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A serious defect.
Fielding is so indecent in plot and language that it is difficult to give any just idea of either without shocking ears polite. To give the plot and omit the chief details, to quote passages and draw the pen through half of every sentence, leaves but a mutilated example of his work. I shall try, however, to give some brilliant passages, even if it is necessary to leave their connection unexplained. It would be a pity to pass over the breezy, delightful narrative of Fielding, and his lightlytouched pictures of the life of his time, vivid as they are and broadly drawn.
An author a host.
The introduction to the work, or bill of fare to the feast. An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money.
In the former case, it is well known that the entertainer provides what fare he pleases; and though this should be very indifferent, and utterly disagreeable to the taste of his company, they must not find any fault; nay, on the contrary, good breeding forces them outwardly to approve and to commend whatever is set before them. Now the contrary of this happens to the master of an ordinary. Men who pay for what they eat will insist on gratifying their palates, however nice and even whimsical these may prove; and if everything is not agreeable to their taste, will challenge a right to censure, to abuse, and to d—n their dinner without control.
To prevent, therefore, giving offense to their customers by any such disappointment, it hath been usual with the honest and well-meaning host to provide a bill of fare which all persons may peruse at their first entrance into the house, and having thence acquainted themselves with the entertainment which they may expect, may either stay and regale with what is provided for them, or may depart to some ordinary better accommodated to their taste.
As we do not disdain to borrow wit or wisdom from any man who is capable of lending us either, we have condescended to take a hint from these honest victuallers, and shall prefix not
only a general bill of fare to our whole entertainment, but shall likewise give the reader particular bills to every course which is to be served up in this and the ensuing volumes.
The provision, then, which we have here made is no other than Human Nature. Nor do I fear that my sensible reader, the bill of fare. though most luxurious in his taste, will start, cavil, or be offended, because I have named but one article. The tortoise -as the alderman of Bristol, well learned in eating, knows by much experience—besides the delicious calibash and calepee, contains many different kinds of food, nor can the learned reader be ignorant, that in human nature, though here collected under one general name, is such prodigious variety, that a cook will have sooner gone through all the several species of animal and vegetable food in the world, than an author will be able to exhaust so extensive a subject.
An objection may perhaps be apprehended from the more delicate, that this dish is too common and vulgar; for what else is the subject of all the romances, novels, plays, and poems with which the stalls abound? Many exquisite viands might be rejected by the epicure, if it was a sufficient cause for his contemning of them as common and vulgar, that something was to be found in the most paltry alleys under the same name. In reality, true nature is as difficult to be met with in authors as the Bayonne hare or Bologna sausage is to be found in the shops.
But the whole, to continue the same metaphor, consists in the cookery of the author ; for, as Mr. Pope tells us,
True wit is nature to advantage drest;
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well exprest. The same animal which hath the honor to have some part of his flesh eaten at the table of a duke may perhaps be degraded in another part, and some of his limbs gibbeted, as it were, in the vilest stall in town. Where, then, lies the difference between the food of the nobleman and the porter, if both are at dinner on the same ox or calf, but in the seasoning, the dressing, the garnishing, and the setting forth ? Hence the one provokes and incites the most languid appetite, and the other turns and palls that which is the sharpest and keenest. In like manner, the excellence of the mental entertainment The author's
skill in preconsists less in the subject than in the author's skill in well paring it. dressing it up. How pleased, therefore, will the reader be to
find that we have, in the following work, adhered closely to one of the highest principles of the best cook which the present age, or perhaps that of Heliogabalus, hath produced. This great man, as is well known to all polite lovers of eating, begins at first by setting plain things before his hungry guests, rising afterward by degrees as their stomachs may be supposed to decrease, to the very quintessence of sauce and spices. In like manner, we shall represent human nature at first to the keen appetite of our reader, in that more plain and simple manner in which it is found in the country, and shall hereafter hash and ragoo it with all the high French and Italian seasoning of affectation and vice which courts and cities afford. By these means, we doubt not but our reader may be rendered desirous to read on forever, as the great person just abovementioned is supposed to have made some persons eat.
Having premised thus much, we will now detain those who like our bill of fare no longer from their diet, and shall proceed directly to serve up the first course of our history for their entertainment.
Tom Jones, the foundling, was adopted in the kindliest manner by the excellent Mr. Allworthy, with a good heart and no family, who found the child in his bed one evening on returning from a long absence and decided to adopt the boy as his own.
