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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

A Discourse from Parson Adams

By Henry Fielding (1707–1754)

From ‘Joseph Andrews’

THE PARSON and his wife had just ended a long dispute when the lovers came to the door. Indeed, this young couple had been the subject of the dispute; for Mrs. Adams was one of those prudent people who never do anything to injure their families, or perhaps one of those good mothers who would even stretch their conscience to serve their children. She had long entertained hopes of seeing her eldest daughter succeed Mrs. Slipslop, and of making her eldest son an exciseman by Lady Booby’s interest. These were expectations she could not endure the thoughts of quitting, and was therefore very uneasy to see her husband so resolute to oppose the lady’s intention in Fanny’s affair. She told him it behoved every man to take the first care of his family; that he had a wife and six children, the maintaining and providing for whom would be business enough for him without intermeddling in other folks’ affairs; that he had always preached a submission to superiors, and would do ill to give an example of the contrary behavior in his own conduct; that if Lady Booby did wrong, she must answer for it herself, and the sin would not lie at their door; that Fanny had been a servant, and bred up in the lady’s own family, and consequently she must have known more of her than they did; and it was very improbable, if she had behaved herself well, that the lady would have been so bitterly her enemy; that perhaps he was too much inclined to think well of her because she was handsome, but handsome women are often no better than they should be; that God made ugly women as well as handsome ones; and that if a woman had virtue, it signified nothing whether she had beauty or no: for all which reasons she concluded she should oblige the lady and stop the future publication of the banns.

But all these excellent arguments had no effect on the parson, who persisted in doing his duty without regarding the consequence it might have on his worldly interest. He endeavored to answer her as well as he could; to which she had just finished her reply (for she had always the last word everywhere but at church) when Joseph and Fanny entered their kitchen, where the parson and his wife then sat at breakfast over some bacon and cabbage. There was a coldness in the civility of Mrs. Adams which persons of accurate speculation might have observed, but escaped her present guests; indeed, it was a good deal covered by the heartiness of Adams, who no sooner heard that Fanny had neither eaten nor drunk that morning than he presented her a bone of bacon he had just been gnawing, being the only remains of his provision: and then ran nimbly to the tap and produced a mug of small beer, which he called ale; however, it was the best in his house.

Joseph, addressing himself to the parson, told him the discourse which had passed between Squire Booby, his sister, and himself, concerning Fanny; he then acquainted him with the dangers whence he had rescued her, and communicated some apprehensions on her account. He concluded that he should never have an easy moment till Fanny was absolutely his, and begged that he might be suffered to fetch a license, saying he could easily borrow the money.

The parson answered that he had already given his sentiments concerning a license, and that a very few days would make it unnecessary. “Joseph,” says he, “I wish this haste does not arise rather from your impatience than your fear; but as it certainly springs from one of these causes I will examine both. Of each of these, therefore, in their turn; and first, for the first of these; namely, impatience. Now, child, I must inform you that if in your purposed marriage with this young woman you have no intention but the indulgence of carnal appetites, you are guilty of a very heinous sin. Marriage was ordained for nobler purposes, as you will learn when you hear the service provided on that occasion read to you; nay, perhaps if you are a good lad, I, child, shall give you a sermon gratis, wherein I shall demonstrate how little regard ought to be had to the flesh on such occasions. The text will be Matthew the 5th, and part of the 28th verse, ‘Whosoever looketh on a woman, so as to lust after her.’ The latter part I shall omit, as foreign to my purpose. Indeed, all such brutal lusts and affections are to be greatly subdued, if not totally eradicated, before the vessel can be said to be consecrated to honor. To marry with a view of gratifying those inclinations is a prostitution of that holy ceremony, and must entail a curse on all who so lightly undertake it. If therefore this haste arises from impatience, you are to correct and not give way to it. Now, as to the second head which I proposed to speak to; namely, fear: it argues a diffidence highly criminal of that Power in which alone we should put our trust, seeing we may be well assured that he is able not only to defeat the designs of our enemies but even to turn their hearts. Instead of taking, therefore, any unjustifiable or desperate means to rid ourselves of fear, we should resort to prayer only on these occasions; and we may be then certain of obtaining what is best for us. When any accident threatens us, we are not to despair, nor, when it overtakes us, to grieve; we must submit in all things to the will of Providence, and set our affections so much on nothing here, that we cannot quit it without reluctance. You are a young man, and can know but little of this world; I am older, and have seen a great deal. All passions are criminal in their excess; and even love itself, if it is not subservient to our duty, may render us blind to it. Had Abraham so loved his son Isaac as to refuse the sacrifice required, is there any of us who would not condemn him? Joseph, I know your many good qualities, and value you for them; but as I am to render an account of your soul, which is committed to my cure, I cannot see any fault without reminding you of it. You are too much inclined to passion, child; and have set your affections so absolutely on this young woman, that if God required her at your hands I fear you would reluctantly part with her. Now, believe me, no Christian ought so to set his heart on any person or thing in this world, but that whenever it shall be required, or taken from him in any manner by Divine providence, he may be able peaceably, quietly, and contentedly to resign it.”

