The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith

Chapter 8

An amour, which promises little good fortune, yet may be productive of much

The next morning we were again visited by Mr Burchell, though I began, for certain reasons, to be displeased with the frequency of his return; but I could not refuse him my company and fire-side. It is true his labour more than requited his entertainment; for he wrought among us with vigour, and either in the meadow or at the hay-rick put himself foremost. Besides, he had always something amusing to say that lessened our toil, and was at once so out of the way, and yet so sensible, that I loved, laughed at, and pitied him. My only dislike arose from an attachment he discovered to my daughter: he would, in a jesting manner, call her his little mistress, and when he bought each of the girls a set of ribbands, hers was the finest. I knew not how, but he every day seemed to become more amiable, his wit to improve, and his simplicity to assume the superior airs of wisdom.

Our family dined in the field, and we sate, or rather reclined, round a temperate repast, our cloth spread upon the hay, while Mr Burchell gave cheerfulness to the feast. To heighten our satisfaction two blackbirds answered each other from opposite hedges, the familiar redbreast came and pecked the crumbs from our hands, and every sound seemed but the echo of tranquillity. ‘I never sit thus,’ says Sophia, ‘but I think of the two lovers, so sweetly described by Mr Gay, who were struck dead in each other’s arms. There is something so pathetic in the description, that I have read it an hundred times with new rapture.’—‘In my opinion,’ cried my son, ‘the finest strokes in that description are much below those in the Acis and Galatea of Ovid. The Roman poet understands the use of contrast better, and upon that figure artfully managed all strength in the pathetic depends.’—‘It is remarkable,’ cried Mr Burchell, ‘that both the poets you mention have equally contributed to introduce a false taste into their respective countries, by loading all their lines with epithet. Men of little genius found them most easily imitated in their defects, and English poetry, like that in the latter empire of Rome, is nothing at present but a combination of luxuriant images, without plot or connexion; a string of epithets that improve the sound, without carrying on the sense. But perhaps, madam, while I thus reprehend others, you’ll think it just that I should give them an opportunity to retaliate, and indeed I have made this remark only to have an opportunity of introducing to the company a ballad, which, whatever be its other defects, is I think at least free from those I have mentioned.’

A BALLAD.

‘Turn, gentle hermit of the dale, And guide my lonely way, To where yon taper cheers the vale, With hospitable ray.

‘For here forlorn and lost I tread, With fainting steps and slow; Where wilds immeasurably spread, Seem lengthening as I go.’

‘Forbear, my son,’ the hermit cries, ‘To tempt the dangerous gloom; For yonder faithless phantom flies To lure thee to thy doom.

‘Here to the houseless child of want, My door is open still; And tho’ my portion is but scant, I give it with good will.

‘Then turn to-night, and freely share Whate’er my cell bestows; My rushy couch, and frugal fare, My blessing and repose.

‘No flocks that range the valley free, To slaughter I condemn: Taught by that power that pities me, I learn to pity them.

‘But from the mountain’s grassy side, A guiltless feast I bring; A scrip with herbs and fruits supply’d, And water from the spring.

‘Then, pilgrim, turn, thy cares forego; All earth-born cares are wrong: Man wants but little here below, Nor wants that little long.’

Soft as the dew from heav’n descends, His gentle accents fell: The modest stranger lowly bends, And follows to the cell.

Far in a wilderness obscure The lonely mansion lay; A refuge to the neighbouring poor, And strangers led astray.

No stores beneath its humble thatch Requir’d a master’s care; The wicket opening with a latch, Receiv’d the harmless pair.

And now when busy crowds retire To take their evening rest, The hermit trimm’d his little fire, And cheer’d his pensive guest:

And spread his vegetable store, And gayly prest, and smil’d; And skill’d in legendary lore, The lingering hours beguil’d.

Around in sympathetic mirth Its tricks the kitten tries, The cricket chirrups in the hearth; The crackling faggot flies.

But nothing could a charm impart To sooth the stranger’s woe; For grief was heavy at his heart, And tears began to flow.

His rising cares the hermit spy’d, With answering care opprest: ‘And whence, unhappy youth,’ he cry’d, ‘The sorrows of thy breast?

‘From better habitations spurn’d, Reluctant dost thou rove; Or grieve for friendship unreturn’d, Or unregarded love?

‘Alas! the joys that fortune brings, Are trifling and decay; And those who prize the paltry things, More trifling still than they.

‘And what is friendship but a name, A charm that lulls to sleep; A shade that follows wealth or fame, But leaves the wretch to weep?

