Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book VIII. Containing about Two Days
XIV. In Which the Man of the Hill Concludes His History
MR. WATSON, continued the stranger, very freely acquainted me, that the unhappy situation of his circumstances, occasioned by a tide of ill luck, had in a manner forced him to a resolution of destroying himself.
I now began to argue very seriously with him, in opposition to this heathenish, or indeed diabolical, principle of the lawfulness of self-murder; and said everything which occurred to me on the subject; but, to my great concern, it seemed to have very little effect on him. He seemed not at all to repent of what he had done, and gave me reason to fear he would soon make a second attempt of the like horrible kind.
When I had finished my discourse, instead of endeavouring to answer my arguments, he looked me stedfastly in the face, and with a smile said, You are strangely altered, my good friend, since I remember you. I question whether any of our bishops could make a better argument against suicide than you have entertained me with; but unless you can find somebody who will lend me a cool hundred, I must either hang, or drown, or starve; and, in my opinion, the last death is the most terrible of the three.
I answered him very gravely that I was indeed altered since I had seen him last. That I had found leisure to look into my follies and to repent of them. I then advised him to pursue the same steps; and at last concluded with an assurance that I myself would lend him a hundred pound, if it would be of any service to his affairs, and he would not put it into the power of a die to deprive him of it.
Mr. Watson, who seemed almost composed in slumber by the former part of my discourse, was roused by the latter. He seized my hand eagerly, gave me a thousand thanks, and declared I was a friend indeed; adding that he hoped I had a better opinion of him than to imagine he had profited so little by experience, as to put any confidence in those damned dice which had so often deceived him. No, no, cries he; let me but once handsomely be set up again, and if ever Fortune makes a broken merchant of me afterwards, I will forgive her.
I very well understood the language of setting up, and broken merchant. I therefore said to him, with a very grave face, Mr. Watson, you must endeavour to find out some business or employment, by which you may procure yourself a livelihood; and I promise you, could I see any probability of being repaid hereafter, I would advance a much larger sum than what you have mentioned, to equip you in any fair and honourable calling; but as to gaming, besides the baseness and wickedness of making it a profession, you are really, to my own knowledge, unfit for it, and it will end in your certain ruin.
Why now, thats strange, answered he; neither you, nor any of my friends, would ever allow me to know anything of the matter, and yet I believe I am as good a hand at every game as any of you all; and I heartily wish I was to play with you only for your whole fortune: I should desire no better sport, and I would let you name your game into the bargain: but come, my dear boy, have you the hundred in your pocket?
I was indeed better than my word; for I returned to him that very afternoon. When I entered the room I found him sitting up in his bed at cards with a notorious gamester. This sight, you will imagine, shocked me not a little; to which I may add the mortification of seeing my bill delivered by him to his antagonist, and thirty guineas only given in exchange for it.
The other gamester presently quitted the room, and then Watson declared he was ashamed to see me; but, says he, I find luck runs so damnably against me, that I will resolve to leave off play for ever. I have thought of the kind proposal you made me ever since, and I promise you there shall be no fault in me, if I do not put it in execution.
Though I had no great faith in his promises, I produced him the remainder of the hundred in consequence of my own; for which he gave me a note, which was all I ever expected to see in return for my money.
We were prevented from any further discourse at present by the arrival of the apothecary; who, with much joy in his countenance, and without even asking his patient how he did, proclaimed there was great news arrived in a letter to himself, which he said would shortly be public, That the Duke of Monmouth was landed in the west with a vast army of Dutch; and that another vast fleet hovered over the coast of Norfolk, and was to make a descent there, in order to favour the dukes enterprize with a diversion on that side.
This apothecary was one of the greatest politicians of his time. He was more delighted with the most paultry packet, than with the best patient, and the highest joy he was capable of, he received from having a piece of news in his possession an hour or two sooner than any other person in the town. His advices, however, were seldom authentic; for he would swallow almost anything as a trutha humour which many made use of to impose upon him.
Thus it happened with what he at present communicated; for it was known within a short time afterwards that the duke was really landed, but that his army consisted only of a few attendants; and as to the diversion in Norfolk, it was entirely false.
The apothecary staid no longer in the room than while he acquainted us with his news; and then, without saying a syllable to his patient on any other subject, departed to spread his advices all over the town.
Events of this nature in the public are generally apt to eclipse all private concerns. Our discourse therefore now became entirely political. For my own part, I had been for some time very seriously affected with the danger to which the Protestant religion was so visibly exposed under a Popish prince, and thought the apprehension of it alone sufficient to justify that insurrection; for no real security can ever be found against the persecuting spirit of Popery, when armed with power, except the depriving it of that power, as woeful experience presently showed. You know how King James behaved after getting he better of this attempt; how little he valued either his royal word, or coronation oath, or the liberties and rights of his people. But all had not the sense to foresee this at first; and therefore the Duke of Monmouth was weakly supported; yet all could feel when the evil came upon them; and therefore all united, at last, to drive out that king, against whose exclusion a great party among us had so warmly contended during the reign of his brother, and for whom they now fought with such zeal and affection.
