Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Chapter 17

A pleasant discourse between the two parsons and the bookseller, ‘which was broke off by an unlucky accident happening in the inn, which produced a dialogue between Mrs Tow-wouse and her maid of no gentle kind.

As soon as Adams came into the room, Mr Barnabas introduced him to the stranger, who was, he told him, a bookseller, and would be as likely to deal with him for his sermons as any man whatever. Adams, saluting the stranger, answered Barnabas, that he was very much obliged to him; that nothing could be more convenient, for he had no other business to the great city, and was heartily desirous of returning with the young man, who was just recovered of his misfortune. He then snapt his fingers (as was usual with him), and took two or three turns about the room in an extasy. And to induce the bookseller to be as expeditious as possible, as likewise to offer him a better price for his commodity, he assured them their meeting was extremely lucky to himself; for that he had the most pressing occasion for money at that time, his own being almost spent, and having a friend then in the same inn, who was just recovered from some wounds he had received from robbers, and was in a most indigent condition. “So that nothing,” says he, “could be so opportune for the supplying both our necessities as my making an immediate bargain with you.”

As soon as he had seated himself, the stranger began in these words: “Sir, I do not care absolutely to deny engaging in what my friend Mr Barnabas recommends; but sermons are mere drugs. The trade is so vastly stocked with them, that really, unless they come out with the name of Whitefield or Wesley, or some other such great man, as a bishop, or those sort of people, I don’t care to touch; unless now it was a sermon preached on the 30th of January; or we could say in the title-page, published at the earnest request of the congregation, or the inhabitants; but, truly, for a dry piece of sermons, I had rather be excused; especially as my hands are so full at present. However, sir, as Mr Barnabas mentioned them to me, I will, if you please, take the manuscript with me to town, and send you my opinion of it in a very short time.”

“Oh!” said Adams, “if you desire it, I will read two or three discourses as a specimen.” This Barnabas, who loved sermons no better than a grocer doth figs, immediately objected to, and advised Adams to let the bookseller have his sermons: telling him, “If he gave him a direction, he might be certain of a speedy answer;” adding, he need not scruple trusting them in his possession. “No,” said the bookseller, “if it was a play that had been acted twenty nights together, I believe it would be safe.”

Adams did not at all relish the last expression; he said “he was sorry to hear sermons compared to plays.” “Not by me, I assure you,” cried the bookseller, “though I don’t know whether the licensing act may not shortly bring them to the same footing; but I have formerly known a hundred guineas given for a play.” — “More shame for those who gave it,” cried Barnabas. — “Why so?” said the bookseller, “for they got hundreds by it.” — “But is there no difference between conveying good or ill instructions to mankind?” said Adams: “Would not an honest mind rather lose money by the one, than gain it by the other?” — “If you can find any such, I will not be their hindrance,” answered the bookseller; “but I think those persons who get by preaching sermons are the properest to lose by printing them: for my part, the copy that sells best will be always the best copy in my opinion; I am no enemy to sermons, but because they don’t sell: for I would as soon print one of Whitefield’s as any farce whatever.”

“Whoever prints such heterodox stuff ought to be hanged,” says Barnabas. “Sir,” said he, turning to Adams, “this fellow’s writings (I know not whether you have seen them) are levelled at the clergy. He would reduce us to the example of the primitive ages, forsooth! and would insinuate to the people that a clergyman ought to be always preaching and praying. He pretends to understand the Scripture literally; and would make mankind believe that the poverty and low estate which was recommended to the Church in its infancy, and was only temporary doctrine adapted to her under persecution, was to be preserved in her flourishing and established state. Sir, the principles of Toland, Woolston, and all the freethinkers, are not calculated to do half the mischief, as those professed by this fellow and his followers.”