At which words one came hastily in, and acquainted Mr. Adams that his youngest son was drowned. He stood silent a moment, and soon began to stamp about the room, and deplore his loss with the bitterest agony. Joseph, who was overwhelmed with concern likewise, recovered himself sufficiently to endeavor to comfort the parson; in which attempt he used many arguments that he had at several times remembered out of his own discourses, both in private and public,—for he was a great enemy to the passions, and preached nothing more than the conquest of them by reason and grace: but he was not at leisure now to hearken to his advice.

“Child, child,” said he, “do not go about impossibilities. Had it been any other of my children, I could have borne it with patience; but my little prattler, the darling and comfort of my old age,—the little wretch, to be snatched out of life just at his entrance into it; the sweetest, best-tempered boy, who never did a thing to offend me! It was but this morning I gave him his first lesson in Quæ Genus. This was the very book he learned: poor child! it is of no farther use to thee now. He would have made the best scholar, and have been an ornament to the Church; such parts and such goodness, never met in one so young.” “And the handsomest lad too,” says Mrs. Adams, recovering from a swoon in Fanny’s arms. “My poor Dicky, shall I never see thee more?” cries the parson. “Yes, surely,” says Joseph, “and in a better place, you will meet again, never to part more.”

I believe the parson did not hear these words, for he paid little regard to them, but went on lamenting, whilst the tears trickled down into his bosom. At last he cried out, “Where is my little darling?” and was sallying out, when to his great surprise and joy, in which I hope the reader will sympathize, he met his son, in a wet condition indeed, but alive, and running toward him. The person who brought the news of his misfortune had been a little too eager, as people sometimes are, from I believe no very good principle, to relate ill news; and seeing him fall into the river, instead of running to his assistance, directly ran to acquaint his father of a fate which he had concluded to be inevitable, but whence the child was relieved by the same poor peddler who had relieved his father before from a less distress.

The parson’s joy was now as extravagant as his grief had been before; he kissed and embraced his son a thousand times, and danced about the room like one frantic; but as soon as he discovered the face of his old friend the peddler, and heard the fresh obligation he had to him, what were his sensations? Not those which two courtiers feel in one another’s embraces; not those with which a great man receives the vile, treacherous engines of his wicked purposes; not those with which a worthless younger brother wishes his elder joy of a son, or a man congratulates his rival on his obtaining a mistress, a place, or an honor. No, reader; he felt the ebullition, the overflowings, of a full, honest, open heart, towards the person who had conferred a real obligation; and of which if thou canst not conceive an idea within, I will not vainly endeavor to assist thee.

When these tumults were over, the parson, taking Joseph aside, proceeded thus:—“No, Joseph, do not give too much way to thy passions if thou dost expect happiness.” The patience of Joseph, nor perhaps of Job, could bear no longer: he interrupted the parson, saying it was easier to give advice than to take it; nor did he perceive he could so entirely conquer himself, when he apprehended he had lost his son, or when he found him recovered.

“Boy,” replied Adams, raising his voice, “it does not become green heads to advise gray hairs. Thou art ignorant of the tenderness of fatherly affection; when thou art a father, thou wilt be capable then only of knowing what a father can feel. No man is obliged to impossibilities; and the loss of a child is one of those great trials where our grief may be allowed to become immoderate.” “Well, sir,” cries Joseph, “and if I love a mistress as well as you your child, surely her loss would grieve me equally.” “Yes, but such love is foolishness, and wrong in itself, and ought to be conquered,” answered Adams; “it savors too much of the flesh.” “Sure, sir,” says Joseph, “it is not sinful to love my wife, no, not even to dote on her to distraction!” “Indeed, but it is,” says Adams; “every man ought to love his wife, no doubt; we are commanded so to do: but we ought to love her with moderation and discretion.” “I am afraid I shall be guilty of some sin, in spite of all my endeavors,” says Joseph; “for I shall love without any moderation, I am sure.” “You talk foolishly and childishly,” cries Adams.

“Indeed,” says Mrs. Adams, who had listened to the latter part of their conversation, “you talk more foolishly yourself. I hope, my dear, you will never preach any such doctrine as that husbands can love their wives too well. If I knew you had such a sermon in the house I am sure I would burn it; and I declare, if I had not been convinced you had loved me as well as you could, I can answer for myself, I should have hated and despised you. Marry, come up! Fine doctrine, indeed! A wife has a right to insist on her husband’s loving her as much as ever he can; and he is a sinful villain who does not. Does he not promise to love her, and comfort her, and to cherish her, and all that? I am sure I remember it all as well as if I had repeated it over but yesterday, and shall never forget it. Besides, I am certain you do not preach as you practice, for you have been a loving and a cherishing husband to me, that’s the truth on’t; and why you should endeavor to put such wicked nonsense into this young man’s head, I cannot devise. Don’t hearken to him, Mr. Joseph; be as good a husband as you are able, and love your wife with all your body and soul too.”

Here a violent rap at the door put an end to their discourse.