(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Sir Avarice Pedant, who had lost a great deal of money in the South Sea Bubble, decided to marry his son to Bellaria, his rich niece. An opportunity presented itself when her father, sending Bellaria to London in order to get her away from a fortuneless young man, asked her uncle to see that she married the son of Sir Harry Wilding. Sir Avarice, who saw a chance to make ten thousand pounds, had no intention of furthering the request.

Young Pedant was too deep in his studies of philosophy, however, to wish to marry Bellaria. Only after Sir Avarice threatened to disinherit him did he agree to follow his father’s wishes.

In the meantime Sir Harry Wilding came down to London to arrange the marriage between his son and Bellaria. He found that his son, young Wilding, was not a lawyer, but had been spending his time as a gay man about town. In fact, young Wilding had been flirting with Sir Avarice’s young second wife, who was a coquette of the worst kind. She also was flirting with Valentine, one of the most licentious young men in town. For her coquetry, Lady Avarice was constantly badgered by her older sister-in-law, Lady Gravely, who seemed on the surface to be a prude. Actually, Lady Gravely was merely jealous of her reputation and, when opportunity presented itself, discreetly had affairs of her own.

Also in London was Veromil, a friend of Valentine’s who had been cheated of his inheritance by his brother. Veromil, the young man with whom Bellaria was really in love, had come to London to solicit his friend’s aid in marrying Bellaria before she could be married off to someone else. Valentine, not knowing that Bellaria was the object of Veromil’s affections, agreed to help him. Valentine had just thrown over his own fiancee in hopes of winning Bellaria for himself.

While Valentine and Veromil went to see Bellaria, Sir Harry Wilding went to call on his son. In young Wilding’s rooms, instead of books, he found packets of love letters and a crowd of tradesmen who were about to send him to debtors’ prison. Sir Harry went about the rooms in a fury, breaking open closets and chests to learn what the young man had been doing. From there he went immediately to Sir Avarice’s house in hopes of finding his son. He and Sir Avarice discovered Wilding in the garden embracing young and pretty Lady Avarice. Both men were furious, the father because he found his son a rakish fop and the husband because he suspected that he had been made a fool and a cuckold. Lady Avarice saved the day by telling a lie; she said that young Wilding had merely been importuning her to help him win Bellaria. The husband and father were satisfied with the answer.

Young Wilding still had to answer for the lack of law books and the presence of love letters and duns at his rooms; to do so he told his father that he had gone into the wrong apartment. The father, believing the lie, was immediately fearful lest he be arrested as a...

(The entire section is 1209 words.)