Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book VIII. Containing about Two Days
XIII. In Which the Man of the Hill Continues His History
MY fellow-collegiate had now entered me in a new scene of life. I soon became acquainted with the whole fraternity of sharpers, and was let into their secrets; I mean, into the knowledge of those gross cheats which are proper to impose upon the raw and unexperienced; for there are some tricks of a finer kind, which are known only to a few of the gang, who are at the head of their profession; a degree of honour beyond my expectation; for drink, to which I was immoderately addicted, and the natural warmth of my passions, prevented me from arriving at any great success in an art which requires as much coolness as the most austere school of philosophy.
Mr. Watson, with whom I now lived in the closest amity, had unluckily the former failing to a very great excess; so that instead of making a fortune by his profession, as some others did, he was alternately rich and poor, and was often obliged to surrender to his cooler friends, over a bottle which they never tasted, that plunder that he had taken from culls at the public table.
However, we both made a shift to pick up and uncomfortable livelihood; and for two years I continued of the calling; during which time I tasted all the varieties of fortune, sometimes flourishing in affluence, and at others being obliged to struggle with almost incredible difficulties. Today wallowing in luxury, and to-morrow reduced to the coarsest and most homely fare. My fine clothes being often on my back in the evening, and at the pawn-shop the next morning.
One night, as I was returning pennyless from the gaming-table, I observed a very great disturbance, and a large mob gathered together in the street. As I was in no danger from pickpockets, I ventured into the croud, where upon enquiry I found that a man had been robbed and very ill used by some ruffians. The wounded man appeared very bloody, and seemed scarce able to support himself on his legs. As I had not therefore been deprived of my humanity by my present life and conversation, though they had left me very little of either honesty or shame, I immediately offered my assistance to the unhappy person, who thankfully accepted it, and, putting himself under my conduct, begged me to convey him to some tavern, where he might send for a surgeon, being, as he said, faint with loss of blood. He seemed indeed highly pleased at finding one who appeared in the dress of a gentleman; for as to all the rest of the company present, their outside was such that he could not wisely place any confidence in them.
I took the poor man by the arm, and led him to the tavern where we kept our rendezvous, as it happened to be the nearest at hand. A surgeon happening luckily to be in the house, immediately attended, and applied himself to dressing his wounds, which I had the pleasure to hear were not likely to be mortal.
The surgeon having very expeditiously and dextrously finished his business, began to enquire in what part of the town the wounded man lodged; who answered, That he was come to town that very morning; that his horse was at an inn in Piccadilly, and that he had no other lodging, and very little or no acquaintance in town.
This surgeon, whose name I have forgot, though I remember it began with an R, had the first character in his profession, and was serjeant-surgeon to the king. He had moreover many good qualities, and was a very generous good-natured man, and ready to do any service to his fellow-creatures. He offered his patient the use of his chariot to carry him to his inn, and at the same time whispered in his ear, That if he wanted any money, he would furnish him.
The poor man was not now capable of returning thanks for this generous offer; for having had his eyes for some time stedfastly on me, he threw himself back in his chair, crying, Oh, my son! my son! and then fainted away.
Many of the people present imagined this accident had happened through his loss of blood; but I, who at the same time began to recollect the features of my father, was now confirmed in my suspicion, and satisfied that it was he himself who appeared before me. I presently ran to him, raised him in my arms, and kissed his cold lips with the utmost eagerness. Here I must draw a curtain over a scene which I cannot describe; for though I did not lose my being; as my father for a while did, my senses were however so overpowered with affright and surprize, that I am a stranger to what passed during some minutes, and indeed till my father had again recovered from his swoon, and I found myself in his arms, both tenderly embracing each other, while the tears trickled a-pace down the cheeks of each of us.
Most of those present seemed affected by this scene, which we, who might be considered as the actors in it, were desirous of removing from the eyes of all spectators as fast as we could; my father therefore accepted the kind offer of the surgeons chariot, and I attended him in it to his inn.
When we were alone together, he gently upbraided me with having neglected to write to him during so long a time, but entirely omitted the mention of that crime which had occasioned it. He then informed me of my mothers death, and insisted on my returning home with him, saying, That he had long suffered the greatest anxiety on my account; that he knew not whether he had most feared my death or wished it, since he had so many more dreadful apprehensions for me. At last, he said, a neighbouring gentleman, who had just recovered a son from the same place, informed him where I was; and that to reclaim me from this course of life was the sole cause of his journey to London. He thanked Heaven he had succeeded so far as to find me out by means of an accident which had like to have proved fatal to him; and had the pleasure to think he partly owed his preservation to my humanity, with which he profest himself to be more delighted than he should have been with my filial piety, if I had known that the object of all my care was my own father.
Vice had not so depraved my heart as to excite in it an insensibility of so much paternal affection, though so unworthily bestowed. I presently promised to obey his commands in my return home with him, as soon as he was able to travel, which indeed he was in a very few days, by the assistance of that excellent surgeon who had undertaken his cure.
The day preceding my fathers journey (before which time I scarce ever left him), I went to take my leave of some of my most intimate acquaintance, particularly of Mr. Watson, who dissuaded me from burying myself, as he called it, out of a simple compliance with the fond desires of a foolish old fellow. Such sollicitations, however, had no effect, and I once more saw my own home. My father now greatly sollicited me to think of marriage; but my inclinations were utterly averse to any such thoughts. I had tasted of love already, and perhaps you know the extravagant excesses of that most tender and most violent passion.Here the old gentleman paused, and looked earnestly at Jones; whose countenance, within a minutes space, displayed the extremities of both red and white. Upon which the old man, without making any observations, renewed his narrative.
