Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book XVI. Containing the Space of Five Days
V. In Which Jones Receives a Letter from Sophia, and Goes to a Play with Mrs. Miller and Partridge
THE ARRIVAL of Black George in town, and the good offices which that grateful fellow had promised to do for his old benefactor, greatly comforted Jones in the midst of all the anxiety and uneasiness which he had suffered on the account of Sophia; from whom, by the means of the said George, he received the following answer to his letter, which Sophia, to whom the use of pen, ink, and paper was restored with her liberty, wrote the very evening when she departed from her confinement:
SIR,As I do not doubt your sincerity in what you write, you will be pleased to hear that some of my afflictions are at an end, by the arrival of my aunt Western, with whom I am at present, and with whom I enjoy all the liberty I can desire. One promise my aunt hath insisted on my making, which is, that I will not see or converse with any person without her knowledge and consent. This promise I have most solemnly given, and shall most inviolably keep: and though she hath not expressly forbidden me writing, yet that must be an omission from forgetfulness; or this, perhaps, is included in the word conversing. However, as I cannot but consider this as a breach of her generous confidence in my honour, you cannot expect that I shall, after this, continue to write myself or to receive letters, without her knowledge. A promise is with me a very sacred thing, and to be extended to everything understood from it, as well as to what is expressed by it; and this consideration may, perhaps, on reflection, afford you some comfort. But why should I mention a comfort to you of this kind; for though there is one thing in which I can never comply with the best of fathers, yet am I firmly resolved never to act in defiance of him, or to take any step of consequence without his consent. A firm persuasion of this must teach you to divert your thoughts from what fortune hath (perhaps) made impossible. This your own interest persuades you. This may reconcile, I hope, Mr. Allworthy to you; and if it will, you have my injunctions to pursue it. Accidents have laid some obligations on me, and your good intentions probably more. Fortune may, perhaps, be some time kinder to us both than at present. Believe this, that I shall always think of you as I think you deserve, and am,
your obliged humble servant,
I charge you write to me no moreat present at least; and accept this, which is now of no service to me, which I know you must want, and think you owe the trifle only to that fortune by which you found it.1
A child who hath just learnt his letters would have spelt this letter out in less time than Jones took in reading it. The sensations it occasioned were a mixture of joy and grief; somewhat like what divide the mind of a good man when he peruses the will of his deceased friend, in which a large legacy, which his distresses make the more welcome, is bequeathed to him. Upon the whole, however, he was more pleased than displeased; and, indeed, the reader may probably wonder that he was displeased at all; but the reader is not quite so much in love as was poor Jones; and love is a disease which, though it may, in some instances, resemble a consumption (which it sometimes causes), in others proceeds in direct opposition to it, and particularly in this, that it never flatters itself, or sees any one symptom in a favourable light.
One thing gave him complete satisfaction, which was, that his mistress had regained her liberty, and was now with a lady where she might at least assure herself of a decent treatment. Another comfortable circumstance was the reference which she made to her promise of never marrying any other man; for however disinterested he might imagine his passion, and notwithstanding all the generous overtures made in his letter, I very much question whether he could have heard a more afflicting piece of news than that Sophia was married to another, though the match had been never so great, and never so likely to end in making her completely happy. That refined degree of Platonic affection which is absolutely detached from the flesh, and is, indeed, entirely and purely spiritual, is a gift confined to the female part of the creation; many of whom I have heard declare (and, doubtless, with great truth), that they would, with the utmost readiness, resign a lover to a rival, when such resignation was proved to be necessary for the temporal interest of such lover. Hence, therefore, I conclude that this affection is in nature, though I cannot pretend to say I have ever seen an instance of it.
Mr. Jones having spent three hours in reading and kissing the aforesaid letter, and being, at last, in a state of good spirits, from the last-mentioned considerations, he agreed to carry an appointment, which he had before made, into execution. This was, to attend Mrs. Miller, and her younger daughter, into the gallery at the playhouse, and to admit Mr. Partridge as one of the company. For as Jones had really that taste for humour which many affect, he expected to enjoy much entertainment in the criticisms of Partridge, from whom he expected the simple dictates of nature, unimproved, indeed, but likewise unadulterated, by art.
In the first row then of the first gallery did Mr. Jones, Mrs. Miller, her youngest daughter, and Partridge, take their places. Partridge immediately declared it was the finest place he had ever been in. When the first music was played, he said, It was a wonder how so many fiddlers could play at one time, without putting one another out. While the fellow was lighting the upper candles, he cried out to Mrs. Miller, Look, look, madam, the very picture of the man in the end of the common-prayer book before the gunpowder-treason service. Nor could he help observing, with a sigh, when all the candles were lighted, That here were candles enough burnt in one night, to keep an honest poor family for a whole twelvemonth.
As soon as the play, which was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, began, Partridge was all attention, nor did he break silence till the entrance of the ghost; upon which he asked Jones, What man that was in the strange dress; something, said he, like what I have seen in a picture. Sure it is not armour, is it? Jones answered, That is the ghost. To which Partridge replied with a smile, Persuade me to that, sir, if you can. Though I cant say I ever actually saw a ghost in my life, yet I am certain I should know one, if I saw him, better than that comes to. No, no, sir, ghosts dont appear in such dresses as that, neither. In this mistake, which caused much laughter in the neighbourhood of Partridge, he was suffered to continue, till the scene between the ghost and Hamlet, when Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick, which he had denied to Jones, and fell into so violent a trembling, that his knees knocked against each other. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior upon the stage? O la! sir, said he, I perceive now it is what you told me. I am not afraid of anything; for I know it is but a play. And if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance, and in so much company; and yet if I was frightened, I am not the only person. Why, who, cries Jones, dost thou take to be such a coward here besides thyself? Nay, you may call me coward if you will; but if that little man there upon the stage is not frightened, I never saw any man frightened in my life. Ay, ay: go along with you: Ay, to be sure! Whos fool then? Will you? Lud have mercy upon such fool-hardiness!Whatever happens, it is good enough for you.Follow you? Id follow the devil as soon. Nay, perhaps it is the devilfor they say he can put on what likeness he pleases.Oh! here he is again.No farther! No, you have gone far enough already; farther than Id have gone for all the kings dominions. Jones offered to speak, but Partridge cried Hush, hush! dear sir, dont you hear him? And during the whole speech of the ghost, he sat with his eyes fixed partly on the ghost and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet, succeeding likewise in him.
