Home  »  library  »  prose  »  Parson Adams’s Short Memory

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

Parson Adams’s Short Memory

By Henry Fielding (1707–1754)

From ‘Joseph Andrews’

MR. ADAMS and Joseph were now ready to depart different ways, when an accident determined the former to return with his friend, which Tow-wouse, Barnabas, and the bookseller had not been able to do. This accident was, that those sermons which the parson was traveling to London to publish were, O my good reader! left behind; what he had mistaken for them in the saddle-bags being no other than three shirts, a pair of shoes, and some other necessaries which Mrs. Adams, who thought her husband would want shirts more than sermons on his journey, had carefully provided him.

This discovery was now luckily owing to the presence of Joseph at the opening of the saddle-bags; who, having heard his friend say he carried with him nine volumes of sermons, and not being of that sect of philosophers who can reduce all the matter of the world into a nut-shell, seeing there was no room for them in the bags, where the parson had said they were deposited, had the curiosity to cry out, “Bless me, sir, where are your sermons?” The parson answered, “There, there, child; there they are, under my shirts.” Now, it happened that he had taken forth his last shirt, and the vehicle remained visibly empty. “Sure, sir,” says Joseph, “there is nothing in the bags.” Upon which Adams, starting, and testifying some surprise, cried:—“Hey! fie, fie upon it! they are not here, sure enough. Ay, they are certainly left behind.”

Joseph was greatly concerned at the uneasiness which he apprehended his friend must feel from this disappointment: he begged him to pursue his journey, and promised he would himself return with the books to him with the utmost expedition. “No, thank you, child,” answered Adams; “it shall not be so. What would it avail me to tarry in the great city, unless I had my discourses with me, which are, ut ita dicam, the sole cause, the ailia monotate, of my peregrination? No, child: as this accident has happened, I am resolved to return back to my cure, together with you; which indeed my inclination sufficiently leads me to. This disappointment may perhaps be intended for my good.” He concluded with a verse out of Theocritus, which signifies no more than that sometimes it rains, and sometimes the sun shines.

Joseph bowed with obedience and thankfulness for the inclination which the parson expressed of returning with him; and now the bill was called for, which, on examination, amounted within a shilling to the sum which Mr. Adams had in his pocket. Perhaps the reader may wonder how he was able to produce a sufficient sum for so many days: that he may not be surprised, therefore, it cannot be unnecessary to acquaint him that he had borrowed a guinea of a servant belonging to the coach-and-six, who had been formerly one of his parishioners, and whose master, the owner of the coach, then lived within three miles of him; for so good was the credit of Mr. Adams, that even Mr. Peter, the Lady Booby’s steward, would have lent him a guinea with very little security.

Mr. Adams discharged the bill, and they were both setting out, having agreed to ride and tie,—a method of traveling much used by persons who have but one horse between them, and is thus performed. The two travelers set out together, one on horseback, the other on foot; now, as it generally happens that he on horseback outgoes him on foot, the custom is that when he arrives at the distance agreed on, he is to dismount, tie the horse to some gate, tree, post, or other thing, and then proceed on foot; when the other comes up to the horse, unties him, mounts, and gallops on; till, having passed by his fellow-traveler, he likewise arrives at the place of tying. And this is that method of traveling so much in use among our prudent ancestors, who knew that horses had mouths as well as legs, and that they could not use the latter without being at the expense of suffering the beasts themselves to use the former. This was the method in use in those days, when instead of a coach-and-six, a member of Parliament’s lady used to mount a pillion behind her husband; and a grave sergeant-at-law condescended to amble to Westminster on an easy pad, with his clerk kicking his heels behind him.

Adams was now gone some minutes, having insisted on Joseph’s beginning the journey on horseback, and Joseph had his foot in the stirrup, when the ostler presented him a bill for the horse’s board during his residence at the inn. Joseph said Mr. Adams had paid all; but this matter being referred to Mr. Tow-wouse, was by him decided in favor of the ostler, and indeed with truth and justice; for this was a fresh instance of that shortness of memory which did not arise from want of parts, but that continual hurry in which Parson Adams was always involved.

Joseph was now reduced to a dilemma which extremely puzzled him. The sum due for horse-meat was twelve shillings (for Adams, who had borrowed the beast of his clerk, had ordered him to be fed as well as they could feed him), and the cash in his pocket amounted to sixpence; for Adams had divided the last shilling with him. Now, though there have been some ingenious persons who have contrived to pay twelve shillings with sixpence, Joseph was not one of them. He had never contracted a debt in his life, and was consequently the less ready at an expedient to extricate himself. Tow-wouse was willing to give him credit till next time, to which Mrs. Tow-wouse would probably have consented; for such was Joseph’s beauty, that it had made some impression even on that piece of flint which that good woman wore in her bosom by way of heart. Joseph would have found therefore, very likely, the passage free, had he not, when he honestly discovered the nakedness of his pockets, pulled out that little piece of gold which we have mentioned before. This caused Mrs. Tow-wouse’s eyes to water: she told Joseph she did not conceive a man could want money whilst he had gold in his pocket. Joseph answered, he had such a value for that little piece of gold that he would not part with it for a hundred times the riches which the greatest esquire in the country was worth.

“A pretty way, indeed,” said Mrs. Tow-wouse, “to run in debt, and then refuse to part with your money because you have a value for it. I never knew any piece of gold of more value than as many shillings as it would change for.” “Not to preserve my life from starving, nor to redeem it from a robber, would I part with this dear piece!” answered Joseph. “What!” says Mrs. Tow-wouse, “I suppose it was given you by some vile trollop, some miss or other! If it had been the present of a virtuous woman, you would not have had such a value for it. My husband is a fool if he parts with the horse without being paid for him.” “No, no, I can’t part with the horse, indeed, till I have the money,” cried Tow-wouse; a resolution highly commended by a lawyer then in the yard, who declared Mr. Tow-wouse might justify the detainer.

As we cannot therefore at present get Mr. Joseph out of the inn, we shall leave him in it, and carry our reader on after Parson Adams, who, his mind being perfectly at ease, fell into a contemplation on a passage in Æschylus which entertained him for three miles together, without suffering him once to reflect on his fellow-traveler.

At length, having spun out his thread and being now at the summit of a hill, he cast his eyes backwards, and wondered that he could not see any sign of Joseph. As he left him ready to mount the horse, he could not apprehend any mischief had happened, neither could he suspect that he missed his way, it being so broad and plain: the only reason which presented itself to him was, that he had met with an acquaintance, who had prevailed with him to delay some time in discourse.

He therefore resolved to proceed slowly forwards, not doubting but that he should be shortly overtaken; and soon came to a large water, which filling the whole road, he saw no method of passing unless by wading through, which he accordingly did up to his middle; but was no sooner got to the other side than he perceived, if he had looked over the hedge, he would have found a foot-path capable of conducting him without wetting his shoes.

His surprise at Joseph’s not coming up grew now very troublesome; he began to fear he knew not what; and as he determined to move no farther, and if he did not shortly overtake him, to return back, he wished to find a house of public entertainment where he might dry his clothes and refresh himself with a pint; but seeing no such (for no other reason than because he did not cast his eyes a hundred yards forwards), he sat himself down on a stile and pulled out his Æschylus.