The Vicar of Wakefield. Today's Great Book was amazing! I found a hard copy at a used book sale and had no idea the treasure I had discovered! Written by Oliver Goldsmith and first published in 1766, it's chock full of lessons and encouragements for us today.
There may be no better and more entertaining novel about appearances and realities, along with the ups and downs of fortune, and how a proper worldview can sustain us through anything. The Reverend Charles Primrose and his family seem to have a wonderful life. Then something bad happens. Something worse follows and they are greatly reduced in their means. And yet, their happiness translates well into their new and much more modest circumstances. Until something else bad occurs and something worse follows yet again, but it's just the prelude of the truly disastrous, which serves as mere prologue to the unspeakably awful. And so it goes. If you have read Phil Knight's account of trying to create the shoe company Nike, in his book Shoe Dog, and have gone away thinking "No one ever had such a string of bad luck as that poor man," then you haven't read The Vicar of Wakefield.
I promise it will surprise you many times and in the end bless you deeply. And more than that. Some excerpts:
It has been a thousand times observed, and I must observe it once more, that the hours we pass with happy prospects in view, are more pleasing than those crowned with fruition. In the first case, we cook the dish to our own appetite; in the latter, Nature cooks it for us. (48)
Conscience is a coward; and those faults it has not strength enough to prevent, it seldom has justice enough to accuse. (67)
(Ok a longish one)
‘Both wit and understanding,’ cried I, ‘are trifles, without integrity: it is that which gives value to every character. The ignorant peasant, without fault, is greater than the philosopher with many; for what is genius or courage without an heart? An honest man is the noblest work of God.
‘I always held that hackney’d maxim of Pope,’ returned Mr Burchell, ‘as very unworthy a man of genius, and a base desertion of his own superiority. As the reputation of books is raised not by their freedom from defect, but the greatness of their beauties; so should that of men be prized not for their exemption from fault, but the size of those virtues they are possessed of. The scholar may want prudence, the statesman may have pride, and the champion ferocity; but shall we prefer to these the low mechanic, who laboriously plods on through life, without censure or applause? We might as well prefer the tame correct paintings of the Flemish school to the erroneous, but sublime animations of the Roman pencil.’
‘Sir,’ replied I, ‘your present observation is just, when there are shining virtues and minute defects; but when it appears that great vices are opposed in the same mind to as extraordinary virtues, such a character deserves contempt.’
‘Perhaps,’ cried he, ‘there may be some such monsters as you describe, of great vices joined to great virtues; yet in my progress through life, I never yet found one instance of their existence: on the contrary, I have ever perceived, that where the mind was capacious, the affections were good. And indeed Providence seems kindly our friend in this particular, thus to debilitate the understanding where the heart is corrupt, and diminish the power where there is the will to do mischief. This rule seems to extend even to other animals: the little vermin race are ever treacherous, cruel, and cowardly, whilst those endowed with strength and power are generous, brave, and gentle.’ (77, 78)
The less kind I found Fortune at one time, the most I expected from her another; and now being at the bottom of the wheel, every new revolution might lift, but could not depress me. (111)
“I ask pardon, my darling,” returned I; “but I was going to observe, that wisdom makes but a slow defense against trouble, though at last a sure one.” (130)
“Our happiness, my dear,” I would say, “is in the power of One who can bring it about in a thousand unforeseen ways, that mock our foresight.” (140)
“Oh, my children, if you could but learn to commune with your own hearts and know what noble company you can make them, you would little regard the elegance and splendor of the worthless. (143)
“Almost all men have been taught to call life a passage, and themselves the travellers. The similitude still may be improved when we observe that the good are joyful and serene, like travellers that are going towards home; the wicked but by intervals happy, like travellers that are going into exile.” (143)
“With such reflections I laboured to become chearful; but cheerfulness was never yet produced by effort, which is itself painful.” (152)
The greatest object in the universe, says a certain philosopher, is a good man struggling with adversity; yet there is still a greater, which is the good man that comes to relieve it. (186)
For the book, click HERE.