Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book IV. Containing the Time of a Year
IV. Containing Such Very Deep and Grave Matters, That Some Readers, Perhaps, May Not Relish It
SQUARE had no sooner lighted his pipe, than, addressing himself to Allworthy, he thus began: Sir, I cannot help congratulating you on your nephew; who, at an age when few lads have any ideas of sensible objects, is arrived at a capacity of distinguishing right from wrong. To confine anything, seems to me against the law of nature, by which everything hath a right to liberty. These were his words; and the impression they have made on me is never to be eradicated. Can any man have a higher notion of the rule of right, and the eternal fitness of things? I cannot help promising myself, from such a dawn, that the meridian of this youth will be equal to that of either the elder or the younger Brutus.
Here Thwackum hastily interrupted, and spilling some of his wine, and swallowing the rest with great eagerness, answered, From another expression he made use of, I hope he will resemble much better men. The law of nature is a jargon of words, which means nothing. I know not of any such law, nor of any right which can be derived from it. To do as we would be done by, is indeed a Christian motive, as the boy well expressed himself; and I am glad to find my instructions have borne such good fruit.
If vanity was a thing fit, says Square, I might indulge some on the same occasion; for whence only he can have learnt his notions of right or wrong, I think is pretty apparent. If there be no law of nature, there is no right nor wrong.
Drink about, says Western. Pox of your laws of nature! I dont know what you mean, either of you, by right and wrong. To take away my girls bird was wrong, in my opinion; and my neighbour Allworthy may do as he pleases; but to encourage boys in such practices, is to breed them up to the gallows.
Allworthy answered, That he was sorry for what his nephew had done, but could not consent to punish him, as he acted rather from a generous than unworthy motive. He said, If the boy had stolen the bird, none would have been more ready to vote for a severe chastisement than himself; but it was plain that was not his design: and, indeed, it was as apparent to him, that he could have no other view but what he had himself avowed. (For as to that malicious purpose which Sophia suspected, it never once entered into the head of Mr. Allworthy.) He at length concluded with again blaming the action as inconsiderate, and which, he said, was pardonable only in a child.
Square had delivered his opinion so openly, that if he was now silent, he must submit to have his judgment censured. He said, therefore, with some warmth, That Mr. Allworthy had too much respect to the dirty consideration of property. That in passing our judgments on great and mighty actions, all private regards should be laid aside; for by adhering to those narrow rules, the younger Brutus had been condemned of ingratitude, and the elder of parricide.
And if they had been hanged too for those crimes, cried Thwackum, they would have had no more than their deserts. A couple of heathenish villains! Heaven be praised we have no Brutuses now-a-days! I wish, Mr. Square, you would desist from filling the minds of my pupils with such antichristian stuff; for the consequence must be, while they are under my care, its being well scourged out of them again. There is your disciple Tom almost spoiled already. I overheard him the other day disputing with Master Blifil that there was no merit in faith without works. I know that is one of your tenets, and I suppose he had it from you.
Dont accuse me of spoiling him, says Square. Who taught him to laugh at whatever is virtuous and decent, and fit and right in the nature of things? He is your own scholar, and I disclaim him. No, no, Master Blifil is my boy. Young as he is, that lads notions of moral rectitude I defy you ever to eradicate.
Thwackum put on a contemptuous sneer at this, and replied, Ay, ay, I will venture him with you. He is too well grounded for all your philosophical cant to hurt. No, no, I have taken care to instil such principles into him
And I have instilled principles into him too, cries Square. What but the sublime idea of virtue could inspire a human mind with the generous thought of giving liberty? And I repeat to you again, if it was a fit thing to be proud, I might claim the honour of having infused that idea.
So between you both, says the squire, the young gentleman hath been taught to rob my daughter of her bird. I find I must take care of my partridge-mew. I shall have some virtuous religious man or other set all my partridges at liberty. Then slapping a gentleman of the law, who was present, on the back, he cried out, What say you to this, Mr. Counsellow? Is not this against law?
If the case be put of a partridge, there can be no doubt but an action would lie; for though this be fer natur, yet being reclaimed, property vests: but being the case of a singing bird, though reclaimed, as it is a thing of base nature, it must be considered as nullius in bonis. In this case, therefore, I conceive the plaintiff must be non-suited; and I should disadvise the bringing any such action.
Well, says the squire, if it be nullus bonus, let us drink about, and talk a little of the state of the nation, or some such discourse that we all understand; for I am sure I dont understand a word of this. It may be learning and sense for aught I know: but you shall never persuade me into it. Pox! you have neither of you mentioned a word of that poor lad who deserves to be commended: to venture breaking his neck to oblige my girl was a generous-spirited action: I have learning enough to see that. Dn me, heres Toms health! I shall love the boy for it the longest day I have to live.
Such was the conclusion of this adventure of the bird, and of the dialogue occasioned by it; which we could not help recounting to our reader, though it happened some years before that stage or period of time at which our history is now arrived.