The man in black was generous, benevolent, tender and kind-hearted. He tried his best to hide his golden heart and natural benevolence just as a hypocrite tries to hide his indifference to others. Hiding his compassionate nature, he tried his best to look a cruel man-hater. Though he tried to look so prudent and selfish, the slightest occasion of misery in others moved him deeply and his face conspicuously reflected his feelings of compassion. This was the strange inconsistency of his character, supposedly to be caused by some imbalance of the four humours of the human body. The man in black seemed to have some imbalance in his humours, so Goldsmith regarded him as a humorist in the world of humorists. The inconsistency of the man in black went much higher, while other people were ashamed of their lack of love and compassion the man in black was ashamed of his goodness.
The man in black tried to hide his love and compassion. He tried to look like a man who had no sympathy at all for the poor and the suffering. But his mask of cruelty fell off when he saw the slightest suffering and misery in others. The writer came across three such revealing occasions while he was on an excursion into the country-side with the man in black. The man in black vehemently talked against charity to the poor. He thought that the government had done enough for the poor. The parish houses gave them food, clothes and shelter. Yet the poor were not satisfied and they pretended to be suffering. Hence they were all impostors. The magistrates should put them in prison and the people were foolish to help them.
During this discourse against charity, they came across a beggar who was asking for alms. The old man, in some torn but gentlemanly clothes, said that he was begging for his dying wife and five children. The man in black was touched. He stopped his harangue against charity. It was obvious that he wanted to help the man but he was ashamed to reveal his compassionate heart before the narrator. The narrator understood the conflict in his mind between compassion and pride. To give him an opportunity, the writer looked another way. The man in black took the opportunity and gave the poor man a piece of silver. But to keep up the impression of a hard-hearted man he asked the man to work for his bread and not to trouble pedestrians with false pretension of poverty.
The second occasion revealing the golden heart of the man in black came when a sailor with a leg of wood came and asked for help. After giving a silver coin to the beggar who was begging for his dying wife and five children the man had started his discourse against charity again. He narrated some episodes in which beggars robbed some ladies. He said that had he been the magistrate he would have enlarged the prisons to put them behind bars. He boasted of his skill in discovering such impostors. While he was doing so, the sailor came asking for help. The writer ignored the sailor, but the man in black stopped and boasted that he would expose the falsehood of the man. To keep up his appearance of prudence and anti-poor attitude he haughtily asked the sailor how he had lost his leg. The sailor replied, while on board a ship in defense of his countrymen while others sat idle at home he had lost his leg. The man in black was obviously touched. To keep up his anti-beggar attitude he asked the man to give him a shilling’s worth of the chips of wood that the man was carrying. The whole bundle of chips was worth much less than that of a shilling. The astonished sailor gave him the whole bundle along with his blessings. The man in black gave him a shilling for the chips that were worth probably a penny or so. Thus the man indirectly helped the sailor. To cover up his weakness in generosity and compassion he began to say that the chips would be very useful in lighting candles with them instead of thrusting the candles into the fire. He thought the man must have stolen the chips otherwise he would not have sold them so cheap.
While helping the man who was begging for his wife and five children and the sailor with a wooden leg he could somehow keep up his mask of cruelty and ill-nature. But the third occasion that demanded his compassion was so moving and touching that the man in black had to take off his mask and reveal his true nature. It was a poor woman in rags with one child in her arms and another on her back. The woman was singing a ballad in such a mournful voice that one could hardly distinguish whether she was singing or crying. The kind-hearted man did not try to hide his feelings any more. He began to look for coins in his pocket. Finding no money there he looked deeply distressed. He gave her the bundle of chips that he bought in charity from the sailor.