‘And love is still an emptier sound, The modern fair one’s jest: On earth unseen, or only found To warm the turtle’s nest.

‘For shame fond youth thy sorrows hush And spurn the sex,’ he said: But while he spoke a rising blush His love-lorn guest betray’d.

Surpriz’d he sees new beauties rise, Swift mantling to the view; Like colours o’er the morning skies, As bright, as transient too.

The bashful look, the rising breast, Alternate spread alarms: The lovely stranger stands confest A maid in all her charms.

‘And, ah,‘forgive a stranger rude, A wretch forlorn,’ she cry’d; ‘Whose feet unhallowed thus intrude Where heaven and you reside.

‘But let a maid thy pity share, Whom love has taught to stray; Who seeks for rest, but finds despair Companion of her way.

‘My father liv’d beside the Tyne, A wealthy Lord was he; And all his wealth was mark’d as mine, He had but only me.

‘To win me from his tender arms, Unnumber’d suitors came; Who prais’d me for imputed charms, And felt or feign’d a flame.

‘Each hour a mercenary crowd, With richest proffers strove: Among the rest young Edwin bow’d, But never talk’d of love.

‘In humble simplest habit clad, No wealth nor power had he; Wisdom and worth were all he had, But these were all to me.

‘The blossom opening to the day, The dews of heaven refin’d, Could nought of purity display, To emulate his mind.

‘The dew, the blossom on the tree, With charms inconstant shine; Their charms were his, but woe to me, Their constancy was mine.

‘For still I try’d each fickle art, Importunate and vain; And while his passion touch’d my heart, I triumph’d in his pain.

‘Till quite dejected with my scorn, He left me to my pride; And sought a solitude forlorn, In secret where he died.

‘But mine the sorrow, mine the fault, And well my life shall pay; I’ll seek the solitude he sought, And stretch me where he lay.

‘And there forlorn despairing hid, I’ll lay me down and die: ’Twas so for me that Edwin did, And so for him will I.’

‘Forbid it heaven!’ the hermit cry’d, And clasp’d her to his breast: The wondering fair one turn’d to chide, ’Twas Edwin’s self that prest.

‘Turn, Angelina, ever dear, My charmer, turn to see, Thy own, thy long-lost Edwin here, Restor’d to love and thee.

‘Thus let me hold thee to my heart, And ev’ry care resign: And shall we never, never part, My life — my all that’s mine.

‘No, never, from this hour to part, We’ll live and love so true; The sigh that tends thy constant heart, Shall break thy Edwin’s too.’

While this ballad was reading, Sophia seemed to mix an air of tenderness with her approbation. But our tranquillity was soon disturbed by the report of a gun just by us, and immediately after a man was seen bursting through the hedge, to take up the game he had killed. This sportsman was the ‘Squire’s chaplain, who had shot one of the blackbirds that so agreeably entertained us. So loud a report, and so near, startled my daughters; and I could perceive that Sophia in the fright had thrown herself into Mr Burchell’s arms for protection. The gentleman came up, and asked pardon for having disturbed us, affirming that he was ignorant of our being so near. He therefore sate down by my youngest daughter, and, sportsman like, offered her what he had killed that morning. She was going to refuse, but a private look from her mother soon induced her to correct the mistake, and accept his present, though with some reluctance. My wife, as usual, discovered her pride in a whisper, observing, that Sophy had made a conquest of the chaplain, as well as her sister had of the ‘Squire. I suspected, however, with more probability, that her affections were placed upon a different object. The chaplain’s errand was to inform us, that Mr Thornhill had provided music and refreshments, and intended that night giving the young ladies a ball by moon-light, on the grass-plot before our door. ‘Nor can I deny,’ continued he, ‘but I have an interest in being first to deliver this message, as I expect for my reward to be honoured with miss Sophy’s hand as a partner.’ To this my girl replied, that she should have no objection, if she could do it with honour: ‘But here,’ continued she, ‘is a gentleman,’ looking at Mr Burchell, ‘who has been my companion in the task for the day, and it is fit he should share in its amusements.’ Mr Burchell returned her a compliment for her intentions; but resigned her up to the chaplain, adding that he was to go that night five miles, being invited to an harvest supper. His refusal appeared to me a little extraordinary, nor could I conceive how so sensible a girl as my youngest, could thus prefer a man of broken fortunes to one whose expectations were much greater. But as men are most capable of distinguishing merit in women, so the ladies often form the truest judgments of us. The two sexes seem placed as spies upon each other, and are furnished with different abilities, adapted for mutual inspection.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/goldsmith/oliver/vicar/chapter8.html

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