Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Chapter 7

A scene of roasting, very nicely adapted to the present taste and times.

They arrived at the squire’s house just as his dinner was ready. A little dispute arose on the account of Fanny, whom the squire, who was a bachelor, was desirous to place at his own table; but she would not consent, nor would Mr Adams permit her to be parted from Joseph; so that she was at length with him consigned over to the kitchen, where the servants were ordered to make him drunk; a favour which was likewise intended for Adams; which design being executed, the squire thought he should easily accomplish what he had when he first saw her intended to perpetrate with Fanny.

It may not be improper, before we proceed farther, to open a little the character of this gentleman, and that of his friends. The master of this house, then, was a man of a very considerable fortune; a bachelor, as we have said, and about forty years of age: he had been educated (if we may use the expression) in the country, and at his own home, under the care of his mother, and a tutor who had orders never to correct him, nor to compel him to learn more than he liked, which it seems was very little, and that only in his childhood; for from the age of fifteen he addicted himself entirely to hunting and other rural amusements, for which his mother took care to equip him with horses, hounds, and all other necessaries; and his tutor, endeavouring to ingratiate himself with his young pupil, who would, he knew, be able handsomely to provide for him, became his companion, not only at these exercises, but likewise over a bottle, which the young squire had a very early relish for. At the age of twenty his mother began to think she had not fulfilled the duty of a parent; she therefore resolved to persuade her son, if possible, to that which she imagined would well supply all that he might have learned at a public school or university — this is what they commonly call travelling; which, with the help of the tutor, who was fixed on to attend him, she easily succeeded in. He made in three years the tour of Europe, as they term it, and returned home well furnished with French clothes, phrases, and servants, with a hearty contempt for his own country; especially what had any savour of the plain spirit and honesty of our ancestors. His mother greatly applauded herself at his return. And now, being master of his own fortune, he soon procured himself a seat in Parliament, and was in the common opinion one of the finest gentlemen of his age: but what distinguished him chiefly was a strange delight which he took in everything which is ridiculous, odious, and absurd in his own species; so that he never chose a companion without one or more of these ingredients, and those who were marked by nature in the most eminent degree with them were most his favourites. If he ever found a man who either had not, or endeavoured to conceal, these imperfections, he took great pleasure in inventing methods of forcing him into absurdities which were not natural to him, or in drawing forth and exposing those that were; for which purpose he was always provided with a set of fellows, whom we have before called curs, and who did, indeed, no great honour to the canine kind; their business was to hunt out and display everything that had any savour of the above-mentioned qualities, and especially in the gravest and best characters; but if they failed in their search, they were to turn even virtue and wisdom themselves into ridicule, for the diversion of their master and feeder. The gentlemen of curlike disposition who were now at his house, and whom he had brought with him from London, were, an old half-pay officer, a player, a dull poet, a quack-doctor, a scraping fiddler, and a lame German dancing-master.

As soon as dinner was served, while Mr Adams was saying grace, the captain conveyed his chair from behind him; so that when he endeavoured to seat himself he fell down on the ground, and this completed joke the first, to the great entertainment of the whole company. The second joke was performed by the poet, who sat next him on the other side, and took an opportunity, while poor Adams was respectfully drinking to the master of the house, to overturn a plate of soup into his breeches; which, with the many apologies he made, and the parson’s gentle answers, caused much mirth in the company. Joke the third was served up by one of the waiting-men, who had been ordered to convey a quantity of gin into Mr Adams’s ale, which he declaring to be the best liquor he ever drank, but rather too rich of the malt, contributed again to their laughter. Mr Adams, from whom we had most of this relation, could not recollect all the jests of this kind practised on him, which the inoffensive disposition of his own heart made him slow in discovering; and indeed, had it not been for the information which we received from a servant of the family, this part of our history, which we take to be none of the least curious, must have been deplorably imperfect; though we must own it probable that some more jokes were (as they call it) cracked during their dinner; but we have by no means been able to come at the knowledge of them. When dinner was removed, the poet began to repeat some verses, which, he said, were made extempore. The following is a copy of them, procured with the greatest difficulty:—

An extempore Poem on parson Adams.

Did ever mortal such a parson view?

His cassock old, his wig not over-new,

Well might the hounds have him for fox mistaken,

In smell more like to that than rusty bacon8;

But would it not make any mortal stare

To see this parson taken for a hare?

Could Phoebus err thus grossly, even he

For a good player might have taken thee.

