Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book VI. Containing about Three Weeks
II. The Character of Mrs. Western. Her Great Learning and Knowledge of the World, and an Instance of the Deep Penetration Which She Derived from Those Advantages
THE READER hath seen Mr. Western, his sister, and daughter, with young Jones, and the parson, going together to Mr. Westerns house, where the greater part of the company spent the evening with much joy and festivity. Sophia was indeed the only grave person; for as to Jones, though love had now gotten entire possession of his heart, yet the pleasing reflection on Mr. Allworthys recovery, and the presence of his mistress, joined to some tender looks which she now and then could not refrain from giving him, so elevated our heroe, that he joined the mirth of the other three, who were perhaps as goodhumoured people as any in the world.
Sophia retained the same gravity of countenance the next morning at breakfast; whence she retired likewise earlier than usual, leaving her father and aunt together. The squire took no notice of this change in his daughters disposition. To say the truth, though he was somewhat of a politician, and had been twice a candidate in the country interest at an election, he was a man of no great observation. His sister was a lady of a different turn. She had lived about the court, and had seen the world. Hence she had acquired all that knowledge which the said world usually communicates; and was a perfect mistress of manners, customs, ceremonies, and fashions. Nor did her erudition stop here. She had considerably improved her mind by study; she had not only read all the modern plays, operas, oratorios, poems, and romancesin all which she was a critic; but had gone through Rapins History of England, Eachards Roman History, and many French Mémoires pour servir à lHistoire: to these she had added most of the political pamphlets and journals published within the last twenty years. From which she had attained a very competent skill in politics, and could discourse very learnedly on the affairs of Europe. She was, moreover, excellently well skilled in the doctrine of amour, and knew better than anybody who and who were together; a knowledge which she the more easily attained, as her pursuit of it was never diverted by any affairs of her own; for either she had no inclinations, or they had never been solicited; which last is indeed very probable; for her masculine person, which was near six foot high, added to her manner and learning, possibly prevented the other sex from regarding her, notwithstanding her petticoats, in the light of a woman. However, as she had considered the matter scientifically, she perfectly well knew, though she had never practised them, all the arts which fine ladies use when they desire to give encouragement, or to conceal liking, with all the long appendage of smiles, ogles, glances, &c., as they are at present practised in the beau-monde. To sum the whole, no species of disguise or affectation had escaped her notice; but as to the plain simple workings of honest nature, as she had never seen any such, she could know but little of them.
By means of this wonderful sagacity, Mrs. Western had now, as she thought, made a discovery of something in the mind of Sophia. The first hint of this she took from the behaviour of the young lady in the field of battle; and the suspicion which she then conceived, was greatly corroborated by some observations which she had made that evening and the next morning. However, being greatly cautious to avoid being found in a mistake, she carried the secret a whole fortnight in her bosom, giving only some oblique hints, by simpering, winks, nods, and now and then dropping an obscure word, which indeed sufficiently alarmed Sophia, but did not at all affect her brother.
Being at length, however, thoroughly satisfied of the truth of her observation, she took an opportunity one morning, when she was alone with her brother, to interrupt one of his whistles in the following manner:
Pray, brother, have you not observed something very extraordinary in my niece lately?No, not I. answered Western: is anything the matter with the girl?I think there is, replied she: and something of much consequence too.Why, she doth not complain of anything, cries Western; and she hath had the small-pox.Brother, returned she, girls are liable to other distempers besides the small-pox, and sometimes possibly to much worse. Here Western interrupted her with much earnestness, and begged her, if anything ailed his daughter, to acquaint him immediately; adding, she knew he loved her more than his own soul, and that he would send to the worlds end for the best physician to her. Nay, nay, answered she, smiling, the distemper is not so terrible; but I believe, brother, you are convinced I know the world, and I promise you I was never more deceived in my life, if my niece be not most desperately in love.How! in love! cries Western, in a passion; in love, without acquainting me! Ill disinherit her; Ill turn her out of doors, stark naked, without a farthing. Is all my kindness vor ur, and vondness our come to this, to fall in love without asking me leave?But you will not, answered Mrs. Western, turn this daughter, whom you love better than your own soul, out of doors, before you know whether you shall approve her choice. Suppose she should have fixed on the very person whom you yourself would wish, I hope you would not be angry then?No, no, cries Western, that would make a difference. If she marries the man I would ha her, she may love whom she pleases, I shant trouble my head about that. That is spoken, answered the sister, like a sensible man; but I believe the very person she hath chosen would be the very person you would choose for her. I will disclaim all knowledge of the world, if it is not so; and I believe, brother, you will allow I have some.Why, lookee, sister, said Western, I do believe you have as much as any woman; and to be sure those are womens matters. You know I dont love to hear you talk about politics; they belong to us, and petticoats should not meddle; but come, who is the man?Marry! said she, you may find him out yourself if you please. You, who are so great a politician, can be at no great loss. The judgment which can penetrate into the cabinets of princes, and discover the secret springs which move the great state wheels in all the political machines of Europe, must surely, with very little difficulty, find out what passes in the rude uninformed mind of a