Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Chapter 15

Showing how Mrs Tow-wouse was a little mollified; and how officious Mr Barnabas and the surgeon were to prosecute the thief: with a dissertation accounting for their zeal, and that of many other persons not mentioned in this history.

Betty told her mistress she believed the man in bed was a greater man than they took him for; for, besides the extreme whiteness of his skin, and the softness of his hands, she observed a very great familiarity between the gentleman and him; and added, she was certain they were intimate acquaintance, if not relations.

This somewhat abated the severity of Mrs Tow-wouse’s countenance. She said, “God forbid she should not discharge the duty of a Christian, since the poor gentleman was brought to her house. She had a natural antipathy to vagabonds; but could pity the misfortunes of a Christian as soon as another.” Tow-wouse said, “If the traveller be a gentleman, though he hath no money about him now, we shall most likely be paid hereafter; so you may begin to score whenever you will.” Mrs Tow-wouse answered, “Hold your simple tongue, and don’t instruct me in my business. I am sure I am sorry for the gentleman’s misfortune with all my heart; and I hope the villain who hath used him so barbarously will be hanged. Betty, go see what he wants. God forbid he should want anything in my house.”

Barnabas and the surgeon went up to Joseph to satisfy themselves concerning the piece of gold; Joseph was with difficulty prevailed upon to show it them, but would by no entreaties be brought to deliver it out of his own possession. He however attested this to be the same which had been taken from him, and Betty was ready to swear to the finding it on the thief.

The only difficulty that remained was, how to produce this gold before the justice; for as to carrying Joseph himself, it seemed impossible; nor was there any great likelihood of obtaining it from him, for he had fastened it with a ribband to his arm, and solemnly vowed that nothing but irresistible force should ever separate them; in which resolution, Mr Adams, clenching a fist rather less than the knuckle of an ox, declared he would support him.

A dispute arose on this occasion concerning evidence not very necessary to be related here; after which the surgeon dressed Mr Joseph’s head, still persisting in the imminent danger in which his patient lay, but concluding, with a very important look, “That he began to have some hopes; that he should send him a sanative soporiferous draught, and would see him in the morning.” After which Barnabas and he departed, and left Mr Joseph and Mr Adams together.

Adams informed Joseph of the occasion of this journey which he was making to London, namely, to publish three volumes of sermons; being encouraged, as he said, by an advertisement lately set forth by the society of booksellers, who proposed to purchase any copies offered to them, at a price to be settled by two persons; but though he imagined he should get a considerable sum of money on this occasion, which his family were in urgent need of, he protested he would not leave Joseph in his present condition: finally, he told him, “He had nine shillings and threepence halfpenny in his pocket, which he was welcome to use as he pleased.”

This goodness of parson Adams brought tears into Joseph’s eyes; he declared, “He had now a second reason to desire life, that he might show his gratitude to such a friend.” Adams bade him “be cheerful; for that he plainly saw the surgeon, besides his ignorance, desired to make a merit of curing him, though the wounds in his head, he perceived, were by no means dangerous; that he was convinced he had no fever, and doubted not but he would be able to travel in a day or two.”

These words infused a spirit into Joseph; he said, “He found himself very sore from the bruises, but had no reason to think any of his bones injured, or that he had received any harm in his inside, unless that he felt something very odd in his stomach; but he knew not whether that might not arise from not having eaten one morsel for above twenty-four hours.” Being then asked if he had any inclination to eat, he answered in the affirmative. Then parson Adams desired him to “name what he had the greatest fancy for; whether a poached egg, or chicken-broth.” He answered, “He could eat both very well; but that he seemed to have the greatest appetite for a piece of boiled beef and cabbage.”

Adams was pleased with so perfect a confirmation that he had not the least fever, but advised him to a lighter diet for that evening. He accordingly ate either a rabbit or a fowl, I never could with any tolerable certainty discover which; after this he was, by Mrs Tow-wouse’s order, conveyed into a better bed and equipped with one of her husband’s shirts.

In the morning early, Barnabas and the surgeon came to the inn, in order to see the thief conveyed before the justice. They had consumed the whole night in debating what measures they should take to produce the piece of gold in evidence against him; for they were both extremely zealous in the business, though neither of them were in the least interested in the prosecution; neither of them had ever received any private injury from the fellow, nor had either of them ever been suspected of loving the publick well enough to give them a sermon or a dose of physic for nothing.

To help our reader, therefore, as much as possible to account for this zeal, we must inform him that, as this parish was so unfortunate as to have no lawyer in it, there had been a constant contention between the two doctors, spiritual and physical, concerning their abilities in a science, in which, as neither of them professed it, they had equal pretensions to dispute each other’s opinions. These disputes were carried on with great contempt on both sides, and had almost divided the parish; Mr Tow-wouse and one half of the neighbours inclining to the surgeon, and Mrs Tow-wouse with the other half to the parson. The surgeon drew his knowledge from those inestimable fountains, called The Attorney’s Pocket Companion, and Mr Jacob’s Law–Tables; Barnabas trusted entirely to Wood’s Institutes. It happened on this occasion, as was pretty frequently the case, that these two learned men differed about the sufficiency of evidence; the doctor being of opinion that the maid’s oath would convict the prisoner without producing the gold; the parson, é contra, totis viribus. To display their parts, therefore, before the justice and the parish, was the sole motive which we can discover to this zeal which both of them pretended to have for public justice.

O Vanity! how little is thy force acknowledged, or thy operations discerned! How wantonly dost thou deceive mankind under different disguises! Sometimes thou dost wear the face of pity, sometimes of generosity: nay, thou hast the assurance even to put on those glorious ornaments which belong only to heroic virtue. Thou odious, deformed monster! whom priests have railed at, philosophers despised, and poets ridiculed; is there a wretch so abandoned as to own thee for an acquaintance in public? — yet, how few will refuse to enjoy thee in private? nay, thou art the pursuit of most men through their lives. The greatest villainies are daily practised to please thee; nor is the meanest thief below, or the greatest hero above, thy notice. Thy embraces are often the sole aim and sole reward of the private robbery and the plundered province. It is to pamper up thee, thou harlot, that we attempt to withdraw from others what we do not want, or to withhold from them what they do. All our passions are thy slaves. Avarice itself is often no more than thy handmaid, and even Lust thy pimp. The bully Fear, like a coward, flies before thee, and Joy and Grief hide their heads in thy presence.

I know thou wilt think that whilst I abuse thee I court thee, and that thy love hath inspired me to write this sarcastical panegyric on thee; but thou art deceived: I value thee not of a farthing; nor will it give me any pain if thou shouldst prevail on the reader to censure this digression as arrant nonsense; for know, to thy confusion, that I have introduced thee for no other purpose than to lengthen out a short chapter, and so I return to my history.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54