The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith

Chapter 7

A town wit described. The dullest fellows may learn to be comical for a night or two

When the morning arrived on which we were to entertain our young landlord, it may be easily supposed what provisions were exhausted to make an appearance. It may also be conjectured that my wife and daughters expanded their gayest plumage upon this occasion. Mr Thornhill came with a couple of friends, his chaplain, and feeder. The servants, who were numerous, he politely ordered to the next ale-house: but my wife, in the triumph of her heart, insisted on entertaining them all; for which, by the bye, our family was pinched for three weeks after. As Mr Burchell had hinted to us the day before, that he was making some proposals of marriage, to Miss Wilmot, my son George’s former mistress, this a good deal damped the heartiness of his reception: but accident, in some measure, relieved our embarrasment; for one of the company happening to mention her name, Mr Thornhill observed with an oath, that he never knew any thing more absurd than calling such a fright a beauty: ‘For strike me ugly,’ continued he, ‘if I should not find as much pleasure in choosing my mistress by the information of a lamp under the clock at St Dunstan’s.’ At this he laughed, and so did we:— the jests of the rich are ever successful. Olivia too could not avoid whispering, loud enough to be heard, that he had an infinite fund of humour. After dinner, I began with my usual toast, the Church; for this I was thanked by the chaplain, as he said the church was the only mistress of his affections. —‘Come tell us honestly, Frank,’ said the ‘Squire, with his usual archness, ‘suppose the church, your present mistress, drest in lawnsleeves, on one hand, and Miss Sophia, with no lawn about her, on the other, which would you be for?’ ‘For both, to be sure,’ cried the chaplain. —‘Right Frank,’ cried the ‘Squire; ‘for may this glass suffocate me but a fine girl is worth all the priestcraft in the creation. For what are tythes and tricks but an imposition, all a confounded imposture, and I can prove it.’— ‘I wish you would,’ cried my son Moses, ‘and I think,’ continued he, ‘that I should be able to answer you.’—‘Very well, Sir,’ cried the ‘Squire, who immediately smoaked him,’ and winking on the rest of the company, to prepare us for the sport, if you are for a cool argument upon that subject, I am ready to accept the challenge. And first, whether are you for managing it analogically, or dialogically?’ ‘I am for managing it rationally,’ cried Moses, quite happy at being permitted to dispute. ‘Good again,’ cried the ‘Squire, ‘and firstly, of the first. I hope you’ll not deny that whatever is is. If you don’t grant me that, I can go no further.’—‘Why,’ returned Moses, ‘I think I may grant that, and make the best of it.’—‘I hope too,’ returned the other, ‘you’ll grant that a part is less than the whole.’ ‘I grant that too,’ cried Moses, ‘it is but just and reasonable.’—‘I hope,’ cried the ‘Squire, ‘you will not deny, that the two angles of a triangle are equal to two right ones.’— ‘Nothing can be plainer,’ returned t’other, and looked round with his usual importance. —‘Very well,’ cried the ‘Squire, speaking very quick, ‘the premises being thus settled, I proceed to observe, that the concatenation of self existences, proceeding in a reciprocal duplicate ratio, naturally produce a problematical dialogism, which in some measure proves that the essence of spirituality may be referred to the second predicable’—‘Hold, hold,’ cried the other, ‘I deny that: Do you think I can thus tamely submit to such heterodox doctrines?’—‘What,’ replied the ‘Squire, as if in a passion, ‘not submit! Answer me one plain question: Do you think Aristotle right when he says, that relatives are related?’ ‘Undoubtedly,’ replied the other. —‘If so then,’ cried the ‘Squire, ‘answer me directly to what I propose: Whether do you judge the analytical investigation of the first part of my enthymem deficient secundum quoad, or quoad minus, and give me your reasons: give me your reasons, I say, directly.’—‘I protest,’ cried Moses, ‘I don’t rightly comprehend the force of your reasoning; but if it be reduced to one simple proposition, I fancy it may then have an answer.’—‘O sir,’ cried the ‘Squire, ‘I am your most humble servant, I find you want me to furnish you with argument and intellects too. No, sir, there I protest you are too hard for me.’ This effectually raised the laugh against poor Moses, who sate the only dismal figure in a groupe of merry faces: nor, did he offer a single syllable more during the whole entertainment.

But though all this gave me no pleasure, it had a very different effect upon Olivia, who mistook it for humour, though but a mere act of the memory. She thought him therefore a very fine gentleman; and such as consider what powerful ingredients a good figure, fine cloaths, and fortune, are in that character, will easily forgive her. Mr Thornhill, notwithstanding his real ignorance, talked with ease, and could expatiate upon the common topics of conversation with fluency. It is not surprising then that such talents should win the affections of a girl, who by education was taught to value an appearance in herself, and consequently to set a value upon it in another.

Upon his departure, we again entered into a debate upon the merits of our young landlord. As he directed his looks and conversation to Olivia, it was no longer doubted but that she was the object that induced him to be our visitor. Nor did she seem to be much displeased at the innocent raillery of her brother and sister upon this occasion. Even Deborah herself seemed to share the glory of the day, and exulted in her daughter’s victory as if it were her own. ‘And now, my dear,’ cried she to me, ‘I’ll fairly own, that it was I that instructed my girls to encourage our landlord’s addresses. I had always some ambition, and you now see that I was right; for who knows how this may end?’ ‘Ay, who knows that indeed,’ answered I, with a groan: ‘for my part I don’t much like it; and I could have been better pleased with one that was poor and honest, than this fine gentleman with his fortune and infidelity; for depend on’t, if he be what I suspect him, no free — thinker shall ever have a child of mine.’ ‘Sure, father,’ cried Moses, ‘you are too severe in this; for heaven will never arraign him for what he thinks, but for what he does. Every man has a thousand vicious thoughts, which arise without his power to suppress. Thinking freely of religion, may be involuntary with this gentleman: so that allowing his sentiments to be wrong, yet as he is purely passive in his assent, he is no more to be blamed for his errors than the governor of a city without walls for the shelter he is obliged to afford an invading enemy.’

‘True, my son,’ cried I; ‘but if the governor invites the enemy, there he is justly culpable. And such is always the case with those who embrace error. The vice does not lie in assenting to the proofs they see; but in being blind to many of the proofs that offer. So that, though our erroneous opinions be involuntary when formed, yet as we have been wilfully corrupt, or very negligent in forming them, we deserve punishment for our vice, or contempt for our folly.’ My wife now kept up the conversation, though not the argument: she observed, that several very prudent men of our acquaintance were free-thinkers, and made very good husbands; and she knew some sensible girls that had skill enough to make converts of their spouses: ‘And who knows, my dear,’ continued she, ‘what Olivia may be able to do. The girl has a great deal to say upon every subject, and to my knowledge is very well skilled in controversy.’

‘Why, my dear, what controversy can she have read?’ cried I. ‘It does not occur to me that I ever put such books into her hands: you certainly over-rate her merit.’ ‘Indeed, pappa,’ replied Olivia, ‘she does not: I have read a great deal of controversy. I have read the disputes between Thwackum and Square; the controversy between Robinson Crusoe and Friday the savage, and I am now employed in reading the controversy in Religious courtship’ —‘Very well,’ cried I, ‘that’s a good girl, I find you are perfectly qualified for making converts, and so go help your mother to make the gooseberry-pye.’

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37