Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Chapter 8

In which, after some very fine writing, the history goes on, and relates the interview between the lady and Joseph; where the latter hath set an example which we despair of seeing followed by his sex in this vicious age.

Now the rake Hesperus had called for his breeches, and, having well rubbed his drowsy eyes, prepared to dress himself for all night; by whose example his brother rakes on earth likewise leave those beds in which they had slept away the day. Now Thetis, the good housewife, began to put on the pot, in order to regale the good man Phoebus after his daily labours were over. In vulgar language, it was in the evening when Joseph attended his lady’s orders.

But as it becomes us to preserve the character of this lady, who is the heroine of our tale; and as we have naturally a wonderful tenderness for that beautiful part of the human species called the fair sex; before we discover too much of her frailty to our reader, it will be proper to give him a lively idea of the vast temptation, which overcame all the efforts of a modest and virtuous mind; and then we humbly hope his good nature will rather pity than condemn the imperfection of human virtue.

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Nay, the ladies themselves will, we hope, be induced, by considering the uncommon variety of charms which united in this young man’s person, to bridle their rampant passion for chastity, and be at least as mild as their violent modesty and virtue will permit them, in censuring the conduct of a woman who, perhaps, was in her own disposition as chaste as those pure and sanctified virgins who, after a life innocently spent in the gaieties of the town, begin about fifty to attend twice per diem at the polite churches and chapels, to return thanks for the grace which preserved them formerly amongst beaus from temptations perhaps less powerful than what now attacked the Lady Booby.

Mr Joseph Andrews was now in the one-and-twentieth year of his age. He was of the highest degree of middle stature; his limbs were put together with great elegance, and no less strength; his legs and thighs were formed in the exactest proportion; his shoulders were broad and brawny, but yet his arm hung so easily, that he had all the symptoms of strength without the least clumsiness. His hair was of a nut-brown colour, and was displayed in wanton ringlets down his back; his forehead was high, his eyes dark, and as full of sweetness as of fire; his nose a little inclined to the Roman; his teeth white and even; his lips full, red, and soft; his beard was only rough on his chin and upper lip; but his cheeks, in which his blood glowed, were overspread with a thick down; his countenance had a tenderness joined with a sensibility inexpressible. Add to this the most perfect neatness in his dress, and an air which, to those who have not seen many noblemen, would give an idea of nobility.

Such was the person who now appeared before the lady. She viewed him some time in silence, and twice or thrice before she spake changed her mind as to the manner in which she should begin. At length she said to him, “Joseph, I am sorry to hear such complaints against you: I am told you behave so rudely to the maids, that they cannot do their business in quiet; I mean those who are not wicked enough to hearken to your solicitations. As to others, they may, perhaps, not call you rude; for there are wicked sluts who make one ashamed of one’s own sex, and are as ready to admit any nauseous familiarity as fellows to offer it: nay, there are such in my family, but they shall not stay in it; that impudent trollop who is with child by you is discharged by this time.”

As a person who is struck through the heart with a thunderbolt looks extremely surprised, nay, and perhaps is so too — thus the poor Joseph received the false accusation of his mistress; he blushed and looked confounded, which she misinterpreted to be symptoms of his guilt, and thus went on:—

