The Vicar of Wakefield

by Oliver Goldsmith

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"The Dog It Was That Died"

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 224

Context: In an advertisement prefacing the novel, Goldsmith describes the Reverend Dr. Primrose as a man uniting "in himself the three greatest characters on earth; he is a priest, an husbandman, and the father of a family." And a devoted father he certainly is, for his children constitute his major interest. He is always ready to listen to them; he is constantly concerned for their well-being; he is ever proud of their accomplishments, no matter how trivial they may be. In one conversation about songs and singing, Bill, the youngest son, offers to sing a song he has just been taught. Primrose is delighted, and because the song is an elegy and he has wept at many elegies recently, he suggests to his wife that she break out a "bottle of the best gooseberry wine, to keep up our spirits." The song is entitled "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog," and tells of a goodhearted man who befriended a dog. They were good friends for a time, but then "The dog, to gain some private ends, / Went mad and bit the man." The townspeople were deeply distressed and "swore the man would die." They were wrong:

But soon a wonder came to light,
That shew'd the rogues they lied;
The man recover'd of the bite–
The dog it was that died.

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