Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Chapter 9

What passed between the lady and Mrs Slipslop; in which we prophesy there are some strokes which every one will not truly comprehend at the first reading.

“Slipslop,” said the lady, “I find too much reason to believe all thou hast told me of this wicked Joseph; I have determined to part with him instantly; so go you to the steward, and bid him pay his wages.” Slipslop, who had preserved hitherto a distance to her lady — rather out of necessity than inclination — and who thought the knowledge of this secret had thrown down all distinction between them, answered her mistress very pertly — “She wished she knew her own mind; and that she was certain she would call her back again before she was got half-way downstairs.” The lady replied, she had taken a resolution, and was resolved to keep it. “I am sorry for it,” cries Slipslop, “and, if I had known you would have punished the poor lad so severely, you should never have heard a particle of the matter. Here’s a fuss indeed about nothing!” “Nothing!” returned my lady; “do you think I will countenance lewdness in my house?” “If you will turn away every footman,” said Slipslop, “that is a lover of the sport, you must soon open the coach door yourself, or get a set of mophrodites to wait upon you; and I am sure I hated the sight of them even singing in an opera.” “Do as I bid you,” says my lady, “and don’t shock my ears with your beastly language.” “Marry-come-up,” cries Slipslop, “people’s ears are sometimes the nicest part about them.”

The lady, who began to admire the new style in which her waiting-gentlewoman delivered herself, and by the conclusion of her speech suspected somewhat of the truth, called her back, and desired to know what she meant by the extraordinary degree of freedom in which she thought proper to indulge her tongue. “Freedom!” says Slipslop; “I don’t know what you call freedom, madam; servants have tongues as well as their mistresses.” “Yes, and saucy ones too,” answered the lady; “but I assure you I shall bear no such impertinence.” “Impertinence! I don’t know that I am impertinent,” says Slipslop. “Yes, indeed you are,” cries my lady, “and, unless you mend your manners, this house is no place for you.” “Manners!” cries Slipslop; “I never was thought to want manners nor modesty neither; and for places, there are more places than one; and I know what I know.” “What do you know, mistress?” answered the lady. “I am not obliged to tell that to everybody,” says Slipslop, “any more than I am obliged to keep it a secret.” “I desire you would provide yourself,” answered the lady. “With all my heart,” replied the waiting-gentlewoman; and so departed in a passion, and slapped the door after her.

The lady too plainly perceived that her waiting-gentlewoman knew more than she would willingly have had her acquainted with; and this she imputed to Joseph’s having discovered to her what passed at the first interview. This, therefore, blew up her rage against him, and confirmed her in a resolution of parting with him.

But the dismissing Mrs Slipslop was a point not so easily to be resolved upon. She had the utmost tenderness for her reputation, as she knew on that depended many of the most valuable blessings of life; particularly cards, making curtsies in public places, and, above all, the pleasure of demolishing the reputations of others, in which innocent amusement she had an extraordinary delight. She therefore determined to submit to any insult from a servant, rather than run a risque of losing the title to so many great privileges.

She therefore sent for her steward, Mr Peter Pounce, and ordered him to pay Joseph his wages, to strip off his livery, and to turn him out of the house that evening.

She then called Slipslop up, and, after refreshing her spirits with a small cordial, which she kept in her corset, she began in the following manner:—

“Slipslop, why will you, who know my passionate temper, attempt to provoke me by your answers? I am convinced you are an honest servant, and should be very unwilling to part with you. I believe, likewise, you have found me an indulgent mistress on many occasions, and have as little reason on your side to desire a change. I can’t help being surprized, therefore, that you will take the surest method to offend me — I mean, repeating my words, which you know I have always detested.”

The prudent waiting-gentlewoman had duly weighed the whole matter, and found, on mature deliberation, that a good place in possession was better than one in expectation. As she found her mistress, therefore, inclined to relent, she thought proper also to put on some small condescension, which was as readily accepted; and so the affair was reconciled, all offences forgiven, and a present of a gown and petticoat made her, as an instance of her lady’s future favour.

She offered once or twice to speak in favour of Joseph; but found her lady’s heart so obdurate, that she prudently dropt all such efforts. She considered there were more footmen in the house, and some as stout fellows, though not quite so handsome, as Joseph; besides, the reader hath already seen her tender advances had not met with the encouragement she might have reasonable expected. She thought she had thrown away a great deal of sack and sweetmeats on an ungrateful rascal; and, being a little inclined to the opinion of that female sect, who hold one lusty young fellow to be nearly as good as another lusty young fellow, she at last gave up Joseph and his cause, and, with a triumph over her passion highly commendable, walked off with her present, and with great tranquillity paid a visit to a stone-bottle, which is of sovereign use to a philosophical temper.

She left not her mistress so easy. The poor lady could not reflect without agony that her dear reputation was in the power of her servants. all her comfort as to Joseph was, that she hoped he did not understand her meaning; at least she could say for herself, she had not plainly expressed anything to him; and as to Mrs Slipslop, she imagines she could bribe her to secrecy.

But what hurt her most was, that in reality she had not so entirely conquered her passion; the little god lay lurking in her heart, though anger and distain so hood-winked her, that she could not see him. She was a thousand times on the very brink of revoking the sentence she had passed against the poor youth. Love became his advocate, and whispered many things in his favour. Honour likewise endeavoured to vindicate his crime, and Pity to mitigate his punishment. On the other side, Pride and Revenge spoke as loudly against him. And thus the poor lady was tortured with perplexity, opposite passions distracting and tearing her mind different ways.

So have I seen, in the hall of Westminster, where Serjeant Bramble hath been retained on the right side, and Serjeant Puzzle on the left, the balance of opinion (so equal were their fees) alternately incline to either scale. Now Bramble throws in an argument, and Puzzle’s scale strikes the beam; again Bramble shares the like fate, overpowered by the weight of Puzzle. Here Bramble hits, there Puzzle strikes; here one has you, there t’other has you; till at last all becomes one scene of confusion in the tortured minds of the hearers; equal wagers are laid on the success, and neither judge nor jury can possibly make anything of the matter; all things are so enveloped by the careful serjeants in doubt and obscurity.

Or, as it happens in the conscience, where honour and honesty pull one way, and a bribe and necessity another. — If it was our present business only to make similes, we could produce many more to this purpose; but a simile (as well as a word) to the wise. — We shall therefore see a little after our hero, for whom the reader is doubtless in some pain.

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