“Sir,” answered Adams, “if Mr Whitefield had carried his doctrine no farther than you mention, I should have remained, as I once was, his well-wisher. I am, myself, as great an enemy to the luxury and splendour of the clergy as he can be. I do not, more than he, by the flourishing estate of the Church, understand the palaces, equipages, dress, furniture, rich dainties, and vast fortunes, of her ministers. Surely those things, which savour so strongly of this world, become not the servants of one who professed His kingdom was not of it. But when he began to call nonsense and enthusiasm to his aid, and set up the detestable doctrine of faith against good works, I was his friend no longer; for surely that doctrine was coined in hell; and one would think none but the devil himself could have the confidence to preach it. For can anything be more derogatory to the honour of God than for men to imagine that the all-wise Being will hereafter say to the good and virtuous, ‘Notwithstanding the purity of thy life, notwithstanding that constant rule of virtue and goodness in which you walked upon earth, still, as thou didst not believe everything in the true orthodox manner, thy want of faith shall condemn thee?’ Or, on the other side, can any doctrine have a more pernicious influence on society, than a persuasion that it will be a good plea for the villain at the last day — ‘Lord, it is true I never obeyed one of thy commandments, yet punish me not, for I believe them all?’" — “I suppose, sir,” said the bookseller, “your sermons are of a different kind.” — “Aye, sir,” said Adams; “the contrary, I thank Heaven, is inculcated in almost every page, or I should belye my own opinion, which hath always been, that a virtuous and good Turk, or heathen, are more acceptable in the sight of their Creator than a vicious and wicked Christian, though his faith was as perfectly orthodox as St Paul’s himself.” — “I wish you success,” says the bookseller, “but must beg to be excused, as my hands are so very full at present; and, indeed, I am afraid you will find a backwardness in the trade to engage in a book which the clergy would be certain to cry down.” — “God forbid,” says Adams, “any books should be propagated which the clergy would cry down; but if you mean by the clergy, some few designing factious men, who have it at heart to establish some favourite schemes at the price of the liberty of mankind, and the very essence of religion, it is not in the power of such persons to decry any book they please; witness that excellent book called, ‘A Plain Account of the Nature and End of the Sacrament;’ a book written (if I may venture on the expression) with the pen of an angel, and calculated to restore the true use of Christianity, and of that sacred institution; for what could tend more to the noble purposes of religion than frequent chearful meetings among the members of a society, in which they should, in the presence of one another, and in the service of the Supreme Being, make promises of being good, friendly, and benevolent to each other? Now, this excellent book was attacked by a party, but unsuccessfully.” At these words Barnabas fell a-ringing with all the violence imaginable; upon which a servant attending, he bid him “bring a bill immediately; for that he was in company, for aught he knew, with the devil himself; and he expected to hear the Alcoran, the Leviathan, or Woolston commended, if he staid a few minutes longer.” Adams desired, “as he was so much moved at his mentioning a book which he did without apprehending any possibility of offence, that he would be so kind to propose any objections he had to it, which he would endeavour to answer.” — “I propose objections!” said Barnabas, “I never read a syllable in any such wicked book; I never saw it in my life, I assure you.” — Adams was going to answer, when a most hideous uproar began in the inn. Mrs Tow-wouse, Mr Tow-wouse, and Betty, all lifting up their voices together; but Mrs Tow-wouse’s voice, like a bass viol in a concert, was clearly and distinctly distinguished among the rest, and was heard to articulate the following sounds:— “O you damn’d villain! is this the return to all the care I have taken of your family? This the reward of my virtue? Is this the manner in which you behave to one who brought you a fortune, and preferred you to so many matches, all your betters? To abuse my bed, my own bed, with my own servant! but I’ll maul the slut, I’ll tear her nasty eyes out! Was ever such a pitiful dog, to take up with such a mean trollop? If she had been a gentlewoman, like myself, it had been some excuse; but a beggarly, saucy, dirty servant-maid. Get you out of my house, you whore.” To which she added another name, which we do not care to stain our paper with. It was a monosyllable beginning with a b — and indeed was the same as if she had pronounced the words, she-dog. Which term we shall, to avoid offence, use on this occasion, though indeed both the mistress and maid uttered the above-mentioned b — a word extremely disgustful to females of the lower sort. Betty had borne all hitherto with patience, and had uttered only lamentations; but the last appellation stung her to the quick. “I am a woman as well as yourself,” she roared out, “and no she-dog; and if I have been a little naughty, I am not the first; if I have been no better than I should be,” cries she, sobbing, “that’s no reason you should call me out of my name; my bebetters are wo-rse than me.” — “Huzzy, huzzy,” says Mrs Tow-wouse, “have you the impudence to answer me? Did I not catch you, you saucy” — and then again repeated the terrible word so odious to female ears. “I can’t bear that name,” answered Betty: “if I have been wicked, I am to answer for it myself in the other world; but I have done nothing that’s unnatural; and I will go out of your house this moment, for I will never be called she-dog by any mistress in England.” Mrs Tow-wouse then armed herself with the spit, but was prevented from executing any dreadful purpose by Mr Adams, who confined her arms with the strength of a wrist which Hercules would not have been ashamed of. Mr Tow-wouse, being caught, as our lawyers express it, with the manner, and having no defence to make, very prudently withdrew himself; and Betty committed herself to the protection of the hostler, who, though she could not conceive him pleased with what had happened, was, in her opinion, rather a gentler beast than her mistress.

Mrs Tow-wouse, at the intercession of Mr Adams, and finding the enemy vanished, began to compose herself, and at length recovered the usual serenity of her temper, in which we will leave her, to open to the reader the steps which led to a catastrophe, common enough, and comical enough too perhaps, in modern history, yet often fatal to the repose and well-being of families, and the subject of many tragedies, both in life and on the stage.

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