8 All hounds that will hunt fox or other vermin will hunt a piece of rusty bacon trailed on the ground.

At which words the bard whipt off the player’s wig, and received the approbation of the company, rather perhaps for the dexterity of his hand than his head. The player, instead of retorting the jest on the poet, began to display his talents on the same subject. He repeated many scraps of wit out of plays, reflecting on the whole body of the clergy, which were received with great acclamations by all present. It was now the dancing-master’s turn to exhibit his talents; he therefore, addressing himself to Adams in broken English, told him, “He was a man ver well made for de dance, and he suppose by his walk dat he had learn of some great master.” He said, “It was ver pretty quality in clergyman to dance;” and concluded with desiring him to dance a minuet, telling him, “his cassock would serve for petticoats; and that he would himself be his partner.” At which words, without waiting for an answer, he pulled out his gloves, and the fiddler was preparing his fiddle. The company all offered the dancing-master wagers that the parson out-danced him, which he refused, saying “he believed so too, for he had never seen any man in his life who looked de dance so well as de gentleman:” he then stepped forwards to take Adams by the hand, which the latter hastily withdrew, and, at the same time clenching his fist, advised him not to carry the jest too far, for he would not endure being put upon. The dancing-master no sooner saw the fist than he prudently retired out of its reach, and stood aloof, mimicking Adams, whose eyes were fixed on him, not guessing what he was at, but to avoid his laying hold on him, which he had once attempted. In the meanwhile, the captain, perceiving an opportunity, pinned a cracker or devil to the cassock, and then lighted it with their little smoking-candle. Adams, being a stranger to this sport, and believing he had been blown up in reality, started from his chair, and jumped about the room, to the infinite joy of the beholders, who declared he was the best dancer in the universe. As soon as the devil had done tormenting him, and he had a little recovered his confusion, he returned to the table, standing up in the posture of one who intended to make a speech. They all cried out, “Hear him, hear him;” and he then spoke in the following manner: “Sir, I am sorry to see one to whom Providence hath been so bountiful in bestowing his favours make so ill and ungrateful a return for them; for, though you have not insulted me yourself, it is visible you have delighted in those that do it, nor have once discouraged the many rudenesses which have been shown towards me; indeed, towards yourself, if you rightly understood them; for I am your guest, and by the laws of hospitality entitled to your protection. One gentleman had thought proper to produce some poetry upon me, of which I shall only say, that I had rather be the subject than the composer. He hath pleased to treat me with disrespect as a parson. I apprehend my order is not the subject of scorn, nor that I can become so, unless by being a disgrace to it, which I hope poverty will never be called. Another gentleman, indeed, hath repeated some sentences, where the order itself is mentioned with contempt. He says they are taken from plays. I am sure such plays are a scandal to the government which permits them, and cursed will be the nation where they are represented. How others have treated me I need not observe; they themselves, when they reflect, must allow the behaviour to be as improper to my years as to my cloth. You found me, sir, travelling with two of my parishioners (I omit your hounds falling on me; for I have quite forgiven it, whether it proceeded from the wantonness or negligence of the huntsman): my appearance might very well persuade you that your invitation was an act of charity, though in reality we were well provided; yes, sir, if we had had an hundred miles to travel, we had sufficient to bear our expenses in a noble manner.” (At which words he produced the half-guinea which was found in the basket.) “I do not show you this out of ostentation of riches, but to convince you I speak truth. Your seating me at your table was an honour which I did not ambitiously affect. When I was here, I endeavoured to behave towards you with the utmost respect; if I have failed, it was not with design; nor could I, certainly, so far be guilty as to deserve the insults I have suffered. If they were meant, therefore, either to my order or my poverty (and you see I am not very poor), the shame doth not lie at my door, and I heartily pray that the sin may be averted from yours.” He thus finished, and received a general clap from the whole company. Then the gentleman of the house told him, “He was sorry for what had happened; that he could not accuse him of any share in it; that the verses were, as himself had well observed, so bad, that he might easily answer them; and for the serpent, it was undoubtedly a very great affront done him by the dancing-master, for which, if he well thrashed him, as he deserved, he should be very much pleased to see it” (in which, probably, he spoke truth). Adams answered, “Whoever had done it, it was not his profession to punish him that way; but for the person whom he had accused, I am a witness,” says he, “of his innocence; for I had my eye on him all the while. Whoever he was, God forgive him, and bestow on him a little more sense as well as humanity.” The captain answered with a surly look and accent, “That he hoped he did not mean to reflect upon him; d — n him, he had as much imanity as another, and, if any man said he had not, he would convince him of his mistake by cutting his throat.” Adams, smiling, said, “He believed he had spoke right by accident.” To which the captain returned, “What do you mean by my speaking right? If you was not a parson, I would not take these words; but your gown protects you. If any man who wears a sword had said so much, I had pulled him by the nose before this.” Adams replied, “If he attempted any rudeness to his person, he would not find any protection for himself in his gown;” and, clenching his fist, declared “he had thrashed many a stouter man.” The gentleman did all he could to encourage this warlike disposition in Adams, and was in hopes to have produced a battle, but he was disappointed; for the captain made no other answer than, “It is very well you are a parson;” and so, drinking off a bumper to old mother Church, ended the dispute.

