Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Chapter 5

A disputation on schools held on the road between Mr Abraham Adams and Joseph; and a discovery not unwelcome to them both.

Our travellers, having well refreshed themselves at the gentleman’s house, Joseph and Fanny with sleep, and Mr Abraham Adams with ale and tobacco, renewed their journey with great alacrity; and pursuing the road into which they were directed, travelled many miles before they met with any adventure worth relating. In this interval we shall present our readers with a very curious discourse, as we apprehend it, concerning public schools, which passed between Mr Joseph Andrews and Mr Abraham Adams.

They had not gone far before Adams, calling to Joseph, asked him, “If he had attended to the gentleman’s story?” He answered, “To all the former part.” — “And don’t you think,” says he, “he was a very unhappy man in his youth?” — “A very unhappy man, indeed,” answered the other. “Joseph,” cries Adams, screwing up his mouth, “I have found it; I have discovered the cause of all the misfortunes which befel him: a public school, Joseph, was the cause of all the calamities which he afterwards suffered. Public schools are the nurseries of all vice and immorality. All the wicked fellows whom I remember at the university were bred at them. — Ah, Lord! I can remember as well as if it was but yesterday, a knot of them; they called them King’s scholars, I forget why — very wicked fellows! Joseph, you may thank the Lord you were not bred at a public school; you would never have preserved your virtue as you have. The first care I always take is of a boy’s morals; I had rather he should be a blockhead than an atheist or a presbyterian. What is all the learning in the world compared to his immortal soul? What shall a man take in exchange for his soul? But the masters of great schools trouble themselves about no such thing. I have known a lad of eighteen at the university, who hath not been able to say his catechism; but for my own part, I always scourged a lad sooner for missing that than any other lesson. Believe me, child, all that gentleman’s misfortunes arose from his being educated at a public school.”

“It doth not become me,” answered Joseph, “to dispute anything, sir, with you, especially a matter of this kind; for to be sure you must be allowed by all the world to be the best teacher of a school in all our county.” “Yes, that,” says Adams, “I believe, is granted me; that I may without much vanity pretend to — nay, I believe I may go to the next county too — but gloriari non est meum.” — “However, sir, as you are pleased to bid me speak,” says Joseph, “you know my late master, Sir Thomas Booby, was bred at a public school, and he was the finest gentleman in all the neighbourhood. And I have often heard him say, if he had a hundred boys he would breed them all at the same place. It was his opinion, and I have often heard him deliver it, that a boy taken from a public school and carried into the world, will learn more in one year there than one of a private education will in five. He used to say the school itself initiated him a great way (I remember that was his very expression), for great schools are little societies, where a boy of any observation may see in epitome what he will afterwards find in the world at large.” — “Hinc illae lachrymae: for that very reason,” quoth Adams, “I prefer a private school, where boys may be kept in innocence and ignorance; for, according to that fine passage in the play of Cato, the only English tragedy I ever read —

“‘If knowledge of the world must make men villains

May Juba ever live in ignorance!’

“Who would not rather preserve the purity of his child than wish him to attain the whole circle of arts and sciences? which, by the bye, he may learn in the classes of a private school; for I would not be vain, but I esteem myself to be second to none, nulli secundum, in teaching these things; so that a lad may have as much learning in a private as in a public education.” — “And, with submission,” answered Joseph, “he may get as much vice: witness several country gentlemen, who were educated within five miles of their own houses, and are as wicked as if they had known the world from their infancy. I remember when I was in the stable, if a young horse was vicious in his nature, no correction would make him otherwise: I take it to be equally the same among men: if a boy be of a mischievous wicked inclination, no school, though ever so private, will ever make him good: on the contrary, if he be of a righteous temper, you may trust him to London, or wherever else you please — he will be in no danger of being corrupted. Besides, I have often heard my master say that the discipline practised in public schools was much better than that in private.” — “You talk like a jackanapes,” says Adams, “and so did your master. Discipline indeed! Because one man scourges twenty or thirty boys more in a morning than another, is he therefore a better disciplinarian? I do presume to confer in this point with all who have taught from Chiron’s time to this day; and, if I was master of six boys only, I would preserve as good discipline amongst them as the master of the greatest school in the world. I say nothing, young man; remember I say nothing; but if Sir Thomas himself had been educated nearer home, and under the tuition of somebody — remember I name nobody — it might have been better for him:— but his father must institute him in the knowledge of the world. Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit.” Joseph, seeing him run on in this manner, asked pardon many times, assuring him he had no intention to offend. “I believe you had not, child,” said he, “and I am not angry with you; but for maintaining good discipline in a school; for this.” — And then he ran on as before, named all the masters who are recorded in old books, and preferred himself to them all. Indeed, if this good man had an enthusiasm, or what the vulgar call a blind side, it was this: he thought a schoolmaster the greatest character in the world, and himself the greatest of all schoolmasters: neither of which points he would have given up to Alexander the Great at the head of his army.

Adams continued his subject till they came to one of the beautifullest spots of ground in the universe. It was a kind of natural amphitheatre, formed by the winding of a small rivulet, which was planted with thick woods, and the trees rose gradually above each other by the natural ascent of the ground they stood on; which ascent as they hid with their boughs, they seemed to have been disposed by the design of the most skilful planter. The soil was spread with a verdure which no paint could imitate; and the whole place might have raised romantic ideas in elder minds than those of Joseph and Fanny, without the assistance of love.

Here they arrived about noon, and Joseph proposed to Adams that they should rest awhile in this delightful place, and refresh themselves with some provisions which the good-nature of Mrs Wilson had provided them with. Adams made no objection to the proposal; so down they sat, and, pulling out a cold fowl and a bottle of wine, they made a repast with a cheerfulness which might have attracted the envy of more splendid tables. I should not omit that they found among their provision a little paper containing a piece of gold, which Adams imagining had been put there by mistake, would have returned back to restore it; but he was at last convinced by Joseph that Mr Wilson had taken this handsome way of furnishing them with a supply for their journey, on his having related the distress which they had been in, when they were relieved by the generosity of the pedlar. Adams said he was glad to see such an instance of goodness, not so much for the conveniency which it brought them as for the sake of the doer, whose reward would be great in heaven. He likewise comforted himself with a reflection that he should shortly have an opportunity of returning it him; for the gentleman was within a week to make a journey into Somersetshire, to pass through Adams’s parish, and had faithfully promised to call on him; a circumstance which we thought too immaterial to mention before; but which those who have as great an affection for that gentleman as ourselves will rejoice at, as it may give them hopes of seeing him again. Then Joseph made a speech on charity, which the reader, if he is so disposed, may see in the next chapter; for we scorn to betray him into any such reading, without first giving him warning.

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