“Come hither, Joseph: another mistress might discard you for these offences; but I have a compassion for your youth, and if I could be certain you would be no more guilty — Consider, child,” laying her hand carelessly upon his, “you are a handsome young fellow, and might do better; you might make your fortune.” “Madam,” said Joseph, “I do assure your ladyship I don’t know whether any maid in the house is man or woman.” “Oh fie! Joseph,” answered the lady, “don’t commit another crime in denying the truth. I could pardon the first; but I hate a lyar.” “Madam,” cries Joseph, “I hope your ladyship will not be offended at my asserting my innocence; for, by all that is sacred, I have never offered more than kissing.” “Kissing!” said the lady, with great discomposure of countenance, and more redness in her cheeks than anger in her eyes; “do you call that no crime? Kissing, Joseph, is as a prologue to a play. Can I believe a young fellow of your age and complexion will be content with kissing? No, Joseph, there is no woman who grants that but will grant more; and I am deceived greatly in you if you would not put her closely to it. What would you think, Joseph, if I admitted you to kiss me?” Joseph replied he would sooner die than have any such thought. “And yet, Joseph,” returned she, “ladies have admitted their footmen to such familiarities; and footmen, I confess to you, much less deserving them; fellows without half your charms — for such might almost excuse the crime. Tell me therefore, Joseph, if I should admit you to such freedom, what would you think of me? — tell me freely.” “Madam,” said Joseph, “I should think your ladyship condescended a great deal below yourself.” “Pugh!” said she; “that I am to answer to myself: but would not you insist on more? Would you be contented with a kiss? Would not your inclinations be all on fire rather by such a favour?” “Madam,” said Joseph, “if they were, I hope I should be able to controul them, without suffering them to get the better of my virtue.” You have heard, reader, poets talk of the statue of Surprize; you have heard likewise, or else you have heard very little, how Surprize made one of the sons of Croesus speak, though he was dumb. You have seen the faces, in the eighteen-penny gallery, when, through the trap-door, to soft or no music, Mr. Bridgewater, Mr. William Mills, or some other of ghostly appearance, hath ascended, with a face all pale with powder, and a shirt all bloody with ribbons; — but from none of these, nor from Phidias or Praxiteles, if they should return to life — no, not from the inimitable pencil of my friend Hogarth, could you receive such an idea of surprize as would have entered in at your eyes had they beheld the Lady Booby when those last words issued out from the lips of Joseph. “Your virtue!” said the lady, recovering after a silence of two minutes; “I shall never survive it. Your virtue! — intolerable confidence! Have you the assurance to pretend, that when a lady demeans herself to throw aside the rules of decency, in order to honour you with the highest favour in her power, your virtue should resist her inclination? that, when she had conquered her own virtue, she should find an obstruction in yours?” “Madam,” said Joseph, “I can’t see why her having no virtue should be a reason against my having any; or why, because I am a man, or because I am poor, my virtue must be subservient to her pleasures.” “I am out of patience,” cries the lady: “did ever mortal hear of a man’s virtue? Did ever the greatest or the gravest men pretend to any of this kind? Will magistrates who punish lewdness, or parsons who preach against it, make any scruple of committing it? And can a boy, a stripling, have the confidence to talk of his virtue?” “Madam,” says Joseph, “that boy is the brother of Pamela, and would be ashamed that the chastity of his family, which is preserved in her, should be stained in him. If there are such men as your ladyship mentions, I am sorry for it; and I wish they had an opportunity of reading over those letters which my father hath sent me of my sister Pamela’s; nor do I doubt but such an example would amend them.” “You impudent villain!” cries the lady in a rage; “do you insult me with the follies of my relation, who hath exposed himself all over the country upon your sister’s account? a little vixen, whom I have always wondered my late Lady Booby ever kept in her house. Sirrah! get out of my sight, and prepare to set out this night; for I will order you your wages immediately, and you shall be stripped and turned away.” “Madam,” says Joseph, “I am sorry I have offended your ladyship, I am sure I never intended it.” “Yes, sirrah,” cries she, “you have had the vanity to misconstrue the little innocent freedom I took, in order to try whether what I had heard was true. O’ my conscience, you have had the assurance to imagine I was fond of you myself.” Joseph answered, he had only spoke out of tenderness for his virtue; at which words she flew into a violent passion, and refusing to hear more, ordered him instantly to leave the room.

He was no sooner gone than she burst forth into the following exclamation:— “Whither doth this violent passion hurry us? What meannesses do we submit to from its impulse! Wisely we resist its first and least approaches; for it is then only we can assure ourselves the victory. No woman could ever safely say, so far only will I go. Have I not exposed myself to the refusal of my footman? I cannot bear the reflection.” Upon which she applied herself to the bell, and rung it with infinite more violence than was necessary — the faithful Slipslop attending near at hand: to say the truth, she had conceived a suspicion at her last interview with her mistress, and had waited ever since in the antechamber, having carefully applied her ears to the keyhole during the whole time that the preceding conversation passed between Joseph and the lady.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37