Then the doctor, who had hitherto been silent, and who was the gravest but most mischievous dog of all, in a very pompous speech highly applauded what Adams had said, and as much discommended the behaviour to him. He proceeded to encomiums on the Church and poverty; and, lastly, recommended forgiveness of what had passed to Adams, who immediately answered, “That everything was forgiven;” and in the warmth of his goodness he filled a bumper of strong beer (a liquor he preferred to wine), and drank a health to the whole company, shaking the captain and the poet heartily by the hand, and addressing himself with great respect to the doctor; who, indeed, had not laughed outwardly at anything that past, as he had a perfect command of his muscles, and could laugh inwardly without betraying the least symptoms in his countenance. The doctor now began a second formal speech, in which he declaimed against all levity of conversation, and what is usually called mirth. He said, “There were amusements fitted for persons of all ages and degrees, from the rattle to the discussing a point of philosophy; and that men discovered themselves in nothing more than in the choice of their amusements; for,” says he, “as it must greatly raise our expectation of the future conduct in life of boys whom in their tender years we perceive, instead of taw or balls, or other childish playthings, to chuse, at their leisure hours, to exercise their genius in contentions of wit, learning, and such like; so must it inspire one with equal contempt of a man, if we should discover him playing at taw or other childish play.” Adams highly commended the doctor’s opinion, and said, “He had often wondered at some passages in ancient authors, where Scipio, Laelius, and other great men were represented to have passed many hours in amusements of the most trifling kind.” The doctor replied, “He had by him an old Greek manuscript where a favourite diversion of Socrates was recorded.” “Ay!” says the parson eagerly; “I should be most infinitely obliged to you for the favour of perusing it.” The doctor promised to send it him, and farther said, “That he believed he could describe it. I think,” says he, “as near as I can remember, it was this: there was a throne erected, on one side of which sat a king and on the other a queen, with their guards and attendants ranged on both sides; to them was introduced an ambassador, which part Socrates always used to perform himself; and when he was led up to the footsteps of the throne he addressed himself to the monarchs in some grave speech, full of virtue, and goodness, and morality, and such like. After which, he was seated between the king and queen, and royally entertained. This I think was the chief part. Perhaps I may have forgot some particulars; for it is long since I read it.” Adams said, “It was, indeed, a diversion worthy the relaxation of so great a man; and thought something resembling it should be instituted among our great men, instead of cards and other idle pastime, in which, he was informed, they trifled away too much of their lives.” He added, “The Christian religion was a nobler subject for these speeches than any Socrates could have invented.” The gentleman of the house approved what Mr Adams said, and declared “he was resolved to perform the ceremony this very evening.” To which the doctor objected, as no one was prepared with a speech, “unless,” said he (turning to Adams with a gravity of countenance which would have deceived a more knowing man), “you have a sermon about you, doctor.” “Sir,” said Adams, “I never travel without one, for fear of what may happen.” He was easily prevailed on by his worthy friend, as he now called the doctor, to undertake the part of the ambassador; so that the gentleman sent immediate orders to have the throne erected, which was performed before they had drank two bottles; and, perhaps, the reader will hereafter have no great reason to admire the nimbleness of the servants. Indeed, to confess the truth, the throne was no more than this: there was a great tub of water provided, on each side of which were placed two stools raised higher than the surface of the tub, and over the whole was laid a blanket; on these stools were placed the king and queen, namely, the master of the house and the captain. And now the ambassador was introduced between the poet and the doctor; who, having read his sermon, to the great entertainment of all present, was led up to his place and seated between their majesties. They immediately rose up, when the blanket, wanting its supports at either end, gave way, and soused Adams over head and ears in the water. The captain made his escape, but, unluckily, the gentleman himself not being as nimble as he ought, Adams caught hold of him before he descended from his throne, and pulled him in with him, to the entire secret satisfaction of all the company. Adams, after ducking the squire twice or thrice, leapt out of the tub, and looked sharp for the doctor, whom he would certainly have conveyed to the same place of honour; but he had wisely withdrawn: he then searched for his crabstick, and having found that, as well as his fellow travellers, he declared he would not stay a moment longer in such a house. He then departed, without taking leave of his host, whom he had exacted a more severe revenge on than he intended; for, as he did not use sufficient care to dry himself in time, he caught a cold by the accident which threw him into a fever that had like to have cost him his life.

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