Infancy of Tom
Description of Mr. Allworthy's estate.
The reader's neck brought into danger by a description; his escape; and the great condescension of Miss Bridget Allworthy.
The Gothic style of building could produce nothing nobler than Mr. Allworthy's house. There was an air of grandeur in it that struck you with awe, and rivaled the beauties of the best Grecian architecture; and it was as commodious within as venerable without.
It stood on the southeast side of a hill, but nearer the bottom than the top of it, so as to be sheltered from the northeast by a grove of old oaks which arose above it in a gradual ascent of near half a mile, and yet high enough to enjoy a most charming prospect of the valley beneath.
In the midst of the grove was a fine lawn, sloping down
toward the house, near the summit of which rose a plentiful spring, gushing out of a rock covered with firs, and forming a constant cascade of about thirty feet, not carried down a regular flight of steps, but tumbling in a natural fall over the broken
Beautiful and mossy stones till it came to the bottom of the rock, then running off in a pebbly channel, that with many lesser falls winded along, till it fell into a lake at the foot of the hill, about a quarter of a mile below the house on the south side, and which was seen from every room in the front. Out of this lake, which filled the center of a beautiful plain, embellished with groups of beeches and elms, and fed with sheep, issued a river, that for several miles was seen to meander through an amazing variety of meadows and woods till it emptied itself into the sea, with a large arm of which, and an island beyond it, the prospect was closed.
On the right of this valley opened another of less extent, adorned with several villages, and terminated by one of the towers of an old ruined abbey, grown over with ivy, and part of the front, which remained still entire.
The left-hand scene presented the view of a very fine park, composed of very unequal ground, and agreeably varied with all the diversity that hills, lawns, wood, and water, laid out with admirable taste, but owing less to art than to nature, could give. Beyond this, the country gradually rose into a ridge of wild mountains, the tops of which were above the clouds.
It was now the middle of May, and the morning was remarkably serene, when Mr. Allworthy walked forth on the terrace, Mr. Allworthy
walks forth. where the dawn opened every minute that lovely prospect we have before described to his eye; and now having sent forth streams of light, which ascended the blue firmament before him, as harbingers preceding his pomp, in the full blaze of his majesty rose the sun, than which one object alone in this lower creation could be more glorious, and that Mr. Allworthy himself presented-a human being replete with benevolence, meditating in what manner he might render himself most acceptable to his Creator, by doing most good to his creatures.
Reader, take care. I have unadvisedly led thee to the top of as high a hill as Mr. Allworthy's, and how to get thee down without breaking thy neck, I do not well know. However, let us e'en venture to slide down together; for Miss Bridget rings her bell, and Mr. Allworthy is summoned to breakfast, where I
must attend, and, if you please, shall be glad of your company.
The usual compliments having passed between Mr. Allworthy and Miss Bridget, and the tea being poured out, he told his sister he had a present for her, for which she thanked himimagining, I suppose, it had been a gown, or some ornament for her person. Indeed, he very often made her such presents ; and she, in complacence to him, spent much time in adorning herself. I say in complacence to him, because she always expressed the greatest contempt for dress, and for those ladies who made it their study.
Miss Bridget Allworthy was the sister of the master of Miss Allworthy the house, who lived with him. She was not altogether adopts Tom.
pleased when she discovered the nature of the present referred to ; however, having looked at the child earnestly as it lay asleep she could not forbear giving it a hearty kiss, at the same time declaring herself wonderfully pleased with it.
About this time Miss Allworthy was married herself, and had a son, who was brought up in Mr. Allworthy's house along with “Tom." His name was Master Blifil and they were always quarreling.
The hero of this great history appears with very bad omens. A
little tale of so low a kind that some may think it not worth their notice. A word or two concerning a squire, and more relating to a gamekeeper and a schoolmaster.
As we determined, when we first sat down to write this history, to flatter no man, but to guide our pen throughout by the directions of truth, we are obliged to bring our hero on the stage in a much more disadvantageous manner than we could wish ; and to declare honestly, even at his first appearance, that it was the universal opinion of all Mr. Allworthy's family that he was certainly born to be hanged.
Indeed, I am sorry to say there was too much reason for this conjecture; the lad having from his earliest years discovered a propensity to many vices, and especially to one which hath as direct a tendency as any other to that fate which we have just now observed to have been prophetically denounced against
His early propensities.