Being now provided with all the necessaries of life, I betook myself once again to study, and that with a more inordinate application than I had ever done formerly. The books which now employed my time solely were those, as well antient as modern, which treat of true philosophy, a word which is by many thought to be the subject only of farce and ridicule. I now read over the works of Aristotle and Plato, with the rest of those inestimable treasures which antient Greece had bequeathed to the world.
These authors, though they instructed me in no science by which men may promise to themselves to acquire the least riches or worldly power, taught me, however, the art of despising the highest acquisitions of both. They elevate the mind, and steel and harden it against the capricious invasions of fortune. They not only instruct in the knowledge of Wisdom, but confirm men in her habits, and demonstrate plainly, that this must be our guide, if we propose ever to arrive at the greatest worldly happiness, or to defend ourselves, with any tolerable security, against the misery which everywhere surrounds and invests us.
To this I added another study, compared to which, all the philosophy taught by the wisest heathens is little better than a dream, and is indeed as full of vanity as the silliest jester ever pleased to represent it. This is that Divine wisdom which is alone to be found in the Holy Scriptures; for they impart to us the knowledge and assurance of things much more worthy our attention than all which this world can offer to our acceptance; of things which Heaven itself hath condescended to reveal to us, and to the smallest knowledge of which the highest human wit unassisted could never ascend. I began now to think all the time I had spent with the best heathen writers was little more than labour lost: for, however pleasant and delightful their lessons may be, or however adequate to the right regulation of our conduct with respect to this world only; yet, when compared with the glory revealed in Scripture, their highest documents will appear as trifling, and of as little consequence, as the rules by which children regulate their childish little games and pastime. True it is, that philosophy makes us wiser, but Christianity makes us better men. Philosophy elevates and steels the mind, Christianity softens and sweetens it. The former makes us the objects of human admiration, the latter of Divine love. That insures us a temporal, but this an eternal happiness.But I am afraid I tire you with my rhapsody.
I had spent, continued the stranger, about four years in the most delightful manner to myself, totally given up to contemplation, and entirely unembarrassed with the affairs of the world, when I lost the best of fathers, and one whom I so entirely loved, that my grief at his loss exceeds all description. I now abandoned my books, and gave myself up for a whole month to the effects of melancholy and despair. Time, however, the best physician of the mind, at length brought me relief.Ay, ay; Tempus edax rerum, said Partridge.I then, continued the stranger, betook myself again to my former studies, which I may say perfected my cure; for philosophy and religion may be called the exercises of the mind, and when this is disordered, they are as wholesome as exercise can be to a distempered body. They do indeed produce similar effects with exercise; for they strengthen and confirm the mind, till man becomes, in the noble strain of Horace
My circumstances were now greatly altered by the death of that best of men; for my brother, who was now become master of the house, differed so widely from me in his inclinations, and our pursuits in life had been so very various, that we were the worst of company to each other; but what made our living together still more disagreeable, was the little harmony which could subsist between the few who resorted to me, and the numerous train of sportsmen who often attended my brother from the field to the table; for such fellows, besides the noise and nonsense with which they persecute the ears of sober men, endeavour always to attack them with affront and contempt. This was so much the case, that neither I myself, nor my friends, could ever sit down to a meal with them without being treated with derision, because we were unacquainted with the phrases of sportsmen. For men of true learning, and almost universal knowledge, always compassionate the ignorance of others; but fellows who excel in some little, low, contemptible art, are always certain to despise those who are acquainted with that art.
In short, we soon separated, and I went, by the advice of a physician, to drink the Bath waters; for my violent affliction, added to a sedentary life, had thrown me into a kind of paralytic disorder, for which those waters are accounted an almost certain cure. The second day after my arrival, as I was walking by the river, the sun shone so intensely hot (though it was early in the year), that I retired to the shelter of some willows, and sat down by the river side. Here I had not been seated long before I heard a person on the other side of the willows sighing and bemoaning himself bitterly.
On a sudden, having uttered a most impious oath, he cried, I am resolved to bear it no longer, and directly threw himself into the water. I immediately started, and ran towards the place, calling at the same time as loudly as I could for assistance. An angler happened luckily to be a-fishing a little below me, though some very high sedge had hid him from my sight. He immediately came up, and both of us together, not without some hazard of our lives, drew the body to the shore. At first we perceived no sign of life remaining; but having held the body up by the heels (for we soon had assistance enough), it discharged a vast quantity of water at the mouth, and at length began to discover some symptoms of breathing, and a little afterwards to move both its hands and its legs.
An apothecary, who happened to be present among others, advised that the body, which seemed now to have pretty well emptied itself of water, and which began to have many convulsive motions, should be directly taken up, and carried into a warm bed. This was accordingly performed, the apothecary and myself attending.
When I had seen the man safely deposited there, I left him to the care of the apothecary; who, I suppose, used all the right methods with him, for the next morning I heard he had perfectly recovered his senses.
I then went to visit him, intending to search out, as well as I could, the cause of his having attempted so desperate an act, and to prevent, as far as I was able, his pursuing such wicked intentions for the future. I was no sooner admitted into his chamber, than we both instantly knew each other; for who should this person be but my good friend Mr. Watson! Here I will not trouble you with what past at our first interview; for I would avoid prolixity as much as possible.Pray let us hear all, cries Partridge; I want mightily to know what brought him to Bath.