What you say, interrupted Jones, is very true; and it has often struck me, as the most wonderful thing I ever read of in history, that so soon after this convincing experience which brought our whole nation to join so unanimously in expelling King James, for the preservation of our religion and liberties, there should be a party among us mad enough to desire the placing his family again on the throne. You are not in earnest! answered the old man; there can be no such party. As bad an opinion as I have of mankind, I cannot believe them infatuated to such a degree. There may be some hot-headed Papists led by their priests to engage in this desperate cause, and think it a holy war; but that Protestants, that are members of the Church of England, should be such apostates, such felos de se, I cannot believe it; no, no, young man, unacquainted as I am with what has past in the world for these last thirty years, I cannot be so imposed upon as to credit so foolish a tale; but I see you have a mind to sport with my ignorance.Can it be possible, replied Jones, that you have lived so much out of the world as not to know that during that time there have been two rebellions in favour of the son of King James, one of which is now actually raging in the very heart of the kingdom. At these words the old gentleman started up, and in a most solemn tone of voice, conjured Jones by his Maker to tell him if what he said was really true; which the other as solemnly affirming, he walked several turns about the room in a profound silence, then cried, then laughed, and at last fell down on his knees, and blessed God, in a loud thanks-giving prayer, for having delivered him from all society with human nature, which could be capable of such monstrous extravagances. After which, being reminded by Jones that he had broke off his story, he resumed it again in this manner:
As mankind, in the days I was speaking of, was not yet arrived at that pitch of madness which I find they are capable of now, and which, to be sure, I have only escaped by living alone, and at a distance from the contagion, there was a considerable rising in favour of Mon-mouth; and my principles strongly inclining me to take the same part, I determined to join him; and Mr. Watson, from different motives concurring in the same resolution (for the spirit of a gamester will carry a man as far upon such an occasion as the spirit of patriotism), we soon provided ourselves with all necessaries, and went to the duke at Bridgewater.
The unfortunate event of this enterprize, you are, I conclude, as well acquainted with as myself. I escaped, together with Mr. Watson, from the battle at Sedgemore, in which action I received a slight wound. We rode near forty miles together on the Exeter road, and then abandoning our horses, scrambled as well as we could through the fields and bye-roads, till we arrived at a little wild hut on a common, where a poor old woman took all the care of us she could, and dressed my wound with salve, which quickly healed it.
Pray, sir, where was the wound? says Partridge. The stranger satisfied him it was in his arm, and then continued his narrative. Here, sir, said he, Mr. Watson left me the next morning, in order, as he pretended, to get us some provision from the town of Collumpton; butcan I relate it, or can you believe it?this Mr. Watson, this friend, this base, barbarous, treacherous villain, betrayed me to a party of horse belonging to King James, and at his return delivered me into their hands.
The soldiers, being six in number, had now seized me, and were conducting me to Taunton gaol; but neither my present situation, nor the apprehensions of what might happen to me, were half so irksome to my mind as the company of my false friend, who, having surrendered himself, was likewise considered as a prisoner, though he was better treated, as being to make his peace at my expense. He at first endeavoured to excuse his treachery; but when he received nothing but scorn and upbraiding from me, be soon changed his note, abused me as the most atrocious and malicious rebel, and laid all his own guilt to my charge, who, as he declared, had solicited, and even threatened him, to make him take up arms against his gracious as well as lawful sovereign.
This false evidence (for in reality he had been much the forwarder of the two) stung me to the quick, and raised an indignation scarce conceivable by those who have not felt it. However, fortune at length took pity on me; for as we were got a little beyond Wellington, in a narrow lane, my guards received a false alarm, that near fifty of the enemy were at hand; upon which they shifted for themselves, and left me and my betrayer to do the same. That villain immediately ran from me, and I am glad he did, or I should have certainly endeavoured though I had no arms, to have executed vengeance on his baseness.
I was now once more at liberty; and immediately withdrawing from the highway into the fields, I travelled on, scarce knowing which way I went, and making it my chief care to avoid all public roads and all townsnay, even the most houses; for I imagined every human creature whom I saw desirous of betraying me.
At last, after rambling several days about the country, during which the fields afforded me the same bed and the same food which nature bestows on our savage brothers of the creation, I at length arrived at this place, where the solitude and wilderness of the country invited me to fix my abode. The first person with whom I took up my habitation was the mother of this old woman, with whom I remained concealed till the news of the glorious revolution put an end to all my apprehensions of danger, and gave me an opportunity of once more visiting my own home, and of enquiring a little into my affairs, which I soon settled as agreeably to my brother as to myself; having resigned everything to him, for which he paid me the sum of a thousand pounds, and settled on me an annuity for life.
His behaviour in this last instance, as in all others, was selfish and ungenerous. I could not look on him as my friend, nor indeed did he desire that I should; so I presently took my leave of him, as well as of my other acquaintance; and from that day to this, my history is little better than a blank.
And is it possible, sir, said Jones, that you can have resided here from that day to this?O no, sir, answered the gentleman; I have been a great traveller, and there are few parts of Europe with which I am not acquainted. I have not, sir, cried Jones, the assurance to ask it of you now; indeed it would be cruel, after so much breath as you have already spent: but you will give me leave to wish for some further opportunity of hearing the excellent observations which a man of your sense and knowledge of the world must have made in so long a course of travels?Indeed, young gentleman, answered the stranger, I will endeavour to satisfy your curiosity on this head likewise, as far as I am able. Jones attempted fresh apologies, but was prevented; and while he and Partridge sat with greedy and impatient ears, the stranger proceeded as in the next chapter.