Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Chapter 9

In which the gentleman discants on bravery and heroic virtue, till an unlucky accident puts an end to the discourse.

The gentleman highly commended Mr Adams for his good resolutions, and told him, “He hoped his son would tread in his steps;” adding, “that if he would not die for his country, he would not be worthy to live in it. I’d make no more of shooting a man that would not die for his country, than —

“Sir,” said he, “I have disinherited a nephew, who is in the army, because he would not exchange his commission and go to the West Indies. I believe the rascal is a coward, though he pretends to be in love forsooth. I would have all such fellows hanged, sir; I would have them hanged.” Adams answered, “That would be too severe; that men did not make themselves; and if fear had too much ascendance in the mind, the man was rather to be pitied than abhorred; that reason and time might teach him to subdue it.” He said, “A man might be a coward at one time, and brave at another. Homer,” says he, “who so well understood and copied Nature, hath taught us this lesson; for Paris fights and Hector runs away. Nay, we have a mighty instance of this in the history of later ages, no longer ago than the 705th year of Rome, when the great Pompey, who had won so many battles and been honoured with so many triumphs, and of whose valour several authors, especially Cicero and Paterculus, have formed such elogiums; this very Pompey left the battle of Pharsalia before he had lost it, and retreated to his tent, where he sat like the most pusillanimous rascal in a fit of despair, and yielded a victory, which was to determine the empire of the world, to Caesar. I am not much travelled in the history of modern times, that is to say, these last thousand years; but those who are can, I make no question, furnish you with parallel instances.” He concluded, therefore, that, had he taken any such hasty resolutions against his nephew, he hoped he would consider better, and retract them. The gentleman answered with great warmth, and talked much of courage and his country, till, perceiving it grew late, he asked Adams, “What place he intended for that night?” He told him, “He waited there for the stage-coach.” — “The stage-coach, sir!” said the gentleman; “they are all passed by long ago. You may see the last yourself almost three miles before us.” — “I protest and so they are,” cries Adams; “then I must make haste and follow them.” The gentleman told him, “he would hardly be able to overtake them; and that, if he did not know his way, he would be in danger of losing himself on the downs, for it would be presently dark; and he might ramble about all night, and perhaps find himself farther from his journey’s end in the morning than he was now.” He advised him, therefore, “to accompany him to his house, which was very little out of his way,” assuring him “that he would find some country fellow in his parish who would conduct him for sixpence to the city where he was going.” Adams accepted this proposal, and on they travelled, the gentleman renewing his discourse on courage, and the infamy of not being ready, at all times, to sacrifice our lives to our country. Night overtook them much about the same time as they arrived near some bushes; whence, on a sudden, they heard the most violent shrieks imaginable in a female voice. Adams offered to snatch the gun out of his companion’s hand. “What are you doing?” said he. “Doing!” said Adams; “I am hastening to the assistance of the poor creature whom some villains are murdering.” “You are not mad enough, I hope,” says the gentleman, trembling: “do you consider this gun is only charged with shot, and that the robbers are most probably furnished with pistols loaded with bullets? This is no business of ours; let us make as much haste as possible out of the way, or we may fall into their hands ourselves.” The shrieks now increasing, Adams made no answer, but snapt his fingers, and, brandishing his crabstick, made directly to the place whence the voice issued; and the man of courage made as much expedition towards his own home, whither he escaped in a very short time without once looking behind him; where we will leave him, to contemplate his own bravery, and to censure the want of it in others, and return to the good Adams, who, on coming up to the place whence the noise proceeded, found a woman struggling with a man, who had thrown her on the ground, and had almost overpowered her. The great abilities of Mr Adams were not necessary to have formed a right judgment of this affair on the first sight. He did not, therefore, want the entreaties of the poor wretch to assist her; but, lifting up his crabstick, he immediately levelled a blow at that part of the ravisher’s head where, according to the opinion of the ancients, the brains of some persons are deposited, and which he had undoubtedly let forth, had not Nature (who, as wise men have observed, equips all creatures with what is most expedient for them) taken a provident care (as she always doth with those she intends for encounters) to make this part of the head three times as thick as those of ordinary men who are designed to exercise talents which are vulgarly called rational, and for whom, as brains are necessary, she is obliged to leave some room for them in the cavity of the skull; whereas, those ingredients being entirely useless to persons of the heroic calling, she hath an opportunity of thickening the bone, so as to make it less subject to any impression, or liable to be cracked or broken: and indeed, in some who are predestined to the command of armies and empires, she is supposed sometimes to make that part perfectly solid.

