchell, our new companion, walked along the foot-path by the road-side, ob|serving, with a smile, that as we were ill mounted, he would be too generous to at|tempt leaving us behind. As the floods were not yet subsided, we were obliged to Page  25 hire a guide, who trotted on before, Mr. Burchell and I bringing up the rear. We lightened the fatigues of the road with philosophical disputes, which he seemed perfectly to understand. But what sur|prised me most was, that though he was a money-borrower, he defended his opini|ons with as much obstinacy as if he had been my patron. He now and then also informed me to whom the different seats belonged that lay in our view as we tra|velled the road.

cried he, point|ing to a very magnificent house which stood at some distance,
"belongs to Mr. Thornhill, a young gentleman who enjoys a large fortune, though entirely depen|dant on the will of his uncle, Sir Willam Thornhill, a gentleman, who content with a little himself, permits his nephew to en|joy the rest, and chiefly resides in town."
cried I,
"is my young landlord then the nephew of a man whose vir|tues, generosity, and singularities are so universally known? I have heard Page  26 Sir William Thornhill represented as one of the most generous, yet whim|sical, men in the kingdom; a man of consummate benevolence"
"Something, perhaps, too much so,"
re|plied Mr. Burchell,
"at least he carried be|nevolence to an excess when young; for his passions were then strong, and as they all were upon the side of vir|tue, they led it up to a romantic ex|treme. He early began to aim at the qualifications of the soldier and scho|lar; was soon distinguished in the army, and had some reputation among men of learning. Adulation ever follows the ambitious; for such alone receive most pleasure from flattery. He was sur|rounded with crowds, who shewed him only one side of their character; so that he began to lose a regard for private interest in universal sympathy. He loved all mankind; for fortune prevented him from knowing that there were rascals. Physicians tell us of a disorder in which Page  27 the whole body is so exquisitely sensible, that the slightest touch gives pain: what some have thus suffered in their per|sons, this gentleman felt in his mind. The slightest distress, whether real or fic|titious, touched him to the quick, and his soul laboured under a sickly sensibi|lity of the miseries of others. Thus dis|posed to relieve, it will be easily conjec|tured, he found numbers disposed to so|licit: his profusions began to impair his fortune, but not his good-nature; that, indeed, was seen to encrease as the other seemed to decay: he grew improvident as he grew poor; and though he talked like a man of sense, his actions were those of a fool. Still, however, being sur|rounded with importunity, and no lon|ger able to satisfy every request that was made him, instead of money he gave pro|mises. They were all he had to bestow, and he had not resolution enough to give any man pain by a denial. By this means he drew round him crowds of de|pendants, Page  28 whom he was sure to disap|point; yet wished to relieve. These hung upon him for a time, and left him with merited reproaches and contempt. But in proportion as he became contemptible to others, he became despicable to him|self. His mind had leaned upon their adulation, and that support taken away, he could find no pleasure in the ap|plause of his heart, which he had never learnt to reverence itself. The world now began to wear a different aspect; the flat|tery of his friends began to dwindle into simple approbation, that soon took the more friendly form of advice, and ad|vice when rejected ever begets reproaches. He now found that such friends as bene|fits had gathered round him, were by no means the most estimable: it was now found that a man's own heart must be ever given to gain that of another. I now found, that—but I forget what I was going to observe: in short, sir, he resolved to respect him|self, Page  29 and laid down a plan of restoring his shattered fortune. For this pur|pose, in his own whimsical man|ner he travelled through Europe on foot, and before he attained the age of thirty, his circumstances were more afflu|ent than ever. At present, therefore, his bounties are more rational and mo|derate than before; but still he preserves the character of an humourist, and finds most pleasure in eccentric virtues."

My attention was so much taken up by Mr. Burchell's account, that I scarce looked forward as we went along, till we were alarmed by the cries of my fami|ly, when turning, I perceived my young|est daughter in the midst of a rapid stream, thrown from her horse, and strug|gling with the torrent. She had sunk twice, nor was it in my power to disen|gage myself in time to bring her relief. My sensations were even too violent to Page  30 permit my attempting her rescue: she would have certainly perished had not my companion, percieving her danger, instantly plunged in to her relief, and, with some difficulty, brought her in safety to the oppo|site shore. By taking the current a little farther up, the rest of the family got safely over; where we had an opportunity of joining our acknowledgments to her's. Her gratitude may be more readily imagined than described: she thanked her deliverer more with looks than words, and conti|nued to lean upon his arm, as if still willing to receive assistance. My wife also hoped one day to have the pleasure of returning his kindness at her own house. Thus, after we were all refreshed at the next inn, and had dined together, as he was going to a different part of the country, he took leave; and we pursued our journey. My wife observ|ing as we went, that she liked Mr. Bur|chell extremely, and protesting, that if he had birth and fortune to entitle him to match into such a family as our's, she knew Page  31 no man she would sooner fix upon. I could not but smile to hear her talk in this strain: one almost at the verge of beggary thus to assume language of the most insulting affluence, might excite the ridicule of ill-nature; but I was never much displeased with those innocent delu|sions that tend to make us more happy.