girl.Sister, cries the squire, I have often warnd you not to talk the court gibberish to me. I tell you, I dont understand the lingo; but I can read a journal, or the London Evening Post. Perhaps, indeed, there may be now and tan a verse which I cant make much of, because half the letters are left out; yet I know very well what is meant by that, and that our affairs dont go so well as they should do, because of bribery and corruption.I pity your country ignorance from my heart, cries the lady.Do you? answered Western; and I pity your town learning; I had rather be anything than a courtier, and a Presbyterian, and a Hanoverian too, as some people, I believe, are.If you mean me, answered she, you know I am a woman, brother; and it signifies nothing what I am. BesidesI do know you are a woman, cries the squire, and its well for thee that art one; if hadst been a man, I promise thee I had lent thee a flick long ago.Ay, there, said she, in that flick lies all your fancied superiority. Your bodies, and not your brains, are stronger than ours. Believe me, it is well for you that you are able to beat us; or, such is the superiority of our understanding, we should make all of you what the brave, and wise, and witty, and polite are alreadyour slaves.I am glad I know your mind, answered the squire. But well talk more of this matter another time. At present, do tell me what man is it you mean about my daughter?Hold a moment, said she, while I digest that sovereign contempt I have for your sex; or else I ought to be angry too with you. ThereI have made a shift to gulp it down. And now, good politic sir, what think you of Mr. Blifil? Did she not faint away on seeing him lie breathless on the ground? Did she not, after he was recovered, turn pale again the moment he came up to that part of the field where he stood? And pray what else should be the occasion of all her melancholy that night at supper, the next morning, and indeed ever since?Fore George! cries the squire, now you mind me on t, I remember it all. It is certainly so, and I am glad on t with all my heart. I knew Sophy was a good girl, and would not fall in love to make me angry. I was never more rejoiced in my life; for nothing can lie so handy together as our two estates. I had this matter in my head some time ago; for certainly the two estates are in a manner joined together in matrimony already, and it would be a thousand pities to part them. It is true, indeed, there be larger estates in the kingdom, but not in this county, and I had rather bate something, than marry my daughter among strangers and foreigners. Besides, most o zuch great estates be in the hands of lords, and I heate the very name of themmun. Well but, sister, what would you advise me to do; for I tell you women know these matters better than we do?Oh, your humble servant, sir, answered the lady: we are obliged to you for allowing us a capacity in anything. Since you are pleased, then, most politic sir, to ask my advice, I think you may propose the match to Allworthy yourself. There is no indecorum in the proposals coming from the parent of either side. King Alcinous, in Mr. Popes Odyssey, offers his daughter to Ulysses. I need not caution so politic a person not to say that your daughter is in love; that would indeed be against all rules.Well, said the squire, I will propose it; but I shall certainly lend un a flick, if he should refuse me. Fear not, cries Mrs. Western; the match is too advantageous to be refused. I dont know that, answered the squire: Allworthy is a queer b ch, and money hath no effect oun. Brother, said the lady, your politics astonish me. Are you really to be imposed on by professions? Do you think Mr. Allworthy hath more contempt for money than other men because he professes more? Such credulity would better become one of us weak women, than that wise sex which heaven hath formed for politicians. Indeed, brother, you would make a fine plenipo to negotiate with the French. They would soon persuade you, that they take towns out of mere defensive principles. Sister, answered the squire, with much scorn, let your friends at court answer for the towns taken; as you are a woman, I shall lay no blame upon you; for I suppose they are wiser than to trust women with secrets. He accompanied this with so sarcastical a laugh, that Mrs. Western could bear no longer. She had been all this time fretted in a tender part (for she was indeed very deeply skilled in these matters, and very violent in them), and therefore, burst forth in a rage, declared her brother to be both a clown and a blockhead, and that she would stay no longer in his house.
The squire, though perhaps he had never read Machiavel, was, however, in many points, a perfect politician. He strongly held all those wise tenets, which are so well inculcated in that Politico-Peripatetic school of Exchange-ally. He knew the just value and only use of money, viz., to lay it up. He was likewise well skilled in the exact value of reversions, expectations, &c., and had often considered the amount of his sisters fortune, and the chance which he or his posterity had of inheriting it. This he was infinitely too wise to sacrifice to a trifling resentment. When he found, therefore, he had carried matters too far, he began to think of reconciling them; which was no very difficult task, as the lady had great affection for her brother, and still greater for her niece; and though too susceptible of an affront offered to her skill in politics, on which she much valued herself, was a woman of a very extraordinary good and sweet disposition.
Having first, therefore, laid violent hands on the horses, for whose escape from the stable no place but the window was left open, he next applied himself to his sister; softened and soothed her, by unsaying all he had said, and by assertions directly contrary to those which had incensed her. Lastly, he summoned the eloquence of Sophia to his assistance, who, besides a most graceful and winning address, had the advantage of being heard with great favour and partiality by her aunt.
The result of the whole was a kind smile from Mrs. Western, who said, Brother, you are absolutely a perfect Croat; but as those have their use in the army of the empress queen, so you likewise have some good in you. I will therefore once more sign a treaty of peace with you, and see that you do not infringe it on your side; at least, as you are so excellent a politician, I may expect you will keep your leagues, like the French, till your interest calls upon you to break them.