England, XVIII century. The family of pastor Charles Primrose enjoys a serene existence “in a beautiful house amidst the picturesque nature”. The main treasure of the Primroses are six wonderful children: “sons are good fellows, dexterous and full of courage, two daughters are blooming beauties.” The eldest son, George, studied in Oxford, the middle, Moses, was studying at home, and the two younger ones, Dick and Bill, were still babies.
The favorite theme of Pastor Primrosa’s sermons is marriage in general and the strict monogamy of clergy in particular. He even wrote several treatises on monogamy, although they remained with the bookseller. He adores philosophical debates and innocent pleasures and hates vanity,
But here comes the misfortune of the family: the merchant, who was in charge of her condition, is ruined. Primros gladly accepts the offer to take a small parish away from the native Vekfilda and encourages the household “to give up luxury without regrets.”
During the move, the family meets Mr. Birchell, a clever, generous and courteous person, but, most likely, poor. He saves the life of Sophia, who fell from the horse into a stormy stream, and, when Primrose settles in a new place, becomes a frequent visitor in a one-story house covered with straw – together with the farmer Flembro and the blind flutist.
New parishioners of the pastor live their own economy, “knowing neither need nor excess.” They have preserved their patriarchal simplicity, they work with pleasure on weekdays and indulge in simple-hearted festivities. And Primrose also “get up together with the sun and stop working with his call.”
One day on a festive day, Mr. Thornhill, Sir William Thornhill’s nephew, “known for his wealth, virtue, generosity and eccentricity, appears.” Uncle gave almost all of his estate and estates at the disposal of his nephew. The
Mr. Thornhill arranges a village ball for the young ladies in honor of the young ladies, and is accompanied by two of the “most magnificently dressed individuals” whom he represents as noble ladies. Those immediately express their disposition towards Olivia and Sophia, begin to paint the charms of the metropolitan life. The consequences of a new acquaintance prove to be most pernicious, evoking vanity that has died out during a simple rural life. In the course, the disappeared were again “ruffles, plumes and jars with rubbing”. And when the London ladies start talking about taking Olivia and Sophia as companions, even the pastor forgets about prudence in anticipation of a brilliant future, and Bercell’s warnings cause general indignation. However, destiny itself tends to contain the naively ambitious aspirations of the pastor’s household. Moses is sent to the fair, to sell a working stallion and buy a riding horse, which is not shameful to go out into people, and he comes back with two dozen unnecessary green points. They were presented to him at the fair by some crook. The remaining gelding is sold by the pastor himself, who thinks himself “a man of great worldly wisdom.” And what? He also returns without a penny in his pocket, but with a fake check, received from a gracious, gray-haired old man, an ardent supporter of monogamy. The family orders a portrait of the wandering painter “in the historical genre”, and the portrait goes to glory, but the trouble is that it is so large that there is absolutely nowhere to put it in his house. And both secular ladies suddenly leave for London, allegedly receiving a bad response about Olivia and Sophia. The culprit of the collapse of hopes is none other than Mr. Bircheld.
But real disasters are yet to come. Olivia escapes with a man, according to descriptions similar to the same Birchell. Deborah is ready to renounce her daughter, but the pastor, putting the Bible and staff under his arm, sets out to save the sinner. “A very well-dressed gentleman” invites him to visit and starts talking about politics, and the pastor makes a whole speech, from which it follows that “he experiences an innate disgust for the face of every tyrant,” but the human nature is such that tyranny is inevitable, and the monarchy – the smallest evil, for “the number of tyrants is reduced”. A major quarrel is coming to a head, as the owner is an advocate of “freedom.” But the real owners of the house, Uncle and Aunt of Arabella Wilmot, together with the niece, the former bride of the elder son of the pastor, return, and his interlocutor is but a butler. All attend a wandering theater together, and the stunned pastor finds out in one of George’s actors. While George talks about his adventures, appears Mr. Thornhill, who, as it turns out, wins to Arabella. He not only does not seem upset, seeing that Arabella is still in love with George, but, on the contrary, is doing that great service: he buys him a lieutenant’s patent and thus spends his rival in the West Indies.
By chance, the pastor finds Olivia in a country inn. He presses his “sweet lost sheep” to his chest and finds out that the real culprit of her misfortunes is Mr. Thornhill. He hired street girls who represented noble ladies to lure Olivia and her sister to London, and when the venture failed due to Mr. Birchell’s letter, he urged Olivia to flee. The Catholic priest performed a secret ritual of marriage, but it turned out that Thornhill’s wives were not six or eight. Olivia could not accept such a situation and left, throwing money in the face of the seducer.
That very night, when Primroz returns home, there is a terrible fire, he barely manages to save the younger sons from the fire. Now the whole family huddled in the shed, having only the property that their good neighbors shared with them, but Pastor Primros does not complain about fate – he has preserved the main property – the children. Only Olivia is in inconsolable sadness. Finally appears Thornhill, who not only does not feel the slightest pangs of conscience, but insults the pastor with a proposal to marry Olivia with anyone, so that “her first lover would stay with her,” Primrose in anger drives the scoundrel and hears in response the threats that Thornhill already on the next day he executes: the pastor is sent to prison for debts.
In prison, he meets a certain Mr. Jenkinson and finds out in him that same gray-haired old man who had so cleverly bitten him at the fair, only the old man was fairly younger, because he took off his wig. Jenkinson, in general, is a good-hearted fellow, though he is an out-and-out swindler. The pastor promises not to testify against him in court, than to win his gratitude and favor. The pastor is amazed at the fact that he does not hear in the prison of crying, wailing, or words of remorse – prisoners spend time in rough fun. Then, forgetting about their own misfortunes, Primros appeals to them with a sermon, the meaning of which is that “there is no benefit in their blasphemy, but they can do a lot”, for unlike the devil to whom they serve and who did not give they have nothing but hunger and deprivation, “The Lord promises to take everyone to himself.”
And the family of Primroses is beset with new misfortunes: George, having received a letter from his mother, returns to England and summons a sister to a seducer, but he is beaten by Thornhill’s servants, and he ends up in the same prison as his father. Jenkinson brings news that Olivia has died of illness and grief. Sophia abducts the unknown. The pastor, as an example of the truly Christian firmness of the spirit, addresses the relatives and prisoners of the prison with the preaching of humility and the hope of heavenly bliss, especially precious for those who have suffered only in their lives.
Disposal comes in the person of the noble Mr. Birchell, who turns out to be the famous Sir William Thornhill. This he tore Sophia from the hands of the kidnapper. He calls for an answer from his nephew, whose list of atrocities is supplemented by the testimony of Jenkinson, who carried out his infamous errands. This he ordered to kidnap Sophia, this he told Arabella about the alleged treason of George, to marry her for the sake of a dowry. In the midst of the trial, Olivia appears, unharmed, and Jenkinson announces that instead of forged marriage and priesthood permits, Jenkinson has brought real ones this time. Thornhill on his knees begs for forgiveness, and his uncle makes a decision that from now on the young wife of the nephew will own the third whole estate. George connects with Arabella, and Sir William, who finally found a girl who appreciated him not for wealth, but for personal dignity, Sophie proposes. All the misfortunes of the pastor have come to an end, and now it remains for him to “be equally grateful in happiness, how humble he was in trouble”.