When the scene was over Jones said, Why, Partridge you exceed my expectations. You enjoy the play more than I conceived possible. Nay, sir, answered Partridge, if you are not afraid of the devil, I cant help it; but to be sure, it is natural to be surprized at such things, though I know there is nothing in them: not that it was the ghost that surprized me, neither; for I should have known that to have been only a man in a strange dress; but when I saw the little man so frightened himself, it was that which took hold of me. And dost thou imagine, then, Partridge, cries Jones, that he was really frightened? Nay, sir, said Partridge, did not you yourself observe afterwards, when he found it was his own fathers spirit, and how he was murdered in the garden, how his fear forsook him by degrees, and he was struck dumb with sorrow, as it were, just as I should have been, had it been my own case?But hush! O la! what noise is that? There he is again.Well, to be certain, though I know there is nothing at all in it, I am glad I am not down yonder, where those men are. Then turning his eyes again upon Hamlet, Ay, you may draw your sword; what signifies a sword against the power of the devil?
During the second act, Partridge made very few remarks. He greatly admired the fineness of the dresses; nor could he help observing upon the kings countenance. Well, said he, how people may be deceived by faces! Nulla fides fronti is, I find, a true saying. Who would think, by looking in the kings face, that he had ever committed a murder? He then enquired after the ghost; but Jones, who intended he should be surprized, gave him no other satisfaction, than, that he might possibly see him again soon, and in a flash of fire.
Partridge sat in a fearful expectation of this; and now, when the ghost made his next appearance, Partridge cried out, There, sir, now; what say you now? is he frightened now or no? As much frightened as you think me, and, to be sure, nobody can help some fears. I would not be in so bad a condition as whats his name, squire Hamlet, is there, for all the world. Bless me! whats become of the spirit? As I am a living soul, I thought I saw him sink into the earth. Indeed, you saw right, answered Jones. Well, well, cries Partridge, I know it is only a play: and besides, if there was anything in all this, Madam Miller would not laugh so; for as to you, sir, you would not be afraid, I believe, if the devil was here in person.There, thereAy, no wonder you are in such a passion, shake the vile wicked wretch to pieces. If she was my own mother, I would serve her so. To be sure all duty to a mother is forfeited by such wicked doings.Ay, go about your business, I hate the sight of you.
Our critic was now pretty silent till the play, which Hamlet introduces before the king. This he did not at first understand, till Jones explained it to him; but he no sooner entered into the spirit of it, than he began to bless himself that he had never committed murder. Then turning to Mrs. Miller, he asked her, if she did not imagine the king looked as if he was touched; though he is, said he, a good actor, and doth all he can to hide it. Well, I would not have so much to answer for, as that wicked man there hath, to sit upon a much higher chair than he sits upon. No wonder he run away; for your sake Ill never trust an innocent face again.
The grave-digging scene next engaged the attention of Partridge, who expressed much surprize at the number of skulls thrown upon the stage. To which Jones answered, That it was one of the most famous burial-places about town. No wonder then, cries Partridge, that the place is haunted. But I never saw in my life a worse grave-digger. I had a sexton, when I was clerk, that should have dug three graves while he is digging one. The fellow handles a spade as if it was the first time he had ever had one in his hand. Ay, ay, you may sing. You had rather sing than work, I believe.Upon Hamlets taking up the skull, he cried out, Well! it is strange to see how fearless some men are: I never could bring myself to touch anything belonging to a dead man, on any account.He seemed frightened enough too at the ghost, I thought. Nemo omnibus horis sapit.
Little more worth remembering occurred during the play, at the end of which Jones asked him, Which of the players he had liked best? To this he answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question, The king, without doubt. Indeed, Mr. Partridge, says Mrs. Miller, you are not of the same opinion with the town; for they are all agreed, that Hamlet is acted by the best player who ever was on the stage. He the best player! cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer, why, I could act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did. And then, to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, between him and his mother, where you told me he acted so fine, why, Lord help me, any man, that is, any good man, that had such a mother, would have done exactly the same. I know you are only joking with me; but, indeed, madam, though I was never at a play in London, yet I have seen acting before in the country; and the king for my money; he speaks all his words distinctly, half as loud again as the other.Anybody may see he is an actor.
While Mrs. Miller was thus engaged in conversation with Partridge, a lady came up to Mr. Jones, whom he immediately knew to be Mrs. Fitzpatrick. She said, she had seen him from the other part of the gallery, and had taken that opportunity of speaking to him, as she had something to say, which might be of great service to himself. She then acquainted him with her lodgings, and made him an appointment the next day in the morning; which, upon recollection, she presently changed to the afternoon; at which time Jones promised to attend her.
Thus ended the adventure at the playhouse; where Partridge had afforded great mirth, not only to Jones and Mrs. Miller, but to all who sat within hearing, who were more attentive to what he said, than to anything that passed on the stage.
He durst not go to bed all that night, for fear of the ghost; and for many nights after sweated two or three hours before he went to sleep, with the same apprehensions, and waked several times in great horrors, crying out, Lord have mercy upon us! there it is.