As a game cock, when engaged in amorous toying with a hen, if perchance he espies another cock at hand, immediately quits his female, and opposes himself to his rival, so did the ravisher, on the information of the crabstick, immediately leap from the woman and hasten to assail the man. He had no weapons but what Nature had furnished him with. However, he clenched his fist, and presently darted it at that part of Adams’s breast where the heart is lodged. Adams staggered at the violence of the blow, when, throwing away his staff, he likewise clenched that fist which we have before commemorated, and would have discharged it full in the breast of his antagonist, had he not dexterously caught it with his left hand, at the same time darting his head (which some modern heroes of the lower class use, like the battering-ram of the ancients, for a weapon of offence; another reason to admire the cunningness of Nature, in composing it of those impenetrable materials); dashing his head, I say, into the stomach of Adams, he tumbled him on his back; and, not having any regard to the laws of heroism, which would have restrained him from any farther attack on his enemy till he was again on his legs, he threw himself upon him, and, laying hold on the ground with his left hand, he with his right belaboured the body of Adams till he was weary, and indeed till he concluded (to use the language of fighting) “that he had done his business;” or, in the language of poetry, “that he had sent him to the shades below;” in plain English, “that he was dead.”

But Adams, who was no chicken, and could bear a drubbing as well as any boxing champion in the universe, lay still only to watch his opportunity; and now, perceiving his antagonist to pant with his labours, he exerted his utmost force at once, and with such success that he overturned him, and became his superior; when, fixing one of his knees in his breast, he cried out in an exulting voice, “It is my turn now;” and, after a few minutes’ constant application, he gave him so dexterous a blow just under his chin that the fellow no longer retained any motion, and Adams began to fear he had struck him once too often; for he often asserted “he should be concerned to have the blood of even the wicked upon him.”

Adams got up and called aloud to the young woman. “Be of good cheer, damsel,” said he, “you are no longer in danger of your ravisher, who, I am terribly afraid, lies dead at my feet; but God forgive me what I have done in defence of innocence!” The poor wretch, who had been some time in recovering strength enough to rise, and had afterwards, during the engagement, stood trembling, being disabled by fear even from running away, hearing her champion was victorious, came up to him, but not without apprehensions even of her deliverer; which, however, she was soon relieved from by his courteous behaviour and gentle words. They were both standing by the body, which lay motionless on the ground, and which Adams wished to see stir much more than the woman did, when he earnestly begged her to tell him “by what misfortune she came, at such a time of night, into so lonely a place.” She acquainted him, “She was travelling towards London, and had accidentally met with the person from whom he had delivered her, who told her he was likewise on his journey to the same place, and would keep her company; an offer which, suspecting no harm, she had accepted; that he told her they were at a small distance from an inn where she might take up her lodging that evening, and he would show her a nearer way to it than by following the road; that if she had suspected him (which she did not, he spoke so kindly to her), being alone on these downs in the dark, she had no human means to avoid him; that, therefore, she put her whole trust in Providence, and walked on, expecting every moment to arrive at the inn; when on a sudden, being come to those bushes, he desired her to stop, and after some rude kisses, which she resisted, and some entreaties, which she rejected, he laid violent hands on her, and was attempting to execute his wicked will, when, she thanked G — he timely came up and prevented him.” Adams encouraged her for saying she had put her whole trust in Providence, and told her, “He doubted not but Providence had sent him to her deliverance, as a reward for that trust. He wished indeed he had not deprived the wicked wretch of life, but G— ‘s will be done;” said, “He hoped the goodness of his intention would excuse him in the next world, and he trusted in her evidence to acquit him in this.” He was then silent, and began to consider with himself whether it would be properer to make his escape, or to deliver himself into the hands of justice; which meditation ended as the reader will see in the next chapter.

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